Winchester Model 70 Jack O'Connor Tribute .270 Rifle
By Chuck Hawks
2012 marked the 75th Anniversary of the Model 70 Winchester, one of the finest bolt action hunting rifles ever designed. Back in January 2012, Bradford O'Connor (Jack O'Connor's son and a Guns and Shooting Online Charter Member) advised me about a limited edition Model 70 Jack O'Connor (JOC) tribute rifle to be available from Winchester (www.winchesterguns.com). Naturally, the new Tribute Rifle was to be a .270 Winchester, the caliber with which Jack O'Connor is most closely identified.
I am a long time admirer of Model 70 rifles, the .270 cartridge and Jack O'Connor. When I was a teenager, I used my own money to subscribe to Outdoor Life, so I would not miss any of O'Connor's columns and articles. I bought most of Jack O'Connor's books, which I still use as references. A few years later, I was able to discuss the purchase of my first .270 caliber rifle and my first Winchester Model 70 with the great man himself. (He was admirably polite to this fledgling writer.) The Dean of American Gunwriters, more than anyone else, inspired me to try my hand at writing about firearms and shooting.
Anyway, when Bradford told me about the JOC Tribute rifle, I immediately placed an order with my friends at Winchester for the rifle that is the subject of this review. There are actually two grades available, the JOC Tribute Rifle and the JOC Custom Tribute Rifle. The primary difference between the two is a AA grade French walnut stock on the regular Tribute and a AAA grade French walnut stock on the Custom. In addition, the Custom comes with a checkered metal buttplate and a voucher for a free soft case from the Jack O'Connor Hunting Heritage Center. The standard JOC Tribute is supplied with a Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad and, if you want the specially embroidered soft case, you have to pay extra for it. I ordered my rifle for hunting, not as a collectable, and I prefer a recoil pad to a steel butt plate. Also, Bradford had told me that the AA grade wood Winchester was using was very nice looking, so I went with the regular JOC Tribute Rifle.
The JOC rifle is packaged in a red Winchester Repeating Arms box with the usual gun lock and safety warnings. In addition, Winchester's JOC Tribute rifles are supplied with a special Owner's Manual, special brochure, special hang tag and a voucher to purchase an embroidered custom case and a couple of Jack O'Connor books from the Jack O'Connor Center. The soft case is $120, the book Classic O'Connor - 45 Worldwide Hunting Adventures costs $35 and the biography Jack O'Connor: The Legendary Life of America's Greatest Gunwriter is also $35. I have plenty of suitable gun cases, but I did order the books. Shipping is included in the prices.
The Tribute Rifle is modeled on one of Jack O'Connor's favorite hunting rifles, a custom stocked Model 70 that epitomized his concept of an ideal hunting rifle. I have been fortunate to see this rifle a couple of times. It was based on a pre-'64 Model 70 barreled action with the barrel shortened to 22", steel bottom iron/trigger guard assembly and checkered bolt knob. It was restocked to O'Connor's specifications in fancy French walnut by, I believe, Al Biesen, who also tuned the action.
The JOC Tribute rifle is similar to the original in most respects. It uses a new Model 70 action with a flat bottomed, machined steel receiver incorporating a massive, integral recoil lug and a bolt guide rail to minimize bolt wobble. The open top receiver provides a generous loading/ejection port. The one-piece bolt body is engine turned and the bolt knob has a checkered band. The trigger mechanism is Winchester/Browning's excellent MOA. This is a pre-'64 type, controlled feed action with a full length extractor and pivoted, receiver mounted ejector. A coned breech assists smooth and reliable feeding, a feature that is practically extinct among other contemporary bolt actions. The bolt release is a small lever at the left rear of the receiver. The one-piece bottom iron and trigger guard, as well as the hinged magazine floorplate, are steel; ditto the pistol grip cap. The floorplate release button is in the front of the trigger guard. The bottom iron / trigger guard is held in place by two 5/32" Allan head screws.
The magazine floorplate and grip cap are laser engraved with a floral pattern and there is a ram's head on the floorplate. The trigger guard features a facsimile of Jack O'Connor's signature in nickel. The stress relieved, free-floating, Featherweight contour barrel is 22" long with cold hammer forged rifling and a recessed target crown. Metal finish is polished blue and the stock is oil finished. A couple more coats of oil would have been appreciated, as the test rifle's wood pores are not completely filled.
The AA grade French walnut stock is laser checkered at 24 lines-per-inch in a borderless fleur-de-lis pattern derived from the original. Features include an ebony forend tip, shadow line cheekpiece, recessed detachable sling swivel studs and a black Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad. The inletting and wood to metal fit is very good. Almost all stocks on modern production rifles are too thick in cross-section, especially through the forend and grip; I am happy to report that the JOC Tribute is not among them. Its stock has been slenderized and consequently the rifle's weight is reduced and its handling improved. Why can't all Super Grade and Sporter Model 70's have stocks with JOC dimensions?
This stock is a good example of the modern classic type beloved by Jack O'Connor. The slender forend is rounded in cross-section to fit a partially closed human hand. The slender pistol grip is oval in cross-section, but I wish its curve were a bit more open. The fluted comb is ruler straight with very little drop at heel. The shadow line cheekpiece gives the shooter's face plenty of support, aligns the eye properly with a low mounted scope and flows unobtrusively into the stock's wrist. The lines of the stock are clean, understated and functional. It is a well designed and exceptionally handsome stock.
The trigger blade is medium wide, gently curved, with a smooth, slightly convex surface, my favorite shape. My only quibble is that the MOA trigger mechanism, although crisp and clean, was factory set for a 4.75 pound release per my RCBS pull gauge. This is much too heavy for a semi-custom hunting rifle, which should be supplied with a trigger pull not exceeding three pounds.
The trigger assembly's pull weight and over-travel screws are designed to be user adjustable by means of a 1/16" Allan wrench, but the barreled action must be removed from the stock to access the adjustment screws. On the test rifle this was easier said than done, due to the over zealous application of a Bondo-like bedding compound (without a release agent) around the recoil lug. After enlisting the help of Guns and Shooting Online's Gunsmithing Editor, Rocky Hays, and about two hours of tapping and working, we finally got the barreled action out of the stock, only to discover that someone at the factory had completely filled the adjustment screw heads with a rock-hard sealer that had to be chipped away. Only the (lower) pull weight screw needed adjustment. Ultimately, we were able to set the trigger pull for the three pound pull it should have come with from the factory.
The JOC Tribute is true to the original and to Jack O'Connor's concept of an ideal hunting rifle, particularly for mountain and open country hunting. It is both functional and exceptionally attractive. Jack O'Connor would have been pleased with this rifle.
Model 70 JOC Tribute Specifications
The Model 70 three position safety, located on the right rear of the bolt, locks the bolt, striker and trigger when in the fully rearward position. In the center position, the bolt can be operated to load or unload the chamber, but the trigger remains blocked. Fully forward is "fire." The end of the striker protrudes from the back of the bolt as a visual and tactile indication when the rifle is cocked. The hinged magazine floorplate means that cartridges in the magazine can be dumped without cycling them through the action.
The JOC Tribute Rifle uses the same action as the Super Grade Model 70 we reviewed in 2009 and is similar in many respects. (See the Product Reviews page for the Super Grade review.) Operation and function are identical and the grade of wood used in my two rifles is similar. Compared to a new Super Grade Model 70, the JOC Tribute is 2" shorter and ½ pound lighter. The JOC's Featherweight barrel is lighter in contour. Its forend and pistol grip are smaller in cross-section. Both rifles are well balanced and swing smoothly, but the JOC Tribute is easier to carry and a bit faster to shoulder. The JOC Tribute's stock is checkered at 24 lpi, compared to the Super Grade's 22 lpi checkering. The JOC's blued barreled action is given standard Winchester polishing and bluing, while the Super Grade comes with a finer polish and high luster finish that is similar to a Browning Medallion grade rifle.
I am a big fan of both rifles and favor the Super Grade's high luster blued metal finish, but overall I prefer the JOC Tribute Rifle. Its slenderized stock feels better in the hands and it is lighter to carry. Jack O'Connor was a master hunter and shooter who had learned a thing or two about practical hunting rifle design and this is reflected in the JOC Tribute Rifle.
Any good hunting rifle deserves a good scope. For the JOC Tribute, I chose a Leupold VX-R 2-7x33mm IR scope on Weaver two-piece bases. This scope has a 30mm main tube and therefore requires 30mm mounting rings. There are, in my opinion, no better scope mounting rings for cross-slot bases than Leupold's machined steel PRW rings.
The Leupold VX-R 2-7x33mm scope with illuminated FireDot Duplex reticle has previously been the subject of a full review. (See the Scopes and Sport Optics page for details.) For our purposes here, suffice to say that it is an excellent scope of moderate size and a good match for any all-around hunting rifle. With a scope and mounts, the rifle weighs 8 pounds 9 ounces.
Winchester introduced their .270 cartridge (bore diameter is .270" and bullet/groove diameter is .277") in 1925 with a 130 grain spitzer bullet at a MV of 3140 fps. This remained the fastest and flattest shooting of all standardized big game hunting loads until the mid-1950's and it is still the standard of comparison for long range hunting. Due to the great popularity of the .270 Winchester cartridge, there are now many bullet weights available, ranging from about 90-160 grains. The most popular options for big game hunting are 130 grains, 140 grains and 150 grains. Nevertheless, Jack O'Connor once wrote that we could all probably get by quite well with only 130 grain bullets (SD .242) for the .270. Although I own more than one .270 rifle and shoot all three bullet weights, I am inclined to agree. Sometimes we unnecessarily complicate things. With Jack O'Connor's advice in mind, I resolved to test the JOC Tribute Rifle primarily (but not exclusively) with 130 grain factory loads.
I requested factory loads with 130 grain bullets for this review. Winchester Ammunition graciously provided boxes of their factory loads with Super-X 130 grain Power Point bullets (MV 3060 fps), Power Max Bonded 130 grain bullets (MV 3060 fps) and Balllistic Silvertip 130 grain bullets (MV 3050 fps). These factory load velocities were measured in 24" test barrels; expect a MV of about 3000 fps from the JOC Tribute's 22" barrel. Our thanks go out to our friends at Winchester Ammunition, whose support we very much appreciate.
In addition, I already had some .270 factory loads on hand for this review. These included Federal Power-Shok with 130 grain Soft Point bullets (MV 3060 fps), Hornady SuperFormance 140 grain SST (MV 3090 fps), Remington Express using 130 grain Core-Lokt PSP bullets (MV 3060 fps) and Winchester Supreme Elite 150 grain XP3 bullets (MV 2950 fps).
Guns and Shooting Online staffers Rocky Hays, Jim Fleck and Schuyler Barnum assisted me with the shooting chores over two range sessions at our usual venue, the Izaak Walton outdoor gun range south of Eugene, Oregon. We used Hoppe's Crosshair sighting-in targets at 100 yards for shooting the recorded groups. The shooting was done from a bench rest using a Caldwell Lead Sled DFT weighted with one 25 pound bag of lead shot. This provides a steady rest and greatly attenuates recoil.
We fired 3-shot groups for record, letting the barrel cool down between groups to keep it from getting too hot, although it remained warm for the entire session. The winter weather was typical of western Oregon, chilly (about 50-degrees F) with overcast skies and rain showers.
As you can see from these results, the JOC Tribute Rifle is up to the new Model 70's high accuracy standards and is capable of delivering sub-MOA groups with ammunition it prefers. This time out, Jim clinched bragging rights by shooting the smallest individual group.
The Model 70 action exhibits less bolt wobble than almost all other controlled feeding actions, which everyone appreciated. The coned breech contributes to exceptionally smooth cartridge chambering. The full length extractor is beveled to allow it to over-ride the rim of a cartridge loaded directly into the chamber, if the bolt is slammed closed. However, as with all controlled feed actions, I suggest chambering cartridges from the magazine. Model 70's are generally very reliable and we experienced no malfunctions while shooting the JOC Tribute Rifle.
The JOC Tribute's stock design also received positive comments from the staff. It fit all of us well and the slenderized forend felt great in the hand. The straight comb, cheekpiece and Decelerator pad help to reduce perceived recoil, which is subjectively quite moderate for a .270 of its weight.
We all thought it was a beautiful rifle with a great action. Of course, the fact that is also shot well didn't hurt. All shooter comments were extremely positive.
The Model 70 JOC Tribute Rifle is not cheap, but it is reasonably priced for a limited production, semi-custom offering. Compared to the price of a custom built rifle of comparable quality, it is a bargain. Winchester only built a relatively small number of the standard JOC Tribute Rifles and even fewer of the Custom JOC Tributes, so they are not thick on the ground. However, if you get a chance to buy one, I recommend you jump on it. You will be glad you did.
RIFLE REVIEW SUMMARY
Copyright 2012, 2013 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.