Winchester Model 70 Super Grade .30-06 Rifle
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
Most connoisseurs of the bolt action hunting rifle feel that the Winchester Model 70 is one of the world's best. It has, by design, the "right stuff." The striker is cocked when the bolt is opened. It uses a one-piece bolt body with a full length (controlled feed) claw extractor and a fixed, receiver mounted ejector blade. The forged steel, flat bottomed receiver body incorporates a massive integral recoil lug. The steel, one-piece, bottom metal incorporates a hinged magazine floorplate (also steel). The three position safety blocks the striker and allows unloading a cartridge from the chamber with the safety on. There is a separate release for bolt removal at the left rear of the action. A coned breech makes chambering a cartridge exceptionally smooth. Model 70's have always come with single stage triggers that are adjustable for weight of pull. For those who understand the subtleties of hunting rifle design, this is a top flight action. You can argue the comparative merits of the Winchester Model 70, Mauser 98 and Mannlicher-Schoenauer, but it is hard to dispute that these controlled feed classics are truly great bolt action hunting rifles.
The Mannlicher-Schoenauer is Austrian, the Mauser 98 is German and the Model 70 is American. From Revolutionary times until the passing of the WW II generation, America was known as "a nation of riflemen" to the world. Little wonder that the Model 70 has a large, devoted following in the United States and internationally, or that it has long been known as "The Rifleman's Rifle."
Winchester introduced the Model 54 bolt action in 1925. The Model 70 was introduced in 1936 as a substantially improved Model 54, but shared the same basic action design. The Model 70 quickly became the commercial action of choice for American custom rifle makers and their customers. Winchester decided to cut themselves a share of this upscale rifle market and introduced what they dubbed the Super Grade Model 70; a factory built Model 70 that incorporated many of the features typically added by custom builders. To this day, Super Grade Model 70's of all vintages are worth 80 to 100 percent more than equivalent standard grade Model 70's on the used market. That makes them, despite their higher initial cost, a heck of a good value.
The Model 70 was designed to be the best bolt action Winchester could build, not the cheapest, and rising production costs eventually forced Winchester to revise the Model 70 for more economical manufacture. The revised version, introduced in 1964, was really a new action. The post '64 version was a push feed design that sacrificed some, but by no means all, of the traditional Model 70 features. Sadly, the post '64 Model 70 never caught-on with Winchester aficionados, although it was fundamentally a better action than its primary competitors, the Remington 700 series and the Savage 110 series. In addition, it was still more expensive to make than those actions, so Winchester remained at a profit disadvantage.
The upshot of all of this is that in 1990 the traditional, controlled round feeding Model 70 action was reinstated as the Model 70 Classic, made possible by the advent of CNC machining. Unfortunately, Winchester underwent a couple of ownership changes, was being bled to death by Union greed and fell on hard financial times. In 2006, the New Haven factory was closed and its production equipment sold at auction, ending the manufacture of Model 70 rifles.
FN of Belgium, who now owns both Browning and Winchester, announced in late 2007 that sometime in 2008 they intended to reinstate the manufacture of Winchester Model 70 rifles in FN's Columbia, South Carolina plant. These "new" Model 70's would be of the Classic type, updated by the addition of a new FN/Browning designed M.O.A. trigger mechanism. The first models announced were the Featherweight and the Super Grade, with the Featherweight scheduled to appear first.
We had already reviewed a Model 70 Classic Featherweight (see the Product Reviews page), so we immediately requested a Super Grade in .30-06 caliber. It took almost a year and a half to arrive, but the new Super Grade is finally in hand.
As soon as we removed it from its box, we were struck by how handsome this new Super Grade Model 70 really is. From its recessed, target crowned muzzle to its black Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad, this is clearly a deluxe hunting rifle. The barreled action wears a highly polished, deep luster blued finish, the polished bolt body is engine turned and the head of the blued steel stock crossbolt is stamped with engraving. The one-piece, steel, bottom iron and trigger guard incorporates a hinged magazine floorplate. The floorplate release is a button in the upper front of the trigger guard, typical of Model 70's. The fancy grade, black walnut stock sports a shadow line cheekpiece, black forend tip, contoured steel grip cap and generous, three panel, cut checkering. Recessed sling swivel studs are included. The stock is sealed inside and out with a synthetic matte finish.
All of this, of course, is achieved in a modern factory using the latest machinery. It is not a custom built, hand finished rifle. With a 2009 MSRP of only $1139, that would be impossible. The checkering and engraving are done by machines, as is the inletting of the stock.
The latter, while acceptable for a modern factory built rifle, is certainly not seamless. It is the most obvious difference between the Super Grade and a true custom built rifle. Nor does it compare to the inletting found on Model 70's produced before the Second World War.
The stock looks as if it was "finish sanded" with about 120 grit paper, when something like 400 grit should have been used. The matte wood finish is undoubtedly practical, but it is too dark and too dull to bring out the grain and figure of the fancy walnut, which is a pity. A quick once-over with Johnson's paste wax helps, but we feel that decent surface preparation and a semi-gloss finish would materially enhance the looks of this rifle, as well as being more consistent with the highly polished metal finish of the barreled action.
The laser-cut checkering deserves special mention. The forend is graced by a large, borderless, wrap around point checkering pattern and there are two large checkered areas on each side of the pistol grip. The checkering patterns are understated and match the lines of the rifle. They are also continuous, with no interruptions to make the pattern easier to execute. (Eat your heart out Sako, Tikka, Mossberg, et al!) This checkering is fine enough to look good and coarse enough to provide a non-slip surface. Had it been done by hand, it would be an expensive checkering job of the sort found on fine, custom built rifles.
The walnut in our test rifle is exceptionally attractive. It is dark, but with nice grain and a "tiger stripe" figure throughout the buttstock that runs forward into the forend. We would grade it AA black walnut and few factory built rifles are supplied with this grade of wood today.
The Super Grade Stock is an excellent example of the modern classic tradition. The forend is rounded in cross-section to fit a partially closed human hand. The pistol grip, oval in cross-section, is moderately curved in a segment of a circle. The ruler straight comb is fluted. 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. This stock is the antithesis of the Euro-trash stocks, with their sharp angles and useless accent lines, which are seen on many modern rifles (including the Model 70 Ultimate Shadow and Browning X-Bolt). Every curve and line of the Super Grade stock is clean, understated and functional.
While we are describing the rifle's appearance, we must mention an odd oversight in the finish of the bottom iron. The polishing and bluing of the bottom metal does not match the barreled action! For reasons we cannot imagine, the bottom metal is not highly polished and the finished blue job is consequently much duller than the barreled action. This aesthetic faux pas can be corrected by polishing and re-bluing the bottom metal. Guns and Shooting Online's Gunsmithing Editor, Rocky Hays, polished and re-blued our Super Grade's bottom metal within a week of the rifle's arrival and it substantially improved the overall appearance of the rifle, but this should not be necessary on a Super Grade rifle.
Our test rifle's trigger pull measured four pounds right out of the box, crisp and clean with no creep and no take-up. This Browning/Winchester M.O.A. system is one of the best factory triggers offered today. It is as good as most after market triggers and we could have taken this rifle hunting without touching the trigger, a welcome change from the great majority of hunting rifles sold today. Still, knowing that the new M.O.A. trigger assembly is Allan screw adjustable for both weight of pull and overtravel, we promptly removed the barreled action from the stock to have at it. The overtravel was set correctly at the factory, it was the pull weight that we wanted to reduce to as close to three pounds as possible.
The one-piece bottom iron / trigger guard is held in place by two 5/32" Allan head screws; remove those and the barreled action can be lifted from the stock. With the barreled action inverted on the bench, it is easy to find the trigger adjustment screws. They are at the front of the trigger assembly and covered with some sort of hard goop that must be removed (hint: heat helps). Once that was accomplished, a 1/16 inch Allan wrench is required to adjust the trigger pull weight screw. With the action upside down, it is the upper screw (the one farthest from the bolt). We simply backed the adjustment screw out until it no longer had any effect, then screwed it back in until it just touched the spring it presses against. At that point, the trigger pull measured 3-1/8 pounds, which is as light as this trigger can be adjusted. With the rifle reassembled, the trigger felt great. It was very good right out of the box; now, it is excellent.
The .30-06 Super Grade is fitted with a 24" medium contour barrel. The 1 in 10 inch twist rifling is cold hammer-forged and the barrel is then stress relieved. The muzzle crown is the recessed target type. This barrel is free-floating in the stock all the way to the receiver and, in the case of our test rifle, the wood to metal gap is even all around with no high spots. A perfect example of how a free-floating barrel should fit in its stock.
Here are the basic specifications for the new .30-06 Super Grade rifle:
We feel that a good rifle deserves an equally good scope and for a permanent sight on the Super Grade we selected a new Leupold VX-3 2.5-8x36mm variable with a standard Duplex reticle. This moderate size riflescope provides outstanding optics, generous eye relief, super tough construction and a magnification range that takes full advantage of the versatility of the .30-06 cartridge, whether you are hunting with 220 grain RN bullets in the deep woods or 150 grain boat-tail spitzer bullets on the open prairie. Leupold's flagship riflescope is an excellent match for Winchester's flagship rifle and both are proudly made in the USA. (You can read a full review of the VX-3 on the Product Review Page.)
To mount the VX-3, we used Weaver bases and Leupold's PRW low mounting rings. Mounting was straightforward and we encountered no problems; everything lined-up as it should. Initial bore-sighting was done with a Bushnell magnetic bore-sighter.
The 2009 Winchester catalog states this about the new Super Grade, "You can expect MOA accuracy for three-shot groups from your Model 70 using premium ammo and quality optics under suitable weather and range conditions." We were looking forward to getting the Super Grade to the rifle range to find out.
The first available decent weather found us parked at the Izaak Walton shooting range south of Eugene, Oregon, where we customarily do our gun testing. This outdoor facility offers covered bench rests and target stands at 25, 50, 100 and 200 yards. The spring weather for our range days was sunny, but with a variable (in both direction and velocity) wind. The ambient temperature was in the middle 60's F.
For testing, we amassed several types of factory loaded ammunition supplied by our friends at Federal, Remington and Winchester, for which we would like to express our heartfelt thanks. At the time of this review, factory loaded ammunition was practically unavailable in stores in our area due to panic buying caused by the gun banning agenda of President Obama and the Democrat controlled Congress. The loads supplied to us for this review included Federal Premium with a 165 grain Trophy Bonded Tip bullet at a MV of 2800 fps, Federal Premium with a 150 grain Nosler Accubond bullet at a MV of 2940 fps, Remington Express with a 165 grain Core-Lokt PSP bullet at a MV of 2910 fps, Remington Express with a 180 grain Core-Lokt PSP bullet at a MV of 2700 fps, Winchester Super-X with a 180 grain Power Point bullet, Winchester Supreme with a 180 grain E-Tip bullet, Winchester Supreme with a 150 grain Ballistic Silvertip at a MV of 2900 fps and Winchester Super-X with a 150 grain Power Max bonded bullet at a MV of about 2900 fps. This latter was pre-production (handloaded by Winchester technicians) ammunition sent to us before the final velocity of the production factory load had been established.
Guns and Shooting Online staffers Chuck Hawks, Gordon Landers, Rocky Hays and Nathan Rauzon did the shooting chores. We used Hoppe's Crosshair sighting-in targets at 100 yards for shooting the recorded groups. The shooting was done from a Caldwell Lead Sled DFT weighted with two 25 pound bags 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 hot, although it remained warm for the entire session. Here are the shooting results:
AVERAGE GROUP SIZE FOR ALL LOADS TESTED = 1.93"
As is so often the case, the standard ammo shot as well as the premium loads. Overall, the accuracy of the Super Grade Model 70 was about what we have come to expect from .30-06 rifles shooting factory loaded ammunition. In our experience, you can get a .30-06 to shoot "bragging" groups, but it usually requires handloads tailored for the individual rifle. We think that the .30-06 has been around for so long that there is a little too much variation in factory loads and factory built rifles to produce sensational accuracy without some load tuning. On the other hand, .30-06 ammunition and rifles are available worldwide and the Super Grade is plenty accurate enough to take hunting right out of the box with any of its preferred factory loads. A rifle that shoots within two MOA is accurate enough to kill big game animals cleanly beyond the maximum point blank range (+/- 3") of the .30-06 cartridge.
The excellent M.O.A. trigger drew positive comments from all three reviewers, as did the Model 70's smooth, controlled feed action. The full length extractor is beveled to allow it to over-ride the rim of a cartridge loaded directly into the chamber although, as with all controlled feed actions, we recommend chambering cartridges from the magazine. The Super Grade's action was smoother and exhibited less bolt wobble than a very expensive, custom rifle built on a Mauser 98 action that we happened to be testing for a customer the same day. (The custom's engraving, AAA grade European walnut stock and 28 lpi checkering were eye-catching, though!)
The Model 70's stock design also received positive comments from all three reviewers. It fit everyone well and the straight comb, cheekpiece and Decelerator pad help to reduce perceived recoil.
Several shooters who happened to be at the range while we were testing the new Model 70 were attracted to the Super Grade and everyone though it was a beautiful rifle with a great action. All of the unsolicited comments were extremely positive. The consensus was that the walnut was exceptional and (unlike the majority of the G&S Online staff) most observers liked the stock's dull matte finish.
Guns and Shooting Online member Randy Mullendore received his long awaited .30-06 Model 70 Super Grade shortly after we began this review and sent us an e-mail to let us know. We thought his comments, as a consumer rather than a reviewer, might be interesting. Here they are:
"I am very happy to report that last night I picked up my new Winchester Model 70 Super Grade 30-06. The rifle is everything I've heard and read it would be. Of course, I am very familiar with the Model 70 rifle and action. The wood, metal, fit and finish on this Super Grade is absolutely fantastic. It is easily the nicest rifle I've ever owned . . . This is going to become the centerpiece rifle of my battery."
We think that most owners will echo Randy's sentiments. The Winchester Model 70 is back, it is better than ever, and anyone should be proud to display a new Featherweight or Super Grade in their rifle battery. Despite our few minor complaints, the Super Grade is exceptionally nice and the finest hunting rifle offered by the FN/Browning/Winchester group. Its price is not low, but it is a bargain compared to the other high-grade production rifles available today.
RIFLE REVIEW SUMMARY
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