Winchester Model 70 Lightweight Carbine

By Rick Ryals

Winchester Model 70 Carbine
Winchester Model 70 Carbine. Photo by Rick Ryals

The Winchester Model 70 was offered in a variety of models over the course of its production history. One of those, the Model 70 Lightweight Carbine, is the subject of this review. According to the 3rd edition of Rifles of the World, the Model 70 Carbine was introduced around 1984.

There was also an earlier pre-64 model that came with a 20 inch barrel. That model was never officially designated a carbine by Winchester and was not labeled as such on the barrel. The model we are looking at is a post-64 model that is stamped "Model 70 Carbine" on the barrel. It was offered in .223 Remington, 22-250 Remington, .243 Winchester, .250 Savage, .270 Winchester, .308 Winchester, and .30-06.

This rifle has a blued steel barreled action with a 20 inch barrel and a slimmed-down walnut stock. The barrel and action are polished to a satin finish. It is not the high gloss of a Browning or Weatherby but is a nice low-glare blue-black. I find it much more appealing than the "matte" unfinished look currently popular with manufacturers. The stock has a smooth, even semi-gloss finish.

The barrel has a light profile, measuring 1.146 inches for about 0.2 inches in front of the receiver, then tapering rapidly to 0.970 inches about 0.5 inches from the receiver. It then has a straight taper to the muzzle where it measures 0.530 inches. In addition the stock has cut-outs milled into the butt stock and barrel channel to further lighten the rifle.

The walnut stock is classic in style without a cheekpiece. The butt is finished with a red 1/2 inch thick Winchester recoil pad and sling swivel studs are installed fore and aft. Cut checkering of 16 lines per inch in a Winchester point pattern adorns grip and fore end, but there is no grip cap or fore end tip. The walnut is not fancy, but it is adequate for a hunting rifle.

My acquaintance with this rifle began at my local gun shop. It sat on the shelf for a number of months waiting for someone to take it home. The asking price was $400. According to a couple of Blue Book publications it should have been priced around $325 to $350. This may have been why it waited so long.

This particular rifle was in .270 Winchester caliber. I did not have a .270. After pondering it for a while I decided that as a true rifle lover I needed one. As you can guess, I eventually bit the bullet, shelled out $400 and brought the rifle home.

The action is the push feed that Winchester introduced in 1964 and then upgraded in 1968. The extractor is the spring loaded claw type mounted at the front end of the bolt body. The bolt body is jeweled and has two strong locking lugs up front. The bolt face is recessed with a plunger ejector. The bolt handle is knurled and gracefully swept back. Bolt operation is very smooth and requires the standard 90 degree lift. The release for removing the bolt is a simple lever at the left rear of the receiver that is pushed forward.

The trigger is the excellent Model 70 factory trigger, simple and easily adjusted. The face of the trigger has vertical grooves cut into it. The safety is the standard Model 70 three-position type, smooth, quiet and easily manipulated by one's thumb. The trigger guard and floor plate are aluminum alloy with a push button release in front of the trigger guard. Magazine capacity is 5 rounds for most cartridges and 6 rounds for the .223.

The overall length of this rifle is 40.5 inches. The barrel is 20 inches long. Length of pull is a rather short 13.5 inches. Drop is approximately 5/8 inch at comb and 1 inch at heel. Weight is 6 pounds 2 ounces. With a Leupold VX-II 2-7 scope in Talley light weight ring-mounts the weight comes to 6 pounds 15 ounces.

For my first trip to the rifle range with this rifle I picked up a box each of Remington Express and Winchester Super-X 130 grain factory loads. Groups were around 1.5 to 2 inches. Adequate, but nothing to get excited about.

So I began reading about handloading the .270 Winchester. One of the articles I read was by John Barsness in Handloader magazine. He mentioned that it was a rare .270 that would not shoot well with H-4831 powder. So I picked up a pound of that and loaded up 5 cartridges each with 57, 58, 59 and 60 grains together with Hornady 130 grain bullets.

My second trip to the range was pleasantly surprising. Groups with the H-4831 snuggled around 1.0 to 1.25 inches. Average velocity from the 20 inch barrel with the 60 grain load is 2925 feet per second. This was plenty good enough for me from such a light handy rifle.

Everything about this rifle works as it should, smoothly, quietly, and simply. There is nothing like owning a Model 70 to make you appreciate one. Although the fit and finish of the M70 over the years sometimes left something to be desired, as far as the basic design is concerned, no one else seems able to get everything quite as right as Winchester did with the M70.

I have come to recognize that much of the bad press Winchester received for the post-64 Model 70's was unwarranted. Particularly following the 1968 upgrades, the Model 70 was every bit as good a rifle as the Remington 700, and better in most ways. Remington used (and still uses) more cost-cutting techniques in manufacture than Winchester ever did with the post '64 (push feed) Model 70, but never received the bad press for it that Winchester did.

After the Model 70's demise in 2006, the Ruger Model 77 would seem to be a leading candidate as its heir apparent. While I love my M77's, Ruger could learn a thing or two by taking a close look at a Model 70, especially in the trigger and safety departments.

The M70's trigger is smooth and reasonably light, simple, easy to get to and easy to adjust. The safety functions smoothly and (most notably for Ruger owners) quietly, and should be the envy of Ruger engineers.

Even Kimber, whose Model 84M and Model 8400 look very similar to the Model 70, could learn from the latter's safety. Although Kimber's safety looks like a Model 70's, it is nowhere near as smooth or quiet. And the Kimber's round receiver is machined from bar stock, while the Model 70's flat bottomed receiver with its integral recoil lug is forged steel.

I, along with many others, am going to miss the Model 70. Since this is the only one I own, I regret that I did not purchase a few more while I had the chance. I know that they will still be available on the used market, but at inflated prices. But when I come across a nice one that appeals to me, I may very well be willing to bite the bullet and pay a little more. Because in its basic design as a hunting rifle no one else has ever brought all the pieces together in such a perfect combination; in other words, nothing else is quite a Model 70.

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Copyright 2007, 2012 by Rick Ryals. All rights reserved.