Winchester Pre-'64 Model 70 Featherweight Rifle
By Ed Turner
I fell in love at first sight, no denying that. My typical browsing of GunsAmerica for something special netted me several pictures of a 1960 edition of the "Rifleman's Rifle," a pristine-looking Winchester Model 70 Featherweight in the legendary .270 Winchester caliber. The wood was lighter than normal, with fiddleback from the end of the butt to the tip of the forearm. A truly striking rifle.
It had supposedly come through the custom shop, getting upgraded wood, a steel floorplate (rather than the normal aluminum) and quick release sling swivels. It seemed that whoever ordered it just had to have been me in a previous life. I looked at that rifle for something like two weeks straight, every damn day. I had every angle memorized and simply could not get past that fine Featherweight adorned with that gorgeous piece of walnut.
Don't get me wrong, I own several rifles with striking wood. For example, there's a Ruger M77RSM that is pretty enough to bring a tear to your eye. A 50+ year old Sako with FN action has a blonde stock and a simply striking appearance lives here, too. A late sixties Browning BAR Grade II in .30-06 that has a sought after caramel colored stock with striking fiddleback and another late 60's BAR Grade II with dark-veined French walnut that I chanced to find NIB about 5 or 6 years ago. There is even a mid-1950's Remington 740 BDL that has wood that might be termed "exhibition" grade nowadays. However, this Model 70 had that quiet dignity and that oh so special wood that makes one's heart flutter (mine anyway!).
There's little I can tell you about the pre-'64 Winchester Model 70 that Chuck Hawks hasn't already covered in Guns and Shooting Online articles. I will simply say that there are few rifles anywhere, at any price, which impresses me as much as that special marriage of steel and walnut.
Surely Jack O'Connor, the Dean of American gun writers, wouldn't have chosen a .270 Featherweight as his favorite rifle if it weren't something special. As it turns out, Mr. Turner has found a special place in his heart (and gun cabinet) for these very special rifles, as well.
The older version is possibly not as attractive as the later Featherweight XTR and Classic Featherweight versions with their slender stocks. These rifles showed us Americans that the European Schnabel forend tip does have its place. The new versions have very nice blue and the fleur-de-lis checkering with a graceful arc of uncheckered ribbon in the pattern should give any rifle lover pause. I'll make no bones about the fact I have called the new version simply the best looking production rifle ever produced.
On the other hand, the Featherweight version of the great pre-'64 Model 70 has its own special allure. The shortened barrel seems appropriate to me. The lighter weight makes it easier to carry all day and the timeless Model 70 action is still there in all its glory.
The action of all pre-'64s are left in a matte blue finish, while the barrel and floorplate have a very fine level of polish and blue. This one is no different. The traditional 3-position safety is there, as well. The simple rounded forend tip is pleasing to the eye.
The rear sight is a folding, adjustable type. The ramp front sight is equipped with a plain bead and is protected by a classic hood. Everything on this rifle remains as it was originally manufactured.
The early Model 70 Standard rifles and Featherweights had steel (on the standard rifle) or aluminum (on the Featherweight) inletted butt plates. That was later changed to plastic butt plates on both. The steel or aluminum butt plate being inletted is a very nice touch, but this rifle wears a plastic plate.
I finally decided that I could not be satisfied with looking any longer and soon had a check enroute to the dealer. Meanwhile, I sweated-out the arrival of my new (to me) rifle. It showed-up at my FFL dealer at about the same time as a new Marlin Model 1894 I had ordered, but the latter had to wait awhile before it got any attention from me.
The old Model 70 is nearly flawless. It has been used, but used gently, and it has held up very well. The original stock finish is almost 100%, with some minor surface scratches and small dings. Maybe the original owner loved that wood and took special care of it. I am thinking that it shows just enough use to allow me to be comfortable using it myself.
The blue is also quite good, with only a few very small patches of roughness, as most guns this age acquire when not simply oiled and hidden from sight. A plus turned out to be a small piece of a target claimed to have been shot with the rifle and the 3-hole group measured less than a half inch!
I had time to ponder the sort of scope I would want to mount on the Featherweight and I spent weeks searching for just the right glass. I found a Lyman All-American 3X, the same scope that is mounted on my 1952 Model 70 in .30-06, but the seller had just left for a three week hunt in British Columbia. Well, that made two reasons to dislike him! (Just kidding, of course.)
I continued my search and found old Bausch & Lombs, older M8 Leupolds in four and six power and even a mint four power Redfield. I finally decided on a nice looking, four power Burris FF from 1988. Not nearly as old as the rifle, but still not a modern looking scope that I felt would spoil the aura of my new rifle.
My 1952 Model 70 has a one-piece Leupold base and the same type of base sits atop a 1966 Model 70 I also own, so I decided to stay with a winning combination, because it looked natural on the rifle's action. I gambled (correctly, as it turned out) on low Leupold rings, figuring that the scope's small objective bell would clear the barrel and be behind the rear sight.
Many older Model 70's no longer have rear sights because the sight's placement interfered with mounting scopes with large objective bells. The 1952's rear sight was but a memory when that gun came to live at my house.
The base, rings and scope were soon sitting atop the .270 and a quick cleaning of the obviously pristine bore had me ready for the range. Judgment day had come. I looked through my varied assortment of .270 loads and picked out a "cheapie" for initial work and a better quality load for final sight-in (assuming that I got that far).
The day was already warm when I arrived at our private range and unloaded my five or six rifles to be shot this day. Final checks were made, targets taped to our plywood backstop and the table placed at the 50 yard line. Rifles were rotated to assist cooling in the warm temperature.
The old Featherweight did fine, shooting groups from 1.5-2" for the most part, but nothing like the enclosed target had shown. The largest were fired when the barrel was still warm from its last turn in the rotation and finally it didn't seem to cool much at all in the warm sun.
I would have been fine with the 1.5-2" groups and even if I never managed to shrink them, it was still a 300 plus yard rifle. That's right at the MPBR capability for a 130 grain .270 bullet. I figured my experimentation and initial shooting had gone well, if not spectacularly.
I had a chance a week or so later to make another trip to the range and this time a friend accompanied me. We shot a varied assortment of rifles, including a muzzleloader, and the weather was much nicer. We didn't sweat and the barrels actually cooled between sessions. Hallelujah.
A couple more similar groups with another load, this one a premium load with TBBC bullets. Again, fine hunting accuracy, but not like the target supplied. I began to wonder why they had done that; was it simply to torture me?
Soon everything on my side of the tailgate was sighted and shot and as I waited for my friend to finish shooting, I sorted around in my range bag and found an inexpensive box of .270 Winchester Power Points.
They were Winchester 150 grain factory loads, but simply put, the base model. I figured what the heck, the rifle was cool, cleaned and I had nothing better to do. I plopped in three rounds and squeezed them off from the lead sled. We finished shooting at our respective targets and walked on down.
There it was, finally! The itty bitty three shot group that would make your heart skip a beat. I'm sure my jaw dropped and the two of us simply stared for a minute. Remember, we are not target shooters, nor do we claim to be anything but hunters who take their shooting seriously.
We are most always happy when a load goes under 2" in a rifle we will use locally, as we simply do not have the terrain to require 250 yard shots. We get very excited seeing a sub 1.5" load and all but do the "happy dance" when we slip-in some sub-one inchers. Here was an honest sub-1/2" group. Simply one ragged hole.
Needless to say, I was more than happy, having also done it with a straight 4x scope. I had finally found my load and I shot one more group to reset the zero with the new load. That group was larger, but still excellent and no matter which way I viewed it, moving it another 1/2" would have made it off in another direction. Perhaps a 200 yard range session is in order to see if a one click adjustment (1" at 200 yards) is needed.
No premium bullets for this oldie, simply the same old Winchester Power Points that have been around since Jack O'C. was still teaching college. That's probably what this old timer had grown up spittin' out, anyway.
Either way, Ed's a very happy camper with his new Jack O'Connor inspired rifle. She is pretty as a peach and deadly as a black mamba. If you don't appreciate the way a finely made rifle looks in your hand and enjoy stealing a glance at it while sitting waiting for game to show, then perhaps I have wasted your time here. However, when the hunting is slow and devoid of game, if glancing down at your firearm of choice makes you grin involuntarily, then buddy, you understand just what I am saying.
I, for one, am very happy for both of us. As someone else said a long tome ago: "Life is too short to hunt with an ugly rifle!"
Note: Complete reviews of the Model 70 Classic Featherweight and Model 70 Lightweight Carbine may be found on the Product Reviews page.
Copyright 2008 by Ed Turner. All rights reserved.
SPECIALIST IN ENGRAVING AND RESTORATION