Compared: Remington Model 700 Mountain Rifle and Winchester Model 70 Classic Featherweight
By Chuck Hawks with Gordon Landers
Both the Remington Model 700 Mountain Rifle and Winchester Model 70 Featherweight have previously been reviewed and those articles can be found on the Product Reviews index page. In fact, it is those reviews that inspired this comparison.
Both rifles were purchased new in the box from the same gun shop. The MSRP of the two rifles is similar, as is their purpose. These are not "Custom" or "Super Grade" rifles, but they are what I would term deluxe standard model rifles. The Model 700 came in .260 Remington and the Model 70 came in 6.5x55mm SE.
Gordon and I have great respect for the .260 Remington and 6.5x55mm SE cartridges, regarding either as a top choice for hunting all Class 2 game. Their ballistics are essentially interchangeable, both launching a 140 grain, .264 inch bullet at around 2700 fps when loaded to the same pressure.
The .260 fits a short (.308 length) action and the slightly longer 6.5x55 is usually offered in a standard (.30-06) length action. This makes most .260 rifles about 1/2" shorter than equivalent 6.5x55 rifles, but in the Model 70 Featherweight the 6.5x55 shares the specifications of the short action, rather than the standard length action calibers, so this is a non-issue (except for the Model 70's slightly longer bolt throw).
The Remington Mountain Rifle
The Remington Model 700 is the best selling bolt action hunting rifle in the world. It is a conventional push feed, front locking, two-lug action with a 90-degree bolt lift. The basic action was designed back in the 1950's for inexpensive mass production, given the technology of that time, and its basic features have been copied my many other manufacturers. The barrel is free floated.
The receiver is machined from bar stock and the recoil lug is a heavy steel washer inserted between the action and the barrel. The bolt face is fully recessed and surrounds the case head. The recessed bolt face, the flat (not coned) breech end of the barrel, plus the forward receiver ring, constitute the "three rings of steel" that contribute to the action's great strength. The bolt body is attractively engine-turned.
For an open top bolt action, the reloading port is relatively small, which makes for a slightly stiffer action and shorter bolt throw, but slows reloading. The plunger ejector mounted in the bolt face is positive and reliable. A cir-clip inside the recessed bolt fact snaps over the rim of the case when the bolt is closed and serves as the extractor.
This extractor has drawn a lot of flack over the years, as perhaps the action's worst feature. It is not particularly strong and does not take a very big "bite" on the case. Regardless, it works pretty well.
Remington Model 700 triggers are screw adjustable for pull weight. Gordon set the Mountain Rifle's trigger for a crisp 2.25 pound release, the pull weight he prefers. The trigger of this rifle is excellent. (Note that this rifle came with the previous generation Model 700 trigger, not the current X-Mark Pro trigger system.)
The safety is at the right rear of the action and is a simple two position type. It is easy and positive to use, more so than the vaunted three position safety of the Model 70, in my judgment. The forward position is "fire" and back is "safe." The rearward "safe" position locks the trigger, but not the bolt. This is so the rifle can be left on safe while being unloaded.
The bolt release is a small, square button just in front of the trigger. It works, but is not particularly convenient.
The trigger guard bow is slightly enlarged forward of the trigger to accommodate winter gloves, a nice touch. The bolt handle is attractively checkered, although functionally I prefer a smooth bolt knob. The Model 700 action feels smoother in operation than the Model 70 action, primarily due to the absence of the extra friction caused by the Model 70's long, external extractor.
The Model 700 action has proven to be stiff, accurate action and very strong. It is also a good looking action, smooth and rounded. It is frequently chosen as the basis for custom built rifles in the U.S.
The basic stock design is of the modern classic type and positions the eye properly for use with a telescopic sight. It features a straight comb and a comfortable cheekpiece.
The pistol grip has a slightly tighter curve than the Featherweight's. It is terminated with a black plastic cap. The recoil pad is solid black rubber with a flat face, set off by a black line spacer. The edges are slightly rounded to minimize snagging when shouldered. Generous three panel, point pattern checkering wraps all the way around the slender, rounded forearm, which has an attractive black tip.
The Mountain Rifle is a lightened, but not extreme ultra-light, version of the famous Model 700. LSS stands for laminated/stainless steel.
This version was supplied with a satin finished, stainless steel barreled action and a laminated wood stock with a hinged magazine floor plate. The release for the magazine floor plate is inside the front of the trigger guard and is convenient to operate. Iron sights are not supplied, but studs for detachable sling swivels are. The rifle's overall finish is good, but not exceptional.
The basic specifications for the .260 Mountain Rifle are as follows: barrel length 22 inches; overall length 41-5/8 inches; length of pull 13-3/8 inches, drop at comb 3/8 inch, drop at heel 3/8 inch; average weight 6-1/2 pounds; magazine capacity four rounds.
The Winchester Featherweight
The classic Model 70 bolt action is a throwback to an earlier era when skilled labor was affordable and no one much cared if firearms were labor intensive to produce. Although it is accurate and strong, the Model 70 action was optimized for the hunting field, rather than the rifle range.
Discontinued in 1964 due to its high cost of manufacture, the advent of CNC machines made the reintroduction of this classic action economically feasible and all current Model 70 production is of the classic (pre-'64) type. This is basically an improved Mauser type, front locking, two lug action with a 90 degree bolt lift.
The classic Model 70 action is machined from a block of solid steel. It has a flat bottom for maximum wood to metal contact when bedded and an integral, machined recoil lug. The barrel is free floated.
The engine turned-bolt uses a full length Mauser-type extractor that takes a very large bite on the case rim to help extract oversize, dirty, or stuck cases, which is more important in the field than at the range. This is what is called a "controlled feed" action.
The extractor design allows the bolt to pick up a cartridge from the magazine and positively insert it into the chamber (hence controlled feed). If you are swinging the rifle while reloading (as is sometimes the case when the target is a fleeing or charging animal) the cartridge will not become misaligned and jam the action, or be thrown completely from the rifle. Controlled feeding also makes double feed jams almost impossible.
With this type of extractor it is best to feed cases into the chamber from the magazine, rather than directly into the chamber by hand, even for a single shot. This makes a controlled feed action less convenient than a push feed action at the rifle range.
The ejector is of the fixed blade type, mounted in the receiver, which allows the reloader to gently remove a fired case by hand by merely opening the bolt slowly. This is a handy feature at the rifle range and for reloaders. Pull the bolt back smartly, as when reloading in the field for a follow-up shot, and the empty case will be thrown well clear of the action.
Winchester Model 70 Classic triggers are adjustable, after removing the barreled action from the stock, for sear engagement and weight of pull by means of two screws and locknuts. I set this one for the three pound release I prefer for a hunting rifle. A tiny amount of creep remains, but it is so minimal that I figured it wasn't worth the trouble to hone the engagement surfaces. (Note that this Model 70 Classic has the original Model 70 trigger system, not the current, improved, MOA trigger system.)
The bolt knob has a knurled ring, supposedly for a more positive grip. The bolt release is a small lever at the left of the rear receiver ring. I find this to be a more convenient location than the Model 700's bolt release.
The safety is of the flag type, located at the right rear of the bolt. This three position safety is perhaps the most copied in the world. Fully forward is "fire," fully to the rear is "safe" (blocking both the trigger and striker) and locks the bolt closed. The intermediate (middle) position keeps the trigger locked, but allows the bolt to be operated to unload the chamber. I find this safety a little more awkward to operate than the Remington safety, but I like the fact that the bolt is locked closed when the safety is set.
The breech is coned for smooth and reliable feeding, a real plus if a fast second shot is required. You can feel the difference when you cycle cartridges through the action. The staggered magazine holds five standard diameter cartridges, one more than the Model 700 magazine.
The Featherweight has a longer bolt throw and a much larger loading port than the Mountain Rifle. This makes it easier and faster to reload, a matter of little importance until an emergency arises.
It is this collection small features, unnoticed by many newbie hunters and shooters, as well as its fundamentally sound design, that has made the Model 70's reputation as the "Rifleman's Rifle." Many knowledgeable experts regard the Model 70 as the finest bolt action ever designed for a hunting rifle. It has been chosen as the basis for many fancy custom rifles.
The Featherweight comes with an American black walnut stock. This stock features a straight comb and a comfortable cheekpiece. The basic stock design is of the modern classic type and it correctly positions the eye for use with a telescopic sight.
The pistol grip has a comfortable curve, slightly more open than the Mountain Rifle's, and is set off by a black plastic cap. The slender forearm has a Schnable tip. Current Featherweights come with a black rubber recoil pad set off by a black line spacer. The very attractive three panel checkering wraps completely around the forearm.
The Featherweight is perhaps the best known model in Winchester's storied Model 70 line. It is a somewhat lightened version of the standard Model 70. It comes with a polished blue metal finish and a satin wood finish. Overall, the finish is better than most production rifles today.
The bottom iron is mostly aluminum to reduce weight, but the hinged floor plate is steel. The floor plate release is a small button at the front of the trigger guard, which is satisfactory, but not particularly easy to operate. Iron sights are not supplied, but studs for detachable sling swivels are.
The basic specifications for the 6.5x55 Model 70 Classic Featherweight are as follows: magazine capacity five rounds; barrel length 22 inches; overall length 42 inches; length of pull 13-1/2 inches; drop at comb 9/16 inch; drop at heel 7/8 inch; nominal weight seven pounds.
The Mountain Rifle LSS wears a Leupold VX-3 2.5-8x36mm scope in a low Leupold mount. The Featherweight wears a Weaver Grand Slam 3-10x40mm scope in a low Leupold mount.
The Leupold scope has a Mil-dot reticle and the Weaver scope has a standard plex reticle. The Mil-dot is probably a little better for target shooting, as it has finer crosswires. These are both very good scopes that give a sharp, clear view of the target.
Remington Express factory loads were used in the Remington rifle and Sellier & Bellot factory loads in the Winchester rifle. Both come with 140 grain pointed soft point type bullets.
These are are "popular priced" (not premium) factory loads commonly used in hunting rifles. The retail price of a box of either brand of ammunition is similar at our local gun shop. We did not purchase any special ammo for this comparison.
Although Gordon and I are both reloaders, reloads were not used for this comparison. Reloads would have probably resulted in slightly smaller groups from both rifles.
The shooting results
Gordon and I did all of the shooting at the Izaak Walton range near Eugene, Oregon. This is an outdoor facility with 25, 50, 100 and 200 yard rifle ranges. We tried to pick days with decent weather and minimal wind, but we were outdoors and there is always some air movement.
We used bench rests and sandbags when shooting for record and both scopes were set to approximately eight power. Most groups were 3-shots, with a few 5-shot groups to keep us honest.
There proved to be no practical difference in the accuracy of the two rifles. Using factory loads the Remington Mountain Rifle's average group size proved to be 1.5 inches at 100 yards. The best groups went into one inch.
The Winchester Classic Featherweight averaged about 1.5 inch groups with factory loads at 100 yards. The best group went into 7/8 inch and the worst into two inches (my fault).
Anyone trying to choose between these two rifles will have to look beyond intrinsic accuracy. Which is as it should be; intrinsic accuracy is seldom the most important attribute of any hunting rifle.
Plusses for the Model 700 Mountain Rifle include its rust resistant stainless steel barreled action, enlarged trigger guard that makes it easy for a hunter wearing heavy gloves, smooth action, convenient magazine floor plate release and the more rounded edges of its recoil pad.
Because it is about 1/2 pound lighter than the Featherweight it would be easier to carry long distances over rough terrain, an important factor in a mountain rifle. However, unlike ultra-light mountain rifles, it retains enough weight to also be a decent rifle to shoot. Neither of us would want it any lighter.
The Mountain Rifle LSS is more eye-catching than the Classic Featherweight. We found its brown laminated stock with the extensive checkering pattern and black forearm tip and grip cap very attractive. It nicely sets off the silver stainless steel barreled action.
The walnut stocked, classically styled Featherweight is an exceptionally attractive rifle, although more subdued and refined. It is well above average in both appearance and function.
The biggest plusses for the Model 70 Classic Featherweight are its superior balance and slightly greater weight that reduces recoil. Also appreciated are its coned breech, large loading port, greater magazine capacity, controlled feed, more convenient bolt release and integral recoil lug.
The Featherweight is light enough to not be burdensome to carry and heavy enough to be fun to shoot. It is a pleasure at the rifle range (at least in 6.5x55 caliber) and readily adaptable to a wide range of hunting situations.
These are attractive and functional hunting rifles. Both have areas of superiority. Neither has any glaring flaws. Both are more than accurate enough for all practical hunting purposes. There is little to choose between the performance of the two cartridges.
If Gordon and I could change one thing about the Mountain Rifle, we would like a heavier contour barrel, which would increase the rifle's weight to equal the Featherweight. (The Model 700 CDL SF version achieves this, albeit with a longer 24 inch barrel.)
The Mountain Rifle is, as its name implies, a superior mountain rifle that still remains suitable for all-around duties. The Featherweight is a suitable mountain rifle and a superior all-around rifle.
Copyright 2004, 2017 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.