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A break in tradition: Winchester's Short-Action Model 70.

* The Model 70 Winchester was first introduced in 1937 in one action length that would handle everything up through the .375 H&H Magnum in length. Known today as the "Pre-'64" Model 70 action, this one was slightly modified Mauser design featuring a coned breech, two massive forward-located locking lugs and the large, stationary claw extractor made famous by Mauser and favored by hunters the world over. This Winchester Model 70 action perservered, almost unchanged, until 1964. At that time an entirely new action was introduced. As you might expect, changing an action after over 25 years brought Winchester some headaches, but these were worked out over a relatively short period of time and culminated in the 1968 version that is the Model 70 we know today.

Still, many shooters felt that something was still missing--a short-action rifle for those short, high-performance cartridges like the .243 Winchester and .308 Winchester that have become so popular with hunters. Well, after 47 years--27 as the old "Pre-'84" Model and 20 as the new model--the United States Repeating Arms Company has broken tradition with the introduction of two new short-action Model 70 rifles. One is the Model 70 XTR Short-Action Featherweight, the other the Model 70 Short-Action Carbine. The Featherweight version has a 22-inch barrel, the Carbine a 20-inch barrel. Both are chambered for the .223 Remington, .22-250 Remington, .243 Winchester and .308 Winchester. Missing from this list of chamberings is one of our newest short cartridges, one which I think will gain a large following rather quickly--the 7 mm-08 Remington. Made by simply necking the .308 Winchester down to 7 mm, this one is a natural for the new short-action Model 70 and I think U.S. Repeating Arms would do themselves and hunters a big favor if they'd add it to their list of chamberings.

I was introduced to the new short-action Model 70 on a special hunt sponsored by U.S. Repeating Arms on the Cheyenne River and Standing Rock Sioux Reservations in South Dakota last October. I bagged two pronghorns with the .308 Featherweight issued me, yet this told me little about the rifle except that I liked its weight, looks and handling qualities. There just isn't enough time to thoroughly evaluate a rifle on such a hunt, so U.S. Repeating Arms was gracious enough to send the rifle on to me for more detailed testing and evaluation.

All I can say about the new short-action Model 70 Featherweight is that it's exquisite where appearance is concerned. The walnut stock features a classic straight comb (no Monte Carlo), a Schnabel foreend, 18-line-per-inch checkering on the forearm and pistol grip, a rubber buttpad and sling swivel studs. To top things off, the stock has a satin finish that's tough, yet resembles a good oil finish. The drop at the comb is 1-5/16 inch, drop at heel 1-5/8 inch and the length of pull is 13-1/2 inches.

But the stock is only part of the beauty of the short-action Model 70. The finish on the metal is also excellent--a deep, polished blue on the barrel and receiver with color to match on the alloy triggerguard and floorplate. The cocking piece, bolt shroud and safety on the rear of the bolt, as well as the bolt handle, are blued while the bolt body is jeweled. The bolt knob has a knurled section around its center to afford a non-slip surface for your hand as you operate the bolt. The short-action Featherweight has no iron sights--a feature I approve of wholeheartedly on this sleek rifle--but the receiver is drilled and tapped for scope mounting. My test rifle is topped with a Leupold 3X-9X Compact scope set in Leupold two-piece mounts.

What we're really interested in here is the new short action, the heart of the rifle and the feature U.S. Repeating Arms is hoping will sell a lot of guns in 1984. The two most important things are that the short action is 1/2-inch shorter than the standard action and results in an overall weight reduction of 1/4 pound. In all other respects, the short action is identical to the longer version. I think the action itself deserves some detailed coverage here if for no other reason than to quell much of the unfounded criticism leveled at today's Model 70. It's a better action in almost every respect than the "Pre-'64" version that so many riflemen insist on mooning over.

To begin with, it's a stronger, safer action. The bolt boasts two large locking lugs up front that cam into recesses in the receiver. The sliding hook-type extractor is set in the face of the right locking lug and while its purchase on the case rim isn't as large as with a Mauser-type extractor, this one works very well. The bolt face of the Model 70 is recessed .117 inch so that the head of the cartridge is surrounded by a ring of steel. But, because it would adversely affect accuracy, the bolt cannot touch the barrel. As a result, there is a few thousandths of an inch gap where the case is unsupported. However, this is better than the old coned breech system. Ejection is accomplished by a plunger-type ejector that is set in the outer edge of the bolt face counterbore.

Smoothness is a feature often credited to the "Pre-'64" action and not to the new action. In reality, the new action is every bit as smooth as the old one, maybe smoother. This results from use of a guide groove, called an "anti-bind device," cut below the right locking lug of the bolt. This groove engages the right receiver rail and guides forward and backward bolt movement. This guide groove wasn't on the 1964 Model 70 action, thus the bolt had a tendency to wobble and bind, particularly when operated quickly.

The staggered box magazine of the Model 70 short-action loads from the top and holds five cartridges in .22-250, .243 and .308, and six in .223 Remington. The magazine is 2.854 inches long, thus this is the maximum length a cartridge can be and still function through the magazine. The floorplate is hinged to facilitate unloading of the magazine from below. The floorplate latch on the new action is a carry-over from the "Pre-'64." Located in the upper front of the triggerguard, a weaker spring is used in the new model, making it easier to depress the latch.

The trigger on the Model 70 short-action is the same as on the long action and it, too, is a carry-over from the "Pre-'64." It's considered by many shooters to be one of the best sporting rifle triggers ever developed. It's certainly simple and easy to adjust for both weight of pull and sear engagement. The factory has a habit of setting the trigger on Model 70s too heavy--it was 5-1/2 pounds on my test rifle--but it can be adjusted down to a good, safe 2-1/2 pounds, which is acceptable for any hunting rifle.

Before going to be range to test my short-action Model 70 Featherweight, I checked the bedding to be sure there were no tight spots. There was one--the entire left side of the barrel channel was touching the barrel and the barrel is supposed to be free-floating. I relieved the pressure by just a little work with sandpaper on a hardwood dowel.

The action is nicely bedded and the recoil lug is set in a new product called thermoplastic. It's applied hot, then the action is set in and tightened down. The result is perfect recoil lug bedding with a product that won't shrink, swell or crack. But unless you know that the recoil lug is bedded in thermoplastic, you might panic the first time you try to take the barreled action out of the stock. The lug is set so tight that you'll have to strike the barrel several hard blows with a rawhide mallet to free the recoil lug.

At the range I sighted my rifle in, then fired sixteen three-shot groups at 100 yards--eight with Remington 150-grain Core Lokt Pointed Soft Point factory ammo and eight with Remington 180-grain Core Lokt Pointed Soft Point loads. After firing four groups with each bullet weight, I decided to see how bullet impact on the target was affected by barrel heat. While the Featherweight's 22-inch barrel is light, it's not a whip as we often see on lightweight sporters. It starts out with a diameter of 1.125 inches at the receiver. Then it tapers quickly to .90 inch in diameter at a point just .310 inch forward of the receiver. From there the taper is straight and gradual, ending with a diameter of .550 inch at the muzzle.

To see how accuracy was affected by barrel heat, I shot four three-shot groups with 150-grain ammunition, beginning with a cold barrel and pausing only long enough to aim accurately and feed more rounds into the magazine after each three-shot string. While my first three groups didn't indicate that they opened up from the heat, there was a slight shift in impact point that could be attributed to the barrel heating up. But the fourth group, representing shots 10, 11 and 12, showed both a shift in impact point and considerable enlargement in group size. I then let the barrel cool completely before repeating this test with 180-grain factory ammunition. The results with the heavier bullets were the same as with the 150s--three good groups with a slight change in impact point, then a fourth group showing both group enlargement and a shift in the impact point of the shots. However, for all practical hunting purposes, you can forget about barrel heat being a factor in where your shots hit.

I'm very pleased with the accuracy of my short-action Featherweight Model 70. Groups with both 150- and 180-grain Remington factory ammo averaged just over 1-1/2 inches at 100 yards. This is excellent for a lightweight sporter and factory ammunition. The averages, though, did not include the last groups fired with each bullet weight from a hot barrel. But even with these included the averages figure out to 1-3/4 inches. I have no doubt whatsoever that good handloads in this rifle will group in one inch or under at 100 yards.

Accuracy wasn't all that impressed me about the short-action Model 70 Featherweight I tested. The rifle also functioned perfectly. The magazine holds five cartridges and all five fed perfectly, even rapid fire. Extraction and ejection were perfect and the action is one of the smoothest to operate you'll ever get your hands on. The safety worked as advertised and the rifle is pleasant to shoot and easy to handle.

All in all the new short-action Model 70 stacks up as an excellent hunting rifle--one worthy of the name Winchester. Both the Featherweight and the Carbine will be on the market by the time you read this, so see your dealer if you're interested in a Model 70 Winchester that breaks with a half-century of tradition.
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Author:Milek, Bob
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:Apr 1, 1984
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