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Special intelligence.

I don't believe I've ever returned from a SHOT Show having heard more mixed opinions about business and the economy than I did this past January. I guess that's understandable, what with the emotional and economic roller coaster we as a nation have been on these past 12 months. We went from the euphoria and optimism that went with having kicked Saddam's butt in the most lopsided war in modern history, to what just before Christmas the media was calling "a near depression." The nation's mood was reflected in Bush's approval rating that plunged from an unheard-of 91 percent in April to around 45 percent just eight months later.

It's no wonder then that cruising the aisles in New Orleans and talking with literally hundreds of exhibitors I heard so many differing opinions and reports with respect to business this past year and expectations for 1992. I can honestly say, though, I talked with a lot more folks who had their "best year ever" than those who experienced the opposite. Those assessments represent the extremes, of course; most manufacturers conceeded that 1991 was "okay" but could have been better.

As for the mood with regard to the coming year, "cautious optimism" is such a cliche, but then that's why they're cliches -- terms used so much because they accurately describe what we want to say. And that's how I'd describe the mood at SHOT.

Despite the gloom and doom painted each night for us by the news media, I got a sense of optimism from most of the people to whom I spoke. The consensus seemed to be that the 92 perfect of the public that is working is getting a little tired of waiting for things to get worse and that they are going to start buying again.

Sundra Sizes Up The SHOT Show

Editor Scott Farrell's directive to single out what I thought to be the "most unique, exciting new product at the SHOT Show" was easy for me: the Winchester Model 70 Featherweight Classic.

U.S. Repeating Arms has taken the improved version of the vaunted pre-'64 Model 70 which they've been offering these past couple of years as the Super Grade, screwed on a lighter, trimmer barrel, and mated it with that elegant Featherweight stock of theirs. In effect, they've taken the Model 70 that GUNS Magazine readers voted the "World's Most Beautiful Rifle," and made it a pre-'64.

As far as I'm concerned, if after seeing this new Featherweight Classic anyone laments the passing of the "old Model 70," they're either very confused or are hung up on venerating the past for the sake of venerating the past. Make no mistake: this is a better-designed, better-made and better-looking rifle than the pre-'64 ever was.

From the outside the only readily discernible difference between the Classic and the "regular" Model 70 that is still the mainstay of the Winchester bolt rifle line, is the presence of the Mauser-type extractor and of course the controlled-round feeding and inertia ejection that goes with it. Also, the improved venting of the bolt and baffling of the left lug raceway first seen on the Super Grade is also present in this new rifle.

If that weren't enough, USRAC has lowered the price to 25 percent below that of the Super Grade. Yep, this new Model 70 will carry a suggested retail price of $749. I'll bet that if we were to factor in inflation since 1963, the above price would work out to be comparable or even less than what the old Model 70 cost that last year of its production.

As if you couldn't tell, I'm really enthused about what U.S. Repeating Arms has done. Not only have they listened to the American hunter and shooter by introducing the Super Grade in 1990, but with the Featherweight Classic they've now priced it within the reach of a far larger segment of the buying public.

There's lots more in the way of new products from USRAC I could talk about, but I'm reminded of that editorial directive, so I'll just wish the new ownership and management of the company the best of luck at the task of restoring Winchester firearms to the status they so justly deserved for so many decades.

Two other items that caught my eye were Ruger's new Model 77-NV and Remington's Model 700-VS, both of which take the production varmint rifle another step ahead. Both are more than mere heavy-barreled variations of each company's respective bolt action sporter; each addresses the special needs of the varmint hunter.

Instead of simply plunking a heavier barrel into their standard sporter stock, both these new rifles sport handles having wider forends to provide more stability when shooting off sandbags. Also, each is better designed for shooting from prone or off the bench.

Adding to the specialized nature of these guns is the stock medium chosen. Remington went outside to Rapid City, N.D.-based H-S Precision for that firm's well-designed varmint stock that they've been offering as an after-market drop in for several years. Made of graphite-reinforced Kevlar, the H-S stock also has a unique bedding block of hardened aluminum around which the stock is molded. Acting as a V-block for the 700's tubular receiver, this stock maintains zero exceptionally well not only from season to season, but through disassembly and reassembly too.

Ruger also wanted added stability for their new varminter, but instead of going synthetic, they went with an all-brown laminate. It's a handsome gun, at least to my eyes, but there's also some visual disonance, if you will. As shown at SHOT and in the catalog, the action is blued, the barrel is brushed stainless, and the stock is brown. What they really should consider in my not-so-humble opinion, is to make it an all-stainless job by using the RP action, then park it in a black laminated stock.

I recently had Fajen stock one Ruger's Model 77-RP's in a black laminate classic sporter. The contrast between that brushed stainless barreled action and that black laminate makes for one of the most strikingly handsome rifles I've ever seen.

What Remington and Ruger have done is to provide less incentive for the serious varmint hunter to build his own custom rifle just to get a stock better suited to his specialized needs. In the long run that should help both companies -- and you -- sell a few more rifles.
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Author:Sundra, Jon R.
Publication:Shooting Industry
Article Type:Column
Date:Mar 1, 1992
Previous Article:State of the art - Remington.
Next Article:Winchester: shotguns and rifles.

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