Like so many baby boomers born in the early fifties, some of my earliest memories were those of movies and the “new” medium, television. Other than my family, race cars and firearms have been my real passions for as long as I can remember. Well, my racing days ended quite a while back, but guns still “light my fire.” Westerns sparked that fire and the guns used by lawmen, bad guys, and cowboys were the firewood that burned in the hearts of young lads like me all across the land. Wyatt Earp, Have Gun Will Travel, Roy Rogers, Bat Masterson, The Lone Ranger, and the two coolest dudes on TV, James Garner as Bret Maverick, (Maverick) and Steve McQueen as Josh Randall (Wanted: Dead or Alive) gave us pups a lot of fodder for our imaginations. As far as the movies, two guys, Alan Ladd and “The Duke,” John Wayne, were all that mattered.
I was about 5 or 6 years old when I discovered that we actually had a real gun in our home. This happened when I went on my first hunting trip with my dad. I wrote a little about that trip a while back. If you are interested in reading about the trip, here’s a link: http://www.montanaoutdoor.com/2013/12/a-stroll-down-hunting-memory-lane-with-colonel-smoothbore/
The gun was my Dad’s Winchester Model 70. It was chambered in .270 Winchester, a caliber that was his favorite and the favorite of the legendary Jack O’Connor. I well remember that gun; it had a Weaver 4x scope, a military style sling, and good old iron sights on the barrel. It was in perfect, like new shape. I wasn’t strong enough to mount it, but Dad did let me touch it and also let me examine the bright gold “bullets” that went inside. For me, that gun was truly beautiful and, in my mind, a work of art.
Fast forward to the fall of 1962. I was home after school when my Dad came home with a long slender box. “Come take a look at this,” he said. He opened the box and inside there was a new Remington Model 760 pump action rifle chambered in .270 Winchester. He asked how I liked his new gun and I said “it’s ok, but what about the old one?” “I traded it, I never really liked bolt actions” he said. I was devastated. The Model 70 was gone. I had often dreamed of the day when that rifle might be mine.
The Winchester Model 70 was introduced in 1936. The sporting rifle perfected the assets of both the Mauser 98 and the Springfield 1903. It featured “controlled round feeding” in a non-rotating claw extractor, 3 position wing safety, a blade ejector that was a major improvement over the Mauser’s, an adjustable trigger, a one-piece bolt and a cone breeching system that helped prevent bullet damage when loading the chamber. Over the years, the Model 70 became known as “The Rifleman’s Rifle.” It was chambered in nearly every cartridge on the planet and was produced in many models and grades too numerous to discuss here.
The original Model 70 was extremely expensive to produce. The most time consuming part of production was fitting the coned breech barrel; it could take hours. In 1964, in an attempt to compete with the wildly popular new Remington Model 700 (introduced in 1962), Winchester discontinued the “old” Model 70 and replaced it with a “new” gun. The new Model 70 had a push feed bolt, no “controlled round feeding,” pressed checkering on the stock, and an aluminum trigger guard and floor plate. The redesigned bolt was actually stronger than the “old” Model 70, but the public hated the new gun. Kind of reminds me of “New Coke” and the fiasco that followed that genius bit of marketing.
In 1992, aided by the lower cost of CNC machining, Winchester once again offered a “controlled round feeding” Model 70 known as the “Classic.” With the introduction of the Winchester Short Magnum line of ammunition a few years later, Model 70 sales were again rising. Then on March 31, 2006, another calamity for Winchester Model 70 fans; U.S. Repeating Arms stopped production and closed the New Haven Plant. Prices went through the roof; I thought that I would never own a Model 70.
The Model 70 was again resurrected when Browning, a subsidiary of FN Herstal, was licensed by Olin Corp. to make the Winchester brand of firearms. Production was moved to the FN plant in Columbia, S.C. Last year, 2013, assembly of the Model 70 was moved to FN facilities in Portugal. According to the company, this was done so that production could be increased and more rifles would be available to the shooting and hunting public.
Today, I finally have my own Model 70. It is a Featherweight model chambered in .300 WSM. It is one of the first 10,000 to come out of the Columbia plant and is marked as a “Special Edition” on the floor plate. When I get my act together, the rifle will shoot sub 1 inch groups. I’ve been working on a load for this gun, and the results so far are quite promising. I’ll tell you about those results in a later post. The .300 WSM is a terrific caliber, but it does produce a fair amount of perceived recoil. While it is light; less than 8 pounds with scope and sling attached, my gun is a joy to shoot. But I will admit to some prejudice when it comes to the Model 70, especially mine that I waited for, for about 50 years.
Be safe and good shooting.