I replaced in with a Model 70 Classic Compact in 7 mm-08 Rem. This cute little model had a 20” barrel, a short, Classic action and a compressed Featherweight stock. Because of the slim barrel, the fore-end applied a little tip-pressure and the schnabel. It also shot well right out of the box. Most recently I worked upa load with Ramshot Big Game and 140-gr. Sierra ProHunters. Well, “worked up” isn’t exactly the right term, since the first 47.0-gr. load (under maximum, of course) resulted in a three-shot group of exactly 0.50” at 100 yds. Two more groups upped the average to 0.68”, with the largest of the three-group string measuring 0.83”. Muzzle velocity was close to 2800 f.p.s. Load development done.
During the next decade, however, the Model 70 lost some of its reputation for accuracy. Difficulties appeared at the New Haven factory where Model 70s were made, followed by cost-saving measures, such as using heat glue, rather than actual epoxy, to “bed” stocks. The problem wasn’t the heat glue itself, but the fact that it was sloppily applied around the recoil lug mortise.
One reason Model 70s tend to shoot so well is that the front action screw hole is right in the middle of the flat behind the recoil lug. When the screw is tightened, that flat in the action is tightly pulled against a flat area of the stock. This not only prevents any strain on the action, but the barrel can be totally free-floated. This isn’t the case with a Model 98 Mauser action, because the front action screw hole is in the middle of the recoil lug. When tightened, it tends to pull the front end of the action down, creating stress—unless some of the rear of the barrel is also bedded, which creates its own problems.
The heat glue in the later Model 70 Classics often ended up only in front of the front action screw hole, so when the screw was tightened it distorted the action. At the same time the bedding of the barrels didn’t conform to any particular system. They weren’t free-floated or fully bedded, so many rifles flopped around in the fore-end like freshly caught trout.
This could be easily fixed. A good example is the stainless-steel, walnut-stocked Model 70 in .270 WSM that I owned for a while. This had the typical too-small dab of heat glue. I carefully removed it with a sharp, 1/4” chisel and a Dremel tool, then replaced it (this time correctly) with Brownells Acra-Glas Gel, and the barrel free-floated. The .270 WSM then shot quite well. In fact, Federal’s factory load with the 150-gr. Nosler Partition averaged three shots in under ¾”, and no handloads ever beat that. This wasn’t a bad thing.
When Winchester Model 70 production resumed in South Carolina, some of the first prototypes suffered from the same flopping-trout barrel bedding. I shot a prototype .30-’06-Sprg.-chambered gun in 2007 that wouldn’t do much better than 3” at 100 yds., and the barrel bedding appeared to be the same non-system that had been used for years. I mentioned this to Winchester’s public relations representative, and I suspect other gun writers did the same because when the production rifles finally appeared, the problem had been solved.
When they appeared on the market, the new rifles were so impressive that I bought a 2008 Limited Edition with nice wood, chambered in .300 WSM, at a local sporting goods store. The action was properly bedded in a dark-gray epoxy, and the barrel nicely free-floated in the schnabel fore-end. As with the pair of pre-’64 .30-’06 Sprgs., the only modification made was adjustment of the trigger. This, as you may have heard, is a new design, which some long-time Model 70 fans see as an affront to the temple. Although the old Model 0 trigger was certainly simple and rugged, I had not been impressed with its pull for many years. Mass production made the shear surfaces slightly rounded, so the trigger pull was a little mushy unless the whole unit was disassembled and honed. The new trigger breaks much more cleanly, and adjusting it brought the factory-set pull down from a slightly erratic 5 lbs. to a crisp 3 lbs., 8 ozs. that never varied by more than an ounce on my Timney Trigger Scale.
I mounted a new Leupold VX-III in Talley steel rings, then loaded some of the same 180-gr. Sierra GameKings used in the per-’64 experiments. This may seem like I am favoring Sierras in these experiments. Well, yes, I am. After some years shooting many big-game animals with about every Wonder Bullet known to mankind, I began to realize that for most hunting (meaning deer and similar-sized game), we do not need a bullet that will penetrate two moose. Instead we need an accurate bullet that expands easily, since these tend to kill deer quicker. This perfectly describes Sierras. Usually, too, after a load is worked up with Sierras, a similar powder charge results in Nosler Partitions shooting to the same place, which is handy.
The powders tried were three that had done good work in previous .300 WSMs: Hodgdon H4350, VihtaVuori N550, and Ramshot Hunter. All three produced more than adequate hunting accuracy, with three-shot groups of an inch or less, but in this rifle Hunter shaded out N550 slightly, especially at higher velocities. The final three-shot group with 68.5 grs. Of Hunter got just under 3000 f.p.s., and spanned 0.56”. That will do, especially for a new rifle right off the rack of the local sporting goods store.
Shooters have now experienced five distinct generations of Winchester Model 70’s: pre-war, pre-’64, push-feed, New Haven Classic, and South Carolina’s new variation on the Classic theme. In that period several other factory rifles have gained the reputation of shooting quite accurately, perhaps even more accurately than “The Rifleman’s Rifle.” Some shooters have long suspected that this was due as much to improvements in bullets as advances in rifle manufacturing. My recent experience with 70 years of Model 70s seems to confirm this suspicion, especially when an unmodified rifle half a century old immediately started shooting 21st century groups.
Right now we don’t know what the next generation of Model 70s will bring, but it’s a pretty safe bet one feature will be fine accuracy.