As time passes, both our guns and our tastes evolve. Perhaps our shooting styles change a bit, and a gun we were once giddy over has fallen to the back rack of the safe. Maybe it will never come back out except to be sold.
Then again, what if that old favorite got tuned up with a new barrel and scope or even a dashing Cerakote paint job and a better trigger? Sometimes, the firearms of the past seem to lose their luster as new ones are brought to market. But a rare few seem to hold on to a charming and nostalgic following. Today, we are talking about one of those, the Winchester Model 70 chambered in the classically American .30-06 Springfield.
The Model 70
The Winchester Model 70 has been perhaps America’s most prolific bolt-action rifle. Generations of hunters and marksmen have put the various configurations of the Model 70 through countless trials.
The 90-degree bolt action of the Model 70 has been used in too many configurations to mention here. Both long and short actions are made, featuring a bolt shroud with a three-position safety. It also offers a simple and robust trigger that is well known for immaculate breaks.
The Model 70 Target was available in an assortment of calibers, but they had the same features – a high-quality, heavy-profile barrel and a wide and flat-bottomed walnut stock. The rifle also came drilled and tapped for a variety of sighting options. You could either mount an optic, like the Unertl scopes that were often seen on these rifles in the past, or aperture sights that were mounted to the receiver and muzzle. The military version of the rifle used by legendary shooters like Marine sniper Carlos “White Feather” Hathcock was very similar in construction, using a more streamlined and less obtrusive stock.
The box this rifle comes in instantly speaks to its vintage, with old print and packaging from days long gone. I pulled the rifle out of the box and inspected every inch of it. Despite its obvious age, the rifle was in immaculate condition. The barrel was stamped with all the Winchester information, as well as the caliber marking .30-06 Springfield. I would find it odd for it to be genuinely unfired, but it certainly could be. The walnut stock, while not anything particularly handsome, was of obvious quality wood. The finish still maintains its factory shine, and the conspicuous well-coated metal reminded me of the good ol’ days when things were made better. I ran the bolt a few times to experience that familiar Model 70 feel. Even the trigger felt smooth and broke clean as I’ve come to expect from the Model 70s of the past. I was excited to see what this old rifle could do, but I set out to do it my way.
Since I obviously didn’t have access to one of the Unertl scopes, I installed a set of scope bases to the receiver so I could mount one of my standby rifle scopes. Once the bases were installed, I put a Nikon 4-16x50 rifle scope mounted in Warne rings onto the receiver, taking care to avoid the obstruction of the factory scope mount on the rear of the barrel. I also rigged up a Pic rail to the front of the stock so I could use a bipod for supported shooting.
All that was left was to find ammunition to feed the rifle. I had a box or two of some Remington factory ammunition, which would certainly work. But I wanted to see if this rifle would shoot like a target rifle should. For that, I would need some match-grade ammo. I turned to my loading bench. I still have my father’s old Speer loading manual from back in the late 60s. I figured the load data from the same era as the rifle itself would be a good starting point. I loaded up some Sierra 175-grain Tipped Match Kings and some Hornady 178-grain ELDM bullets, using a pretty standard load for the time.
To the Range
I set a target at 100 yards. After some quick field bore sighting of the scope, I set to zeroing the rifle. After a few sighters, I was in business. I am used to shooting heavier guns and often in much smaller calibers. So, the recoil of this rifle was a little more than I normally experience, but that just reminded me to focus on the fundamentals. In no time at all, the Model 70 and I were working in harmony.
The rifle seemed to like both of my match loads, though there may have been a slightly better pattern using the Hornady bullets. I think this rifle is easily capable of half-MOA accuracy when rifle, ammo, and shooter are inline. I also stretched the rifle out a bit just to see what kind of range it was comfortable with.
Shooting at 400, 500, and 600 yards was easy. However, it was quite apparent that the large and slow bullets were affected by the distance much more than today’s typical match cartridge and bullet combinations. But that was fine by me, I actually quite enjoyed the nostalgic trip with this old rifle.
Everything functioned flawlessly for my range trip, as I would expect from an old hand like the Model 70. It offered smooth feeding and ejection with a very crisp and clean trigger, and it was every bit the accurate sharpshooter I expected it to be.
Time Tested Results
A typical group from the Model 70 Target using standard hunting ammo was about 1 inch for three shots. But when shooting better bullets that were handloaded to fit the rifle, it would easily print 1/2-inch groups. I imagine it’s possible you could do even better with further load development and some additional practice at the range. I was very pleased with the rifle’s performance. It felt good to use this piece of American history.
If you are looking for a specific piece of nostalgic target shooting equipment, or if you are just looking for a great rifle to enjoy on the range, this old Winchester would certainly fit the bill. There are still quite a few of these rifles out there today. So if you’d like to feel the quality of traditional American manufacturing, don’t hesitate to snatch one of these beauties up when you get the chance.