Winchester Model 70 Featherweight Review - Part 1
The Winchester brand has long been associated with the North American hunter. Since its original introduction in 1936, the "Rifleman's Rifle" has regularly made the short list of top firearms. There have been literally dozens (if not hundreds) of reviews of the Model 70 since its introduction, so what at BigGameHunt could we add that hasn't been said before? We thought we would take a two part up-close look at two current production Winchester Model 70's, first the standard Featherweight, and in part two the Super Grade.
First a little history, the Winchester brand is owned by the Olin Corporation and licensed by the Herstal Group commonly known as Fabrique Nationale or FN for short and Browning Arms Company. Olin is an American company that produces ammunition under the Winchester name, as well as ammunition for the military, and bulk chemicals. For 140 years Winchestser firearms were made at the famous New Haven, Connecticut facility until it was closed in early 2006. In 2008, new Winchester Model 70 production began at FN's Columbia, South Carolina facility. For this review we will be looking at new Model 70's produced at the Columbia plant.
Winchester Model 70 Featherweight
When the new Model 70 was first introduced three years ago there were only a couple of variations available and today, in early 2011, that has expanded to ten variations, from stainless varmint configurations to the classic Super Grade. Since Winchester is most associated with classic wood stocked guns with blued metal, we decided to look at the least expensive option in this review, the standard Featherweight, our next review will take a look at the most expensive model, the Super Grade.
The Model 70 Featherweight looks like a classic Winchester rifle has for years. The checkering is cut, not impressed and is placed on both the pistol grip and forearm. The checkering is very well done, it is most likely done by some type of machinery, but it is still precisely done and close inspection reveals solid craftsmanship.
Featherweight cut checkering around the pistol grip.
The stock is made of walnut with a Schnabel fore end and has a satin finish. There is no raised comb cheek piece on the stock and it is completely symmetric regardless of side, this means that the stock will work for either a left hand or right hand shooter, of course a south-paw may feel more comfortable with a left hand action but currently the Model 70 is only made in right handed actions.
Schnabel Fore End with standard sling swivel.
The wood quality on the Featherweight can be characterized as good but not amazing. Since the Featherweight retails for $700 to $740, the quality of wood on the rifle is about average to a little above average, it does not have a lot of character, but after viewing a few different featherweights its clear that the rifles come with wood that is about equal to their price. In other words, the wood quality is comparable and perhaps even a little better than those from other manufactures in the same price range. Our review model has no blemishes or knots, but then it also has no swirls or tiger stripes to give the wood real character, it's simply good but not awe inspiring. The butt stock is capped with a Pachmayr Decelerator pad and is sufficiently soft but still fairly rigid.
The walnut on the review model was good to perhaps a bit above average.
The Featherweight is offered in a variety of chamberings. For short actions you can pick up a Featherweight in 22-250 Rem , 243 Win, 7mm-08 Rem, 308 Win, 300 WSM, 270 WSM, and 325 WSM. Long action offerings are available in 25-06 Rem, 270 Win, 30-06 Springfield, and 300 Win Mag. Short actions come in at about 7 lbs, while long actions can be a touch over 7 lbs, which is relatively light for an all wood stocked gun. Magnums offerings come with a 24" barrel, while non-magnums have 22" barrels.
Winchester Model 70 300 Win Mag
One rather odd aspect of the current Model 70 offerings is that none are offered in 223 Remington. While we cover mostly big game hunting guns here, the 223 is a widely popular cartridge for varmint and small game hunting and it's not even offered in Winchester's Coyote Light model. So if you're looking for a new 223, you'll need to look elsewhere, or purchase a 22-250 then go through the rather high cost of having the gun rebarreled and the bolt face modified.
All Model 70's now feature a target crown on the muzzle of the barrel and all barrels are made through a hammer forging process. The bluing on the Featherweight is typical for most entry level wood guns, nicely done, but not highly polished or a particularly deep blue.
Perhaps the single most important reason to consider a Model 70 is in the action. All Model 70's derive from the Winchester Model 54, which itself derives from the Mauser design. This means the action combines controlled round feed with a three position safety. Controlled round feed competes with the more common push round feed of other rifles such as the Remington Model 700.
Moderate amount of knurling on the bolt handle.
Controlled round actions grab the shell off the magazine and completely hold the end of the brass while it is being inserted into the chamber and then removed from the action. This means the shell is "controlled" at any point that the bolt is in motion. Combine this with the massive side claw extractor and the action is considered to be more reliable than comparable push round designs. Reliable is arguable though, because regardless of how large the extractor is, a truly stuck round is going to remain stuck until rammed out with a dowel from the barrel muzzle end. Nonetheless controlled round feed is a favorite among dangerous game hunters.
Mauser style actions like the Model 70 also tend to feature the famous three positions. Pushing the safety all the way forward to the barrel end of the rifle sets it in fire mode, the mid position is to extract rounds with the sear blocked, and the all the way back position completely locks out the action. Simple, straight forward and always works.
When Winchester released the new Model 70 they included an upgraded trigger that they are calling the M.O.A. Trigger which, according to Winchester literature, helps the Model 70 deliver "1 inch groups at 100 yards." The new trigger is user adjustable, but the stock must be removed in order to access the trigger adjustment set screws. Be careful when adjusting this trigger system, lightening up too much will cause the set screw to fall out, and tightening it too much will cause the trigger to bind and become unusable. While the literature says the trigger was set to 3.5 lbs., our review model consistently broke at 4.5 lbs., not a big deal since its adjustable, but something to consider if your out-of-the-box trigger feels a tad on the heavy side. The trigger may be adjusted up to 5 lbs. of pull and down to a minimum of 3 lbs.
Removing the stock to adjust the trigger can take some finesse, Winchester has done a superb job of bedding the action making for a tight fit between the action and the stock. The front screw that holds the action near the recoil lug is supported by a hard plastic insert in the action, which should help to stiffen up the action. The barrel is completely free floated from the recoil lug forward to the muzzle of the barrel.
When adjusting the trigger you'll also need to remove a hunk of hard glue that Winchester has placed over the two trigger adjustment screws. When you're finished making the trigger adjustment you may also want to put a dab of glue or blue Locktight on the screws to prevent them from jarring under recoil.
The M.O.A. Trigger delivered a clean crisp feel. True to the marketing literature there is zero take-up, zero creep, and very, very little over travel. Combining the crisp trigger with the adjustability and safety makes for a pleasing combination. Now if it was just adjustable without removing the stock, Winchester would have hit a grand slam, rather than just a home run.
One last item to note, is the Model 70 bolt is field strippable without any special tools. This is refreshing if you have tried to take apart other bolts that require tools and a bit of patience. Being field strippable makes it easier to work on the bolt in the field in the unlikely event that a mishap occurs, such as a broken firing pin. This isn't a huge advantage over other manufactures though, because some will be quick to point out, that you could just carry around a spare entire bolt assembly owing to its relatively small size and weight.
In conclusion the new Model 70 Featherweight offers good wood and bluing for the money. Throw in the upgraded trigger and this is definitely the best Model 70 yet, although they will probably never be worth as much as the collectable pre-64 variety. You should not consider the Featherweight if you're looking for a 223, a left handed bolt gun, or simply prefer a two position safety system. If you're a fan of the Mauser style action and want to consider other options look to either the Ruger Hawkeye or any of the Kimber rifles. The Ruger offerings are similar in style to Winchester and have more variations that are priced $50-$70 below the Featherweight. Kimber also has a variety of rifles, although they will be priced at least $300 above the Featherweight. Given the other offerings on the market at this time, the Model 70 is a solid buy. It's not the cheapest but it offers a good dose of quality for the money spent. In our next review will take a look at Winchester's top of the line Model 70 Super Grade.
For more information visit www.winchesterguns.com.