The Winchester Model 70 is one of the few iconic American firearms in the last one hundred years. That is a bold statement, but one I think would need little defense. However, I am not here to discuss in depth or detail the history of the classic Model 70, there is simply too much information to cover in a single blog post, and furthermore, there are a lot better writers than I who have already covered the topic in entire volumes. What I am going to write about today is one single and specific rifle: the Winchester Model 70 XTR Sporter Magnum. However, before we do that, I will talk a little bit on an important part of the Model 70’s history
The Model 70 was introduce in 1935 as a successor to the Model 54, which was a rather peculiar, delicate, and primitive bolt action rifle. With a myriad of available configurations and calibers available, there was little competition for the Model 70 at the time. The only downfall, was that with all the semi-custom features of this spectacular rifle, it was rather expensive to make and sell. Nevertheless, it sold. For about 30 years the Model 70 was on the top of the heap in American bolt-gun designs until the early sixties. In 1964, Winchester released a host of new rifle designs, and modified some existing designs, specifically the Model 70 and the Model 94 lever action, in order to compete with other up and coming firearms manufacturers at the time. This involved a number of cost saving measures to make Winchester firearms more economical and comparable to these new competitive firearm designs (think Remington, Savage, Ruger, etc.). On the Model 70 this was especially noted in the bolt design.
The pre’64 Winchester Model 70s featured a Mauser style controlled-round-feed bolt that involved a huge claw extractor that actually grabbed the cartridge from the magazine and guided it into the chamber. The design allowed for the rifle to be cycled in any position, including upside down, without jamming. This was not the most accurate design, but it was without fail and made for a very smooth bolt throw.
The post’64 rifles bolt was a push-feed style. All it did was push the next cartridge in line into the chamber. Nothing more. The design was a tad more accurate actually, but it was rumored to not be as reliable as the classic Model 70’s controlled round feed bolt.
As such, the value of pre’64 rifles shot up, with post ’64 rifles getting a bad rap for not being as good quality as the older rifles. There were some other issues which led to the divide, but this covers the basics.
The Model 70 XTR Sporter Magnum in my possession is a magnificent example of a post ’64 Winchester. This particular example was made in 1985, in the first year of production of the new XTR line. The XTR rifles were, simply put, a higher grade than the regular production Model 70s. They had nicer, classic styled stocks, jeweled bolts, and machined magazine floorplates. As a typical post ’64 Winchester, it does have the push-feed bolt, but in my opinion, that in no way detracts from the rifle.
This rifle is chambered in the thunderous .338 Winchester Magnum, which was first offered in the Model 70 in 1958, making for a classic combination. The .338 Win Mag is a flat shooting and hard hitting cartridge that is ideal for large bodied, thin skinned mammals, such as elk, moose, and bear. With close to 4000 ft lbs of energy at the muzzle, and a similar trajectory to the 7mm Remington Magnum, this cartridge carries quite a punch for a long ways.
My particular rifle has a classic Weaver V-9 scope with a “tv screen” style lens view. This scope was popular in the early to mid 70’s and still proves reliable on the Model 70. It also sports a classic military style leather sling, which is an aesthetic bonus to the sleek lines of the Model 70. This rifle has a pencil thin 24” barrel and is 44” in overall length. The trigger is a bit on the heavy side with a 6lb even break, according to my RCBS pull gauge, but it is a clean and crisp break, so that makes up for it a bit. The stock is a very straight design with a Monte-Carlo cheekpiece, which is conducive to soaking up the recoil of the mighty .338. It also has engraved checkering on the pistol grip and fore-end, instead of pressed, which is a welcome feature. Weight with scope is 8lbs and 10oz, which may sound a bit heavy, but it is so well balanced, that you scarcely notice.
On The Range
Ammo for the .338 Win Mag is kinda hard to find, they don’t carry it at the local Wally-World. Your local gun shop probably has it, but they also charge about 50-60 bucks a box. The only affordable way to get ammo for this rifle is to reload, or buy it off the internet. I did both.
Shooting the Model 70 is an experience, that is for certain. The recoil of a .338 is stout, there is no way to get around that. The .338 Win Mag has almost twice the recoil of a 30’06, and is just a tad below the mighty elephant slayer: the .375 H&H. If you are recoil sensitive, this is probably
not the rifle for you.
What I found accuracy-wise with this rifle is that the first two shots out of this rifle would land at point of aim and be typically be touching, with the third round landing a half an inch to 1 inch off in any direction. This was consistent with EVERY type of ammo fed in the rifle. I attribute this to the pencil thin barrel getting hot very quickly. I did find that it liked heavier bullets the best with the Hornady Custom 225 grain SST consistently delivering the best 3 shot groups from factory ammo in the 1.25” range at 100 yards. I find this very satisfactory for a big game rifle, especially for one of this caliber. This is still viable accuracy out to 300-400 yards, which is plenty far enough for most hunters and to be honest, better than most hunters can shoot. Is it a tack driving, 1000 meter sniper rifle? No, by no means. Is this a hunting rifle that would never fail the user if used properly and take care of nearly all ethical hunting scenarios? You betcha.
The Winchester Model 70 XTR is a new look at a classic rifle that helped to shape American sporting arm design. In a world filled with black polymer and matte finished rifles, the rich, dark, walnut and blued steel hearken back to a time when quality was emphasized over quantity. It may not be cool, or trendy, like more modern iterations of hunting rifles on the market, but the Winchester Model 70 gets the job done just as well as the rest of them, and all while well dressed too.