September 23, 2010
I have been a Model 70 man since I first got serious about rifles. The classic Winchester has a well-deserved reputation for extreme accuracy, but I was drawn to it because I knew I could count on that relentlessly reliable claw extractor and controlled-round feed when things got hairy. I also love its simple, bombproof trigger and three-position safety, which snicks off easily as I throw my old friend to my shoulder.
I acquired a pretty good collection of Model 70s and Model 70-based custom rifles from about 1993 to 2005. The majority of the new rifles I purchased were solid, serviceable rifles, but I couldn't help but notice that the quality of the rifles I purchased in the later years of its production was not up to the same standards as my earlier acquisitions. Evidently, I wasn't the only one to notice because decreased demand is one of several reasons cited for the closure of Winchester's New Haven, Connecticut, plant in March of 2006.
Like many American riflemen, I was saddened by Winchester's closure. And like many American riflemen, I spent way too much money snapping up Model 70s as fast as I could find them. I should have known better. After all, classics never die.
I hadn't even finished paying off all those rifles when FN announced it would start producing the Model 70 again in its Columbia, South Carolina, plant in October of 2007. But as often happens in the gun industry, it took longer than FN predicted before those first guns started shipping. I am happy to report that the new Model 70 was well worth the wait.
A Model 70 For All Seasons
The rifle I received is the Model 70 Extreme Weather SS in .30-06. As you might imply from its rather long-winded handle, it is a stainless-steel, synthetic-stocked hunting rifle. But the new Extreme Weather SS is no plain-Jane piece.
The heart of the newest Model 70 is, of course, its action. It is a square-bottom design, which is more difficult and expensive to do right but is considered by many to be more accurate than less expensive, round-action designs. New Model 70s have a hinged floorplate and one-piece bottom metal, which is a tremendous improvement over the old two-piece design. Magazine capacity is three magnum cartridges or five standard rounds.
The bolt is a classic Model 70 affair with two substantial locking lugs, a partially knurled bolt knob, and that wonderful claw extractor that controls each round from the magazine to the chamber. And once the round is fired, it will extract even the most stubborn cases to get the rifle back into action and ready to sort out even the most grumpy game. A stout, blade-style ejector sends empties sailing with sufficient force to knock the glasses off the guy on the bench next to you if you run the bolt smartly. Ask me how I know.
The Model 70's bolt shroud is home to its vaunted three-position safety. When the safety is in its rearmost position, it locks the bolt in place. In the middle position, the gun is safe, but you can work the bolt to load or unload the rifle. Forward is, of course, the "Fire" position. My sample rifle's safety was smooth to operate and engaged positively in each position.
Perhaps the only controversial part of the new Model 70 is its MOA trigger. The new trigger is user-adjustable between 3 and 5 pounds and is designed to be smooth and free of creep and overtravel. It is. Mine breaks at a hair over 4 pounds and is crisp, smooth, and clean. In fact, I can't detect even a hint of take-up.
If the new trigger is so good, you might ask, then why the controversy? Well, that's easy. We shooters are a stubborn lot. The old trigger earned its reputation for being practically bombproof and easy to adjust safely. We know the old trigger works well, is safe, is immune to dirt and grime, and will hold up to a lifetime of use. The new MOA trigger hasn't been around long enough to give American shooters that same warm and fuzzy feeling.
I understand their pain. I wasn't happy about the new trigger either at first. But after studying a cut-away and spending some time tinkering with the new trigger, I'd say you'd have to try pretty darn hard to make the MOA trigger fail. I'd wager you'd fall in love with the trigger long before you'd break it.
The Extreme Weather's action and barrel are matte stainless steel. The 22-inch, hammer-forged barrel is a trim, sporter contour that is fluted, and the crown is recessed to protect it against the dings and scratches hunters are so fond of putting on their rifles.
The barreled action is mated to a black, textured, Bell and Carlson synthetic stock. B&C stocks are constructed of composite layers, and that results in a strong, stable stock. An integral aluminum bedding block provides greater strength and accuracy. The barrel is free-floated. The recoil pad is a black, one-inch Decelerator.
The fit and finish of the new sporter-style stock are superb, with perfect inletting of the action and a perfectly straight barrel channel. I really like the look and feel of the new stock. The texture is not so noticeable as to be abrasive, but it is substantial enough to provide decent traction when the gun is wet. In terms of looks, durability, and feel, the new stock is a huge improvement over the flimsy, injection-molded stock and hot-glue bedding that came on New Haven guns.
In preparation for my testing, I mounted a new Bushnell 3200 scope on the Model 70 with a set of Talley's excellent lightweight, aluminum mounts. The 4-12X scope has Bushnell's 600-yard DOA reticle and an adjustable objective for more accurate long-range shooting. The scope was clear and bright, and it tracked well in my testing.
On The Range
I test-fired loads from Federal, Hornady, and Winchester. As you can see from the accompanying table, all the loads shot pretty well, with Federal's 180-grain AccuBond load turning in a very respectable average of 0.98 inch, and Hornady's new 150-grain Superformance load averaging just 1.11 inches.
The new MOA trigger was a big aid in the accuracy department. There must be some take-up, but I couldn't feel it. I simply got on target, let out a breath, and applied steady pressure. I am amazed at how easily and consistently the sear broke.
I was also pretty fond of the new Bell and Carlson stock. It directed the recoil straight back into my shoulder, so I rarely lost my sight picture. Recoil was minimal, thanks to its relatively straight design and squishy Decelerator pad. It also felt, looked, and handled like a riflestock should.
I was scheduled to go on a hunt to test the new Hornady Superformance load shortly after my test session, so I decided to take the Extreme Weather SS since it shot that load so well. I zeroed it dead-on at 100 yards, which, according to Bushnell's instructions, will give me dead-on holds out to 600 yards.
I wasn't the only gun writer to predict that Hornady's super-efficient RCM line of cartridges would lead to more new product introductions. After all, the technology that went into getting those little cartridges to perform so well for their respective case capacities from short barrels opened up a lot of possibilities. The company's new Superformance line is an exciting offshoot of the research that went into developing cartridges like the .30 T/C, .338 Marlin, and the RCM family of cartridges.
Basically, Superformance ammunition uses new, super-efficient, fast-burning powders to gain an extra 100 to 200 fps of velocity without compromising accuracy or appreciable recoil increase. According to Hornady, "This performance is achieved because the powder is completely burned prior to the bullet leaving the barrel and imparts as much energy as possible to the bullet. As a result, the muzzle exit pressure is lower, and the muzzle gas velocity is dramatically lower than for previous high-performance ammunition. This reduces the rocket nozzle effect from the gases leaving the barrel, resulting in lower recoil levels and high levels of accuracy."
I'm no rocket scientist, but I shoot an awful lot. I've done quite a bit of work with the new Superformance .30-06 loads on the range and in the field, and I am very impressed with the new loads. The velocities aren't quite up to Hornady's Light Magnum or Heavy Magnum levels, but they're darn close. And they shoot better without an appreciable increase in recoil. What's not to like about that? – Greg Rodriguez
In The Field
A few days after my range session, I met Jason Hornady in Casper, Wyoming, for a pronghorn and mule deer hunt with Cole Creek Outfitters. We headed straight to the range upon arrival, where I fired just one shot – right through the center of the bull – before heading back to camp to prepare for the morning hunt.
The next morning it was snowing sideways, exactly what Winchester's designers must have envisioned when they designed the Extreme Weather SS. When we headed out in the chilly predawn, the snow and clouds had me a bit concerned about our prospects, but daylight revealed that the bad weather hadn't put much of a damper on the pronghorns. Shortly, we found the buck I'd traveled west for.
The goat was 300 yards away and moving steadily away from us. We waited until he dropped below a rise, and then we took off in pursuit. We played cat and mouse over one hill and down the next, but we eventually caught up to him walking out of a little draw, 218 yards away. I dropped prone, stuck the main crosshair a little above center on its shoulder, and touched the trigger. The heavy-horned buck collapsed in its tracks.
After lunch, we spotted a fine mule deer buck on a brushy hillside. I snuck up to a little mound 203 yards from the buck and found him in my scope. He was quartering away steeply, so I stuck the reticle midway back on the rib cage and squeezed the trigger. Like the pronghorn, the 4x4 died where it stood at the shot.
I was impressed with the quality and features of the new Model 70. It was nice to shoot on the range and an absolute pleasure to carry in the field. The Extreme Weather is lightweight enough for mountain hunting, but not so light that it is difficult to shoot. And its MOA trigger is phenomenal.
That MOA trigger and the Extreme Weather SS's Bell and Carlson stock also make the new Model 70 a great value. It's not cheap, but a real stock and a great trigger right out of the box make this one perfect as is. Just to prove my point, I bought this one. And for the first time in my life, I'm not sending it off to a gunsmith to replace a thing. That's high praise coming from this inveterate tinkerer.
Winchester Model 70 Extreme Weather SS
- Operation: Bolt-action repeating rifle
- Caliber: .243 Win., .308 Win., .270 Win., .30-06 (as tested), .270 WSM, 7mm Rem. Mag., .300 Win. Mag., .300 WSM, .325 WSM, .338 Win. Mag.
- Barrel Length: 22 in. for standard calibers, 26 in. for .300 Win. Mag., 24 in. for WSMs
- Overall Length: 41.75 inches
- Weight, empty: 6.75 pounds
- Safety: Three position
- Sights: None, drilled and tapped for scope bases
- Stock: Textured synthetic sporter style with aluminum bedding block, front and rear sling swivel studs, and 1-in. Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad
- Length of Pull: 13.75 inches
- Finish: Matte stainless steel, matte black stock
- Price: $1,069 (standard calibers), $1,119 (Magnums)
- Manufacturer: Winchester Repeating Arms Co.