Winchester was the first company to introduce a Mauser-type bolt-action rifle engineered specifically for the commercial market, initially as the Model 54 in 1925. Nine years later, a refined version with a much better trigger design was introduced as the Model 70, and history was made.
There are those who argue to this day that the Pre-’64 Model 70 is the finest bolt-action sporting design ever made. The controlled-feed design incorporates Paul Mauser’s burly claw-type, non-rotating extractor, which is the strongest extractor ever used on a bolt-action rifle. Plus, Model 70s are strong yet sleek, precise yet reliable, and when properly built, they provide outstanding accuracy coupled with unequaled smoothness. As most Winchester aficionados know, the best of the breed came before 1964, when cost-cutting measures resulted in a massive redesign of the Model 70.
As mentioned earlier, the original Model 70 actions (as opposed to those manufactured in 1964 and after) feature robust, controlled-feed, claw-type extractors. It’s worth noting that in 1992 Winchester brought back the original-type action and called it the Model 70 Classic.
Cartridges feed from a box-type magazine from which they’re pushed forward into the chamber by the bolt, which has dual opposing locking lugs. A wing-type safety mounted on the bolt shroud blocks the trigger sear and locks the firing pin, resulting in a very dependable safety. Fully rearward engages the safety and locks the bolt handle closed. Fully forward is the firing position. A middle position engages the safety but does not lock the bolt, allowing a chambered round to be unloaded with the safety engaged.
After firing, working the bolt rearward causes the claw extractor to draw the empty cartridge case from the chamber. A mechanical ejector heaves the empty out the ejection port.
Most Model 70s come with a bead front sight on a ramp-type front base. A sight hood was included, but many are missing on rifles today. Rear sights were commonly folding versions with a screw-locked slider adjustable for elevation.
Pre-’64 Model 70s chambered in .300 H&H, such as my rifle, are relatively uncommon. Back in 2013, I had the opportunity to hunt elk with a pre-World War II Model 70 Super Grade in .300 H&H, and it shot so splendidly that I embarked on a multi-year quest to own one like it.
Well, not exactly like that one. The one I eventually found was made in 1949 and is a standard-grade version with a refinished stock.
Whoever refinished the stock did an outstanding job, filling the wood pores nicely and replicating the original non-glare satin finish. All parts are present and correct, including the front sight hood and the steel buttplate.
The action is butter-smooth, and because of the mild shoulder angle and long, gradual taper of the .300 H&H cartridge, rounds feed from the magazine into the chamber so effortlessly it’s hard to tell the difference between cycling an empty rifle and a loaded one.
Unfortunately, accuracy was lacking, and a close examination revealed the muzzle crown had been worn into an elliptical cone shape—the rifling was completely gone around the crown—by the overzealous use of a steel (and probably jointed) cleaning rod. Somebody had cleaned that barrel way too much and in a very destructive manner.
Because the stock had already been refinished, I reasoned I wouldn’t hurt the value of the rifle by having it re-crowned. I also had the action bedded and the trigger tuned. The results were even better than I’d hoped.
With a Trijicon 2.5-12.5X 42mm AccuPoint riflescope mounted, the rifle put Federal’s 180-grain Trophy Bonded Tip factory load into groups a fraction more than 1/2 MOA, and several handloads shot almost as well. One, pushing Hornady’s 220-grain InterLock FBRN by a charge of IMR 7828 propellant, actually posted three consecutive three-shot groups that all measured significantly less than 0.5 inch at 100 yards.
To date, I’ve tested about 20 different handloads through the rifle. That’s way too many to include with this column, so the accompanying chart simply shows my top five.
When the chance came to hunt free-range nyala in South Africa’s Umkomaas Valley with Crusader Safaris, I chose the .300 H&H Pre-’64 Model 70. The rifle accounted for a heavy-horned bushbuck and an “ancient” 27-inch nyala bull. The shot was far for the roundnose projectile I was shooting, stretching 290 yards, but the rifle put that single heavy bullet into the sweet spot, and the bull dropped in his tracks.
This rifle now has a well-deserved spot among my “never-sell” battery.