September 05, 2017
By Joseph von Benedikt
Built during the 27-year golden age of Model 70 rifles — 1936 to 1963 — this .264 Winchester Magnum rifle is chambered in the only 6.5mm cartridge to gain even a toehold in the United States during the 20th century.
Introduced in 1959, the cartridge is zesty even by today's standards. The .264 Win. Mag. quickly earned a reputation as a barrel burner, but offered such spectacular performance that enthusiasts just didn't care.
The rifle shown here was built during the last few years of the traditional Model 70 action featuring the Mauser-type, full-length claw extractor. By the serial number, it's almost certainly a 1960 gun. In tests, this pre-'64 model 70 Winchester offered amazing performance.
The Pre-'64 Model 70 is arguably the greatest hunting rifle yet to come out of America. It was named the "rifle of the 20th century" right here in the pages of Shooting Times in 2000. An evolution of Winchester's earlier Model 54, it incorporated the best elements of the Mauser 98, the Springfield 1903, and other game-changing bolt actions of the era. The legendary Jack O'Connor made it his hunting rifle of choice and had several custom built by the famous Al Biesen.
The Model 70 features dual, opposing locking lugs; a full-length, rotating claw extractor; a fixed, mechanical ejector; a three-position wing-type safety; and a box magazine. Some nuances don't meet the casual eye. Early Model 70s were bolted into their stocks with no less than four bolts: one at the recoil lug, one at the tang, one in between to secure the front of the trigger guard (bottom metal is divided into two pieces; trigger guard and floorplate), and one screwed into the bottom of the barrel at the rear sight boss.
This system was strong but could lead to accuracy tuning issues unless you understood its idiosyncrasies. For the most part Model 70s were very well bedded, but action bolt tension was tricky. The trick was to torque the front action bolt at the recoil lug and the tang bolt to robust levels but leave the middle bolt securing the front of the trigger guard almost loose. (The hinged floorplate closed atop it, so there was no danger of it coming out and getting lost.) Overtightening it almost always stressed the action and drove accuracy away.
The three-position wing-type safety was one of the best to grace a bolt-action rifle. Placement is convenient, function is quiet, and, most importantly, when engaged, the safety locks the firing pin so it simply cannot fall. It's superior to the common rocker-type trigger-block safeties so common today.
Unlike most of today's push-feed actions, the Model 70 maintains control of the fresh cartridge from the get-go, providing complete control and minimizing potential double-feeds.
The rifle I used for this report belongs to Corey Housekeeper, a Utah Highway Patrol officer and friend of mine. As the story goes, his grandmother went to the local sporting goods shop near the family's Central Utah ranch in 1960 and told the salesman she wanted the best new-fangled rifle he had to replace her husband's lever-action .308 that kept jamming. Shortly thereafter she gifted this fine .264 Win. Mag. to Corey's grandfather.\
According to Corey, the rifle has accounted for a lot of meat, bringing down a number of deer around the ranch, at least a couple of antelope trophies, and a bull elk. At some point the folding rear sight was removed from its dovetail and the front sight ramp was knocked or melted loose where it was silver soldered to the barrel. Apparently, someone thought the sights interfered with the field of view through the Bushnell 3-9X Sharpshooter scope.
When I got the chance to shoot the rifle, I ran Nosler factory ammo loaded with 130-grain AccuBond bullets and Winchester Super-X ammo loaded with 140-grain Power-Point bullets.
I fired three consecutive three-shot groups with both factory loads, allowing the barrel to cool completely between groups, and averaged the resulting groups. The Winchester load grouped 1.44 inches, and the Nosler ammo averaged 0.83 inch.
Recoil was brisk; however, it wasn't any worse than a lightweight .30-06. Reliability was stellar, and the well-broken-in action functioned like it was on glass ball bearings.
The Model 70 has been offered in dozens of cartridges, including some pretty obscure rounds. In our big-game world, it can be argued that the two with the most panache are the .300 H&H and the .264 Win. Mag. This fine old rifle has the class of the latter, fed a family for decades, and will continue to do so for as long as anyone carries it afield.