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In 1936, Winchester introduced the Model 70 bolt-action rifle to the American market. The Model 70 was largely based on the Model 54, and is today still highly regarded by shooters and is often called "The Rifleman's Rifle". In 1999, Shooting Times magazine named the Model 70 the "Bolt-action Rifle of the Century".

1964 through 1992 Model 70

Competing as it did with the Remington Model 700, it was decided that changes needed to be made in the face of rising labor costs. Accordingly, in 1964, Winchester made a number of design changes to the Model 70. Few to none of these changes were popular with the rifle-buying public, or with the US military. The changes included dropping the controlled round feed feature, a change to the basic stock shape and the use of impressed checkering rather than cut checkering.

Jack O'Connor, long a proponent of the Model 70, wrote of the post-1964 version that "I was informed by Winchester brass that the Model 70 was being redesigned. I told them that I was glad to get the information so I could lay in four or five more before they loused the rifle up. Then I saw the pilot model of 'New Model 70'. At the first glimpse I like to fell into a swoon. The action was simplified, the trigger guard and floor plate made of a flimsy looking one-piece stamping." Despite this initial reaction, O'Connor grudgingly went on to say, "Actually the post-1964 Model 70 is not a bad rifle in spite of the fact that rifle aficionados have never taken it to their bosoms the way they did its predecessor. It is a stronger action than the pre-1964. The head of the bolt encloses the head of the case. It has a small, neat hook extractor, which is adequate. With this extractor the cartridge is not as surely controlled as it is with the Mauser-type extractor. However, the new model seldom gives feeding problems."[8]

Post-1964 Model 70 action (push feed)

In order to reduce manufacturing costs in the face of higher labor rates, rifles manufactured from 1964 to 1992 differed from early Model 70s in the following ways:

  • The receiver, for the first time, and from here on out, was forged into shape, then machined. Heat treatment of the receiver was localized to the areas where necessary, namely the cams and locking lugs, to prevent warping caused by overall heat treatment. Forging the receiver increased its strength and reduced the machining labor and time needed to achieve the final shape.[9]
  • The bolt was changed significantly. The bolt face was enclosed so that it fully surrounded the cartridge rim, in a similar way to the Remington 700 bolt. While cheaper to manufacture than the undercut bolt face needed for controlled feed actions, it is also stronger, providing more support to the cartridge case head, and better contains escaping gases in the event of a case rupture. The new bolt also differed from the old in that it was manufactured in 2 pieces (bolt-handle/collar and the bolt body[10]) and then brazed together.
  • The Mauser-inspired, non-rotating claw extractor (incompatible with a fully enclosed bolt head) was eliminated, and replaced with a small wedge-shaped extractor located within a lug of the bolt head. This type of extractor does not engage the cartridge rim as it rises from the magazine into the action, but rather clips over the cartridge rim after the cartridge has been pushed into the chamber and the bolt handle is turned down. This system is more vulnerable than the old system to jamming or being inadvertently closed on an empty breech (i.e., failing to load a new round) if operated under duress, especially if the rifle is held upside-down or on its side. In addition, the old extractor design served to stabilize the bolt while the action was open; without it, the new bolt did not have any such stabilization, and wobbled while fully open. This has since been fixed in later rifles, but it was nevertheless an obvious departure and certainly less elegant in function than the earlier models, which allowed the rifle to chamber cartridges smoothly from any position.
  • Barrels were now rifled by hammer forging, rather than the more costly process of being cut by hand.
  • The machined steel trigger guard and floor plate were replaced with parts stamped from an aluminium alloy to reduce weight using the assembly from the pre-1964 Featherweight version.
  • Some earlier models featured walnut stocks with checkering that was impressed onto the wood rather than cut into it as on the early Model 70s, further reducing manufacturing costs at the expense of a less positive grip on the rifle, particularly if the shooter is wearing gloves.

Any Model 70 rifle made since that is not designated as a "Classic" model is likely to have this post-1964 action. In design terms (enclosed bolt face, plunger ejector, brazed bolt construction) the new action itself was comparable in design to the competing Remington Model 700, which has a worldwide following and is considered to be very reliable. When coupled with the other cost-cutting changes and compared with the previously produced and very familiar Model 70, however, it was immediately declared to be lacking. The new design of the rifle was swiftly and severely criticized by both gun writers and riflemen alike for its perceived lesser amount of control and feed issues, making the original action much more prized.

The post-1964 action has been further improved over the years. Thanks to a refined bolt head design, the bolt is now less wobbly when open, and the action is now generally considered on par with the CRF action. Under normal conditions, the action's new design is no less reliable, and although the simplified construction is certainly less elegant, some of the changes could be considered improvements, having made the action stronger.[11] Also, the pressed checkering, one of the most reviled changes, was likewise done away with as soon as machine-cut checkering became available. All things considered, in normal situations there is now not much to choose between the two versions at present, apart from personal preference.

1968 Model 70

In 1968, further revisions were made to the Model 70 in part to address consumer concerns.[12] An "anti-bind" feature was introduced to make operation of the action smoother, which comprised a groove in an extended right locking lug operating on a rib on the right side of the receiver. This made the action noticeably smoother to operate and has been retained to the present day. A steel floorplate and stainless magazine follower were introduced, partially revoking changes introduced in the 1964 model. The alloy trigger guard was retained.