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GUNS Magazine February 2010 - Page 20
RIFLEMAN • DAVE ANDERSON • THE RIFLEMAN’S RIFLE The book is back. he pre-’64 Winchester 70 is prized both as a desirable T collectors’ item, and as one of the best—many would say the best—practical hunting rifles. While many rest in collections, apologetically advised they were sold out of the new model, but he had found this old model tucked away and forgotten on a shelf. He must have misinterpreted the look on Barrie’s face for he quickly offered to knock another 10 bucks off the sale price. Over the next 40 years Barrie shot it so much the rifling was eventually gone for the first 4" or 5" of the bore, at which time he had fitted a Featherweight contour barrel chambered in 6.5x55 Mauser. Had he put it away new in box it would be worth a pretty penny today, but the memories of 40 years hunting and shooting have a certain value as well. It was the early 1970s before I owned a pre-’64 70, a used, excellent condition Featherweight .30-06. Currently I own quite a few pre-’64s, though my rifles are for shooting more than collecting. I take pains to preserve their condition, but then I do so with any firearm. In 1982 Roger C. Rule, a pre-’64 fan, published a book called The Rifleman’s Rifle, subtitled Winchester’s Model 70, 1936-1963. The book was a monumental achievement, meticulously researched, well illustrated with excellent photos (many in color), and incredibly detailed. For the serious Model 70 collector or fan it immediately became a standard reference work. A second edition was published in 1996. These were hardcover limited editions, printed on high-grade paper, and very classy books indeed. So much so they have become collectors’ items themselves, worth more than some of the rifles described in the book. I’ve used borrowed copies for reference in the past, always conscious never to be fired, thousands of others are taken afield every year by discerning hunters and shooters. Winchester’s introduction of the “new” Model 70 rifle in 1964 is generally considered a terrible business decision, one which many enthusiasts never forgave. From a purely business standpoint—and firearms production is a business, after all—it was the right move. The new rifle had several features (e.g. recessed bolt face, capped bolt sleeve) which in the event of a case failure better protected the shooter from injury, and Winchester from lawsuits. From a functional aspect it was accurate and it worked, which is all most casual hunters and shooters ask. a pretty good rifle. But it was a very different rifle than the pre-’64 Model 70. I think rifle enthusiasts would have been quicker to forgive if Winchester had just given the new rifle a new model number and let the original 70 retire with dignity (as in fact Winchester did when it retired the Model 12 shotgun and introduced the 1200). Well, what’s done is done. In creating the new Model 70 Winchester created something else, namely the pre-’64 collector. Generally a firearm has to be out of production a few years or decades to become collectible. Pre-’64 70s were collector’s items almost from the day the new model was announced. Around 1967 my friend Barrie Gwillim, a college student at the time, used some of his hard-earned savings to buy his first new hunting rifle. A local department store was advertising the “new improved” Model 70 for $139.95. The display models were all sold when he got to the store, but the clerk thought there were more in the storeroom. After 20 minutes or so the clerk returned holding a long cardboard box. It was a pre-’64 Featherweight .270. He Cheap Vs. Value Most importantly from Winchester’s point of view, it cost less to produce and could therefore be priced to match the competition. In the 20 years after its introduction the new Model 70 sold over a million units, whereas the pre-’64 model never reached the 600,000 mark in its 37-year production run. After the anti-bind bolt feature was introduced in 1968, cut checkering and overall better wood and metal finish in 1972, the new Model 70 was actually ThisolderModel70riflewasmadein1948anditssafetyswingstotheleft—rightwheretherearbell ofthescopewouldbe.Withthatinmindandsinceonlythefrontreceiverbridgeandsideoftherear bridgeweredrilledandtapped,manyhuntersoutfittedtheirrifleswithalyman48receiversight. 20 WWW.GUNSMAGAZINE.COM • FEBRUARY 2010