Shooting the "Rifleman's Rifle"
Every now and then there comes a point in every enthusiast collecting career where they find something truly great – a holy grail type of great. My grail has always been what the famous gun writer Jack O’Connor said was the “rifleman’s rifle,” I am referring to a pre-1964 model 70 rifle made by Winchester.
The Winchester Company’s first major Mauser style bolt action was the model 54. In America, soldiers came home from war and wanted guns similar to what they carried. Soldiers coming home from the First World War saw the accuracy of bolt action rifles and Americans were slowly graduated from lever actions to bolt action rifles.
In 1936, the model 70 was born and quickly gained a reputation all over the world for being reliable and accurate for that time. The model 70 further cemented the bolt action rifle as a staple for American hunters.
My model 70 was built in 1945 right after the war, and is chambered in 30-06. This wasn’t a cheap rifle when it was ordered as it has a Griffin and Howe side mount with quick detach rings and a Lyman Alaskan scope dating about 10 years prior to the gun. The rifle was fitted with a Williams’s receiver aperture sight. The factory rear sight on the barrel was removed and a dovetail blank installed. Modern shooters forget that hunters used iron sights quite successfully long before modern hunting optics. This is a rifle that in its’ day would have been equally at home in the badlands chasing elk as it would have been in old British east Africa chasing leopard.
Every gun collector is different when it comes to what I refer to as character on a rifle. My rifle has no bluing left under the bolt handle or on the floor plate. The checkering is worn down so much that there are no sharp diamonds left to speak of. The checkering is so worn on the grip that one can tell where someone had their right hand on the wrist for many years. The wood is a very dark color from hands carrying the gun in the field for years. The gun, plainly put has what my friend and hunting mentor Dr. Norman Ott says, “just has soul.”
Shooting this old rifle was a dream to say the least. The trigger is crisp, a little on the heavy side but breaks cleanly. My favorite type of hunting is spot and stalk and taking a shot from shooting sticks. The Model 70 shot so well I haven’t even shot from a bench yet because I am having too much fun off sticks. The picture of the group is from shooting sticks standing at 50 yards with factory Federal 150 GSR fusions, which is an excellent medium-game load. At 100 yards still standing off sticks the rifle kept each round under 2 inches on a steel gong. With more load testing from the bench I am sure this gun will do well under an inch at 100 yard.
I am returning to Africa next April for a plains game hunt in the Limpopo region of South Africa, and my Model 70 will be in the gun case.
I hope everyone reading this article finds their grail gun eventually and more importantly I hope you take it out and hunt. These guns were not meant to hang on walls, they were meant for being taken afield! Remember, shoot straight and good hunting. ~ Ian-Bradley
Ian Bradley Johnson is a passionate firearms enthusiast. His gun hobbies include historical military and sporting firearms, hunting and collecting. Johnson is an avid hunter who enjoys travel and experiencing different hunting cultures abroad.