Winchester Model 70 is back and is being made in the USA
Photos & Report
by Buck Pope
Contributing Editor

If you’re a big fan of the Winchester Model 70 rifle and you were concerned that you would never see a new one again, I’ve got good news: it is back. Not only is it back, but it is already in production.

A group of gun writers were invited by Browning and Winchester Repeating Arms to do a plant tour of the production of the new and slightly re-designed Winchester Model 70—“The Rifleman’s Rifle.” The new rifles are being built at the Fabrique Nationale (FN) plant in Columbia, SC.

A lot of us recall March of 2006 when we saw the last of the production of this rifle—along with the Winchester Model 94 and several other models—at the US Repeating Arms Company’s New Haven, CT, plant. The Model 70 originated in 1936 and went through several design changes throughout its history, but in the end, a combination of worn out tooling, the manufacturing operation running in the red for months and union issues caused its demise.

Very fortunately FN, through its Browning marketing arm, came to the rescue and was able to charter a new company with an old name, Winchester Repeating Arms, and located a manufacturing facility owned by Fabrique Nationale, which operates a production plant in Columbia, SC, to build the new incarnation of the Model 70 in the US. The FN plant has been building firearms at this plant since 1980, with most of that earlier production devoted to building military small arms. The plant also produces rifles, handguns and shotguns which are marketed separately under the FH Herstal (FNH) label. They have now re-introduced a historic consumer product: the new Model 70 rifle. The new production at the FN plant in the US offers several advantages. This FN plant has a proven track record of building quality firearms; they have more than adequate facilities along with high technology, CAD/CAM capabilities, designed automation and processes to assure high quality.

The corporate headquarters for Fabrique Nationale is at Liege, Belgium, and they have been making and selling quality firearms throughout the world dating back well before World War II, as far back as the 19th century. Another big advantage in the new Model 70s is that they will again be made right here in the USA just as it always was in the past. I really thought that if the Model 70 was ever brought back, it would for sure be made off shore and it just wouldn’t be the same. Browning not only saved the rifle, but they selected a manufacturer here in the United States that could and would make a rifle to the demanding quality they required. Anyone around firearms much is aware of Browning’s history and reputation for making quality firearms.

The manufacturing of firearms today in this market is a tough business. Not only are you faced with making a quality and accurate product, it has be made to be able to sell in a highly competitive market and still make a profit. The new Winchester Model 70s are priced right in line with other quality competitive products. You must use enough automation to keep your costs in line, yet still make a product that has the looks, feel and quality so well associated with the earlier Winchester Model 70 rifle. In talking with Scott Grange, Winchester press relations manager, prior to the trip, he was very excited about the new rifles and could hardly wait to show us the new guns and the plant.

For this writers’ tour, we had only one day to spend touring the plant, which also included firing the rifles at the range (See cover photo of author and Kevin Howard with rifle on the range). Once we cleared security we got together in the Winchester room to get an overview of what all we would do during the day. The meeting was kicked off by CEO and President Jean-Louis VanderStraeten along with the Columbia, SC, plant manager, Thierry Braquet, who gave us an overview and answered our many questions. All of the FN firearms, including the Winchester line, are made to the quality Mil Standard ISO 9001.

After the introductory remarks, we were broken down into two groups and we were soon on our tour. I was in the first tour that covered the Winchester production while the other group visited the military build portion of the plant. Currently, the Winchester production takes approximately only 30% of the available manufacturing space. The rifles were in their initial build when we toured the plant, and in second week of production they were assembling the Model 70 Featherweight Deluxe rifles as their first model. We were shown all the various processes along with dedicated machinery, automation and work stations for the rifle build.

As with most any product, a small number of the parts were made by outside suppliers. In this rifle, the receiver, stock and a variety of small parts are supplied by outside firms and the rest is made and assembled in the plant. FN makes its own barrels and for the Model 70 they are hammer forged. This is a most impressive process to observe.

The barrel and receiver are matched together and the end product is a blued and highly polished sub-assembly. A new trigger design is one of the major changes from the earlier Model 70 rifles. Winchester has introduced their new MOA Trigger System with this rifle. It is an enclosed trigger design that has all but eliminated over-travel. It has several adjustment screws and is set at a 3˚-pound pull at the factory. Without a doubt a most impressive trigger.

I also noticed the walnut stocks had a very nice piece of wood. The company representatives indicated that the first year’s production would have a grade higher quality as just a part of the introduction of the new rifle. Also the 2008 rifles would have a special engraved floorplate, reflecting the first year of introduction. I spent a fair amount of time in the final assembly area and got to look at and handle the rifles. In looking at the new model it is very similar to the earlier version.

The rifles are very nice looking. They retain all the good features that made them so famous. The claw extractor, blade-type ejector, controlled-round feed, three-position safety and other pre-64 features were all present. The bolt is jeweled and knurled.

As for accuracy, their acceptance standard is one MOA or less. I was very much looking forward to shooting this handsome rifle in the afternoon.

The second half of the tour was a walkthrough of the military production build which entailed a large amount of space. Currently being made were two types of machineguns, plus AR 15 rifles, an automatic rifle and pistols. A number of the processes are automated and a good amount of CAD/CAM processes are in place. I was most impressed with the operation and the entire plant.

After a nice lunch, it was out to the range for the actual firing of the rifles, including a number of the military weapons.

I had selected a Model 70 Featherweight rifle in the .30-06 Springfield caliber. The rifle had been equipped with a Sightron Big Sky 3-12 x 40mm riflescope topped with Talley bases and rings. The ammunition was Federal Premium loaded with 168-grain Sierra MatchKing bullets, and targets were set up at 100 meters. After several get familiar shots, I shot for a three-shot group. I must say the rifle, scope and ammunition was a good pick, as my first group was .200 inch. The rifle was a sub-minute shooter and I was most impressed. The rifle was very accurate as were the other rifles we got to try out. I also shot the rifle offhand and everything functioned well with no malfunctions. The rifle is quality made, fitted and finished very well. Very well designed and engineered!

I then went over and shot the military weapons and had a great time. I had not shot a machinegun since my service days and was I impressed. All of us were shooting the machineguns very well. I did not do so well on the hand-held rifles, however, when on full automatic. They take practice to learn to control, but boy did I have fun anyway.

The afternoon seemed to fly by and all too soon we had to shut her down. It had been an action-packed day and we all really enjoyed ourselves.

The Winchester Model 70 will be available in the following models: Featherweight Deluxe; Sporter Deluxe; Ultimate Extreme Conditions Rifle (Stainless Steel & Composite Stock), and the Super Grade. The calibers will range, depending on model; from .243 Win; .270 Win; 7mm-08 Rem; .308 Win; .30-06 Sprg.; .300 Win Mag, and three Winchester Short Magnums, the .270 WSM, .300 WSM and .325 WSM. The rifles have suggested retail prices ranging from $ 999 to $1,049, and $1,149 for Extreme Conditions rifle and Super Grade. Other calibers and special run calibers are scheduled to be introduced over time.

My thoughts on the new Winchester Model 70 are very positive. The “Rifleman’s Rifle” is back and it is a dandy. As mentioned earlier the first models being made are the Featherweight Deluxe and the others are soon to follow. All is not lost in these crazy times; one of the greatest of all rifles has returned and it’s even better than ever before.

Federal Premium Ammunition
Phone Toll Free: 800-322-2342

Sightron Inc.
Phone Toll Free: 800-867-7512

Talley Manufacturing Co.
Phone: 803-854-5700

Winchester Repeating Arms
Phone: 801-876-3440

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