April 13, 2020
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It’s been over a decade since the first time I found myself shivering in a deer stand, peering through a scope at what would soon be my first whitetail buck. Up until that moment, I had been perfectly happy accompanying my dad during the much warmer afternoon hunts, content to not shoot a deer, but sit and enjoy some quality time. That is, until the boys in my middle school class teased that I couldn’t shoot a deer even if I tried.
Fueled by vengeance, I marched home and asked my dad to take me to the ranch that weekend to shoot my first deer. He happily agreed, before reminding me that my best chance to see anything would be early in the morning, not in the cozy afternoons. I didn’t have a rifle of my own at 13, but we agreed that I was big enough to use his SAKO Fiberclass. I had shot it a few times before, and it seemed to fit my frame just fine. The only thing we overlooked was that my previous experiences with the rifle were while I was wearing T-shirts.
The morning of my hunt, I was not wearing just a T-shirt. I had on every piece of clothing I could find in the farm house and made myself as warm and bulky as possible. So much so, that my walk out to the stand was more of a struggled waddle without the ability to put my arms completely down. Only a few minutes past sunrise, I was already getting antsy that I hadn’t seen a buck. I must have willed him into existence, because soon a mature 6-point came strutting out. My dad pointed out he wasn’t the best looking deer, but he would be a good kill if I’d like to take the shot. With little hesitation, I placed him in the crosshairs, pulled the trigger, and successfully took down my first deer. As he went down on the spot, my hand shot up to my forehead. Did you forget about all those layers? I sure did.
Looking through that scope, I noticed I didn’t have a full field of view. So, I moved my face up further on the cheek of the stock until I had a proper view through the glass. Though taught correctly, in my state of excitement at 13 I did not think about where the actual buttpad should sit on my shoulder. Instead, I placed it comfortably under my armpit. Well, comfortable until that Nikon riflescope high-fived my forehead. So, lesson (painfully) learned, I needed a shorter length of pull.
After several years spent away from hunting, I decided this would be my year to get back in the sport. Unfortunately for my wallet and former swimming career, I haven’t grown a ton since my first deer hunt. Therefore, I needed to buy a rifle for myself that would fit my somewhat smaller female stature. As this was going to be my rifle, I wasn’t going to settle for anything less than perfect. It had to be short and light enough to carry while climbing over hill and dale or a deer stand, have a length-of-pull which fit my frame, light recoil, and be chambered for a cartridge with enough punch to humanely take down a variety of game.
Armed with my long list of demands, I went to my good friend David Fortier for some advice. He’s been in the industry for around 100 years now, so I knew he could recommend some great options. After clicking through a few of the links he sent me, there it was. All of my desires seemingly packaged into one beautiful bolt-action rifle: the Winchester Model 70 Featherweight in 7mm-08 Rem. It was classic styling mixed with the performance I was looking for.
Out of the box I found the Featherweight to be a handsome rifle fitted with a nice piece of black walnut. It’s on the short side at 42.25 inches in overall length. Weight is just 6 pounds 12 ounces, although expect that to grow once you add an optic, rings and a sling. In the hands I found the rifle to be very light and quick handling, with excellent balance. My chosen caliber is the classic 7mm-08 Remington. Why this old classic and not a more modern cartridge like the popular 6.5mm Creedmoor? Simply to add a bit of versatility, as there are heavier bullet choices in .284-inch and the added diameter certainly doesn’t hurt. The 7mm-08 Rem shoots flat, is well proven on a wide variety of big game animals and has fairly light recoil when running lighter bullets.
The heart of the rifle is Winchester’s fabled Model 70 short-action. First introduced in 1936, the Model 70 quickly earned the moniker “the rifleman’s rifle”. This is a “Pre-64” style forged action with large dual opposed front locking lugs, Mauser style claw extractor, controlled round feeding and it cocks on the opening stroke of the bolt. For a bit of style the bolt body is jeweled. As you would expect, it has a blade type ejector. Feed is from an internal box magazine with an alloy drop floor-plate. One feature that stood out to me is Winchester’s three-position safety. This allows you to operate/unload the rifle with the safety engaged. Plus it tells you the condition of the rifle at a glance. Winchester fits this model with their M.O.A. Trigger system. This single-stage trigger has no creep or over-travel but is slightly on the heavy side. I found this Model 70 to be easy to cycle and load. A fast cycling action may not be important to you but is to me.
Mated to the action is a 22-inch long cold hammer-forged barrel. To reduce weight Winchester uses their “Featherweight” profile. It is free-floated for accuracy and sports a recessed target crown. Barrel twist is one turn in 9.5 inches making it well suited for use with a variety of bullet weights. The barreled action is fitted to an attractive satin finished black walnut stock. Length of pull is a tad longer than I would prefer at 13.7 inches, and in this regard a Model 70 Featherweight Compact with its 13 inch LOP would be a better fit. The action’s recoil lug is bedded front and rear in the stock to enhance accuracy over the long haul. Regarding aesthetics, it has the classic Featherweight 20 LPI checkering and is finished off with a Schnabel forearm and a Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad. Metal surfaces are blued and handsomely polished to add a touch of class. All in all it is a very pretty little bolt-action hunting rifle which is light, quick to the shoulder and balances well.
Next I mounted a set of Winchester medium height rings and added a Meopta 3-9x40mm MeoPro scope. Picking the right scope was a bit of a challenge as I didn’t want to add a lot of weight. This model features finger adjustable ¼ MOA click MeoTrak RZ turrets, MeoBrightTM ion assisted multi-coatings on the lenses and is built on a 1-inch tube. Resolution is extremely good for a scope in this price range, color rendition is just a tad on the cool side and it features an advertised 99.7% light transmission per lens surface for excellent low light performance. Overall length is a compact 13 inches. For a reticle I picked their BDC/a model which is located in the Rear Focal Plane and features additional elevation hold-over points. This allows you to quickly make shots at different distances without have to touch the elevation turret.
With the scope mounted it was time to see how the combination performed. So I set off to the range for some bench testing. For ammunition I selected a variety of loads from Federal, Hornady and Nosler. These ranged in bullet weight from 120 to 140 grains. As I started bench testing I ran into my only problem. Hornady brand ammunition would not fire reliably. Stripping and cleaning the bolt didn’t improve matters so I packed it in. Winchester in turn sent me another Featherweight to try. Unfortunately, I encountered the same issue and so I dropped Hornady from testing.
Off the bench the Model 70 Featherweight performed well, especially considering the light barrel profile. To check accuracy I fired four 5-shot groups from a rest at 100 yards. Here I quickly noted the rifle preferred Federal’s 140-grain TSX load which printed nice .75-inch 3-groups and averaged 1.3 inches for four 5-shot groups. Velocity came in at 2,727 fps. To wring the most out of the rifle firing 5-shot groups though I had to let the barrel cool. Federal’s 120-grain Fusion load shot almost as well averaging 1.5 inches. This load was also the fastest averaging 2,895 fps from the 22-inch barrel. Nosler’s 120-grain Ballistic Tip averaged 2 inches at 2,858 fps. Recoil of the 120-grain loads was quite comfortable for me but I chose to hunt with Federal’s 140-grain Barnes TSX simply because it shot the best.
Next, I tried my hand at some rapid fire drills to get a feel for the rifle. I did these at 100 yards on a steel plate starting from the low ready position. The goal here was to see how the Featherweight handled and how smooth the action was. Cartridges loaded easily into the magazine and the bolt proved very smooth. Flicking the safety off was easy. One thing I like about the Model 70’s bar ejector is it will fling cases if you want to, or raise them so you can pluck them out shooting from the bench. Firing rapidly offhand my empties were landing about 15 feet away. I have to say I was impressed by the smoothness of the Model 70’s action and how fast my follow-up shots came. It didn’t take long to get comfortable with the rifle and ready for the hunt.
Opening weekend at my family’s ranch in Texas proved to be uneventful for me. I saw quite a few does, but nothing I felt the need to shoot quite yet. Two weeks later, I, once again, made the 7-hour drive with high hopes of putting the Featherweight to use. Alas, Friday evening passed, followed by Saturday morning and Saturday evening with no buck in sight. On Sunday morning I again found myself in six layers of clothing, waddling through a cotton field to my stand. Rifle, Meopta binos and grunt tube at the ready, I sat and waited.
Seven does quickly gathered to snack on the cotton seed, but anything with antlers was still absent. Then, finally, I saw movement across the cotton field. It was still pretty dark, so my eyes alone only saw a black mass running toward the group. I quickly assumed it was a hog, here to ruin my good time. Luckily, my Meopta binoculars work well in low-light, because through them I saw a buck. He made it over to the edge of the field and chased around a few does before finally stopping to eat. I very quietly picked up the Featherweight and looked through the Meopta. He wasn’t presenting me with a clear shot, so I sat and watched him for 15 minutes, just waiting for the right moment. That moment never came, and before I knew it, he hopped over the fence and was gone. I put the rifle down and shoved my frozen fingers back into my pockets. I had missed my chance.
After some swearing unfit for this publication, as quickly as he left, my buck was back. I wasn’t giving him another chance to get away, so I lined up my shot, carefully pulled the trigger, quickly cycled the bolt and looked back up. I couldn’t move fast enough, and I didn’t see him. I sat back in a in a huff and sent my husband and dad a rather bitter text letting them know that the shot they heard was me, but there was no deer to be seen. As I haughtily scanned the scene, I realized what I thought to be a bushel of cotton looked a little bloody. Peering through my binoculars, I realized it was him! It was a single-shot kill at 180 yards and my confidence was restored.
Winchester’s Model 70 Featherweight proved to be accurate and easy to carry while afield. I like the fast action and especially the looks of the rifle. In the hunting field it performed splendidly. Both the Featherweight, and the even smaller and lighter Featherweight Compact, would be something to consider if you are looking for a lightweight hunting rifle with classic looks. While not inexpensive with an MSRP of $1009.99 it is a very handsome piece.
Winchester Model 70 Featherweight Specs
- Type: Manual Turn Bolt
- Caliber: 7mm-08 Rem
- Capacity: 5 rounds
- Barrel: 22 inches with a 9.5 inch twist
- Overall Length: 42.2 inches
- Weight: 6 pounds, 12 ounces.
- Stock: Black Walnut, Grade 1
- Length of Pull: 13.7 inches
- Finish: Brushed Polish (steel); satin (walnut)
- Trigger: Single-Stage M.O.A. Trigger system
- Safety: 3-position
- MSRP: $1,009.99
- Manufacturer: Winchester Repeating Arms Co., www.WinchesterGuns.com