The following is a chronology of a 5 day, spare-time effort to turn a 70’s budget rifle into something that suits me to a T.
I recently acquired a Winchester 670A in 30-06. It came from Summit Gun Broker, who often has a few good used bolt actions. This is the plain vanilla version of the Winchester Model 70, a superb design. It‘s wood stock & iron sights are reminiscent of better, freer times. But one thing hasn’t changed- the 30-06 as a hunting cartridge is beyond reproach.
It’s a little rough around the edges, but I’ve been brain-storming my Ideal Hunting Rifle for years and this was the perfect platform. Thanks to a recent shoulder surgery, a serious recoil pad was required. I decided on the Limbsaver because I’ve used their pads on shotguns; they are top notch. Their Nitro pad is designed for safari-grade magnums and a full 1 1/2 inches thick.
The thick recoil pad meant the stock would be cut and ultimately, refinished. There were other changes in the works. Monte Carlo stocks were a hot item in the 1960’s & 70’s, presumably making the use of a telescopic sight more natural. Unfortunately, they also require iron sights that stick up like the tailfins on a ’57 DeSoto.
This had to be corrected, because my Ideal Hunting Rifle will have low-mounted aperture & bead sights as primary equipment. The is the roughed-in stock after being shortened 1 3/4 inches and with the Monte Carlo removed. When finished, a shadow of the cheek-piece will remain.
If you’ve ever been in and out of vehicles with a 22-24 inch bolt action, you know what a PITA they are. They also suck in a ground blind and they ain’t much fun in a heavy cover, either. Now there are a number of 18″ carbines around in in full-power hunting calibers; but in my opinion, at 18″ ballistics start to suffer and muzzle blast becomes huge. I settled on 20″ as the best compromise of handling and acceptable ballistics. Another advantage to this length was that it left me one tapped hole in the barrel, in the perfect spot to mount a Williams Shorty Ramp.
One could anguish over the act of cutting the barrel. I just poked a piece of paper towel down the barrel, squared the barrel in a padded vise and hacksawed it off. I then square the tool rest on my belt sander to 90 degrees and keep the barrel turning as I square up the muzzle and lay in a bevel to the outer circumference. Finish work and crowning will begin tomorrow.
I set the barreled action in the stock to get a perspective of overall length; imagine and extra inch and a half for the pad. This is going to be one handy little hunting rifle.
The proper way to crown a barrel involves a lathe and or hand tools designed for that job, for around a hundred bucks from Brownells. When I shorten a beater rifle, I finish the crown with the finest half inch ball stone I can find. I turn them relatively slow in a cordless drill, moving the drill around to keep a fresh round cutting edge. I stop when I lay in a real light chamfer. I do this so if I need to take another stab at it, there’s plenty of material left to work with, Then I wrap the same stone in a Dremel with 400 grit silicon carbide paper and progressed through 600, 800 and jeweler’s polish on a felt buffer. You should be able to roll the nail of your little finger back and forth in the muzzle, without seeing any nail shavings on the crown.
That’s the method I used on my WASR and it went from ‘laughable’ to 5 shots and 4 inches at 200 yards. Plenty good for a rifle built in a toaster factory.
I don’t know exactly what finish Winchester used on these rifles but the government should have commandeered it for tanks and battleships. I’ve refinished a few stocks and this is the toughest varnish I’ve ever seen. I finally gave up and Strip-eezed the SOB. After a thick coat and 45 minutes, it was still hard to scrape off. I hate woodwork.
The sanding is all but done, except for a few light passes and some steel wool before staining. The recoil pad arrives tomorrow and the grind-to-fit work must be done first.
Something about this stock didn’t look right, despite my efforts to cut it off at exactly the same angle as the original buttplate. so I compared it to the old Remington Model 78 I cut & padded for the Missus, 14 years ago. The toe of the Winchester stock was tucked under the heel about 5/32″ and this had to be corrected. So I penciled a line where material was to be removed and shaded the butt so I could watch my progress.
Off to my old 4×36 belt sander, AKA the Whirring Machine of Gunstock Death.
The trim job went well and the pitch now matches a proven stock. This is important because if you get it wrong, a moderate kicking rifle or shotgun becomes a stomper. Speaking of recoil, the Nitro pad came today. It comes with a template, to help you center the screw holes, and I appreciated that. Once the stock is cut, you drill two new screw holes to mount the pad. This all went well except that the bottom hole intersects where the rear sling swivel was mounted. I’ll drive & glue a hardwood dowel in the old swivel hole. I was going to add QD mounts anyhow.
There was plenty to trim off the new pad, so I triple-wrapped the stock with masking tape and went at the belt sander, careful to extend the heel and toe lines from the existing wood. Working an inch and a half soft pad down is sorta like grinding a lug off a tractor tire, only worse because you don’t have the tire to hold onto. But slowly and surely the shape of the gunstock began to appear.
And finally, we arrive at the point that the rest can be blended in by hand.
Carnage… seems like there always is some; the trick is to keep it to a minimum. Luckily this is in a spot that’ll get filled and sanded anyhow.
We proceed undaunted. I put the action in the stock, threw it to my shoulder and the sights fall under the eye. It is also apparent that lower sights will now work fine. The shortened 670 is just under 40 inches, stem to stern. Tomorrow is trigger work. finish sanding and staining if there’s time.
This morning I tuned the trigger to release at 2 3/4 pounds, zero creep, zero pre-travel and .002 over-travel. This rifle had a 6 1/2 pound trigger that almost felt two stage at the bench. It had some grunge, less-than smooth sear engagement and way too much of it. I reduced the sear engagement of 0.014 to about half that; and with the surfaces stoned, the trigger really came alive. I took the safety off and whacked the back of the action hard with a ball peen hammer, via an aluminum billet- zero movement and the sear did not trip.
The old-school Model 70 trigger is a masterpiece of functional simplicity. Setting the pull weight and over-travel requires a couple of 1/4″ ignition wrenches and a screwdriver bit that will enter the slot on the over-travel stop from the side. This video has a good view of the mechanism, but the guy really needs to spring for a trigger pull gauge. 😆
Beyond that, I finished fitting the Nitro pad, plugged the old rear swivel hole with a hardwood dowel, drilled for the new QD swivels and sanded out the major imperfections. Then I ran some OOOO steel wool over the stock. Here it is after its second coat of Birchwood Casey’s Walnut stain. I’ll give it a light dose of steel wool tomorrow afternoon and if it looks good, start hand rubbing the TruOil into it.
While waiting for the first coat of TruOil to dry, I find myself contemplating Receiver sight options.
Traditional- The Lyman 57WJS.
These mount in existing holes on the left side of the receiver. Once zeroed, you set the indicator slide to reflect that and the Zero Lock Screw to lock that setting. Fast adjustments can be made by pushing an Unlock button and raising the elevation slide to a pre-determined setting for say, 400 yards. If you need to remove the sight to mount a scope you just pull the elevation slide and throw it in a box. When you replace it the Zero Lock Screw eliminates and further adjustment. If I was going to use only a receiver sight, this would be the one. I’ve used them on 94 Winchesters and they are very good.
Practical- The XS Weaver Back-UP Base
This sight simply clamps onto my rear, low-mount Weaver base and the aperture only stands 0.275 above it. Zero it for 200 yards and forget it. Changing from scope to irons is dead simple because the bases need never leave the rifle. Sight returns to pre-set zero when re-mounted.
It’s pretty flat here. 150 yard shots at deer are the norm and 350-400 are not out of the question. We also have Antler Point Restrictions and having a scope on the rifle is a big plus because it provides you with a good look at the head, before you decide whether or not to take that animal. With all that in mind, the practical side of me says the XS is the way to go.
Once a rear sight is selected I’ll set about ciphering out the lowest Shorty Ramp/Ivory Bead combination that will work with it.
After three coats of Tru Oil and installation of the QD swivels, I am essentially done. Oh, the stock could use some more rubbing, the sights will be replaced and decent glass will be added at some point. But the basic rifle is finished and it is way handier than the original format..
Range Report: The Limbsaver Nitro Pad works as advertised. I recommend it for anyone needing to take the sting out of hard-kicking rifle. It is by far the softest-shooting recoil pad I’ve ever used.
I was out of 150 grain 30-06 reloads so I bought a box of Federal ‘Blue Box’ 150 grain softpoints (Product# 3006A) for 19 bucks and change at the local WalMart. The Winchester liked them… 3 shots at 200 yards. Believe I’m going to count the crown job a success.
The old Bushnell Banner 4X gave an unexpectedly good account of itself. Once you get onto the adjustments, POI movement is entirely predictable and rock solid. I fiddled with the focus ring and got it nice a clear, with the crosshairs in proper focus. And those fine crosshairs are a blessing at 4X, when your target is a soft drink lid at 200 yards. It’s already zeroed and I’m going to leave it on there awhile.
I couldn’t be happier with the way this project turned out.
Chronograph Work and 300 Yard Shooting
Today I decided to see exactly what losing two inches of barrel had cost me in velocity and practical effectiveness. So I gathered up the old BetaMaster, the wife’s old Remington Model 78 and the Winchester 670. The 78 is on the left and the 670 is on the right. Both are good examples of 70’s-80’s budget versions of each company’s flagship bolt gun; the 78 is based on the Remington 700 and the 670 on the Winchester Model 70. Both came with wood stocks and iron sights. Over the past 20 years, that old 78 has killed enough deer to load down the pickup they are leaning against.
While they look nearly the same length, the 78 still has a 22″ barrel and the 670 was shortened to 20″. Some of that is the fact that I leaned the 78 out a little more when I placed them for the photo. The Model 70 action is also a little longer than the 700.
I had a few rounds of Federal 3006A 150 grain softpoint left, so I fired one from each rifle over the chronograph. No, it’s not scientific. I don’t care. All I wanted was a baseline velocity from each rifle with the same load. Federal says this load starts at 2910 fps.
From the 22″ Model 78, it clocked 2883 fps.
From the 20″ Model 670, it ran 2804 fps- and I can live with that.
So the next question was what, if anything, did those 79 fps cost me in practical effectiveness? The answer is ‘nothing’ but of course I had to shoot something anyhow. I filled a 150 oz detergent jug with water, stood it on the logs at the end of my backstop and placed a clean piece of cardboard behind it. I drove 300 yards to the old haywagon parked in the field behind the house, wedged myself & the 670 into the most comfortable sitting position I could manage and squinted through the antuque 4X Bushnell. With my present zero I knew there’d be some drop; I believe the crosshairs were just about the ‘ERA’ logo when the shot broke. The impact was audible with muffs on and I got to watch the jug come back down in the scope. POI is noted in white letters near the bottom of the jug.
That Federal 150 grain bullet was still doing its business from the short Winchester at 300 yards.
Cardboard behind the jug indicates bullet expansion and even some fragmentation.
I have always considered the 30-06 an easy 350 yard big game cartridge, even with garden-variety bullets of appropriate weight for the task at hand. Today’s little exercise reaffirmed that belief and convinced me that a 20″ barrel doesn’t handicap it one bit.