Rifles > Bolt-Action

The Military Model 70

The Model 70 never saw significant use by the U.S. military.


One of the perennially popular Winchester firearms of the 20th century is the Model 70 bolt-action rifle. Introduced in 1936 as an improvement on the Model 54, the Model 70 soon set the standard for commercial bolt-action rifles. Manufactured in a wide variety of configurations and calibers, it was a favorite of many hunters, shooters and gun enthusiasts. Although never adopted for combat use by the U.S. military, some Model 70 rifles were used as sniping rifles during World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

Soon after Pearl Harbor, two members of the U.S. Marine Corps Equipment Board, Capt. George Van Orden and Chief Gunnery Sgt. Calvin Lloyd, wrote a 72-page report titled “Equipment for the American Sniper,” which discussed the various types of rifles and telescopic sights available at the time. The report concluded that the best rifle/scope combination for use by U.S. Marine snipers was the Winchester Model 70 topped with an 8X target scope made by the Unertl Co.

This recommendation made its way up the chain of command. Before any official action was taken, the Marine Corps ordered 373 Model 70s chambered in .30-’06 Sprg. According to Winchester documents, these rifles were shipped to the Marine Corps on May 29, 1942. Serial numbers were in the approximate 41,000 to 50,000 range, and the rifles had 24-inch sporter barrels with leaf sights, sporter-checkered stocks with steel buttplates, 1-inch sling swivels and leather slings.

Shortly after the government acquired these rifles, Winchester reported that “all .30 Government 06 Rifles are now frozen under War Production Board Limitation Orders.” The company obviously wanted to sell as many of the Model 70s remaining in its inventory as possible. To this end, Winchester sent a letter to the U.S. Marine Corps Quartermaster on July 20, 1942, indicating it had 1,944 “Model 70 .30 Government 06 Rifles on hand, which we can offer you subject to prior sale.” Most of these rifles had 24-inch barrels, but there were 105 with 20-inch barrels. The letter, signed by Winchester’s Edwin Pugsley, concluded: “It occurs to us that the Marine Corps may be interested in an additional quantity of [these] rifles at this time and shall be glad to submit quotation if you will advise us what styles and quantities you may be interested in.”

About a week after this letter, the Marine Corps firmly closed the door on the acquisition of any additional Model 70 rifles. A memo dated July 29, 1942, stated in part: “Subject: Rifles, Winchester, Model 70, .30 Government 06. The subject rifles are not considered suitable for general service use for the following reasons: (a) Not sufficiently sturdy;(b) Parts are not interchangeable with M1903 and M1 parts; (c) Replacement parts will be difficult to procure; (d) Not fitted with sling swivels. These rifles are not considered suitable for use as sniper rifles. The 1047 rifles, U.S., caliber .30, M1903, ‘Snipers Equipment’ on hand at this Depot … are believed to be superior to the subject rifle both in accuracy and durability … .”

The Marine Corps clearly believed that the existing Model 1903, “tuned” to match grade, was a superior sniping rifle as compared to the Model 70. This is debatable. Regardless, the fact that there were a number of Model 1903 Marine Corps match rifles, along with spare parts, already on-hand resulted in the idea of a standardized Model 70 sniping rifle being doomed from the start.

Despite the Marine Corps’ firm rejection of the Model 70, some of these rifles did, in fact, serve overseas in combat, albeit on an unofficial basis. Sniper historian Peter R. Senich reported: “[A]ccording to firsthand accounts, a fair number of unauthorized telescope-equipped ‘personal and Marine Corps property’ Model 70s brought the reality of war to Japanese combat personnel during the early stages of World War II in the South Pacific.” The U.S. Army also procured a limited number of Model 70 rifles during World War II, but little is known about their subsequent utilization, and it appears they saw virtually no actual use.

The end of World War II essentially spelled the end of the bolt-action as a front-line U.S. military service rifle, but its inherent accuracy was too important an attribute to totally abandon, and bolt guns enjoyed a new lease on life as sniping rifles. The Korean War was the last conflict in which the World War II-vintage bolt-action M1903A1/Unertl sniper rifle was employed. During the closing stages of the war, the M1903A1/Unertl was replaced by the semi-automatic Garand M1C sniper rifle, which was soon followed by the M1D. These two Garand sniper rifles were the mainstay of the U.S. military’s sniper rifle inventory until the early 1960s when the United States became increasingly involved in the conflict in Southeast Asia.

The Springfield M1903A1 rifle fitted with an 8X Unertl scope was the only bolt-action sniping rifle to see any substantive use in the hands of U.S. Marines during the Korean War. The U.S. Army fielded some World War II-vintage M1903A4 bolt-actions but relied primarily on the semi-automatic M1C Garand. As was the case during World War II, the Marine Corps considered procuring some Winchester Model 70 rifles for sniping use in Korea, but these results were the same as before. A 1951 U.S. Marine Corps report on the subject categorically rejected the procurement of any new Model 70 sniper rifles: “There is no Marine Corps requirement for a special rifle for use by snipers in the Marine Corps. It is undesirable to inject another rifle into the supply system, and if another rifle is injected into the supply system, it is necessary to inject non-standard ammunition for this rifle into the supply system in order to exploit fully any gain in accuracy. The U.S. Rifle, Caliber .30, M1C is sufficiently accurate for use by snipers in the Marine Corps.”

Despite this rebuff, the Marine Corps report went on to state that “[the] Model 70 Winchester is the most accurate American made, Caliber .30 on the market.”

During this same period, the U.S. Army also considered procurement of a modified Model 70 for sniping use as reflected in a memo from the chief of ordnance dated Oct. 30, 1951, which states in part:

  • 1. The Winchester Repeating Arms Company has submitted to this office one of their Model 70 bolt action rifles equipped with a six-power telescope and chambered for caliber .30 M2 ammunition. The rifle has been modified to feed from a detachable ten-round magazine. The Winchester Company proposes the modified weapon for use as a snipers rifle.

  • 2. This office has been advised by Winchester’s representative that the modified Model 70 yields somewhat better slow fire accuracy than the present standard M1C Snipers Rifle. In the absence of a stated military requirement for a weapon of this type, no Ordnance tests have been conducted.

Any further consideration of the Model 70 by the Army was rejected. “It has been determined that the increased accuracy of the Model 70 Winchester is insufficient to justify its introduction into an already overburdened supply system.”

Although adoption of the Model 70 as a sniping arm by the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Army remained elusive, the rifle did enjoy some measure of quasi-military popularity throughout the mid- to late-1950s. After World War II, George Van Orden, who had authored the Marine Corps Equipment Board report in 1941 recommending adoption of the Model 70 as a sniper rifle, started a firearms business named Evaluators, Ltd. Van Orden (who had subsequently been promoted to colonel and, later, brigadier general), eventually concentrated on marketing the “Van Orden Sniper,” which was a Winchester Model 70 customized to the specifications of his customers.

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18 Responses to The Military Model 70

Brett A Evans-Gunmaker wrote:
October 09, 2014

The choice of the Remington 700 rifle had more to do with the standardizing of .308 as the 30 caliber round. At the time the Remington 700 was the only american made short action. Due to the round receiver it could be mounted in a lathe chuck and 'blueprinted' much easier than the Win 70. Crude methods by todays standards but back in the day thats how it was done.

TCH wrote:
June 02, 2014

Back in the late 70's I was offered a Winchester model 70, Pre War, 30-06. It was marked US Property.

LTC S L Hackworth wrote:
February 08, 2014

As a USMC LCPL/CPL at Camp Pendelton during the early 1960s. I used those 'Special Services' M70s for hunting in California. They were VERY accurate rifles BEFORE they were made into sniper rifles later in 1966. After I left the USMC in 1965, the term 'designated rifleman' was apparently changed to 'Sniper' when they started training sniper formally at Camp Pendelton for VN deployment. I currently display a M70 Winchester replica at the Tulsa Arms Shows along with my 'Springfield Armory: Arsenal for Democracy' exhibit. (US Models 1795 through M-1 Garand.

Mike M wrote:
October 02, 2012

I always thought that the pre-64 heavy barreled Winchester M70 in .30-06 was the ultimate sniper rifle. The pre-64 heavy-barrel target model in .30-06 was a robust, very accurate, controlled round fed rifle with a great fool proof safety and trigger. Well, better than the Remington safety and the Walker trigger reliability-wise that is. I've always wondered why that M70 target model was never taken in by the military as their model sniper rifle. I guess it was the fact that that model changed after 64.

mr.Tate wrote:
July 12, 2012

I've got a Model 70 in .30-06 myself. It seems like I can't miss with it.

Rick Nethery wrote:
July 12, 2012

I figured the Winchester Model 70 Would have been chosen over the model 700 myself. With its more positive 3 position wing safety that blocks the firing pin, and its controlled round feed. But the Reminton has served well so who knows.

BigDave54 wrote:
January 06, 2012

This whole episode in military history was like reinventng the wheel every time a new war started. Our country and battle fields are more secure now that there are permanent job classifications for scout snipers and snipers...The US Air Force now has a classification as counter snipers..I remember during the early 70s while I was a security specialist we had matches in m-16 and S&W model 15.s We had to buy our own ammunition and drive our personal cars between bases to attend matches. Our squadron commanders tried to help by giving us time off from our regular duties to go to matches ,but the higher ups did not see any utility in having any more than a basic ground pounder that could spray and pray in case someone bad got inside our fence lines at night. Things have gotten better from what I have read and heard.

Jon Terhune wrote:
October 17, 2011

I remember when the Marine Corps but out the request for sample rifles, that Winchester refused to particapate, probably because of going throught this at least 3 times before for nothing, and of the 2 or 3 companies that submitted rifles, Remington was the favorite and they were willing to do anything that the Marine Corps wanted. The original rifles were 40X's, but the Marine Corp would be setting up their own rifles, as they always have and they felt the Model 700 action would fill their needs. They used the model 70 2 piece trigger guard, which they modified and fit to the Remington, not the model 70 trigger.

george hunt wrote:
April 11, 2011

terrific article i would love to see, if possible, in digital format the 1941 VAN ORDEN/LLOYD 'equipment for american snipers' report ??

Bill wrote:
April 09, 2011

There is an artcle that features a letter and interview with the general inchagre of the USMC who was in charge of the scout snipers that explains why the model 700 was chosen over the model 70. The contract states that along with the amount of rifles prded to the corp the company. To get the contract also had to provide 5 yrs of maintainance service for them. Remingtons factory factory was the only one set up that could deliver that side of of the deal so they got the contract. The letter and part of the article can be searched online.

Bruce Canfield wrote:
April 03, 2011

Great book!

Bob Palmer wrote:
April 01, 2011

To Bruce Canfield, Read "Marine Sniper" by Charles Henderson. The true story of Carlos Hathcock.

Ed wrote:
March 24, 2011

I have often wondered, why the 700 and not the 70. I do not favor ether, Both are great rifles, but I am curious. No one seems willing to give an understandable explanation.

herbert wayne proffitt wrote:
March 23, 2011

you got the book too.loved it too..

Dennis wrote:
March 23, 2011

The Winchester trigger is closer to the 03 Springfield than the Remington... I don't see how they can be used.

Iain wrote:
March 22, 2011

Maybe it was the whole pre 64 post 64 thing.

Dale wrote:
March 22, 2011

From what I've read the Marine's build their own sniper rifles using the Remington 700 but, use the Winchester 70 triggers.

Mouse wrote:
March 21, 2011

I fail to see the logic in McGuire's synopsis of the reasoning behind the decision to move from Model 70 to Model 700. Would like to hear what the advantages of Model 700 were compared to Model 70, and why it was better to switch to Rem 700 instead of updating Win 70 to whatever Winchester was willing/able/ready to offer as an upgrade/replacement path. Not that I have a stake in this or argue against Model 700 - but if new-coming Model 700 was better suited for military sniping than the new-coming Model 70, the actual/factual reasons should be listed.