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A Super Super Grade Winchester

A Super Super Grade Winchester
Cabela’s Model 70 Lightweight .257 Roberts.

Various dictionaries define “classic” in a number of ways, including references to Greek and Roman times and cars made in specific decades, but the most useful definition for our purposes is “of lasting use or value.” The sporting-goods retailer Cabela’s recently decided to enter the field of upscale, limited production firearms with several rifles, including several new Model 70s. The most interesting to me was the Super Grade .257 Roberts Lightweight.

The .257 “Bob” (as some call it) was developed by Ned Roberts during the 1920s as a long-range woodchuck cartridge. Back then chuck shooting was a popular outdoor sport in much of the eastern US, especially the Northeast, where an awful lot of smokeless cartridge and rifle development took place in the first half of the 20th century. Many enthusiastic shooters, some with considerable cash, looked for something to hunt during the months outside of brief deer seasons, and eastern farmers welcomed anybody willing to reduce chuck damage to crops and pastures.

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The Commercial “Bob”

Roberts based the .257 on the 7×57 Mauser case necked down, but with a more sloping shoulder, apparently considered an advantage in those days. It proved popular enough for Remington to introduce a commercial version, though with no change to the 7×57 case other than neck diameter. The .257 Remington-Roberts (as they called it) appeared in 1934, early in the Great Depression. The factory ammo featured deep-seated, roundnosed bullets at modest pressures and velocities, apparently because Ned Roberts found the best accuracy with that combination when using the powders and bullets of the day.
Despite the twin handicaps of bad economic times and wimpy ballistics, the .257 found fair success as the logical bolt-action choice in the slot between .22-caliber varmint cartridges and purely big game rounds such as the .270 Winchester and 7×57 Mauser. One popular rifle for the Roberts was Winchester’s Model 70, and handloaders soon found they could boost .257 ballistics considerably by using spitzer bullets and increasing the modest factory pressures, especially after the appearance of IMR4350 in 1940.

The result became known as the “3-inch .257,” and Ned Roberts’ woodchuck cartridge soon gained a reputation as a good long-range deer round as well, but then ran into some other bad luck. World War II changed sporting rifle factories into military rifle factories, and a generation of woodchuck and deer hunters became otherwise occupied for a few years. After the war there were more hunters, due to a lot of city kids having learned to like adventure and shooting, but many wanted something new, rather than the “old” pre-war cartridges. In the mid-1950s Winchester introduced a new round called the .243 that just about killed the .257, even though it wasn’t any better and in some ways not as good.

Real rifle loonies, however, still usually preferred the .257 and kept it alive in various ways, including building custom rifles, plus buying any new factory rifle appearing in the chambering—and many companies chambered the Bob off and on. This created enough demand for most ammunition companies to improve their .257 loads. The lone holdout, perhaps not so oddly, is Remington, still loading the same 117-grain roundnose Core-Lokt at 2,650 feet per second introduced almost 80 years ago. Everybody else loads 110- to 120-grain spitzers at velocities from 2,780 to 3,000 fps, essentially duplicating the efforts of handloaders.

A sample of the new Cabela’s .257 showed up in September 2012, a few days before I was scheduled to take it to South Texas to hunt javelina and feral pigs with my old friends John Haviland (another gun writer from Montana), Joe Arterburn of Cabela’s, and Chris Olsen, a young armorer for the NRA. The rifle, of course, is based on the new Model 70 made in South Carolina, remaining mechanically true to the pre-’64 except for the trigger. Most traditionalists aren’t fond of the new “enclosed” M70 trigger, claiming it can’t be as rugged or reliable as the pre-’64 design, but I’ve now fooled with half a dozen of the new rifles, and find the new trigger much easier to adjust to a crisp 2- or 3-pound pull than any version of the old trigger, partly because the original often needed to be dismantled and physically modified to go much under 4 pounds. In the test rifle the trigger pull averaged an ounce over 3 pounds, right out of the box, and was very crisp.

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The rifle isn’t just good-looking (left). It’s a real hunting rifle and performs
well in the field. The .257 (above) shot very well from the bench.

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The fancy walnut stock showed good figure on both sides of the butt.

Fancy Wood

The stock was a very fancy piece of what appears to be some sort of American walnut with extensive figure on both sides of the buttstock. The point-pattern checkering is very nicely done, wrapping around the fore-end and with extensive panels on the sides of the grip. There’s an ebony fore-end tip, 2-screw sling swivel studs inletted into the wood, and a 1″ recoil pad in traditional Winchester brick red. The pad certainly isn’t needed for the .257’s modest kick, but I like pads even on light kickers since they make it possible to stand a rifle up in a corner without risk of slipping, or marring a nice floor, and also protects the buttstock from cracking if the rifle does bounce off something hard, as hunting rifles sometimes do.

The stock’s shape is pure American classic, without a cheekpiece, and the “satin finish” is apparently sanded into the wood. The inletting’s also very nicely done, with just enough relief around the free-floated barrel to ensure reliable accuracy in the field but not look cheap. Overall the stock isn’t quite up to true custom standards but is far closer to custom than factory.

All the metalwork is bright-blued, and the engraved floorplate has some gold plating, including the Cabela’s logo. The non-gold engraving includes some very nice scrolling, and the designation “Limited Edition 1 of 500.” The slim 22″ barrel has today’s requisite “target” crown combined with the traditional Winchester featherweight contour, with a very short shank just in front of the receiver rather than a chamber-length cylinder.

Despite the slim barrel, the rifle weighed an ounce over 9 pounds with a Cabela’s Euro 3-9×42 scope (made by Meopta) in Leupold mounts, which may be why it’s called Lightweight rather than Featherweight, despite the barrel contour. On Cabela’s website the weight’s listed as 7 pounds, but subtracting the 16 ounces of the scope and 4 or 5 ounces of the mounts means this particular rifle actually weighs around 7-3/4 pounds. Of course, it’s impossible to predict exactly how much a walnut stock will weigh, and the fancier the grain the heavier the wood. The scoped weight of the rifle could easily be dropped a 1/2-pound or so by using a lighter scope and mounts.

My assignment before the hunt was to work up a handload for the rifle, but there wasn’t time. Instead I tried a load that’s shot accurately in a bunch of other .257s over the decade, and kills game extremely efficiently, a 115-grain Nosler Partition and 45.0 grains of Hodgdon H4350. The powder charge is a couple of grains over the maximum listed by Hodgdon, but Hodgdon’s data uses the antique 1934 pressure standards, and doesn’t list any modern +P loads, basically just at .30-06 levels and approved by SAAMI years ago. The 45.0-grain load has never shown the slightest sign of high pressure in any rifle and normally chronographs around 2,900 fps in a 22″ barrel—and did in the Cabela’s rifle. It grouped three shots into an inch or less at 100 yards, and after sighting-in, the rifle and I were good to go.

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The engraved floorplate includes some gold plating as well as the Cabela’s logo.

Javelina Hammer

Down in Texas on the famous King Ranch we spent the first day mostly hunting javelina. Other limited edition Cabela’s rifles went along on the hunt, but we ran into minor problems with ammo and scopes on the others. We didn’t want to waste prime hunting time fooling with the problems, so the .257 ended up being used by John and Joe as well, and ended up taking four javelina (the limit is two per hunter). Of course, the load proved more than adequate for the little semi-pigs, but the accuracy and fine trigger really helped. It isn’t easy to precisely place a bullet on animals weighing no more 50 pounds (and usually a lot less), especially when you want something left over. The longest shot was 192 yards, and the bullet went right where aimed.

As the light dimmed and heat abated toward the end of the afternoon we started hunting pigs. I was first up and, as often happens with pigs, they didn’t start coming out until close to what’s often referred to as “slap dark” in Texas and other southern climes. The range was only a little over 100 yards, but the pig was black and the light was really dim. The scope worked fine in the dim light, but because of tall grass due to recent (and much needed) heavy rains I shot from kneeling, and decided not to get fancy, despite the pig being in a small opening between big thickets of South Texas brush, always including thorns and prickly pear and occasionally diamondback rattlesnakes.

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The Cabela’s Model 70 in .257 Robertstook four javelina during the Texas hunt
delivering clean kills.

The Hogs

The best shot for dropping pigs right where they stand is just in front of the shoulders in the center of the neck, where the spine is located, but if you miss the spine a pig can go quite a ways. Instead I went for the standard heart-lung shot—and was quite gratified when the pig dropped right there anyway, and never moved. It proved to be a mature but not huge boar of about 150 to 160 pounds, and everybody else was pretty impressed with the .257’s performance. I didn’t take any photos because it was truly dark (you can legally shoot pigs all night in Texas) and black pigs don’t photograph well after dark, even with flash, but did bring the meat home. Which of course is what the Model 70 Winchester and .257 Roberts have always been about.
By John Barsness

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The Cabela’s rifle’s stock comes with several custom-type features, including an ebony fore-end tip,
2-screw inletted sling swivel studs, and extensive checkering.

Model 70 Super Grade Lightweight

Maker: Winchester Repeating Arms Co.

275 Winchester Ave.
Morgan, UT 84050
(801) 876-2711
www.gunsmagazine.com/winchester-repeating-arms

Distributor: Cabela’s
(800) 237-4444
www.gunsmagazine.com/cabelas
Action Type: Bolt
Caliber: .257 Roberts
Capacity: 5, Barrel Length: 22″
Overall Length: 42-1/2″
Weight: 7 pounds
Finish: Blue
Stock: Fancy walnut w/satin finish
Price: $1,799.99

Euro 3-9x42mm

Maker: Meopta
Distributor: Cabela’s
(800) 237-4444
www.gunsmagazine.com/cabelas

Magnification: 3X-9X, Objective Diameter: 42mm, Eye Relief: 3.75″, Click Value: 1/4 MOA, Tube Diameter: 1″, Weight: 16 ounces, Overall Length: 12.4″,
Reticles: Duplex, Price: $399.99
Model 70 Super Grade Lightweight
Maker: Winchester Repeating Arms Co.
275 Winchester Ave.
Morgan, UT 84050
(801) 876-2711
www.gunsmagazine.com/winchester-repeating-arms

Distributor: Cabela’s
(800) 237-4444
www.gunsmagazine.com/cabelas
Action Type: Bolt, Caliber: .257 Roberts, Capacity: 5, Barrel Length: 22″, Overall Length: 42-1/2″, Weight: 7 pounds, Finish: Blue, Stock: Fancy walnut w/satin finish, Price: $1,799.99

Euro 3-9x42mm

Maker: Meopta
Distributor: Cabela’s
(800) 237-4444
www.gunsmagazine.com/cabelas
Magnification: 3X-9X, Objective Diameter: 42mm, Eye Relief: 3.75″, Click Value: 1/4 MOA, Tube Diameter: 1″, Weight: 16 ounces, Overall Length: 12.4″,
Reticles: Duplex, Price: $399.99

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  1. David Conat says:

    I think Mr. Wood’s dyslexia crept into the February “Out of the Box” article about the Kel-Tec PMR-30 pistol. On page 32, the price is listed as $145. Kel-Tec’s website lists the price as $415.

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