The “Westerner” Returns With The Advantage Of Better Bullets And Ammo.
The current Winchester Featherweight Model 70 in .264 is an excellent marriage of rifle and cartridge. Last fall (November 2012 issue) I talked about my 1962-era M70 Westerner in .264 Mag. My Westerner with 26-inch barrel weighs 8-3/4 pounds, over 10 pounds all up. Winchester ads touted it as a mountain rifle. Maybe they were comparing it to a .470 double.
Winchester quickly chambered the pre-’64 Featherweight to .264. The 22-inch barrel gave velocities not much different from .270 figures with similar bullet weights, but with greater recoil and muzzle blast. They sold so poorly today they are valuable collectors’ items.
Though its initial burst of popularity is long since over, the .264 is still with us. One factor is the increased interest in long-range shooting. There are some mighty slippery bullets available in 6.5/.264 caliber. I think the .264 will always be a niche cartridge, a handloaders’ cartridge, for riflemen with specific performance requirements. I like it enough I purchased one of the new M70 Featherweights with 24-inch barrel.
The current Featherweight in .264 Mag uses a different barrel contour than the Featherweights for standard (.308/.30-06-based rounds with 0.473-inch case head diameter) cartridges. The classic Featherweight contour has a very short shank, extending only about 1/4 inch from the front of the receiver ring.
For the magnum cartridge with 0.532-inch case head diameter the new Featherweight barrel has a contour like the one used on the Sporter model. There’s a long, gently tapered shank extending past the chamber, then a straight taper to 0.605-inch (measured on my rifle) at the muzzle.
Obviously the extra steel adds weight. Winchester specs say the magnum Featherweights weigh 7-1/4 pounds. In fact weighed on a certified commercial scale my new .264 weighs 7-3/4 pounds. Another Featherweight I just purchased, in 7×57 Mauser with the light barrel, weighs 6-3/4 pounds on the same scale.
With Burris Z rings and a Leupold 6X scope, weight is 8 pounds, 10 ounces. For a “Featherweight,” those must be awfully heavy feathers from a big bird. The weight is about right for the .300 Win Mag cartridge, which is also available in this model. Still, it is over a pound lighter than my vintage Westerner. With the heavier barrel balance point is about 6 inches ahead of the trigger, a bit more muzzle heavy than my ideal.
Current Model 70s I’ve examined are very well made. In terms of fit, finish, and function this rifle is exceptionally well done. The stock wood is particularly nice which is maybe just luck of the draw.
Trigger pull out of the box is just about perfect for a hunting rifle with a crisp, virtually motionless break at 3 pounds. I saw nothing wrong with the original M70 trigger, and my perfectly normal reaction is to fear and resent change. But the new trigger is very good indeed, and time will tell how it stands up after years of use. As a matter of personal taste I wish the trigger piece itself was serrated instead of smooth.
The 24-inch barrel is free floated and has a 1:9-inch twist. Throating is such I could seat a Nosler Ballistic Tip bullet to just touch the lands with an overall cartridge length of 3.30 inches, with cartridges still able to fit and feed from the magazine. I may not always want to seat bullets to touch the lands but it is nice to have the option.
Winchester-Western’s 140-grain Power Points gave an average of 3,021 fps, very close to factory claim (3,030 fps). My Westerner with 26-inch barrel gave 3,107 with the same load. Nosler Trophy Grade loads with the 130-grain AccuBond bullet averaged just over 3,100 fps in the 24-inch barrel, 3,150 in 26-inch and with superb accuracy of around 0.75 MOA in both rifles. I also used some Nosler Custom loads with the 140-grain Partition at 2,960 in 24-inch, 3,010 in 26-inch, and 1-MOA accuracy.
These Nosler Trophy and Custom loads are a bit more costly ($49 and $56.20 per box respectively) but performance is exceptional. Plus if you’re a handloader, you’ll have Nosler’s superlative brass for your reloads. Speaking of reloads I’m getting excellent results with Ramshot Magnum powder, though comparable ultra-slow burners are appropriate as well.
I have two purposes for the new .264. With 120-grain Nosler Ballistic Tips, Barnes TTSX, or Hornady GMX bullets I get about 3,300 fps at the muzzle. On deer/antelope size game I can forget trajectory out to between 325 to 350 yards. Just hold on a vital area and make a clean trigger break.
The other role is long-range shooting with those lean, slippery 6.5mm, 140-grain javelins. The Berger VLD hunting bullet has the rather staggering ballistic coefficient of 0.612. The Hornady A-Max is close behind at 0.585. Although a 1:8-inch twist might be better for these long bullets, the 1:9 in my rifle seems to work.
Assuming 2,000 feet elevation, 3,100 fps muzzle velocity, from a 100-yard zero it takes just 22 MOA on the elevation turret to get to 1,000 yards. More importantly in a 10 mph full value wind bullet drift is less than 21 inches at 1,000 yards. As one who needs all the help available in dealing with wind I love this kind of performance.
By Dave Anderson
275 Winchester Ave.
Morgan UT 84050
Action: Controlled-feed bolt action, Caliber: .264 Win Mag (tested), 13 others, Capacity: 3+1, Barrel Length: 24″, Overall Length: 44-3/4″, Weight: 7 pounds, 4 ounces, Finish: Blue, Sights: None, drilled and tapped for mounts, Stock: Walnut, satin finished, Price: $919
FX II 6x36mm
1440 N.W. Greenbriar Pkwy.
Beaverton, OR 97006
Magnification: 5.9X (actual), Objective Diameter: 36mm, Eye Relief: 4.3″, Internal Adj. Range: 64 MOA elevation & windage at 100 yards, Click Value: 1/4 MOA, Tube Diameter: 1″, Weight: 10 ounces, Overall Length: 11.4″, Reticles: Duplex, Price: $374.99