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Gopher Specials and other "sightless" M70 FWTs
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Winchester, VA
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August 21, 2017 - 11:06 pm
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Colleagues-

I’m curious if anyone has additional information about the pre-64 M70 “Gopher Special” sightless FWTs.

About a year ago I posted a photo of a sightless FWT SN 422990x (the ‘x’ denoting a duplicate serial number) of mine that appears to have a genuine factory sightless FWT barrel:  https://winchestercollector.org/forum/winchester-rifles/something-special/   Since 422990 is a late ’57 PR date, presumably the rifle would have been assembled in early ’58, which would make it too early to be a true “Gopher Special”. 

M70-FWT-SN-422990x-1.jpgImage Enlarger

What’s prompting this query is that recently a fellow WACA member contacted me about another sightless FWT in .270 WIN with SN 423086.  Also a late ’57 SN FWT with an aluminum butt.  From what I’ve observed by compiling SNs of uncommon M70 variations, e.g. VO Snipers, ramped straight taper barrel 375 MAGNUMs, etc. the factory tended to make up rifles in “production runs”, resulting in a group of identical rifles with closely grouped serial numbers punctuated by long intervals where none appear.  Since 422990 and 423086 are so close, I’m wondering if by any chance the factory made a “batch” of sightless FWTs in ’58???

If anyone is willing to share information, I would like to track the SN, chambering, stock style and butt plate (aluminum versus composite) of any genuine sightless FWTs out there to just to see how the SNs fall.  Especially SNs (if any) below 440000.  Doing this by searching old auction catalogs (one of my usual approaches) is dicey b/c so many “sightless” pre-64 M70s around these days are non-factory modifications or intentional fakes.

The photo below is scanned from the April 1960 issue of Guns magazine that ran the “Gopher Special” ad.  The text of the ad says “after waiting over a year we are pleased to announce we have them is stock…”  But how long before April 1960 was the Gopher order placed?  Does anyone know…?  Certainly earlier than April 1959 (a year before the Guns Magazine ad).

Guns-April-1960-p63.jpgImage Enlarger 

The conventional wisdom is that the “real” Gophers were assembled in 1959.  In the Red Book, Bert indicates that the Gophers fall between serial numbers 440793-465040, but that is just the full serial number range from Jan 1 – Dec 31 of 1959 (quoted from Rule’s book) consistent with their assembly from receivers made in ‘59.   Another part of the conventional wisdom is that all “real” Gophers have composition butt plates.  The transition from aluminum to composition butt plates happened in early 1959, circa SN 445220 according to Rule.  That also supports the “made in 1959” theory. I don’t question any of this, but now seem to have uncovered two possibly genuine sightless FWTs with close SNs from early ’58.

Hence my curiosity about the SNs of Gopher Specials and/or sightless FWTs in general.  I have no provenance on my sightless FWT beyond saying that with close inspection I believe it to be an authentic Winchester barrel and not modified, i.e. it appears to me to be a genuine “sightless” FWT with a late 1957 SN (probably assembled in early 1958).  Thus, not a true “Gopher Special”.  Were very many such rifles assembled prior to the Gopher Shooter’s Supply order?  Is it remotely possible that the factory had the idea before the Gopher order?  Winchester never regularly catalogued “sightless” pre-64 M70s (meaning with assigned “catalog symbol numbers”).  They first catalogued “sightless” barrels as a special order option in 1960 (which was after the Gopher order had been filled). 

Any help appreciated…

Best,

Lou

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August 22, 2017 - 5:49 am
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Louis;

        I have an original Mdl 70 FWT 243 sightless rifle S/N 480591 (1960). I am on the other side of the so called Gopher Special. Questions come up on both sides of Rule’s quoted S/Ns.

        I have a Gopher Shooter’s Supply catalog No 15. The catalog year is not on the catalog but there is a picture on the inside cover date 1962. The Model 70 FWT Special is in this catalog. The description does not mention the buttplate but the picture appears to have an aluminum buttplate. Probably an old picture but still selling the rifle as a FWT Special.

        It has always been my opinion that unless a receipt from Gopher Shooter’s Supply is with the rifle it is a class 4 rifle.

        A couple years ago I saw a sightless Mdl 70 at a gun show that had the rear dovetail filled in. The two lines could only be seen with a magnifying glass. The rifle was being sold as a Gopher Special.

        No help on your question but thought I would bring this up.   RR

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August 22, 2017 - 2:57 pm
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Win61-

Thank you.  Very helpful…  I need to keep looking for early 60’s Gopher Shooter’s Supply catalogs.

I completely agree that (regardless of SN), a sightless pre-64 M70 FWT can’t be “proven” to be a Gopher Special without some form of solid provenance.  I suppose that being a documented Gopher Special might increase the values to some collectors.  It’s just the coincidence that two possibly original sightless FWTs have SNs as close together as 422990 and 423086 that got me wondering if there were others in that vicinity.

I also agree that there are a lot of modified FWT barrels in circulation being touted as “Gopher Specials”…  As always… Caveat Emptor!!!

Lou

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August 23, 2017 - 7:09 pm
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Hello Lou

 

     I also have an original sightless M70 Featherweight, in 243, serial 543750. Has a composite butt plate.

    Probably 1961

 

   Leonard

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August 26, 2017 - 11:28 pm
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Hi Leonard-

Thank you for the data!!!  Very nice…  I think that original sightless FWTs (or other M70 styles) with post-1959 serial numbers can be explained on the basis of Winchester adding it as a special order option in 1960 (after the Gopher order).

I know it’s obscure, but I’m quite curious about genuine sightless M70s with pre-1959 serial numbers.  I suppose that Winchester knew what Roy Weatherby was marketing at least as early as Gopher Shooter’s Supply did and they likely made up some number of similar M70s on order before 1959.  It was the close serial numbers of SN 422990 and 423086 that got me wondering if there might have been a limited “production run” of sightless M70s before the commonly accepted dates of Gopher Special production or if the factory took so long to fill the Gopher order that some of the rifles were actually made in ’58 with aluminum butt plates.  I doubt I’ll ever figure it out…

Best,

Lou

P.S.  Anybody have a scanned copy of the Gopher Shooter’s Supply catalog page with the sightless FWTs on it?  I’m still looking for one of those catalogs…  

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August 27, 2017 - 12:00 am
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Lou, sent you a PDF of this as well via email

Steve

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August 27, 2017 - 1:09 am
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Wow Steve!!!

You never cease to amaze me…  Also seems to confirm that there was a Gopher order for sightless standard Westerners.  I’ve yet to see one of those I thought was real.  How cool is that…

Lou

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August 27, 2017 - 1:34 am
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Lou, Like you, have never seen a 264. I do have a 300 Win Mag sightless featherweight. It is in the early 500XXX range as I recall. Rifle came out of the R&D vault at Winchester just before the USRAC buyout.

Steve

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