A legend on my doorstep


 

In July 1952 a wooden crate was delivered to the quarters of Robert Gates on Fort Bragg in North Carolina. The crate had a return address to Evaluators Ltd in Quantico Virginia - a weapons contractor which specialized in military and law enforcement firearms. 1952 was the year Evaluators Ltd began delivering on a contract with the US Marine Corps for the newest generation of USMC sniper rifles - a heavy barreled and accurized version of the Winchester model 70 target rifle.  Per the contract, new model 70 target rifles were delivered from Winchester to Evaluators Ltd where they were modified and accurized to meet Marine Corps specifications. 

Design of the rifles and oversight of the contract had been entrusted to USMC Brigadier General George Van Orden. Although retired, Van Orden was a natural choice to be brought back for this oversight role. 10 years earlier Van Orden had co-authored a Marine Corps report recommending adoption of the Model 70 rifle and the Unertl 8X scope for military use in WWII. While the intent of this 1942 report was ultimately unsuccessful and the Marines never did authorize the model 70 for combat use during WWII*, Van Orden's place and influence over the future of USMC snipers had been established.  Following the unsuccessful 1942 recommendation, Van Orden was tasked with establishing the training program for USMC snipers and ultimately put in charge of the rifles they would use. As a result, Van Orden became known as "the father of Marine Corps snipers” and this new rifle from Evaluators Ltd became known as "the Van Orden sniper rifle”.

*Although not authorized for combat duty during WWII, some model 70s did make it into theater with USMC snipers.  You can read about those rifles and their story HERE.

A USMC “Van Orden" Sniper Rifle

The barreled action of the Van Orden sniper rifle was identical to a Winchester model 70 target rifle. This included the stripper-clip slot, specially tuned and ‘T’ marked trigger, as well as the 24-inch medium-heavy contour target barrel hand-lapped and chambered in .30-06 Springfield.  The rifle featured a Lyman 48 WH receiver sight, Lyman 77 front sight, and Winchester scope blocks ready to accept a Lyman STS target scope, as recommended by Evaluators Ltd. The stock was similar to a straight comb standard rifle stock, including the “claw” style Winchester steel buttplate.  It differed from the standard rifle stock in that it was uncheckered and the stock geometry was adjusted to fit a shooter more like the Springfield 03A3 match rifles - the drop of the stock was reduced and the pitch was increased, resulting in a slightly shorter length of pull than a standard model 70 stock.  The actions were hand-fitted into the stocks, which were finished with boiled linseed oil rather than the lacquer acetate used on the civilian model 70. A variation of the Van Orden rifle was also produced with a marksman style stock.  This second style of Van Orden rifle was called the “SPECIAL TARGET” model.

A Van Orden Sniper Rifle in the Special Target Configuration
For Robert Gates, the crate delivered to his quarters in July of 1952 did not contain a rifle issued to him by the military. Instead, his was among about 90 Van Orden rifles which were special ordered by private individuals.  We don't know a lot about Gates, other than his address was on Fort Bragg and that he must have been very aware of the military procurement of model 70 sniper rifles. We conclude this because his rifle was delivered very early in the production run of Van Orden rifles, which began in March of 1952 and ran through 1959.  It is very likely Gates was not only member of the US military, but involved with a sniper unit or marksmanship team.  Whatever the case, the arrival of this rifle at Gates' quarters represented both intimate knowledge of the world of military sniper rifles and also a considerable commitment to owning the rifle.  The rifle had cost Gates north of $200, which in today's dollars was a sum of money more than 10 times that amount - a sizable investment for a man on military pay.

As Gates opened the crate, inside and wrapped in heavy cosmoline-impregnated paper was a new Van Orden rifle in the “SPECIAL TARGET” configuration. The serial number was 220619. Gates quickly checked to confirm his rifle had one unique feature he had special ordered for his rifle - a stainless steel barrel finished in Winchester’s distinct silvery satin “iron plate” bluing, rather than the standard chromoly steel barrel. The rifle was exactly what he had ordered and everything he had hoped it would be.

Until yesterday I could only imagine Gates’ excitement as he opened the crate and first laid eyes and hands on what he knew was truly a one of a kind rifle.  Last night I was able to experience a bit of what Gates must have felt after a special delivery arrived here at pre64win.com. Inside was serial number 220619, still in the same pristine new condition as when Gates first received it. It is unknown why Gates would purchase this rifle at such great cost and then never use it, but 220619 is still completely mint, appearing to have never been used - the rifle is absolutely breathtaking. 

I have included a few photos of Van Orden #220619 below, but you can view many detailed photos of the rifle at the listing on our website, which I have linked HERE.   

The rifle is not yet for sale, as we intend to study it further and fully document it before making it available for sale later this year. In the meanwhile, we hope you have enjoyed taking a look at this truly remarkable part of the Winchester model 70's history.

 

We'd love to hear your thoughts on this rifle or on this article.  Please send us a comment using the form below.
As always, thanks for visiting pre64win.com.
Justin

4 comments


  • Michael

    What a wonderful find and an amazing story!!
    Thank you for sharing!

    Michael


  • Brian

    Nice rifle! I’d love to put rounds on tat with it.


  • Steve Brock

    shoot me a number$ when the time comes, please sir.


  • John Jensen

    Excellent blog


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