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The Van Orden Model 70 “Sniper Rifle” History

NOT a Van Orden. A USMC owned Pre war Model 70 with marksman stock and USMC Lyman optic on display at the NRA museum. I have my doubts the optic was used in Vietnam despite what the NRA curator said. Yes I did argue with her.

A lot of confusion and mixed up info about the Model 70 rifles used in Vietnam by USMC snipers and the Van Orden Sniper rifles. Mainly this is because Van Orden called his rifles “Sniper” because the configuration is what he thought the USMC should adopt for such and because Model 70s purchased by the USMC years before were rebuilt for the rifle teams and sniper use in a configuration that resembles the Van Orden Sniper rifles very closely. Van Orden Snipers. Sold by Van Orden were never used as sniper rifles in Vietnam.


In 1941, then Capt. Van Orden and Chief Gunner Calvin Lloyd were members of the USMC Equipment Board. In their 1942 paper “Equipment for the American Sniper” different rifle scopes and sniper related equipment are discussed in detail.

Van Orden and Lloyd recommended the Winchester Model 70 with a Unertl 8x optic to the President of the Equipment Board. Due in part to wartime production delays, the Corps decided to use the M1903A1 Springfield with Unertl8X scope. Concurrently the US Army was also a proponent of the Model 70 with bull barrel ( heavy barrel), but had their own problems with procurement.

After WW2 Van Orden and his wife Flora opened Evaluators Gunshop. Located in Triangle, Virginia outside the Quantico Marine Base, the Evaluators store sold only equipment that met their strict requirements. They evaluated all gear available and sold it at very low prices to police and military. Their retail prices for everyone were also fair and reasonable. Evaluators was a well respected company. No order was over looked no order too small, They would ship anywhere in the world.

Sometime after the Korean War, the company began selling the “Van Orden Sniper.” Col. Van Orden special ordered model 70 rifles from Winchester in configurations that pleased him and his customers. Dubbed the Van Orden Sniper, the rifle was NEVER purchased by the Marine Corps but shows up everywhere else.

Colonel Walter Walsh, one of the Corps famous shooters, won the national rifle matches in 1952 at Camp Perry with a Van Orden Sniper. The scope was removed and iron sights added.

this is most likely the rifle he used. a real Van Orden, post WW2, Model 70. A smooth non-checkered sporter stock on heavy barrel is the configuration favored by Van Orden for the “van Orden Sniper”. USMC rebuild guns used in Vietnam will have checkered sporter stocks or the heavy ,bulky marksman stock. Unertl pictured on gun is indeed a real USMC contract Unertl Sniper 8x

In the years following the Korean War, high power rifle competition was increasing in popularity. Van Orden was still convinced that the Marine Corps should switch over to the Model 70 sniper rifles and give up the smattering of different rifles used by the USMC snipers. He was partially successful.

The Springfield rifle was becoming obsolete and match parts were running out. The decision was to rebuild all M70 Winchesters in the Marine Corps supply system. The rebuild occurred in the late 50s and early 60s. Some sources claim that some rifles were returned to Winchester while other authorities who were stationed at Albany, GA recall working on rifles during that rebuild. They maintain that the Match Rebuild Shop at Albany, GA did a lot of the work. The rifles were converted to heavy barrel target rifles. The few that were not converted were presented as trophies to Marines who sot the highest score for annual requalification. These rebuilt guns are the ones sent to South Vietnam for sniper operations. Guns that the USMC already had purchased for various uses like use by the rifle teams in the national matches and special services to be checked out for hunting etc.

Van Orden died in 1960. The Winchester Repeating Arms Company ceased production of the pre 64 model 70 in 1964. With vintage parts hard to come by, the M70’s chances of being adopted as sniper standard was doomed. Col. Walsh, who won the National Matches in 1952 with a Model 70, recommended to HQMC in 1965 that the Marines Corps purchase the M700 Remington/M40. Mrs. Van Orden closed Evaluators in 1986.

Van Orden “Sniper” Rifles specifications

M70, Clip slotted receiver

24 inch medium heavy Winchester barrel 30.06

Uncheckered sporter stock- a special order from Winchester

Steel buttplate

1 1/4″ Sling swivels

Redfield International match sights and scope blocks

8x Unertl Sniper scope on request

Glass bedded action

4 thoughts on “The Van Orden Model 70 “Sniper Rifle” History”

  1. In addition to your doubts about that museum rifle coming out of Vietnam, I thought I remembered reading that most of the Vietnam Winchesters had the 10x unertls too. But I don’t really feel like digging through the “library” to confirm.

    Reply
    • Yep, true USMC Unertl scopes (long tube) are only 8x. I think in actuality they were 7.8x but that’s just nerd knowledge I carry around so that I don’t remember anything important.

      Where I think at least some confusion is made is the later M40A1 Unertl scopes were indeed 10x. Those MST100 sights are an amazing piece of history themselves. Very outmoded by today’s optics and it was probably kept in service a few years longer than it maybe really should have been but still a quite capable, true military spec’d scope. It’s built like a freaking tank.

      Reply

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