While the war in Vietnam ushered in a number of new technologies, particularly the widespread use of helicopters and night vision equipment, much of the equipment had been tried and tested on the battlefields of earlier wars.
Adopting the Winchester Model 70 as the ideal Marine sniper rifle was a concept that had been floated by the Corp’s tactical marksmanship experts as far back as the early 1940s. In turn, the Winchester factory had submitted a sniper prototype of the Model 70 fitted with a 10-round detachable box magazine to the US Army back in the early 1950s. Ultimately neither of these proposed rifles was ultimately adopted.
And thus, with regard to sniper rifles, most of the US military inventory in the mid-1960s consisted of well-worn Model 1903A4 Springfields and M1C and M1D Garands, all of which dated from WWII, or perhaps the Korean War.
It was the Marines who pressed the Winchester Model 70 into service as a sniper rifle in Vietnam. Lacking a suitable precision rifle for issue, the Corps quickly scoured its stateside arms rooms and soon a small quantity of Model 70 target rifles were in the field in South Vietnam, taking the fight to the enemy.
The most well known Marine sniper of the Vietnam war has become a modern legend. A native of Little Rock, Arkansas, Gunnery Sergeant Carlos N. Hathcock II joined the Corps in 1959 at age 17. Hathcock was soon a member of the USMC rifle team, and in 1965 he won the Wimbledon Cup, a 1000-yard individual match fired at the National Matches in Camp Perry, Ohio. Interestingly, Hathcock won that prestigious trophy with a Winchester Model 70.
The following year Hathcock deployed to South Vietnam with the 1st Marine Division, where he was soon assigned sniper duties. His primary rifle was one of the Corps’ Winchester Model 70 target rifles, chambered in 30-06 and topped with an 8-power Unertl target scope in an externally adjustable mount.
Nicknamed “The White Feather” for the small plume he wore on his boonie cap, Hathcock’s incredible marksmanship skills soon struck fear in the hearts of the enemy, so much so that the Viet Cong reportedly placed a bounty of $30,000 on his head. The reward was never collected.