Weatherby Vanguard Series 2 WBY-X Review
May 14, 2014
Just in case you're too young to remember, Roy Weatherby was an innovative cartridge designer who developed a series of hot, powerful magnums in the mid-20th century. Originally, these cartridges were housed in rifles built by other manufacturers, but by the 1950s Weatherby decided that if he designed his own line of cartridges he could design a rifle to handle them, and the Mark V was born.
Besides having a number of specialized safety features to protect the shooter (nine locking lugs, gas vents in the bolt and a full shroud), the Mark V also had its own design aesthetic. The California walnut stocks bore a high-gloss finish, a Monte Carlo stock, white line spacers and rosewood fore-ends and grip caps. It was dramatic styling for a dramatic gun, and soon Weatherby was known as much for good-looking rifles as it was for hard-hitting cartridges.
The Mark V has held up well for almost six decades, and the rifles still have a loyal following. But times have changed, and so have the desires of the shooting public. More first-time gun buyers are looking for something to shoot, and many of them don't want to spend the kind of money that it takes to become the owner of a brand new Mark V.
Today's rifle market is different than it was when the first Mark V rolled into production. Synthetic stocks, once a controversial fad, have become the norm. Shooters today expect sub-m.o.a. accuracy and superb triggers in factory rifles that cost less than $800 — and oftentimes half that. The team at Weatherby understands this, and rather than rest on the laurels of its flagship Mark V, which is still a superb rifle, the company set out to once again become the standard of modern, stylish rifle design.
Enter WBY-X. This new line of rifles is built on Vanguard Series 2 actions, which feature a push-feed, one-piece machined bolt with dual locking lugs, three rings of steel for secure lockup and an internal recoil lug.
The bolt is fluted, has three gas ports and an enclosed bolt sleeve with a cocking indicator. The rifle comes standard with a 24-inch free-floated barrel and a standard internal box magazine with hinged floorplate or a detachable box magazine (the company now offers a detachable box mag conversion kit as well).
Internally, they're the same as the other Vanguard Series 2 rifles, which is a good thing because the Vanguard is one of those inexpensive rifles that shoots really well, and the new WBY-X series has the same 0.99-inch accuracy guarantee when using Weatherby or premium factory ammo.
Most of the new class of budget rifles come with stocks that are black or camo, but Weatherby wanted to push the styling envelope a bit, making the rifles eye-catching and modern. The WBY-X rifles come with Monte Carlo synthetic stocks that bear stylish new patterns such as Black Reaper, Whitetail Bonz, Blaze, Kryptek camo, GH2 (Girls Hunt 2, which has a pink spiderweb pattern on a black stock) and others. It's an aesthetic clearly aimed at new or younger hunters who want their rifles to have a bit of flash. (The WBY-X is also available with a compact stock with interchangeable pads that allow the rifle's length of pull to be increased as a young shooter grows.)
The rifle I tested was a .30-06 with the Whitetail Bonz-finished stock, which has a camo pattern that at first appears to be standard camo until closer inspection reveals that the lines and curves in the pattern are actually antlers.
The finish is also durable; many of the dipped synthetic stocks found on budget guns flake or wear away after a season or two in the field, but my WBY-X test sample got a serious workout and the stock's finish held up.
The stock has a comfortable pistol grip; it's not too narrow and has a shallow contour that offers a natural grip angle and a relaxed hold. The fore-end's flat bottom provides a stable platform to hold the rifle, and the raised cheekpiece naturally aligns the eye with the optic. A large, soft recoil pad absorbs much of the blow, making this a comfortable rifle to shoot.
It performed extremely well on the range. I mounted a Nikon Monarch 3 3-12x42 riflescope with side focus and BDC reticle using Weatherby's lightweight Vanguard rings. Like other Vanguard Series 2 rifles, the WBY-X line has a crisp, two-stage trigger that is adjustable down to 2.5 pounds.
Some shooters think the Vanguard triggers have creep, and they have voiced these concerns to Weatherby. What they are feeling is the take-up of the two-stage trigger. Once the trigger comes tight, it requires minimal pressure to trip the sear (about three pounds in my test rifle). By the time your finger comes far enough to take the slack out of the two-stage trigger, it doesn't take much to trip the sear, and this is one of the easiest rifles to get a "surprise" break with.
That, in turn, leads to better accuracy, and by the time I had finished my sight-in session I was pretty good at bringing the trigger back until I felt tension and simply holding pressure until the rifle cracked.
Nosler's Trophy Grade 180-grain AccuBonds produced the best groups during my range evaluation, averaging just 0.72 inch for three groups at 100 yards. When you look at the accompanying accuracy chart, you'll see that Hornady's American Whitetail load didn't turn in sub-m.o.a. performance. Nothing against this ammunition, but it's Hornady's economy line and therefore not what one would consider in the "premium" category.
Because I planned to use the rifle on a Texas deer hunt, I hung targets at 200 yards to see what the rifle could do. According to Nikon's Spot-On website, with the 180-grain Nosler AccuBonds, the circle below the main crosshair should have put me right on at 200 yards, and indeed the holes began clustering around the bull at that distance. Average groups with the 180 Noslers at 200 yards were 1.8 inches, which is still sub-m.o.a. I double-checked the scope mounts and headed home, confident that the WBY-X would work in the field.
The Weatherby X rifle's barrel is cold-hammer-forged and has a target crown to protect the rifling, and the action and barrel are treated with a matte bead-blasted blue finish. The finish is rich and even, and it's better than some other competing brands that have finishes that tend to look, well, cheap. After days of dragging the gun to and from the range and four days spent hunting in the thorn-and-cactus scrub of Texas, it still looked good despite some rough handling.
The fluted bolt lightens the gun a little bit and provides a smooth bolt throw that belies the Weatherby X's modest price tag. True to the brand's history, it has three gas ports, and the bolt shroud is fully enclosed for added protection. It may not ever be necessary, but the added level of security adds peace of mind in the event of a case rupture. I also like the exposed cocking indicator, which instantly provides a visual indication that the rifle is cocked.
The dual opposed locking lug design is sturdy, requiring a 90-degree bolt lift — as opposed to the Mark V's short 54-degree throw.
A three-position, rocker-style safety is located on the right side of the action, and the detents make it easy to slip the rifle from full Safe (rearward position) to the middle position (where the safety is engaged but the bolt can be cycled) to the forward Fire position. I much prefer this style of safety to the Winchester M70 three-position wing because the Weatherby design is easier to use because it's in a more natural position for the thumb.
A small extractor is located on the bolt face, and this gun's push-feed design is reliable and robust. Throughout my time with the WBY-X there were no issues with feeding, extraction or ejection.
I'm a fan of internal box magazines with hinged floorplates. They make for easy top-loading should the five-round well run dry, and if you need to unload in a hurry, you can dump the cartridges into your hand without plucking them out of a detachable box. The magazine release is located at the front of the lightweight alloy trigger guard, and it latches firmly to secure the rounds and protect against accidentally spilling the cartridges on the ground.
The WBY-X line is available in a variety of calibers from .223 all the way up to the fire-breathing .300 Wby. Mag., so no matter what your quarry you'll be well-armed.
I joined the team from Weatherby for a whitetail hunt in October at Sonora Trophy Hunts in Texas. Despite the beating that my rifle case endured in transit, the WBY-X placed the Nosler bullets right where they needed to be when I arrived, and after punching a sub-m.o.a. group at the ranch's shooting range, I was ready for the hunt.
I spent the first two days of the Texas hunt dragging my rifle in and out of pickup trucks and blinds and carrying it through the thorny countryside. I saw several young bucks but none of the giants I knew haunted the ranch's 10,000 acres. The rut was in full swing, and the bucks were scattered in their search for receptive does.
My chance came on the third day. After watching does being harassed and harried by immature bucks, I caught sight of a good deer slipping out of mesquite cover just before sunset. As the light faded, I caught only periodic glimpses of brown hide and tall antlers passing through a patch of mesquite until finally the deer stepped out of cover and gave us time for a final inspection. I moved into position and waited for the go-ahead from my guide, Rick, who looked over the wide, symmetrical antlers and told me this was the kind of deer we were after.
The buck was quartering away, and I aimed for the off-shoulder, taking up the slack and touching off a round when the deer stopped to watch a group of does. The 180-grain AccuBond struck hard, and the buck began a low-headed run for a patch of cover and disappeared from view before I could get another cartridge into the chamber. We found the deer 20 yards from where he'd been hit, the bullet having passed through the body and stopping just under the skin on the opposite point of the shoulder.
The market for inexpensive, accurate rifles is pretty saturated right now, and there are a lot of good options. In my opinion, the Weatherby Vanguard rifles stand out in that crowded field, and the WBY-X line adds a level of flash befitting its maker's history of producing rifles that shoot well and look good.
Weatherby didn't add any radical lines to the rifle's stock or make it look avant-garde with a bunch of obtuse lines and sharp angles. But thanks to the stock finishes, the inclusion of the WBY-X line adds a bit of flare to the line. And if you're a traditionalist don't fret: You can still get the Vanguard with a wood stock, or, if you choose, you can get the Deluxe model with a high-gloss stock that looks like the classic Weatherbys of yore.
Even though the WBY-X is aimed at a new crowd of shooters, it provides a level of performance that is on par with the best rifles in this segment and many that cost several hundred dollars more. Weatherby's rifles have impressed shooters for over five decades, and the WBY-X line is poised to win over the next generation of hunters. They are good-looking, accurate and attractively priced. I think Roy would have approved.