September 23, 2010
By Clair Rees
A bargain-priced Weatherby
that shoots under an inch at 100 yards, guaranteed
By Clair Rees
I don't know when Weatherby first began guaranteeing that its flagship Mark V rifles would shoot 1 1/2-inch groups at 100 yards with factory loads, but it was many years ago. That claim helped sell a lot of Weatherby rifles.
Selected Vanguards are identifiable by their "SUB MOA"-engraved
With ongoing improvements in both firearms and factory ammunition, that claim has become less spectacular. Today's shooters routinely expect 1 1/2 minute-of-angle (MOA) accuracy (or something very close to it) in new rifles they tote home from the sporting goods store. While some fresh-out-of-the-box centerfire rifles still won't deliver that kind of accuracy, many others will. Weatherby's 11?2-MOA guarantee no longer raises eyebrows.
This year Weatherby has raised the accuracy bar with a new sub-MOA guarantee. Here's another surprise: That guarantee isn't reserved for a new breed of super-accurate Mark V rifles; it applies to individually selected Weatherby Vanguard models.
That's right, Weatherby has elevated its "ugly duckling" economy rifle--previously sold only in Wal-Mart stores--to star status. Actually, that status had long been deserved. I've owned a couple of early Vanguards and was more than happy with their quality and how they performed. The Vanguards currently in my safe deliver very good to excellent accuracy and continue to get regular use
While the Japanese-made Vanguard still represents the economy end of the Weatherby lineup, it features a well-designed, smooth-operating action. The fluted bolt has three ports to shunt gas safely out the side of the ejection port in the event of a cartridge-case failure, along with a streamlined, fully enclosed bolt sleeve with visible cocking indicator. The face of the bolt completely encircles the cartridge head and sports a sturdy claw extractor. What's more, the trigger can easily be adjusted for sear engagement and weight of pull.
Shooting tests were done using non-premium Winchester USA factory loads.
Wal-Mart customers clearly had a good thing going, but the budget retailer's lock on Vanguard rifles has now come to an end. Weatherby decided to celebrate its 60th anniversary by upgrading and extending its Vanguard line with a series of new versions and then supplying these bargain-priced rifles to Weatherby dealers across the board. The new sub-MOA Vanguard is just one example of Weatherby's fresh treatment of the formerly plain-Jane rifle.
"Because we factory-shoot every Vanguard rifle, we know that a number of exceptionally accurate Vanguards are produced each year," says Brad Ruddell, Weatherby's vice president of sales and marketing. "Armed with this knowledge, we decided to take Vanguard's accuracy guarantee to the next level. We hand-pick factory test-fired targets with a maximum of .75-inch groups, so we can be certain of our .99-inch-or-less-MOA guarantee."
To help achieve this standard, rifles selected for the sub-MOA treatment are fitted with a 24-inch, No. 2-contour, cold-hammer-forged steel barrel. The barreled action is then mounted in a pillar-bedded stock composed of Aramid, fiberglass and unidirectional graphite fibers. The butt is capped by a Pachmayr Decelerator pad, and "SUB-MOA" is emblazoned on the hinged floorplate. Sub-MOA Vanguards are available in right-hand versions only, in your choice of black or tan synthetic stocks.
The author personally tested the sub-MOA accuracy guarantee. With one exception he blames on operator error (center target), the Vanguard passed with flying colors.
The sub-MOA guarantee applies only when the rifle is used with specific Weatherby factory loads or premium non-Weatherby calibers. Bargain-basement promotional ammo or poorly assembled handloads can't always be counted on for tackdriving results.
I had a chance to personally test the Vanguard's sub-MOA guarantee while attending a Weatherby writers' seminar in Oregon last fall. While we spent most of our time hunting ringnecks and chukar partridges with Weatherby's new Athena D'Italia side-by-side, I also wanted to give one of the new Vanguards a workout. There was a 100-yard range handy, complete with bench and sandbags, so a couple of other shooters and I put a few of the sub-MOA rifles through their paces.
The rifle I tested was chambered for .22-250 cartridges. Other sub-MOA Vanguard chamberings include .223 Remington, .243 Winchester, .270, .308, .30-06, .257 Weatherby Magnum, .270 Winchester Short Magnum (WSM), 7mm Remington Magnum, .300 Winchester Magnum, .300 WSM, .300 Weatherby Magnum and .338 Winchester Magnum.
The author tests the action of a new Vanguard rifle. The Howa-manufactured rifle is well made and operates smoothly. For 2005, Weatherby introduced a variety of upgraded Vanguard rifles, which are no longer available solely through Wal-Mart.
Firing Winchester USA 45-grain jacketed hollowpoint .22-250 varmint loads (not premium ammo), the rifle consistently punched 100-yard, three-round groups ranging from 11/16 to 7/8 inch in diameter. I blamed the lone 1 1/2-inch group I punched on operator error. Other shooters at the range reported similar results, with some groups measuring just 5/8 inch between centers.
Because these sub-MOA rifles are individually selected, then given special treatment, they carry a suggested retail price of $799. Stainless steel versions are also available, and these list at $919.
The Vanguard makover doesn't end there. These solidly built rifles are newly available in several different versions, including the basic Vanguard Synthetic that carries a suggested retail price of $476 but can often be purchased for just $399.
Sub-MOA Vanguards are available with either black or tan synthetic stocks.
Another great buy for budget-minded shooters is the new Vanguard Synthetic or Stainless combo package, which is new this year. In addition to the Vanguard rifle, this package includes a factory-mounted and boresighted 3-9x40mm Bushnell Banner scope, Uncle Mike's nylon sling and swivel and a Plano Pro-Max injection-molded case. With a blued-steel Vanguard, the complete package lists at $596 ($715 for the stainless version).
Another neat idea that is new from Weatherby this year is the Vanguard Compact. This lighter, shorter Vanguard sports a 20-inch No. 1-contour barrel in a youth's- or women's-size hardwood stock with a 12 1/2-inch length of pull. This rifle is offered in .22-250, .243 and .308 chambering only. Here's the kicker: This $549 rifle comes complete with a full-size injection-molded composite stock at no extra charge. The extra stock allows the rifle to grow with young shooters, eliminating the need to buy another rifle later on. The Vanguard Compact weighs only 6 3/4 pounds--just under a pound less than full-size Vanguards.
For shooters who prefer wood stocks to synthetic handles, the Vanguard Sporter features Weatherby-style Monte Carlo stocks of genuine walnut. These stocks sport fine-line diamond-point checkering, a contrasting rosewood fore-end tip and a glossy urethane finish. Both blued ($582) and stainless ($701) versions are available.
What's more, you can now customize your Vanguard by specifying a stainless steel barrel action with longitudinal flutes and your choice of a recessed field crown or an 11-degree parabolic target crown. Fiberguard pillar-bedded stocks or Accuguard stocks with imbedded, CNC-machined aluminum bedding plates are offered in six distinctive color patterns. These include dark timber camo, desert camo, snow camo, tan with black webbing, black with gray webbing and black with red webbing. I know of no other factory-made production rifle available in this variety of stock colors.
While Weatherby's new sub-MOA accuracy guarantee applies only to Vanguard rifles identifiable by their "SUB MOA" floorplates, other Vanguards are routinely capable of similar performance. The standard .257 Weatherby Magnum Vanguard I recently acquired was accompanied by the usual factory target. This target displayed a three-shot, 100-yard group measuring barely 7/16 inch between centers. That makes my new .257 Vanguard a sub-half-MOA rifle. I've fired two different factory loads and a few handloads through this rifle, and it's a real keeper.
I'm happy to see Weatherby finally recognize what it has in the Howa-made Vanguard. No longer a neglected stepchild, the Vanguard rifle has finally earned a deserved place alongside its more famous Mark V brother.