A New Weatherby Rimfire

A New Weatherby Rimfire

Weatherby teams up with Europe's most respected rimfire gunmaker to bring back the Mark XXII. And this time it's a bolt action.

By all accounts Roy Weatherby's high-performance belted magnum cartridges firmly established his name in the gun industry. The first of them (the .270 Weatherby Magnum) appeared in the early 1940s, when Weatherby was still in the insurance business and moonlighting as a wildcatter in a garage shop.

Gunwriter Phil Bourjaily tries the new Weatherby rimfire for fit. It points easily and balances nicely offhand.

In 1945 Weatherby resigned as a salesman for the Auto Club and opened a gun-building business on the corner of Long Beach and Firestone Boulevards in South Gate, California. Rent for his first shop, store and office--a 25-by-70 space that had been vacated by a barber--was $100 a month.

By dint of hard work, great salesmanship and a little luck, Weatherby sustained his business long enough to interest investors of real means, such as oil tycoon and international sportsman Herb Klein. Roy also exploited his location by putting Weatherby rifles in the hands of Hollywood stars such as Gary Cooper and John Wayne. By 1957, when Roy and company engineer Fred Jennie engineered the Weatherby Mark V action, the firm had weathered its toughest times.

In December 1960 Roy Weatherby contacted the Italian gunmaker Fabrica D'Armi P. Beretta to investigate production of a semiautomatic .22 rimfire rifle. Six months later, after a look at Beretta's design, Roy and Fred Jennie came up with their own action and took it to Gardone.

Georg Anschutz was born in 1640 in Mehlis, a small town in the province of Thuringia. He and his descendants distinguished themselves in the gunsmithing trade. On the first of July 1856, Julius Gottfried Anschutz and his wife, Luise, founded a company to produce hunting and target rifles. At the end of World War II, J.G. Anschutz Germania Waffenwerk AG was employing 600 people. After the collapse of Berlin early in 1945, Russians dismantled the plant machinery. The first week of July in that year, the Anschutz family moved to West Germany's American sector, settling in Heidenheim. After 1950, when the ban on manufacture of air and smallbore guns was lifted, Max Anschutz and his brother, Rudolf, looked for a place to resume rifle manufacture. They chose the city of Ulm.

Dieter Anschutz shows the author the new Weatherby .22 with its Anschutz action.

Anchutz rifles got international acclaim when they earned four of the six rimfire shooting medals awarded in Rome at the 1960 Olympic Games. Since then, Anschutz has become so dominant in smallbore competition that the brand has become first pick of nearly every competitor. I bought my first Anschutz, a 1413 position rifle, when shooting for the Michigan State University rifle team. It helped me to state and regional smallbore championships on the open circuits and to the final tryouts for the 1972 Olympics.

In 1968, when that rifle wholesaled for about $300 (complete with match sights), Dieter Anschutz became manager of the family company. His son, Jochen, joined him as partner in 1992. Retaining top spot as a maker of super-accurate match rifles, Anschutz has diversified to build sporters, many on the Model 64 action, a lighter, more affordable rendition of the legendary 54 that anchors the Match series.

At that time the Beretta plant employed about 1,500 people, an imposing operation. The firm's president, Dr. Pier Giuseppe Beretta, was very receptive to the modifications Weatherby had made to the Italian rimfire, allowing that it might bring $60 in Europe--or half again as much as Beretta was then charging for its .22.

Roy's optimism faded when Dr. Beretta suggested that they split the tooling costs of 150 million lira. But it quickly returned when Roy applied the exchange rate and came up with $24,000. He agreed to ante up $12,000. After lengthy negotiations, Beretta contracted to produce the autoloading .22s for $24.90 each and pay a royalty of $2 per rifle for the first 15,000.

The new Weatherby .22 shoots well, thanks to the Anschutz 64 action and button-rifled barrel.

Stateside, the Weatherby Mark XXII was unveiled at the National Sporting Goods Dealer Show in January 1962. By March, Weatherby had more than 2,500 orders for his rimfire. To improve the delivery schedule of his rifle and rein in rising production costs, Roy turned to the Japanese firm of KTG.

Between 1967 and 1971, some 17,000 Weatherby Mark XXIIs with detachable box magazines came from KTG. In 1972 Nikko Kodensha, another Japanese company, began building the rifle. This company delivered both tubular and box-fed .22s until 1980, when O.F. Mossberg & Sons took over manufacture.

The 1979 Mossberg contract called for 25,000 rifles at a price 30 percent lower than Nikko's. But problems with the Mossberg rifles delayed delivery, and many orders were cancelled. In 1983, nearly five years after negotiations had begun, Weatherby and Mossberg agreed to cancel their agreement.

Roy immediately contacted Howa. This Japanese factory had already proven to be a reliable source of Vanguard and Mark V rifles. Between 1984 and 1988 Howa supplied all Weatherby's .22 rifles. After that, Weatherby put its energies into centerfires, to the exclusion of any .22.

The signature Weatherby stock puts the author's eye right behind the Leupold scope.

While some shooters assumed Weatherby would never resurrect the Mark XXII, others kept faith. This year the Mark XXII re-appeared, but this time in bolt-action form and from a most unlikely source. Anschutz, the renowned German riflemaker, has partnered with the California company to join the accuracy of Anschutz match guns with the profile of a Weatherby.

The new Mark XXII incorporates the trim Anschutz Model 64 mechanism and is chambered in .17 HMR as well as .22 Long Rifle. The tubular receiver, grooved and drilled fo

r scope mounts, features an easy-to-disassemble three-piece bolt with recessed face and oversize knob. A single-stage trigger can be adjusted from two to 4.4 pounds.

The two-position thumb safety works smoothly, as does the magazine release at the heel of a five-round box (four in .17 HMR). I like the steel bottom metal. A 23-inch, eight-groove, button-rifled barrel is contoured for proper balance, somewhere between medium and light in profile. Naturally, it has a target crown, though in truth the value of such refinements becomes apparent only when you use match-grade ammunition.

The rifle's stock is signature Weatherby, with high comb, flat-bottomed fore-end, rosewood grip cap and reverse-cut fore-end tip. The finish is glossy; Vanguard-style point patterns hold 18-lpi checkering. In the barrel channel, a forward bedding point supports the barrel--a refreshing departure from free-floating tubes that leave unsightly channel gaps.

Weatherby has moved headquarters from Atascadero, California, (its base for 12 years) to nearby Paso Robles. The new facility comprises 38,000 square feet under one roof--more space and convenience than at the old digs. A Weatherby showroom displays current products and historical items. A state-of-the-art firing range serves as a test facility (and, for the employees, no doubt a great place to zero their deer rifles).

Two new bullets have appeared in Weatherby ammunition, loaded by Norma. The Barnes Triple-Shock X, a solid-copper hollowpoint, will appear in .240, .257, .270, 7mm, .300, .30-37, .340, .378, .416 and .460 Weatherby cartridges. The Nosler AccuBond, a bonded, polymer-tipped missile, is slated for the .257, .270, 7mm, .300 and .30-378 rounds. Both bullets are noted for deep penetration in heavy game such as elk and moose.

Weatherby's centerfire ammo from Norma now features Barnes Triple-Shock and Nosler AccuBond bullets. The author took this Idaho whitetail at 300 yards with a Hornady bullet from a .257 Weatherby.

Weatherby's popularly priced Vanguard rifles have been blessed with four additional chamberings in 2007. The Vanguard Deluxe now comes in 7mm Remington and .300 Winchester Magnum, the Varmint Special and SUB-MOA Varmint in .204 Ruger. Vanguard Synthetic, Sporter and SUB-MOA rifles can be had in .25-06.

Handgun enthusiasts will be pleased to know that Weatherby is offering one-piece Talley scope mounts with each CFP, the short 5 1/4-pound, pillar-bedded, synthetic-stocked rifle that thinks it's a pistol. Now, you might assume CFP to be a convenient label for "centerfire pistol." Not so, say the folks at Weatherby, scuffing their toes in the dust and grinning weakly. "We don't make pistols. CFP stands for Compact Firing Platform." Each ring/base unit for this short gun is machined from a single block of alloy.

I've yet to hunt with this rifle; my introduction was a few rounds on a windy afternoon from an improvised rest. Colleagues spending time on the sandbags turned in some very tight groups with both the .22 and .17 HMR versions. Offhand, I found the new XXII balances well, and its trigger is a delight. The light takeup doesn't compromise a crisp, smooth sear release. You can fire this 6 1/2-pound rifle without pulling it off target.

The stock supports my cheek comfortably. The grip--a bit steep for my taste--positions the rear hand for good control standing. As with the Mark V, the long fore-end tip puts the front swivel stud too far back for practical use of a shooting sling.

No one can fault the fit and finish of this rifle. Both Anschutz and Weatherby turn out nicely blued metal. The stock, of better-than-average walnut, mates closely with it. Suggested retail of the .22 version is $899, while the .17 HMR is $949.

Most important, the new Weatherby Mark XII is great fun to shoot. Whether you hunt rabbits or fox squirrels or prairie dogs or just let daylight through soup cans, you'll find this rifle to be snappy, responsive and accurate. It's a tribute to German tradition, a fitting complement to America's snazziest rifles.

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