November 19, 2019
Three decades after the .250-3000 Savage cartridge became the first centerfire round to break the 3,000-fps threshold, an insurance-man-turned-gunmaker named Roy Weatherby cooked up a whole new line of cartridges that eclipsed that 3,000-fps mark by a sizable margin. There’s little doubt Weatherby’s hot magnum cartridges and slick advertising helped launch the Magnum Craze of the mid 1900s, and the performance of Weatherby’s proprietary rounds prompted companies like Winchester and Remington to launch belted magnums of their own to compete.
For most of the 20th century, the Weatherby cartridges were at the peak of every ballistic chart, and the brand became synonymous with speed. Later, when Roy Weatherby decided he needed a dedicated rifle action to house his powerful magnums, he built it himself. He called it the Mark V.
Times have changed. Today the company is based in Sheridan, Wyoming, and run by Roy’s grandson Adam, a competitive triathlete and avid mountain hunter. Like most mountain hunters, Adam wanted the lightest possible rifle for climbing thousands of vertical feet. Unlike most mountain hunters, Adam owns a gun company, so he could build just the rifle he needed for those thin-air hunts. And he did: the new Weatherby Mark V Backcountry.
Weatherby Mark V actions come in two flavors: a larger nine-lug version built to handle the red-hot magnums and a lighter six-lug action designed for more modest rounds like the .30-06 and the company’s smallest proprietary cartridges like the .240 Wby. Mag. While for years Mark V rifles have been available with both six- and nine-lug actions, every new cartridge the company has launched since 1964 required the larger nine-lug action.
Adam saw potential in the six-lug action, and in fact he called it the company’s best-kept secret when he unveiled the Backcountry to a select group of writers and editors back in August. That potential led him and his team to create a new line of Mark V rifles that could take advantage of this smaller action—along with an entirely new cartridge.
The new cartridge is the 6.5 Weatherby Rebated Precision Magnum (RPM). It has a .473-inch diameter rim and will thus work on the smaller Weatherby action. You can read more about the 6.5 RPM cartridge in the accompanying sidebar.
The new Backcountry in 6.5 RPM weighs just 5.4 pounds. In addition to the new RPM round, Mark V Backcountry rifles are available in 10 calibers ranging from 6mm Creedmoor to .300 Wby. Mag., and there are left-hand models available in .257, 6.5-300 and .300 Weatherby magnums. The nine-lug version of the Backcountry rifle weighs 6.3 pounds.
In many major respects, the new Mark V Backcountry rifle is similar to its ancestors. Both the large and small actions utilize a push-feed design with a steel ring that encircles the cartridge base and a plunger-type ejector. The lug design also allows for a short, 54-degree bolt lift for fast cycling and faster follow-up shots.
Roy Weatherby built the Mark V to safely handle very hot cartridges, and those original safety features have carried over to this newest model. They include vents in the bolt body and a fully enclosed bolt shroud. The Backcountry also comes with the traditional two-position rocker safety, and the bolt locks when the safety is engaged.
Beyond those features, though, the new Backcountry is a different breed of hunter. The stock is lightweight, durable carbon fiber that is sponge painted with a green-and-tan pattern. The stock is also aluminum pillar bedded, and the lugs are bedded as well.
Gone is the traditional Monte Carlo stock profile, replaced by a straight-comb design with a 0.625-inch drop at comb and a 0.325-inch drop at heel. A new recoil pad, known as the 3DHEX recoil reducer, uses a high-strength diffusing lattice structure to help absorb recoil more efficiently and effectively than traditional rubber recoil pads. Every Backcountry rifle comes with an externally adjustable TriggerTech trigger made from stainless steel components.
Backcountry rifles come with a 24-inch No. 1 contour barrel that is fluted, and the thin profile helps keep weight to a minimum. The 6.5 RPM barrels have a 1:8 twist that allows them to take advantage of the heavier 6.5mm bullets that are well suited for long-range shooting. The muzzle is threaded and comes with both a thread protector and Weatherby’s new Accubrake ST muzzle brake. This brake mates seamlessly to the barrel, and the company claims the Accubrake ST reduces recoil by up to 53 percent.
Mountain rifles need to be light, but they must also be able to stand up to rough handling and foul weather. To that end, Weatherby coated the Backcountry’s metalwork in a Cerakote ceramic finish: McMillan Tan for the barrel, brake, receiver, trigger guard and bottom metal, and Graphite Black for the bolt, bolt knob and safety.
The internal box magazine holds four rounds of 6.5 Weatherby RPM ammo, and the floorplate gets a cool topo map-inspired look that seems perfectly fitting for a gun like this. The floorplate also has the Backcountry logo, and the floorplate release is positioned within the trigger guard. Overall length of the Backcountry is 46.125 inches, and length of pull is 13.5 inches.
The lightweight Weatherby Mark V Backcountry is a good-looking rifle, and there’s no faulting the quality of construction on this gun. The carbon-fiber stock is durable, the action is silky smooth, and everything on this gun seems well built and robust, from the safety lever to the magazine floorplate release.
Weatherby’s Backcountry rifle comes at a premium price—$2,499 to $2,599 suggested retail—but it’s well built. There are no glossy surfaces to cause glare or spook game, and the Cerakote finish offers a high level of protection against rough handling and precipitation. Even with its thin barrel, the barrel channel isn’t wide enough to collect debris when you’re out in the thick stuff.
For this test I mounted a Leupold Mark 5HD 7-35x56 scope on the rifle—perhaps more glass than you’d want on a mountain gun, but I wasn’t heading any higher than the local shooting range (elevation 602 feet). The big optic would allow me to wring the most out of the Backcountry rifle, and besides, the rifle and scope together weighed just eight pounds, one ounce.
With the rifle bore sighted, I began initial testing of the rifle and quickly found the Weatherby lives up to its sub-m.o.a. accuracy guarantee. The best groups with both 6.5 RPM loads I tested—the 140-grain AccuBond and 127-grain Barnes LRX—were in the 0.6-inch range, and the average for both loads was between 0.7 and 0.9 inch. It’s worth noting the pencil-thin Backcountry barrel heats quickly, so I allowed the barrel to cool down between shots.
The TriggerTech trigger had no creep whatsoever and broke cleanly at 2.8 pounds out of the box, which is quite light. The angle and length of the gun’s pistol grip allows for comfortable to shooting from any field position and offers enough room for large hands.
The Mark V action has been refined over decades, and there were no problems with extraction or ejection. These long cartridges must be lined up properly in the magazine to make the rifle feed correctly and for proper cycling, but overall function was flawless.
The carbon-fiber stock is nicely rounded and has enough texturing that it can be gripped easily, and the base of the fore-end is flat. Weatherby’s Accubrake ST and 3DHEX recoil pad work in tandem to reduce the punch of recoil, making the Backcountry 6.5 RPM a mild-kicking gun.
The rifle I had came with a prototype 3DHEX pad, and the final product that ships on production rifles may look slightly different than what you see in the accompanying photographs. However, the interior lattice structure, which is responsible for that recoil reduction, will remain essentially the same—and that’s a good thing. Despite its punch and reach, the powerful 6.5 RPM is a pussycat to shoot with the brake and the new recoil pad.
Factory loads don’t always live up to their printed velocity promises, but that wasn’t the case with the Backcountry in 6.5 RPM. The 140-grain Nosler load promised 3,075 fps, and my first chronograph reading with that load was 3,074 fps. Likewise, the 127-grain Barnes load at 3,225 fps made 3,223 fps, so the trajectory and energy standards that Weatherby promises are what you get from this gun.
It’s an excellent mountain rifle and should be on the short list for anyone in search of a new gun for hunting in the high country.
There’s definitely change coming to the Mark V family of rifles—there’s only one wood-stocked Mark V in the new line, if you can believe that—but it’s been impressive to see the company’s marquee product change to meet the times and the demands of today’s hunters. The Backcountry demonstrates the new direction the Weatherby brand is headed, and that direction seems to be straight to the top.