Most of us remember our first whitetail hunt, and I've had the opportunity to share that moment with several other hunters and experience the excitement and the sense of satisfaction that comes along with that first successful trip to the woods. Many hunters, myself included, remember the weather and the location well, but for Conner Weatherby, great-grandson of pioneering gun designer Roy Weatherby, that initial hunt held an extra measure of excitement. In Novemeber, I was in camp with Conner when he shot his first buck, a beautiful Texas whitetail, with a rifle that bore his name and using a cartridge that his grandfather had designed. As the fourth generation of the Weatherby family to carry his namesake rifle afield, Conner's buck was more than a story of a successful hunt, it represented the next chapter in the company's long and successful history.
In the 1940's, Roy E. Weatherby moved from Kansas to California and began developing a line of cartridges that pushed the boundaries of velocity and energy. His vision was to create cartridges that allowed for much higher velocities than the standard loads of the time, and his first commercial success came with the early 1940's when he shortened and blew-out the .300 H&H Magnum, gave it the trademark double-radiused shoulder design and introduced four new hyper-velocity cartridges that would later become the .257, .270, 7mm (introduced later but based on the same design) and .300 Weatherby Magnums, the foundation of the Weatherby brand. Weatherby's thinking was that tough bullets traveling at very high velocities would impart massive hydrostatic shock on game and would kill them quickly and humanely, a notion that proved very true. Roy Weatherby became the symbol of a new generation of flat-shooting, hard-hitting magnums, and over the years he would develop a long list of cartridges that bore his name on the headstamp (including the .224, .240, .257, 7mm, .300, .30-378, .338-378 .340, .375, .378, .416 and .460 Weatherby Magnums).
The cartridge list at Weatherby covers every niche in hunting, and even the mighty .416 and .460 Magnums shoot as flat as your average deer rifle. The ballistics of the Weatherby cartridges was very impressive; the .300 Weatherby, for example, drives a 180-grain bullet at 3,250 feet per second from the muzzle and generates over 4,200 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. Compare that to the .300 Winchester Magnum, which pushes the same bullet about 150 feet per second slower and generates just under 4,000 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle and you can plainly see that Weatherby's claim that nothing "shoots flatter or hits harder" is well-founded. In addition, Roy Weatherby was also a firm believer in testing his products in the field, and he carried his rifles all around the world to prove that the right bullet at a high rate of speed could produce quick, clean kills on game of all sizes over long ranges.
Roy's son Ed Weatherby is now at the helm of the company, and his grandson Adam is the company's COO and Executive Vice President. Just before Adam's son Conner took his first deer and only a few months before Weatherby's 70th anniversary, I had the chance to speak with Adam about where the company is headed and what it means to be a Weatherby.
"At an anniversary like this we are looking at where we've been and what will help us press forward," Weatherby says. "We look back at our core values, that 'Nothing Shoots Flatter, Hits Harder, or is More Accurate than a Weatherby' and 'Endurance Tested, Field Proven.' Those are more than just slogans, they're our foundation."
For Adam Weatherby, the future success of his company hinges on staying true to those principles, and he believes, just as his grandfather did, that the guns should be evaluated for endurance and tested in the field. He's also committed to the family aspect of Weatherby, with Adam being the third generation of the company and his son Conner representing the fourth generation to carry their guns in the field. But Adam Weatherby says that every aspect of the Weatherby brand is a family affair.
"It's a family atmosphere, even with our employees. They are all part of the Weatherby family and we want them to be proud of the guns we make." A large number of the Weatherby employees are also hunters, and Adam values their input and feelings about how to build a great firearm. Jim Davis, a former western hunting guide, personally tests every range certified rifle before it receives a signature from Ed or Adam to verify the claim of sub-MOA accuracy. Dean Rumbaugh has worked at Weatherby for 53 years in several departments and currently heads up the custom shop.
"We're still a family business, so decisions about new products aren't made in a board room. We decide what we need and we make it. We're a smaller ship and we're able to maneuver faster than larger companies."
The Rise of the Mark V
For more than a decade after Roy Weatherby began developing wildcat cartridges, he relied on other manufacturers to produce rifles chambered for these hot rounds, but in the mid-1950's Weatherby stepped out and began developing his own bolt-action rifle, which he called the Mark V. It featured a wide bolt that was the same diameter as the locking lugs (9 lugs for the magnum cartridges, 6 for the .224 Weatherby, the .22-250 and, starting in the 1990's the .240 Weatherby). This allowed for a short 54 degree bolt lift and smooth cycling. Since Weatherby cartridges worked at such high pressures, safety was a major concern and Roy Weatherby and a team of engineers set about developing the safest action on the market. The Mark V featured three rings of steel surrounding the cartridge base (comprised of a recessed bolt face, the forged steel receiver and the barrel). In addition, the Mark V features three gas vents to direct gasses away from the shooter's face in the event of a case rupture and an enclosed bolt shroud. The current Mark V's direct striker intervention safety (The first safety was off the trigger until the early 1960's, when it was moved to the current position)positively locks the firing pin and leaves the trigger inoperable. The Mark V provided a new level of protection for shooters. Early guns had the unmistakable Weatherby styling, with American walnut stocks, rosewood grip caps and foreends and maple spacers. The high Monte Carlo style cheekpiece naturally aligned the eye with the scope, and the trigger was adjustable and superior to those being offered by other manufacturers. The Mark V became the flagship of the Weatherby line, and it remains so today.
Currently, there are a number of production and semi-custom Mark V rifles available, guns like the Terramark RC, which features a heavy fluted barrel, Mark V action with a Cerakote finish, and a hand-laid composite stock. It's also guaranteed to shoot under an inch with Weatherby ammunition, and in calibers like .257, .270, 7mm and .300 Weatherby Magnum and others it's a superb long-range rifle for big game. The Terramark and other rifles like the Outfitter RC and the Dangerous Game Rifle (DGR) are semi-custom guns, which means they come through the custom shop in Paso Robles. Weatherby's extensive custom shop allows hunters to add details to virtually any gun, from having their name on the bolt or the floorplate to complete custom engraving and gold inlay. Weatherby continues to produce their classic mark V designs like the Euromark and Lasermark, but the company has also added some new additions like the Terramark and the new Ultra Lightweight Range Certified. In addition, 70 special Anniversary edition Mark Vs will be sold, and in keeping with the family tradition, Adam's brother Dan will be making the same number of knives to be sold as a package with each rifle. The knives are made from the same American walnut, rosewood and maple that comprise the classic stock of the Mark V, and every knife will be made by hand at the Weatherby Ranch in California.
In addition to the Mark V, Weatherby has also expanded their Vanguard line of bolt action rifles. Introduced in 1970, the Vanguard has been one of Weatherby's best-selling products, with its dual-lug, push-feed design and sub-MOA accuracy guarantee. For their anniversary year, Weatherby is adding new Vanguards with Kryptek Highlander Reduced camo as well as the patriotic Saratoga rifle, with its American flag theme. New technology has allowed Weatherby to provide full-dip coverage on their new Series 2 stocks, which trade the older gun's checkered forearm and pistol grip for a comfortable, textured synthetic.
Shotguns and Ammunition
"Most people know about our rifles," Adam Weatherby says, but very few people know that we've been producing shotguns for over 50 years. About half of the guns we sell now are actually shotguns." Currently, Weatherby offers their PA-08 and SA-08 pump and semiauto shotguns (respectively), which are made in Turkey and were treated to a 6,000 round torture test before production began (part of that "Endurance Tested" mantra that the company considers vital). On the SA-08 side, there's a new full-dip camo version in Realtree Max-5 that's perfect for waterfowling and a compact version with the Volt green and black stock. The SA-459 and PA-459 lines will also expand next year, with new camo patterns and an eight-shot capacity version as well.
"We have invested a lot of time and energy in shotgun development, so expect more things in the near future," says Adam Weatherby.
Weatherby has also changed their packaging on their ammunition, and for their 2015 anniversary look for new Select and Select Plus ammo. Select Plus will be sold in gold packaging and will feature premium bullets, but the Select line (which ships in a silver box) is more budget-friendly ammo that is still loaded with high-quality Norma brass and bullets.
The Future of Weatherby
With a new generation of Weatherby hunters coming up through the ranks, the Flying W brand's story continues to evolve. New designs and marketing has helped introduce the historic company to a new group of hunters and shooters, and as Weatherby expands its offerings and claims more of the market share you can be assured that the first family of fast will continue to draw attention with their innovative firearms for years to come.
Take a look at this commemorative 70th Anniversary Mark V rifle below. It's chambered only in .257 Weatherby Magnum (Roy Weatherby's favorite cartridge). For more information, read more about the Weatherby 70th Anniversary Mark V Rifle.