Byron Pace tests the much anticipated Weatherby Vanguard Mk 2, and finds that it more than matches expectations considering its impressively affordable price
Weatherby as a company is best known for producing some of the most powerful hunting cartridges in the world, chambered, of course, in its famous Weatherby Mk V rifles. In the 1970s it introduced a line of rifles that would support the less powerful cartridges on offer, and brought to the market the Vanguard line. Like the Mk V, it was built by Howa in Japan, but the design was quite different. This allowed Weatherby to launch the Vanguard to the shooting public at a very affordable price level.
The rifle has enjoyed a lot of success over the years because it is seen as an excellent budget choice and still delivers solid build quality. It has always been one of the cheapest fullbore rifles available in the UK, and gives
a lot of ‘bang for your buck’. Now, the Vanguard has been relaunched after many years without any wholesale changes. After months of waiting, the Vanguard Mk 2 is finally here.
I have always been a big fan of Howa rifles, with their rock-solid and simple design. Given that the Weatherby Vanguard is almost an identical rifle, I had an idea of what to expect. I was, however, eager to examine the tweaks that had been made to modernise the rifle. Most importantly, all Vanguard Mk 2s now come with a 1MOA guarantee, bettering the 1.5MOA that was previously the standard. It would be interesting to see if the rifle could live up to this on the range, especially considering these promises were being made about a rifle that cost just £560.
The new stock is the first upgrade to become obvious on picking up the rifle. I was testing the basic synthetic model, and of all the entry-level rifles that have passed through my hands, this had by far the best stock. There is some awful injection-moulded rubbish on the market that is horrendous in both design and feel. It is an easy trap for manufacturers to fall into as they try to cut costs to offer the most affordable rifle on the market. Across the board, Weatherby has been careful not to fall foul of the common mistakes.
It may be a trivial point, but dropping the black in favour of a grey/green stock does make the rifle appear and feel more expensive than it is. In line with modern trends, Weatherby also opted for a hard-wearing rubberised material instead of chequering, inlaying it in a similar way to the synthetic stocks in Sako rifles. This is an excellent choice, providing optimal grip in even the worst conditions. Most importantly, however, the ribbed design of the forestock ensures rigidity, and prevents the terrible side-to-side flexing so common in cheap synthetic stocks. There is no doubt that for the money this is the best synthetic stock on the market.
Turning our attention to the action doesn’t really provide any revelations. Those who are familiar with Howa rifles or the old Vanguard will find few alterations here. The action is a one-piece steel receiver, with a sturdy integral recoil lug, drilled and tapped for mounts on top. The bolt has been refined marginally with a matt finish on the handle, and, unlike the Howa, has a knurled band around the bolt knob. Weatherby has also removed the rather tacky red ‘F’ and ‘S’ stamped on the bolt shroud, instead opting for black lettering – much more sensible.
The other noticeable difference between the two brands of rifle is the addition of flutes on the bolt shaft of the Weatherby. This helps to gather grit and dirt, while also carrying residual oil to lubricate loading. The twin lug design remains unchanged, providing push-feed loading, a push-bottom ejector and long, M16-type extractor. This is a tried, tested, simple and strong design that I found hard to fault.
The trigger on the Mk 2 has been vastly improved, offering a two-stage adjustable unit, with a three-position safety catch. Growing up with Weihrauch air rifles, I was spoilt with a quality Rekord trigger from an early age, and really appreciated the two stages offered by the design. This is, however, rarely seen in fullbore rifles. I was surprised to find, firstly, that the Vanguard offered this, and, secondly, that the release was actually very good. American rifles have historically been fitted with heavy and really quite poor triggers. Although it would have been nice if the unit adjusted down another half a pound, I can’t really complain, and wouldn’t go to the expense of fitting an after-market trigger.
The overall finish of the rifle was good, with the bead blasted bluing on the metalwork particularly nice. The bottom metal is solid and functional, but didn’t fit as flush into the stock as I would have liked. This model came with a drop plate, although a magazine upgrade is available, providing either a five- or ten-shot capacity. Sportsman Gun Centre, which imports Weatherby rifles, screw cuts all the models on arrival, making them ready to accept the moderator of your choice.
It’s not the lightest of rifles, but is perfectly manageable, weighing in at 7½lb. In the hand it feels quite chunky, owing largely to the flared forestock. My personal preference is for a slightly slimmer profile, such as that sported by the sleek lines of a Classic Steyr Mannlicher. However, everyone is different, and from a functional standpoint the wider bottom holds a bipod more securely.
The one major criticism I have of the rifle is easily rectifiable, though it is marginally frustrating that such details were not considered in the factory. Most rifles today come with free-floating barrels as standard, yet here we see the stock firmly held in the barrel channel. Under the barrel, inside the stock, there is plenty of free space, but the channel edges and tip of the forestock touch along the entire length. It would have been easier to design the stock mould to give generous clearance. A small amount of time with fine emery paper will soon rectify the issue, and I would suggest doing this. With the substantial recoil lug and flat bottomed action, there is ample fixed area to support the generously profiled barrel.
As with any rifle, range results are important, but as I have said before, results have to be observed with caution, as it can take some time to find a load that demonstrates what a rifle is really capable of.
The Vanguard comes with a 1MOA guarantee using premium ammo, so this certainly bodes well. I didn’t have time to work up hand loads before getting this review out – owing largely to the terrible weather that has tormented hunters and farmers – but a good selection of factory ammo allowed a fair test. Shooting from 150-grain through to 180-grain, the standout winner was the 162-grain and 168-grain A-Max from Hornady. With these rounds, the rifle was able to drop bullets into the promised 1MOA, although it was apparent that the rifle shot better when rested on a sandbag as opposed to a bipod. I am sure this is down to the lack of free-floating barrel.
There isn’t a lot you can buy for £560 these days, and every penny will certainly be well spent for anyone who adds the Vanguard to their collection. This rifle really is superb value for money, and I am sure it will find favour with many shooters.