When I was young, and avidly read American and Canadian shooting magazines, the Weatherby ranked alongside such top names as Marlin and Ruger. So I was looking forward to seeing the Weatherby Vanguard ‘in the flesh’. Would this mystical name live up to my boyhood dreams once it arrived on these shores?
Times have moved on, and the American gun-making scene now looks carefully at the wider market. On opening the box I was pleasantly surprised. The stock was finished in straight-grained walnut with a rosewood tip to the forend, and the cheekpiece on the Monte Carlo-type stock was nicely finished and comfortable in use. The chequering was sharp and well defined, and the stock was completed with a well-fitted rubber butt pad. There was some fibreglass bedding, and the overall fitting of the action and barrel to the stock was extremely good for a rifle in this kind of price range. Any chasing out of the forend had been nicely finished.
Sling swivels had been fitted, and the 24in barrel was screw-cut with a half-inch UNF thread. The screw-cutting was well executed, and the crown was quite deeply cut. The blueing was not heavy, but it was more than adequate. The twist rate is one in 12. The safety catch is a conventional ‘forward for fire, rearward for safe’ mechanism, and there is a cocking indicator at the rear of the bolt.
The manufacturers guarantee a 1.5 MOA at 100 yards. Although many would say this is not outstanding by modern standards, it is good enough in the field, and many of these rifles will do much better than this. Home loaders will, of course, greatly improve on the guaranteed figure.
The rifle is largely manufactured by Howa in Japan, a relationship that dates back to the 1960s. While Weatherby is associated largely with its two magnum calibres, .257 and .460, it has a much wider range available today.
The Vanguard resembles both the Remington 700 and the Winchester Model 70 – which is not surprising, as the rifle was originally brought out to offer an alternative to those two icons. The magazine, which is of floor-plate design, takes five rounds; the trigger pull was excellent and broke crisply at just over three pounds. It was good to see that American rifles have addressed trigger pulls.
This particular rifle was on loan from Sportsman Gun Centre, which is now the distributor for Weatherby. I decided to test the combo deal Sportsman offers on this rifle, which includes the rifle, a scope (in this case a Redfield Revolution 3-9×50) and a Wildcat Predator 8 sound moderator. I was keen to try the scope, as it would be the first time I had got my hands on this particular make.
The whole outfit looked the part, but the real test would come in the field. Cleaning the rifle before testing showed a very good standard of finish, both internally and externally. Bore sighting the rifle at 50 yards got the Sako 55-grain ammo on the paper after a couple of rounds. From there I moved the target out to 100 yards, zeroing an inch high as usual. It only took three shots before I was on the money, so I switched targets to the excellent life-sized fox target copied from Robert Bucknell’s Foxing with Lamp and Rifle. I put three shots in, and they did the trick. I know I only tried one make of ammo, but I am quite sure this rifle is more than capable of producing even better results with factory ammo matched to it. Home loaders will almost certainly do better still.
The Redfield scope performed well, with a clean, sharp picture. I would have liked the turrets to have sharper, more well-defined ‘clicks’, but I am just being picky – this does not affect the actual performance of the scope. Redfield scopes are made by Leupold in Oregon, so you would expect the build quality to be well up to standard. Leupold has resurrected the old, established Redfield name, and this range of scopes will certainly have an impact on the market. Price-wise, it slots into the mid-range of a market that has an ever-wider choice to fit all pockets.
UK Custom Shop’s Wildcat Predator 8 is well known to me, as I have used both the Predator 8 and the Whisper on my own rifles for some time now. Both are very well made and can be stripped down for cleaning. As usual, the test model performed perfectly, bringing the noise down to a very acceptable level. Also, although not small, this is one of the few mods that doesn’t look totally out of place on a rifle.
What, then, were my overall thoughts on this set-up? I have to say, I am well aware that there are those who say reviewers always ‘big up’ the test items. This is because there is not much point in reviewing rubbish. And most of what I get offered for test is truly of very good quality. This certainly applied to this outfit – I liked pretty much everything about it. The rifle felt right somehow – nothing pretentious, but a good-looking, functional rifle that gave the impression it would give many years of trouble-free service.
If I was looking for a reasonably priced rifle, I would certainly look very closely at a Weatherby, and probably end up buying one. Well made and well finished with plenty of attention to detail, it was a pleasure to test.
I also applaud Sportsman Gun Centre’s decision to marry the rifle to the scope and moderator selected in the deal. This gives a practical, sensible and above all really usable rifle for foxing. Anyone coming into the sport and looking for a good set-up really wouldn’t go far wrong with this one, especially at the combo price.
The rifle I reviewed was in .223, but Weatherby offers a full range of calibres to suit all needs. If time permits, I will take it out and see what Charlie thinks about it. MP
Models tested: Vanguard in walnut .223; Vanguard Mk2 in .308
Price range: Models from £600
Contact: Sportsman Gun Centre