Pete Moore checks out the cost effective Weatherby Vanguard hunting rifle in one of his favourite calibres, 270 WSM
When they hear the name Weatherby, many shooters think of top-end rifles chambered in some pretty hefty, hard-hitting and dedicated calibres. And this to a degree is true as their Mk V is without doubt the flagship of their line and an American favourite. But wisely they also offer a range called the Vanguard, which in terms of build and price is a far most cost effective option.
What I like about the Vanguard range is the fact that it is a no-nonsense hunting rifle, with everything you need and nothing you don’t. This example is rather interesting as it’s chambered in 270 Winchester Short Magnum (WSM), which is a medium power magnum cartridge and a calibre I have used with some success in Africa. Weatherby have made a slightly heavier barrel, doubtless to handle it better. Still with a sporting taper, but fractionally thicker with longer/heavier re-enforce section, the length from the gas escape hole is 24”. As you can see the tube is threaded (1/2x20” UNF). This is not an American option, but done by the importers (Garlands) as standard on all their rifles (Weatherby and Savage).
Talking to Jamie Garland, he rightly feels that in most cases some form of moderator is a decided advantage in terms of hearing protection, recoil control and even accuracy improvement. So you the customer will get a Weatherby proofed and threaded, which is not a bad thing at all. And if you don’t want to fit a can then get a thread protector instead.
American as Sushi
Though as American as apple pie in terms of shooter perception and brand, Weatherby rifles are actually made in Japan by Howa. But don’t let that fool you as they are a well made and solid in design and good looking too, with a sort of blend of Winchester Model 70 and Remington 700 styles about them. The bolt offers a fully supported head, twin locking lugs and a plunger-type ejector. The body features shallow, longitudinal grooves, which are probably there to stop the build-up of crud, which is a useful feature.
The bolt handle is angled back with a decent sized ball end. The shroud is round and closed ended and its right side is marked S and F (fire & safe). Underneath and at the top of the tang is a cocked action indicator plate that protrudes when the gun is cocked.
The magazine loads through the action and shows a hinged floor plate underneath to speed up unloading drills. The trigger offers a medium width, grooved blade and shows quite a reasonable release of around 4-5lbs. The safety is like the Remington 700 with a two-position push/pull lever – forward fire, rearwards safe. However, when on safe, the bolt cannot be operated.
The stock is a dense, black synthetic and appears far more rigid than similar products from the US market. The butt is quite stylised, with a high comb and Monte Carlo cheekpiece and a thick rubber recoil pad. The forend is slim and square in section and no attempt has been made to float the barrel with the materials tight up on the outside of the tube. Panels of chequering are applied at grip and along the sides of the forearm, and QD studs are fitted as standard.
A Cunning Plan
Looking at the relationship of the barrel to the forend channel I was not expecting miracles. But Weatherby state in their literature that their guns should shoot 1 1/2” from the box, using Federal ammunition, which is at least a sensible statement and one I have found in the past to be pretty much true.
Ammunition went to the Winchester Supreme 140-grain Fail Safe factory and my UK spec reload of a 140-grain Sierra Game King over 63.3-grains H4831 SC set off with a Federal Large Rifle Magnum primer. Both had proved to be good medicine in the past. With that sorted I fitted a Tasco Titan 3-12x50 in Warne rings. Bases went to Milletts from Edgar Brothers, which fortunately are identical to those for the Remington 700.
My Winchester Model 70 in 270 WSM has a muzzle brake fitted so touching off the first rounds in the Vanguard reminded me that this calibre is no pussy cat. Both types of ammo were producing the promised 1 ½” groups at 100 yards, so dead on for out-of-the-box performance as promised. As this rifle was threaded I was keen to see how much difference moderation would make to its general performance, certainly on what is a large powder charge. I had two cans available – an ASE UTRA S5 compact (.30”) and a PES T12 full size reflex-style also in .30” cal.
I have to say that though not a big fan of muzzle-mounted cans, I have been using the S5 on a number of rifles lately – 243 & 308 Winchester and 30-06 Springfield – and found it to be a useful little unit. On the 270 WSM it proved slightly noisier than the larger T12 PES. Hardly surprising really, given the amount of gas the WSM produces and the fact it has no expansion chamber, so I suppose it did very well to cope. Plus it has a.30” bore, which is going to allow more gas out and to a degree degrade the silencing effect. It would be interesting to see how a .270” bore unit got on. My gut feeling is it would be better. However, both felt recoil and muzzle flip were noticeably reduced.
Taming the Tiger
The T12, being larger/heavier, coped with the 270 WSM slightly better, but the penalty you pay is an increase in weight and a reduction in handling. Views aside on whether you need a moderator on a hunting rifle, one fact becomes obvious; the addition of either can certainly improved accuracy. Groups generally dropped to below an inch with the Winchester Supremes printing ¾” and there was a noticeable reduction in recoil effect and noise.
Feed and function were fine with those big WSM cases sliding up, chambering and ejecting easily. Over the chrono the Supremes were averaging 3027 fps/ 2874 ft/lbs, with the Sierra reload not far behind at 3007 fps/2846 ft/lbs.
Being a confirmed Remington and Winchester owner, I have to say that the Weatherby Vanguard really did impress me. Well made, reliable and highly cost effective, it’s quite some rifle no matter what calibre you decide on. And though 1 ½” is not stunning in terms of group size, it’s nonetheless workable and the fact that the gun actually does what the factory says it will is comforting. And I believe that if you were to get it bedded and floated that would improve things too.
However, with Garland’s foresight in threading all their rifles ½x20” UNF then the addition of a moderator should have the same effect too. The Vanguard is available in the standard black synthetic stock with blued barrel/action and also in a stainless finish should you prefer. And the range is available in most of the common calibres.
|Calibre||270 WSM (on test)|
|Price||£560 (Stainless £680)|
All Prices Are Guides Due to the Changes in US & European Exchange Rates