The High-End Budget Hunting Rifle: Weatherby Vanguard Review
Ask most any hunter to name a Weatherby rifle, and the vast majority will sing the praises of the company’s Mark V line of bolt actions. Those well-built, six and nine lug bolts have defined generations of hunters. Weatherby’s lesser known, though much more affordable, bolt action Vanguard family of hunting rifles deserves a closer look.
We snagged a Vanguard from the Guns.com Vault for a closer look.
While the rich history of Weatherby was born of founder Roy at the end of WWII, the younger Vanguard roots run to 1970. One of the great things about Weatherby is the American lineage. From founder Roy, the business passed to his son Ed, and continues to this day with Adam and Brenda Weatherby holding the reigns at the fresh Sheridan, Wyoming facilities.
We could wax poetic about the creation of the many Weatherby Magnum chamberings--including favorites like the .257 Wby Mag and .300 Wby Mag--but that’s a history for another day. Suffice it to say, while the focus remains on Weatherby’s proprietary rounds and the Mark V rifle, the Vanguard has been ticking away for over fifty years. In fact, things have flip-flopped so drastically in recent years that Vanguard sales now outnumber those of the flagship Mark V.
Though there’s simply no trumping Weatherby’s venerable Mark V line of high-end hunting rifles, they come at a top-tier price point. Not all hunters can--or want to--allocate those kinds of funds. That’s where the Vanguard earns its keep.
At the outset, Vanguard bolt guns were built only with non-Weatherby chamberings. Luckily for the lineup, times change, and Vanguard hunters can now snag one of the many Vanguard variants in a host of calibers. The chambering list is long and obviously includes some of the sweet Weatherby rounds: .223 Rem, .22-250 Rem, .243 Win, .240 Weatherby Mag, .25-06 Rem, .257 Weatherby Mag, 6.5 Creed, 6.5 PRC, 6.5-300 Wby Mag, 7mm-08 Rem, .308 Win, 6.5 PRC, .270 Win, .30-06 Springfield, 7mm Rem Mag, .300 Win Mag, and .300 Wby Mag. There’s plenty to pick from for most hunters.
However, it must be noted that the majority of the hardest-hitting, higher-pressure rounds like the .340, .375, .30-378, .338-378, .378, .416, and .460 Weatherby Magnums are available only on the nine-lug bolt actions of the Mark V.
Meet our Test Vanguard
We were tickled to have a choice of well over 100 new and used Vanguards from the GDC Vault, and of course, we jumped at one of the .257 Weatherby versions. Disclaimer here that we already own and love a Mark V Accumark in the 257--the round founder Roy called his personal favorite. Like our test gun, many Vanguards carry a three-shot sub-MOA accuracy guarantee when using Weatherby factory or premium ammunition. Ours is so-marked on the hinged floorplate. It wears a 24-inch barrel, two-position safety, and dense rubber buttpads.
Barrels are cold hammer forged, and while our test gun is not threaded, the company’s Accubrake ST muzzlebrakes can be found on many Vanguard variants. There’s a fluted bolt body on the one-piece machined bolt with a fully enclosed bolt sleeve. The triggers are all capable, with the higher-end selections using a match-quality, two-stage job.
Our particular Vanguard houses a quite crisp single-stage trigger with a break just over four pounds. The base model rifle is dressed with a Monte Carlo Griptonite stock that uses rubberized pistol grip and forend inserts, but that’s far from the only Vanguard, as evidenced by our upper echelon test rifle.
Vanguard Variants Aplenty
Like the hearty line of Mark V rifles with everything from Deluxe Walnut to the latest ultralight materials, the Vanguard family continues its growth to meet the demands of modern hunters. While it’s difficult to pin down the exact number of model variants that have come and gone over the years--including stainless, Varmint, and Deluxe-- suffice it to say Weatherby pretty much offers one for every hunting type, style, and budget.
A few of the highlights? Hunters seeking dressier rifles have plenty from which to pick. There are multiple camo selections, Laminate Sporter choices, Weatherguard, Sporter, and Compact.
The Vanguard Synethetic is the most pocketbook-friendly with an MSRP of only $699. Smaller-framed hunters and shooters ought to try handling the extended Camilla choices which started with the Mark V Camilla and have now spilled over to the Vanguard Camilla with its slimmed-down stock and specialized features.
A good number have gone before, including a sharp, looking Deluxe with a stock similar to the Deluxe Mark V which was built around the early 2000s. As the "longer-range-meets-lighter-weight" revolution continues its boom, Vanguards meet the call. Look to options like the Vanguard Wilderness or the now-discontinued Backcountry with their hand-laid fiberglass furniture and fluted barrel. Two of the pricier, albeit practical models are the all-season Weatherguard and Weatherguard Bronze with their protective exteriors. To scratch the more traditional itch, Weatherby does offer a Vanguard with a laminate wood dress. Stepping up the upper echelon of Vanguards, however, can cost close to the price of Mark V’s. That’s where hunters have a difficult decision to make.
Our test gun is marked as being built in Japan, which is expected given the Vanguards history of being built to Weatherby’s specs--and under company supervision--at Howa. Though this sways many buyers to the Mark V-- today built on home soil in Wyoming-- the Vanguard’s overseas production lends to its more affordable price point.
Other noteworthy differences? Instead of the nine-lug Magnum Mark V bolt-- or six-lug standard-- Vanguards use a basic dual-opposed locking lug system. Speaking of the bolt action, the throw length differs significantly. While the Vanguard sees a lift of 90 degrees, the Mark V comes in at only 54 degrees. Other areas of differentiation come down to raw materials used, attention to fit-and-finish, and of course, the range of whopper magnum chamberings on the Mark V.
All those items, however, come at a financial premium.
A gun--especially one that falls into the budget class--can check all the boxes on paper, but then fall short on the range. Having come from a Mark V background, we weren’t prepared to be impressed with this gun, built outside of Weatherby. However, even with the questionable scope and mounts that came on this used rifle, we couldn’t get it to “not” shoot good groups.
In fact, with both flavors of Hornady rounds, it shot well under sub-MOA at 100-yards. Hearing the term “magnum” in the name of a round--like the 257 Weatherby Magnum--automatically drums up ideas of heavier recoil. While the round is a zippy one, shooting it from a heavier rifle like this particular Vanguard at almost eight pounds, makes it an easy and pleasant experience.
Range results offer no reason to change, but we do believe this particular rig would benefit from an optics upgrade to ensure reliability over the long haul. Regardless, that sub-MOA engraving on the baseplate holds true. This rifle is not an eight-lug, fancy-dressed Mark V magnum, but few hunters would complain about the kind of performance we’ve seen from our test Vanguard.
To answer a few questions; no, the Vanguard is not built on a Mark V action. But yes, these are still Weatherby rifles, bearing the name and backed by the reputation of the family. The future is bright for Weatherby in general. Between the Mark V and the Vanguard, it’s more reasonable and common than ever for the many hunters who always wished “to own a Weatherby” to make that a reality.
What the Vanguard sacrifices in astute attention to detail and pricier components, it makes up for in workaday qualities. At the beginning and end of the day, Weatherby’s Vanguard delivers a budget priced rifle that still offers enough features and options to appease hunters aplenty.