Weatherby Vanguard Series 2 Synthetic Stainless .30-06 Rifle
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
Weatherby is a manufacturer and importer of fine rifles and shotguns. Today, Mark V rifles are made in the USA and Vanguard rifles are made in Japan to Weatherby's specifications. As stated in Fjestad's Blue Book of Gun Values about Weatherby rifles "Workmanship in all instances is excellent."
In the late 1960's, with the flagship Mark V nine locking lug rifle becoming ever more expensive to manufacture and sell, Roy Weatherby chose Howa to market a two locking lug, modified Mauser, bolt action hunting rifle that could be sold at a price point competitive with the Remington, Winchester and Savage bolt action rifles of the day. Weatherby chose the Howa factory to produce this new rifle and helped Howa design the truly great action that is the basis of the Vanguard rifle to this day. I have been told that Vanguard and Howa rifles, although made in the same factory, are built on separate production lines.
We have written it before, but it is worth reiterating that all Vanguards are based on a forged and machined, flat bottomed receiver with an integral recoil lug and a one-piece, machined steel bolt with dual opposed locking lugs and a recessed face. This cock-on-opening action is a good one, often chosen as the basis of custom built rifles, and it incorporates many of the features of the Mark V.
The cartridge head is contained within Weatherby's famous three rings of steel. The one-piece bolt body is fluted, there are three gas escape ports in the side of the bolt and a streamlined bolt sleeve shrouds the rear of the bolt to prevent the escape of gas from a ruptured case into the shooter's face, just as with the Mark V. Also similar to the Mark V is the flush mounted claw extractor at the front of the bolt and the plunger ejector in the recessed bolt face. There is a Mark V type cocking indicator at the rear of the bolt shroud. The internal magazine is a separate sheet steel box and the hinged magazine floorplate release is a button in the front of the trigger guard, like the Mark V. The magazine follower is slick feeding polymer, superior to steel or aluminum in this application. The barreled action is bedded firmly in the stock for its full length, a superior, but more costly, method than simply free-floating a sporter weight barrel.
Of course, there are differences. Most obvious is that locking is achieved by means of two large, Mauser type lugs at the front of the bolt and the bolt lift is 90-degrees, not 54-degrees like the Mark V. The bolt knob is pear shaped with a checkered ring. The trigger guard/floorplate assembly is made of aluminum, not steel. The three-position Vanguard Series 2 safety is a stamped steel lever at the right rear of the action. It locks the bolt closed in the fully rearward (safe) position, but not in the center position, allowing the chamber to be un-loaded with the safety on; fully forward is the "fire" position. There is a stamped steel bolt release at the left rear of the receiver. The 24" barrel is cold hammer forged, rather than button rifled.
Vanguard rifles have always had good, user adjustable triggers, but the Series 2 trigger is exceptional. Weatherby calls it a two-stage trigger, in that there is about 1/16" of intentional slack that you take-up before the final (firing) pull is begun. The trigger assembly on the Vanguard Series 2 is accessed by removing the stock. The trigger pull weight is user adjustable by means of an adjustment screw with lock nut on the front of the trigger assembly. This allows adjustment between approximately 2.5 and 4.5 pounds. Loosen the lock nut and back out the adjustment screw to decrease the pull weight; turn it in to increase the trigger pull weight. (Trigger adjustment instructions are provided in the Owner's Manual.)
Our test rifle's trigger consistently released at a clean, 2.75 pounds without creep and minimum over-travel, right out of the box. The new Series 2 trigger is hand honed, factory tuned and inspected before shipment. It is one of the best triggers we have ever encountered in a production rifle and no adjustment was required.
At first, consumers who identified Weatherby with the Mark V questioned whether the Vanguard was a "real Weatherby." A silly debate, since the first generation of Weatherby rifles had been made in Germany on Mauser actions and Roy Weatherby himself was willing to stake his name and reputation on the quality and performance of his Vanguard rifle. Roy's faith in the Vanguard was justified, for while the Mark V remains Weatherby's flagship rifle, today the Vanguard is the mainstay of the line.
Our Series 2 test rifle is the Synthetic Stainless version. (Series 2 blue/synthetic and blue/walnut models are also available in a total of 16 short, long and magnum calibers.) It is supplied with a bead blasted, 400 series, matte stainless steel barreled action and a battleship gray, molded composite stock with black Griptonite inserts. The actual materials used in the stock's composition are not specified, but fiberglass (usually a key component of composite stocks) does not appear to be among them. The dull matte metal finish is satisfactory, but we prefer a satin finish on stainless barreled actions.
The stock design, while still featuring a Monte Carlo comb, is more moderate than previous Weatherby stocks. It is also more refined. The pistol grip, which is commendably slender at the neck, incorporates a right hand palm swell and the fluted comb is better defined. The slim forend is more rounded. There is a black plastic grip cap and a soft, low density, black recoil pad. Steel sling swivel studs are provided. Our only complaint is the mold line clearly visible on the underside of the forend (but, fortunately, not elsewhere).
The lines of the new Series 2 stock are very good. It is one of the most attractive stainless/synthetic rifles we have encountered. Even better, the Guns and Shooting Online staff agreed that the stock seemed to fit and handle well for all of us, although we are different heights, weights and proportions. (Admittedly, we all fall within the "normal" size range; none of us are giants or midgets, grossly obese or anorexic.) Removing the barreled action from the stock revealed that it is thoroughly supported by precise, heavy duty, bedding blocks and side rails. This is not the usual, flimsy, blow-molded synthetic stock. It looks, feels and most importantly functions at a higher level.
Vanguard Series 2 rifles come with Weatherby's SUB MOA accuracy guarantee, previously only available at a premium price. This ensures that the rifle will deliver .99" or smaller 3-shot groups at 100 yards when used with Weatherby factory or premium ammunition. A sticker on the barrel of our Series 2 test rifle attested to its SUB MOA performance.
Vanguard Series 2 Synthetic Stainless SUB MOA Specifications
· Caliber: .30-06 Springfield (eight other calibers are available in this model)
· Metal finish: Stainless steel
· Barrel: 24", #2 contour
· Twist: 1-10"
· Magazine capacity: 5
· Sights: None; receiver drilled and tapped for scope mounts
· Stock: Griptonite synthetic composite with low density recoil pad
· Length of pull: 13-5/8"
· Drop at comb: 5/8"
· Monte Carlo: 3/8"
· Drop at heel: 1"
· Overall length: 44-1/2" (short action calibers are about ½" shorter)
· Weight: 7-1/2 lbs.
· 2012 MSRP: $749
We chose a Bushnell Elite 3200 3-9x40mm scope with Rainguard HD coating as appropriate for our test rifle. This scope offers exceptional weather resistance due to its proprietary, water shedding, external lens coating. Note that this .30-06 is a standard/long action rifle and requires a scope with sufficient mounting latitude. Not all scopes provide sufficient space between the adjustment turret and front/back bells, but the Bushnell 3-9x40 fit perfectly.
Weatherby kindly provided a set of their Vanguard lightweight scope mounts. Supplied by Talley, these feature a one-piece base/lower ring design made from a 7000 series aluminum alloy billet and maximize scope positioning latitude. These rings are available in silver or matte black, low or medium height, 1" or 30mm diameter. We used black, low, 1" rings to match the Bushnell scope. Installation was quick, easy and trouble free, as was bore sighting.
With scope and mount, our test rifle weighs 8 pounds 10 ounces (empty), close to ideal for a .30-06 hunting rifle. Scoped, the rifle balances at the front of the magazine floorplate, giving it a between the hands, but slightly weight forward, feel that we prefer in a hunting rifle for offhand accuracy and a smooth swing.
As Chief Executive Technical Advisor Jim Fleck noted, our stainless Series 2 looks like a serious, inclement weather hunting rifle. Naturally, we were anxious to wring it out at the range. Unlike some rifle brands with inflated accuracy claims, previous Weatherby Vanguard SUB MOA rifles had delivered on their promise with a variety of loads. Would this new Series 2 rifle live up to the previous generation's SUB MOA accuracy?
As usual, we did our test shooting at the Izaak Walton rifle range south of Eugene, Oregon. This outdoor facility offers covered shooting positions, bench rests and target stands at 25, 50, 100 and 200 yards. The covered shooting positions are especially appreciated, as springtime weather in Western Oregon is notoriously unpredictable and often rainy. In addition to occasional showers, we had a cross-wind in the 5-15 MPH range on our range day. Guns and Shooting Online staff members Chuck Hawks, Gordon Landers, Rocky Hays and Jim Fleck participated in shooting for record. We fired three shot groups at 100 yards from a Caldwell Lead Sled FCX rest weighted with 25 pounds of lead shot. Group size was measured center to center of the shots farthest apart.
A special thank you to our friends at Federal, Remington and Winchester for supplying our test ammunition. American factory ammunition is second to none and the latest generation is the best ever. The specific factory loads we used included Federal Premium 150 grain Nosler AccuBond (MV 2940 fps), Winchester Supreme 150 grain Ballistic Silvertip (2900 fps), Remington Premier Copper Solid BT Tipped (MV 2910 fps), Remington Express 165 grain Core-Lokt PSP (MV 2800 fps), Remington Express 180 grain Core-Lokt PSP (MV 2700 fps) and Remington Premier 180 grain Swift Scirocco (MV 2700 fps).
Having previously bore sighted the rifle/scope combination using our Bushnell optical bore-sighter, at the range we first zeroed the Series 2 at 25 yards (that required only two shots) and then moved back to 100 yards to refine our zero (three more shots). The Bushnell scope's 1/4 MOA adjustments proved to be gratifyingly consistent and accurate.
With that accomplished, we were ready to shoot for record at 100 yards, using Hoppe's 100 yard "crosshair" sighting targets. We allowed the barrel to cool when it got very hot, but not between the individual shots of any one group. Note that, after the first shot of the day, we were not shooting from a cold barrel, contrary to the conditions specified in Weatherby's SUB MOA guarantee. It didn't seem to matter much, as the rifle still delivered many 1" or smaller groups. Here are the shooting results.
Gordon and Rocky tied for smallest group honors at ½". Rocky achieved this with premium Winchester Supreme 150 grain Ballistic Silvertip and Remington Premier 180 grain Swift Scirocco ammunition, while Gordon shot his best group with standard Remington Express 180 grain Core-Lokt ammunition.
Overall, the Winchester 150 grain Ballistic Silvertip load delivered the most consistent accuracy, with only one group exceeding the SUB MOA standard, an excellent performance by the rifle, ammunition and all four shooters. The Remington Premier 180 grain Scirocco load did nearly as well, with only two groups exceeding 1" in the course of our testing. Note that this rifle achieved 1" or better groups with every load tested.
Because the Series 2 is an open top, push feed action it is easy to feed a single cartridge directly into the chamber. This is an advantage at the range (and occasionally in the field) and one that is often overlooked. Feeding from the magazine was exceptionally slick, whether we operated the bolt very slowly or as fast as possible. The bolt raceways are noticeably better finished than in many production rifles, which contributed to fast, smooth operation. However, you need to be careful to load the top round into the magazine so that the cartridge's rim can be caught by the bolt when it comes forward, to prevent a failure to feed the first round into the chamber. Otherwise, there were no malfunctions of any kind.
We were shooting full power factory loads and the .30-06 is about as much cartridge as most shooters can master in a standard weight hunting rifle. The "Expanded Rifle Recoil Table" on the Tables, Charts and Lists page shows that launching a 180 grain .30-06 bullet at 2700 fps from an 8.5 pound rifle results in 18.5 ft. lbs. of recoil energy. Jim opined that the Vanguard Series 2's synthetic stock served to absorb some of the jolt and reduce the .30-06's subjective recoil. The well shaped Weatherby stock and low density recoil pad certainly didn't hurt.
Everyone praised the new Vanguard Series 2 trigger. It definitely helped us shoot SUB MOA groups. We wish that every new rifle came with a trigger this clean and adjusted for a 2.75 pound release from the factory.
Shooting this Weatherby reminded Chuck of the Remington Model 700 XCR .30-06 that we reviewed last year. (See the Product Reviews index page.) Both rifles feature well shaped, colored (not black) synthetic stocks with black over-molded grip panels and efficient recoil pads. Both are all weather rifles with push feed, stainless steel barreled actions, 24" barrels, excellent triggers and measure 44.5" in overall length. They have a similar look and serve the same purpose. The Remington is lighter, while the Weatherby, somewhat surprisingly, is less expensive and comes with a SUB MOA accuracy guarantee.
Naturally, we could not help mentally comparing the Vanguard Series 2 to the Vanguard SUB MOA Stainless .270 we reviewed in 2006. That remains one of the most consistently accurate rifles we have ever reviewed. Viewed objectively, the Series 2 stock shape is more refined and has better lines, although the earlier model's Fiberguard (fiberglass composite) stock included a full length aluminum bedding block. The original SUB MOA had a good, user adjustable trigger, but the Series 2 trigger is clearly superior, capable of being set a full pound lighter than the older design. The weight and overall length of the two rifles are the same and the pricing similar.
The original SUB MOA delivered a slightly smaller average group size than the new Series 2, but we attribute that more to its .270 Winchester caliber than any other factor. We have generally found the .270 cartridge more consistent with a variety of bullet weights than the .30-06, at least in sporter weight hunting rifles.
In summation, the Weatherby Vanguard Series 2 Synthetic Stainless is a high quality, reasonably priced, extremely accurate, all weather hunting rifle. Unlike most synthetic stocked rifles, the Series 2 doesn't look cheap. It is, overall, probably the nicest synthetic stocked rifle we have reviewed to date.
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