Weatherby Vanguard Rifles

By Chuck Hawks

Vanguard Stainless
Weatherby Vanguard Stainless. Illustration courtesy of Weatherby, Inc.

The Weatherby Vanguard bolt action rifle was introduced in the late 1960's as a Weatherby rifle for non-Weatherby calibers. The line was revitalized in 2003 and is now the heart of the Weatherby line. Sales of Vanguards far outnumbers Mark V sales.

The original Weatherby Vanguard and the subsequent VGD and VGX Deluxe models looked almost identical to the Mark V Deluxe rifle, and sported a very similar walnut stock, right down to the checkering, forearm tips, grip caps, line spacers, and recoil pads. The stock finish was high gloss and the metal finish was the renowned Weatherby high luster blue. These deluxe models were discontinued in the early 1990s.

Between 1994 and 2002 Weatherby Vanguards were offered only through Wal-Mart stores. These were Weatherguard models with a synthetic stock and a choice of blue or stainless steel barreled actions in most of the old Vanguard calibers. There was also a Deluxe model with a checkered walnut stock and contrasting forearm tip in .300 Weatherby Magnum caliber. This rifle had a satin blue metal finish and lacked the contrasting line spacers at grip cap and forend tip of the new 2006 Vanguard Deluxe.

In 2003 Weatherby reintroduced the Vanguard as a regular catalog item. New Vanguard Stainless and Vanguard Synthetic models were again available from all Weatherby distributers and dealers. The Synthetic comes with a matte black carbon steel barreled action, and the Stainless comes with a matte silver stainless steel barreled action. Both models come with 24" barrels, are 44.5" in overall length, and weigh 7.75 pounds. Calibers range from .223 Remington to .338 Win. Magnum.

Vanguard Synthetic
Weatherby Vanguard Synthetic. Illustration courtesy of Weatherby, Inc.

The new Vanguard synthetic models use a black synthetic stock in the typical Weatherby "California" style. This injection-molded composite stock is checkered, has comfotable lines, and comes with a recoil pad.

In 2004 the Vanguard Sporter was introduced. This was essentially the new version of the Wal-Mart Deluxe model, what I think of as a semi-deluxe Vanguard. In 2005 a stainless steel action was made available with the walnut stock as the Sporter SS.

2005 also saw the introduction of the Vanguard Compact-Youth. This blued/synthetic model comes with a shortened stock and a full size stock. Bigger news in 2005 was the introduction of the Vanguard SUB-MOA models; more about these shortly.

For 2006 the Vanguard Deluxe has been re-introduced as the top of the Vanguard line. And once again the Vanguard Deluxe is the spittin' image of a Mark V Deluxe. Also in 2006, a Varmint Special took its place in the Vanguard line. This comes with a blued, heavy #3 coutour 22" barrel and a varmint stock. The 2006 Vanguard line is the most complete in history, and custom Vanguard models are available through the Weatherby Custom Shop. Special stocks, fluted barrels, and AccuBrake muzzle brakes are among the available Custom Shop extras.

All Vanguards are based on an action using a one-piece forged and machined, flat bottomed receiver and a machined steel bolt with dual opposed locking lugs. This modified Mauser action is built to Weatherby specifications by Howa in Tokyo, Japan.

The Howa bolt action is a good one, and the version produced for the Vanguard 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. 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.

The two position Vanguard safety locks the bolt closed in the "safe" position, just like a Mark V safety, but it is not as quiet in operation and is shaped differently. There is also a Mark V type cocking indicator for added safety. The magazine floorplate is hinged, and the release is in the front of the trigger guard.

The bolt lift is 90 degrees, not 54 degrees like the Mark V. The barrel is cold hammer forged. The trigger is not externally adjustable, but the two adjustment screws (secured by small lock nuts) on the front and rear of the trigger assembly can be accessed by removing the stock.

All Weatherby rifles, Vanguard and Mark V alike, come with a 1.5" MOA accuracy guarantee specifying a 1.5" or smaller 3-shot group at 100 yards from a cold barrel when used with Weatherby or premium factory loaded ammunition, and they are supplied with a test target to prove it. Often Vanguard rifles will shoot considerably smaller groups right out of the box.

Vanguard SUB-MOA Stainless
Weatherby Vanguard SUB-MOA Stainless. Illustration courtesy of Weatherby, Inc.

This did not escape the notice of the Weatherby testers, and it led to the introduction of the premium Vanguard SUB-MOA models. These are hand picked Vanguards, pillar bedded in upgraded Fiberguard composite stocks with non-slip black or gray spiderwebbing. Both matte blued and stainless steel barreled actions are available as SUB-MOA models in all standard Vanguard calibers. There is also a Vanguard SUB-MOA Varmint model that comes with a special beavertail varmint stock with ventilation slots in the forend

Vanguard SUB-MOA Varmint
Weatherby Vanguard SUB-MOA Varmint. Illustration courtesy of Weatherby, Inc.

The question always arises: since it is not based on the Mark V action, is the Vanguard a true Weatherby? And the answer is unequivocally "yes." Weatherby puts their name and reputation on the line with the Vanguard, and if they say it is a Weatherby rifle, then I will take their word for it. The Vanguard is no longer the poor stepchild in the Weatherby line. As mentioned in the opening paragraph, it is now the heart of the Weatherby line.

The following specifications pertain specifically to the 2006 Vanguard Deluxe, Other Vanguard models are functionally similar.

The Deluxe (product code VGX) has a 24 inch barrel and is 44.5 inches in overall length. The catalog weight is 7.75 pounds. Length of pull is 13.5". The cartridge capacity is 5+1 in standard calibers and 3+1 in magnum calibers. 2006 MSRP is $865.

Vanguard Deluxe
Weatherby Vanguard Deluxe. Illustration courtesy of Weatherby, Inc.

In appearance the new 2006 Deluxe is almost identical to a Mark V Deluxe and also to the earlier Vanguard VGX Deluxe, with a high luster blue finish on barrel and receiver, and a nicely figured claro walnut Monte Carlo stock with cut checkering and a rosewood forearm tip and pistol grip cap set off by maplewood line spacers. There is a traditional Weatherby diamond inlay in the pistol grip cap.

In summation, the Weatherby Vanguard line for 2006 is pretty much complete. Vanguards range from basic blued/synthetic models to the ultra-accurate SUB-MOA models and Deluxe models stocked in beautifully finished claro walnut. Many knowledgeable gun dealers and hunters alike consider the Weatherby Vanguard to be the best value available in a centerfire hunting rifle today.

Note: Complete reviews of the Vanguard Deluxe, Vanguard Sporter, Vanguard Varmint Special and Vanguard SUB-MOA rifles can be found on the Product Reviews page.

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Copyright 2003, 2016 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.