2018 Weatherby Mark V Sporter .257 Mag. Rifle with Leupold VX-Freedom 3-9x40mm Riflescope
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
Weatherby does not often mess with their successful Mark V rifles. Of course, over the years they have added models with composite stocks and some metal finishes other than the traditional, mirror polished, Weatherby luster blue. Even so, the Mark V action and the famous Weatherby stock design has remained a constant.
Some years ago, Weatherby introduced their Sporter model, a less expensive take on the walnut stocked Mark V Deluxe with a slightly lower grade of walnut, no maple line spacers, semi-gloss stock finish and matte blued metal finish. However, the Sporter was still a very nice looking hunting rifle with all the traditional Mark V functional advantages and one of its own, theoretically being less reflective than a Mark V Deluxe in bright sunlight. (Something we have never found to be a problem.)
Now, for 2018, Weatherby has made some significant changes to their flagship Mark V rifle line. Naturally, as one of the few major firearms publications that predominately features fine firearms, we requested a new, upgraded Mark V for a Guns and Shooting Online review. (Yes, our demographics show that we have a better educated and more discerning readership!) Having previously reviewed Mark V Deluxe (AA grade Claro walnut stock) and Mark V AccuMark (composite stock) models, for this review we requested a Mark V Sporter in .257 Weatherby Magnum caliber.
Here is what Weatherby says about their revisions to the new Mark V line:
"The new Mark V Features the first significant refinements of this classic rifle since its original introduction in 1958. The New Mark V stocks have been ergonomically enhanced with a slimmer forearm and sharper, more distinctive lines and contours. The grip diameter has been reduced, a slight right-hand palm swell has been added and overall weight reduced. The lighter weight results in increased comfort, control, quicker to the shoulder mounting and faster target acquisition."
"The Mark V trigger has always been outstanding and now we've made it even better with the introduction of the LXX trigger. The engagement surfaces are precision ground and polished. Overall tolerances refined. A new, wider trigger face increases trigger-to-finger contact, all for a more consistent and comfortable pull. Adjustable down to 2.5 pounds, the new LXX trigger will amaze you with every single round fired."
"The New Mark V rifles all come with our SUB-MOA accuracy guarantee. Our hand lapped barrels ensure that the bullet's flight path will be true and consistent and when combined with the enhanced shooter experience of the New Mark V, it is the best rifle you will ever purchase."
The Mark V action is the strongest in the industry. The cartridge rim is encased by the famous Weatherby "three rings of steel." These are the recessed bolt face, the barrel and the front receiver ring.
It is a push feed action with an open top receiver that provides a generous loading/ejection port. Cartridges are loaded into the magazine through the top of the receiver. To unload any cartridges remaining in the magazine after use, just pop open the hinged magazine floor plate. The floor plate release is located inside the trigger guard.
The Sporter's one-piece bottom metal and trigger guard bow is aluminum, as is the hinged magazine floor plate. The magazine follower is polymer, which has proven to offer smoother feeding than the steel magazine follower Weatherby used in past decades. As far as we can tell, this is the only plastic part in the entire rifle.
Like all Weatherby rifles, the Sporter's flat bottom receiver is machined from a steel billet and incorporates a large, integral recoil lug. This recoil lug is glass bedded into the stock for a perfect fit and the stock is internally reinforced. The barreled action is pillar mounted in the stock by means of two machine screws, one at the rear of the trigger guard and one at the front of the bottom iron. These are the only screws you need to take out to remove the barreled action from the stock.
The cock on opening, front locking, fluted bolt is left in the white, with the longitudinal flutes blued for contrast. This fluting somewhat reduces the weight of the admittedly heavy nine locking lug Mark V bolt and also reduces friction when it is operated. The bolt body is the same diameter as the nine locking lugs at the front of the bolt to minimize bolt wobble.
There are the Weatherby signature three gas relief ports in the side of the bolt to channel any escaping powder gas from a split case, or other mishap, away from the shooter's face. There is a machined steel (not sheet metal) rear bolt shroud for additional protection.
The bolt lift is only 54 degrees. This allows increased clearance for low mounted scopes and, of course, faster operation.
This one-piece bolt is machined from steel billet. The bolt knob is smooth, round and comfortable to operate. We appreciate that it is not adorned with checkering that can abrade the hand. Just open the bolt and hold the trigger back to remove the bolt from the receiver.
The extractor is a short claw mounted in the front/side of the bolt, between two of the three rows of locking lugs. It takes a respectable bite on the rim of a chambered cartridge and will easily over ride a cartridge manually placed in the chamber. Ejection is by means of a plunger in the recessed bolt face. Both extraction and ejection are very positive and reliable. The Guns and Shooting Online staff has accumulated a lot of experience with Weatherby rifles and we have never seen one fail.
Weatherby rifles have always come with excellent, adjustable triggers. We are not sure why Weatherby found it necessary to introduce a new trigger mechanism, but we are happy to report that the LXX trigger is excellent. It incorporates precision ground and polished engagement surfaces. The smooth trigger face is wider for more finger to trigger contact, which makes the pull feel lighter. A Weatherby "W" is stamped into the face of the trigger. The trigger pull adjustment screw can be accessed without removing the stock by using a small 5/64 Allen wrench. The adjustment range is specified as 4.5 to 2.5 pounds.
The trigger pull of our test rifle measured 3.5 pounds out of the box and 2.5 pounds after we adjusted it. Turn the Allen wrench counter-clockwise to lighten the pull weight. The release is clean and grit-free without perceptible take-up or excessive over-travel. It is an excellent, single stage trigger without the need for a Savage AccuTrigger type blade in the trigger face, which bothers some shooters.
The very quiet, two position safety locks the bolt closed when in the "Safe" position to prevent inadvertent opening in the field. A red dot is visible when the safety is in the "Fire" position. A cocking indicator protrudes beneath the rear of the bolt shroud when the striker is cocked.
The metal finish is a bead blasted matte blue. We still prefer the appearance of the high luster blue of Weatherby Deluxe rifles, but this is a very well done matte finish, smooth to the touch and clearly not just unpolished, like so many matte finished rifles today.
We do have a suggestion regarding the finish of the barreled action. When we removed the Sporter from its box, both Guns and Shooting Online Owner/Managing Editor Chuck Hawks and Gunsmithing Editor Rocky Hays commented that the metal finish looked like matte graphite black Cerakote. According to Weatherby, it is not, but it could be and would look virtually the same. Therefore, why not use a Cerakote finish, which is the most durable metal finish available for firearms, instead of bluing? We note that the similar quality and similarly priced Nosler M48 Heritage rifle does have a Cerakote finish on its barreled action, which is one of its selling features. The Mark V Sporter could have the same feature.
The new stock design remains in the classic Weatherby "California" style. It incorporates a slightly slimmer firearm that tapers in three dimensions and a slimmer pistol grip. Although the previous Weatherby walnut stock design was slimmer and more comfortable than most factory stocks, the new stock is even better in this regard. We especially appreciate the slimmer pistol grip and the slight right hand palm swell, although unnecessary, is unobtrusive. The new stock design is slightly lighter than the old stock.
The fancy walnut in our Sporter test rifle is every bit as nice as the stocks on our Mark V deluxe rifles, with attractive grain and figure. Perhaps we just got lucky with this particular rifle. The four panel checkering is deeply laser cut and provides an excellent grip. The rosewood forearm tip is longer than on the previous Sporter and Deluxe stocks. There is also a matching rosewood grip cap. A perfectly applied synthetic semi-gloss stock finish fills all the wood pores. The inside of the stock is also completely finished with all pores filled to protect against moisture.
The wood to metal fit is very good, as you would expect from a Weatherby rifle. Detachable blued steel sling swivels and a Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad are included.
The hand-lapped barrel is free floating in the stock from about three inches back from the forearm tip to the receiver. About 2-1/2 inches behind the forearm tip there is a raised portion of the inletting in the stock that extends for about 1/2 inch to provide upward pressure to stabilize the barrel.
We believe this 1/2 inch raised area is the only intended point of contact between barrel and stock. However, in our test rifle the rosewood forearm tip contacted the barrel on the right side at the front.
We could have easily rasped this down to eliminate the unwanted contact, but being a brand new rifle, we returned it to Weatherby for attention. When the rifle was returned two weeks later, the techs at Weatherby had apparently adjusted the bedding just a tad to correct the mis-alignment. The barrel no longer touched the stock anywhere it shouldn't and the forearm tip had not been rasped.
The .257 Weatherby Magnum
The .257 is a standard (.30-06) length, belted magnum cartridge and one of the most popular Weatherby calibers, second only to the .300 Wby. Mag. It combines very high velocity, flat trajectory and tolerable recoil. It is reputed to have been Roy Weatherby's favorite cartridge. He used it to shoot a great deal of game, including a Cape buffalo, while testing his theories about the killing power of high velocity bullets.
The .257 Weatherby Magnum burns significantly more powder than the .25-06 Remington to achieve an increase in maximum point blank range of about 40 yards with a 120 grain bullet. It is the highest performance .25 caliber cartridge ever standardized by the SAAMI.
Weatherby offers several factory loads for the .257 Mag. The lightest bullet available is an 80 grain Barnes TTSX bullet at 3870 fps, which is the varmint and predator load for the caliber. The heaviest bullet is a 120 grain Nosler Partition (SD .260) at 3305 fps, which is suitable for all Class 2 game, including the largest, such as caribou and black bear.
The Weatherby factory load with the 120 grain Nosler Partition bullet at a claimed muzzle velocity (MV) of 3305 fps has muzzle energy (ME) of 2,910 ft. lbs. At 300 yards the figures are 2570 fps and 1760 ft. lbs. The trajectory of the 120 grain Nosler Partition bullet looks like this (Weatherby figures): +3" at 100 yards, +3.7" at 200 yards, +2.4" at 250 yards, 0 at 300 yards, -3.7" at 350 yards and -8.9" at 400 yards. This load makes the .257 Wby. Mag. about a 350 yard deer rifle.
The price for this performance, of course, is increased recoil and muzzle blast compared to standard cartridges, and possibly decreased barrel life. As with any ultra-high velocity cartridge, shoot three shot strings at the range and allow the barrel to cool between strings. Keep the barrel clean, avoid overheating and it will give decent life.
With controlled expansion bullets, the .257 Weatherby Magnum takes its place alongside the .264 Winchester Magnum and .26 Nosler as one of the premier ultra-long range big game calibers. For Class 2 big game (up to about 300 pounds) the .257 Weatherby Magnum may be, all things considered, the best long range cartridge of them all.
The Leupold VX-Freedom 3-9x40mm Riflescope
We mounted a new Leupold VX-Freedom 3-9x40mm riflescope on our test rifle using Leupold QRW/PRW matte 2-piece cross-slot bases (#171709) and medium height matte rings. These mounts are machined from steel and the finish on the base and rings matches the matte black finish on the VX-Freedom riflescope.
Mounting the scope on the Mark V test rifle was quick and straightforward, as was bore sighting with our Bushnell optical bore sighter. The spacing between the adjustment turrets and the front and rear bells provides better than average mounting latitude, a characteristic of most Leupold scopes.
The new VX-Freedom line has replaced the previous VX-1 riflescopes for 2018. These are Gold Ring scopes protected by the famous, transferable, Leupold Lifetime Guarantee (not a limited warrantee), which is the best in the industry.
Like all Leupold riflescopes, the moderately priced VX-Freedom line is manufactured in Beaverton, Oregon USA by skilled technicians to the highest standards. The upscale VX-3i, VX-R, VX-5HD and VX-6HD lines offer more features, but all Leupold scopes are equally durable and precisely made. The tubes are CNC machined from 6060-T6 aluminum solid bar stock. We have visited the Leupold factory and it is an amazing process to watch. (See Leupold Factory Tour for more about this.)
This scope features a one inch main tube, Leupold's twilight light management system, 1/4 MOA finger tip windage and elevation adjustments, fully multicoated optics, waterproof, fog proof, shock proof, scratch resistant lenses to military standard extreme abrasion specification and a second focal plane Duplex reticle. The 2018 MSRP is $259.99 ($199.99 retail at Midway USA).
VX-Freedom scopes are focused by turning the ocular bell multiple turns, until it is adjusted for the shooter's eye. There is a lock ring to (hopefully) prevent inadvertent turning.
The zoom ring is very heavily knurled and includes a raised tactile bump. It is marked with the numbers 9 - 6 - 4 - 3 in white and it goes from minimum magnification (3x) to maximum (9x) in slightly over 1/4 turn. Like most Leupold zoom rings, it requires a little more effort to turn than most scopes. The reason is to avoid accidentally changing the zoom setting in the field. What feels fine in the store is often too easily changed in the field.
The fingertip windage and elevation adjustment knobs are convenient and the 1/4 MOA clicks are easy to count. The knobs are protected by screw-on caps, as all hunting scopes adjustments should be. Unfortunately, the scope itself does not come with lens caps, so we purchased a Butler Creek rubber "Scope Bikini."
This scope is easy to look through. The eye relief is good and the eye-box is generous.
The optics are adequately sharp and clear, as you would expect from any $200 riflescope. The edge sharpness is good. Colors are accurately rendered. Distortion is well controlled. The scope can be aimed close to the sun before lens flare becomes evident. (NEVER aim a scope, or any other optical instrument, directly at the sun!)
We consider a 3-9x40mm variable magnification riflescope built on a one inch diameter main tube to be just about ideal for a long range hunting rifle, such as our .257 Wby. Mag. test rifle. Such a scope has a sufficiently wide field of view to be useful for hunting in cluttered terrain, combined with sufficient magnification for shooting at Class 2 animals to beyond the MPBR (+/- 3") of any popular hunting cartridge. More magnification than 9x, or an objective lens larger than 40mm is simply not needed for big game hunting. Mounted low and overbore, the VX-Freedom is light enough to minimize the scope's affect on the rifle's handling and balance.
Like every Leupold we have ever used, the VX-Freedom 3-9x40mm gives good views of the target and the standard Duplex reticle is still the best all-around hunting reticle there is. (Leupold invented the "plex-type" reticle everyone else has copied ever since.) A VX-3i is superior in most respects, but the new VX-Freedom 3-9x40mm is a capable hunting scope, and it is reasonably priced.
Weatherby Test Results
The technicians at Weatherby were kind enough to both chronograph and test several Weatherby factory loads for accuracy at 100 yards for this review while they had our test rifle in hand. This shooting was done on the Weatherby 100 yard indoor range using their Oehler Industrial System chronograph and their bench rest system. After the shooting was completed, they sent us the complete chronograph results, as well as copies of their 100 yard targets.
The Weatherby techs fired three shot groups for record under the following conditions: temperature 72F, humidity 45%, altitude 0 ft., barometric pressure 29.53 in Hg, wind speed 0 MPH. Here are the chronograph results, measured with the first chronograph screen seven feet from the muzzle.
100 grain Barnes TTSX bullet
110 grain Nosler AccuBond bullet
115 grain Nosler Ballistic Tip bullet
120 grain Nosler Partition bullet
Here are the average group sizes from our test rifle, Using Weatherby factory loads, measured at 100 yards (300 feet):
100 grain Barnes TTSX = 0.80 inch
110 grain Nosler AccuBond = 0.60 inch
115 grain Nosler Ballistic Tip = 0.87 inch
120 grain Nosler Partition = 0.99 inch
Despite its very high velocity and flat trajectory, the .257 Weatherby Magnum cartridge does not kick as hard as most magnums. It is actually pleasant to shoot in the Sporter rifle, due to the rifle's approximate 9.4 pound weight with a scope and mounts, which is appropriate for the cartridge. The Monte Carlo comb of the well designed Weatherby stock moves away from the shooter's cheek as the rifle recoils, preventing a rap on the cheek bone. Finally, there is the excellent Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad. The muzzle blast, however, even from a 26 inch barrel, is definitely "magnum force."
Be aware that .257 Weatherby Magnum factory loaded ammunition is expensive, although reloaders can substantially reduce the price per cartridge. For example, as this is written (April 2018), Graf & Sons sells the super premium Weatherby Select Plus 110 grain AccuBond load for a discount price of $82.99 per box of 20, which is $4.21 per round. Nosler Trophy Grade ammunition, also an excellent product using the same bullet, costs $65.99 a box, or $3.30 per round. Hornady 110 grain ELD-X ammo is $43.19 per box, or $2.16 per round.
Like all Weatherby Mark V rifles, the Sporter is not cheap in any sense of the word. However, you get a lot for your money and this newly revised Mark V rifle is the best yet. If you understand the concept of true value for the money, the Weatherby Mark V Sporter is a very good deal. It is a rifle that will last a lifetime and can be handed down to your heirs. With proper care, it will even appreciate in value.
Similarly, Leupold riflescopes provide long term value for the money. The modestly priced VX-Freedom riflescope will stand up to a lifetime of magnum recoil. The Leupold Full Lifetime Guarantee that accompanies all Gold Ring scopes states unequivocally that, "If your riflescope doesn't perform as promised, we will repair or replace it for free, whether you are the original owner or not - forever."
Combine a Weatherby Mark V rifle with a Leupold Gold Ring riflescope and premium Weatherby ammunition and you have an unbeatable combination in a bolt action hunting rifle.
Note: An expanded version of this review, which includes the Guns and Shooting Online staff's shooting results and comments, can be found on the Product Reviews index page.
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