Weatherby Vanguard Series 2 Review

The Weatherby Vanguard Series 2 rifle has much to recommend it to Aussie shooters in terms of style and functionality.  It also comes with an MOA guarantee and a competitive price.  The rifle is well built and comes in a comprehensive range of calibres, including the sizzling 257 Weatherby Magnum.

Weatherby-Vanguard-Series-2

Weatherby Vanguard Series 2

A favourite campfire topic of mine is what would be your choice of calibre if you were limited to a single rifle.  That is always good for some robust debate amongst hunting buddies and the resulting discussion always brings out some interesting points.  Quite often the train of logic leads inexorably to the 257 Weatherby Magnum.  However, despite that, it is not a well known choice amongst Aussie shooters.

Legend has it that even Roy Weatherby himself considered the 257 Weatherby Magnum his favourite from the stable of hot magnum calibres he introduced.  That is understandable.  The 257 Weatherby Magnum is the flattest shooting of all the Weatherby magnums.  It is just about the flattest shooting commercial cartridge in the world, in fact.

The-speedsters-of-commercial-rifle-calibres

The speedsters of commercial rifle calibres

Nioa Trading provided for review a Weatherby Vanguard S2, synthetic stock and blued metal, in 257 Weatherby Magnum, along with a supply of factory ammo, cases, dies and projectiles to enable thorough range and field testing.  Given the extra long legs of this speedster, the rifle was appropriately scoped as well with a Leupold  VX-3L 4.5-14×50 CDS.

The Rifle

Buck naked, that is without scope, fittings, ammo or sling, the Weatherby Vanguard S2 weighed 3.4 kilograms and is 1130 mm in length.  This barrel is of a slimline sporter profile and the stock is synthetic.

The Weatherby Vanguard S2 is offered in a range of standard calibres, from 223 Rem to 375 H&H, as well as a selection of the famous Weatherby Magnum calibres.

The Barrel

The sporter weight barrel (#2 contour) of the Vanguard is of cold hammer-forged steel.  From bolt face to crown is 24.0 inches.  The rate of twist for the 257 Weatherby Magnum was one turn in ten inches.

Receiver and Bolt

The Vanguard bolt features a 90 degree lift.  The bolt is fluted which adds to the visual appeal while saving a smidgen of weight.  Two large opposed locking lugs and a generous sized and strong claw extractor are manifest at the business end of the bolt.  Extraction of fired cases is emphatic.  The bolt face is recessed within a surrounding shroud; a feature that adds another layer of protective strength and provides one of the ‘three rings of steel’ incorporated in the Vanguard design.  The bolt also has three vent escape holes to direct any hot gasses resulting from a blown primer.  A distinctive cocking indicator is prominent at the rear bottom of the bolt.  The bolt cycles smoothly in operation.

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Weatherby Vanguard shrouded rifle bolt

The receiver is machined from a one-piece forged block of steel.  The hinged one-piece floorplate is of aluminium finished to the same matte black texture as the barrel and receiver.  The floorplate release is situated in the front of the trigger guard.  The magazine well holds three cartridges.  On the left side, opposite the safety, is the bolt release.

When I reassembled the rifle I took care to correctly tighten the action screws as per Weatherby’s directions.  For the Vanguard’s synthetic stock that meant tightening the screws in stages to a final torque of 35 inch-pounds, rear screw first then the front.  Keeping the rifle pointed vertically, I pulled down on the barrel to ensure that recoil lug was in firm contact with the stock as I tightened the action screws.

Trigger and Safety

The trigger on the Vanguard is match quality two stage and adjustable to a nominal minimum of about two and half pounds.  As received, the trigger pull was a shade less than three pounds.  The action needs to be removed to access the trigger pull adjustment screw.  While I had the rifle in pieces I also adjusted the trigger down to its minimum setting.  I tested that with my trigger pull gauge and found a consistent 21/4 pound weight of pull.  Not only that, but it was a lovely crisp break as well.  I have had aftermarket triggers fitted to custom rifles that were not as good.

On the right hand side is a three position safety.  Pulled to the rear the safety locks both bolt and trigger; midway blocks the trigger only so that the bolt can be cycled; forward is fire position.  The safety was positive and definite, without being in any way hard to actuate.

The Stock

The synthetic stock is of a grey colour with inserts of a charcoal coloured material on the pistol grip and fore end.  I thought the colours were unobtrusive but stylish.  Weatherby call these grip inserts Griptonite and they certainly do provide a firm hold of the rifle.  That would be particularly so in wet conditions.  The pistol grip also features some palm swell, something not generally seen on production rifles, and which always adds greatly to the feel and comfortable shooting of a rifle.

The high, forward sloping comb of the Monte Carlo is typical of Weatherby magnum rifles and ensures that there is no jolt to the cheek bone of the shooter when a magnum cartridge is fired.  Metal to stock fit was very good.  In fact, the stock was flush with the barrel over the full length.  In a wooden stock, where the barrel is customarily floated to avoid any varying pressure points arising from the wood moving with humidity, that would be a potential problem.  In a firearm mounted into a sturdy synthetic stock there is of course no such issue.

The internal structure of the stock is ribbed for greater strength without sacrificing any weight benefits.  The recoil lug fits snugly against a large, flat, bearing surface within the stock.  Clearly, the stock is designed to be rigid and take the substantial recoil of magnum calibres squarely on the recoil lug, as it should be.

The stock is finished off with a thick, soft recoil pad which would take the sting out of the largest of the big-kicking magnum calibres.  I found the 135/8 inch length of pull and slight drop at heel to be a comfortable fit for my frame and style of shooting, both off the bench and in the field.  QD swivel studs are mounted fore and aft.

The Scope

Nioa provided a Leupold   Leupold VX-3L 4.5-14×50 CDS.  Given that the 257 Weatherby Magnum is one of the flattest shooting commercial calibres it made sense to opt for more powerful optics to make use of that long range potential.  The scope also featured Leupold’s CDS turret where Leupold will provide a custom made ballistic turret specific to the ballistics of the cartridge and projectile you are using.  The CDS custom turret is a free service to buyers of Leupold CDS scopes.

The big Leupold featured the unique and eye-catching recess in the 50mm front objective lens which allows the scope to be fitted in low rise mounts.  The low mounting of a rifle scope improves shooter comfort and improves target acquisition.

In mounting a scope to a rifle I always use a dab of Loctite on mount and ring screws, but that was not necessary this time.  The screws provided with the Leupold mounts and rings already had a dab of Nylok on them.

MOA Guarantee with Factory Ammo

The Vanguard comes with an MOA guarantee.  That is, using Weatherby ammunition, and a rifle with a clean cold barrel, you can expect to put three shots into MOA.  Given that the rifle was a brand new loner, and chambered for a cartridge of scorching ballistics, I determined to shoot the barrel in properly.  That meant thoroughly cleaning after each shot for the first twenty rounds through the rifle.  After a bore sighting and couple of shots I was on paper at 100 metres, a bit under two inches above point of aim at 100 metres.

The factory ammo was Weatherby’s loading of the 100 grain Norma spitzer.  My chronograph told me that these were leaving the 24 inch barrel of the Vanguard at 3,350 feet per second.  The next three shots produced an MOA group, as guaranteed by Weatherby.  That was a great start, getting such accuracy with factory ammo.  I was pleased; within six shots I had zeroed the rifle and proven its accuracy potential.  Best of all I had plenty of factory ammo left for hunting.

weatherby-factory-ammo-produced-MOA

Weatherby factory ammo shot MOA

The appeal of the 257 Weatherby is its extremely high velocities.  The 80 factory loading is capable of 3,870 fps from 26 inch barrel.  Handloaders can expect to push the lightest 75 grain projectile a bit past 3,900 fps.  This sort of performance, particularly for the larger .257 calibre, makes it a ferocious varmint rifle.  By the same token, when loaded with heavy for calibre projectiles of 120 grains, the 257 Weatherby sits between the 30-06 and 308 in regard to delivered energy.  The flat trajectory, inherent accuracy and projectile energy make the 257 Weatherby Magnum a wonderful choice for deer and boar.

Off the Bench

The rifle proved to be one of the most comfortable rifles to shoot off the bench.  With the high raked comb of the pronounced Monte Carlo cheek piece, typical of Weatherby rifles, the low mounting of the big Leupold scope, appropriate length of pull, palm swell and Griptonite inserts the rifle was a well-tamed pussycat.  Not that the 257 Weatherby Magnum is much of kicker; its recoil is pretty much between that of a 308 and a 30-06.  The good features of the stock design really soak up that recoil to a great extent.

energy-levels-of-well-known-rifle-calibres

energy levels of well known rifle calibres

When I opened the box of Nosler brass I had my reaming and chamfering tools at hand.  But, I did not need them.  The Nosler cases came as standard with case mouths and flash holes chamfered and deburred.  They are also weight sorted and visually inspected.  So, it was straight on to the reloading.  I had read numerous references to Alliance Reloader powder as being consistently the most accurate and delivering full velocity in the 257 Weatherby Magnum.  After calling all the shops in the region I eventually tracked down the last container of RL25.

I prepared a few different batches using recommended starting charges of Reloader 25 set off with Federal 215 magnum primers.  I was using Nosler 100 grain Partitions and Nosler 110 grain Accubonds.  I miked the case belt before and after each shot, as I had done with the factory ammo as a point of reference.  There were no signs of undue pressure.  The Partitions had grouped a smidge under MOA and were leaving the barrel at 3,190 fps.  With room to increase the powder charge by another 2 to 3 grains I left the range feeling quite pleased with the rifle and its potential.

In follow up range sessions I tried a variety of projectiles and propellants.  All produced acceptable results.  I settled on the Nosler 100 grain Partition projectile, loaded over the maximum charge of 75.0 grains of Reloader 25.  That produced sub MOA accuracy and a muzzle velocity of 3,390 fps.

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100 gr Nosler Partitions delivered MOA in the 257 Weatherby Magnum

In the Field

A day or so after sighting the rifle at the local SSAA range I got a call from a local dairy farmer.  He was suffering the predations of wild dogs on his cattle and calves.  It was only a short drive from home.  As I was talking to the farmer a couple of black wild dogs appeared on a distant ridge line.  They were making for the carcass of a cow that had recently died.  After some quick directions from the farmer I hiked off through his herd of dairy cows, pushing the inquisitive old girls out of my way.

There was a steady misty drizzle; typical tablelands weather and a good test for the functionality of the rifle.  I was pleased to find that the Griptonite inserts did provide and firm, slip-free hold on the rifle.  I rendezvoused with the dogs as they emerged from a dense patch of rainforest.  One shot with a factory 100 grain Norma softpoint emphatically dropped my target.  The other dog rapidly disappeared back into the dense gloom of the jungle understory.

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Wild dog that fell to the Vanguard in 257 Weatherby Magnum

In the following days I hunted some other nearby dairy farms where pigs and wild dogs are a growing problem.  It was the sort of country that the 257 Weatherby Magnum was made for; big open valleys between rolling ridges of pasture.  Some of the shots on offer were in the 300 to 400 metre range.  The flat shooting Weatherby, teamed with a Leupold rangefinder, was the ideal combination for that sort of hunting.

In Summary

The Weatherby Vanguard S2 rifle is a no-nonsense workhorse of a rifle at a competitive retail price of about $995.  It will have broad appeal to entry level shooters, the agricultural sector and more experienced hunters as well.

With an excellent trigger, smooth functionality and a well designed synthetic stock this rifle is comfortable to shoot in even the heaviest calibre choices and can be expected to be a durable and reliable firearm.

For those seeking the ultimate in long range wild dog control there is nothing that will beat the option of a 257 Weatherby Magnum chambering.  Likewise, for dedicated trophy hunters seeking game at long range, or meat shooters looking for an outstandingly authoritative calibre at closer range, the 257 Weatherby Magnum is a great choice.  Inherently accurate and mild of recoil, it is an amazingly flat shooting calibre that delivers spectacularly instant kills on deer and boar.