Bruce Potts tries a Vanguard Series 2 Range Certified rifle based on the Japanese Howa action, which has stood the test of time
The Vanguard series of rifles from Weatherby offers shooters the chance of owning the Weatherby name in a good-quality but less expensive rifle. The Vanguard is basically a Howa barrelled-action rifle from Japan that has been rebadged. There is nothing wrong with this, as I remember having the same Howa action in an old Smith & Wesson 1500 rifle at least 40 years ago.
Time-proven design with modern upgrades
What you have is a well-made, time-proven design with modern upgrades such as a match-grade trigger, high-grade synthetic stock and tough exterior finish. The Vanguard is available in a Sporter-type trim for stalking rather than sitting and is offered in an array of cartridges from varmint to deer calibres.
Need to know
Manufacturer: Weatherby (made in Japan)
Type: Bolt action
Model: Vanguard Range Certified
Stock: Bell and Carlson synthetic, green/black spider web
Barrel: 24in, threaded ½in UNF
Overall length: 43.75in
Sights: N/A, drilled and tapped for scope mount
Trigger: Two-stage adjustable for weight
Safety: Three-position lever
UK supplier: Sportsman Gun Centre, tel 01392 354854
New Range Certified model Vanguard
This Vanguard Series 2 rifle is the new Range Certified model that comes with a certificate proving the rifle’s accuracy downrange. At just over £1,000 it is becoming more expensive due to the poor exchange rate, but as a Weatherby rifle it offers good value for money and all the Vanguards I have used shoot well.
What I love about Japanese rifles is that there are no surprises — you get well-engineered, high-grade metals and good-fitting components. This all adds up to a well-constructed and reliable rifle that will take the strain of real-world stalking duties.
However, that does not mean the rifle has to be ugly, and the Vanguard is not. In fact, it is a very streamlined rifle of lighter profiled Sporter pedigree for walking and stalking. It has that reassuring heft from all-metal parts and a premium-grade synthetic stock.
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- The stock is an upgrade from the norm and better than most, as it is sourced from Bell and Carlson — a long-standing, premium manufacturer in the US for synthetic stocks.
- This stock is visually very good as it has that Weatherby-type flair with a high comb cheekpiece and long slender fore-end.
- The cheekpiece is well defined and quite high for correct eye relief and alignment to the scope, and with no cast the stock can be used left-handed quite easily.
- There is no chequering, but you do not need it as the surface of the stock is of a crinkled texture that has a matt-painted finish with a dark-green background and a black spiderweb accent. It is one of my favourite finishes and looks superb.
- The whole stock is made from layered Kevlar that is super-strong and light. You therefore have a strong non-flexible stock that adds little to the overall weight of the rifle.
- To further enhance the stock there are aluminium bedding pillars to the stock screws to stop compression of the stock.
- There is also some bedding compound that engages the integral bedding lug on the underside of the action to ensure a union of stock and action. This ensures a stock fit that will not shift in adverse weather conditions.
Barrel and action
- The overall finish to the barrel and action is uniform, with a satin blued steel that looks good and does a fine job of subduing the otherwise shiny metal parts.
- The barrel is 24in and has a slender profile equating to a Number 2 profile with a muzzle diameter of 0.625in and swamped taper from the receiver ring.
- The muzzle is threaded for a ½in UNF thread for moderator attachment and interestingly the barrel is not fully free-floated from the stock, having a distinct pressure point at the tip of the fore-end.
- In .243 Winchester chambering you have a 1-in-10in rifling twist rate and six grooves, so it is good for bullets up to 100-gr and it is cold-hammer forged for longevity.
The barrel is only as good as the action it is attached to. The Vanguard uses a fairly standard action format of 90° bolt-lift and twin-locking-lug arrangement. The action is engineered from a single piece of billet steel with tubular form, and the action top is drilled and tapped for scope mounts. I used a one-piece 6in Weaver-type rail, so it is good for both a scope or night-vision device.
The bolt has a fluted profile to reduce binding in operation because it reduces friction, and the bolt head is similar to a Remington action’s “three rings of steel”. This ensures the action has a solid lock-up and the head of the cartridge is enveloped in the recessed bolt face, barrel then receiver ring. To ensure a positive extraction there is a recessed M16-type long-length claw with a sprung plunger-type ejector. On a push-round bolt-action system, this extractor grips the rim of the case well for reliable cycling.
Trigger and safety
I like a single-stage trigger, but this two-stage Vanguard model is user-friendly and adjustable. You have a clean first take-up and then a crisp second-stage release at 3.25lb. There is a standard lever-type safety, but with three positions: fire; safety on but bolt operates in the mid position; and fully rearward for safety on and locking the bolt.
To the bench
Accuracy with this rifle is pretty much guaranteed, as you get a Range Certificate proving the Vanguard’s capabilities — hence the name. Less than 1in groups at 100 yards are guaranteed for a three-shot group with premium ammunition. I fitted an older Swarovski target scope that I use for long-range hooded crows and a super-quiet MAE Scout moderator.
- I used three typical .243 factory loads that span the bullet weights likely to be shot in the Weatherby.
- The Geco 105-gr bullet is a quality round and makes the Weatherby deer-legal in Scotland for large-species deer.
- I had a velocity of 2,958fps for 2,041ft/lb energy, with groups of three shots averaging 0.5in, which was a good start.
- Lighter bullets in the mid-weight range were the Hornady 75-gr SST and Winchester 80-gr SP that shot 3,355fps for 1,875ft/lb and 3,299fps for 1,934ft/lb respectively.
- Accuracy was amazing from the Hornady with groups of 0.35in.
- Similarly, the Winchester shot consistent 0.75in groups.
- With this factory ammunition shooting superb groups, it would be hard to improve with reloads but I did have success. A lighter-weight Nosler Ballistic Tip 55-gr bullet for fox or vermin duties shot a velocity of 3,786fps and 1,751ft/lb energy with 1in groups, with a load of 47.5 grains of RL17 powder.
- In addition, the 100-gr Sierra GameKing with a load of 43.5 grains of H4350 powder shot well at 0.75in at 100 yards, with a velocity of 2,881fps and 1,844ft/lb energy.
- An 80-gr Hornady Soft Point with 48.5 grains of RL19 powder achieved 3,321fps for 1,960ft/lb energy and 0.65in groups.
In the field
With the Vanguard shooting so well with the Hornady 75-gr SST loads, I reluctantly had to admit defeat with my reloads. I had been on a Chinese water deer stalk that yielded three bucks, so does were now on the cull list. I fitted a sling and even with the MAE moderator and scope, the Weatherby handled well. You could shoot off a bipod, freehand or using sticks.
After a few blank fields and endless viewing of hedgerows, a small Chinese water deer doe came slowly through one of the many “deer tunnels” in the hedge. She stopped 250 yards away and though the Vanguard would be capable of the shot I wanted to close the difference and make sure I had rising ground behind her.
I dropped to my knees, crawled and closed the gap to 150 yards. Now the wind was turning in the Chinese water deer’s favour. I quickly found a convenient fence to rest the TDS reticle on the doe’s heart/lung area. I took up the first pressure on the trigger and when her head went down to feed the second pressure sent the 75-gr SST bullet to its mark.
This Weatherby Vanguard shoots well and makes for a rifle to use confidently in the field.
The Vanguard in any guise is always a nice rifle to shoot as it holds no surprises and its long pedigree has further enhanced its performance, especially with this Range Certified model. The groups with factory ammunition were amazing and I would not need to reload for this gun. The rifle is very solidly built but possesses the elegance and balance that is missing on many a new rifle these days.
Accuracy: Does exactly what it says on the tin, sub-1in at 100 yards for three shots with premium ammunition. 18/20
Handling: Good handling and weight distribution, even with a scope and moderator fitted. 17/20
Trigger: Nice two-stage trigger with adjustable capability. 17/20
Stock: Very well made and designed for all weathers. 18/20
Value: Good value still, despite the price creeping up. 18/20
A well-made, time-proven design with modern upgrades