Gun Review: Weatherby Vanguard Carbine

In the world of budget bolt action rifles, there are a few names that immediately spring to mind: Mossberg, Savage, Marlin, and even Remington. You immediately think of hunting stands at dawn and target practice out on the farm. But the name Weatherby typically evokes images of a finer experience, perhaps well dressed gentlemen hunting on the open plains with brandy snifters sitting on the dashboard. There was a time I thought a Weatherby was too fine an instrument for my mediocre shooting abilities. And then I realized that I could own one of their rifles for less than $100 more than I spent on that Mossberg 100 ATR.

The Weatherby brand earned its reputation as a maker of fine sporting rifles starting in 1945, when Roy Weatherby began producing production rifles based on Mauser actions. For the more elite customer, Weatherby offered to custom build guns using whatever action he was provided, so long as it was strong enough to handle the desired load. The modern rifles, however, are built using a proprietary action that Weatherby designed in the 1950s and is still in use today.

Weatherby makes a couple different “classes” of their rifles. At the top of the line are the Mark V series of rifles, which are around the $1,500-$3,000 price range depending on how pretty and how accurate you want it. Those are the rifles Weatherby is known for, their super-accurate precision machines. Their magnum opus, if you will.

Then there’s the Vanguard, which is based on the Howa 1500 rifle and produced in Japan. The standard Vanguard rifle is in the $400-$600 range, putting it in competition with Remington’s 700 rifle as well as Mossberg and Savage’s offerings. For a little bit more dosh, Weatherby has a “Sub-MOA” designation which claims a guaranteed 3-round group from a cold barrel of 1 inch or less at 100 yards. Ben Shotzberger has been playing with one for some time and will be giving a report on it as soon as he gets off his lazy butt and writes it.

The rifle in question is the “Carbine” variant of the Weatherby Vanguard. With a barrel length of only 20 inches it’s the shortest of the Vanguard series, making it much more maneuverable and also a tad lighter than the rest of the pack. In exchange for this portability, the rifle loses a touch of its accuracy. Despite the missing 4 inches of barrel, the rifle is still guaranteed to the same 1.5 MoA minimum accuracy as the rest of the Vanguard line.

Simply holding the rifle in your hands, there are a number of differences between this rifle and the Mossberg 100 ATR or even a similarly priced Remington 700. The first thing you immediately notice is that the rifle is finished in a smooth high-gloss blue, as opposed to the matte finish on the other rifles. This gives the Weatherby a much nicer and sleeker appearance, which I personally find very appealing. Another improvement over the 100 ATR is the existence of a hinged floorplate that allows rounds loaded in a magazine to be removed without having to cycle them through the chamber of the firearm.

The bolt on this gun is what sealed the deal for me. On the Remington 700 or the Mossberg 100 ATR, the bolt is rough. And I mean that not only as in “rough to move,” but also “rough to the touch.” The matte finish combined with the stippling and angular edges makes working the bolt with just the side of your hand a mite bit painful. While most people would simply grab hold of the bolt handle and use that instead, old habits learned with the Penn State Rifle Team die hard (and flipping the bolt open in one fluid motion with the side of my trigger finger just feels so cool). Weatherby’s bolt in comparison is amazingly smooth in both respects, making flipping it using the side of my hand a lot easier. The bolt handle also fees a lot nicer than the Remington or Mossberg offerings, with a more smooth feeling and a classier look in general.

The safety is also pretty nifty. Yes, the safety is getting its own paragraph, deal with it. On most rifles the safety will allow you to cycle the action while engaged. The Weatherby is having none of that, locking the bolt in place when closed or preventing it being closed when open. I thought that was a great feature, something the Mosin Nagant m1891 got right and then was repeated not often enough in firearms designs.

And then we get into the issues.

The nice thing about the Mossberg 100 ATR wasn’t the iron sights (IRON SIGHTS!) or the included scope rails (which were nice, but only about a $10 savings). The nice thing was the factory free-floated barrel. The stock did not touch the barrel, which improves accuracy. The Weatherby Vanguard has no such thing. With the Vanguard, the stock is so flimsy and thin that the weight of the barrel forces the fore end to contact the barrel. I tried relieving some of the material in the front in the hopes that the stock would “man up” and keep its gritty hands off my barrel, but I had no such luck. The stock just warped, contacting the barrel anyway. With closer shots this doesn’t matter so much, but at 1,000 yards the slightest bit of pressure on the barrel can ruin your day.

Another issue I had was with the cheek piece on the stock (see a pattern here?). It put my eyes in perfect position to use iron sights, but the rifle had none. It was designed to be used with a scope. Even using the “low” rings, I had to install a cheek riser to get my eyes on level with a sufficient cheek weld to keep parallax at bay.

The trigger, while certainly nicer in both feeling and pull than my little .22lr rifle, is nowhere near the glass smooth break of the Timney trigger I reviewed a couple of months ago. There is a small amount of stacking present in the pull, which is slightly annoying. And by “slightly annoying” I mean “close to maddening.” Nothing ruins a good gun like a bad trigger, but I get the feeling that the stack will eventually go away with time as I use the gun.

Long story short, the stock is awful and the trigger is “meh.” But how does it shoot? Does it live up to its 1.5 MoA guarantee? Can its accuracy make up for the amazingly horrible stock?

We (myself and Nate, contributor at The Firearm Blog) brought it out to the Clark’s Brothers range in Warrenton, VA to find out, and were pleasantly surprised.

The innermost circle in that target is exactly 1 inch across. Placed at 50 yards, the Weatherby Vanguard maintained a most decidedly sub 1.5 MOA group for about five rounds. The 9 o’ clock and 6 o’ clock rounds I’m going to attribute to Nate (and Nate will in turn complain in the comments that it was my crappy shooting), but I’m pretty sure that one of us pulled those rounds and the rifle isn’t to blame. It’s not the one ragged hole that I would like to see, but it’s certainly a far sight better than the 100 ATR’s grouping.

The Weatherby Vanaguard Carbine seems to be the superior rifle among the “budget” guns. It looks better, shoots straighter, is lighter, and feels better than almost anything else out there. And while it does have some issues, those are readily fixed thanks to the availability of quality aftermarket stocks. If you’re in the market for a good bolt action rifle, this is very definitely a safe bet.

Weatherby Vanguard Carbine

Specifications
Caliber: .308 Winchester (7.62×51 NATO)
Barrel: 20″, 1:12 twist
Size: 40″ overall length
Weight: 6.5 lbs.
Operation: Bolt action
Finish: Glossy blue
(Rifle DOES NOT come with bipod, scope or mounts)
Capacity: 5+1
MSRP: $523 (typically closer to $410 retail)

Ratings (Out of Five Stars)

Accuracy: * * * * *
1.5 MoA out of a non-free-float gun is nothing to sneeze at. Once you get this puppy free floated I wouldn’t be surprised if it gives its Sub-MOA branded brethren a run for their money.

Ergonomics: * * *
The barrel and the action feel perfect, but the stock is far from it. The cheek piece is too low for me, and the plastic just feels tacky on such a nice gun.

Ergonomics Firing: * * * *
Everything feels right with the recoil, but the trigger leaves a little to be desired. Not a lot, mind you, but it can still be improved.

Reliability: * * * * *
There aren’t many things to go wrong with a bolt action. The fourth star was restored (compared to the 100 ATR) due to the nice chunky follower and the floorplate in the magazine.

Customization: * * * * *
Swivel studs are nice and in place, there are TONS of aftermarket stocks, and the receiver is drilled for scope mounts.

Overall Rating: * * *
Personally, I would like those 4 inches of barrel back. And a nicer stock. But for what I paid (and thank you Paragon Defense in Charlottesville, VA) it’s a damn fine rifle. EDIT: Knocked down to three stars after the Series 2 came out.

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About Nick Leghorn

Nick Leghorn is a gun nerd living and working in San Antonio, Texas. In his free time, he's a competition shooter (USPSA, 3-gun and NRA High Power), aspiring pilot, and enjoys mixing statistics and science with firearms. Now on sale: Getting Started with Firearms by yours truly!

15 Responses to Gun Review: Weatherby Vanguard Carbine

  1. avatarBenjamin T. Shotzberger says:

    If the 14+ hour day job (yay for commuting to D.C. :-\) defines laziness, then yes – I’m a lazy turd. In fact, I’m up there with the laziest :-).

    All modifications from the last time we took the sub-MOA out have been made, I just need to get her back out for the final round of shooting.

    Nice rifle; defintely on board with your assessment of the plastic – ohh what a difference some walnut would make!

  2. avatarJoe Grine says:

    For approximately $400.00, the T/C Venture has an MOA guarentee. I have not shot the Venture, but I have been very impressed with its sibling, the Icon. (Shameless plug to follow:)
    http://thetruthaboutguns.com/2011/06/joe-grine/gun-review-thompsoncenter-icon/
    Since the Venture shares most of the basic design and uses the same barrel, I’ll be willing to bet that the Venture would make short work of the competition.

  3. avatarAaron says:

    The image at the top made me think: “QOTD: Are foreclosed homes an ideal ‘hide’ for a suburban sniper?”

    • The word I would use to describe my apartment is “Spartan.” I mean, who really needs a table?

      • avatarAaron says:

        Ah…my decor style is pretty minimalistic, too. I’ve had friends come over and ask me “OK, so when are you REALLY moving in?”
        In any event, that was just my sense of dark humor kicking in, no offense of any sort was intended.

        • And no offense was detected.

          The internet needs colors or something. Green for “humorous follow-up to your good natured comment which I enjoyed greatly” and red for “I’m so enraged I am going to punch a kitten in the face.” Or something.

        • avatarAaron says:

          Sounds good to me… perhaps we could base the “internet comment demeanor measurement scheme” on the Department of Homeland Security’s Threat Level colors, since we all know how well that worked… :)
          I almost bought a Weatherby bolt-action gently used…. the guy only hunted with it a couple of times and never really took it to the range. Had an awesome scope… he only wanted like $375 for everything, but I balked because the action was left-handed…

  4. avatarMALTHUS says:

    My Weatherby Fiberguard is the same rifle, but with a fiberglass McMillan stock. I had to have a Timney installed to get a 3-position safety and a crisp 2.5# trigger, but the end result is highly satisfactory.

    With a 2.5×8 Leupold scope and “cobra” sling, the ensemble weights right at 8 pounds. I can carry it all day in broken terrain without fatigue. The 20 barrel is a nice compromise between good handling qualities in brushy undergrowth and adequate velocity for the occasional long shot along a powerline right of way.

    The bolt operates smoothly without binding, which is not always the case with some other carbine-length rifles I have handled. Considering the reasonable cost, this is one of the best values on the market.

  5. avatarnodland762 says:

    Ha so glad my grandfather gave me his custom weatherly 7mm magnum but it doesn’t look custom until you shoot it he just got the bare essentials for a rifle on the outside and put a 1/4 moa rifle on the inside

  6. Savage is still a great value for a bolt action.

  7. avatarMagoo says:

    Solid review, thanks.

    Too bad about the stock. Mfg’ers have tough choices at the bottom of the price range that can make or break a product.

  8. avatarCavScout says:

    The Savage “Precision Carbine” just flat stomps this Weatherby! AccuStock, AccuTrigger, 20″ Free Floated, Target Crowned barrel and that short Savage Action make this THE .308Win Carbine to own. (Not to mention the sub-MOA accuracy!) I have nothing against Weatherby mind you, they make a great, beautiful, reliable, accurate rifle, but if you want the best carbine out there in this class it’s name is Savage.

  9. avatardls56 says:

    Good write-up.
    As luck would have it I also own a Weatherby Vanguard. Mine is a Sporter (wood stock) in 270. I encountered much of what you did with my rifle. The barrel was touching intentional pressure points built into the stock (that isn’t going to get it, a wood stock hunting in any weather and expecting great accuracy) easy fix I free-floated the barrel and sealed the stock.
    Then off to the gunsmith it went. Trigger job (it’s really nice now), Also had him take 2″ off the 24″ barrel and cut a target crown for it.
    Now it’s my turn again, developed a load using a 140 grain bullet and about in the center of its powerbelt it shoots sub MOA groups. It sports a 3x9x40 Zeiss Conquest in Warne mounts and rings.
    As I look across the room at a 10 point I took with one good shot using my homespun longish-carbine Vanguard it makes me smile and revel in the fact that even after paying for the work to be done I’m still way ahead, because it would cost some bucks to buy a comparable rifle. The smooth action for a rifle in this price range with an excellent lock-up (Howa has a good action) is a big part of why I invested in her and it paid off. Best wishes.

  10. avatarSTT says:

    Please advise for the rifle stock Weatherby Vanguard Carbine:(a better alternative to the factory)

  11. I AM VERY IMPRESSSED WITH MY NEW VANGUARD SERIES 2 IN 25/06. ZEROED THEN SHOT A BENCH GROPE OF(.257″) THIS S WITH A LEUPOLD 31/2X10X40 VX3 MY FAVORITE SCOPE FOR HUNTING IN THE SOUTHEAST. (100 YD 3 SHOT)

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