Gun Review: Weatherby Vanguard Sub-MOA TRR

A “minute of angle” is a technical term used to describe how far from the point of aim a bullet deviates after being fired, but it can be boiled down to landing your shots within a 1 inch circle. This 1 inch circle at 100 yards is the gold standard for “accurate” rifles, and firearms that can perform this feat are highly prized. Weatherby produces a modified version of their Vanguard line of firearms branded as “SUB-MOA” that claim to be able to accomplish this feat straight out of the box. Naturally we couldn’t let them get away with making untested claims, so they sent us one for testing.

The Vanguard series of Weatherby rifles are the “value” priced firearms, designed to be cheap to pick up while still maintaining their accuracy. I reviewed a Weatherby Vanguard Carbine not too long ago that goes over the strengths and weaknesses of the firearm, and before you go any deeper into this review I suggest you skim that other review. And if you’re on the fence as to reading it the opening line of the next paragraph should convince you.

The Weatherby Vanguard Sub-MOA is nothing more than a standard Weatherby Vanguard rifle with some extra bells and whistles. Everything about the action is identical to the Vanguard Carbine, from the “meh” trigger to the look and feel of the bolt and safety. So if you were buying one of these with the hopes of a better trigger than the “cheap” version you’re out of luck. The only difference between the standard Vanguard series and this one is the stock and the barrel.

Instead of a thin and weight saving barrel the Sub-MOA uses a full thickness 24 inch target profile barrel that barely tapers from the chamber to the muzzle, ending in a precision machined target crown. Heavier barrels means less movement between shots and increased accuracy — in theory, at least.

The other nice thing about the Sub-MOA line is that the stocks allow the barrel to freely float, much unlike the standard Vanguard stock (which is terrible, by the way). This particular rifle is the “TRR” or “Threat Response Rifle” from Weatherby and sports a sleek black fiberglass composite stock which is much more comfortable than the standard plastic stock. It’s still not perfect — the cheek weld still puts your eye just at the top of the barrel — but it’s better than the cheaper rifles.

Pretty features are nice to have, but the real test of this rifle is whether it lives up to its Sub-MOA designation. Weatherby claims the rifle will maintain a sub-MOA 3-round group at 100 yards using factory match ammunition from a cold barrel, so we went out to the Clark Brothers range in Warrenton, VA this past weekend with some Hornaday 165gr SPBT Match ammunition to put the rifle through its paces.

The following target was perforated by loading each round individually, taking careful aim, firing, and then repeating the process immediately. Only enough time to reload and re-sight the rifle was permitted between shots so the rifle was not given the opportunity to fully cool off.

The results were exactly as predicted. The innermost black circle is exactly one MoA at 100 yards, and as you can see the first three rounds landed squarely almost on top of each other. From there things went slightly south — round #4 just barely broke the circle on the top left, then #5 decided to creep farther away and round #6 looks to be making a break for it.

For comparison, this is the first three rounds out of my Weatherby Carbine that same day shot in the exact same manner with my “hunting loads” at 100 yards. The first round is more or less on target (top center), and round #2 is close enough (bottom right), but round #3 is starting to escape. If I sat there and waited for the barrel to completely cool off I could eke out a sub-MOA group, but that takes time.

So what’s the verdict? The rifle definitely lives up to its Sub-MOA moniker, but I don’t know if it’s worth it. The heavier barrel does allow you to fire faster while still maintaining accuracy, but it comes at the cost of added weight and almost double the price of the standard Weatherby Vanguard.

Weatherby is coming out with a new line of Vanguard rifles in 2012 that fix all of the issues I have with these guns and guarantee sub-MOA accuracy from every rifle in the line, thus removing the line between their “cheap” Vanguard series and the sub-MOA series. The rifles will be more expensive ($600ish), but that’s a price point that seems more in line with what the rifles are worth. In short, if you’re thinking of buying one of these brand new from the factory I’d say wait on it until the new line becomes available. But if you’re getting a rocking deal on a used one jump all over that puppy.

Weatherby Vanguard TRR Sub-MOA

Caliber: .308 Winchester (7.62×51 NATO)
Barrel: 24″, 1:12 twist
Operation: Bolt action
Finish: Glossy blue
(Rifle DOES NOT come with bipod, scope or mounts)
Capacity: 5 rounds
MSRP: $1,019

Ratings (Out of Five Stars)
All ratings are relative to other similar products. Overall rating is not mathematically derived from the constituent ratings.

Accuracy: * * * * *
Definitely deserving of the Sub-MOA branding on the floorplate, this rifle maintains less than 1 inch 3-round groups at 100 yards with no problem. 4+ round groups tend to start being an issue unless you take your time with each shot and give the rifle time to cool off.

Ergonomics: * * * *
It’s better than the standard Vanguard series, but still not perfect.

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. This rating is lower than the one I gave for the Vanguard Carbine because I expect a better trigger on a rifle like this.

Reliability: * * * * *
There aren’t many things to go wrong with a bolt action.

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

Overall Rating: * * *
It’s a fine rifle, but for my money I think I’d rather get a standard Vanguard rifle and work on improving that. Which I did, and turned out fantastic. Like I said, the rating is based on a comparison of this rifle to comparable rifles. And compared to the competition there isn’t enough to this rifle to justify the price tag.