Weatherby Vanguard Series 2 Synthetic Review

Weatherby Vanguard Series 2 Synthetic Review

Dreams do come true. I have dreamt of owning a .257 Weatherby rifle from the first time I learned of the cartridge back when I was a teenager. It's been almost 35 years, but now I have one! And it's a genuine Weatherby to boot. I'm not going to go into the reasons why I waited so long, but I'll just say things were never just quite right for me to buy one.

My new rifle is the Weatherby Vanguard Series 2 Synthetic that came out in 2012, and it has a bunch of great features. Before I get to them, I'll just mention that last year when Shooting Times conducted a multiple- sample budget bolt-action rifle shootout, Weatherby's Vanguard scored very highly among the six value-priced, synthetic-stocked bolt actions. Weatherby has made some changes to the Vanguard (hence the name change to Vanguard Series 2), but it still offers a lot of quality at a very reasonable price.

The Rifle

The Series 2 moniker refers to the new two-stage trigger that Weatherby designers came up with and have featured in all the Van- guard rifles going forward. Roger Whitchurch, Weatherby's quality control inspector, had a lot to do with the new trigger's design, and he told me Weatherby went with the two-stage trigger for safety reasons.

The new trigger is adjustable down to a pull weight of 2.5 pounds. My rifle's trigger pull measures a consis- tent 3.35 pounds, and that is light enough for my purposes, so I left it as it came from the factory.

Other nice features of the new Series 2 Vanguard include a 24-inch, cold hammer forged barrel and a new-style stock with Griptonite no-slip inserts and low-density, soft-rubber recoil pad. The action uses Weatherby's "three rings of steel" lock-up (the cartridge's case head is surrounded by the boltface, which is ringed by the barrel, which is surrounded by the machined steel receiver), and the bolt has a fluted body. There are also a cocking indicator, a three-position safety, and a hinged floorplate. The Vanguard Series 2 Synthetic is chambered for Magnum rounds, and it's also available in "standard" cartridges, in a total of 16 available chamberings. Magazine capacity is three rounds for Magnum cartridges and five for standard cartridges.

There are several variations of the Vanguard Series 2, which include the Synthetic Package, Synthetic Combo, Synthetic Youth, Carbine, Varmint Special, Synthetic DBM, Stainless Synthetic, Sporter, Sporter DBM, Deluxe, RC (Range Certi- fied), and RC Varmint.

The Cartridge

Roy Weatherby developed this big, belted .257 in 1944, and it was reportedly his favorite of the several Magnum cartridges that he designed. According to legend, he used the snappy .257 successfully on game as large as moose, elk, and Cape buffalo. In addition, according to my research, hunters of days gone by used the .257 Weatherby to down brown bears and polar bears. I don't think anyone should try to do that today because we have so many other cartridges specifically suited to hunting those dangerous game species, but the .257 Weatherby certainly has what it takes to hunt big game up to and including moose.

Three critical aspects of any rifle cartridge are recoil, trajectory, and energy. The recoil of a .257 Weath- erby rifle is the same as or slightly less than that of a rifle in .270 Winchester when rifle weights are the same, indicating that anyone who can handle the recoil of a rifle in .270 Winchester can also handle the recoil of a rifle in .257 Weatherby. As for trajectory, the .257 Weatherby is as flat-shooting as they come. For example, when a 100-grain bullet leaves the muzzle at 3,500 fps and is zeroed 3 inches high at 100 yards, it is about 4 inches above point of aim at 200 yards, a couple of inches high at 300 yards, and only about 6 inches low at 400 yards. And the .257 Weatherby delivers more than enough energy to drop deer-size game as far away as any of us should attempt. The accepted level of energy for quick, clean kills on deer is 1,000 ft-lbs, and the .257 Weatherby has that all the way out to 600 yards. That's beyond my self-imposed limit of 300 to 400 yards depending on the situation, and inside 400 yards the .257's energy ranges from 1,400 to 1,600 ft-lbs depending on the bullet weight.

Speaking of bullet weight, factory- loaded .257 Weatherby ammo is available with everything from 80-grain Barnes TTSXs to 120-grain Nosler Partitions. And Hornady offers a new 90-grain GMX loading of the speedy .257 Weatherby. Roy Weatherby's favorite bullet weight was 100 grains, and today you can get factory-loaded ammo with spitzer, softpoint, Barnes TSX, and Nosler AccuBond bullets in that weight. You can also have 115-grain Ballistic Tips and 117-grain expand- ing roundnoses. Generally speaking, the 100-grain loads are good choices for smaller whitetails and pronghorn antelope. The 120-grain Partition loading is a good selection for caribou, elk, and moose, and it's also a fine choice for a do-all loading in the .257, at least according to one hunter I know who has done a lot of hunting with the cartridge.

According to my friend, noted Shooting Times Executive Field Editor Layne Simpson, the .257 Weatherby shoots flat, hits hard, generates a level of recoil easily tolerated by most hunters, and is inherently accurate. He considers it to be the most useful cartridge in the Weatherby stable and calls it the finest factory antelope cartridge ever created by the hands of mortal man. And he should know based on his extensive use of the cartridge in the hunting fields.

At the Range

The Vanguard Series 2 comes from the factory with a 0.99-inch accuracy guarantee. Specifically, the company says, "Weatherby Van- guard Series 2 rifles are guaranteed to shoot a three-shot group of 0.99 inch or less at 100 yards (sub-MOA) when used with specified Weatherby factory or premium ammunition."

My rifle came with two test targets confirming that it did achieve that sub-MOA grouping ability with Weatherby 100-grain TSX ammunition. Those three- shot groups measured 0.83 and 0.73 inch, respectively. But I did my own accuracy evaluation using four factory loads: Hornady's 90-grain GMX loading, Weatherby's 100-grain TSX, Weatherby's 115-grain Ballistic Tip, and Weatherby's 120-grain Partition.

I also had a box of vintage Weatherby 117-grain UltraVelocity softpoint ammo that I purchased at a gun show long before I acquired the rifle. (In fact, I've had that box of ammo for about 30 years, and I haven't lost it during seven moves.) What can I say, buying ammo for a gun I didn't even own? Well, I've done sillier things. Anyway, I had intended on shooting that box, too, in order make a nice round number of five loads fired, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. It's just too cool. And besides, I learned that early .257 Weatherby rifles often had a 1:12 twist rate as opposed to today's more common 1:10 twist, and the 117-grain loading is more appropriate for guns with that older twist rate. If you happen to have a .257 Weatherby rifle built before 1964, you probably have the older, slower twist. Anyway, I'm just going to keep that vintage box of ammo right here on my desk in front me as a reminder that good things do come to those who wait.

As for my accuracy results, the chart gives the pertinent details. I fired both three-shot and five-shot groups, five each for each loading. I did the three-shot groups to verify Weatherby's accuracy guarantee, and I fired five-shot groups for my own satisfaction.

Overall, the 115-grain Ballistic Tip loading turned in the best average group accuracy at 1.21 inches, but the 100-grain TSX load was just 0.04 inch bigger. My best single three-shot group measured 0.75 inch and came with the 120-grain Partition load. Again, the 100-grain TSX came really close with a 0.77-inch best three-shot group. My best five- shot group came with the 115-grain loading and measured exactly 1.00 inch. Combined average accuracy for all four loadings was 1.42 inches.

In the Field

Range testing is one thing, and it's an important thing, but what attracted me to the .257 Weatherby so many years ago was its purported hunting performance. I wanted it because it was billed as being extremely flat shooting and packing a real punch on game at all kinds of distances. So I jumped at the chance to use it on a pronghorn antelope and mule deer hunt last October with the good people of the Tillard 55 Ranch outside of Glenrock, Wyoming.

My guide Marty and his son Casey have been guiding pronghorn antelope and mule deer hunts for a long time, and they treated my companions and me right. Also on the hunt were Mike Schwiebert and Tim Frampton of Weatherby, John Cunningham and Kevin Robison (both Weatherby sales reps), and Paul Orand and Mike McCune (both Weatherby sweepstakes winners).

I had decided to use the 100-grain TSX loading for both animals that I would be hunting because it was the most accurate ammo in my rifle according to the factory, because the bullet has a good ballistic coefficient of .420, and because the loading generates an impressive 2,731 ft-lbs of energy at the muzzle (1,725 at 300 yards), which would be more than adequate for my quarry.

And the rifle/ammo combo did the job quite nicely. My first animal to fall to it was a mule deer buck that I dropped in its tracks at 288 yards. My shot was high, and I spined the buck, but he went down immediately. The next day I shot a very respectable 14-plus-inch prong- horn at 257 yards. That's some symmetry — using the .257 Weatherby to drop a good pronghorn at 257 yards. Both distances were ranged with laser rangefinders and confirmed by my hunting guide.

I'm not going to say that my life is now complete owning my long- awaited .257 Weatherby rifle, but I will say it is one step closer to being complete. Waiting for something to come to be when the conditions are just right is very satisfying.

Standard chamberings start at $549 retail, and Magnum rifles start at $599. At those prices the Van- guard Series 2 Synthetic is a very affordable high-performance rifle with a lot of great features, including the sub-MOA accuracy guarantee. And the .257 Weatherby cartridge has lived up to its reputation for me so far. I think this one just might be my new go-to rifle for hunting every- thing from coyotes to caribou.

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