6 X 6 With A 7
The elk-busting Weatherby Ultra Lightweight
Mark V in 7mm Weatherby Magnum does the
job with Nosler Partition bullets.
Roy Weatherby was the most influential American designer of hunting rifles in the quarter century after World War Two. He got his start in the firearms business during the war in a Los Angeles suburb, where he re-formed .300 Holland & Holland cases into different cartridges, chambered in custom rifles of what came to be known as the “California” style.
Within a few years Weatherby ammunition was made by Norma in Sweden, and the rifles on various commercial actions in Europe. Norma has made Weatherby ammo ever since, but eventually Roy Weatherby designed his own action, the Mark V, a big push-feed action with multiple locking lugs and a fast lock time. The first Mark Vs were built in Germany by Sauer, but in 1970 manufacturing was moved to Japan. Recent Weatherby Mark V barreled actions are built in Minnesota, then stocked and test-fired in today’s Weatherby headquarters in Paso Robles, Calif., a 3-hour drive north of Roy Weatherby’s first shop.
Some bolt-action purists make fun of push-feed rifles, especially the Mark V in any chambering suitable for “dangerous” game, but they work pretty slickly, thanks to the lugs being smaller in diameter than the bolt body. In fact I know two African professional hunters who’ve used them for years, one carrying a .378 Weatherby Magnum and the other a .460. One excellent Mark V feature found on relatively few bolt-actions today is the safety actually locks the bolt down.
The original Weatherby magnum was the .270, appearing around 1943, but the 7mm Weatherby (the .270 necked up slightly) followed closely. It was the first commercial American 7mm Magnum, and remains one of the best, partly because it fits in a .30-06 length magazine. This was a common design feature with early wildcat and commercial magnums, due to an abundance of cheap 98 Mauser and 1903 Springfield rifles.
Not many shooters build rifles on Springfield actions anymore, but quite a few use 98 Mausers. The 7mm Weatherby is an excellent choice for such rifles, due to the extra-long chamber throat (“freebore”) used in most Weatherby magnums. Slow-burning, progressive powders produce less peak pressure when bullets are started further back from the rifling, so more powder can be burned safely. The 7mm Weatherby has just about the same powder capacity as the 7mm Remington Magnum, but its ballistics match or closely approach larger 7mm magnums, as indicated by the top velocities from handloading data for 160-grain bullets from Norma and Nosler (see chart). They’re not bad for a 70 year old!
Modern handloaders believe seating bullets close to the lands is necessary for the best accuracy, so regard freebore as a subversion of their inalienable right to small groups. However, an extra-long throat slightly above bullet diameter prevents bullets from tilting before entering the rifling, the main reason for seating bullets close to the lands. Recent Weatherby rifles apparently have nice, tight freebores, because I’ve shot several in chamberings from .240 to .300 Weatherby Magnum over the past few years, all grouping well under an inch at 100 yards.
Early in 2012 Tim Frampton, Weatherby’s marketing coordinator, asked if I’d be interested in a horseback elk and deer hunt in Montana about 100 miles from my home. This sounded good, since the older I get any help with dead elk is appreciated.
The Weatherby factory ammo, loaded with the 160-grain Nosler Partition, grouped under
an inch at 100 yards, and actually slightly exceeded the listed muzzle velocity of 3,200 fps.
The Mk V’s 26-inch barrel is fluted to reduce weight yet remain stiff enough to shoot accurately.
Tim asked me to pick out a rifle to use on the hunt, and after a little thought I chose the Mark V Ultra Lightweight in 7mm Weatherby Magnum, the only Weatherby Magnum from .240 to .300 I’d never hunted with. Swarovski was also involved in the hunt, so I mounted my 3-9×36 Z3 in Weatherby steel rings made by Talley. With scope and mounts the rifle weighed a little over 8 pounds, fine for hiking around elk country, especially with preliminary help from a horse. The trigger broke crisply right at 4 pounds, typical of recent Mark V triggers.
I also requested some Weatherby factory loads with the 160-grain Nosler Partition spitzer. Partitions are considered somewhat old-fashioned by many 21st century hunters, since other controlled expansion bullets retain more weight, and many bullets (including Nosler’s AccuBond) have higher ballistic coefficients. But I’ve been shooting Partitions for over 35 years now, and they kill big game animals quite well. (Somehow the killing part of the equation often gets left out when we rate bullets by numbers, whether ballistic coefficient or weight retention.)
The ammo slightly beat the advertised 3,200 fps over my Oehler 35P chronograph, and 3-shot groups averaged under an inch at 100 yards. One interesting aspect of the ULW is the rifling twist of one turn in 10 inches, while most 7mm rifles have a twist around 1:9 inches. The excellent twist program in Brian Litz’s Point Mass Ballistics Solver 2.0, however, indicated a 1:10 will fully stabilize any 7mm hunting bullet at typical elk elevations in the Rockies, as well as ultra-long long target bullets up to 168 grains. It certainly stabilized the 160 Partition nicely.
After measuring the plex reticle in the Z3 against a target with 1-inch gridlines, my calculations indicated that with the scope set on 6X and the rifle sighted to shoot 2 inches high at 100 yards, the tip of the bottom post would provide an aiming point at 500 yards.
After sighting in at 100, I took several shots out to 500, and found the calculations correct.
Early November turned out a little warm for ideal elk hunting, but we were on a big ranch bordered one side by National Forest, and the rifle season had been open for over a week. Elk tend to head for safer country after the first shots are fired, whether further back on public land or to private land with much lighter hunting pressure.
The four hunters in our party (me, Tim, Rob Lancellotti of Swarovski, and fellow gun writer Terry Wieland) were split between Tim Beardsley and Mike Myer of Adventures Outfitting. We all gathered on the ranch the afternoon before the hunt started, spending the little time before dark in making sure the rifles were sighted-in. Rob and I were guided by Tim Beardsley, and rode out of the creek-bottom ranch corrals just as gray light filtered over the mountains in front of us. At first we rode along a pickup track, but as the light brightened to legal, Tim veered off over a series of ridges, each higher than the last. Before crossing each ridge we stopped and dismounted, easing up to the ridge-top on foot and glassing carefully, seeing a few mule deer but none with antlers.
We topped out on the highest ridge as the sun came over the horizon, and glassed from a sandstone outcropping across a canyon with a small creek winding along its bottom. The other side of the canyon was the north-facing slope of a wide mountain, covered by dark conifers and a few patches of white-trunked quaking aspen except for a mile-long meadow on the very top.
Meadows are known in the Rockies as “parks,” and their grass attracts elk. As we sat on the cool sandstone with our elbows on our knees and Swarovski binoculars at our eyes, we saw some elk trot into the tan grass on the far side of the park, then stop to graze. We took turns looking through a spotting scope, finding clusters of elk all around the irregular edges of the park, including several bulls with antlers rising 3 feet or more above their heads.
After making sure no elk fed along the creek below, we saddled up and rode into the canyon and then up into the dark timber. When within about a 1/2-mile of the park, we tied the horses in the shade and started uphill on foot, a light breeze in our faces, stopping behind every patch of timber to look for elk.
Soon two bull elk, each with six tines on both antlers, appeared across a hillside ahead of us, moving left through light timber. The range was over 600 yards, so we moved uphill through some trees to the upper edge of the timber. The range was now right around 500, but on the steep slope there was no way to hold steadily enough, even with shooting sticks. The bulls moved on around the curve of the mountain, so we turned toward the park again, in a few minutes easing up to the lower edge.
The park wasn’t nearly as level as it appeared from a mile away, with gentle ridges rising and falling in every direction. We couldn’t see much more than 200 yards, but a line of light timber followed a shallow drainage into the park. We sneaked through the trees, glassing constantly, after a few hundred yards nearing the far side of the park. We were standing among three trees when I looked to the left and, over a slight rise, saw the moving heads of three bull elk, perhaps 250 yards away. Every few seconds the antlers disappeared as the bulls dropped their heads to feed, and sometimes the very tops of their backs appeared. We’d decided I’d get first shot, so I bent over and started duck-walking toward the rise.
After a few steps I had to go down on my hands and knees, and eventually sank to my belly and crawled like a lizard, pushing the rifle ahead of me on the ground before slithering another foot or two. Soon I could see the bodies of all three bulls, and put my daypack on the ground for a rifle rest—but noticed the muzzle was low enough for a bullet to possibly clip the grass, or even the sandy ground. (Meanwhile, Rob and Tim were back in the trees, wondering when the hell I was going to shoot.)
John’s shots were taken with the Weatherby’s fore-end resting on a soft daypack.
Eventually I slithered far enough for the muzzle to clear the grass, the bulls still feeding amid knee-high sagebrush. They were all about the same size, so I waited until one turned broadside, put the reticle on the rear crease of the shoulder a third of the way up the chest, and squeezed the trigger. The bull’s legs buckled, but then he recovered and started walking very slowly away, and I put another Partition in the rear of his ribs, angled toward the far shoulder. The bull dropped, only his top antler visible above the sage, as the other two elk trotted around, confused. I waved at Rob and Tim to come on, not knowing whether they could see the bulls.
By the time they approached me, most of the elk on the park had gathered at the west end, 250 to 300 yards below us. Rob sat down and kept aiming, but every time the crosshairs settled on a bull, another elk moved up behind it. Soon the herd turned and moved into the timber, showing up a few minutes later on an open hillside 3/4 of a mile away, and we counted 3-dozen branch-antlered bulls before they wandered over the hill.
As we walked down to my bull it was plain why so many elk gathered on the park. The bunch grass stood shin-high in places, with elk-droppings everywhere. The grass on the rest of the ranch had been close-cropped by cattle.
My bull was a good 6-point, and over the next two days the other three hunters each killed a similar bull. I was with Rob on the third evening when he killed the last one—his first elk. We were on the same ridge where we’d glassed my bull but further up the canyon. We could hear the faint sound of the creek below, but from our glassing point couldn’t see the creek.
We’d been glassing some smaller parks on the side of another mountain for half an hour, when for some reason I decided to move forward and look into the creek-bottom. Three 6-point bulls grazed along the edge of the stream, so I ducked my head and trotted back to Rob and Tim, whispering, “You want to kill a bull elk?” They made a little stalk down a line of trees, and soon I heard a shot from Rob’s Vanguard Back Country .30-06—and then the solid thump of a bullet hitting elk. The three bulls took off running, but one only went 45 yards before falling.
The range was 365 yards, the longest shot of the hunt. Tim and Terry used the .257 and .270 Weatherby Magnums, and by pure coincidence all four of us used Nosler Partitions, and the old-fashioned bullets worked perfectly from some even older cartridges. While driving home the next morning with an elk in the back of my pickup, I decided Weatherby wasn’t getting their rifle back.
By John Barsness
2 Slater Rd., Cranston, RI 02920
P.O. Box 360, Ennis, MT 59729
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