This Upscale Vanguard Variant Proves Accurate, Tough And Weather-Resistant
By Dave Anderson
The test rifle was chambered in .240 Weatherby Magnum. For accuracy and function testing, Dave used Weatherby
factory loads with 100-grain spirepoint bullet. Functioning proved completely reliable, with 5-shot groups at
100 yards consistently under 1 MOA, with several measuring around 0.75 inches.
These are the good old days for all of us who love rifles. Never have there been so many choices in cartridges, barrel lengths and styles, action size, carbon steel or stainless, stock design and materials.
It wasn’t always thus. Back in the early ’60s when I was just into my teens, there weren’t a lot of rifle models, nothing like the array of choices available today. Nor were there a lot of variations of each model. You might have a choice of standard, lightweight, or heavy barrels, and maybe a choice of short or long actions.
These days the problem is deciding among so many choices. A recent check of the Weatherby website showed 25 Vanguard variations—carbon or stainless steel, synthetic and wooden stocks, models for women and young hunters, target, varmint, police, and chassis-stocked models.
My personal favorite, and one of the very best hunting rifles available today, is the Back Country. With a price of $1,429 it is one of the more expensive Vanguards, but the well selected, high quality list of features justifies the cost. The Back Country neatly connects a lot of dots in an attractive and functional package.
In the unlikely event of a case failure, say from firing a bullet into an obstructed bore, the massive receiver,
locking lugs, and recessed bolt face would contain most of the escaping gases. Gas coming down the firing pin channel
is exhausted to the right through 3 vent holes and down into the magazine well by one larger vent hole. The bolt
has 7 flutes. The Vanguard receiver has a massive integral recoil lug and a large flat surface behind the lug.
The receiver ring is long and heavy to provide plenty of support to the barrel. The back and sides of the
recoil lug are glass bedded into the lug recess in the stock.
Actions and barrels of Vanguard rifles are made by Howa in Japan. Originally the action was very similar to the Sako Finnbear. In fact rifles built on this action had earlier been marketed in the USA under the model name “Golden Bear.” Then, in the early ’70s, Howa redesigned the action into its current configuration. I particularly admire the Weatherby Vanguard, and Howa, for their unvarying high quality. After decades of making this model, Howa has production and quality control down cold.
The Vanguard action is a push-feed design, with two locking lugs and 90-degree bolt lift. The bottom lug is slotted to engage a rail in the receiver for smooth, cramp-free cycling. Unusual in these days of 2- and 3-piece bolts, the Vanguard bolt body, lugs and bolt handle are forged and machined from one piece of steel.
The bolt face is recessed, surrounding the case head with a ring of steel interrupted only by a slot for the hook-type extractor. Ejection is via a spring-loaded plunger in the bolt face. The bolt body has seven longitudinal flutes to channel away any dust or grit and make for smoother bolt travel.
In the unlikely event of a case failure the heavy receiver ring, massive locking lugs and recessed bolt face contain most escaping powder gases. About the only way gas can escape is to the right via the extractor cut, or into the firing pin channel. Should this happen there are three relief holes venting gases to the right, and one larger relief hole down into the magazine well. A heavy bolt sleeve cap blocks any gases getting past the relief holes.
Taking into account design, quality of materials and workmanship I consider the Vanguard/Howa one of the strongest and safest actions currently available. It has a number of features making it an excellent basis for an accurate rifle. There’s a massive recoil lug, integral with the receiver. Behind the recoil lug is a large flat surface. Both features help provide a solid, stable fit of receiver and stock. The receiver ring is long and heavy, providing plenty of support to the barrel.
Speaking of which, Howa barrels are excellent, cold-hammer forged, precisely made and finished. I’ve owned or tested around 15 Vanguards (and one Howa-made Mark V) and never known one to fail the “1-MOA” accuracy guarantee. Moreover, the bores seem very smooth, and the minimal copper fouling is fast and easy to clean.
In terms of design, quality of steel, workmanship, heat treatment, finish, parts fit and function, I don’t know of anything better at any price. I consider the basic carbon-steel, synthetic-stocked Vanguards the best value available in a bolt-action hunting rifle.
So what makes the Back Country special? Let’s start with the stock, a hand-laminated, lightweight, carbon fiber composite, very strong and rigid. It weighs just 24.5 ounces, compared to 36 ounces for a standard Vanguard synthetic stock, saving almost 3/4-pound right there.
The Weatherby Vanguard Back Country with lightweight carbon fiber composite stock and barrel fluting weighs
6-3/4 pounds out of the box, just under 8 pounds with scope, bases and rings. With the Cerakote finish it
is virtually impervious to the elements and would make an ideal hunting rifle even under the toughest conditions.
The stock features the distinctive Weatherby profile with a Monte Carlo cheekpiece and flat-bottomed forearm. Embedded in the stock is an aluminum bedding block. The stock has a distinctive “spider web” finish which looks good and provides a secure grip. The recoil pad is the excellent Pachmayr Decelerator, and two sling swivel studs are fitted.
The receiver’s recoil lug is glass bedded into the lug recess in the stock. A flat surface of the aluminum bedding block aligns with the flat surface of the receiver behind the lug. Bedding is further enhanced by aluminum pillars bedded in the stock for the front and rear action screws. Overall it is an excellent stock, made and fitted with considerable care.
To reduce weight, the 24-inch No. 2 profile barrels have 6 longitudinal flutes. The flutes are deep enough to provide weight reduction of about 4.5 ounces, and combined with the 11.5 ounces saved in stock weight, reduce overall weight by a full pound, to 6-3/4 pounds. The barrel is free floated all the way to the chamber portion of the barrel.
Depending on choice of scope and scope mounts all-up weight will be around 8 pounds, plus or minus a couple of ounces. By current standards this is not particularly light. I have several rifles weighing out of the box from 5-1/4 to 5-3/4 pounds, from Kimber, Sako, Savage, Tikka, and Weatherby. To keep recoil moderate my rifles are chambered for relatively mild cartridges from .243 Win to .260 Rem.
But don’t forget, I’m an old feeb who has been carrying guns afield for over 60 years (counting BB guns, of course). These days I like lightweight, especially if I have to walk any distance, and light recoil. For most of my hunting days, the mainstay has been a nicely balanced rifle weighing around 8 pounds with scope and mount chambered for a .30-06-class cartridge.
Such a rifle does just about everything well. It is comfortable to carry, but with enough weight to hold steadily from field positions and to swing smoothly on running shots. It has enough power for most big game combined with tolerable recoil.
The Back Country has all these attributes, and adds durability even under the toughest environmental conditions. The synthetic stock, of course, is unaffected by cold or rain. All metal surfaces of the Back Country are finished with Cerakote, one of today’s toughest and most durable finishes.
Why not just use the stainless steel Vanguard barreled action? I’ve become a fan of stainless steel over the years, and generally will take stainless over carbon steel. However “stainless” is a relative term. Stain resistant would be more accurate. I’ve seen surface rust on stainless steel barrels and actions used in severe wet conditions, especially in the vicinity of salt water.
Five shots at 100 yards measure about 0.75 inch. There was a gusty cross wind, and rather than trying to outguess
or wait it out Dave held the same for every shot. He suspects at least some of the horizontal spread is due to wind.
Vertical spread is not much more than 1/4 inch. Ammunition was 100-grain factory .240 Weatherby.
This 2-stage trigger was introduced on the Vanguard a few years ago and is excellent. Take up is light and
short and the trigger break on this rifle is at a crisp 3 pounds. Weight of pull is user-adjustable.
Cerakote has a most interesting video on their web page showing how various commercial finishes (as well as unprotected carbon and stainless steel) stand up under a continuous salt water spray. Obviously they wouldn’t show it unless their own product did well, but I still found it impressive. If I was hunting, say, coastal Alaska I’d rather have a carbon steel rifle with Cerakote than one of stainless. Although a stainless rifle with Cerakote might be even better.
Shooting the rifle held no surprises. I expected it to be accurate, like every Vanguard I’ve ever shot. The rifle tested is in .240 Weatherby and was shot with Weatherby 100-grain factory loads. Five-shot groups averaged well under an inch with several groups in the range of 0.75 inch.
There were no malfunctions, feeding from both right and left sides of the magazine was smooth and reliable. I like the 2-stage trigger. Take-up is light and smooth, followed by a crisp break at almost exactly 3 pounds. Ten tries with the Lyman trigger gauge gave an average of 3.04 pounds with only about an ounce of variation. Weight of pull is adjustable but I liked this one well enough to leave it as it came from the box.
I used Talley steel bases and rings to fit a trusted and proven Leupold VX III 4.5-14×40 scope I had on hand (which, incidentally, I once took to Africa on a Weatherby Mark V .257 Weatherby). It’s an excellent, reliable scope. Current versions are claimed to have improved low-light performance and dual springs on the adjustment turrets, which should make them even better.
Empty, the setup weighs 7 pounds, 14 ounces, and would go an ounce or two over 8 pounds loaded. The 4.5-14×40 scope is fairly light at 13 ounces but with a 10-ounce fixed Leupold 6×36, or 9 ounce 4×33, and Talley alloy 1-piece bases and rings, you could easily cut weight by 5 ounces or so.
The .30-caliber Back Country models with a bigger bore would be a bit lighter as well. The point is, it would be no trick at all to have a .30-06 or .308 Back Country weighing under 8 pounds loaded, just about unbeatable for most North American game. Or go with my old favorite .270 Win, especially as the 24-inch barrel really lets the great old classic perform.
And if you plan to hunt everything in North America and much of Africa, consider the Back Country in .300 Win Mag or .300 Weatherby Mag. I’ve shot a lot of game with the Win Mag and have a high regard for both cartridges, although I like them in a 9- or 9-1/2-pound rifle. But if you don’t mind a bit of recoil, either of these cartridges in the Back Country would make a formidable tool for a lifetime of hunting all around the world.
All in all the Back Country is a gem. I know we are all utility-first and looks don’t count, but with the spider web stock and smooth grey Cerakote finish, it’s a striking rifle and got a number of admiring comments at the range. The only suggestions for improvement would be to offer a couple or three more cartridge choices. I like the .25-06 Rem and think it would make a good fit. And for a bit more power and reach, with less recoil than the .30-caliber magnums, the 6.5-300, .270, or 7mm Weatherby Magnums would be good options.
I see Weatherby has a new Wilderness model on their website. As far as I can tell it is identical to the Back Country except it doesn’t have the Cerakote finish, and is priced just under $1,000. And the Wilderness does offer the .25-06 Rem as one of the cartridge choices.
Ah, more options. Just what we needed!
Maker: Howa Machinery Ltd.
Kiyosu, Aichi, 452-8601 Japan
1605 Commerce Way
Paso Robles, CA 93446
Cartridge: .240 Weatherby (tested), .257 & .300 Wby, .270 and .308 Win, .300 Win Mag, .30-06
Action: Bolt action, 3-position safety
Trigger: 2-stage pull
Length overall: 44-1/2 inches
Barrel: 24 inches, Twist: 1:10 inches
Magazine capacity: 5 (3 .257 & .300 Magnums)
Length of pull: 13-5/8 inches
Drop at comb: 7/8 inch
Drop at Monte Carlo: 1/2 inch
Drop at heel: 1-1/4 inches
Weight, empty: 6-3/4 pounds
Stock: Carbon fiber composite
Metal finish: Cerakote Tactical Gray
Other: Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad, sling swivel studs