Weatherby's Vanguard: The Company's Most Popular Bolt Action

posted on April 3, 2022
Weatherby Vanguard bolt-action rifle brown tan gunstock black action barrel riflescope white background

This article appeared originally in the September 2005 issue of American Rifleman. To subscribe to the magazine,visit the NRA membership page here and select American Rifleman as your member magazine.

Weatherby Vanguard bolt-action rifle brown tan gunstock black action barrel riflescope dark background underside gun bottom action trigger

The Rifle
Japan’s Howa Machinery, Ltd., and Weatherby have a long history. Howa actually started producing the massive bolt-action Mark V for Weatherby in 1971—as a matter of fact, for a brief period Roy Weatherby had both Sauer in Germany and Howa making Mark Vs at the same time. But 1970 saw the first Weatherby Vanguard rifles made by Howa, and they were the first Weatherbys to be chambered in non-Weatherby magnum calibers. The first guns retained the distinctive California-style look typical of both Weatherby and the era: high combs, white-line spacers, glossy finishes—the works (thankfully, they still look Weatherby-esque today, but without the full-blown California-style stocks). If the Mark V is the firm’s favorite son, then the Vanguard was the proverbial red-headed stepchild.

Although there have been a few changes as the gun has evolved over the years, the basics of the Vanguard are as follows. It employs a forged, machined steel receiver with an integral recoil lug at its front that tapers as it projects downward into the stock. The receiver’s bottom is flat, while the body is round. The receiver ring is rounded while the rear bridge is squared-off at its top.

The cylindrical, two-lug bolt has an internal plunger ejector at the 2 o’clock position on its recessed face. An AR-15-style extractor is at the 10 o’clock position when viewed from the front. The bolt is a simple unit with the tail of the firing pin protruding from the rear of the action, which serves as cocking indicator. When the rifle is cocked, a red dot is visible. A two-position trigger-blocking safety is on the right behind the bolt handle, and “S” for safe and “F” for fire are stamped into the bolt sleeve for reference. Three gas-relief holes are located on the right side of the bolt body.

Barrels are cold-hammer forged and button rifled with dished or recessed crowns to protect the rifling. The internal magazine has steel sides, and the floorplate may be opened via a lever on the front face of the trigger guard. The floorplate is steel, while the trigger guard and housing are of aluminum.

bolt-action weartherby vanguard barreled action steel gun parts diasembled riflescope magazine

There are some distinctly Weatherby styling cues that set the Vanguard apart from the basic Howa Model 1500 action. The bolt shroud mimics the lines of the Mark V and the bolt body has blackened flutes along its length just to let you know it’s still a Weatherby. Adjustable triggers are rare these days, and the Vanguard’s two-stage unit can be adjusted for pull weight from 3 lbs. to 4½ lbs. by the user.

Each Vanguard is fired at the factory for accuracy, and a test target is included with the gun when it comes into Weatherby in Atascadero, Calif. That’s how the firm knows each gun that comes in will meet its 100-yd., three-shot, 1½"-group guarantee. The guns are fired out of a fixture at Howa and are imported as barreled actions. Weatherby then supplies the stocks—from several different sources at several different price points—then the guns and stocks are mated at Atascadero.

Expert Advice
“Mark, I need a little advice,” drawled my friend Claude Banister. “My son-in-law needs a rifle that he can use for deer and black bear. We might even go out West sometime for elk, so I’m thinking a .300 magnum. It has to be accurate (pronounced ‘ak-rit’ in Claude’s parlance) but not cost too much.”

Claude, an insurance man by vocation, a lawyer and accountant by training and a duck hunter by nature, is a pretty well networked guy when it comes to guns. He attends the SHOT and NRA Shows yearly, often in company with accuracy addict Bob Gerol, formerly of Pentax, in a small clique I call the “friends of Joe” or “FOJ.” Actually, Claude is more than just a friend to my boss Joe Graham; he’s his uncle. He refers to himself as Joe’s favorite uncle—mind you he’s Joe’s only uncle—but having spent time with both of them, I’ve no doubt he is the favorite.

But, by being an FOJ, he knows other friends of Joe—particularly Mel Forbes of Ultra Light Arms. “Now Melvin tells me to stay away from those injection-molded stocks,” Claude said, “Bob Gerol said I need pillar bedding, and Joe Harold tells me these Howa rifles are pretty good, but what do you think?”

Duck hunting aside, Claude is a remarkable rifleman. I saw him hit about 21⁄2" from his point of aim at a running, wounded eland in South Africa a few years ago. The range? Just a hair over 400 yds. So when he means ak-rit, he really means ‘ak-rit.’

“Okay, Claude, let me get this straight. You want an accurate, affordable, pillar-bedded rifle in .300 magnum something-or-other with a synthetic—not injection-molded—stock?” I summed up. “It sounds to me that you need one of the new Weatherby Vanguards.”

“Is it ‘ak-rit?’” he asked.

“They guarantee three shots under 1 1⁄2" at 100 yards, but I’ve seen them do way better than that, particularly with handloads,” I replied. “And some of them are pillar-bedded now.”

“What about the Howa Joe Harold was talking about?” he asked.

“The Vanguard is a Howa,” I said.

Why the Vanguard? Well, for accurate hunting rifles, the bolt-action is the king. Second, he could have it in .300 Wby. Mag., .300 Win. Mag. or .300 WSM—although I recommended .300 Win. Mag. due to the variety of loading and availability of ammo. (Ever try to buy .300 Wby. Mag. at 5 a.m. in Ten Sleep, Wyo.?) Third, Weatherby has been applying some of the lessons it had learned from various Mark V projects—such as the Super Big GameMaster and Super PredatorMaster—to the humble Howas the firm has been importing off and on for around three-and-a-half decades. It was a perfect fit.

upclose macro bolt metal steel rifle parts bolt-action weatherby vanguard metal

Here Comes The Weatherby Again!
The Vanguard has always lived in the shadow of the Mark V. But if the Mark V was Roy Weatherby’s gun, the Vanguard could be called his son Ed Weatherby’s gun. The Fiberguard was one of the first stainless and synthetic bolt guns—not far behind the landmark Browning Stainless Stalker. Roy was skeptical of the Fiberguard, but Ed talked him into it back in 1983. According to Weatherby: The Man. The Gun. The Legend. by Grits and Tom Gresham “ ... Roy happily ate crow and the Vanguard’s stock went up another notch in the company portfolio.”

So the Vanguards continued to have a following, but the Mark V was the rifle that personified the name Weatherby. The Mark V was and is an expensive gun to produce, Ed and Brad Ruddell started looking at ways to boost revenue, and as nice and strong as it is, the Mark V wasn’t it. Brad looked hard at the Vanguard, and decided to team the very solid barreled-action with an inexpensive injection-molded Butler Creek stock—with a high Weatherby-esque comb and drop at heel, of course—to see if they could get the price down to a competitive level. Indeed, it is the “everyman’s Weatherby.”

Right now you can have a blued Vanguard in a synthetic stock, stainless in a synthetic stock, a compact blue in a synthetic stock, a sporter with a wood stock or a wood stock with a stainless action. All Vanguards have 24" barrels, except for the compact, which has a 20". And you can buy one with a bore-sighted 3-9X Bushnell scope, a sling and a plastic gun case as a package.

But quite a few Vanguards beat the 1 1⁄2" accuracy guarantee, and Weatherby used to ship out guns that would really group with no fanfare. That changed this year. If a gun will group below 3/4" (just to be safe) Weatherby sets it aside for a new project unveiled at the Weatherby Writers Conference last fall. Because Weatherby knows how each gun shoots when it arrives in Atascadero, the company puts the Vanguards known to shoot the best into a Fiberguard stock. A minute of angle (m.o.a.) at 100 yards actually measures 1.0472", and any gun that shoots below that is generally referred to as “sub-m.o.a.” thus the name SUB-MOA. Weatherby actually guarantees under 1" with the SUB-MOA Vanguards, spotting the owner 0.0472". The pillar-bedded Fiberguard stock is made of Aramid, fiberglass and unidirectional graphite fibers; an aluminum, two-prong spine runs from the rear pillar through the wrist. The butt is then topped off by a Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad. Six different finishes are offered for the stock: dark timber, desert camo, snow camo, tan with black web, black with gray web and black with red web.

End Game
The whole episode with Claude occurred just before Weatherby was gearing up for the SUB-MOA project, so he ended up with a Vanguard in a Fiberguard stock that shoots under an inch. It’s really sort of pre-SUB-MOA. Claude finally received the Weatherby and took it to the range. Was my advice prudent? Well, Claude sent me a test target with a note that suggested there was another one just like it up on the refrigerator at the Banister household. The average of three-shots at 100 yards? It was 0.74". I’d say that’s plenty “ak-rit.” I’d also say this stepchild has definitely earned a seat at the big table.

Weatherby Today
The company started out in South Gate, Calif., but then expanded in 1951 to a new storefront on Firesetone Blvd. Then it moved north to Atascadero, Calif., in the mid 1990s. And then the company moved across town to Paso Robles. Weatherby came to define California of the 1950s and ‘60s. There is still a part of California that had the flash in glamour of Hollywood, like having John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Roy Rogers and Slim Pickens stop by the shop. Then in 2018 Weatherby said they wanted a place where they could retain a great workforce and where employees could live an outdoor lifestyle. The new home of Weatherby Inc., is in Sheridan, Wyo. For more information, please visit


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