Don MacDonald buys a new rifle for South Island hunting...
In my last article on Weatherby rifles I talked about my dream of travelling to California, touring the Weatherby factory, shaking Ed Weatherby’s hand and purchasing a Mark V rifle. I still haven’t managed to save enough to get to the factory and shake Ed’s hand, although I do talk to him on the phone from time to time. But I have managed to purchase a wooden-stocked Mark V sporter in my favourite calibre, .300 Weatherby Magnum.
Steve Collings from Steve’s Wholesale in Wellington is New Zealand’s agent for Weatherby rifles. He is quite frankly, doing a fine job. Steve did his very best to get my original choice, a Vanguard Series 2 Back Country, into the order he placed. Unfortunately this rifle missed the shipment. I had already on-sold my original Vanguard in .300 Wby Mag to fund the new rifle and I now seemed faced with the prospect of maybe having to build one on a Remington action.
The Weatherby in its natural element – on the hill in open country.
I have never been able to fault the reliability and out of the box accuracy of Weatherby rifles so I was really hesitant to swap brands. Somewhat disappointed, I contacted Steve again and he mentioned that it might be a long wait before a Back Country arrived, but he did have a Mark V sporter in .300 Wby Mag with a 26" barrel in stock if I wanted to upgrade to a higher-end model. With a Mark V being on my wish list from day one and the thought of Ed coming over and kicking my backside for even thinking of changing brands, I asked him to put it aside.
THE MARK V AND THE VANGUARD
Although founder, Roy Weatherby, began experimenting with higher velocity wildcats in the 1940s, it wasn’t until some years later that he began to consider actions and rifle designs. Roy was a real perfectionist, an “ideas man”, with fastidious observation and record keeping skills. He noted early on that when it came to shooting powerful wildcat cartridges many of the action designs available at the time were lacking in some important areas such as rigidity and strength.
The bull tahr that Don knocked over with a 250 yard offhand shot.
As a wildcatter of magnums and higher velocity cartridges, Roy wanted a strong action capable of withstanding huge units of pressure. Combined with this was the need for a system to vent or suppress hot powder gases should there be a catastrophic failure via a pierced primer or case-head separation during rifle and calibre development. This was achieved by surrounding the case with Weatherby’s three-rings of steel and the vented bolt design detailed in the description below. Torture testing of this design proved that it was incredibly robust, had good structural integrity and were therefore safer than most existing designs. Weatherby’s flagship Mark V action quickly came to be known as the “World’s strongest action” which continues to this day.
Weatherby has also had great success with its Vanguard range, which has just been upgraded with a new trigger and stock. Vanguards are extremely accurate, practical, and affordable for most new rifle buyers. I have covered the Series 1 Model in previous articles in NZ Guns & Hunting and have owned five Vanguards in all. I had a chuckle to myself recently, when fellow contributing writer Craig Maylam bought one of these in .300 Win Mag to try before on-selling (see issue #143). Craig is an excellent and very experienced rifle evaluator who appreciates good firearms. I would almost put money on it staying in his collection. (Ed; it has so far!)
So successful is the Vanguard range that Weatherby decided that its Mark V range should offer a level of accuracy equivalent to the Vanguard. The company went to great expense to achieve this, even moving the entire manufacturing of the Mark V back to Weatherby HQ in Paso Robles, California to guarantee quality in the manufacturing processes.
The accuracy guarantee for Weatherby rifles states that they will shoot a 3-shot group under 1-1/2 inches at 100 yards (now revised to 1-inch for new models). This has been an impressive claim that no other manufacturer could dispute and were reluctant to match. The accuracy guarantee has been somewhat of an understatement though, in as much as that I personally have never seen or heard of a Weatherby that won’t shoot less than 1-inch with premium ammunition.
Weatherby rifles sold in New Zealand almost seem to vanish into the hunting fields – you seldom hear of them coming back for repair, component upgrade or resale in the way some other brands do. People who have Weatherbys (especially Vanguards) don’t really tend to give them up and it has only been since the release of the Series 2 models that we are seeing a few for resale, which says a lot about the rifles.
The Mark V action is made from forged chromoly steel, and has a one-piece bolt with two sets of three locking lugs for non-magnum rifles and three sets of three (that’s nine) for magnums. The increased engagement area and lug configuration is what allows the slick 54° bolt lift. This allows faster cycling of the bolt (very handy for hunting dangerous game or fast follow up shots) and more space between the bolt knob and your scope, so your knuckles or fingers don’t get a hammering.
The bolt has two very important safety features – first a recessed face that encloses the case head, and second – three holes drilled in the shaft to vent gasses out through the loading port. As an extra safety measure the rear shroud of the bolt will direct hot gasses downward, away from the shooter should the three holes be bypassed or overwhelmed.
Case ejection is via a standard plunger type and the whole assembly picks up rounds from the magazine very smoothly. The safety on the Mark V locks the bolt and firing pin and disengages the sear. It is easily rolled forward with the thumb, and creates little disturbance to the aimed rifle due to its smooth operation.
The fluted Mark V bolt features a series of nine locking lugs (three rows of three) and has a low 54 degree lift.
Barrels for the standard Mark Vs are supplied by Criterion, and for the specialised Mark Vs such as the Accumark, by Krieger I believe. Most sporters are supplied with 26 inch barrels with the exception of the 7mm Rem Mag and .300 Win Mag which are trimmed back to 24”. These are nestled very precisely into the walnut Monte Carlo stocks, which have a good layer of clear lacquer inside and out, providing protection from the elements and minor scrapes.
The stocks are finished nicely with Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pads, which are comfortable and soak up recoil well. The magazine floor plate is very lightweight – it’s a drop-away design with the trip button inside the trigger guard – more positive than the fore-mounted option on the Vanguard models. The Mark V floorplate can’t be accidentally opened by bumping the trigger guard area on foliage or other snags.
A full, well-shaped pistol grip and a rosewood grip cap are nice touches.
The first thing I noticed on the Mark V was the standard Weatherby factory trigger – as with the old Vanguard range these are quite notchy, and also heavy, to satisfy the demands of the US safety standards authority.
I didn’t even consider firing a shot out of the rifle until the trigger was either tuned by a gunsmith or replaced with a Timney. Laurie Bradley in Timaru had a look at tuning it for me at short notice, and in no time he had it breaking like glass at 3lb with no play whatsoever. This was well worth the time and no aftermarket purchase was needed.
Off the bench Don soon had the Mark V shooting 3-shot groups of 1.5” at 100 yards, and after load development these shrank to sub-MOA.
Out of the box accuracy with standard Hornady 165 grain GMXs was nothing special with no 3-shot groups under about two to three inches. In saying this I was running the barrel in and did manage to put the entire contents of a box (20 rounds) into a 3-inch circle at 100 yards. Nonetheless I would have liked to see the Mark V perform better, at least equal to a Vanguard. At this point Steve Collings hooked me up with a projectile I was more familiar with, 150 grain Hornady InterBonds with a velocity of 3375fps. These were a whole lot better and 3-shot groups at 1-1/2 inches were easily achieved at 100 yards in windy conditions. I’m a novice at handloading and am satisfied to load for hunting rather than insisting on sub-MOA precision shooting, so I was quite pleased that my initial 15 shots came in under 1–1/2 inches before I got around to fine tuning loads. After some more development I did get to shoot sub-MOA groups – the best being with Hornady 168 grain A-Maxs pushed by ADI 2225.
Weatherbys are heavy as a rule but the 8lb Mark V was very manageable. For such a solid, well-made rifle there really wasn’t a large difference between it and a synthetic-stocked Vanguard. Having said that, walking the hills during a tahr hunt I did notice the extra two inches in barrel length compared to my Vanguard’s 24 inch barrel. Initially this made the rifle want to fall forward or backward when I carried it on the shoulder but this was soon sorted out with a sling adjustment.
Using the wooden-stocked Mark V to bowl over tahr was a pleasure, with one freehand shot achieved successfully at over 250 yards. The 13-5/8” length of pull allowed the rifle to be brought to the shoulder smoothly and positively. The wooden Monte Carlo stock feels very good in the hands compared to plastic and recoil seemed reduced somewhat. Although the stock is robust, the rock-strewn Alps and accidental knocks from my ice axe soon added tearful character to my beautiful Mark V.
The smoothness of the bolt and the short lift made quick shots and rapid cycling a breeze; this was tested when Nik unknowingly herded a tahr down the creek as he returned from a hunt. I was sitting by the fire drying my gear when I noticed it – I grabbed the rifle, ran out and dropped the nanny for camp meat with two quick shots, dressed only in my undies! Nik thought I had lost the plot!
Overall the Weatherby Mark V is all that I hoped it would be. A true classic and hunting enthusiast’s rifle, one that can be admired while it’s leaning up against a Knobthorn tree on safari in Africa, or a punga log in the New Zealand bush. Quality of materials and manufacture are of a high standard that Weatherby should be proud of. The machining is superb and the rifle is well finished. Accuracy is proven and I think most hunters would be satisfied with any Weatherby product, be it from the Vanguard range or the Mark V. I truly believe you would be hard pressed to find a rifle in the price range with such honest, usable features and out of the box accuracy.
Would I recommend a wooded Weatherby Mark V for any hunter, either new or experienced? That would be a definite yes. I have used synthetic stocks for many years and have been impressed at how good this timber-stocked rifle feels. There is no coldness or hollowness to the rifle and it comes to the shoulder beautifully. With a Mark V in my possession I can tick “luxury rifle” off the wish list, next stop is that tour of Weatherby’s factory.