First in a two-part series. To read Part II, click here!
The Bearable Lightness of Weatherby
The All-New Back Country Rifle is an Accurate, Lightweight Tack Driver
Lightweight rifles have been all the rage lately, at least in the minds of many bolt-action aficionados. There’s good reason for their obsession. The art of rifle-making has advanced to the point that you can now buy factory hunting rifles weighing little more than five pounds, and that can be a blessing when bearing one on long treks in the wilderness or steep mountain ascents.
But does “light” ever become too light?
That can only be answered definitively on an individual basis, but here’s a solid clue. If you have to unnaturally contort your grip or shooting position to shoot accurately, or if your groups open up unacceptably as a result of low tolerance for increased recoil, you may have reached a personal point of diminishing returns.
You’re unlikely to experience such issues with the Weatherby Vanguard Series 2 rifle, which tips the scales at an average of 7 ¼ pounds. Loaded up with scope, base, rings and ammo, it’s no lightweight, but neither is it too heavy for most hunting applications. Still, since the Series 2 Vanguard was unveiled in 2011, customers kept asking for a lighter version. The original Vanguard line addressed that demand with a model Weatherby called the Back Country, which tipped the scales at 6 ¾ pounds.
The rifle generally got rave reviews, and that didn’t go unnoticed by Weatherby. The company has officially announced the return of the Back Country, albeit in significantly altered form, as part of the Vanguard Series 2 lineup. Like its predecessor, the new Series 2 Back Country weighs 6 ¾ pounds. That may not sound all that light by today’s standards, but unlike rifles that lop off barrel length or use pencil-thin barrels to shed weight, the Back Country’s 24-inch barrel doesn’t force you to sacrifice bullet velocity in your quest for an easier carry. In fact, most factory rounds tested for this review delivered modestly faster velocities than those advertised by the ammo makers.
To keep the trend in perspective, a little historical context may be helpful. Few would argue that the Winchester Model 70 Featherweight, the “rifleman’s rifle,” was anything but an unqualified success. What few remember, today, is that the original Featherweight, with its sleek lines and slender stock, weighed around 7 ½ pounds. The Back Country beats that weight by three-quarters of a pound and, as you’ll see, is capable of stunning accuracy for a rifle of that weight.
BETTER THAN THE ORIGINAL
The new Back Country retains some positive features of its predecessor, but charts its own course in several important respects.
Like the original, the new version has a fluted, No. 2 contour, 24-inch hammer-forged barrel. Unlike the original, which had a matte-finish, stainless barrel and action, the new barrel, action and all external metal work wears a well-executed Cerakote finish. This ceramic-based finish is widely acclaimed for its ability to provide durable, weather-proof, corrosion-proof protection while resisting chipping or scratching. Its Tactical Grey coloration nicely complements the modified, lightweight Bell & Carlson composite stock (black with spiderweb accents), and there’s no game-spooking glare from the barrel or action.
The new Back Country, like the original, was announced as being pillar bedded, but production rifles have changed to a stock with a full-length aluminum bedding block to squeeze even more accuracy from the rifle. The stock is equipped with a Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad and two sling swivel studs. Happily, the Back Country has retained the famous Weatherby Monte Carlo stock configuration, which I’ve always liked for its ability to provide fast scope-to-eye alignment and rapid target acquisition.
If there was one knock on the original Vanguard, it was the trigger, which was roundly denounced for its long, creepy pull. For those of us who liked the rifle despite that shortcoming (I’ve owned three variants of them), it was no big deal to yank out the trigger and replace it with one made by Timney, which had a wonderfully short pull and crisp break. It upgraded the two-position safety to a three-position safety, and turned a good rifle into a really good rifle. I still own two of them, including a sub-MOA model chambered in .300 WSM and a modified standard Vanguard (with B&C stock and Timney trigger added) in .257 Wby. Mag. Both shoot well under an inch with ammo they like—and between them—have accounted for more harvested game animals than any other pair of rifles I own.
The new Back Country and all Series 2 rifles have—wonder of wonders—a new trigger with no creep, a crisp break and a three-position safety, which allows you to load and unload the rifle with the safety set to the middle “on safe” position. The trigger on the rifle sent to me for testing broke cleanly and consistently, with zero creep, at a measured average of 2 pounds and 10 ounces. It’s actually a two-stage, match-quality trigger, with an auxiliary sear for creep-free let-off and pre-set sear engagement of .008-.012. It’s adjustable down to a pull weight of 2 ½ pounds.
Like the original Vanguard, the action on all Series 2 models is renowned for its strength and inherent safety features. With Weatherby’s “three rings of steel,” the cartridge case head is surrounded by the recessed bolt face, which is surrounded by the barrel. The barrel, in turn, is surrounded by the machined steel receiver. Structural integrity is further enhanced by the use of a large integral recoil lug.
The rear of the bolt sleeve has a cocking indicator which allows you to instantly see if the rifle is cocked or un-cocked. The sleeve fully enshrouds the rear of the action, which helps to redirect high-pressure gases and particles in the event of a case rupture. The one-piece machined bolt, with two massive locking lugs, has longitudinal flutes to reduce bearing surface, and three gas ports provide an extra measure of safety by allowing gas to escape laterally if necessary. I experienced no binding in repeatedly working the action, and the Cerakote finish seems to help the bolt cycle even more smoothly than those in my older Vanguards. The knob of the bolt handle, which has a 90-degree lift, is knurled to improve handling in inclement weather.
The rifle comes with one-piece bottom metal and a hinged floorplate, made of steel and lightweight alloy, providing quick access to unfired cartridges. Standard magazine capacity is five plus one. If you wish, you can shave an additional ¼ pound off the weight of the rifle by ordering the Weatherby detachable magazine kit. The box magazine detaches at the push of a button and holds three rounds. It’s available for Series 2 rifles chambered in .25-06, .270 Win. and .30-06 Springfield.
Available calibers for the Back Country will include .240 Wby. Mag., .270 Win., 257 Wby. Mag., .30-06 Springfield, .300 Win. Mag. and .300 Wby. Mag. There are no plans, at present, to offer the rifle in a left-handed version. When Weatherby representatives asked me which chambering I preferred for testing, I replied, “I’ll take the first available.” The rifle which arrived was chambered in .30-06.
While the original Back Country was guaranteed to shoot 1 ½-inch groups at 100 yards, the new rifle is guaranteed to shoot .99 inches or less at 100 yards when used with specified Weatherby factory or premium ammunition. After checking the torque settings on the action screws (they were on the money), and mounting a Leupold VX-3 3.5-10 X 40 mm scope in a set of Talley lightweight one-piece base and rings, it didn’t take long to find out if the rifle lived up to its guarantee.
Story & Photos by Mike Dickerson