First impressions are important, and the first impression the Camilla makes, literally right out of the box, is very, very seductive. This might be a rifle designed by and for women, but the first glance wowed this man. It is a beautiful rifle in the way all rifles used to be beautiful back in days before synthetic stocks and various semiautomatic platforms became the rage.
Before your blood pressure goes up, please understand I have rifles with synthetic stocks that I love and hunt with regularly; they are eminently functional and have advantages over wood. But no synthetic material will ever have the aesthetic appeal of a fine piece of walnut.
The AR-15 and its many clones and offshoots are admirable sporting—and above all, defensive—rifles, but they ain’t beautiful, except to the extent that any tool is beautiful when perfectly designed for its intended use. The Camilla, on the other hand, begs to be hung on the wall on display. It’s that attractive.
When you pick up a Camilla, the first impression is that you’re holding a custom rifle. The American Custom Gunmaker’s Guild (www.ACGG.org) accurately describes the gunmaker’s craft as an art. Yes; a firearm is a tool, but when a maker is able to blend form, function, aesthetics and ergonomics into a coherent whole, his creation becomes a work of art. And one of the elements a great gunmaker takes into account is the person who will be shooting that particular firearm.
The men and women who collaborated on the design of the Camilla have achieved a delicate refinement that is normally only seen on a custom rifle.
LOOKS GOOD BUT BUILT FOR USE
Don’t confuse “delicate refinement” with “weak” or “fragile.” This is a true Weatherby, built on the company’s renowned and eminently rugged Vanguard platform. It features a onepiece machined bolt body with two lugs and a fluted bolt, three gas ports and a massive, M-16-style extractor in a fully enclosed bolt sleeve. It has the match quality, fully adjustable (down to 2.5 pounds), hand-honed, factory tuned, two-stage trigger of all Vanguards. It has the same cold hammer-forged barrel, 20 inches long on a #1 contour, the same integral recoil lug, hinged floor plate (with the release very sensibly on the outside of the trigger guard) and the same three-position safety. It is, in short, everything you’ve come to expect on a Vanguard.
Where it differs is in a stock made specifically to fit women; these are mostly subtle changes you might not notice at first glance. For starters, and most obviously, the Camilla is offered only in Turkish A-grade walnut with beautiful rosewood forend and grip caps. The checkering is an aggressive fleur-de-lis pattern to aid in holding the rifle with gloves or wet hands. After that, it gets subtler.
The length of pull is shorter (13 inches, which is 5/8 inch shorter than a regular Vanguard. It’s a difference I honestly did not even notice when shouldering the gun), and it has a shorter, slightly slimmer forend. But the most noticeable difference is the slim grip and right-hand palm swell. If you are built along the lines of LeBron James, you might not like the refined grip that puts a smaller hand a little bit closer to the trigger and seats the grip more fully within the circumference of the fingers. Those of us who are built like mere mortals do like it.
The grip has also been slightly angled to improve the ergonomics of the rifle in your hands. I found that it not only aided in control of the rifle, it also made it much more comfortable to carry.
The most dramatic stock difference is in the butt, which has been reduced in size, canted (from heel to toe) away from the shooter’s body and given a negative angle. All of these are the results of accommodation to a lady’s body.
But there is also the question of the raised comb and cheek piece. The function of all stocks, rifle or shotgun, is to provide a platform so that the shooter can hold the action and the barrel and do those tasks in a way that allows the shooter’s hands and dominant eye to line up with maximum efficiency and minimum effort.
Consider for a moment what you’re going to get for your $100,000 or more when you have a Boss shotgun built to your specifications. There is a reason the maker will take multiple precise measurements of your neck, shoulders and arm length before he even lets you go out to the range with a try gun. Then, he will really get persnickety, having you mount and shoot, mount and shoot over and over again as he adjusts the try gun by infinitesimal increments to fit you as perfectly as humanly possible. At last, it becomes an extension of your natural ability to point at a moving object.
A rifle, by the nature of its function, doesn’t require the same degree of perfection. However, all gun companies, whether giant conglomerates or small custom stock makers, will build their stocks to maximize that lineup of eye to sights, which, in most cases these days, means eye to scope. Weatherby’s engineer did essentially what Boss and other custom shotgun makers do: He watched women (including Team Weatherby’s world champion and world record-holder, Jessie Duff, who is arguably the most versatile female shooter in the world; as well as Brenda Weatherby, among others) shouldering rifles over and over. He asked them what worked for them and what did not, what they liked and what they did not. (When I asked for some of the specific answers they gave, he refused to elaborate, but he did state that women “are smarter than men.” We shall forgive him, and move on.)
The result of his observations reminds me of the old-fashioned stock of the traditional German hunting rifles I used to see carried by Jägers when I lived in Germany half a century ago. Germans take their hunting seriously. In the old days, the word, Jäger , meant more than just a “hunter”; rather, it was someone who had trained intensively to care for a given area of land, where he served as gamekeeper, forester and law enforcement. The guns those men carried were works of highly functional art.
Like those traditional German rifles, the Camilla has a high comb with a long, almost-level topline and a pronounced cheek piece. It is exceptionally beautiful, and repeated shouldering of the gun convinced me it is exceptionally functional, bringing my eye right on line with the lowmounted Leupold VX 3i, 2.5-8x36mm.
A FEMALE PERSPECTIVE
But how it feels to me is immaterial. I wanted to know how it felt to the customer for whom it was intended. According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, women are the fastest-growing segment of both the shooting world—and, specifically—the hunting world, with an 85 percent increase in female hunters since 2001.
With that in mind, I enlisted the aid of a local celebrity, 18-year-old Dani Peacon, recent high school graduate, homecoming queen, basketball star, soccer star, lover and restorer of vintage trucks (she and her dad are working on her 1958 Chevy Apache longbed), fisherman and—more to the point—enthusiastic shooter and hunter. Dani is the kind of girl who thinks dressing out and butchering an elk is fun (I’m not making that up) and who wants to go to college for an agriculture degree that will allow her to earn her living in the outdoors. She is, in short, the real deal.
She and her father joined me at our local range, and the first thing she commented on was the beauty of the rifle, proving that aesthetics are important, regardless of gender. She was particularly impressed with the fleur-de-lis checkering.
The second “wow factor” for her was the weight, which is approximately 6.6 pounds. Dani is the same size as my wife, which means she is a whisker more than 5 feet tall and weighs maybe 115 pounds soaking wet and with her pockets filled with silver dollars. Dani’s immediate reaction to hefting the Camilla was to look meaningfully at her father and comment that she would infinitely prefer to hike up a mountain with it rather than with her heavy, old 7mm. She loved the trigger, she loved shooting it, and after we were done, she wanted to know what other calibers it came in. (My test gun was a .223 Rem, but it is also offered in .243 Win, .308 Win, 7mm-08 Rem and 6.5 Creedmoor. Since writing this, the .223 has been discontinued.)
The only negative we experienced during several hours of shooting was Dani’s tendency to baby a beautiful rifle she did not own; but the Vanguard’s M-16-style extractor, like anything originally intended for soldiers, is not suited or designed for babying. We had two jammed cartridges while still on the bench before I was able to convince Dani to treat the Camilla like the working tool it is and to work the bolt with authority. That solved our problem. And we had no jams when she shot offhand.
Accuracy was exactly what you expect from a Weatherby. All three of us were able to get our bullet holes touching. But Dani, with 18-year-old eyes, managed twice to put two bullets through a single hole. Wretched girl.
Would I buy the Camilla? If my wife were a hunter, she would already have one. However, perhaps a more telling answer is that I’m tempted to get one for myself. If I do, it will almost certainly be in 7mm-08—a slightly improved, shorter, more powerful and more versatile version of the renowned 7X57.
My knees aren’t getting any younger, and the idea of pig hunting in the rugged California mountains with a rifle this light and beautiful is awfully compelling.
- CALIBER: .243 Win, 6.5 Creedmoor, 7mm-08 Rem, .308 Win
- ACTION TYPE: Bolt action
- BARREL: Cold hammer forged; 20 inches; #1 contour; 1:10-inch rifling
- MAGAZINE: Internal, hinged floor plate, 5+1
- TRIGGER: Adjustable match quality, two stage
- STOCK: A-grade Turkish walnut; ⅝-inch Monte Carlo
- WEIGHT: 6.5 pounds
- OVERALL LENGTH: 39.5 inches
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the March 2017 print issue of Gun World Magazine.