Webley & Scott is not a name you hear tossed about very often today, but a century ago, the Birmingham, England, firearms manufacturer produced the bulk of the service handguns for Her Majesty’s forces. The brand was founded in the late 1700s as a bullet-molding company and did not start making firearms until the mid-1800s.
Webley & Scott’s stock continued to rise during the Victorian era, when Great Britain was expanding its colonial holdings around the world. During that time period and up through World Wars I and II, thousands of British soldiers carried a Webley break-top revolver as their sidearm. Webley’s fortunes dimmed with the end of Great Britain’s colonial period. The Webley was falling out of favor in an era of higher-capacity semiautomatics that were easier to transport and easier to carry. In addition, the U.K.’s Firearms Act (1920) severely limited the rights of citizens to own firearms, and the demand for civilian revolvers dropped to almost nothing. This was a hard blow to the company, which, above all else, was known for its revolver design. Webley & Scott began producing air rifles, which were spared by the Firearms Act and were still legal for civilians to own. Shotgun and handgun production continued on a smaller scale until the 1970s. However, by the 2000s, Webley & Scott faced serious financial issues.
Webley & Scott Return—With the Empire
Recently, the Webley & Scott name returned in the form of a brand-new rifle that is being built by Howa of Japan and imported by Legacy Sports International in Reno, Nevada. The new turnbolt—the brand’s first centerfire rifle offering in over a century—is aptly named. It’s called the Empire, and there’s little doubt that those who recognize the brand name will most closely associate it with the time when the sun never set on England’s vast landholdings.
“The Empire is an eye-catching rifle to be sure … ”
This rifle demanded a classic look and feel. To that end, the Empire is outfitted with an Italian walnut stock with a rosewood forend cap. It has a straight comb with a rollover cheekpiece. The wooden grip cap bears the W&S logo. Additionally, there’s a maple spacer separating the grip cap from the walnut of the pistol grip—a nice touch. The recoil pad is basic black but thick heavy enough to absorb recoil.
New Howa Action
A pretty stock turns heads, but if Webley Scott’s new offering were going to gain any real traction in the ultra-competitive bolt-action market, it would require a top-notch barrelled action capable of superb accuracy and a near-perfect trigger.
That’s where Howa—more specifically, its time-tested 1500 action— stepped in. Howa’s barrelled actions are still relatively inexpensive. Nevertheless, they are manufactured to exacting standards, making them a favorite option for shooters who want to do a rifle build without spending a fortune in the process. These rifles have a push-feed design with dual-opposed front locking lugs for a 90-degree bolt lift, a small claw extractor and a plunger-type ejector.
“This isn’t a light rifle. Unscoped and without any cartridges in the magazine, it weighs just a shade fewer than 8 pounds … But that heft and the rather wide recoil pad work wonders to alleviate recoil.”
The current trend in factory budget rifles is one-piece receivers with minimalized ejection ports and three-lug (short-lift) bolts. But Howa’s got the accuracy thing figured out with the more traditional design, and buyers are still flocking to the brand. Obviously, the Empire’s new action comes from—you guessed it—Howa.
New rifles require excellent triggers, and Howa already has one in production. The Howa Actuator Controlled Trigger (or HACT) is a two-stage design with a short takeup and a crisp, clean break that is adjustable from 2.5 to 3.8 pounds. (Admittedly, I’ve never needed to adjust these triggers, because the ones I’ve tested come from the factory around the 3-pound mark, and after two or three shots, the trigger break becomes intuitive.) Along with the 1500-inspired action, the Empire gets a HACT trigger, and that’s a good thing. It’s worth noting, though, that many new Howa owners (and I’d imagine the same will happen with rookie Webley & Scott owners) raise digital cane about the trigger being “creepy.” That’s not creep; it’s uptake, and it’s built into each of these two-stage triggers. When your finger draws up the slack in the first stage of trigger pull, everything comes tight, and a short, then a light, press are all that is required to deliver the shot. It’s that way with Howa guns, and it’s that way with the Empire.
Not Just a Pretty Face
The Empire is an eye-catching rifle to be sure; the walnut is richly figured, and the vented bolt body is jewelled for an even more buttoned-up look. There are no iron sights, but the receiver is drilled and tapped to fit—no surprise—Howa 1500/Weatherby Vanguard bases. There’s also an option to have the rifle shipped with a one-piece Weaver-style base and a Nikko-Sterling (another of Legacy Sports’ import brands) optic. If you opt to do so, you can have the rifle shipped to you already topped with a scope, and ready to go.
“The Empire was comfortable to shoot, and it was also accurate.”
I chose the rifle sans scope and mounted a Burris 2-10x Veracity on Talley base/ring combos. I’ve used the Burris on several test rifles lately and have great faith in that optic, as I do in Talley’s well-constructed base/ring combo, which is lightweight, durable, and easy to install and remove.
With the Empire scoped and bore-sighted, I headed to the range.
This gun might not catch the eye of the composite crowd, but those who appreciate the classic look and feel of a wood-stocked rifle flock to the gun. One gentleman, an avid skeet shooter who carried a Merkel on the range, guessed the price of the rifle at about $3,000. That’s considerably higher than the actual MSRP ($956 without the scope, $1,087 with). One guy mistook it for a Remington 700 CDL.
“This gun might not catch the eye of the composite crowd, but those who appreciate the classic look and feel of a wood-stocked rifle flock to the gun.”
Looks aside, this gun performs. The five-round, detachable, flush-fit magazine is made of metal (in keeping with the classic styling theme), and it’s easy to top-load. If you opt to drop the magazine, the release is recessed directly in front of the magazine, so it’s easy to slip your hand under the rifle, press the button, and drop the mag into your hand.
It is worth noting that the magazine on the rifle I tested wouldn’t drop out into the hand when empty unless the rifle was held parallel to the ground. There were absolutely no problems with feeding, extraction and ejection. The Webley performed all duties with quiet resolve.
Comfort and Accuracy
This isn’t a light rifle. Unscoped and without any cartridges in the magazine, it weighs just a shade fewer than 8 pounds, so it’s probably not your best choice as a mountain rifle. But that heft and the rather wide recoil pad work wonders to alleviate recoil. The same day I shot the Empire, I was testing a new budget gun that weighed a half-pound less and wore an injection-molded stock, both in .30-06, and the difference in recoil was notable. The ’06 isn’t a terribly abusive round, but after a full day of testing on and off the bench, its moderate recoil level starts leaning toward severe, especially when you’re running two guns through a full battery of tests.
The Empire was comfortable to shoot, and it was also accurate. I don’t find any accuracy guarantee on the Legacy Sports website, but the Empire shot groups that averaged between 1.00 and 1.22 inches with three different factory loads. That’s pretty good for factory loads and a factory rifle, and I’m certain that if you took the time to cook up a few handloads for the Empire, you might do even better. But for a hunting rifle—which is the primary purpose of this gun—any of the loads tested provide the accuracy needed for hunting out to great distances.
The days of pretty guns with recognizable brand names that sell based on reputation alone are largely over. Today’s hunting rifle market is ultra-competitive, and there is a growing number of bargain-priced bolt guns promising sub-MOA accuracy. For the Empire to succeed, it will need to win over a generation of hunters who perhaps aren’t immediately familiar with the name, which means the Empire can’t rest simply on its bloodline. But this rifle has everything it needs—accuracy, reliability and good looks—to start developing a new fan base for Webley & Scott.
Model: Webley & Scott Empire
Action: Bolt-action centerfire rifle
Caliber: .30-06 (also available in .270 Win, .243 Win, 7mm-08, .308 Win)
Magazine: 5+1; detachable box
Stock: Italian walnut
Barrel: 22 inches
Overall length: 42.25 inches
Weight: 7.8 pounds (without scope)
Trigger: 3.1 pounds; two-stage
|Load||Weight (grains)||Velocity (fps)||Average Group (inches)||Best Group (inches)|
|Federal Nosler BT||165||2,747||1.16||.95|
|Hornady American Whitetail||150||2,850||1.22||1.10|
Very few guns can claim almost 80 years of service life, but the Webley Revolver, also known as the Webley Top-Break Revolver, is one such gun.
It was initially used by British soldiers in 1887 and quickly became to Europe what Sam Colt’s 1873 Single Action Army was to the American gun market. The big revolver was chambered in .455 Webley (and many models were later converted to fire .45 ACP ammo) and rose to fame during the Boer War in Africa. Over the years, there were six separate variations of the Webley, produced with mostly minor upgrades with each new generation.
There were certainly very few guns that served in so many areas of the world as the Webley, which was carried by soldiers all across the vast British Empire. Today, the Webley is largely a collector gun.
Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the October 2016 print issue of Gun World Magazine.