In the mountains, the steep mountains where the air is thin and the footing is unsure, days can be long. They can be even longer if you’re not seeing game and you’re carrying a heavy rifle. There’s no reason for a hunting rifle to weigh more than 8 pounds in full dress. It used to be if you wanted a lightweight rifle you had to opt for open sights or a very compact scope. Weatherby said, “Not if you want to hunt with us.”
Weatherby’s Back Country rifle was made for mountain men. It has an advertised weight of 6.75 pounds so you can install a fine riflescope like a 3x-9x-40mm Trijicon Accupoint on it and still come in under 8 pounds. Just as important, these rifles are guaranteed to put three shots in a cluster measuring less than one minute of angle (MOA).
The Back Country was introduced to the Vanguard line a few years ago, and due to consumer demand Weatherby reintroduced it for 2013. The company has also made some changes consistent across the entire Vanguard line. These newer Vanguards are designated “Series 2”; in addition to the accuracy guarantee, improvements include a pillar-bedded stock design and a two-stage trigger, which is as fine a trigger as you’ll find on a factory hunting rifle. It has about an eighth of an inch of take-up and no over-travel.
Vanguards are built on actions made by Howa in Japan for Weatherby. The Howa action is essentially a copy of the excellent but discontinued Sako L61R. It has a plunger ejector like a Remington 700 and a pivoting, Sako-style extractor. The bolt release is to the left of the bolt shroud and the safety—a three-position unit—is to the right.
The Back Country comes with even more neat features like a fluted barrel, a Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad and Cerakote finish on all exposed metalwork. Cerakote is a ceramic-based coating developed by NIC Industries. It provides excellent resistance against scratches, corrosion, cleaning solvents and chemicals.
As cool as this rifle sounds, you can make it even lighter and more user-friendly with the Weatherby Detachable Box Magazine Kit. This kit replaces the hinged floorplate with a new, polymer bottom piece that accepts a polymer, detachable magazine. The magazine holds three cartridges and has holes in the side so you can quickly see how many cartridges it contains. The installation of this kit shaves about 4 ounces off the rifle. And, by the way, when I disassembled the rifle to install it, I noticed the front recoil lug had been glass-bedded. That’s a nice touch.
If you’re looking to shave as much weight as possible, scope rings and bases matter, too. Granted, they don’t weigh a lot but some can weigh as much as a half-pound all told. Weatherby wisely went to Talley for rings and selected its one-piece mounts. Melvin Forbes of New Ultra Light Arms, arguably the king of the custom lightweight hunting rifle, originally designed these mounts and licensed the design to Talley. This is a baseless system; the two rings weigh only an ounce each.
My test rifle was a .30-06 Springfield and, with the Detachable Magazine Kit, Talley rings and Trijicon scope, it tipped the scales at 7 pounds, 4 ounces.
Weatherby’s accuracy guarantee applies only to premium ammunition. This can be a confusing label since most ammunition manufacturers consider their stuff to be “premium.” Trying to keep with the “premium” mandate, I chose three loads: Federal’s Premium 150-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip, Remington’s 150-grain Premier Accutip Boattail and Buffalo Bore’s Premium Supercharged 168-grain Barnes TTSX.
A zero was obtained in three shots, and testing started on the bench. The first few groups were not impressive but by group five they started tightening. So I stepped away from the bench and fired 40 rounds from various field-shooting positions to get a feel for the rifle and to season the barrel. My plan was to clean the barrel and conduct accuracy testing the next day.
Three things got my attention right off the bat. The exaggerated drop in the Monte Carlo-style stock amplified felt recoil from the bench. That’s a gun writer way of saying this rifle kicked. However, from unsupported positions the rifle was comfortable to shoot, which is another characteristic of the Weatherby stock. Finally, the thin barrel heated up amazingly fast; after a string of 10 shots I could not touch it.
The next day I fired five, five-shot groups with each load and used an air compressor to cool the barrel after every five-shot group. I also noted the first three shots in each group to allow an evaluation of the three-shot guarantee. Six of the 15 of those first three-shot groups measured less than 1 inch; three with the Buffalo Bore load, two with the Remington load and one with the Federal load. The average for all 15, three-shot groups was 1.064. That’s dang close.
The overall average for the 15, five-shot groups was 2.06 inches. That’s not exceptional, but based on the three-shot group average it was obvious that as the barrel quickly heated, groups opened. Keep in mind that most rifles are tested with 3-shot groups, and so this rifle shot sub-inch groups under that standard.
As far as function, reliability and general feel, the detachable box magazine performed perfectly and, if the magazine was empty you could just drop a cartridge in the ejection port and it would effortlessly chamber. This is something that is not all that common with many bolt-actions that utilize a detachable magazine. There were no malfunctions, and the rifle was very comfortable to shoot from the positions likely encountered in the field. My one complaint was recoil from the bench. That said it’s doubtful any hunter will fire 75 rounds from the bench at one sitting as I did. If that’s your plan, by a bottle of Motrin when you buy this rifle.
Bottom line, if you need a lightweight hunting rifle and do not want to pay custom prices, the Weatherby Back Country S2 is a fine choice. If it’s the choice you make, I’d suggest you opt for the Detachable Box Magazine Kit, an extra magazine and the lightweight rings. All three are available direct from Weatherby.
Weatherby Back Country S2