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Chris Parkin reviews the Weatherby Vanguard MeatEater in .243 - a western-feel plains rifle that's ideally suited to UK stalking...
Wetherby’s Vanguard MeatEater rifle is an interesting jaunt away from the plainer looks of a Howa rifle because, to get this one out of the way early on in the article, it’s a very similar rifle and made in the same factory. However, striking looks and small technical details aim to set it apart.
First detail is the tungsten Cerakoting throughout the barrelled action, beginning with e 1/2x28tpi threaded capped muzzle, in what I have to admit is a great colour for modern rifles, easy on the eye, more delicate than black and less stark against natural foliage. The fluting looks fantastic and neatly machined with no weak edge details where the cerakote layers adhere onto metal as it swells back towards the action along its 24”/610mm length. This extra length is a nice feature, which will retain much of the velocity required by .243 to assure the required muzzle energy for reds.
credit: Chris Parkin
Vanguard MeatEater actionThe MeatEater is no longer a Weatherby multi lug speciality action, it’s a simple two lug, push feed device using a plunger ejector and claw extractor with 90-degree bolt lift to unlock, cock and cycle the action. Cerakoting continues in Black on the linear fluted bolt with smooth 102mm stroke length, controlled with a 55mm handle capped by a lightly knurled 18mm teardrop tip.The metal bolt shroud returns to the tungsten-coloured coating with a visible and tactile cocked action indicator below. The entire guns takes a whole price bracket step up in terms of looks from its basic mechanical design and the contour barrel tapering from 15.2mm up to the 39mm action delivers a sleek mountain rifle look.
This somewhat Western/American look differs from many of its short, stubbily barrelled European peers, where customers seem less inclined towards technical details and more toward projectile diameter alone, maybe that’s just my `read` on hunting cultures across the pond? An optional Accubrake is available, but I suspect the moderator is most likely in UK, Raytrade supplied an effective “Evolve” unit but you can certainly bet the big Weatherby Magnum options, most likely to be seen used in the US, will appreciate that brake, they can make the 300 WinMag look comparatively anaemic on occasion.
Vanguard MeatEater floorplateAmmunition feed is from a floorplate magazine system, simple and effective, impossible to lose and easily loaded through the 70mm open span between front and rear action bridges, covered only by a Picatinny rail, also in matching Cerakote and fastened down with four Torx screws. The laser engraved MeatEater logo is reasonably innocuous in contrasting black against the tungsten cerakote that coats the whole bottom metal, trigger guard and even the T30 Torx action screws.
A button on the front of the guard discharges the floorplate’s 5 round contents into your waiting palm on this well proven system. Vertical serrations run the length of the two-stage trigger blade, visually identical to the Howa HACT unit, with similarly excellent crisp pulls on the fully adjustable unit that arrived with me set at a very workable 970 grams, showing both excellent feel and consistency within the spacious, glove friendly guard, no complaints here at all. A three-position safety lever sits to the right of the rear action bridge with usual forward for fire, middle safe with bolt operation and rear with bolt locked, all operable in silence.
Stock wise, we take a break from the assumed norms with a pressure bedded forend in full contact with the slim barrel in all situations. These aren’t the limiting factor some may assume, and the rifle arrives with a similar sub MOA three shot guarantee similar to that of many of its free floated peers, although I’m not saying those three shots are as repeatable as a full floated tube that cannot be physically pressured by everyday gun handling.
The action shows a chunky recoil lug to transfer force from metal to polymer and you can see the bedding stress applied as the screws are tightened as the action meets its inlet with minimal torque. This is a deeply complex topic that will polarise opinion and there are some benefits with either course, sometimes I think I should write an article on it but generally speaking, I only see pressure bedding as desirable on light barrels in true sporting rifles meant for low shot volume, light weight and generally large cartridges.
Vanguard MeatEater mounts, trigger and butt padMy rifle was supplied with a Spartan bipod mount pre-installed and moderate relieved panels are inlaid into forend walls for assured grip. The grip is quite slim with an open radius leading toward a tapered underside to the recoil pad at 13.5”/345mm from the trigger blade, and in fairness, it’s ok for .243 but I think a bit small for a large calibre where you are likely to attract bigger shooters with bigger hands and the need to hold on securely.
A 300 Weatherby needs a FIRM handshake, not a delicate trigger tickler’s limp wrist. The Vanguard recoil pad is 22mm thick with medium texture that’s just firm enough without any contrasting soft or hard points and it welds securely into your shoulder, retaining grip during repeat firing on a .243.
It’s a great pad specification for .308, 3.0-06 and .300 WinMag, if a bit short in overall length of pull without additional spacers when compared to the Euro rifles. A Monte-Carlo cheekpiece is moulded in, raising your head a little but keeping your scope low, or you could add a cheek riser if you want a strong weld; it’s still really well dimensioned for a 40mm objective optic and the Picatinny rail also adds space between sight and bore, which isn’t necessarily desirable on a sporter. On a big calibre, having your head up a bit and ready to recoil with the gun isn’t such a bad thing.
The Vanguard MeatEater shooting testPerformance on paper is more than acceptable. The magazine will feed slowly and quietly if needed. Velocities and consequent energy from the `normal` barrel length was perfectly sufficient. From an ergonomic perspective, the raked stock with half-inch/25mm drop from comb to heel definitely felt more suited to upright and dynamic shooting positions such as sticks. It was stable off the bench and the attached Spartan bipod adaptor was very versatile for a stalking rifle if used prone.
The trigger feel was excellent and no problems timing shots with a crisp release, although I did find the Point of impact could be nudged a bit if you were not cautious enough when aligning the stock correctly for the shot, with bipod feet square to the flight line. Similarly, I found it shot better with the Cant axis quite loose, not locked down tight, allowing the gun to react more freely to the inherent barrel torque from bullet passage.
Howa’s Hammer forged barrels have usually shown good thermal stability when hot and this was no different. Certainly not a long string Varminter but as a foxing rifle or small deer calibre, .243 has few equals for longer shots and terminal performance, with great lead/copper bullet selections available. I used to wish all .243’s were 9” twist to maintain 100gr+ bullet stability but the encroaching appearance of lead-free will more than likely resign elements off the .243’s performance envelope to history, which will be a shame, but I have witnessed the identical twin to this rifle in 6.5 Creedmoor, shooting lead-free ammo, and it shows no weakness with true cloverleaf performance in what has now become a go-to cartridge for versatility.
Conclusion of the Vanguard MeatEater testThe Weatherby shows enough features, beyond the baseline Howa, to strike a path of its own and definitely looks a more refined and finished rifle. Cerakote is tough if well applied, and rust will be held at bay externally as well as a slicker bolt strokecompared to bare polished steel.
Long term durability is something that needs a longer-term review to fully confirm but the rifle arrived with me in perfect condition, and I have to say, I like the looks a lot, not plain but not too camo or Tacticool for school. For those wanting some of the more exotic calibres, especially the Weatherby line-up, I would want a heavier build, especially through the grip and length of pull but this is an excellent choice in a UK deer cartridge where overall value for money seems excellent offering great looks that set it apart from the crowd. Weatherby also offer dedicated left handers too.
Proving the sub M.O.A. claims
Three-shotgroup @ 100m(mm)
Hornady 75gr SST
Additional thoughts: My thoughts on bedding stress are well documented over the last decade and if you learn to deal with it, fine, if not, it is something to consider, and I have shot many pressure bedded rifles that were fantastic with correct precaution. I would err away from simply carving out the barrel channel of a stock without due recognition of the decreased rigidity of the forend, you might be completely wasting your time and end up with neither benefit, no stock support for the barrel and drastically increased chance of unwanted random contact and therefore ruined barrel harmonics.
SpecificationsCalibres: .243, .257 Weatherby, .25-300 Weatherby, .300 Weatherby, .6.5 Creedmoor, .6.5 PRC, .270, .308, .30-06, .300 WinMag Overall-Length: 1110 mm, 43.75″Barrel-Length: 610 mm, 24″ Cold hammer Forged 1-10” twist rateWeight: 3.3 Kg, 7.25 lbsMagazine: Hinged floorplate, 5 roundsTrigger: Two stage adjustableSafety: 3 Position with bolt lockStock: Synthetic StockA true left hander is available
Suggested Retail PricesWeatherby MeatEater: £1,250GPO 2-16x44 Riflescope: £1,230Spartan Bipod: £289Moderator: £199
Contactwww.raytrade.co.uk(also for supplier of Remington ammunition)
Also usedHornady Ammunition and bulletswww.edgarbrothers.com
A super simple venison pate that freezes well, and that is ideal for using up those beautiful venison livers if you're not overly keen on offal.
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