Seven Decades of the Weatherby Mark V
August 11, 2016
Out of all the one-man operations in the past dealing with the making of rifles and related gear, Roy Weatherby's startup company prospered the best.
While the Weatherby line today is extensive, back in 1945, and starting with nothing, he pioneered the idea about high velocity we still embrace today. Apparently, this theory came about after wounding a deer in Utah three years previous with a .30-06 rifle.
His thoughts centered on a flat-shooting bullet traveling at a much higher velocity and disintegrating inside the animal. Working on the concept of hydrostatic shock would allow the animal to expire quickly without needless tracking, due a wound channel large enough to kill the animal instantly.
Writing to Sports Afield about an article by Charles Atkins dealing with higher velocities in cartridges, Roy had a letter published on his experiences. From this short blurb in the magazine, he received dozens of letters from hunters accepting his viewpoint and asking him to rechamber their rifles with higher capacity cartridges.
At the time, Roy was a sales representative with the Auto Club, and with new rifles not readily available due to the war effort, he struck out on his own to help fill this growing gap for hunters.
With the idea firmly planted, Roy started to customize rifles in his undersized garage for a growing list of clients. With a small drill press, a lathe and a bluing tank, he was off to his dream and confident that his business would grow and prosper. With a family depending on him, it was an enormous gamble full of difficulties. In the end, though, Roy Weatherby's rifles would continue to be the stepping-stone to innovation, higher velocities and rifles that would make a statement in the sporting world for many years to come.
While he envisioned his own rifle action, in the beginning, Roy Weatherby built his rifles on existing or customer supplied rifles available on the open market. Looking around his shop, one could see Mausers, Enfields, Springfields and possibly a Winchester Model 54 or 70 on the rack waiting to be worked on.
When it came to his proprietary cartridges, they were based on the .300 Holland & Holland case fire-formed in the rifles made for his customers. His first cartridge was the .270 Weatherby Magnum made in 1942 as the .270 PMVF (Powell-Miller-Venturi-Freebore). From here, the famous .220 Rocket (based on the .220 Swift with a different taper and shoulder), .257, the .270 mentioned above and the .300 Weatherby Magnum.
It should also be noted that, while Weatherby was working on higher velocity cartridges, the .278 Gibson and the .280 Dubiel Magnum were also on the horizon using the same .300 H&H case. In the end, the Weatherby version won out.
However, Roy decided that he needed a good action to support the velocities and pressures generated by his belted cartridges. After a disastrous arrangement with Speer to make cases to his specifications, Weatherby turned to Norma for loading his cartridges, which took the burden off his ammunition sales by outsourcing this part of the business.
The building and profiling of stocks was established, so a proprietary action was next in his dream of completing the ultimate rifle as a match for his cartridges. After going through many machine shops and manufacturers from the U.S. to Europe with Fred Jennie, his chief engineer, they finally came up with an accepted design more to Roy's liking.
Cost-wise, the action was getting to be a burden here in the States, so J.P. Sauer and Sohn in Eckernforde, West Germany picked up the project in 1959. Again, with the world market changing, Roy was forced to look elsewhere for the production of his innovative nine-lug action, so in 1969, he turned to Howa of Japan for both his right- and left-hand actions. Today, the Weatherby Mark V action is built here in the company's facility in Paso Robles, Calif.
With safety in mind, Roy designed the action with protection and strength to the shooter as a high priority. With normal pressures generated by off-the-shelf cartridges at around 70,000, his testing demonstrated that the Weatherby Mark V could sustain pressure readings on the high side of 100,000 psi.
To prove the point, Roy loaded his rifle 15 times with a 220-grain bullet pushed into the bore while firing the gun with a cartridge case topped off with a 180-grain bullet. The result was the headspace of the rifle set back only .001 of an inch. He was on his way and dubbed his product as "the world's strongest bolt action," something the Weatherby company still stands by today.
Those who have never seen a Weatherby Mark V action seem to marvel at the bolt of the rifle in particular. For one thing, there is no outside extractor as seen on the more common Mauser-styled bolts. Instead, and thanks to the design features placed there by Fred Jennie, they are referred to as "large" or "fat bolts." In short, since the bolt has one common diameter from one end to the other, there is no wobble as you move the bolt in and out of the receiver, much like a piston within a cylinder.
There are nine lugs around the bolt (the .240 WM to the .30-06 Springfield have six as did the Varmint Master when it was available) while the Remington's, Winchester's and others have two. While some question the Weatherby Mark V bolt by placing all of its strength on nine lugs equally, I'm in favor of improving any bolt-action rifle, and with all the testing Roy Weatherby put into his initial rifles and designs, personally, I don't think there is room for any questions or doubts on its strengths.
Still another gain is the bolt lift, which measures at only 54 degrees versus 90 degrees on the competition, a bonus on follow-up shots and scope mounting. Flutes add to the smoothness of the action, only because the lack of debris caught between the bolt and receiver are vastly reduced, as is the friction of the bolt's operation, simply because it does not touch the follower inside the rifle.
I have a Weatherby Mark V in 7mm Win. Mag. that I purchased in September 1973 that had the "Customized Action" option. With this rifle, only a slight tip of the gun released the bolt to move to the rear. Today, with the manufacturing tolerances within thousandths of an inch, you can do without this option.
Additional features within the bolt and receiver show that Weatherby has chosen to counterbore the bolt face so as to enclose the case head for additional strength and surrounded by the barrel and machined receiver, the company touts this as a "three rings of steel" feature in its catalog.
There is a spring-loaded ejector within the bolt face. Three gas escape vents on the bolt with the bolt shroud incorporating both a cocking indicator and safety lever. To set this rocking safety, pull it back for safe, forward to fire. At rest, the bolt handle fits into a machined groove within the receiver for additional strength, all barrels are hammer-forged, and the trigger is adjustable for pull.
Except for the Dangerous Game and Safari models, all Weatherby Mark V rifles come with a clean barrel (sans sights), with the receiver drilled and tapped for commercial scope bases from a wide variety of manufacturers.
When it comes to choice, Weatherby has shooters covered with five wood models and ten synthetic choices in the present lineup of Weatherby Mark V rifles. This does not include any special editions (like the 70th Anniversary model in 2015), nor does it include any models from the custom shop that may be tuned to your personal specifications.
To start out, all models, regardless of material, have the traditional Weatherby Monte Carlo stock, Decelerator recoil pad and a field crown on the barrel. With the wood-stocked guns and depending on the model, the wood can range from AAA to select with cut checkering, rosewood tips, inlaid diamond on the pistol grip cap, Maplewood spacers, high gloss wood and metal finish on most models to a hand-rubbed finish on Safari-grade guns.
In addition to Weatherby's rifles, let us not forget the newest cartridge to hit the shooting public. With the 6.5-300 Weatherby Magnum, the firm took the popular .300 Weatherby and necked it down to the 6.5 caliber.
By introducing the first new cartridge in 17 years, it shows the Weatherby organization is still on top of its game in offering hunters a cartridge that will cut trajectory over the long haul, use modern .264" bullets and, in handloaded form, top the .264 Winchester Magnum by about 400 fps with a 140-grain bullet and the right powder. At $95.00 a box of 20 rounds, reloading is definitely the way to go.
Allow me to finish up by saying that any Weatherby Mark V rifle can have additions to it through the well-equipped Weatherby Custom Shop. You can upgrade a stock, fine-tune a trigger, customize a bolt or floorplate or add a different barrel contour or length. Engraving is available, and the company is happy to quote you on anything you have in mind. Looking back at some of the older catalogs, Roy himself started this tradition, and it continues on today.
Personal observations include many of the Weatherby rifles present and past. First, is one of my most treasured Weatherby Mark V: the VarmintMaster chambered in the .224 Weatherby Magnum. For field use on small game, it has been and will continue to be a favorite of mine, delivering groups that can knock out a chuck way out on the north 40.
A variant to the Weatherby Mark V group is a special gun the company came out with in 1999 called the Super VarmintMaster chambered in the .22/250 Remington. With a tan Kevlar stock and a 26-inch barrel, the gun comes with a flat forearm perfect for the kind of hunting I love to do. The .240 Weatherby is another favorite, as is the .257.
According to the folks at Weatherby, the .257 has turned out to be the darling of the line and getting more popular every year. So well-liked, in fact, that I have a Weatherby Mark V, a custom Vanguard and a standard Vanguard chambered for this round.
Finally, the 7mm I mentioned earlier is also special to me, as it was my first Weatherby Deluxe rifle. At that time, I was working as a full-time commercial photographer, but to earn extra money for the family and my hobby, I worked part-time in a lumberyard at night long before the box stores took over.
It took me a while to earn enough for that rifle ($359.00 in 1973 money), only because I ordered it with the previously mentioned customized action ($35.00), a rear extension of the checkering pattern ($15.00), my initials on the floorplate ($25.00) and a Canjar single-set trigger for $20.00. Total for my new rig came to around $450.00 without the Leupold scope and bases. Compare those prices with today's list, and you will see that, at the time, those little extras were quite a bargain without adding much to the overall cost of the rifle. This made a Weatherby Mark V rifle quite desirable for the average hunter.
Today, it will still group around a half-inch with handloads stoked with IMR-4831 powder in most .284" bullet weights. I have also built a custom rifle based on the .220 Weatherby Rocket with another action that I still take out with me on varmint hunts.
The Weatherby Mark V rifle was a dream on Roy Weatherby's to-do list. I knew Roy, talking to him on the phone, through correspondence and at shows. Sadly, he passed away in April 1988. Now celebrating 70 years in business and looking down from his place on Cloud Nine, I'm sure he is proud of his company taken over by son Ed and grandson Adam, thus assuring his legacy will continue for years to come.