My long love affair with Weatherby rifles began decades ago, during a trip to the company’s old retail store in South Gate, California, to look over the store’s “blemish rack.” In those days, following nearly four years of overseas military service in some never-dull places, my tastes ran toward racy and aesthetically pleasing cars, rifles and members of the opposite sex, and I make no apologies for that. Regrettably, my tastes often exceeded my budget – hence my visit to the blemish rack, which displayed reduced-price guns with minor cosmetic blemishes. It wasn’t long before a rifle with a richly figured walnut stock, Monte Carlo comb, and rosewood forend tip and pistol-grip cap caught my eye. I could find no blemish on it, and my wallet came out so fast it was smoking.
Over the years, three other Weatherby rifles found their way into my safe, including one chambered in 257 Wby. Mag., which is reputed to have been Roy Weatherby’s favorite cartridge. I quickly came to appreciate why, and over time that 257 accounted for more game than any other rifle in my collection. It is my favorite cartridge for deer-sized game, and I would have no qualms about using the 257 Wby. Mag. on elk and black bear, for that matter, with the proper ammo. That’s why, as an admitted fan of the king-of-the-quarter-bores cartridge, I jumped at the chance to test the new Weatherby Mark V First Lite rifle chambered in 257 Wby. Mag.
Unboxing the test rifle, it was clear at a glance that the First Lite is not Roy Weatherby’s Mark V of yesteryear. The Mark V line got something of a makeover in the last few years, and the result is an updated take on an iconic and distinctly American rifle design.
For starters, the stock has been significantly modified. The Monte Carlo comb is still there, but the effect is more restrained, with a bit less rise and less drop at the heel. The forend is slimmer and the grip is smaller in diameter, with a right palm swell added and overall weight trimmed. The hand-laid, composite stock on this model wears a distinctive First Lite Fusion camo pattern and has an aluminum bedding block that free-floats the barrel. It has a time-tested Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad.
The First Lite model is equipped with a hand-lapped, fluted No. 3 contour barrel measuring 26 inches in length to maximize velocity in rifles chambered for four magnum cartridges: 257 Wby. Mag., 6.5-300 Wby. Mag., 270 Wby. Mag. and 300 Wby. Mag. Rate of twist for the magnum-rifle barrels is 1:10. Both the barrel and action have a weather-resistant, flat dark earth Cerakote finish that nicely complements the First Lite camo pattern of the stock, and all barrels have a deeply recessed target crown.
The guts of the rifle, in the form of the famous Mark V action, are as strong as ever. From its earliest days, the Mark V action, with its integral recoil lug and full-diameter bolt, has been heralded as one of the strongest of the sporting bolt-action designs. That’s because Roy Weatherby wanted his actions to be able to withstand the significantly higher pressures generated by his magnum cartridges. This was achieved by recessing the face of the bolt to enclose the cartridge case head and enclosing the bolt head in a counterbored barrel breach, with all of it enclosed by the receiver ring, equating to three rings of steel. Strength is further enhanced by the use of nine locking lugs, in three rows of three, versus a traditional two-lug system. This allows for a shorter, 54-degree bolt lift, which can help you run the rifle slightly faster. It also provides plenty of clearance for scopes.
Safety is further enhanced by three gas ports in the body of the bolt which are designed to let high-pressure gas escape laterally in the event of a case rupture. The bolt has nine longitudinal flutes running along much of the length of the bolt body. This takes some weight out of the somewhat hefty bolt, but also reduces bearing surface area, reducing friction to help the bolt run smoothly. At the right of the bolt shroud, just behind the bolt handle, you’ll find a two-position safety that toggles forward into the firing position. In the rear position, the bolt is locked down and the sear is disengaged. It’s a simple and instinctively fast-operating design. There’s also a sliding cocking indicator located beneath the rear bottom of the bolt shroud.
Even with the fluted barrel and bolt, this is no wispy wand of a rifle. Weight of the bare rifle in magnum persuasion is 8.25 pounds. In the one standard chambering offered in the First Lite – 6.5 Creedmoor – the gun has a shorter 24-inch barrel, with a 1:8 rate of twist, and weighs 7.25 pounds. Part of the difference in weight can be attributed to the bolt. While today’s Mark V rifles retain the classic nine-lug bolt design of Mark V rifles chambered for magnum cartridges, those chambered for standard cartridges use a six-lug design that’s considerably lighter.
Another change to the Mark V rifles is the new LXX trigger. The trigger has a wider trigger face, for improved control, and Weatherby says the engagement surfaces are precision ground and polished, with overall tolerances refined. Trigger pull is adjustable down to a pull weight of 2.5 pounds. The trigger on the rifle sent to me for testing broke at just a hair over 3 pounds, with a barely perceptible amount of take-up on a slow trigger pull. It’s quite a good trigger for a factory rifle, and I left it as it arrived for testing.
One thing I appreciated about the First Lite rifle is that, unlike some models of yesteryear, there is no game-spooking shine or gloss to be found anywhere on this rifle. The new ergonomics of the stock also made it easy to control, and I found it quite comfortable to shoot. The action cycled smoothly, and there were no issues with extraction or ejection. Given the weight of the rifle with scope, rings and ammo onboard, recoil was not at all objectionable.
Another difference between this rifle and older Mark V rifles is the fact that this one comes with a Sub-MOA accuracy guarantee of .99 inch or less for three-shot groups at 100 yards when used with Weatherby factory or premium ammunition. That’s the standard I decided to test the rifle against after mounting a Trijicon AccuPoint 4-16×50 scope in a set of Talley rings and heading to the range.
The first order of business was to see what sort of velocities the 26-inch barrel produced with the four factory rounds I had on hand to test with the rifle. The fastest load tested was Norma’s cartridge using a 100 gr. soft point bullet. It clocked in at an impressive 3,589 fps. Weatherby’s Select Plus load using a 100 gr. Barnes TTSX bullet was, interestingly, 104 fps slower than the Norma load with a bullet of the same weight, but the Weatherby round loaded with my favorite 257 Wby. Mag. hunting bullet, the 120 gr. Nosler Partition, was slightly faster than advertised, stepping out at 3,342 fps. Hornady’s 110 gr. ELD-X load was 110 fps faster than the factory number, but that’s partly because Hornady tests the load with a 24-inch barrel versus the 26-inch barrel of the First Lite rifle.
At the range, it didn’t take long to find out if the rifle lived up to Weatherby’s three-shot accuracy guarantee. All four tested loads delivered sub-MOA best groups of 0.75-inch or less. Three of the four tested loads printed sub-MOA average groups and the only one that didn’t, missed the mark by only 0.08 inch.
This performance represents excellent accuracy for hunting, but it isn’t what I would call target competition-level accuracy, and that’s just fine. The 257 Wby. Mag. has never been about punching holes in paper. It has always been about stylish rifles, high velocity, flat trajectory and the ability to punch above its weight class in taking game without subjecting the shooter to a brutal amount of recoil. The Mark V First Lite is, first and foremost, a hunter’s rifle. Chambered in 257 Wby. Mag., it carries forward the legacy of one of Roy Weatherby’s greatest cartridges in a package that has been updated and modernized but still honors its pedigree.
The fact that it delivers sub-MOA groups is just icing on the cake for quarter-bore fans.
Weatherby Mark V First Lite Rifle
Caliber: 257 Wby. Mag., as tested
Action Type: Push-feed bolt action
Barrel: No. 3 contour, fluted, 1:10 twist
Finish: Flat dark earth Cerakote
Stock: First Lite Fusion camo
Sights: None, drilled and tapped
Barrel Length: 26 inch
Overall Length: 46 5/8 inches
Weight: 8 ¼ pounds
Weatherby Mark V First Lite Rifle 257 Wby. Mag.
|Load||Avg. Velocity (feet per second||Avg. Group 100 yards||Best Group 100 yards|
|Norma Professional Hunter 100 gr. SP||3,589||0.80||0.56|
|Hornady Precision Hunter 110 gr. ELD-X||3,350||1.08||0.73|
|Weatherby Select Plus 100 gr. TTSX||3,485||0.83||0.62|
|Weatherby Select Plus 120 gr. Nosler Partition||3,342||0.97||0.75|
Note: Accuracy measured with three-shot groups in wind 5-10 mph at 100 yards. Velocity measured as a three-shot average with a Competitive Edge Dynamics M2 chronograph.