The New 6.5-300 Weatherby Magnum and Mark V Rifle
Article first appeared at American Rifleman.
Howie and Bev Steinbeck, proprietors of Steinbeck Vineyards and Winery in Paso Robles, Calif., represent the current generation of ranchers and vintners in a family tradition dating back to the late 1800s. In April of this year, I had the opportunity to visit the vineyard, and share a meal in an ably converted barn that serves as a tasting room. Grandson Ryan Newkirk tended bar, describing for guests the subtleties of the cabernet sauvignon, and Mrs. Steinbeck prepared a meal of home-cooked favorites. It was Mr. Steinbeck who served—a man who wears responsibility and experience as comfortably as his weathered jeans. I recognized in the Steinbecks the same hospitality and dignity that characterizes many hard-working American families who, regardless of profession, sow their own crops and are eager to share the yield of hard work well done.
It was on that same occasion that I was breaking bread with another such family, the Weatherbys—of firearm and ammunition renown. The hosts of my California excursion, I passed the evening with Ed Weatherby and his wife, Sherie, discussing horses and hunting and myriad smaller interests that consume the minds of outdoorsmen and -women. I spoke candidly with Ed’s son, Adam Weatherby, and his wife, Brenda, discussing children and travel in a manner that was easy and familiar, even though we’d just been introduced. The event was a quintessential industry meet-and-greet—good food and new friends in a setting both picturesque and illustrative of the local flavor. The choice of venue, though, was both poetic and pragmatic, a partnership based on affinity and understanding, as much as convenience and locale. Like the Steinbecks, the Weatherbys head a multi-generational family enterprise, plowing their parcel for a market that values quality.
It all began in 1945 when Roy Weatherby launched what would become a hallmark American ammunition and firearm company, one that remains family-owned and -operated, and continues to bear his name. Weatherby moved west after growing up in Kansas and, settling in California, his company eventually found its way to the verdant rolling hills and favorable climate of El Paso de Robles in the state’s central coast. Roy made a name for himself through expert marketing of high-velocity cartridges of his own design and strong-actioned rifles to shoot them. His son, Ed, having spent his life in the family business, took over in the early 1980s and made his mark by translating his father’s passion into a prospering, forward-thinking business. Notably, through Ed’s efforts, Weatherby introduced one of the first synthetic-stocked rifles to the U.S. market. Now, as Adam Weatherby prepares to take the reins from his father, the company has introduced the 6.5-300 Weatherby Magnum cartridge and a redesigned Mark V rifle—a pair of products that both show the way forward and stand as a testament to achievements past.
Roy Weatherby’s early forays into the shooting world were based on a single, sincerely held belief that when it comes to terminal effects, faster bullets kill game better. Though the average hunter in 1940s and 1950s America put his faith in large chamberings and heavy bullets, such as the rimmed .30-30 Win. and .45-70 Gov’t cartridges, Weatherby—through a series of articles,demonstrations and well-placed products—proselytized a number of influential outdoorsmen and investors. Those early adopters played a critical role in both legitimizing Weatherby’s ballistic philosophy—and the wildcat cartridges that resulted—and supporting, financially, his then-fledgling company.
One of Weatherby’s original cartridges, the .300 Wby. Mag. is a perfect example of Roy’s penchant for identifying field-proven loads and, as only he could, making them better by stoking velocity to new heights. Like many of the Weatherby magnums, the .300 can trace its lineage to the .300 H&H Mag. Holland & Holland arms and ammunition have long been favorites among discerning international sportsmen, and the British company’s 1925 introduction of the “Super Thirty” cartridge offered hunters and competitors a boutique loading every bit as potent on game and at the 1,000-yd. range as the .30-’06 Sprg., if not more so. Modifying the belted .300 H&H Mag. case by straightening its tapered walls and eliminating the steep shoulder in order to accept even more powder, Weatherby developed a cartridge for one of the mid-1900’s most popular calibers. It proved capable of using the best .30-cal. bullets of the day, and improving their performance by adding velocity—in some cases, hundreds of feet per second more than the .300 H&H Mag., which was already a “fast” alternative to the .30-’06 Sprg. Today, the .300 Wby. Mag. is still the company’s most popular cartridge, and no wonder, .30 caliber is still renowned for its utility in the field and on the range. As bullet and propellant technologies have improved, and with pursuit-specific projectiles en vogue, Weatherby’s .300 has adapted and kept pace, still yielding some of the fastest velocities in its class.
It’s been more than 70 years since Weatherby introduced his .300 magnum, and 17 years since the company last introduced a new cartridge. Yet, in 2016’s rollout of the 6.5-300 Wby. Mag., Roy’s proven recipe is still at work, albeit for a very modern crowd of shooters. Cartridges loaded with 6.5 mm or .264-cal. projectiles have a rich and storied history, dating back more than 100 years and including notable use in military rifles of the early 20th century, and the derivative sporting arms that followed. But today we see another surge in popularity, driven by a new generation of shooters seeking to maximize accuracy at increasingly long distances. Shooters in this category test their skills at the range in tactical-style sniper competitions, and in the field during big-game hunts that—by virtue of the quarry and environmental conditions—offer few chances for success, and those usually come at extended ranges. While the pursuits can be equipment-intensive, and require preparation and patience on the part of the shooter, the improvement of long-range ballistics is a growing interest, and it’s been fuelled in recent years by the introduction of new and efficient cartridges. Further improving performance are modern, high-quality bullets characterized by high ballistic coefficients, making them just plain miserly when it comes to shedding velocity downrange. It is into this market that Weatherby unleashed the world’s fastest production 6.5 mm cartridge—the 6.5-300 Wby. Mag.
Using the .300 Wby. Mag. case, necked down to accept a .264-cal. bullet, the 6.5-300 is cavernous, boasting a capacity of 101.1 grs. of water. A quick shake of several cartridges from Weatherby’s Select Plus line of ammunition confirms the cases are nearly filled to the brim with propellant. This combination of mid-weight bullets with the Weatherby magnum case is formidable. At introduction, three initial loads were announced—a 127-gr. Barnes LRX, a 130-gr. Swift Scirocco and a 140-gr. Swift A-Frame—all touted to yield velocities in excess of 3300 f.p.s. and energies of more than 3,000 ft.-lbs. By comparison, the popular 6.5 mm Creedmoor tops out in the vicinity of 2900 f.p.s. and 2,300 ft.-lbs. It may seem a bit like comparing apples to oranges, but both cartridges are capable of using the same .264-cal. bullets, and in such a scenario there is no mistaking the advantages of the faster Weatherby load—the greater velocity translates to less drop at range, less wind deflection and more energy on target.
Indeed, the most common complaint leveled in the early days of the 6.5-300 is that it may be a “barrel burner,” a large cartridge powering a relatively small projectile that may accelerate wear and tear on a barrel’s throat and rifling. While the criticism is theoretical at this point, I have to wonder, who cares? How many shots should a magnum barrel endure, really, and who determines such a number? A shooter is not going to invest in the new cartridge, or any Weatherby magnum, if barrel life is his primary concern. In fact, many thousands of shooters have bought into the high-velocity Weatherby brand, shooters who crave power and performance, consequences be damned. And for those, the 6.5-300 Wby. Mag. will be a welcome addition, worthy of the Weatherby name and upholding the company motto, “Nothing shoots flatter, hits harder, or is more accurate.”
For all of the wide eyes and well-earned accolades associated with Weatherby magnum cartridges, every rifle built to handle that ammunition is a work of art in its own right. The company originally assembled guns on whatever sufficiently strong actions were available—FN Mausers, for example, worked well, and such guns represent a healthy percentage of early production Weatherby rifles. But Roy was convinced nearly from the outset that he could, and should, design a rifle action that would safely handle his magnum loads. As hot as his own concoctions were, Weatherby was particularly concerned about handloaders who might push velocities, and pressures, even higher.
Roy had several characteristics that he felt a Weatherby action should possess to maximize shooter safety and comfort; these included a countersunk bolt face to support and enclose the case head, three vent holes to siphon gas in case of a blown primer and a rear bolt shroud to protect the shooter’s face from vented gas. It’s also been said that Weatherby took cues from the locking arrangements of artillery pieces as he conceptualized what would become his iconic nine-lug bolt head. Besides being secure, a Weatherby action would also need to have style and finesse, a requirement fulfilled by a full-diameter bolt body that fit perfectly within its receiver, lending the rifle reliable function and smooth, fluid cycling. So, after several design iterations, and multiple attempts to secure production, Weatherby’s Mark V action was born and incorporated into the company’s line of deluxe rifles.
Weatherby rifles, and particularly those that would become the Mark V family, were distinguished not only by their stout actions, but by their graceful stocks. Roy’s primary goal and inspiration for the Deluxe rifle stocks was to provide the bolt-action-armed sportsman with the same natural mount and point often associated with finely made shotguns. Such considerations may sound superfluous to many American hunters, especially those who set their stands in the whitetail woods of the East Coast. But those who have ventured farther afield, pursuing wary game through big country, know all too well that shots can be few and fleeting when the quarry is “switched on.” And for these, Weatherby’s rifle, with its pronounced pistol grip and sweeping Monte Carlo comb, delivers uncanny handiness and fast, repeatable sight acquisition.
Weatherby’s Mark V became renowned for translating elegant styling into reliable performance. Given its decades of success, it should be no surprise that when company engineers set out to design the next generation of Mark Vs, they chose to refine, rather than re-imagine, the venerable platform. Introduced alongside the 6.5-300 Wby. Mag., the new rifle is unmistakable in its familial resemblance, retaining the contoured stock, the stout receiver and the nine-lug bolt of its forebears. But, in subtle ways, it has been updated to suit the needs and tastes of a new generation of Mark V shooters. The fore-end has been slimmed down, as has the diameter of the pistol grip, though a slight right-hand palmswell has been added. The trimmer stock should be more comfortable and a better fit for most shooters. Other new features include hand-lapped barrels and the new LXX trigger—the first major redesign of the assembly since Mark V production was moved from J.P. Sauer in Germany to Howa in Japan in the early 1970s—the two components combining to enhance accuracy.
While the entire line of Mark Vs, including the wood-stocked Deluxe models, has been enhanced to improve fit and function, as of writing only the company’s composite-stocked stable of guns are available chambered for the new cartridge. It’s a nod to the burgeoning market of modern hunters and competitors, men and women with tactical tendencies, a desire to go long, and a penchant for polymers. For these, it will likely be the Mark V Accumark—with its black stock and fluted barrel—that serves as Weatherby’s flagship long arm. That’s not to say that Weatherby stalwarts are being phased out—not by a long shot. In fact, I expect to see the Deluxe model in the new chambering within a year. But there is no denying that the new Mark V Accumark, chambered for the energetic 6.5-300 Wby. Mag., is a rifle designed for the next generation of Weatherby owners.
I had the opportunity to test the updated Mark V—chambered, of course, for the new 6.5-300—in two phases; first, in a long-range shooting class hosted by Weatherby and Thompson Long Range, near Weatherby’s plant in Paso Robles, and again back in Virginia where I conducted American Rifleman protocol testing. For those unfamiliar, Mark Thompson has been teaching long-range shooting for more than 20 years, and he advocates the use of Weatherby cartridges and rifles, paired with Leupold optics and a custom reticle, for accurate shooting at extended distances. After setting up a Mark V Accumark model with a Leupold VX-3 4.5-14X 40 mm Long Range—the latter denoting Thompson’s reticle—we made for the rolling hills of California’s wine country and a range that would let us ring steel at 1,000 yds. Having previously graduated from several well-known long-range courses, and even having some government-sponsored training under my belt, I have to say that Thompson’s system, facilitated by the right equipment, made for the easiest 1,000-yd. shooting I’ve ever done. Zeroing just a couple inches high at 100 yds., we moved immediately to putting three shots on a plate at 500, the same again at 700, three more at 900 and finally three shots on a 48″ square plate at 1,000 yds. Incredibly, most of the 1,000-yd. groups measured m.o.a. or better, and I can’t recall any of the dozen or so shooters missing, at any distance. There was no dialing or calculating, thanks to the custom reticle gauged specifically for Weatherby magnum ballistics; we simply held on the appropriate elevation hash, adjusted for wind and let fly.
Having recently shot .308 Win.- and 6.5 mm Creedmoor-chambered rifles at similar ranges, it was amazing to see, first hand, just how fast a 127-gr. LRX could cover that distance. When I chronographed the load back home, it averaged a blistering 3594 f.p.s.—even faster than advertised. It also posted excellent accuracy results, averaging 0.86″ for five, five-shot groups at 100 yds. Beyond the cartridge’s inherent capabilities, a few features of the new Mark V Accumark also enhanced performance. The adjustable LXX trigger is excellent. My test rifle had an average pull weight of 2 lbs., 15 ozs., and felt even lighter in use, perhaps due to precision-ground and polished contact surfaces—an enhancement touted by company literature. Even after a dozen rounds, the break still surprised me at times. The new trigger’s face is smooth, embellished only by Weatherby’s stylized W, and it is slightly wider than earlier models, allowing for more contact with the pad of the finger. Also appreciated was the Mark V’s 54-degree bolt lift, which raises the handle just a hair past perpendicular, giving mounted optics a wide birth and facilitating straight, smooth cycling. Finally, my test rifle included Weatherby’s Accubrake which, despite producing reports that would make a signal cannon blush, did effectively tame recoil. In such a configuration, the Accumark in 6.5-300 proved to be a gun that roars like a lion but kicks like a kitten and, with the right ammunition, will shoot the wings off a gnat.
Bringing It Home
A highlight of my West Coast sojourn was a tour of Weatherby’s facility. Standing inside, it’s impossible not to feel Roy’s presence. Some of his original trophies from Africa still adorn the walls, and just past the lobby is a small museum—a collection of firearms, ammunition and memorabilia that commemorates the company’s achievements, new and old—curated by Dean Rumbaugh, himself an employee for 55 years. Rumbaugh is an excellent resource for all things Weatherby, more so for having experienced much of the company’s journey firsthand. I wish I had the space to publish half of what we discussed, but one item worthy of inclusion involves the older rifle included in this article’s lead photography (and above). Dating back to the mid-1950s—a best guess based on its combination of a Timken steel barrel and FN Mauser action—the heavy-barreled test rifle is actually chambered for a prototype 6.5 mm Weatherby magnum cartridge. It was a project that never left Roy’s workshop, and seeing the old rifle, particularly at an event celebrating the 6.5-300 Wby. Mag., underscored for me the harmony between tradition and innovation that defines Weatherby.
Walking the factory floor, I was able to witness the production of a Mark V rifle. Though Weatherby rifles have been produced in California, Denmark, Finland, Germany and Japan, Mark Vs have been made exclusively in the United States since 2011, and today the Paso Robles plant assembles every Mark V rifle and performs other critical processes. For example, barrels arrive prechambered, but the bolt faces need to be measured and milled for proper headspace. Triggers are tuned using a method that is brilliant in its simplicity: A gunsmith holding a barreled action attempts to lift two weights—3-lbs. and 3-lbs., 8-ozs.—off the floor after hooking them with a “loaded” trigger. After several iterations and adjustments, a properly tensioned trigger will support the lighter weight but release under the strain of the heavier. Every single rifle is also proof-fired in Paso Robles, using a cartridge loaded to generate approximately 30 percent more pressure than the standard. It’s a testament to the Mark V action, considering the factory loaded 6.5-300, and other Weatherby magnum ammunition, can generate pressures in excess of 65,000 p.s.i. Finally, Weatherby is equipped to finish all metal surfaces in house, from stainless to high-gloss, bead-blasted to blued, and it even operates a bay for applying Cerakote.
Beyond building rifles, Weatherby is celebrating the homecoming of another manufacturing operation. Outsourced to Norma since the mid-1950s, 2016 marks the first time in more than 60 years that loaded ammunition is being produced at the company’s home office. Even without knowing all the dollars and cents involved in setting up the ammunition plant, the move strikes me as an incredibly savvy investment. Company representatives made it clear that nothing is changing in terms of Weatherby’s long-standing relationship with Norma, the Swedish firm will continue producing all of the brass, and the lion’s share of loaded ammunition. However, the secondary plant will give Weatherby added production capacity and incredible flexibility to respond to market demand. It’s no secret that Weatherby shooters are dependent on “Roy’s case,” and, in the past, there have been infamous shortages resulting from delays in shipments from Europe, or unforeseen surges in demand. Bringing ammunition production in house, even on a limited scale, will greatly improve the company’s ability to react to the market, increasing supply as needed and ensuring that adequate product is on hand to support new introductions. The 6.5-300 Wby. Mag. will be the first real test of the new capability.
So what’s next for the California gunmaker? Its location alone will present no small challenge for Adam and, God willing, future generations of Weatherbys, as they take the lead. But if we glean nothing else from the company’s newest crop, the new Mark V rifle and the 6.5-300 Wby. Mag.—both worthy successors to Roy’s legacy of high-velocity ammunition and high-quality firearms—Weatherby will continue to stand by the principles and practices of the past in order to address the needs of today’s shooters.