Instant Classic

By Mike Dickerson

The Webley & Scott Empire rifle combines classic, timeless styling with modern technology and upgraded features

Like many English gun makers, the firm of Webley & Scott has a long and illustrious history. The name conjures up images of aristocrats shooting pheasants with fine boxlock shotguns, British officers dispatching the Crown’s enemies with break-top revolvers and young noblemen striding forth with a falling block .577 Nitro Express rifle to slay the vicious beasts of the Dark Continent.

It may then come as a surprise that Webley & Scott hasn’t made a centerfire rifle for nearly a century, choosing instead to focus on building shotguns and air rifles, but this year marks the return of the Webley & Scott centerfire rifle. As you might expect, this new rifle, a bolt-action, features classic—even elegant—styling, but its traditional good looks are backed up with a host of modern features.

It is named, appropriately enough, the Empire.

The empire uses the same basic action as the Howa 1500 and weatherby vanguard, but has some distinctive touches, such as a jeweled bolt, knurled bolt handle and flat-top end cap on the receiver.

The rifle is not actually made in England, but it does have international origins. Barreled actions are made by Howa in Japan and are imported by Legacy Sports International, the same firm that imports Howa branded rifles. The Empire uses essentially the same action as that used in the Howa 1500 and Weatherby Vanguard rifles, with some distinctive differences, such as a jeweled bolt, knurled bolt handle and squared off, flat-top bolt hood.

The 3-position safety allows rounds to be cycled through the action in the middle position. The two-stage trigger was quite good, breaking at an average of 2-lbs., 14-oz.

But these aren’t the first things you’ll notice when unboxing the Empire. What’s most likely to catch your eye is a classically styled Italian walnut stock from Minelli, with clean lines, a straight comb, cheek piece and substantial rubber recoil pad. I’d classify the wood as a basic grade, but the stock on our test gun still showed some grain and character.  Checkering on the pistol grip and forend is well executed, and contrasts nicely with the lighter-colored wood of the stock, which is further dressed up with a Weatherby-esque rosewood forend tip and engraved rosewood pistol grip cap.

The Empire sports a Number 2 contour 22-inch chromemoly steel barrel with a protective muzzle crown.

The rifle’s hammer-forged barrels are mated to the strong, time-proven Howa actions, which are pillar-bedded in the stock. The barrel on our test gun, chambered in .270 Win., was no pencil-thin tube. It’s a No. 2 contour, 22-inch barrel with a 1:10″ rate of twist. The same barrel length and twist rate are used in guns chambered for other calibers in the Empire line, which include .30-06 Springfield, .243 Win., .308 Win. and 7MM-08. Given its robust build, the gun tips the scales at 7.8 lbs. empty with no optics mounted. That’s a tad heavy by today’s standards and bucks the current trend toward featherweight mountain- rifle designs, but it’s light enough to serve just fine as a general-purpose hunting rifle.

In a nod to modern shooter preferences, the rifle comes with a flush-fitting detachable five-round magazine.

In a departure from classic design, the gun has a detachable 5-round, flush-fit metal magazine. Happily, the magazine release button rides in a recessed well just forward of the magazine to minimize chances of accidentally tripping the magazine release. The magazine locks into place solidly and drops freely when the release is pressed.

Classic styling extends to an engraved rosewood pistol grip cap.

The rifle is also available as a package with a Nikko Stirling Panamax 3-9X40mm scope, complete with one-piece base and rings. To help squeeze maximum accuracy from the gun in testing, I mounted a Steiner GS3 4-20×50 scope. With its clear glass and high magnification, this 30mm scope has quickly become one of my favorites for testing rifles from the bench. It features Steiner’s S7 reticle, a second focal plane design with hash marks to account for bullet drop out to 700 yards and wind drift lines for 5 to 10 mph crosswind. Parallax is adjustable from 164 feet to infinity.

Mounting a 30mm scope wasn’t the challenge it can sometimes be with new rifle designs. The Empire’s receiver accepts scope bases for Remington 700/Howa 1500 rifles, so there’s no shortage of available mounting systems for scopes. I used a set of Talley lightweight one-piece rings, which I have long favored for their simplicity and durability.

Rosewood can also be found as the stock’s forend cap. This rifle will appeal to hunters who still appreciate the timeless marriage of blued steel and checkered walnut.

Functionally, the rifle was flawless. Feeding was impressively smooth, and the rifle fired, extracted and ejected a mix of ammo with no issues whatsoever.

The trigger on the test rifle broke at 2 lbs., 14 oz. It’s a quality trigger, which you would expect to see in a rifle in this price range, and the pull weight was at a setting I like for hunting. There was some minimal take up before the two-stage trigger meets a solid stop. Apply a bit more pressure, and the trigger breaks cleanly.

A classic-styled walnut stock—made by Minelli of Italy—features a straight comb, raised cheekpiece and substantial rubber recoil pad.

The rifle has a 3-position safety, which allows you to cycle rounds through the action with the safety in the middle engaged position. With the safety in the full rearward engaged position, the bolt is locked.

In range testing, I found that the Empire shoots as good as it looks, despite having to contend with a bit of wind. All five tested factory loads produced average groups measuring less than an inch and a half at 100 yards, with a couple averaging barely over an inch. Three loads, including the new Browning BXR 134-gr. load, the Federal Fusion 130-gr. load and the Hornady American Whitetail 130-gr. load, shot sub-MOA best groups.

There were no real surprises in velocities measured out of the rifle’s 22 in. barrel. All of the tested loads were a bit slower than their factory-stated velocities, with speeds falling 64 to 164 f.p.s. below the factory numbers when rounds were clocked over my CED M2 chronograph. That difference is most likely due to the fact that many manufacturers use 24-inch barrels for testing common centerfire cartridges like the .270 Win., so some modest drop off in velocity is to be expected. The hottest load of the bunch was, predictably, Hornady’s Superformance 130-gr. SST load, which stepped out at 3,127 f.p.s. That’s faster than most factory-stated velocities from 24-inch test barrels. The slowest round tested, Browning’s new 134-gr. BXR, shot the tightest groups.

1) Best 100-yard precision went to Browning’s new BXR ammo, printing the 0.89” group.
2) To wring maximum precision out of the test rifle, the author mounted a Steiner GS3 4-20x50mm scope in talley lightweight one-piece rings.

With a MSRP of $956 for the rifle only (and $1,087 with the Nikko Stirling scope package), the Empire isn’t cheap. But if you still appreciate the timeless marriage of blued steel and walnut in a reliable, accurate and classically styled rifle, the Empire may just be your cup of tea. See the Empire at your gun shop, or contact Legacy Sports International, Dept. OT; Tel.: (800) 5-LEGACY; Web:



                                             AVG. MUZZLE         AVG. 100-YARD      BEST 100-YARD LOAD                                 VELOCITY (FPS)        GROUP (INCHES)  GROUP (INCHES)

Browning BXR 134-gr.
Matrix Tip                                    2,896                              1.02                            0.89

Federal Premium 130-gr.
Trophy Bonded Tip                      2,984                              1.36                            1.21

Federal Fusion 130-gr.               2,986                              1.22                            0.95

Hornady American Whitetail
130-gr. InterLock                       2,936                              1.07                            0.98

Hornady Superformance 
130-gr. SST                                 3,127                              1.13                            1.03

All groups fried from a bench rest at a range of 100 yards. Velocities measured with a Competitive Edge Dynamics M2 chronograph.

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