December 16, 2019
By Tom Beckstrand
If the Remington 700 and the Winchester Model 54 had a love child, it would look like the Howa 1500 action. Howa’s action is a push feed like a Remington 700, but has an improved extractor location and an ejector that helps keep fired brass away from the scope’s windage turret.
Push-feed actions frequently feed more smoothly than controlled round-feed actions. That’s heresy to acolytes of the 98 Mauser, but the fact that the case rim isn’t positively controlled during feeding allows even short, fat Magnum cartridges to slide up into the chamber with ease. Short Magnums can bind on the extractor if they are not set up correctly.
Howa’s extractor sits on top of the bolt’s outboard locking lug and lifts cartridges up and out of the action. To prevent sending those fired cases into the scope’s windage turret, Howa moved the ejector higher on the bolt face to make sure they get pushed out of the action enough to clear the scope.
I had no brass bounce off the scope’s windage turret during testing. That’s a good thing because anytime a piece of brass bounces off the windage turret, it’s only a matter of time before one eventually bounces right back into the receiver and jams it up.
Howa’s action also shares some design features with the old Model 54 Winchester, father of the venerable Model 70. The feature it shares is an integral recoil lug that is threaded on the bottom to accept the front action screw.
One of the changes Winchester made on the Model 54 when developing the Model 70 was to move that action screw to the flat just behind the recoil lug. Winchester learned that too much torque directly into the recoil lug would cause erratic accuracy and that was their fix for the problem.
Howa took a different tack, beefing up the recoil lug and action walls. Placing additional mass around the screw ensures the action remains stress-free when fired. Howa’s fix was successful, and I witnessed no odd accuracy behavior when testing.
The owner’s manual states that the torque specification on the front action screw is 50- to 55 inch-pounds. I would heed that advice and not go with the usual 65 inch-pounds that most use on a chassis rifle. The additional stress on the front action screw will likely cause a fall-off in accuracy.
The trigger is gunsmith-adjustable for pull weight and comes set right around 3 pounds. The trigger has crisp let-off and is a good choice for anyone looking to get into precision rifle shooting.
Howa’s trigger is two-stage with a very light first stage and most of the pull weight in the second stage. It has a three-position safety that rides next to the bolt shroud. One of those positions allows the bolt to be opened with the rifle on “safe.”
The 1500 APC sports a feature rare for anything in the price range: A trigger hangar. Triggers are normally attached to the receiver by a couple of pins that should only be removed on a workbench by someone knowledgeable using the right tools.
A trigger hangar is an aluminum housing that attaches to the receiver with a single screw. Should the shooter experience trigger issues in the field, the hangar allows him to quickly replace his trigger with a spare and keep shooting. This feature should draw the attention of any potential field shooter because triggers are the first thing to fail once shooting conditions deteriorate. Being able to quickly swap one out is a big deal.
How About That Flag?
Looking at the Howa 1500 APC rifle, it’s hard not to notice the American flag-themed finish on the rifle. While the Cerakote and hydro-dipped finish certainly catches the eye, the chassis underneath it is highly functional.
The chassis is an aluminum bedding block/bottom metal combination to which attaches a tubular forend and a highly adjustable buttstock. The buttstock is the Luth-AR MBA-4 with adjustable comb and length-of-pull (LOP).
Being able to adjust comb height is one of the most important adjustments to make on any rifle. Done correctly, it allows the shooter to make a firm connection between his head and the rifle while maintaining a full field-of-view (FOV) through the scope. This lets the shooter watch the impact of his rounds through the scope, eliminating the need to ask where the round landed. Whether hunting or dinging steel, this is invaluable when fast follow-up shots are occasionally necessary.
The Luth-AR stock also has an adjustable LOP. This ensures the shooter’s head has solid placement on the adjustable comb, and gives some scope mounting options so that the eye relief is set correctly. A fringe benefit of this stock on this rifle is LOP adjusts from 11.75 inches to 14.75 inches, allowing the rifle to fit all sizes of shooters from youth to large adults.
The toe of the buttstock is flat and has a section of accessory rail for monopod users. I’m not particularly fond of monopods and just appreciate having a long flat surface to put on a rear bag. Stabilizing the rifle’s toe is just as important as stabilizing the rifle’s forend, and this stock makes that possible.
The M-Lok slotted tubular forend completely encircles the barrel. The slots allow the shooter to conveniently attach a bipod, light- or night-vision device. Most of us won’t need any of that, so the long smooth forend will do the heavy lifting for positional shooting.
The 16-inch forend on this rifle gives the shooter a ton of options once he gets up off his belly or off the shooting bench. It allows the barrel to float freely for optimal accuracy and provides plenty of options for mounting a sling.
The long forend also means the shooter doesn’t have to stand right next to a field support to stabilize the rifle. It isn’t always possible to get close to the tree limb that sits at a perfect height, so having some reach on the forend is a wonderful positional shooting gift.
It’s A Package
The combination seen here retails for $1,600, which sounds about right for a fully-equipped rifle. However, that price includes the scope seen here. It is a Nikko Stirling Diamond LR 4-16x50mm and it comes mounted on the rifle.
The magnification range gives plenty of FOV at the low end and the 16X at the high end is just about perfect for most precision rifle field matches. As soon as a guy starts moving and shooting, he needs good FOV and the sweet spot for a lot of competitive shooters is 14-16X. The ability to spot hits and adjust the scope is a big part of the fun.
If a guy wants to stick his toe in the precision rifle waters, this is a sensible way to do it. You can pull the rifle out of the box and head off to the range. As scopes go, this one is a good choice for a new shooter. The scope has an illuminated reticle, a side-focus turret and exposed-locking turrets for both elevation and windage. The side-focus turret allows the shooter to learn about parallax, and how to get it out of a scope and the locking turrets prevent accidental adjustment when moving and shooting. In order to adjust the turrets, first lift the turret cap away from the housing before twisting it to make adjustments.
The scope has the “HoldFast” reticle, which is a Ballistic Drop Compensating (BDC) reticle. However, Legacy Sports has detailed information on the reticle and has a reticle diagram listed that shows where each of those BDC line subtends in MOA. This is an MOA-based scope and the turrets adjust in .25-MOA increments.
Range time with the Howa showed a rifle that hovers right around a 1-MOA in a five-shot group average across three loads tested. There were no malfunctions of any type.
I have mixed feelings about Howa’s proprietary magazine. It is a center-fed single-stack detachable box magazine, and that’s the most trouble-free way to feed any rifle. It even beats the internal magazine found on most hunting rifles.
I didn’t care for the fact that the proprietary polymer magazines cost $45 each. That’s a few more dollars than a polymer AICS-pattern magazine, which dominates the precision rifle detachable box magazine scene and most active shooters have a pile of those already.
The Howa American Flag Chassis Rifle and scope is a wonderful value for anyone looking to take precision riflery for a spin. The combination has all the features a new shooter requites to learn the ins and outs of rifle shooting without having to spend a ton of money for the education.
Howa American Flag Chassis Rifle Specs
- Type: Bolt-action
- Caliber: 6.5 Creedmoor (tested)
- Capacity: 10 rds.
- Barrel: 24 in.; 1:8-in. twist
- Overall Length: 44 to 47 in.
- Weight: 10 lbs. 4 oz.
- Stock: Luth-AR MBA-4
- Grips: Textured rubber
- Length of Pull: 11.75 to 14.75 in.
- Finish: Cerakote and hydro-dip
- Trigger: Adjustable
- Sights: Nikko Stirling 4-16x50mm
- MSRP: $1,599
- Manufacturer: Howa, 800-553-4229, legacysports.com
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