July 22, 2020
Howa is one of those rifle companies that many still don’t know, but probably should. Their rifles are produced in Japan and belong to a small manufacturer demographic that produces both economical and high-quality rifles.
The easiest way to conjure a mental understanding of Howa’s 1500 barreled action is to imagine a Remington 700 bolt with an improved extractor stuffed into a Winchester Model 54 receiver. While that may sound odd to some, this combination makes for a stable receiver with an easy-feeding bolt. From this, the Howa 1500 has earned a reputation as a reliable rifle.
New from Howa is the combination of adding a carbon-fiber barrel to its receiver and dropping the barreled action into the latest H-S Precision stock made from carbon-fiber, Kevlar and fiberglass. Together, the finished rifle tips the scales at less than 7 pounds.
All The Rage
Carbon fiber barrels are hot right now, and not without reason. These barrels usually have a contour similar to a steel bull barrel, but come in at a fraction of the weight. The advantages claimed from using a carbon fiber-wrapped barrel are sometimes exaggerated, but certain facts can’t be argued.
Weight savings from using a carbon fiber barrel is indisputable. Take any steel barrel of the same length, even if it has a smaller contour, and the carbon fiber barrel will be lighter. Steel barrels with very narrow contours can weigh as much, or less, than a carbon fiber barrel. Steel barrels will almost always be shorter, but come at the cost of some velocity. If you want regular barrel lengths with minimum weight, carbon fiber is the best way to go.
One claim I’ve tested on carbon fiber barrels is that they “cool faster than steel barrels.” My own testing has shown that the thin steel liner that forms the bore gets hotter than an all-steel counterpart, but no bore temperature drops faster than one surrounded by carbon fiber. This occurs because carbon fiber pulls heat away from the steel quickly, and it works. This is important because the faster the bore cools, the less abuse it takes during follow-up shots.
The carbon fiber barrel that came on G&A’s Howa Carbon Fiber rifle looked suspiciously like a Christensen Arms barrel, but a quick call to Christensen Arms confirmed that production rifles will not have their barrels. This poses a bit of a mystery about who is going to make the carbon fiber barrel Howa will use. There are only five carbon fiber barrel manufacturers of whom I’m aware of: Christensen Arms, Proof Research, Helix 6 Precision, BSF and Carbon Six. I can’t predict which will be making the barrels on Howa’s production guns, but I suspect Howa is still finalizing their selection. However it all shakes out, the test rifle proved accurate, as the attached table shows.
One of things I noticed during testing was that the barrel channel in the H-S Precision stock (hsprecision.com) rides very close to the carbon fiber barrel. When the rifle showed up for testing, the barrel was not free-floating and was touching the stock’s barrel channel. Of course, this doesn’t help with accuracy. Closer inspection of the stock also revealed two small screws passed through it on either side of the action’s recoil lug. By making small adjustments to these screws, it will allow the shooter to fine-tune the location of the barrel inside the stock’s barrel channel.
After some trial and error, I had the barrel riding down the middle of the channel with no stock contact. Once I made these adjustments, accuracy went from occasionally erratic to very good. There isn’t a lot of information available on the barrel channel screws, which can play a significant role in how well the rifle shoots, so make a mental note to watch for them if you decide to buy a Howa 1500 in an H-S Precision stock.
The new stock in Howa’s line-up comes from H-S Precision and is a rugged, yet simple affair. The stock is made from wrapping a mixture of Kevlar, fiberglass and carbon fiber around a block of aluminum to which the barreled action bolts. Some polyurethane foam fills the empty cavities to give the stock its shape and add some rigidity.
H-S Precision stocks have been around for a long time and were issued on the U.S. Army’s M24 sniper rifle from 1988 until 2014, only to be replaced by a modular chassis system. The stocks gained a well-earned reputation for being extremely rugged. I even had one on the rifle I was issued in 3rd Special Forces Group. I never saw an H-S Precision stock with an issue during my time in service. They are simple and durable.
One aspect about the H-S Precision stock that I like, and makes it a great choice for just about anyone, is the aluminum bedding block within. H-S Precision was an early adopter of the bedding block and has had several decades to perfect their bedding system.
When H-S Precision started using bedding blocks, most fiberglass-Kevlar-carbon fiber stocks required a qualified gunsmith to bed the barreled action to the stock by hand. This is a time-consuming process. H-S Precision understood that, and by wrapping the stock around a precisely machined aluminum block and bolting the barreled action to it, they could more effectively immobilize the barreled action in the stock. While the aluminum bedding block system is common now, H-S Precision was one of the first to use it. The H-S Precision system has been proven to work well in the hands of soldier for more than 25 years.
Howa’s short action also has a completely flat bottom and an integral recoil lug. This design gives the Howa action a lot of surface area to connect with the bedding block. And there’s not only ample surface area on the receiver’s bottom, but also around the tang. Sometimes the tang proves problematic for bedding block systems because anything with the Remington 700 footprint has a round action and a rounded tang. Depending on how the tang marries to the bedding surface, the rounded tang can warp the action when the action screws are tightened.
The Howa 1500 doesn’t have this issue because it’s one flat surface mating to another. When both the front and rear action screws tighten to the appropriate torque value, it places two large, flat surface areas in direct contact with one. The new H-S Precision stock with bedding block on the Howa 1500 action is one of the most stress-free bolt-and-go bedding systems I’ve seen on a readily available production rifle.
Action in Action
The Howa 1500 action is like a Remington 700 in that it’s a dual-lug push-feed action. A few of the differences between a Howa and the Remington are in the location of the extractor and ejector.
Extractor and ejector locations, along with their functionality, get almost no airtime in the firearms media. It’s unfortunate because both are significant distinguishing factors in how well an action performs. The Remington 700 layout is standard with the extractor located on inside the outboard bolt lug and the ejector on the opposite side of the bolt face. While the 700’s extractor isn’t great for high-volume shooting, the location of these two components works well. Together they do a great job of getting fired brass out of the action without bouncing it off a scope’s windage turret.
When custom action makers decided to improve the Remington 700, one of the first things they did was eliminate its small clip extractor and replace it with a beefier AR-style extractor. The problem with this change was that the only place to put a larger extractor was above the outboard bolt lug. Placing the extractor closer to the top of the bolt face has the unintended consequence of launching empty cases up into the scope’s windage turret. Bounce enough cases off the windage turret and sooner or later one of them is going to come back into the action. So, while the AR-type extractor is more durable, it can come with its own issues.
Howa has been in the bolt-action game for awhile and took two steps to eliminate this problem. First, they beveled one corner of the extractor to allow the fired case to roll off the extractor from the top down. (This gets the empty piece of brass moving in the right direction and also goes a long way in keeping fired cases away from the windage turret.) The second fix was the location of the ejector. Howa moved the ejector to the top of the bolt face to help push fired brass down and away from the scope as it exits the receiver. This is one of those things that if it doesn’t come right from the factory, there’s no fixing it later. Howa got the ejector location right on the 1500.
The Howa Actuator Controlled Trigger (HACT) on G&A’s 1500 test rifle measured 3 pounds on a Wheeler Trigger Pull Scale. Three pounds of pull is a little heavy for my personal taste. To adjust the trigger, I removed the barreled action from the stock and used the small nut at the front of the trigger housing to make an adjustment. G&A’s test rifle’s nut was covered by a white gum that made it impossible to see the nut needing adjustment. While scraping the goo off did allow for some trigger pull adjustment, it wasn’t a lot. It is possible to get a HACT trigger down to about 2½ pounds, but not much less.
Legacy Sports is the sole importer of Howa rifles and will offer this rifle as a package that includes a 4-16x44mm Nikko Sterling scope. The optic is a satisfactory bonus capable of some hunting and casual range use.
Howa HS Carbon Fiber
- Type: Bolt action
- Cartridge: 6.5 Creedmoor
- Capacity: 4 rds.
- Barrel: 24 in.; 1:8-in. twist
- Overall Length: 43.5 in.
- Weight: 6 lbs. 13 ounces (Without scope)
- Stock: HS Precision
- Grips: Textured
- Length of Pull: 13.5 in.
- Finish: Blued, matte
- Trigger: 3 lbs. (tested)
- Sights: None
- MSRP: $1,819
- Manufacturer: Howa, 800-553-4229, legacysports.com
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