April 02, 2019
Photos by Mark Fingar
Being a rifleman in America right now is awesome. There is a continuous flow of new and relevant rifles, scopes and shooting accessories coming from almost every manufacturer. Modern manufacturing techniques make it possible to create high-quality products without making them prohibitively expensive.
Nowhere is big, beautiful capitalism more competitive than in the “value” portion of the rifle market. Low prices mean lots of sales, so everyone wants to get a piece of that pie.
“Value” does not mean cheap, and everyone defines it differently. However, performance speaks for itself, regardless of price point. It’s always a pleasure when value and performance collide, and no rifle better typifies this combination than the Howa KRG Bravo rifle.
Most folks don’t recognize the Howa name, and that’s unfortunate. Inside the circle of hardcore rifle aficionados, the Japanese-made Howa has a reputation for turning out very accurate and well-made rifles that don’t break the bank.
The Howa 1500 action used in this rifle is its own animal and is not a Remington 700 clone. It has just as much in common with the Winchester Model 54 as it does a Remington 700.
The Howa bolt looks a lot like a 700 that has seen some additional gunsmithing. It is a two-lug, push-feed action with a 90-degree throw. Howa includes an oversized bolt handle to make the already relatively light bolt lift feel even lighter.
The value of the 1500 really shows in the bolt’s extractor and ejector location. Rifles that see high round counts need to have a stout extractor. Small spring-steel clips will eventually break, so it’s a good idea to have an M16-style extractor. After all, the M16 was designed with thousands of rounds of service life in mind, and it has proven its worth after decades of testing.
Howa designed their bolt with an M16 extractor that sits atop the outboard bolt lug. It is a long and wide extractor that slips over the case rim when the action closes. Upon opening, the ejector pushes against the rim of the fired case until the case mouth clears the receiver, then the ejector kicks the empty out of the action.
The extractor holds the case tightly against the bolt face to make sure the ejector has a solid piece to push against. Not only is the extractor extremely durable and effective, it has the proper orientation with the ejector for reliable operation.
Howa was smart and also put their ejector high up on the bolt face close to the extractor (at about the 1-o’clock position). The high position means the fired case gets pushed down and out. This gives fired cases a much better chance of avoiding collision with the windage turret. Howa beveled the edge of the extractor to help cases roll off from the top at a downward angle, further steering them away from the scope.
Though the Howa is a push-feed, it has a flat bottom with a wide and thick integral recoil lug. The action’s wide, flat bottom looks very similar to the old Winchester Model 54 (father of the Model 70) in that regard. Part of the secret of the Winchester action’s success was the action’s bottom; it makes an excellent bedding surface and pairs well with stocks and chassis.
One thing about the Howa action that requires the shooter’s attention is the action screws, specifically the front one. The owner’s manual says that 50 to 55 inch-pounds is what the rifle needs; heed that detail for a happy rifle.
The 1500 action threads the front action screw directly into the large recoil lug. The Winchester Model 54 did this back in the 1930s, and Winchester found that the rifle would occasionally throw an errant round because of it. The Winchester Model 70 moved the action screw location to the wide bedding surface just behind the recoil lug, and the occasional erratic shot disappeared.
I’ve tested a few Howa rifles and have never witnessed erratic rounds, even with the current front action screw location. I attribute this to the size and thickness of the integral recoil lug. Given enough mass, the stability issues experienced by the early Winchester isn’t an issue for Howa. Putting too much torque on the front action screw (65 inch-pounds or more) will likely destabilize the balance Howa created.
Howa includes an excellent trigger on their rifle. The Howa Actuator Controlled Trigger (HACT) is a two-stage trigger that has a long and light first stage followed by a short, crisp second stage. The trigger is very good with almost no creep, and it is user-adjustable for weight. The HACT doesn’t adjust much below 4 pounds, but it does offer some flexibility.
The final Howa action feature that deserves some attention is their use of a trigger hanger. For those unfamiliar with a trigger hanger, it allows the shooter to easily remove and replace the trigger in the field. One small screw holds the trigger in the hanger, so it is easy to remove for maintenance. Should it experience problems in a match, it’ll be a snap to repair or replace.
Kinetic Research Group (KRG) makes the Bravo chassis. KRG’s leadership is three former Green Berets from the 5th U.S. Special Forces Group. They know a thing or two about what a rifle stock/chassis needs.
The foundation for the Bravo is a chunk of machined aluminum that runs from the grip to the tip of the forend. Polymer skins that form the stock and encircle the forend attach to that same piece of aluminum.
The genius of the guys at KRG is they’ve figured out a way to keep costs down, so when they teamed up with the Howa barreled action, the customer walks away with an incredibly optioned rifle at a price few would believe.
The aluminum center section of the Bravo provides a very rigid housing for the action. Actions want to move and twist when the rifle fires, but it’s important that they don’t. The Bravo ensures the action stays immobile.
To that aluminum center section attaches a polymer skin that surrounds the forend. The forend has two M-LOK slots on either side and five M-LOK slots along the underside. There is plenty of real estate to attach anything you fancy. KRG has an ARCA-Swiss rail that attaches to the underside and makes it possible to mount a bipod or tripod anywhere along its length.
The rearmost portion of the polymer skin on the forend also acts as an adjustable magazine well. It is possible to adjust the forend fore and aft to change how much tension there is on the detachable box magazine. The owner can have magazines drop free for competition or require hand removal if hunting is on the menu (to avoid losing magazines in the field).
The Bravo has an integral bottom metal system that is compatible with Accuracy International AICS magazines. The magazine release is a lever at the front of the triggerguard and extends just a hair below it. Accepting the world’s most popular detachable box magazine is a nice touch from Howa and KRG.
Part of having an enjoyable shooting experience is being able to make the rifle fit the shooter and optic. The most common error I see in rifle setup in putting a scope with a large objective lens (50mm or greater) on a rifle that doesn’t have an adjustable comb. Doing so requires the shooter to lift their head off the comb, which gives the rifle a running start into your face under recoil.
A rifle becomes a lot more comfortable to shoot when the shooter can rest their head on the comb and still see through the scope. This applies not only during recoil but while observing through the scope. A rifle with no head support quickly exhausts the small muscles in the neck and makes even a simple task like looking through the scope bothersome.
The Howa Bravo has a quick-adjust comb that requires nothing more than a quick turn of a thumbscrew to get the comb height just right. This makes fitting the rifle to the shooter a breeze. The Bravo also has an adjustable length of pull by using spacers. Getting length of pull right is the second most important thing when fitting a rifle to the shooter.
The Bravo has only been out a short time, but KRG already has a huge range of aftermarket accessories for it. If all you desire is a well-made and adjustable stock, the Bravo is ideal as it comes. However, if you want a quick-adjust length of pull with cast-on and cast-off options, a forend that makes mounting night vision a snap or an exposed hook near the toe so you can pull the rifle back into your shoulder, KRG has you covered.
Accuracy testing for the Bravo went as I suspected. Howa rifles are known performers, and this one was no different.
The Howa Bravo is an extremely well-balanced rifle that can do just about anything, and it offers a good balance of low weight with enough options to be meaningful.
It would be a good choice for a match, a predator hunt or a day spent dinging steel at the range.
Type: Bolt-action repeater
Cartridge: 6.5 Creedmoor (tested)
Capacity: 5+1, 10+1 rds.
Barrel: 24 in.; 1:8-in. twist
Overall Length: 42.5–45 in.
Weight: 9 lbs., 14 oz.
Stock: KRG Bravo chassis
Length of Pull: 12.5–15 in.
Finish: Blued, matte
Trigger: 4 lbs.
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