Predictable and dependable is how I’d sum up rifles made by Howa. Dependable because for honest accuracy, basic reliability and all-round value they continue to impress. Predictable because just when I think I’ve covered every possible configuration, they come up with another new option.
Why so many you might ask? Let me explain. At the core of every rifle is its barrelled action and, in a way, Howa products are somewhat of a kit gun. The Howa factory assemble their renowned barrelled actions in various calibres, action and barrel lengths which are then mated with products from some of the world’s best stock manufacturers, some being proprietary to Howa (some not) to create the end rifle model. As a result and arguably more so than with many other sources, there seems to be an amazing choice of variants with Howa.
I’ve both owned and currently do own several Howa rifles. My first centrefire was a CMC Mountaineer (Howa 1500) in .308 Winchester and my general ‘go-to’ farm rifle a Howa 1500 in .223 Remington. Interestingly, this was in a Hogue Rubber Overmoulded stock at purchase though I later upgraded to an Australian Precision Chassis (APC) option which I guess is a case in point. Howa have dropped their Mini Action into a stunning-looking Carbon Fibre Stock to produce a lightweight stalking rifle. How light? Try 4lb 10oz bare ‑ that’s just a tad over 2kg or 2.098 to be precise. By comparison, a standard Hogue-stocked Howa 1500 (Short Action) rifle weighs in bare at 7.8lb (3.55kg).
To recap, the Howa 1500 Mini Action reduces the standard Howa Short Action length by 12 per cent and is purpose-built for smaller cartridge length calibres in the .223 Remington class. The Mini Action is 29mm shorter than the standard Howa Short Action at 150mm, the receiver ring diameter measures 29.5mm against 34mm and bolt length shrinks to 152mm (6”) as opposed to 175mm (6.9”). It shares all the other features of its big brothers including a three-position safety and Howa’s HACT two-stage trigger system but in a more compact form.
I did some research and understand the stock is part of a collaboration between Howa and US manufacturer Stocky’s who claim their stocks are the “next generation in carbon fibre lay-up” and produced in the newest carbon fibre stock-making facility in the US. They’re said to be ‘stronger, lighter and more precisely machined than ever before’. Certainly on inspection with the barrelled action removed, all the stock’s inletting appeared incredibly neat and when put together gap fit was even.
Tolerances were tight in the barrel channel too with just enough clearance to allow me to slide a cash register receipt all the way up to the base of the receiver to establish it was truly free-floating. Being made from carbon fibre, the stock is totally inert and would remain impervious to moisture or any other type of climatic influence which might otherwise affect the bedding or zero.
One thing I’d note is where there’s been a trend in recent years to have rubberised or soft-touch gripping surfaces and/or heavy stippling or chequering at the fore-end and pistol grip, this new carbon fibre stock is completely slick and smooth from top to bottom. The only grip element is the soft rubber LimbSaver recoil pad, not that any limbs need saving from the recoil of a .223 Remington but it certainly could earn its keep in heavier calibres. I really don’t think this lack of gripping surfaces will detract in any way and can’t remember any time my hands were so slippery I was worried about fixing a grip on my rifle. Ironically, world-famous handgun speed-shooter Jerry Miculek (the six rounds, reload, six rounds all on target in 2.99 seconds revolver guy) runs slick grips on his competition revolvers and reckons he can repeatably find the correct grip better without chequering or stippling.
The rifle supplied for testing was a stainless-steel version which provided a contrast to the Carbon Fibre Stock’s patterning. However, I understand this new option will be available not just in the Mini Action but in the various barrelled actioned combinations, so stainless or blued and both Mini and Short actioned variants. As supplied the Mini Action came with the Howa 10-round polymer magazine and corresponding polymer magazine housing. If you just bought the stock for your existing Howa rifle with a magazine floorplate and five-round fixed magazine, I’m sure you’d be able to retain the existing bottom metal.
For testing the rifle was fitted with a new Zeiss V4 4-16×44 riflescope, a great variable with four-power giving ample field of view for close-up use like when working foxes in to the whistle and all the power you’d ever need when you crank it up to 16 for long sitters. Now I’ve shot a lot of Howas over the years and, as stated, results are somewhat predicable in that there are seldom any surprises. I pretty much knew how it was going to shoot but not being someone to pass over extra trigger time, I had it zeroed in and went to work putting together a few groups.
The rifle did everything as expected. Cycling is fast, especially with the short-stroke Mini Action and cartridges feed and case eject with ease, the 10-round polymer magazine simple to load and giving good capacity when needed. The magazine release is on the front edge of the housing and being a small lever is straightforward to operate when you need to drop the mag for reloading. I did comment in a previous review that some have criticised the positioning of this lever as prone to bump and drop your mag accidently.
I run the same set-up on my Howa APC and brushed this off as having never had happened to me. I have to be honest and admit this has actually occurred since when I’ve accidently bumped it but in general use it doesn’t seem to be a recurring issue, just one to be aware of. On the plus side if you’re filling tags under the spotlight and have a few spare mags on hand, changing them out in the dark is both simple and intuitive with this set-up.
The standard HACT (Howa Actuator Control Trigger) two-stage system works well with its light first pressure coming to a clear stop before the brake of the second stage. Over the years I’ve ran some pretty light single-stage triggers which I’ve found excellent for accuracy, though in the field I must say I like the idea of being able to feel that initial take-up and having a predicable breakpoint. Contrary to some opinions out there I never want to be ‘surprised’ when my trigger breaks and a two-stage option is a good compromise – you can still have a light break but also have that initial take up and feel.
Accuracy-wise I don’t think I’ve ever owned a Howa that wasn’t capable of at least one MOA with a competent shooter behind the trigger. More often than not results of ½ MOA or better can be found with a little work, be that tuning-up your reloads or just selecting a favourable factory load. With this lightweight Carbon Fibre Stock version you’re really looking at a stalking-come-light varmint rifle where the slick and rounded fore-end isn’t ideal for shooting off a bag or similar rest but is a joy to walk around with. Likewise the stock comes standard with Quick Detachable (QD) studs so it’s easy to fit a Harris-type bipod or similar if required.
While with me, this handy little Howa did a few tours of duty around the farm and equipped itself more than adequately when the need arose to despatch the odd feral. It’s also a visually appealing unit with that carbon fibre pattern leaving it looking as flash as a rat with a gold tooth. So if you’re after something reliable, practical, smart and all at a reasonable price you could do worse than give one a go.
Specifications as tested
Rifle: Howa 1500 Carbon Fibre Stock
Action: Bolt-Action (Mini Action)
Trigger: HACT two-stage
Calibre: .223 Remington (as tested)
Capacity: 10-round polymer magazine
Barrel: 22” sporter profile (560mm)
Twist rate: One-in-9
Length of pull: 13.19” (335mm)
Metal finish: Stainless steel
Stock finish: Carbon fibre
Weight: 4.625lb (2.098kg)
Length OA: 40.75” (1035mm)
Price guide: $1000-$1100 (approximately)