Weight off my mind
Con Kapralos applauds as M1500 breaks the 3kg barrier
The Highland Sports’ (now Outdoor Sporting Agencies) “Howa – Dream It – Build It” campaign of more than a decade ago refreshed the profile of the M1500 rifle made by Howa Manufacturing of Japan to Australian shooters. The Howa platform was already known here in the shape of the early CMC Mountaineer and later the M1500 range, but with the new marketing strategy the consumer could choose from an array of Howa barrelled actions and mate them to a stock of their choice.
While stock options were initially quite limited, current choices available are many from the standard Hogue OverMoulded unit, alternatives from Boyds and HS Precision to some fine chassis-style stocks from Southern Cross Small Arms and Oryx. Though the Howa M1500 is an excellent platform as a barrelled action, avid stalking hunters who prefer lightweight rifles are left wanting. The weight of current stock options means once a suitable optic is mounted to a Howa M1500 Sporter, the weight of the scoped rifle will approach or exceed 4kg and for hunters who do the hard yards on foot or backpack hunt, every gram saved seems like kilograms. I can vouch for this as I built a fine Howa M1500 Sporter in .30-06 with the factory fluted barrel cradled in an HS Precision stock topped with a 2.5-10×50 scope. It’s a superb hunting combination at just over 4.3kg but after a morning’s stalk and 5-8km under foot, it certainly felt a lot heavier.
Outdoor Sporting Agencies (OSA) heeded the call for a lightweight version with the Carbon Stalker being the result and the rifle in short and long-action calibres would pitch the much-heralded M1500 barrelled action Sporter back into serious stalking rifle consideration. OSA sent for review the Howa Carbon Stalker in .308 Winchester, a blued barrelled Sporter action mated to the carbon-fibre stock made by Stocky’s Stocks in the US, the rifle supplied with a new Zeiss V8 scope in 1.8-14×50 along with a selection of hunting ammunition from PPU and Hornady.
At a glance
The review rifle comes as two component forms, a blued Howa M1500 sporter barrelled action in .308 Winchester and the carbon-fibre stock, assembly done with care. The rifle immediately impressed with a carbon-fibre weave pattern on the stock making the whole firearm stand out with its blued barrelled action and on the scales it came in at 2.83kg. OSA did stipulate all future carbon-fibre stocks would be a slightly different pattern to the carbon weave on the prototype but the weight would be the same.
This is a modern-day classic modelled on the Dickson-Golden Bear barrelled action which gave Howa its international presence. The receiver is milled from a single piece of cylindrical bar-stock and maintains that profile except for the top of the rear receiver ring and underside of the receiver frame where it beds on to the stock with a flat surface warranted. Top of the receiver is drilled and tapped to accept Remington 700-style scope mounting hardware so installing a scope is a breeze.
The generous ejection port makes loading rounds into the internal box magazine easy and discharge of cases through the port is always positive and unhindered, the front receiver ring having one gas port on the left which helps dissipate hot gases from the cartridge ignition. The left of the receiver body has the model engraved into its surface as well as the name of the US importer in Legacy Sports, part of the Fuller Global Consortium which also owns OSA. A small tab on the rear left flank serves as the bolt release button, quite unobtrusive but fits its purpose well. The right flank of the receiver only carries the serial number on the front ring with the receiver finished in matte black which extends to the barrel.
The stock is anchored to the receiver using two hex-head bolts, one just rear of the trigger group and the other which anchors into the front recoil lug, an integral part of the receiver unit. While many modern rifles use other recoil lug designs the Howa M1500 with recoil lug milled as part of the receiver is one of the best and lends itself well to glass bedding for the utmost in accuracy.
The barrel is a standard Howa M1500 Sporter weight number two contour measuring 560mm (22”) and made from chrome moly steel using the cold hammer forging method. The barrelled action is devoid of muzzle threading though I’m sure the M1500 does incorporate a threaded muzzle for accessory use in many of its barrels. The barrel is fitted to the receiver in the old-fashioned way via a threaded barrel shank which screws into the front receiver ring and in the review calibre of .308 Winchester, a one-in-10” twist rate will handle all common .30-calibre projectile weights from 130 to 200 grains without a problem.
Bolt, safety, trigger unit
The bolt is made from a single piece of steel inclusive of the bolt head, body and handle. It’s of a push-feed design with dual-opposed locking lugs and so has the standard 90-degree bolt lift, with case extraction and ejection facilitated by the ever-reliable M16-style ejector and extractor. Such a set-up on the M1500 has never presented any issues and this rifle was no different – if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. The entire bolt including rear shroud is finished in matte black except the rear-facing cocking indicator which is polished steel.
The safety unit is integral to the trigger group and is of a linear three-position design with the selector lever set behind the bolt handle notch. The safety lever in the rear-most position blocks the firing pin and locks the bolt handle down. Moving to the middle position, the firing pin is still blocked but the bolt may be cycled to clear the chamber and fully forward the rifle can now be fired.
The trigger is Howa’s patented HACT (Howa Actuator Controlled Trigger) system designed to eliminate creep and lighten the pull. The two-stage trigger is set to roughly 1.4kg from the factory and is adjustable, though an anti-tamper resin on the adjustment screws indicates any tweaks be left to a competent gunsmith. As set from the factory it was perfectly adequate for hunting and general plinking.
This is the standard pressed steel internal box design with an alloy floorplate and polymer follower with steel spring. It holds five .308 Winchester rounds in a staggered manner and with the follower presents loaded rounds to the push feed bolt without obstruction. Loading the magazine through the ejection port is simplicity itself and unloading is as easy as pressing the floorplate release lever on the forward portion.
The new carbon-fibre stock transforms the rifle into a sub-3kg unit, tipping the scales at 2.83kg with the stock itself weighing a paltry 597g. The stock has a classic American-style pattern with no cheekpieces or combs, a slim pistol grip and fore-end, the texture smooth and devoid of chequering with a quality recoil pad and sling swivel studs fitted as standard. The inletting is spot-on, neatly finished as expected while the Accublock bedding platform for the barrelled action ensures the receiver sits securely in the stock with no movement.
Out and about
The Howa M1500 Carbon Stalker in .308 Winchester was supplied with an impressive optic in the Zeiss V8 1.8-14×50 riflescope with ASV turret system, the complete outfit weighing 3.75kg which is perfect for a rifle intended to be carried long distances. OSA supplied hunting ammunition for accuracy testing from PPU, Hornady and GECO which were supplemented by a couple of my favourite loads for several range sessions.
Howa M1500 Carbon Stalker accuracy test at 100m
|Ammunition||Best group (mm)||Worst group (mm)||Average group (mm)*|
|Sellier & Bellot 180gr SP||16||30||24|
|Hornady American Whitetail 165gr Interlock||35||55||43|
|PPU 150gr SP||30||41||34|
|GECO Express 165gr||14||30||22|
|Sako Gamehead 150gr SP||20||33||27|
* Average group calculated from five 3-shot groups at 100m from a benchrest
All loads shot well with only the Hornady American Whitetail performing below-par. Any of the other four factory options would make an excellent hunting load for Australian species such as feral goats, pigs and deer and I’d be confident in saying handloaders should be able to produce clover-leaf groups by carefully tailoring powder charges and bullet-seating depth for the utmost in an accurate hunting load. The rifle functioned flawlessly and was a pleasure to shoot with the alpha-scope off the bench.
You can spend megabucks on a hunting rifle, be it customised or factory-made but at the end of the day all you need do is put your first shot on target for an ethical and humane kill. Renowned US outdoorsman Randy Newberg has used the Howa M1500 as his go-to rifle for more than 10 years and if a hunter of his stature stands by it then it must be better than good.
The addition of a carbon-fibre stock to the options available with the Howa M1500 barrelled action is a feather in the cap for OSA. The Howa Carbon Stalker is available in both short and long action calibres with a price bracket between $1500-$2000 and stocks available separately below $1000, both offered through OSA dealers Australia-wide. More at www.osaaustralia.com.au
Manufacturer: Howa, Japan
Model: M1500 Carbon Stalker
Action: Push-feed bolt-action, twin locking lugs
Barrel: Sporter-weight 560mm (22”) chrome molybdenum, cold-hammer forged
Sights: None fitted – clean barrel. Receiver drilled/tapped with Rem-700 pattern scope mounting bases
Trigger: Howa HACT unit, two-stage adjustable, factory-set at 1.4kg
Magazine: Internal steel box with aluminium floorplate. Capacity dependent on calibre (review rifle in .308 Win, five rounds)
Stock: Carbon-fibre with Accublock bedding system
Weight: 2.83kg (bare)
Calibres: As tested .308 Win, available in short and long action calibres (see OSA website for availability)
RRP: Bare rifle from $1500-$2000 (depending on specification), stock available separately (below $1000)
Distributor: Outdoor Sporting Agencies