Broadly speaking, from the market’s offering standpoint, it’s not hard to find a bolt action rifle specifically built for big game hunting or long distance shooting. However, if you want a practical and durable working gun or you are shopping for your first big game rifle, than it can be a daunting task.
Nowadays, you have a choice of solid guns from the dozens of world-renowned companies that produce well-built and accurate hunting rifles with good triggers. There are many different choices in stock material, in design and in bolt action style.
Since these centrefire rifles come chambered in multiple options, the confusion of first-time buyers can be even more discouraging in their early shopping steps.
The higher end models include the Remington Model 700, Winchester Model 70, and Ruger Model 77. On the other side of the spectrum, you will find more budget-friendly rifles such as the Savage Axis, Ruger American, Mossberg Patriot, and Tikka T3.
Of course, there are many, many others, but in this overview we’ll present one of the most underrated rifles produced today that comes from the Howa Machinery Company.
The epithet of the best budget hunting rifle didn’t come suddenly, since Howa Machinery, Ltd. has a long tradition dating back to 1907. While this Japanese manufacturing company began by specialising in construction equipment and industrial tools, they have been in the firearms business since 1940.
As a heavy machinery company, on the eve of World War II, Howa soon started mass producing Arisaka rifles, machineguns, flamethrowers, and aircraft components. In the world of Second World War small arms enthusiasts, collecting one of the top prizes could be considered the Howa-made Arisakas.
Today, the company manufactures artillery and rocket launchers, but among the general gun public, they are best known for their ahead-of-their-time semi-auto AR-180s and extremely high-quality barreled actions at a low cost.
Evaluating the Howa 1500
One of Howa’s first product lines was barreled actions that entered production in 1979 and were delivered to the Weatherby Vanguard. It was the heart of all Vanguard rifles that cost a lot less than Weatherby’s more expensive options.
The next logical step was to design a series of rifles known as the Howa 1500. Essentially, it is a Weatherby Vanguard rifle, only with a different stock.
Modern CNC equipment and the improvements in machining technology in recent decades have allowed manufacturers like Howa to tighten tolerances and lower costs. While the price point positioned the Howa 1500 among other budget options, its accuracy, handling, and ergonomics separated it from the bunch of other budget-friendly rifles.
Furthermore, in comparison to the bigger companies such as Remington or Winchester, Howa has never had any real issues with quality control. Still, Howa had carefully listened to the hunters’ demands and improved their rifles to be reliable and accurate.
Over the decades, Howa has perfected their production processes, launching not only a good hunting rig under $500 but a long-lasting rifle that’s also enjoyable to shoot. With superb quality manufacturing and precision, modern Howa bolt action rifles are a far cry from the many low-cost rifles that come with heavy, creepy triggers and less than desirable accuracy.
Built by Howa Machinery of Japan, the Howa 1500 is the only large-calibre, turn-action rifle made in Japan but sold worldwide. Howa is offering the 1500 series in three action lengths; the long, short, and Mini Action, with barrels made in sporting length, weight, and profile and Varmint length and weight. While these barreled actions are found on many custom builds and competition rifles, the admirable simplicity of the Howa system is reminiscent of the early models of the Sako centrefire bolt actions.
As earlier mentioned, there are numerous variations of the Howa 1500 in an assortment of different stocks, finishes, and barrels. The Howa 1500 comes equipped with a cold hammer-forged barrel in a 22″ long lightweight, a 22″ standard, and a 24″ heavy variety.
The sporter-weight barrels weigh 7.8 pounds and measure 42.25 inches long, while the 24″ barrel guns weigh 8.0 pounds and measure 44.75 inches long.
The Howa 1500 Hogue rifle is available in a variety of long and short-action chamberings, including the 204 Ruger,.22-250 Rem,.223 Remington 6.5 Creedmoor, and 7mm Rem Mag, as well as the.30-’06 Springfield,.300 Winchester Magnum, and the mighty.375 Ruger.
The Howa 1500 employs a hinged floorplate, which makes accessing unfired cartridges easy.
The Howa 1500 features a push-feed bolt with the classic dual-lug design and an integrated bolt arm. It sports a case extractor similar to the design used with semi-auto rifles. The forged, one-piece bolt offers a 90-degree lift and comes with a firing pin assembly that can be easily removed without tools. The long and robust M16 style claw extractor is more reliable than extractors used on other bolt actions as it provides very positive extraction of fired cases.
There are numerous variations of the Howa 1500, but a single characteristic that all Howa rifles have is a 3-position safety mechanism, similar to the Winchester Model 70.
A three-position safety with a red-dot safety indicator is located at the rear right of the receiver. Unlike the standard two-position safety (On and Off), it offers a middle position that locks the entire rifle (bolt and trigger), allowing you to cycle ammo through without worry.
Another selling point is the Howa 1500s two-stage curved trigger of medium width that Howa calls the Howa Activated Controlled Trigger (HACT). This HACT trigger requires minimal sear engagement, whereas it offers a smooth take-up and a clear wall before the crisp three-pound break.
While this Howa trigger is neither adjustable nor a target trigger by any means, the HACT is on par with much more expensive rifles, and it is good enough for a hunting rifle.
Along with the rock-solid push-feed action performance, one of the most useful features of the Howa 1500 is the choice of durable synthetic stocks that don’t feel cheap, hard, or slippery. However, some of you may know that most stocks on contemporary Howa rifles are not actually made by Howa. Hogue is one of the larger suppliers of rubber over-molded stock, which has no doubt contributed to the rather amazing success of the Howa 1500.
The Howa 1500 Hogue Rifle in its basic version has a fibre glass inner chassis with aluminium pillars with overmoulding directly on to it to provide an easy grip along with ergonomic comfort.
While the rigid fiberglass skeleton is covered in a synthetic rubber that gives you a good purchase in the cold and snow, a gently curved rubber recoil pad makes recoil quite manageable, so it’s a pleasure to shoot.
Final thoughts on the Howa 1500
Like the majority of the leading firearms brands, Howa catalogues an entry-level rifle, the model 1500. Their importer, Howa USA, is offering these guns in a variety of package options, but the most popular are the scoped and ready-to-shoot Howas right out of the box.
As for the accuracy, each Howa 1500 undergoes testing at the Toyokazu Company and comes with a sub-MOA guarantee. New rifles are shipped with a paper test target enclosed.
While it may need a break-in period of 20 rounds, the Howa 1500 has a great reputation in the shooting world for its reliability and accuracy. Using ordinary factory ammunition will provide shooting groups between 1 and 1.5 inches, meaning that with premium ammunition, Howa can shoot groups of three rounds within an inch at up to 100 yards.
Howa 1500 rifles are available in both stainless steel or conventional blued steel finishes, matched by a Hogue overmolded stock in matte black or matte gray.
With a lot of competition between rifle makers in this price range, Howa maintained a high level of quality while keeping the overall cost of producing the rifle down.