Gun Review: Howa 1500

Howa 1500

While browsing the discount section of a local gun store I stumbled upon a Howa 1500 in .300 Winchester Magnum. I had been wanting to add a .300 Win Mag to my collection, and 40% off an already-low MSRP was too good a deal to pass up.

Howa 1500 300 win mag courtesy of wikipedia for thetruthaboutguns.com

Howa-bout a little history? Howa is a Japanese manufacturing company specializing in construction equipment, industrial tools, and firearms. Howa has been around since 1907 and in the firearm business since 1940. They have made everything from Arisakas and AR-180s to rocket launchers and flamethrowers. Howa also currently produces the Vanguard rifle for Weatherby, which is essentially a Howa 1500 with a different stock.

Howa 1500 chassis from legacysports.com

You can get a Howa 1500 with a simple synthetic stock or a modern chassis and in just about any popular caliber. Howa even sells barreled actions with no stock so you can build a custom rig.

Howa 1500 300 win mag courtesy of Chris Heuss for thetruthaboutguns.com

I picked this one up chambered in .300 Winchester Magnum with a 24” medium contour barrel and a simple, synthetic stock. It came ready-to-hunt, with a variable zoom scope already mounted in rings on the 1500’s two rail sections. Current models, such as the Gameking Package, include a Nikko Stirling 3.5-10×44 scope on a one-piece, Picatinny base. All for about $569, too.

The Howa 1500 features a three-position safety, which allows the shooter to unload the rifle while on safe or to lock the bolt shut. This is a great feature to have when on a hunt and lugging your rifle through dense brush or up a blind. The safety lever is smooth, quiet, and the three positions are well defined.

Howa 1500 300 win mag courtesy of Chris Heuss for thetruthaboutguns.com

The polymer stock is tough and well made. It includes two sling studs and a recoil pad, which helps with grip however does almost nothing to reduce felt recoil.

Howa 1500 300 win mag courtesy of Chris Heuss for thetruthaboutguns.com

On this stock Howa hasn’t gone with traditional checkering. Instead, they opted for a raised grid section around the grip and forend to provide traction. While it looks cool — or at least “unique” — I would have preferred traditional checkering. The raised grid section simply doesn’t provide much grip.

Howa 1500 300 win mag courtesy of Chris Heuss for thetruthaboutguns.com

The two stage trigger has minimal take up and a clear wall before the crisp break. I found the trigger to be smooth right out of the box. It’s not a target trigger by any means, but it’s good enough for a hunting rifle. Timney makes a replacement trigger for the 1500 but I would upgrade to a free-float stock before I swapped the perfectly acceptable trigger.

Howa 1500 300 win mag courtesy of Chris Heuss for thetruthaboutguns.com

The forged bolt’s fit and finish is on par with other entry-level rifles. It’s neither cheap nor something to fawn over — it earns a solid “it’s aiight” with accompanying shoulder shrug. The bolt does cycle smoothly and extracts rounds with authority thanks to its M16-style ejector.

Howa 1500 300 win mag courtesy of Chris Heuss for thetruthaboutguns.com

An engraved “87” under the bolt handle appears to have been done with an electric hand engraver. I assume it’s a quality control mark, but I was surprised at its hand-written appearance rather than being done on a CNC machine or with stamps. Not a big deal, of course, but I thought I’d mention it.

Howa 1500 300 win mag courtesy of Chris Heuss for thetruthaboutguns.com

Howa uses a hammer forged barrel and machines the chamber symmetrically to the center of the bore, thereby ensuring that the barrel and action mate together properly. While the barrel and action are well made, Howa really should have free-floated the barrel. My Hammermill free-float-o-meter wouldn’t slide into the stock at all.

Howa 1500 300 win mag courtesy of Chris Heuss for thetruthaboutguns.com

Out of the box accuracy is acceptable for a hunting rifle at this price point. The barely over 1 MOA group above was shot with Federal Non-Typical 150 Grain. The Howa is accurate enough to satisfy the average hunters’s needs, but left me wanting more. This rifle could really benefit from a free-float stock.

Howa 1500 300 win mag courtesy of Chris Heuss for thetruthaboutguns.com

I printed this 2 MOA group using Federal Premium EDGE TLR 200 Grain. No matter what I shot through it I couldn’t get a group under 1 MOA. The Howa 1500 could really benefit from a free-float stock.

Howa 1500 300 win mag courtesy of Chris Heuss for thetruthaboutguns.com

Jeremy and I had some extra time to do more extensive testing than normal. We all know the .300 Win Mag can take anything with four legs in North America, but what can it do to something with four wheels? We theorized that a carefully placed round fired through the trunk of a modern American classic would travel through the passenger compartment and enter the stereo unit rendering it even more useless. After a few attempts, our theory was confirmed.

Howa 1500 300 win mag courtesy of Chris Heuss for thetruthaboutguns.com

Good scientists are always questioning and exploring. Questions like “What happens when you shoot an airbag with a .300 Win Mag?” have plagued mankind for far too long. Jeremy, TTAG’s science desk editor, applied a little science to this question. We were surprised to see the 15 year old airbag deploy.

Howa 1500 300 win mag courtesy of Chris Heuss for thetruthaboutguns.com

We also tested our theory on an old Mercedes. This time the airbag failed to deploy properly, however it did catch fire. More testing is required before a conclusion can be made.

I have just over 20 years of shooting experience, but somehow I had never fired a magnum rifle cartridge until purchasing this Howa 1500. I very much enjoyed shooting something with some real kick. The Howa proved to be a good shooter for the price. It’s at home in the field and can be setup for tacticool applications as well. I would have preferred a better recoil pad, better grip surfaces, and a threaded barrel. Oh, and a free-float stock.

For the money, though, the Howa is a great option for putting meat on the table or for turning into a custom rifle build project.

SPECIFICATIONS: Howa 1500 in .300 Winchester Magnum

Caliber: .300 Win Mag
Magazine Capacity: 3
Barrel Length: 24 inches
Twist: 1:10 RH
Overall Length: 44.75″
Length of Pull: 13.87″
Barrel Material: Cold hammer forged steel
Stock: Synthetic
Optic: Current models feature a Nikko Stirling 3.5-10×44 scope mounted to a one-piece Picatinny base
Weight: 8 lbs
MSRP: $695 (found online for at least $100 less)

RATINGS (out of five stars):

Style and Appearance * * *
It’s a work gun. It doesn’t look bad but it doesn’t look good. Pretty generic.

Ergonomics * * * 1/2
The stock is comfortable, but could really use a better recoil pad and grip surfaces.

Customize This * * * * *
Timney makes a great trigger. You can upgrade the stock with a Hogue, walnut, Archangel, or a modern chassis that takes AR grips and stocks. A threaded muzzle would have been great.

Reliability * * * * *
It functioned perfectly.

Accuracy * * * 1/2
Just above 1 MOA was the best I could get. A free-float barrel definitely would have helped.

Overall * * * * 
The Howa 1500 is a great field rifle. You won’t lose sleep worrying about scratching it. It’s accurate and powerful enough to take any North American game you point it at. Overall I like it. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this rifle to a friend, as long as they have a tough shoulder.

comments

  1. avatar zaphod says:

    “Free-float stock?” Is that how we spell “properly bedded stock” now a days?

  2. avatar wv hunter says:

    Howas are not free floated on purpose the same as Weatherbys. A rife does not have to be free floated to be accurate. Free floating is the easy way to accuracy

    1. avatar Chris Heuss says:

      The most accurate rifle I own does not have a free float barrel. I am not complaining about the lack of a free float barrel, just pointing it out.

      1. avatar Matt says:

        Yeah, my old Sako isn’t free floated. It’ll shoot half inch groups of .308 PPU 155gr match BTHP.

        The downside is it needs a lot of time to cool. That 3 shot group needs about 5 minutes to cool before shooting another 3 shot group. Otherwise the next one is about an inch. The one after that about an inch and a half. It does NOT like to heat up.

  3. avatar I1ULUZ says:

    Have a heavy profile mini action in 7.62×39 insanely fun to plink with. A friend has a CZ with a sporter barrel, after a few rounds it’s rather warm. They both get strange looks at the range, when they see spent cases and Wolf boxes laying there.

    1. avatar Nigel the Expat says:

      Heh. I get the same looks with my CZ527 in 7.62×39. Particularly when folks see the groups that can be had with that little carbine and Wolf steel-cased ammo. Great little gun. I’ve been considering getting a Howa or Ruger American in 7.62×39 for my son.

  4. avatar Logan says:

    Those raised grip patterns really prove their worth in snow. I’ve had wet snow get packed into traditional checkered grips and turn them into slippery icesicles. In my experience a raised pattern avoids that and is something I want on a general purpose hunting rifle.

  5. avatar jwtaylor says:

    The Howas are really fun project rifles. Brownells has tons of options for them. You can build some pretty neat guns from their site.

  6. avatar joetast says:

    When I got the Weatherby Vanguard and seen the made in Japan I thought WTF this ain’t no Weatherby, Shoots great no complaints for the price. Three deer and one Colorado Elk so far. And I don’t know about the rest of you guys, but I saw a big difference in killing power between the .300 and the 30-06, ,,,06 is still my favorite tho, bucks or Buicks

  7. avatar WI Patriot says:

    “Gun Review: Howa 1500”

    “Accuracy * * * 1/2
    Just above 1 MOA was the best I could get. A free-float barrel definitely would have helped.”

    Did you break the barrel in as Howa procedure requires…???
    After proper barrel break-in, IF you’re capable, that rifle will shoot hole-in-hole…

    Here’s my review of the Howa 1500…
    You can’t find a better rifle at this price point…

    1. avatar Chris Heuss says:

      Yes the barrel was broken in. Not every rifle performs the same. I am sure if I found the load the rifle likes it would have shot sub moa.

  8. avatar Austin Knudsen says:

    I consider the Howa 1500/Weatherby Vanguard to the be the best value in the bolt action rifle market today. A properly bedded rifle stock and a little trigger adjustment turned my so-so Vanguard .243 sporter into a tack driver and my go-to rifle for coyotes and prairie dogs. My last PR build was a Savage, but I think my next one will be a Howa.

    1. avatar WI Patriot says:

      Hear, hear…

  9. avatar W says:

    Good ammo and great technique should get you under an MOA. My Vanguard is not free floated and it’s a sub MOA performer.

  10. avatar RedEyedWizard says:

    The 2nd picture in your article is badly mislabeled.

    1. avatar Chris Heuss says:

      Yes it is. Sorry about that.

  11. avatar Ranger Rick says:

    Howa’s are excellent rifles and value priced. A little on the heavy side, but nothing terrible either.

  12. avatar =BCE56= says:

    I had been trying to decide between the 7.62 X 39 Howa and the CZ 527 for a year or so.
    CZ is pricier than the Howa w/plastic stock. Good reviews on both rifles currently, earlier reports of CZ issues appear to have been addressed by the factory.
    Took delivery on the CZ Carbine last week and I’m quite happy so far.
    Some care is necessary when choosing scope/ring combo for the CZ; I used Warne #1B1M rings and a Leupold 1-4 X 20 scope and encountered no clearance problems.
    Unfortunately I have not had an opportunity to wring it out yet- looking forward to making some noise with it!

  13. avatar Dave in WI says:

    The “87” under your bolt handle is probably also the last 2 digits of the serial number. Done to match bolt to firearm. Check that for me, will you?

    1. avatar Chris Heuss says:

      I just checked. You are correct.

  14. avatar Al Bondigas says:

    Duh: I’ve got one of the best rifles ever made (at a whopping 40% off) and it shoots 1″ to 2″ groups all day long with widely different bullet weights to pretty much the same point of aim. But, by God, I’ve just got to have a free floated barrel or else!

    1. avatar Chris Heuss says:

      The most accurate rifle I own does not have a free float barrel. I am not complaining about the lack of a free float barrel, just pointing it out.

  15. avatar David T says:

    My Howa .30-06 is one of my favorite rifles. It came with a nice wooden stock. The Japanese make a pretty good gun. It comes as no surprise; some of my most reliable machining tools come from Japan.

  16. avatar Accur81 says:

    Nice review. The accuracy you got is pretty much what I expected. I don’t have high expectations for Nikko scopes.

  17. avatar Mr Bad News says:

    You don’t know that free floating the barrel would or wouldn’t help. Not a lot of factory ammo was tried. dev’ing handloads would likely net you accuracy gains and with out swapping stocks. I have a Marlin 308 that has the stock intentionally touching the barrel. Shoots MOA with factory ammo. I had a Howa 30-06 way back when some models came with a B&C stock. That thing was stupid accurate. Trigger was great

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