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Figure 1

(This is a reader-submitted review as part of our gun review contest. See details here.)

By Peter Sibello

Everyone has their own personal checklist when purchasing a new gun; some favor looks, some reliability, and some brand recognition. While I geek out over all of those things, what I look for first and foremost is overall value. I do appreciate the beauty of a finely figured walnut stock, however my rifle really doesn’t need that to kill a deer. I seek out guns that do their job well without costing enough to end my marriage.

I shopped around quite a bit when I started deer hunting to find a rifle that fell into that goldilocks zone of suitable performance at a reasonable price. When my brother-in-law stumbled onto a lightly-used Howa 1500 chambered in .308, I started scheming of ways to make it mine. After some horse trading and brother-discount negotiating I finally had my rifle.

I hadn’t heard of Howa rifles until a few months prior to getting mine but since then I have come to be very impressed. The Howa Machinery Company is a Japanese manufacturing operation that produces industrial tools, construction equipment as well as military and civilian firearms. They produce firearms and components for both their own line of rifles as well as for several other manufacturers including Weatherby, Smith & Wesson and Mossberg. As you would expect from a modern Japanese outfit, the machining is excellent and everything fits snugly, slides smoothly and breaks cleanly.

Figure 2

My particular model is the Ranchland variant which includes a 20” lightweight barrel and a Hogue stock. It falls nicely into the “truck gun” niche because its size makes it easy to use in tight or awkward positions. I don’t advocate shooting out of your truck window but I have known people to coyote and pig hunt from the cushioned comfort of the driver’s seat and it would serve those folks very nicely.

The short lightweight barrel is both a blessing and curse. While its length keeps the rifle compact for those cramped deer blind shots, the downside is barrel stiffness and heating. Basic physics and thermodynamics are not friendly towards a thinly contoured barrel.

A thin barrel is inherently less stiff than a thick barrel and therefore suffers more from vibrations. When your powder ignites it generates a pressure wave that travels along your barrel and causes it to vibrate. If you watch the vibrations with a high speed camera it looks like the rubber pencil trick you learned in elementary school. Does it make a big difference for deer rifle accuracy? Probably not but it will open up your groups a little. I had a Limbsaver X Ring lying around so I threw that on thinking it might reduce the vibrations some and it does seem to help.

Figure 3

Barrel heating isn’t a major concern for most hunters because you rarely have time to fire more than 1 or 2 rounds with a bolt action. Sighting in a new scope, on the other hand, becomes a major pain because it really slows down the process. After 5 or 6 shots the barrel will become too hot to touch and you risk affecting your point of impact. Physics is a cruel master and you gotta give something to get something, but the trade-off is still worth it for me.

The trigger is Howa’s 2-Stage HACT match trigger. It breaks cleanly after a short take up at about 2.5 pounds, based on my crude measurements. It makes for a great hunting trigger, light enough to be accurate but not so light as to risk safety.

Speaking of safety, a three-position safety is situated behind and to the right of the bolt. I favor the look and feel of tang safeties like those typically found on shotguns and early bolt action rifles, but a three position safety does the job just fine. It also provides the utility of unloading the rifle while on safe which is a useful feature.

The stock is probably my favorite part of the rifle. It isn’t an especially light weight stock, but man it feels good in the hand. The Hogue rubber has a naturally grippy feel to it that invites your hand to grasp it like a gentleman’s handshake. The pistol grip and forend each have patches of a pebbled texture for increased traction in critical areas. The internal chassis and aluminum pillar bedding produce a very solid platform despite its rubbery feel.

Figure 4

Figure 5

One big selling point for my particular rifle was that it came with an Ammo Boost Advantage detachable magazine kit. The kit comes from Legacy Sports International, the American Howa distributor, and includes a new floorplate and a 10-round magazine. I blazed through the simple installation process to get right to the tacticoolness. The kid in me loved the army man feel it gave me, but once I started actually using it at the range and in the woods I discovered some minor gripes.

Figure 6

The original floorplate is a very nice metal piece that fits perfectly into the base of the stock. The hinged floorplate swings smoothly and then locks ups securely. The new kit however is an all polymer affair that lacks the finished and sturdy feel of the original.

On top of that, the magazine latch has merely a casual hold on the magazine. It is also inconveniently located on the front face of the magazine well. The combination of these two is that it is frustratingly easy to accidently drop your magazine while handling. Not a big deal on the range but the plunk you hear as your mag hits the floor of the deer blind will haunt you as you watch that freezer full of venison run off.

Figure 7

Let’s talk accuracy, shall we? If we’re being honest a deer rifle doesn’t need to be any more accurate than a 5-inch group at 100 yards. A deer’s vital area is 8 inches in diameter and most hunters will never take a shot over 100 yards. So why do we obsess of over accuracy? I honestly couldn’t tell you, yet every hunter I talk to is convinced that they have the most accurate rifle on the planet and will give extensive anecdotal evidence if given the chance.

Figure 8

Figure 9

This rifle is not the most accurate rifle on the planet, but it is more than adequate for deer hunting. I am a novice marksman at best, but I can coax 1 – 2 MOA groups out of it with a variety of hunting rounds. As evidence, see the targets above shot at 50 yards with my two typical hunting loads. Topped with a Nikon BDC scope, I would feel comfortable taking a 200 or 300 yard shot on a deer as long as I did my part.

Specifications (Howa 1500 Ranchland Compact Rifle):

Caliber: .308 Winchester / 7.62×51 NATO
Action: Bolt Action
Trigger Pull Weight: 2 lbs 9 oz
Barrel Length: 20″
Overall Length: 40.25″
Weight: 8.75 lbs (as configured)
Capacity: 5+1 rounds, Expandable to 10+1 with optional detachable magazine kit.
MSRP: $762.00

Ratings (out of five stars):

Accuracy: * * * *
Accuracy is perfectly acceptable for a deer rifle. With the right ammo, sub MOA is certainly possible but 1 or 2 MOA is more typical.

Ergonomics: * * * * *
The Hogue stock is excellent. The pistol grip easily aligns the trigger finger for proper placement. The thick rubber buttpad reduces the recoil to a smooth push. The lightweight and short barrel allow for smoothly acquiring the target.

Reliability: * * * * *
It’s a bolt action so no surprises here.

Customize This: * * *
The Ammo Boost kit is really cool option for those needing magazine changes but it comes up short on execution. The barrel is too thin to support threading so no suppressors for you.

Overall: * * * *
The Howa Ranchland rifle is an excellent hunting rifle at a tremendous value. It checks all the boxes for looks, durability, accuracy and reliability that I look for in a gun to take for a walk in the woods. You can pay more for a hunting rifle but you won’t be getting much more than bragging rights. It’s a solid option for hunters looking for quality performance at a reasonable price.

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    • I’d buy the Howa because i’m a cheapsake. But I think the Tikka is a little better. Certainly better if you are going to drop it in an MDT light chassis system. I think the Tikka stock, plastic trigger guard, and plastic mags suck compared to the Howa. But with an MDT LSS, those issues are moot. Both have nice triggers.

      I disagree with the authors assessment of “customize this.” You can drop the Howa 1500 in a MDT light chassis system and then suddenly have all the AR stock and grip options as well as magpul mags.

      • I take it back – Magpul mags won’t work with the HOWA in an MDT. From the manufacturer:

        Howa 1500 / Weatherby Vanguard actions
        This is the only action that we manufacture a chassis for, that has a flat bottom action. For this reason only our Polymer magazines will work.

  1. Maybe I’m missing something, but what are the advantages of this over a remington in the same price range? Or a ruger American for half the price? Well written review though!

  2. Looks very similar in design and execution to the Weatherby Vanguard Series II, with similar results. Best I’ve pulled out of mine with factory hunting ammo is 1.5 MOA.

  3. Interesting… they had this on sale at Cabelas for $350. Had-10round mag in 223. Now it’s $600. A rifle is on my list and it seemed pretty OK(for 350).

  4. Having tested the Limbsaver Barrel Deresonator extensively on a number of guns in different calibers… I can tell you that placing that rubber grommet at the position that it’s in – not only is going to do nothing for the gun, it might actually even hamper accuracy. For best results, put it about 3 to 4 inches from the muzzle… and turn it the other way around.

    • In my experience and based on the literature I have read, the placement depends on your barrel details. If you have a free floated barrel you place the deresonator in one location (as pictured) and if you have a supported barrel you place it at another (typically near the muzzle). The specific location will also depend on the specifics of the rifle as I’m sure you saw in your testing.

      • Well it turns out my foot doesn’t taste too good. I did some research after I replied (terrible timing decision) and you were right. For a free floated barrel the de-resonator should be closer to the muzzle. I’ll have to go back and re-evaluate. I may do a detailed study in the future to prove its effectiveness (or not) and optimal placement if only for my knowledge.

  5. A hunting rifle, normally, needs to be light and handy. As you noted 1-2 shots at a given animal are just about it. That 10 round plastic mag is not needed and is a hindrance. Not only will it fall out at the worst moment, but it makes the rifle harder to carry one handed and that protruding mag is a catch all in tight places.

    I went Ruger American for my meat rifle. With a flush fitting 4 round mag and a buttstock shell carrier I have more than enough ammo for a deer hunt.

  6. The Howa 1500 is one of the best kept secrets at th gun shop. Not only do they make the S&W 1500 and the Mossberg 1500. Todays Weatherby Vanguard S2 is a Howa rifle with Roy Weatherby’s name on it. A Nosler “custom” rifle is an over priced Howa 1500.
    Both my Howa 1500 Varmint Supremes ( one each in .308 and .223) are both half MOA rigs with a good hand load. With good ammo such as black hills or hornady superformance they are still consistent 3/4 MOA rigs. I just wish I could shoot to these rifles capabilities. Anyway, I love my Howa’s

  7. Why not a savage? ?? The two I own are both more accurate. The Remington 700 in wet I own is also more accurate.

    Nothing in this article sold me on the gun. And exactly how did you figure the trigger weight?

    • Without a true trigger scale I was forced to use a food scale. Weigh the gun vertically, zero the scale, pull the trigger and record the maximum force. Not real exact but close enough.

  8. I believe I’ve read somewhere that Howa is the modern successor to the WWII-era manufacturer of the JIA’s Arisaka rifles. Can anyone confirm?

  9. I own one but in .223 with a 1″ bbl, 20″ length and free floated h&s precision stock. Pillar bedding as above. A special make up from my gun shop. Great gun. YT vids on trigger adjustment.

    Guys in NorCal measuring round counts in the several hundreds in a sitting in the sage rat (ground squirrel) fields swear by them.

  10. “…the magazine latch has merely a casual hold on the magazine.”

    Now that is the kind of funny I needed. Thanks. 😉

  11. I don’t know about the rifle, but I used to work at a place that had multiple Howa cnc lathes. compared to the daewoos and mori seiki lathes, they worked considerably better.

  12. I have this rifle in .243. All I can say is WOW! I bought it from the original owner for $350 and after bench resting it at the range, I really think I stole it. At 50 yards it printed 3 shots in a 1 inch circle. At 75 yards, ditto. And at 100 yards…same thing, same little group all inside the 1 inch orange dot we used for a target. And the .243 is just about the right size cartridge for this medium size action.
    The fit and finish of barrel and action is perfect. I love a bolt rifle when the bolt slides open and closed like its on bearings and doesn’t flop around when open. We have a pre-70 Winchester in mint condition and this Howa puts it to shame.
    The rubber Hogue stock is certainly outdoors friendly and plenty grippy, but the beautiful finish of the metal is crying out for a custom walnut stock. I might need to find a second one just for that!

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