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Howa 1500 Varmint rifle review

Howa 1500 Varmint rifle review.
Though it may strike you as a new company, with a name unfamiliar to most shooters in Britain, Howa has been producing firearms in Japan for decades now.

Weatherby Vanguard rifles use its actions, so when a pure Howa-badged rifle came for review I was eager to give it a thorough going over.

Howa offers many sporter-type rifles in its range, but I was keen to test a fox rifle and chose this blued version of the varmint profile in .22-250 calibre, which sported a good-looking laminated stock.

Action stations
The heart of any rifle lies in its ability to maintain a strong, stiff and reliable action, from which all the appendages can synergise together. Get the action right and you are halfway there.

The Howa utilises a single forged-steel action that is machined to the correct dimensions, either in steel or stainless steel. This gives a good strong action from the off. The top-receiver bridge is drilled and tapped for scope bases, just as Remington rifles are, and there is an integral recoil lug beneath.

The Howa logo adorns the left side, with a bleed hole on the front receiver ring in case of a blown primer, while on the right the loading and ejection cut-away is large enough not to impede operations, even when wearing gloves.

The blued finish was a deep, rich, satin blue-black, which complemented the barrel and stock well, and with proper care will cope with the challenge of some real-life shooting. At the base is a hinged floor-plate magazine, holding four cartridges in .22-250 calibre, with a simple lever operation sited in the forward section of the trigger-guard.

Bolt from the blued
One real asset of the Howa action is the large and well-engineered bolt and handle. Stemming from a single piece of steel bar stock, its dimensions give a comforting and robust heft to the action as a whole. There are two large locking lugs up front, which, when cammed into the action on closure, bind or mate true to the action body, thus imparting no unwelcome torque to the action.

The bolt is totally encapsulated at the front end, rather like a Remington bolt, and so has a good deal of strength should anything untoward go wrong.

Sprung within the bolt body, the plunger-type ejector forcefully ejects spent cases from the action. Primary extraction is accomplished by way of an M16 rifle-type extractor claw. A good, solid extractor, it grips the rim of the case securely and never failed to extract a case from the rifle’s chamber.

The bolt handle, too, has a nice, slightly swept-back gait, with a semi-ball/tapered bolt knob that is both comfortable to use and cleanly avoids any scope contact when the action is cocked.

Safety and trigger
The Howa uses a side safety system that is an integral part of the trigger unit. Operation is performed by way of a simple sliding knurled lever, accessed from the right-hand side of the action tang.

In the forward position the rifle is ready to fire, while a swift and reasonably quiet roller action to the rear makes it safe, locking the trigger and sear, but allowing you to operate the bolt and safely to unload the rifle should you wish. The trigger itself is a lovely affair and a breath of fresh air compared with some I have tested.

Set at no more than 2lb, it is light, responsive and totally predictable, and it does aid in shrinking those groups down-range. I would choose to leave the factory settings well alone, but you can adjust if you feel competent to do so; getting access to the adjusting screws necessitates removal of the stock first.

Good stock
As far as varmint stocks go, you would be hard pushed to find a better designed and finished stock for this class of rifle. Though laminated stocks may not be to everyone’s tastes, especially in some of the garish colours on offer these days, the Howa’s is subdued and yet striking enough to set off the blued action and barrel.

There is no chequering for extra grip at the pistol grip and fore-end but the stock design takes care of any concerns in this department.

The fore-end has a wide shallow form, commonly referred to as beaver tail this means that the base fills the hand or rest to support the rifle and counteracts any sideways slippage, while the raised ridge section allows a good grip for the fingers of the supporting hand to wrap around.

To enhance the design further there are three slotted ventilation holes to each side that transcend the entire girth of the fore-end. This has a dual role in allowing the barrel quickly to cool after a rapid session of shots and it does look rather good, too.

Being a Varmint model, this Howa had a great thumbhole configuration to the butt section of the stock, which was really well thought out.

The firing hand is afforded support that is practically vertical and gives a good length of pull to the trigger, and thus correct trigger tension.

The hole of the thumbhole is large enough to use quickly if the rifle has to be mounted in a hurry, and the swept-back roll-over cheekpiece does a good job of positioning the eye central to the axis of the scope. Finished in a black laminated wood structure with a tough lacquered external surface, this stock hits the mark in terms both of looks and function.

Fielding queries
A great all-round fox/varmint calibre, .22-250 readily lends itself to good accuracy potential. This Howa was no exception, as I tested factory and reloads all the way out to 400 yards in order to assess the rifle’s true accuracy.

The barrel is a heavy varmint profile, tapering from 1.2in to 0.82 at the muzzle and is fully free-floating, thereby allowing a reasonable number of rounds to be shot before heat build-up impairs accuracy.

It is hammer-forged in construction, button-rifled with a 1-in-12 twist rate and six-groove rifling, and has a properly recessed crowned muzzle. My only gripe is that I usually shoot all my rifles with moderators these days and the Howa’s barrel was unthreaded – it isn’t a problem, but I’d imagine this option would suit many other shooters, too.

Shaun, at DJ Litt’s, had set the rifle up with a Leupold Tactical scope and, at 100 yards, the factory Remingtons, Federal and Norma ammunition, with bullet weights from 40 grains to 55 grains, all shot below the 1in mark or slightly over.

For a production rifle with factory ammo that is superb. Best group went to the Remington 50-grain AccuTip boat-tail, which put four of the five shots inside 0.55in and the fifth opening out to 0.75in. With a velocity averaging 3,706fps and 1,525ft/lb energy from that 24in barrel, you can feel confident in shooting this Howa at long range.

I did experiment with some reloads and found that 55-grain Nosler Ballistic Tips loaded in front of 34.75 grains of Varget powder produced 3,622fps and 1,602ft/lb energy, and shot five-shot groups at 100 yards of 0.75in all day long.

Howa 1500 Varmint rifle review

With build quality and accuracy far better than one might expect for a factory rifle, the best part of the Howa story is that this model 1500 Varmint with blued steel will set you back just shy of £570.

Considering the thought that has gone into this rifle, to my mind that offers great value for money.

With no problems either during testing or out in the woods, whether in this guise or as a lighter sporter-weight version, you have to hand it to Japan’s Howa engineers they have turned out a smart, reliable and viable varmint rifle.

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  • Paul Luff

    JC , Just read your post… My 1500 243 goes under 1/2″ at 200 with 85gr BTHPSP , guess you cant shoot

  • chetter-bob

    i bought a howa 1500 varmit rifle months ago we adjusted the trigger to 1.5 pounds and loaded some 50gr v-mav loads and i was suprised with the results we got.We can shoot 5 shot groups with all the holes touching at 100 yrds.i took the rifle to central Oregon to shoot prairie dogs and to my suprise we were wacking and stacking them out to and beyound 500 yrds. Thank howa for buildimg such a great rifle

  • 250-phil

    i have the howa 22-250 and anyone who says this gun is a hunk of chit probably isn’t a very good engineer.I’m shooting 50 grain v-max with varget powder at just over 3800 fsp and my 5 shot group at 100 yards is all one big hole and at 300 it’s 2 in.I’ve had ruger,and cz and the howa hands down out shoots them both!!!

  • MS 6153

    Greetings from Down under.

    I have a wood stocked blued Howa 1500 series sporter in .223 which I purchased new in 1992 when I was kangaroo culling for farmers in our area.

    In those days it was a condition of our permits that if using .223 ammo for roo culling it could only be factory loaded 55gn soft point ammunition to ensure adequate power for humane kills (larger, more powerful calibres could be handloaded).

    With factory ammo my rifle shot groups averaging 25mm at 100 metres. Handloaded ammo quite often gave groups around the 20mm mark. Almost 20 years and over 3,000 rounds later, my rifle still shoots groups around 35mm at 100 metres.

    Two of my friends also have Howa rifles in .223, one of those rifles is a heavy barreled model. Both of those rifles are extremely accurate and their grouping at 100metres is less than 21mm with factory ammo.

    I am surprised that Ralph had those problems with his rifle, given my own experience and those of my friends. While the Howa will never be in the same class as a Sako, they are still a well engineered, good looking rifle well worth checking out if you are in the market for a good rifle at a good price.

  • fez

    i bought a howa lightning model with the houge pillar beded in .223 tryed some cheap 55g fmj ammo and was getting 1.75-2″ groups at 100mtr wasnt happy can shoot better than that with my 10/22, had a mate that was getting rid of his knoxx axiom stock and a bunch of hornady vmax 40g wow! .75-1″ at 100mtr and that aint no heavy barreld version either, its like a women gota dress it right and feed it the good stuff

  • JC

    I have a model 1500 in 22-250. And I’m getting a 2 inch to 1.5 inch group at 200yds. Maybe you’re using duff ammo, or maybe you just need more practice!!!

  • ralph finder

    The Howa in my op, is the worse rifle i lay my hands on, cheep ,nasty materials dont influence me, its price new reflected my intrest, but wow, a hunk of chi7 !! i be suprised if it will take 500-1000 rounds without burning out.I tried to fine tune it, float it, & no luck best i could get was a 4-5″ group at 100yds. i can spit better than that !! I just chopped it in against a CZ..Now thats a rifle.(Just a engineers opinion);)

  • adam

    its not 570 pounds i paid 475 us dollars

  • Gringo

    I,ve a Howa 1500 Stainless in a camo stock and a Bushnell Elite 4.5-30×50 scope, with hand loaded ammo i get off a bipod 3/4 inch at 100m, and a 1.5 inch groups at 200m. I,m no expert but this rifle can easily take rabbits/crows out to 200m +.My best so far is a rabbit at 272m, measured with a Leica rang finder, but this takes alot of range practice to fine tune your rifle and ammo.
    Keep Hunting