Howa 1500 rifle: more UK shooters need to discover how good it is
Charles Smith-Jones says there is much to admire about this Japanese-made gun, and wonders at the UK shooters who have yet to discover how good the Howa 1500 is’
Howa 1500 rifle
Price as reviewed: £847
It’s surprising that the Howa 1500 rifle is not more popular than it actually is. In production for almost 45 years now, this is a mass-produced but high-quality gun that represents incredible value for money. It is robust, well-built and highly accurate, but for some reason has never really caught the imagination of UK shooters. (Read Bruce Potts’s review of the Howa Contractor SP rifle combo.)
It is difficult to understand, especially when you consider that this Japanese-made gun was recently identified as the third best-selling bolt-action rifle in the USA, a country whose shooters are usually noted for their allegiance to domestic brands.
The early Howa 1500 came with a Hogue stock. This is essentially a fibreglass skeleton coated in synthetic rubber at very high pressure, which then creates a permanent bond between the two. The resulting surface affords an extremely positive hand grip, especially in wet conditions. Some earlier models had a slightly flexible fore-end and a reputation for picking up dirt, though this is not true of those that followed.
There are a multitude of stock options available to choose from, and the standard models have included mini, short and long actions with either 24in (pre-1982) or 22in barrels. Otherwise, the Howa’s barrel lengths may vary.
The Alpine Mountain came with a 20in lightweight barrel, a Scout version (in .308 Win) with an 18½in barrel, and the H-S Precision had a 26in barrel. Both blued and stainless-steel barrel options are available.
The action is rock-solid and manufactured from a single piece of steel bar, while the strong Mauser-style bolt has two large locking lugs and a positive extractor claw that ensures clean removal and ejection of the fired cartridge case. The bolt handle is well-thought-out and turns cleanly with no risk of contact against the scope body.
The slide safety catch engages an uncomplicated trigger-lock and has three positions, the middle one allowing the bolt to be operated while it is still applied.
The trigger is two-stage. Although earlier trigger units may have had a reputation for being a little stiff, leading some users to replace them with aftermarket options, Howa started fitting its greatly improved Howa actuator controlled trigger system from 2011 onwards. Settings are adjustable, but may involve removing the stock to do so. However, the factory settings will suit most people anyway.
Early purchasers may have been put off by the fact that the 1500 originally only came with a floorplate magazine, and those seeking the flexibility offered by a detachable magazine might have looked to the other manufacturers of entry-level rifles. A conversion kit for the latter soon became available, however, and a box magazine has since become a regular factory option.
Howa’s attention to detail, manufacturing standards and customer care cannot be faulted. For example, if a defect in the rifle’s bolt is detected, Howa will replace it with a new bolt, free of charge. Although it’s easy enough to find a quality pre-used 1500 at very low cost, you can still pick up a brand-new package of rifle, scope, mounts and moderator at a truly bargain price.
Any newcomer to stalking or vermin control, or one who might perhaps be looking to add a new calibre to their FAC, would be advised to look very hard at a Howa. You will be getting a lot of bang for your buck.
- Country of origin Japan
- In production 1979 to present
- Action Bolt
- Stock options Walnut, laminate, synthetic or Hogue finish
- Barrel length 16½in to 26in, depending on the model, with 24in as standard until 1982, then 22in
- Magazine Internal or detachable, three or five rounds depending on calibre
- Left-hand version No
- Weight (bare) 7lb 8oz (Hunter model)
- Available in calibres Multiple calibres from .22-250 Rem up to .375 Ruger, with most popular varminting and hunting calibres in-between
- Cost new RRP £846.99 (Hogue Sporter)
- Cost used £250 for an older rifle in good, usable condition, more for something newer
More on the Howa 1500
Howa is a machinery manufacturer that has been producing firearms, including the renowned Arisaka military rifle, since the 1930s. It also manufactures products or components for other firearm companies including Sako, Smith & Wesson and Mossberg, while the Weatherby Vanguard and Sako L61 and L579 were built in the Howa factory.
Howa makes its barrels using a button-rifling manufacturing process, as opposed to cold-hammer forging. This is faster and more economical, well-suited to mass manufacturing, keeps costs down and results in accurate barrels. Though each method has its advantages, some claim that the hammer-forged barrel might cool faster after a high volume of ammunition is fired through it. The average user will probably not notice much of a difference.
This article was originally published in 2007 and has been updated.
You will be getting a lot of bang for your buck.