This rifle is built to be used; nimble, balanced, accurate and easy to carry, it is a good example of a stalking piece done right, says Bruce Potts who reviews it for Shooting Times
The Howa Contractor SP rifle combo
A growing number of manufacturers are enticing us with deals that combine rifle, scope and sound moderator in one package. These include essential items from top brands but all from one supplier. This has the advantage of not only offering a big saving in money terms, but you will also have confidence that the products will fit and work well together.
Japanese manufacturer Howa’s rifles are imported and distributed in the UK by Highland Outdoors, and are made in myriad combinations of barrel profiles, action finishes and stock designs. You name it, Howa is likely to offer a version in its versatile 1500 action design.
The Howa Contractor SP combo, with lightweight Sporter barrel, has a good price point of £879.99. Alternatively, the VT combo with Varmint/heavy barrel is priced at £949.99.
There is a good range of calibres to choose from, including the .223 and .22-250 for foxes or small-species deer, .243, .308, 6mm Creedmoor and 6.5 Creedmoor and long-action cartridges .270, 30/06 and 7mm Rem Mag for other species.
Also included is the Hogue polymer stock, a Nikko Stirling Metor 3-12×56 30mm illuminated scope, a one-piece base and scope rings.
Sound moderation via the new RCC sound moderator with a deluxe gun bag plus life-time guarantee completes the package.
Need to know
- Manufacturer Howa
- Model Contractor SP (combo)
- Action Bolt action Barrel 22in, ½ UNF thread
- Calibre .243 Win on test
- Overall length 40.25in, 47.25in with RCC sound moderator fitted
- Finish Matt blued and synthetic
- Stock Black synthetic Sporter
- Trigger Single-stage adjustable trigger
- Safety Three position
- Magazine Hinged floorplate
- Sights One-piece Picatinny rail
- Weight 6.75lb
- Features Rifle, Nikko Stirling Metor 3-12×56 scope, RCC Hunter sound moderator, one-piece mount/rings and deluxe gun bag
- Price £879.99 (SP) or £949.99 (VT)
- Importer Highland Outdoors
With a name like Contractor, this bolt action is clearly meant for real-world shooting scenarios. The lightweight Hogue black polymer Sporter stock is slightly stippled, providing sufficient grip. It is also very rigid in the crucial bedding and barrel channel areas, so accuracy is unaffected by changes in the weather.
Aluminium pillars negate stock compression and the free-floated barrel again ensures consistent accuracy. The length of pull is a tad short for me at 14in, but the large, soft LimbSaver recoil pad gives good shoulder grip in the aim.
Since it appeared in the late 1970s, the design of the Howa 1500 bolt action has not changed a lot. It is still a single steel forging with dual opposing locking lugs. The M16-style extractor allows positive cartridge removal from the chamber and the sprung plunger ejects very swiftly. Combine this with a fast lock time and Remington-type ‘ring of steel’ cartridge head bolt surround, and you have a strong action.
The .243 Win on test has a capacity of five rounds with a hinged floorplate design as ammo is loaded through the top of the action. More convenient is Howa’s single-stage HACT trigger, which is adjustable for weight and travel, but at 3.25lb on the factory setting, it was perfect for my cold fingers in Scotland.
The three-position safety lever on the right side of the action allows fire, safe and at three-quarter position locks the trigger but allows bolt operation. In use, it is almost silent.
The free-floated barrel, being hammer-forged, is hard-wearing and offers good accuracy straight from the box. The rifling twist rate is 1:10in, so bullet weights from 55-gr to 105-gr are stabilised, but a 1:9in twist would be better for weights over 100-gr.
It is hard not to like the Contractor. Howa has been making rifles for a long time now and knows a thing or two about a good, reliable and affordable bolt action. Three red hinds were harvested during the field test, proving that you can rely on a Howa Contractor to bring home the venison.
- Accuracy 18/20 Howa rifles always shoot well and this Contractor is no exception
- Handling 17/20 A nimble, well-balanced stalking rifle that won’t tire you out’
- Trigger 17/20 Adjustable for weight and travel and safe to use in all weather conditions
- Stock 17/20 The Hogue synthetic stock is light, rugged and comfortable — ideal for stalking
- Value 18/20 Good value considering how well the Howa Contractor shot in the tests
- Overall score 87/100 A reliable and affordable bolt action for real-world stalking scenarios
I like the scratch-resistant, satin black/blued finish on the action and barrel. Being non-reflective, it is perfect for hunting and stealthy stalking.
The Nikko Metor 3-12×56 30mm illuminated scope was fitted via a 6in one-piece aluminium-blacked Picatinny rail and the quick-detachable 30mm low mounts are supplied as part of the package.
As expected, accuracy was good. Lightweight Winchester 55-gr Ballistic Silvertips shot 1in groups at 3,406fps and 1,417ft/lb energy, while the good all-rounder Hornady SST 75-gr ST loads shot 3,308fps and 1,822ft/lb with three shots in 0.85in.
A lead-free option is the Federal Barnes Triple-Shock 85-gr bullets, which shot 3,061fps for 1,769ft/lb and 1.25in groupings.
For large-species deer, then either the Norma Soft Point 100-gr, at 2,874fps and 1,834ft/lb with 0.95in groups, or the Geco Softpoint 105-gr, at 2,773fps, 1,793ft/lb and 1in groups, would suffice.
Best reloads for red deer were a 100-grain bullet minimum, so the Sierra GameKing with 44.25 grains of RL19 powder achieved 2,864fps and 1,821ft/lb energy and sub-inch groupings.
A good lead-free reload option is the Hornady 80-gr GMX bullet, which shot 3,151fps for 1,764ft/lb with a load of 47.5 grains of RL19 powder and 1in accuracy.
In the field is where it all comes together. Up in Scotland and after hinds, I had to use 100-gr bullets, but I had no concerns regarding performance. The Howa Contractor SP is one of those rifles that just gets on with it and allows you to get stuck in without worrying about damaging it.
Even with the moderator and scope fitted, the Contractor handled very well and felt balanced in most shooting positions. Stalking through the thick woodlands, the rifle felt right at home. Knowing the accuracy and zero were perfect, I was able to either shoot off sticks or from a seated position.
A well-worn trail from fields to cover proved fruitful and a well-fed hind soon ambled cautiously down the track. When she reached an opening, the Contractor dropped her instantly.