Test: Howa 1500 Heavy Barrel – What can the hunting bolt-action rifle offer for under 1,000 euros?

They have come a long way before they find their place in European gun cabinets – the bolt-action rifles from Howa. The actions, i.e. barrel, bolt and receiver, are manufactured in Japan, then imported to America by Legacy Sports International and distributed from there to the rest of the world.

Our test rifle: the Howa 1500 Heavy Barrel in detail

Anyone who decides to buy a gun from Howa could also just buy the "naked action" and then, to their heart's content and whim as well as financial possibilities, order stocks, triggers, conversion kits for detachable magazines in addition. In this case, we used a rifle in . 308 Winchester. The same model would also be available in the Remington calibers .223, .22-250 and 7 mm, in 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5 PRC, 30-06 Springfield, .300 Winchester Magnum and .350 Legend. 

Let's start with the basics: the gun with the stock made of an elastomer material came all in black, weighed 3,800 grams, measured 103 cm overall and had a 20-inch barrel made of blued carbon steel. A hinged-floorplate magazine for five cartridges is internal, with room for one more round in the barrel. The manufacturer promises a sub-MOA accuracy, meaning groupings of 2.8 cm or better at 100 meters.

The stock of the M 1500 Heavy Barrel features dotted grip sections, a thick recoil pad and a steep pistol grip.

The stock, seen from the rear to the front: a three-inch thick, very soft rubber buttplate closes off the buttstock. A sling swivel is located in the lower rear third of the stock. The entire surface is rubber overmolded. The pistol grip with the inlaid red Howa emblem fits snugly into the palm of the hand. The checkering is a collection of small raised dots in two different grain sizes. On the forend, the width of the dotted section seems a bit narrow, but since the stock itself has a good grip, it fits together again. Last but not least: a sling swivel is located at the bottom front of the forend. 

The action of the Howa M 1500 in detail

The Howa 1500 has a two-lug bolt, with M16-style extractors on the left between the bolt lugs.

The M 1500 rifles are equipped with a HACT trigger, which stands for "Howa Actuator Controlled Trigger". The single stage trigger is preset to 1,100 g. The rifle's bolt features two lugs and a spring-loaded M16 extractor. The lever to release the bolt is located on the left side. Action sizes available from Howa are Short Action (SA, test gun), Long Action (LA), and the latest is Mini Action. To the right of the bolt is the lever for the three-position safety. 

This acts on the trigger. In the center position, the rifle can be loaded and unloaded, but the trigger is locked. If the lever is pushed towards the shooter, the bolt cannot be opened and the trigger cannot be pulled. If the lever is pressed towards the muzzle, a tiny red dot appears and the gun is ready to fire. The fact that the M1500 is cocked can also be seen externally on the bolt. The cocking piece then closes flush with the bolt sleeve; in the decocked state, it is recessed. Loading is done from the top into the internal magazine or directly into the chamber. 

To unload, you can cycle each cartridge individually or remove them all at once by opening the magazine floorplate. This is done by a push button in the front of the trigger guard. The blued heavy barrel type has a very clean cut 5/8"-18- UNF muzzle thread under the knurled thread protector. The eye-catching decorative cap fits snugly. The muzzle diameter is 21.7 mm, twist is 1:10 inch (= 1:254 mm). In addition to the Heavy barrel contour, Howa offers the Standard and Semi-Heavy versions. Those who like it a bit flashier can also order Stainless barrels.

Briefly about the optics and mounting on the test rifle: Steiner Ranger 4 riflescope in 3-12x56 mounted on a EAW rail 

From factory the rifle comes with four drilled and tapped holes to accommodate a Picatinny rail on the receiver bridge. The well proven EAW company offer a continuous or a split Picatinny rail available for selection. After consultation, the testers were even able to glue the long rail to the rifle being tested. On top of this came a Steiner Ranger 4 riflescope in 3-12x56 with a Tier-One mount, which then increased the total weight of the whole combo to 4,620 grams.

The Howa 1500 on the range: on the EAW rail a Steiner-ZF Ranger 4 in 3-12x56 with Tier-One mount.

On the shooting range: RWS Target Elite Plus comes out on top

The shooting test over a distance of 100 meters was to show whether the good reputation was confirmed. The testers fired the Howa with the GECO Express. The 21 mm grouping already gave rise to good hopes. The Target Elite Plus Match (154 gr) match ammunition from RWS was impressive at 11 mm and thus secured the victory. The sub-MOA guarantee was not only achieved with selected ammunition, but fully exceeded.

Our evaluation of the Howa 1500 Heavy Barrel

The Howa 1500 during a practical test in the field.

Howa rifles are advertised with the attributes "reliable, rugged and precise". In principle, there is nothing to add to this. Nevertheless, there are a few practical comments about the test gun: the dull, slightly velvety stock with the rubber finish is unfortunately not at all forgiving of dirt. Dust, smudges, fingerprints – everything sticks to the outside and quickly makes the stock look grubby. Its surface is quite soft, the butt plate is particularly comfortable. Unfortunately, the lower corner is so flexible that it gets caught in some fold of the outerwear every now and then. So much for the negative about the stock. 

On the positive side, the dot texture on the pistol grip and forend doesn't look like much at first glance, but it feels very grippy both with and without gloves. The stock with the practical, flat forend underside clearly shows the manufacturing seams, but they are cleanly reworked. Does it have to be exactly this stock in the end? Not necessarily for the tester, above all because of its sensitivity. But Howa offers a variety of different stocks and so you can simply choose a more suitable one. For example, GRS stocks, Hogue stocks or H-S Precision stocks are on offer. The pistol grip is short and easy to grasp. 

The index finger intuitively finds its way towards the trigger. The trigger pull itself works great. The pre-travel is not too long and at 1,100 g, the trigger then breaks quite straightforwardly. If that's still not crisp enough for you, you could make further adjustments with the Rifle Basics Trigger. Starting at 180 euros, there are triggers that can be adjusted between 300 to 700 g, or 250 to 500 g.

The lever in the front of the Howa 1500's trigger guard allows the floorplate of the internal magazine to swing open.

The part described by the manufacturer as an "internal box magazine" accepts the cartridges cleanly and feeds them well during cycling. If you find this design old-fashioned and think that it should absolutely be a removable magazine – no problem, there is also a conversion kit for this. The bolt handle is easy to operate. The bolt action runs smoothly. The fired cartridge cases describe a nice trajectory on their way to the ground during quick cycling. 

The three-position safety works well, but is unfortunately not completely silent to operate. With the thumb, the safety can be operated positively and without too much effort, and that is basically the most important thing. The matte black blued barrel is immediately noticeable due to its diameter of 21.7 mm. The knurled thread protector draws the eye and somehow the overall look of this rifle is round and coherent. Visually, it has something. In any case, it won't let you go. In the back of your mind, plans emerge as to what could be done to the rifle to make its advantages even more apparent. 

It wouldn't necessarily need that, but why not, if you had the possibility? You could use it to build your very own (low budget) custom gun. There are stocks made of simple wood, plastic stocks from GRS or Boyds, even an aluminum chassis from MTD. The triggers from Timney can also be fitted to a Howa. The action body, for example, is very generously and evenly designed. A full bedding would be a good idea here. Maybe add a silencer or muzzle brake? 

Howa 1500 specs and price

Howa 1500 Heavy Barrel
867 euro
.308 Winchester
Magazine Capacity:
5 + 1 cartridges
Overall Length:
40.55”/103 cm
Barrel Length:
20"/510 mm
Twist Rate:
Trigger Pull Weight:
1,100 g
3,800 g
Features:Two-lug bolt, single-stage adjustable trigger, trigger safety, three-position safety, EAW Picatinny rail or mount, 5/8"-18 UNF muzzle thread, hinged magazine floorplate, rubber recoil pad.

Conclusion: what the bolt action rifle Howa 1500 Heavy Barrel can offer

The thick barrel, the wide contact surface of the forend and the interaction of the trigger and the weight of the rifle are simply a lot of fun to shoot. Recoil is barely noticeable. The single-stage trigger with its characteristic pre-travel allows for a very controlled shot. And when the results are as good as they are here, you leave the stand with a satisfied smile. The Howa rightly has a good reputation and many fans. It is absolutely modular, offers a lot, has a good price-performance ratio – also suitable for young hunters – and huge potential for customization / tuning. In short, it is a joy to use.

 What we liked:

 What we liked less:

High accuracy
Somewhat noisy safety
Pleasant shooting behavior
The stock of the test gun gets slightly dirty
Good trigger

First class price-performance ratio

Text: Carola Rathjens and Matthias S. Recktenwald

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