Howa 1500 Dream It… Build It
By: Pete Moore
Fed up with buying a basic rifle then wasting time, effort and money making it how you wanted it to be in the beginning? Pete Moore investigates the Howa 1500 Dream It… Build It programme from Highland Outdoors
There’s little doubt in my mind that Howa have established themselves as a name to be reckoned with in the field of centrefire, bolt-action rifles. Made in Japan they not only offer their own Model 1500, but also make Weatherby’s Vanguard and probably some other US makes too… The 1500 is a simple design taking features and looks from both the Remington 700 and the Winchester Model 70. It shows a top-loading, floor plate magazine system, 3-position safety – rear right of the action, twin lug locking, massive extractor claw and plunger-type ejector.
Cheap & very cheerful
Prices are good too! Two years ago I tested their 1500 Varmint, stainless/heavy barrel with laminate thumbhole stock. In 223 Remington the rifle shot ½” no problems and all this for £699. Looking around showed that it was at least £400 cheaper than comparable US models. As we know prices have risen, but the same rifle today is only around £100 more expensive or £50 for the blued version.
Since then I have tested a few 1500s and really like what is on offer! So much so that I have a build project on the drawing board to make a 6.5 Creedmoor and have decided to use a Howa 1500 action and thumbhole stock.
Howa is imported/distributed by Highland Outdoors who have made a great success of the brand and with their new concept in marketing seem set to improve upon that. Called ‘Dream it… Build It’, to my mind it solves the age old problem of buying a basic rifle, then discovering you would like to add features and items all of which will take extra time and money. Highland who also distribute Nikko Stirling and Nikon optics have added these options to the package along with mounts and rings. Plus a wide choice of stocks to suit all needs and also hooked up with Wildcat Custom to offer their Predator8 moddy as part of the deal, along with proofing etc. All you need to do is see what you want and order it and you will now have on off-the-shelf rifle customised to your requirements.
So what can you have? Well the choice is comprehensive! At the heart of the build are both long and short, sporter-weight barrelled actions, with lengths of 22 and 24” accordingly. Plus heavyweight varmints (short action only) in blued or stainless at 24”. These come with a thread protector, one-piece/1” scope rail and hard gun case included in the price. Calibre choice is standard factory, but with enough options to handle pretty much anything. SHORT (sporter or varmint); 204 Ruger, 223 and 22-250 Rem, 243 and 308 Win. LONG (sporter only); 25-06 Rem, 270 Win, 7mm Rem Mag, 30-06 Sprg, 300 and 338 Win Mag.
Stocks are from Hogue, Blackhawk and SK. The Hogue is their standard, rubber, over-moulded design in a choice of colours – black, sand, olive and Buffalo or King’s Desert camo. The Blackhawk stocks are more tactical with integral recoil system and offer the Axiom with pistol grip and CAR15-type telescopic butt and the Talon, which is a fixed butt with and open thumbhole layout in black or King’s Camo. The Axiom offers the option of a polymer or aluminium frame. SK offers one walnut sporter, two laminate thumbhole types (TH) – in standard weight forend (Sporter) and heavy ventilated/free-float forend (Varmint) in the choice of the Ambidextrous and Standard (handed) layouts. These come in three colours nutmeg (light brown), pepper (grey) and woodland (tri-colour – green, brown and grey). There is also the Varmint with a non TH build and a high comb and cheek piece.
Highland Outdoors sent me the following ; stainless 223 Rem and black 243 Win in 22” barrelled, Sporter actions. Both were cut 1/2x20” UNF. Stocks went to Hogue, rubber, over-moulded in sand and black, Blackhawk Axiom (synthetic) and SK Ambidextrous and Standard varmints in nutmeg. Also included - two Predator8 moddies as per calibre, Nikko Stirling 1” Weaver, one-piece bridge bases, 1” and 30mm rings and an NS 3-12x56 Eurohunter illuminated (30mm) and a Nikon 3-9x50 (1”) ProStaff with BDC (bullet drop compensating) reticule.
Though as a customer you’re ‘dream Howa’ will come assembled all the work required is drop-in and screw-on. However, if you opted for two barrelled actions and a single stock the swap requires the mounting screws, which use T25 Torx fittings to be undone and the magazine and receiver lifted off. I set up the 223 in the Hogue furniture with the NS Eurohunter and the 243 in the Standard/Sporter thumbhole and Nikon.
The Hogue with its textured, rubber over-moulded build is a good general design with plenty to get hold of. I did find the forend a bit flexible, which could affect point of impact ON/OFF a bipod. The SK, Standard T/H was by far my favourite and offers a stable build in both Sporter and the heavier Varmint styles with its ventilated, free-float forend. The Ambidextrous is just that bit different and as the name suggests allows either shoulder use. This is achieved by a double cheek piece (left & right) and a larger cut-out with more standard, non-handed pistol grip. The Ambi makes a lot of sense but I prefer the Standard R/H version.
The Axiom is a little different as it features an integral spring/slide recoil system. It comes with a CAR15-type telescopic butt, full pistol grip and raised/removable comb. The forend is more a hollow shelf that totally free-floats the barrel. The recoil system works fine but is hardly required on a 223 or 243 but could be of use in heavier calibres. Not so good is the fact the forend is far too flexible, which makes shooting off a bipod a waste of time as the package is just too whippy. It works OK off a range bag, but it would not be my choice unless it was more rigid… Though not seen; the version with the aluminium frame will doubtless be as solid as a rock, which is where I would put my money…
I had been using the 223 gun with Hogue stock for testing night vision equipment and apart from shooting ¾” with Norma 50-grain V-MAX it refreshed my memory of why I like the Howa 1500 so much. The action is smooth and easy and the trigger offers a decent break of around 3-4 lbs. With the NS Eurohunter on top nothing changed and it shoots 55-grain soft tips equally as well. The stainless and sand colour scheme looks good too, a small thing perhaps but in a world of black stocks this or olive is a refreshing change.
For me though the TH Sporter gets the vote! I like this layout for a more ‘sit and shoot’ rifle and the extra support and straight-line comb combined with the full pistol grip just feels right. The forend though not free-floated is none the less rigid and offers no real POI changes ON/OFF a bipod. Were this my stock I’d re-position the forward QD sling stud back about 2-3” to further enhance stability.
The Nikon 3-9x50 is similar in feel to a comparable Leupold and is a well presented optic. The real difference here are the four circles on the 6 o’clock inner stadia below the cross hair, which offers the BDC function. As the name suggests these can be used for range/hold over points and are quite useful.
Typical of most 243 rifles the Howa easily shot a broad spectrum of bullet weights and types from 55 to 100-grains from various manufactures. Accuracy varied with the 55s shooting ½” and the 95 and 100s going to around the inch. Pleasing too was a near identical trigger pull to the 223 and the smooth and slick action stroke.
The three position safety gives forward – FIRE, middle – SAFE with bolt operation and rear – SAFE bolt locked. It is well placed for operation by the firing hand thumb with little loss of grip when using the Hogue stock, but the TH forces you to break your position to operate it, which is no big deal. The Wildcat moderators worked well, though I did find them just a bit bulky, but as part of the package deal you are again benefiting on the overall price with this already factored in that includes fitting and proofing.
Overall two nice, shootable and potentially accurate rifles. OK far from radical but the ability to show the potential buyer what is on offer and allow them to literally tick boxes to create a dedicated finished package is smart marketing from the retailer and a practical and very user-friendly buy for the consumer. So what about prices?
Let’s price up the 223 rifle as tested:
223 Rem Stainless Inc. threading/protector, scope base and Buffalo River bag £606.88
Hogue rubber over-moulded stock £53.24
Nikko Stirling 3-12x56i Eurohunter scope £176.95
Total if bought individually £837.07
Package price £745 Inc. scope, threading, protector, proofing, scope base and hard case
Wildcat Predator 8 moderator £215
OK the moddy is extra but there’s a saving of nearly £100 on the package, plus the threading/protector, scope base and hard case are all included. For just under £750 you have a rifle that’s good to go, which sounds like a deal to me. Below are a few individual prices, but check out the website for the full list.
Black Hawk Axiom stock (polymer) £296.60
Axiom aluminium frame stock £448.70
Blued Varmint barrelled/action (24”) £530.83
Stainless Varmint barrelled/action (24”) £652.51
Hogue stock with full alloy bedding block £190.13
SK TH ambidextrous stock £243.36
NS 6-24x56 sunshade, side-wheel illuminated £242.95
Nikon Pro Staff 3-9x50 (BDC reticule) £224.52
Highland Outdoors are trade only, so speak to your local gunshop about the Dream It, Built It package and they will get you sorted. But check out the website to see what is on offer; I don’t think you will be disappointed…
The Howa 1500 is a great rifle at good money
The choice of Dream It, Built It options covers nearly all the bases
Great idea, practical package and good value for money
All Prices Are Guides Due to the Changes in US & European Exchange Rates