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Howa Model 1500 Thumbhole Varmint Supreme

Mixing looks and performance at a very nice price Pete Moore checks out the Howa Model 1500 Varminter

I have just come back from a very enjoyable range test session, I say this as the rifle in question shot like a demon, looked good and in terms of cost is exceptionally well priced. I speak of the Howa Thumbhole Varmint Supreme or HVTHSPEP as they rather unimaginatively call it… Given the high performance potential and the reasonable cost on offer, it makes me wonder why you might want to go for a more expensive brand? Even if you add the cost of screw cutting and a moderator the package still comes in at £50 under a grand, without it you will still be paying under £700 for what is a very shootable rifle.

Howa as a brand needs little introduction in the UK, as they have been distributed by Highland Outdoors for well over a year now. Called the Model 1500 they are a genuine Japanese product and take the form of a well built and pretty standard turn-bolt-action in a number of model choices. I tested a 270 Sporter a few months ago and was most impressed, but the Varmint, which is a very popular build-style, took my breath away.

Pepper

The Thumbhole Varmint Supreme is the top of the tree and shows a grey laminate (pepper) stock and a heavy, 24”, stainless barrelled action. My example came threaded and fitted with a Wildcat Predator 8 moderator, the total cost for this package is £944. However, prices start as low as £589 for the same action in blue with heavy, non-thumbhole furniture and un-threaded. Options also include grey or brown laminate and blued or stainless metalwork. Threading/proofing is extra at £85 though is included in the moderator package at £250.

The Varmint is undeniably heavy at 10 lbs un-scoped or modded, but this is the build that those looking for a gun of this style are after, as it’s all about accuracy and consistency. The layout is very standard with a top-loading four shot, floor plate style magazine. The action uses a forward locking, twin lug bolt with plunger-type ejector and a three position safety at the rear right of the receiver. This gives FIRE (forward) SAFE with bolt operation (middle) and SAFE locked (rear). The trigger is adjustable and came from the box at 3 ½ lbs, with a crisp and predictable break.

The thumbhole stock is a beauty with the high/straight comb, reasonably upright pistol grip and generous thumb aperture of the marque - I really like this layout for this sort of rifle. The forend is square, wide and totally free-floats the barrel. On each side at the top are three slots, which might be there to aid barrel cooling, but could equally be for cosmetics as they do look good… Sling studs are fitted fore and aft with two up front, I like this as it allows you to place the point of support further back, which makes the forend even more stable.

Nikko on top

To keep it in the family I fitted a 4-12 x 42 Nikko Stirling Diamond Hunter using Leupold bases and their own rings both of which were supplied for the test. Typical of a heavy barrelled Varmint gun you need to be thinking of high mounts if you intend to use a scope with a big, 50mm + objective. As Highland also distribute Nikko and have recently picked up Nikon they offer a number of optical packages too, so if everything is ordered together you could save your self a good few quid on the scope alone.

My example came in 223 Remington, which though not as powerful as the classic 22-250 is none the less probably more popular in the UK and in most cases more than enough for the job of busting foxes and long range critters. I elected to use Hornady ammo and had on hand 40 and 55-grain V-MAX loads, plus their 60-grain TAP FPD, which is just a V-MAX in a black case. The rifling twist is the old/standard 1-12” so I was keen to see how it would handle this selection.

Effortless

Testing was done at 100-yards prone/supported off a Harris BRS bipod with a field bag under the butt. Generally the Varmint felt good with the stock offering its promised high degree of comfort and support. Rounds clicked easily into the magazine and the action ran smooth and true. After a rough zero on the bank to get the rifle shooting near to the scope I switched to paper targets.

Starting with the 55s the Howa was punching in ½” groups, dropping down to the 40s showed no change in size; most impressive… Switching to the heavier 60-grain TAP, things open up a tad, but still kept it at ¾” at worst and usually better. This weight is probably about the limit for a 1-12” tube; to be honest I would stick with the 55 V-MAX load as that will do the job!

Ready and waiting

There’s not a lot else to say apart from – what a great rifle for a Varminter! Out of interest I went into a number of chat rooms on the web concerning Howa and the thumbhole in particular. In 99% of the cases comments mirrored mine and were very positive, with a common thread being; why do you need to buy the more expensive US and European heavy barrelled rifles when the 1500 is ready and waiting?

In terms of calibre choice the Varmint series is available in the following options – 204 Ruger, 223 and 22-250 Remington and 243 and 308 Winchester. So if you’re looking for a fox buster or just an accurate range rifle it’s all there. Highland Outdoor also offer a number of add on package deals that includes moderators, threading/proofing and scope options. Likewise although the basic action is the same the rifle is available in brown or grey stock, blued or stainless and standard or thumbhole furniture.

My advice; if you are shopping in this area give Howa’s Thumbhole Varmint Supreme some serious consideration!

We Reckon:
• Another amazing rifle from Howa
• Superb accuracy potential
• Excellent pricing structure

Technical Specifications
Name Howa Model 1500 Thumbhole Varmint Supreme
Calibre 223 Rem (on test)
Capacity 4
Barrel 24” heavy profile
Stock grey laminate TH
Price £694
Threading/proofing add £85
Predator 8 moderator inc threading/proofing add £250

All Prices Are Guides Due to the Changes in US & European Exchange Rates

Gun Mart Shooters Forum - Get Involved in the Discussion!
User Comments
  • Hi Pete. I shoot shoot a Steve Kershaw semi-custom HOWA 1500 in .223 Any suggestions on a good load for the gun? It's basically the same as the one you reviewed except it has been shortened (20.5") and sits in a Bell & Carlson aluminium bedded synthetic stock. I shoot rabbits, crows and foxes. I am also in a club and do a little range work (4/5 days a year). Great site. Thanks Colyn

    Comment by: COLYN WILSON     Posted on: 23 Aug 2009 at 12:14 PM

  • Colyn

    Have to say I have not owned a 1-12" twist 223 for a very long time, so cannot recommend a load, but it needs to be kept at 55-grains maximum for optimum performance. Good powders I would say would be Vit N140 or Hodgdon Varget, as that's what I use in my two 223s though I run a Hornady, 60-grain SP in my 1-10 Mauser M03 and a 69-grain Sierra Match King in my 1-8 Speedmaster.

    Hope that's of help?

    Cheers
    PM

    Comment by: pete moore     Posted on: 23 Aug 2009 at 10:29 PM

  • Hello,

    Can you tell me where I could purchase it from, you show the setup below, but you don't say where you got it from??

    (My example came threaded and fitted with a Wildcat Predator 8 moderator, the total cost for this package is £944)

    Kind Rgards,

    Sam

    Comment by: Sam     Posted on: 28 Oct 2009 at 04:35 PM

  • The importers are Highland Outdoors, however they are trade only and do not deal with the public. Get down to your local gun shop and get them to order one in; now you know who handles Howa in the UK.

    Comment by: pete moore     Posted on: 30 Oct 2009 at 10:41 AM

  • i have the same howa 1500 setup as the one on test and find 1/2" groups with 55g v max rounds is about the best factory load iv used but 233 silver tip winchesters are a close second i find in my case that i could do with a box magazine for removing as we cross roads and train lines on our grounds,is there a kit i could get to do this ,i would be happy to do a review on it.

    Comment by: A Gibbs     Posted on: 31 Oct 2009 at 08:56 AM

  • Not sure, but with the plethora of box mag conversions for Remingtons etc and the popularity of the 1500 Varmint it would seem there might be something. Best advice is to search the net, if you locate one I would like to see what you think of it.

    Cheers
    PM

    Comment by: pete moore     Posted on: 05 Nov 2009 at 05:43 PM

  • Please help me...
    I have a Howa M1500 Carbon Supreme Win .308 Kevlar wrapped barrel, Christensen arms, Rifle which is accurate so far up to1Km. My only problem is being in Australia and the Gunsmiths here being a joke I can't source a flash suppressor (civilians call them Break Arrester's...???) Every time I take a shot I get more kick than the .50cals or SLR's (M24's) I shot as a sniper for the Australia Army. I could really use your help in this matter. I need something to balance the exhaust gases and I do not want to change barrels as I have everything set up, with the exception of the kick, which always blows the barrel to the right. I have spent a lot of $ on shoulder suppressor's and alike, however I think I was taken for a bloody ride. I sling on my 8mm Mauser to my left arm, which is a cannon in comparison has less kick to no kick, yet the lead is flying faster and harder. Could you Please help me as I could use any assistance at all and trying to track down Howa (or ISL) is a pain from here + Aust. has bloodly dumb firearm laws...
    Thanks in advance...
    BJ

    Comment by: Jim "BJ" Fuller     Posted on: 22 Jun 2011 at 04:13 PM

  • Light rifles are always nice, but as ever a compromise when it comes to calibre choice V recoil. I have always found 308 Win to be a snappy cartidge even in medium weight guns, so as ever it's a trade off between what you want and the consequences or your actions. The Christensen Arms web site shows a titanium muzzle brake as an optional extra, but gives little information on if it will fit any of their barrels or has to be ordered in the inital build spec.

    I would have reccomended the fitting of a Holland brake (Darrel Holland Gunsmith) from the USA, I have these on a number of my heavier guns 300 WSM, 8.5x63 and it really does tame recoil. However, I do not know if the build of the Christensen barrel would allow it to be machined to suit.

    You really need to be speaking to them www.christensenarms.com

    Hope I have been of help, let me know how you get on and good luck

    PM

    Comment by: peter moore     Posted on: 29 Jun 2011 at 09:56 AM

  • hi i am whandering if howa bulds a 25 06 cal. and whode laike more infou

    Comment by: corne     Posted on: 02 Mar 2012 at 01:37 PM

  • Hi Pete,

    I have recently bought a new Howa 1500 varmint .308 24" barrel thumbhole stock. I am new to the .308 calibre and I would appreciate some advice on ammunition. I know all rifles vary and I am experimenting. I have tried 155 gn and 170 gn with little discernible difference if anything the 170 may be grouping better. The barrel is 1 in 12 twist what weight do you think is best ? I am mainly shooting paper with no immediate plans to shoot deer though I may in the future.

    many thanks

    Nick

    Comment by: Nick     Posted on: 01 Jun 2012 at 09:32 PM

  • Send it back to Christensen, they build the best brake in the business.

    Comment by: dave     Posted on: 24 Dec 2013 at 01:48 PM

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Howa Model 1500 Thumbhole Varmint Supreme
Howa Model 1500 Thumbhole Varmint Supreme
Howa Model 1500 Thumbhole Varmint Supreme
Howa Model 1500 Thumbhole Varmint Supreme
Howa Model 1500 Thumbhole Varmint Supreme
Howa Model 1500 Thumbhole Varmint Supreme
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