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.
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.
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!
• Another amazing rifle from Howa
• Superb accuracy potential
• Excellent pricing structure
|Name||Howa Model 1500 Thumbhole Varmint Supreme|
|Calibre||223 Rem (on test)|
|Barrel||24” heavy profile|
|Stock||grey laminate TH|
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