Howa 1500/Berserk package
- By Pete Moore
- 0 Comments
- Last updated: 19/02/2019
It’s funny, after years of not really appreciating the 243 Winchester cartridge, circumstances have forced me to re-evaluate it. My main dislike is that it’s one of those calibres that does not generally do well, energy-wise in shorter barrels, for that read sub-22”; ballistically, it also runs out of steam quite quickly. However, one can’t deny its popularity in the UK, as it’s well suited to varmints, foxes and most deer species. I recently bought a 243 Win barrel for my Blaser R8 Professional Success, primarily as a deer gun for my daughter, as it’s accurate and offers easy recoil and good handling. So, I worked up some reloads and found to my surprise that it offered a lot more potential than I gave it credit for.
As someone who prefers a longer barrel, I got a further nudge in the 243’s direction when I was testing the SIG SAUER BDX scope and rangefinder system. Importers, Highland Outdoors, supplied me with a Howa 1500, with a 24” heavy barrel fitted up in Grodas Rifle Stocks (GRS) Berserk synthetic furniture. I have and am still testing the BDX with it, but thought it would be enlightening to re-scope it with something with a finer and more conventional reticle, to see what it could do, as it had been doing very well so far. It came fitted with a one-piece Picatinny rail, aimSport Triton 42 reflex moderator and a standard, floor plate (top-loading) magazine system.
I added the Legacy Sports box mag conversion, also from Highland, which represents a highly cost-effective feed conversion, and put a Schmidt & Bender Polar 34mm body tube scope on top in Sportsmatch rings. However, a call to Highland revealed that they also sell it as a package deal as follows: Howa blued Varmint barrelled action, GRS Berserk Stock, Howa Floor plate magazine system, Nikko Stirling one-piece Picatinny rail or two-piece Steel Lok bases and their Steel Lok rings, Nikko Stirling Diamond 3-12x56 scope, aimSport Triton Predator moderator, Buffalo River bipod, Tetra cleaning kit, Allen sling and gun sock and, finally, a Flambeau hard case. All this little lot for a shade over £1400 is impressive. Adding up the individual items and subtracting it from the package, shows a saving of over £350. The barrelled action and stock alone would cost you £1065.
Howa 1500 rifles have been around for a long time and in terms of design offer no radical surprises. The simple, turn-bolt action cocks on opening and uses twin, forward-mounted recoil lugs, spring plunger ejector and standard claw extractor in a fully supported bolt head. Feed is from a top-loading floor plate magazine system. The safety is located rear right of the action and shows as a three position, rolling lever: forward FIRE, middle SAFE with bolt operation and rear SAFE bolt locked. It’s well placed for operation by the firing hand thumb; opposite, on the left, is the bolt release catch. It’s available in three action lengths, Mini (204 Ruger 223 Rem etc.), Short 243/308 Win and similar and Long, 270 Win, 30-06 and the usual magnums. The standard trigger is good and can be gunsmith adjusted to suit.
Today, the 1500 must rate alongside other popular, mass-produced makes, like the Remington 700 etc. and its versatility primarily revolves around the availability of alternative stocks to suit specific needs, which is keenly addressed by Highland Outdoors. With choices such as GRS, Hogue, Bell & Carlson, as well as some chassis systems, in laminate, various polymers and glass fibres and rubber in the case of the Hogues. Plus, the various barrel lengths, profiles and types, along with the wide calibre choice.
On the initial SIG SAUER Electro Optics BDX testing/demo day at WMS Firearms in Wales recently, we got to shoot a few different 1500 configurations. The one that stood out for me was the heavy barrel in 243 Winchester, as it fulfils my preference for a longer tube in this calibre, that should get the best out of it. Twist rate is 1-10, so on the cusp of using 100-grain+ bullets and it measures 24” to the gas escape hole and tappers from 1.174 – 0.825” at the muzzle, which is threaded 5/8th x 18 UNF.
I like the GRS Berserk stock (black only), as I already own their earlier ‘Sport Varmint version in Green Mountain camo laminate for my 6.5 Creedmoor Weatherby Vanguard custom. Essentially the same design but lighter in a fiberglass-reinforced composite with rubber sections on the grip and forend. The barrel is fully floated and the action pillar-bedded, the butt is adjustable with a length of pull (LOP) of 33.5 – 36.5 cms and a comb/cheek piece height variable of 25mm. At the rear is a slim, Limbsaver recoil pad. Both are operated by SpeedLock buttons; plus, you can buy a vertically adjustable butt plate adaptor. The best thing about this design is the 6⁰ offset scalloped pistol grip, which offers stress-free hand and superior trigger finger positions.
The trigger shows a long, lightly concave blade shape, at the front of the housing is a weight adjuster screw with locking ring and a blob of sealant over it to stop it being tampered with. The pull was very good for a standard production rifle and broke at around 3 lbs with just a tad of creep. I left it alone, but I’m sure the sealant could be removed and a bit more finesse added. If you don’t feel capable, then I’d say it’s the work of minutes for a gunsmith to do the job, but no complaints from me!
An accessory that did impress, was the new Howa Accessories Tactical Bolt Knob, a steal at £29.99. This clam shell design bolts over the knob on both Howa 1500 (round) and Weatherby Vanguard (tapered-types). It’s slotted for grip measures 1.75 x .75” and really adds to operation. With the S&B Polar 4-16x56 on top in 34mm Sportsmatch rings and a bipod up front I was ready to go. Ammo choice covered the major weights in 243, as follows- Hornady 58-grain, molycoated Hornady V-MAX, Norma 76-grain TipStrike ballistic tip, Winchester 95-grain Extreme Point (BT), RWS 100-grain soft tip and Geco 105-grain soft nose.
General fit and feel of the Varmint was good, bolt operation was smooth and slick, with no great effort required on cycling the action. By its nature, it’s a heavy rifle, but that brings stability and potentially accuracy and consistency, which is what you are looking for in a Varmint build. The safety and bolt release catches are perfectly adequate but made out of steel stampings and feel a little basic under the finger and thumb. Properly set up, the Berserk stock offers a stable and comfortable handle and I like the Legacy Sports box magazine conversion, which offers 5 and 10-round box mags in short action calibres. The release catch is at the front of the well and is a little exposed, so just be aware. The free-float offered by the forend is exceedingly generous and runs all the way to the base of the reinforce, so no problems on barrel/channel contact. So, overall, a very shootable package, testing was done at 100m, supported off the bench, see GOING BALLISTIC listing.
Two of the loads did not maintain 1700 ft/lbs past 50 yards, with two even lower at 25, however that’s still good enough and large deer legal too. The heaviest GECO 105-grain Soft Nose performed very well in the Howa’s 1-10” rifling twist, with the garden variety, RWS 100-grain soft tip shooting some nice 0.5” groups. The 58-grain V-MAX when zeroed at 180 yards shoots just ½” low out at 200 yards, so excellent fox vermin fodder. The 76-grain Norma TipStrike hits 1700 ft/lbs at 85 yards, which is good for a 243 and at the same 180 yard zero was only dropping .57” at 200 yards with the highest part of its trajectory being 0.76” at 120 yards. It strikes a good compromise on weight, energy and trajectory in this calibre up to a point too. Overall, an interesting test and a good off the shelf rifle with a deal of potential.