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- Last updated: 21/12/2018
The Howa range of sporting rifles are produced in Japan and have supplied various well-known manufacturers with actions for their rifles, such as Weatherby Vanguard and the old Smith and Wesson 1500 rifles, back in the early 70s.
These days, Howa market their own brand in many configurations. I was keen to test a light weight version, dubbed the Alpine, which is offered as a ready-made stalking or foxing package, complete with sound moderator if desired.
Highland Outdoors are the distributors for the Howa range and also have Nikko Stirling rifle scopes on their books; so, the rifle was supplied with this Panamax model and with an AimZonic moderator.
The Howa can also be ordered as a barrelled action and the you can choose from Highland’s alternative stock selection, to make up a deer or fox rifle that suits your needs.
The stock is the item of any rifle that sets it apart from other designs in my view; get this right and you are half way there to a good rifle. It needs to be rigid, strong and weatherproof on modern guns that are used in the field in all weather conditions. The Alpine’s stock does not disappoint. It’s pretty much ambidextrous and has a reasonably short length of pull at 13.75-inches; so, the Howa is designed as an ‘average’ shooter specification.
It is a deservingly good stock, both in design and construction. No cheekpiece and quite straight comb and no chequering belies the technology beneath. It is a Bansner High Tech Fibreglass stock, made by Legendary Arms Works and thus ensures a lightweight stock design that is built to stop warpage, retain zero and take the knocks that every day hunting has to offer. Its fibreglass construction feels very solid yet light, perfect on this lightweight Alpine or Mountain type rifle. I really like the green and black peppered stock finish that has a tactile feel but one thing to note, is that the stock finish is impervious to cleaning solvents and will not harden.
Attention to detail, such as glass/pillar bedding the action to the stock really helps with accuracy and consistency from the Alpine. It also allows Howa to guarantee sub MOA groups.
You have a generous limb saver recoil pad that is soft and grips well and dissipates recoil very well and two sling swivel studs for a sling or bipod fitment are fitted up front. The stock has a great overall feel to it; it just feels right in the hand and has length of pull of 13.75-inches.
The best part of the Howa has to be the action design and materials; I have seen many custom rifles built on this solid unit and better for it in my view. The single forged steel action is machined with few tool marks remaining after the process.
What you achieve is a strong action from the outset and the top receiver bridge is drilled and tapped for scope bases identical to Remington rifles. There is a reasonably large integral recoil lug on the receiver ring that beds securely into the stock.
The finish on this model is the new Cerakote gun metal coating, giving a very smooth and satin finish that complements that of the barrel also, not shiny enough to attract the attention from game but subdued enough to look pleasing. This colour on the Alpine was a lovely gun metal grey, very nice.
There is no detachable magazine design here, just the tried and tested hinged floor plate magazine, which holds five cartridges in 7mm-08 calibre tested. There is a simple lever operation sited in the forward section of the trigger guard that allows the plate to drop under spring tension to dump the cartridges into a waiting hand – hopefully!
Highland Outdoors do offer an after-market detachable mag system and that would prove very handy.
The Howa action has a large and well-engineered bolt and handle, manufactured from a single piece of forged steel bar stock and its 7-inch dimension contribute to the robustness as a whole. There are two large locking lugs up front that, when cammed into the action on closure, give even and positive support. The ejector is a plunger type within the bolt body and very forcefully ejects spent cases from the action. Primary extraction is accomplished by an M16 type extractor claw that is full 1.5-inches long and certainly grips and extracts cases from the rifles chamber with attitude. The swept-back nature of the bolt handle has a nice teardrop bolt knob that runs the bolt smoothly within the action and cleanly avoids any scope contact when the action is cocked.
The Howa uses a three-position safety system that is operated by a small sliding knurled metal lever accessed from the right side of the action tang. In the forward position, the rifle is ready to fire, ¾ back locks the trigger but allows bolt operation and in the rearmost position locks the trigger and sear as well as the bolt.
The trigger was good and is Howa’s new H.A.C.T system that is a single stage unit but adjustable if you like, after removing the stock. This model had no creep and a very fine, glass-like sear break, dead on 2.55lbs; very nice and contributes to fine accuracy potential.
The barrel is hammer forged for strength and rigidity and has a smooth surface for consistent accuracy and longevity. In the Alpine version, it is a scant 20-inches, which is perfect for a mountain rifle or any stalking rifle in my view and in 7mm-08 calibre does not affect accuracy at all and only has a small effect on velocity, see field test. Also, keeping with the lightweight theme, the barrel profile is No. 1; so, it’s thin, with a 0.572- inch muzzle diameter. This is also threaded ½ inch UNF for a sound moderator and has a threaded protector fitted. Inside, being a 7mm calibre, you need a relatively fast twist rate and thus it is 1 in 9.75-inches. It is coated externally in the same Cerakote finish as the action and is really nice.
Being fully-floated along its entire length, accuracy should be maximised and, even when a heavy moderator is fitted, the gap between the barrel and stock is still clear, so no problems. A small detail but it can cause problems, this is a well-engineered stock and barrel design.
Highland outdoors supplied an Aimsonic sound moderator and Nikko Stirling scope and these were fitted and I started to test a variety of a factory and reloads and zero in at 100-yards and then lengthen the range to clang some steel at range on the farm. I had some Remington 140gr AccuTips that shot 2677fps for 2228ft/lbs energy and solid 1-1.25-inch groups.
I also shot some Federal 150 grain Sierra Pro Hunter SP loads, which produced 2601fps for 2254ft/lbs energy and consistent 1 inch three shot groups, bingo.
All those reloads shot well and the best was the Hornady SST 140 grain load of 44.0 grains of RL17 powder, which achieved 2642fps and 2326ft/ lbs energy and consistent 0.75-inch groups, perfect.
You have to admire the capable, go-anywhere working rifle attitude of the Alpine. The stock transforms the feel of the rifle and the overall build quality for the price will certainly give its owner a long service life. For a gamekeeper or active deer stalker, or just a cost-conscious shooter, the Howa will serve them well. For me, with older legs now, any weight saved without affecting performance is welcome.