Howa Lightning 2
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- Last updated: 21/08/2019
Highland Outdoors are the distributors for the Howa range and they also have Nikko Stirling rifle scopes on their books, as well as AimZonic moderators. It is no surprise then that they not only offer a barrelled action rifle and stock option package design, made to suit your preference and now the Howa Lightning rifle is offered as a complete plug and play rifle.
This Lightning 2 package comes with scope, mounts bases and sound moderator and bipod, cleaning kit and case, all for £1103. What you have in this 243 Win calibre version is an all-round, dual purpose rifle, capable of vermin, fox and deer duties, where only your ammunition choice is the variable factor.
The stock is not only the support for ones hold and handling, but it also has to put up with everyday field use and be able to support the barrelled action in a consistent manner in all weathers. Hence the need for a laminate or synthetic stock option.
The Howa range comes with either, but previous incarnations have utilised the older Hogue over-moulded, soft touch stock. Nice on a cheaper field gun or semi auto rimfire but the lack of a true integral rigid skeleton made the format less than impressive in real terms. Enter the new Lighting 2 version that sports a new synthetic polymer moulded stock design. This eliminates any forend twist or torque and provides a more stable platform to maintain accuracy in any weathers. Also, fitting a bipod will not alter the point of impact.
Overall design is a typical sporter with a slim profile and pretty ambidextrous stock orientation with low comb but free floated barrel channel. The black/grey moulding was smooth and the forend had a fluted, beaver tail profile to accommodate the fingers for grip, further aided by prouder, stippled panels that are echoed in the pistol grip. This area is also quite slim but has a very nice long rake but curved end to literally cup the hand nicely. The large rubber recoil pad gives a 14-inch length of pull.
The Japanese make a great rifle, just look at the Miroku and Browning Winchester shotguns, consistent and reliable manufacture turns out affordable and accurate guns.
The Howa is a single forged steel action that is very well machined, producing a strong action with the top receiver bridge drilled and tapped for scope bases identical to Remington rifles. This rifle wears a tough, satin blue that is well matched to the stock colour and actually a nice change from all the stainless steel we normally see.
The integral recoil lug on the receiver ring that beds securely into the stock mortise for more consistent results. This model sensibly comes with the detachable magazine design that utilises a five shot, in-line feed magazine, a ten shot is an optional extra. It makes sense, as fully loaded or a change of mags is swift and quite quiet to achieve. Also, de-loading over an obstruction or climbing a high seat is easily achieved safely.
The Howa action has a large and well engineered bolt and handle, manufactured from a single piece of forged steel bar stock; its 7-inch dimension contribute to the robustness as a whole. The two large locking lugs up front that, when cammed into the action on closure, give even and positive support, I always check the wear marks on the back of the lugs to check correct and even pressure. Sure enough, 80% contact, which is good on factory rifle and can easily be honed-in later if you desire.
The ejector is a plunger type, sprung within the bolt body and very forcefully ejects spent cases from the action. Primary extraction is accomplished by an M16 rifle type extractor claw that is a full 1.5-inches long. This ensure a very positive ejection system. The bolt handle has a cropped, tear-drop design that is quite close to the stock body but is still easy and smooth to operate.
A pretty normal, three-position safety system is utilised that is operated by a small sliding knurled metal lever, accessed from the right side of the action tang. Forward is ready to fire, ¾ back locks the trigger but allows bolt operation and, in the rear-most position, locks the trigger and sear as well as the bolt. Howa’s new H.A.C.T trigger system is a single stage unit but is adjustable if you like, after removing the stock. I did have a play with this, as it had been adjusted badly before and now broke at 2.75lbs with a small amount of creep. Certainly, not enough to affect accuracy.
The hammer forged barrel on Howas are their real strength, literally, as Howas just shoot well but this 243 Win’s 22-inch barrel may be an issue. Short barrels on 243 Wins are also problematic, I have cut enough 243s down inch by inch to release that some bullet combos fail to meet the required legal minimum.
The barrel profile is with a 0.615-inch muzzle diameter. This is also threaded ½-inch UNF for a sound moderator and has a threaded protector fitted. The twist rate is 1 in 10-inches, so just good enough for 100-gain bullets; a 1 in 9 would be better in my view for all bullets. Being fully floated along its entire length, accuracy should be maximised and, even when a heavy moderator is fitted, the gap can close between barrel and stock is still clear so no problems. That new Lighting 2 stock helps here.
In this Highland Outdoors package is supplied an AimZonic muzzle can sound moderator and a Nikko Stirling Metor 3-12x56mm scope fitted with the supplied scope rings and base that were okay, but a little rough around the edges. I started to test a variety of a factory rounds and reloads and zeroed in at 100-yards (see Factory Ammo table).
Howas always shoot well and this model was no exception. With the shorter barrels, you have to be careful that the heavier 243 Win bullets shoot to the minimum legal 1700ft/ lbs energy in England and Wales; 1750ft/lbs for Scotland.
Best accuracy from the factory loads came from the Hornady V-Max and Remington 75 grains with three shots well into the obligatory inch group at 100 yards. The Geco 105gr was struggling a bit; twist rate stabilisation? However, the mid-range weight 70-90 grain bullets are where you want to be with this rifle anyway. The reload of Hornady 85gr Interbond with 47.0gr of Swiss RS62 powder gave 3195fps and 1813ft/lbs energy with 0.75-inch three shot groups at 100-yards; more than good enough.
Howas always represent good value for money, although prices are increasing, as are most rifles. Having a combo package gives the benefits of cost savings over buying the items individually. The new stock on this Lighting 2 model is far better than the Hogue stock and accuracy was good but watch that short barrel with some loads.
I liked the detachable magazine and scope and mounts were okay, but could be improved. Overall, a nice outfit, ready to go with ammo of your choice.
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