The best starter rifle for long-range shooting is a hot topic of debate. Some insist that you have to spend thousands on a custom rifle to be competitive. Still, modern budget rifles are giving expensive manufacturers a run for their money, and Howa is no exception. So, is the Howa 1500 the best budget precision rifle?
A Howa 1500 rifle is a great budget long-range precision rifle. With the right caliber, barrel profile, chassis, and scope selection, you will be able to achieve sub MOA performance, which is more than accurate enough to compete in most precision rifle shooting matches.
That’s not to say that you should just pick up any Howa rifle and expect to be able to shoot out to a mile! To get the best out of this budget precision rifle, you will have to carefully select the correct barrel profile, caliber, and chassis combination. But, before we get into that, let me go through why I think the Howa 1500 provides incredible value for money, starting with its quality.
Are Howa Rifles good quality?
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that a rifle’s quality is sub-par based on its Asian origin. Japanese brands, despite other Asian brands, cultivate great reputations with brilliant workmanship and quality. Despite being made in Asia, are Howa rifles good quality?
Howa rifles are excellent quality firearms. Howa rifles have a long and reputable track record, and they are backed by a 100% lifetime warranty. Howa rifles come with a sub-MOA guarantee and give some of the more expensive production rifles a good run for their money. The rifle is built incredibly tough and is highly reliable.
Howa rifles are manufactured in Japan to very high specifications. The company was founded in 1907 and manufactured rifles for over 100 years, including numerous Arisaka rifles for the Japanese military in World War II.
In 1967, Howa started to produce and export the father of the Howa 1500, the Golden Bear Rifle, to the United States. “Approximately 3000 golden bear rifles were exported to the U.S.A and passed all the tests at HP White Laboratory, which is one of the world’s most prestigious firearms testing laboratories.” Paving the way to the Howa 1500, which was imported to the United States in 1979. It does not end there. Howa has since made numerous upgrades to the platform, including the trigger and the action.
Howa rifles are imported into the United States by Legacy sports, which offers a 100% lifetime warranty to the original purchaser. This warranty covers all faulty, defective, or broken parts due to manufacturing. They promise to repair or replace any defective parts at no cost to the purchaser. If you want to benefit from this warranty, be sure to purchase a new rifle from an approved dealer, and make sure you keep your receipt!
What I like about the Howa 1500
- THE BARREL – Howa barrels are cold hammer-forged, a better manufacturing method than others, such as button rifling and cut rifling. Cold hammer-forged barrels are more durable because they are made under extreme pressure that increases the density of the steel. This also results in less copper fouling inside the barrel. The barrels also come in threaded options so that you can add suppressors or muzzle brakes.
- THE TRIGGER – The trigger is a two-stage HACT trigger on par with some of the best production rifles, including the Remington 700. The trigger housing is rock solid, and I can’t imagine it breaking or accidentally discharging for almost any reason, including a hard drop.
- THE RECEIVER – The receiver is drilled and tapped so that you can install a scope rail. What makes this receiver special is that it’s a one-piece steel forged receiver with an integral recoil lug that is noticeably bulkier than other rifles, which even expensive rifles like the Remington 700’s don’t feature. This one-piece receiver with an integral recoil lug provides an excellent fit onto the rifle chassis. This is very important because any movement between the receiver and the chassis will hinder the rifle’s accuracy.
- THE BOLT – The rifle features a two-lug bolt with a case extractor similar to the design used with semi-auto rifles. It is more reliable than extractors used on other bolt actions. The bolt handle is one piece with the bolt itself. The bolt is easily disassembled by hand so that you can access the internals should you need to clean, service, or replace the firing pin or spring.
- THE SAFETY CATCH – The safety is also different than most other rifles that only have a two-position safety (On and off). The safety on the Howa 1500 offers a third position that locks the entire rifle (Bolt and trigger) which is great for storage, making it impossible to load the rifle without manipulating the safety lever.
What I don’t like about the Howa 1500
- HOWA HOGUE STOCK – Many shooters rave about the Howa Hogue stock, but honestly, I am not a fan. Sure it’s soft and absorbs recoil making it more comfortable to shoot. Still, because it is soft, it can make contact with the barrel in different ways that change the harmonics of the rifle. This contact will hurt accuracy. Unless you bought the Howa rifle with a chassis option, the first thing you need to do is upgrade the stock to a chassis that is free-floated. I upgraded my Howa 1500 to an Oryx Chassis, and I have never looked back.
- INTERNAL 5 ROUND MAGAZINE – The Howa 1500 comes with an internal magazine that holds 5 rounds. This is fine for hunting, but if you want to use the rifle for precision shooting matches, you’ll need to upgrade this. You can do this by either buying a magazine upgrade kit or “kill two birds with one stone” by upgrading to a chassis as I mentioned above, that includes a removable box magazine.
- THE BOLT KNOB – I found the bolt knob to be small to get a good grip on it, making it difficult to manipulate the action quickly. This was easily remedied though, by adding an extended bolt knob. A 5-minute upgrade that completely eliminated the problem.
I can also personally attest to the quality of Howa rifles. I have fired a few thousand rounds through my Howa 1500 .308 and have never had a single issue that was not my own fault.
Based on the track record, my personal experience, and the experience of others, I think it’s fair to conclude that the Howa 1500 is a great quality rifle capable of achieving incredible accuracy.
How accurate is the Howa 1500?
The most important feature required in a good precision rifle is, of course, accuracy. To compete, your rifle will need to be able to shoot groups of less than 1 MOA at least. In fact, half an MOA is preferred by most shooters. Is the Howa capable of this kind of accuracy? How accurate is the Howa 1500?
The Howa 1500 is among the most accurate production rifles today. With a good quality rifle scope, adequately mounted, and a free-floated heavy barrel, a Howa 1500 in .308 can shoot groups as tight as half an MOA. That’s half an inch at 100 yards. Anything under 1 MOA is considered accurate enough to compete in long-range precision rifle shooting.
The importers of Howa rifles in the United States are so confident in the accuracy of the Howa 1500s that they offer a sub-MOA accuracy guarantee on all of their Howa rifles! In their own words, “Legacy Sports Int. guarantees all Howa rifles to deliver sub-MOA performance of 1 inch or less at 100 yards with premium factory ammunition”
In my personal experience, I have found that my Howa delivers groups as small as half an MOA. Bearing in mind, this is with a good quality scope, which was mounted to the correct specifications, with good quality scope rings and base. In addition, my Howa is mounted into a chassis that allows the barrel to float freely without making contact with the chassis.
By far, the most essential part of your rifle is your barrel. I chose a heavy barrel for my rifle set up, and I recommend you do the same for many reasons. Let’s look at why I recommend a heavy barrel.
Are heavy barrels more accurate?
Howa barrels come in different barrel profiles. A barrel profile refers to its thickness and weight. My Howa 1500’s barrel is a heavy profile barrel. I chose this barrel profile because it is more suited for precision shooting. Here’s why heavy barrels are more accurate.
- HEAVY BARRELS ARE MORE RIGID – A heavy barrel will deliver more consistency, and more consistency delivers more accuracy. How? A heavy barrel will be more rigid, which means it will have better harmonics (Higher frequency vibrations, but lower amplitude). The lower the amplitude, the less deviation there will be at the muzzle end of the barrel, delivering more consistent groups.
- HEAVY BARRELS ARE LESS AFFECTED BY HEAT WARPING – A heavy barrel is also less affected by warping as the barrel heats up during shooting. The bore is never 100% concentric to the barrel, including barrels made by some of the most expensive manufacturers. Heating will cause any barrel to warp ever so slightly to one side, and the best way this can be counteracted is by choosing a thicker barrel.
- HEAVY BARRELS ABSORB RECOIL – Lastly, a heavy barrel will reduce the amount of recoil. A heavier object will inherently be less affected by force. Less movement during the shot means less disturbance as the bullet leaves the muzzle. Less recoil also means that the shooter will be less likely to flinch and pull the shot, further increasing the rifle’s accuracy (or shooter, for that matter).
For a more in-depth discussion on the accuracy of heavy barrels, read: Are heavy barrels more accurate?
Another factor to consider when choosing a barrel is its length, and you might be surprised at what I am going to say.
Are longer barrels more accurate?
At first, one might assume that the longer a barrel is, the more accurate it will be, but it’s not that simple. Long barrels have some benefits, but are longer barrels more accurate?
Longer barrels are not more accurate. However, long barrels do produce more velocity, which means you will shoot slightly further. A longer barrel will have to be thicker to maintain accuracy, though, as barrel rigidity is much more critical to accuracy. In fact, short stubby barrels are more accurate than long thin barrels.
Remember that when it comes to accuracy, barrel rigidity is one of the most critical factors. When you lengthen a barrel, you are proportionately making the profile thinner. This will hurt the barrel rigidity and harmonics, which I discussed briefly in the previous subheading of this post.
There is a point where the length of the barrel yields diminishing returns concerning velocity. Anything longer than 24 inches becomes impractical. A 6mm Creedmoor fired out of a 24-inch barrel travels at 2,950 feet per second, and going up to a 26-inch barrel only increases that by about 20 feet per second. Hardly worth the extra length and weight.
Personally, I went as short and stubby as possible, choosing a heavy profile 20″ barrel. This is by far the most rigid you’ll get in the Howa range of rifles. While I am sacrificing a little velocity and range, it makes up for it with accuracy.
What caliber of Howa rifle is better for long-range precision shooting?
Seeing as I am limiting the options to calibers available from Howa in heavy barrel configurations only, I want to look at each caliber individually and carefully choose the caliber that will be specifically suited to long-range precision shooting.
Howa 1500 rifles with heavy barrels come in seven different calibers. Let’s look at each of these calibers and consider the cost, ballistic coefficient, velocity at 900 yards, bullet drop at 900 yards, wind deflection at 900 yards, and the max transonic range. Once we have all this information, we can determine the best caliber for long-range shooting.
Essentially, we need a bullet with maximum transonic range, which is the distance at which the bullet goes from traveling faster than the speed of sound to slower than the speed of sound. This transitional period can destabilize the bullet and give unpredictable results that hinder accuracy.
We also need a bullet that has a high ballistic coefficient. It is going to help with accuracy, especially at longer ranges. An excellent ballistic coefficient also allows the bullet to maintain its velocity, increasing the transonic range.
Other important factors are retained energy and velocity at long ranges and minimal bullet drop and wind drift.
|Caliber:||Price / 100:||Twist Rate:||BC:||Bullet Weight:||Muzzle Velocity (fps):||Bullet drop at 900y (Inches)||5mph Wind defelction at 900y (Inches):||Energy @ 900y (ft.lbf):||Velocity at 900y:||Transonic range (y):|
|.300 Winchester Magnum||37.02||1:10||0.49||230||2,572||316.99||40.73||805||1,271||1,075|
According to the raw data, the 6mm Creedmoor is the most superior caliber for long-range precision shooting. It offers the least amount of bullet drop and wind drift, the highest retained velocity, and the longest transonic range compared to all other calibers available in the Howa 1500 with a heavy barrel.
Personally, I shoot a Howa 1500 in .308, but I recommend a 6mm Creedmoor for long-range precision rifle shooting.
Why would I shoot a .308 but recommend that you buy a 6mm Creedmoor? Simply put, I shoot what I have… When I first purchased this rifle, it was to hunt big game at medium ranges. I wanted a rifle that could deliver heavy bullets such as 175gr at 100 to 200 yards. Since then, I have become very interested in long-range precision shooting and have adapted my rifle for that purpose.
Suppose you are going to use your rifle for hunting as well as precision shooting. In that case, you might want to look at the table above and carefully choose a bullet that will serve both purposes adequately. For most shooters, the second runner-up that is good enough for hunting will be the .308 Winchester, and this is what I have.
Is the .308 Winchester good for long-range precision shooting?
So I have already established my stance on this matter, but does that mean .308 is bad for long-range shooting? No, the .308 is perfectly fine for long-range shooting. However, the shooter will have to pay more attention to your ballistics because the .308 will be more affected by gravity and wind.
Some of the benefits of buying a .308 are that you will find ammunition a lot easier. In some places, it might even be a lot cheaper simply because it is such a commonly available round. And for most people, .308 will be the obvious choice because they already own a rifle in that caliber.
Is the 6mm Creedmoor a suitable cartridge for long-range precision shooting?
The 6mm Creedmoor has superior ballistics, less bullet drop, and less wind drift. What’s not to like? Simply put, the 6mm Creedmoor is one of the best options available today. However, some areas of the world might have an inconsistent supply which is something to consider. Another thing to consider (if you intend on hunting with your precision rifle) is that the 6mm might not be heavy enough to take down large animals, especially at a distance. For this reason, many opt for the 6.5 Creedmoor that has similar ballistic characteristics but packs a bit more of a punch in terms of bullet weight.
Whatever your caliber, you will only be able to shoot as accurately as your riflescope allows, which brings me to my next point.
Are Howa rifles free floated?
A free-floated barrel is essential for long-range precision shooting. Any object touching the barrel when firing the rifle can change the harmonics of the rifle and subsequently change the point of impact, adversely affecting the rifle’s accuracy.
Howa rifles are not free floated out of the box, and you will need to change the Hogue stock to a stock or chassis system that is free-floated, such as the Howa Oryx Chassis.
How to set up a Howa 1500 for long-range precision shooting?
Now that you have chosen a Howa with a barrel and caliber best suited for long-range precision shooting, you need to set it up with a rifle scope, scope rings, scope base, bipod, and stock or chassis.
To set up your Howa 1500 rifle for long range precision shooting, your rifle scope is going to be the most important decision to make. A good rifle scope is the bread and butter of long-range shooting. You also need to ensure the scope is attached correctly with a good quality scope base and scope rings.
The following vital aspect to consider is your rifle stock. If your rifle came with a standard stock, like the Hogue, for example, then you will need to upgrade it to something designed for long-range precision work. The most important feature to keep in mind when selecting a new stock or chassis is whether or not it will allow the barrel to be free floated. This means that no part of the chassis should make contact with your barrel at all.
A stock or chassis that is adjustable to your body features is going to be beneficial too. This will allow you to adjust the cheek height and the length of pull. The “length of pull” is the distance from the butt of the stock to the rifle’s action. A good cheek height and length of pull allow you to get a good sight picture through the scope without straining to hold your head in a specific position.
Other upgrades to keep in mind are bipods, bolt handles, scope levels, muzzle brakes, and suppressors. Which I will discuss briefly in this article.
What is the best rifle scope for long-range precision rifle shooting?
Riflescopes confused the crap out of me when I first started out, and frankly, my first scope purchase was a bad one. Don’ be tricked by fancy features such as incorporated range finders with automatic elevation and windage adjustments that work on Bluetooth, WIFI, and have built-in flashlights and an ice maker. You do not need to spend a fortune on extra features you don’t need. There are plenty of basic and affordable scopes that will do the job. You just need to know what to look for in a good precision rifle scope. With that said, what is the best rifle scope for long-range precision shooting?
The best rifle scope for long-range precision shooting will be a first focal plane riflescope, with at least a 50mm objective lens, at least a 30mm tube, and must have parallax adjustment. A good precision rifle scope should also have adjustable turrets and a reticle with mildots or similar hash marks. It should also have at least a 10x magnification.
Personally, I use a Vortex Viper PST Gen II 5-25×50, and it is highly recommended, but for many, a fixed 10x magnification does well, and a good shooter does not need variable magnification. Be careful not to be seduced by variable magnifications and illuminated reticles.
A basic (but good quality) rifle scope can be cheaper than a low-quality rifle scope packed with unnecessary features, and a basic good quality rifle scope will perform a lot better.
The Howa 1500 is a high-quality rifle that is more than capable of getting started in long-range precision shooting. It is guaranteed by the agents to shoot 1 MOA or better. In my own experience, it is capable of half an MOA with a heavy barrel, a good chassis such as the Oryx Chassis, and a quality rifle scope like my Vortex Viper PST Gen II 5-25×50.
To get the most accuracy out of the rifle, especially under sustained fire when the barrel heats up fast, you should opt for the heavy barrel option of the Howa rifles. Heavy barrels will give more consistent results because they are more rigid, are less prone to heat warping, and absorb recoil.
Barrel length is something to consider when it comes to velocity. However, having a longer barrel will not increase accuracy at all. In fact, the longer you go on the barrel, the less rigid it will be and will negatively affect your accuracy. Personally, I opted for the shortest and thickest barrel I could find, the 20-inch heavy barrel, and it performs great.
Even though I shoot a Howa 1500 in .308 Winchester, after much research, it’s clear that the 6mm Creedmoor is far more superior for long-range precision shooting, and I highly recommend it. In fact, I will be changing over to 6mm Creedmoor as soon as I can afford to do so.
Having said that, the .308 Winchester will work just fine for long-range shooting, and many shooters still compete with this caliber. Actually, shooting a .308 might even make you a better shooter because you’ll have to pay a lot more attention to your elevation and windage calculations!
Howa rifles have a long reputation, making quality firearms for over a century, and are trusted by thousands of hunters, precision shooters, and even the Japanese military.
With a cold hammer-forged barrel, a crisp two-stage “HACT” trigger, a one-piece bolt, a one-piece receiver, and a three-position safety catch, what’s not to like about the Howa 1500?
It’s not perfect out of the box, though. If you want to get the best out of your Howa 1500, you’ll want to upgrade the Hogue stock to a chassis that allows the barrel to float freely. You’ll also benefit by upgrading the internal 5 round magazine with an external 10 or 12 round removable box magazine. However, this will be included with most chassis’. It would also help upgrade the bolt knob to something bulkier to make it easier to manipulate the bolt.
Lastly, your rifle is only as good as your rifle scope, so make sure you attach a good quality scope that has at least these essential features: a first focal plane reticle, at least a 50mm objective lens, 30mm scope tube, or bigger, adjustable parallax, adjustable turrets with a matching hash marked or mildot reticle. The scope should also have at least 10x magnification.
I could go on and on about all of the upgrades such as bipods, rear bags, scope levels, muzzle brakes, and suppressors. Still, I wanted to keep this article focused solely on the Howa rifle as a good budget long-range precision rifle, so I will discuss equipment and upgrades in a later post.
What is your experience with the Howa 1500? Do you think it makes a good budget precision rifle? If not, what other rifles do you suggest and why?