Howa 1500 Review: A High Value Barreled Action

by Joel Wise

September 29, 2023

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I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to call a Howa 1500 bolt action, the Japanese version of a Remington 700. Wait, you didn’t know they made the Howa 1500 in Japan? Truth be told, neither did I, until I started researching the history of this rifle system in preparation for writing this article. Let’s dig into it and see what else we can learn. 

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Howa 1500 Specs

  • Caliber 308 Win
  • Barrel Length 24 in
  • Barrel Material Steel
  • Action Size Short Action
  • Trigger Two stage
  • Bolt dual lug, 90 degree throw, m16 style extractor

Howa 1500 Background

Howa Manufacturing was known for the Golden Bear hunting rifle before they launched the Howa 1500 rifle. The Golden Bear was introduced in 1967 and they would sell only three thousand of these rifles to the United States. The Golden Bear was one of Japan’s first hunting rifles, offered to the U.S. market in the popular 30-06 caliber.

The Howa 1500 rifle was released next and has become much more prolific since its introduction in 1979. These were originally offered in 308 Winchester as a short action, and 30-06 as a long action. Currently, Howa offers three different action sizes: the mini action, short action, and long action. Mini action calibers include .223, 7.62×39, and 6.5mm Grendel. Short action calibers include .223 Remington, .204 Ruger, .308 Winchester, and 6.5mm Creedmoor. Long action calibers include .270 Winchester, 30-06, 300 Win Mag, 338 Win Mag, and 7mm Rem Mag. (Included but not limited to)

I think it’s interesting to note that they sell the Howa 1500 to the U.S. market almost exclusively as a barreled action. Many companies choose these actions as the backbone for their own semi-custom bolt-action rifle builds. Having attached their stock or chassis of choice, they will then market them to the consumer as complete rifle systems.

Howa 1500 Features

Howa 1500 Features
1 Reliable 90 degree bolt

Howa 1500 bolt action rifles use the reliable 90 degree throw. This feature has become so commonplace that most people don’t realize that rifles are now offered in 60 degree throw variations. You can field strip the bolts from the Howa 1500 for cleaning and repair. They also use the common m16 style extractor. Parts are readily available.

2 Two-stage trigger

The Howa Actuator Controlled Trigger comes pre-set from the factory at 3 pounds. The trigger is smooth and has zero noticeable creep. Probably one of the cleaner factory triggers available.

3 Robust steel action and barrel

They obviously machined the Howa 1500 actions out of steel, which makes them extremely durable and long lasting. The barrel is steel as well, and the average shooter should be able to expect a lifetime of reliable service.

4 Customizable

The Howa 1500 barreled action enjoys plenty of aftermarket support. Timney and Rifle Basix offers triggers. There are too many stock and chassis manufacturers to mention; all offering excellent custom options. Pre-fit barrel blanks are readily available.

Models and Variations

Again, as the companies that sell them customize these rifles, the specs, models, and colors are often very different depending on who’s building them and the various models that are available.

There are currently 16 different models of the Howa 1500 bolt-action rifle available. They come in steel, carbon fiber, black polymer, custom painted, and hydro-dipped camouflage options. They are offered in stocks, chassis, and crossover stock configurations. All of these options have at their core the Howa 1500 barreled action. 

Our test rifle is cerakote black steel with a polymer crossover stock named Bravo from Kinetic Research Group. 

Howa 1500 Review

Howa 1500 KRG Prone

Shootablity

Shootability can refer to a number of different things and can tend to be quite subjective. One person might consider a .308 to have too much recoil for precision work, while the next person isn’t bothered by that amount of recoil. The weight of a rifle can make it unwieldy for some shooters, while others want to add more weight to help tame down recoil.  

The Howa 1500 sitting in the KRG Bravo stock that I tested is actually quite shootable. It’s not too heavy that you wouldn’t want to carry it into the backcountry on a hunting trip, and it’s not too light that .308 recoil begins to cause the shooter to flinch. I did add a magnum sized suppressor to the end of my 24 inch Howa 1500 barrel during testing. This added length and weight would make the rifle too long and cumbersome for a woods hunting rifle. I also suspect that the extremely large suppressor affected barrel harmonics to the point that accuracy suffered. 

Reliability

Howa 1500 KRG Rocks

Reliability simply means, does the rifle go bang when it’s supposed to? Does it not go bang when you don’t want it to? Does it feed and eject properly? Did anything break during usage?

During my testing of the Howa 1500, I experienced zero malfunctions. Everything worked as expected in terms of the general operations of the rifle. Rounds picked up out of the magazine and chambered appropriately. The trigger and safety worked as expected and the rifle fired reliably. 

Unfortunately, I did have one “breakage” happen during my time on the range as the scope base came loose. The picatinny style 20MOA base loosened to the point that I could not continue shooting the rifle. The base screws will need to be “lock-tited” back into place and properly torqued before additional testing can be done. As expected, accuracy suffered due to this issue. 

Ergonomics

The Ergonomics of this rifle are excellent thanks to the KRG Bravo stock. It has plenty of adjustability for length of pull with the ability to add spacers to the buttstock. The cheek riser is adjustable for height, which I ended up needing because of the high rings I used to mount the Brownells MPO scope. The grip is nearly vertical, which helps most shooters approach the trigger in a more consistent way. It is especially helpful when shooting positional off of natural obstacles and man-made barricades. The KRG Bravo gets high marks from me in terms of ergonomics. 

Accuracy

The accuracy of my Howa 1500 was not as good as I would have expected. These days with manufacturing processes being what they are, barrel cutting being excellent, and match grade ammunition shooting quite well, I think sub one minute of accuracy should be the standard. Howa has a 1-MOA accuracy guarantee with some stipulations placed on using the correct ammunition.

I found this test rifle to be approximately a 1MOA gun at 100 yards. I took the average of four different five-shot groups. The best group measured .4 MOA with Federal Gold Medal Match 175 grain bullets. The worst group measured 1.7 MOA with Berger OTM Tactical Match 175 grain, which was very unexpected. I fired two groups using the Federal Gold Medal Match 168 grain bullet. Both groups shot approximately 1 inch at 100 yards.  

I think it’s also important to mention again that my scope base came loose at some point during the testing and I didn’t notice it until I was done shooting. 

Value

I would definitely place this Howa 1500 rifle in the “value” category. That can mean a couple of different things based on your budget. My Howa 1500 cost right around $850.00, not including the Brownell’s MPO scope. Add $1000.00 to the total if you include the optic.

I think that price range is considered budget when you consider that many quality precision rifles are in the $1500 – $2500 range these days. Full custom precision rifles are going for north of $4500 regularly.  

The real question is, are you getting a decent rifle for the price? In that sense, I do think the Howa 1500 is a great value! For all the reasons listed in the “features” section above, I think the average shooter, hunter, or competitor would be very pleased with this rifle. We even have a version of the Howa 1500 on our best hunting rifle list!

Howa 1500 KRG Hero

Howa 1500 Pros and Cons

  • Durability – The Howa 1500 has a robust construction and the shooter should expect years of flawless service.
  • Customization – This rifle is well supported in terms of parts and aftermarket options for stocks, chassis, triggers, and barrels.
  • Trigger – The factory two stage trigger set at 3 pounds is crisp and has zero noticeable creep.
  • Price – A Howa 1500 barreled action can be found for $485.00, complete rifles for $500-$600, and semi-custom, starting just above $1000.00.
  • Accuracy – I’m calling this a 1MOA rifle. In my opinion, this is not as good as expected. These days I think all factory bolt action rifles should shoot better than 1 inch at 100 yards with good quality factory match grade ammunition.
  • Scope base – Simply put, mine came loose. This should not happen on any new rifle period. Maybe over time with hard use, but not brand new out of the box.

Report Card

Shootability

It’s not fantastic, but it’s not horrible either. Just a good, all around, shootable rifle.

B
Reliability

Again with the scope base coming loose.

C+
Ergonomics

Thanks mostly to the KRG Bravo stock, which provides tons of adjustability and helps the shooter approach and present the rifle with proper fundamentals.

A
Accuracy

It’s actually acceptable for most people. I acknowledge it’s just my preference that a rifle should shoot sub MOA.

B+
Value

Durability, customization, and low price of a barreled action make this a great value.

A-
Howa 1500 Final Grade

Our Grade

B+

Reviewed by Joel Wise

Reader’s Grade

A-

Based on 6 Reviews

Your Grade

Do You Own This Rifle? Leave A Review

Success Your Grade Has Been
Added To Our Reader’s Score

Howa 1500 Starter Pack

Eye Protection –Here are some of our favorite eye protection.

Hearing Protection – Having some quality hearing protection to prevent hearing loss.

Gun Cleaning Kit – A good cleaning kits will help you keep your guns working.

First Aid Kit – Its always good to have a first aid kit on hand for your range trips.

Howa 1500 Gun Deals

Upgrades and Accessories for the Howa 1500

For the Howa 1500 you will want a good stock for your desired usage, a good scope and scope mount system, and a bipod.

Upgrades and Accessories for the Howa 1500

H-S Precision Howa 1500 Sporter Rifle Stock
  • Full length aluminum bedding block
  • 2.375 lbs
Check Price
Precision Stock

KRG Bravo

KRG Bravo
  • Adjustable comb height
  • MLOK forend
  • 2.9 lbs
Check Price
Harris Bipod S-BRM 6-9in
  • Hinged base
  • Notched legs
  • Made in USA
Buy on Amazon
Accu-Shot Atlas Bipod BT10
  • Mounts directly to Picatinny rail
  • 5 leg positions: 0, 45, 90, 135 & 180 degrees
  • Made in USA
Buy on Amazon

Best Ammo for The Howa 1500

Here are our picks for ammo to use in your Howa 1500. One is a match round for target shooting, the other is a hunting round.

Match Ammo

Federal Gold Medal Match

Federal Premium Gold Medal Match 308 Win 175 Gr SMK HPBT

Marketplace
Cost Per Round
Gun Deals $1.33
Firearms Depot $1.65
Sportsman’s Guide $1.75
Gritr Sports $1.83

Hunting Ammo

Barnes VOR-TX 5.56x45mm 62 Gr TSX Ammo

Hornady Match 308 Win 168 Gr ELD

Marketplace
Cost Per Round
Gun Deals $1.75
Firearms Depot $2.37
Guns.com $2.49
Gritr Sports $2.53

Other Bolt Action Rifles of its Class to Check Out

One of the nice features of the Howa 1500 is you can easily just purchase the barreled action and customize it to your liking. Another very customizable rifle it the Remington 700.

1 Remington 700

Remington 700 Rifle Review

Remington 700

The Remington 700 is one of the most iconic bolt-action rifles ever made.

Check Latest Price

  • Shootability B
  • Reliability A
  • Ergonomics C
  • Accuracy A
  • Value B

Our Grade

B+

Reader’s Grade

A-

Based on 7 Reviews

Your Grade

Do You Own This Gun? Leave A Review

Success Your Grade Has Been
Added To Our Reader’s Score

2 Tikka T3x Lite

Tikka T3x Lite

Tikka T3x Lite

Made in Finland and imported by Beretta USA, the Tikka T3x Lite is one of the best imports you can buy.

Check Latest Price

  • Shootability A-
  • Reliability A+
  • Ergonomics B-
  • Accuracy A
  • Value A

Our Grade

A-

Reader’s Grade

Based on 3 Reviews

Your Grade

Do You Own This Rifle? Leave A Review

Success Your Grade Has Been
Added To Our Reader’s Score

How to Care for Your Howa 1500

Here is a video walking you through how to clean your bolt action rifle.

Check out the link below for the manufacturer’s website and owners manual.

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About Joel Wise

Joel Wise has a law enforcement background which later turned into security consultant for non-profit organizations. He spent the better part of a decade as a firearms instructor. Currently, he is a writer, videographer, and competitor in the precision rifle industry. He owns the Precision Rifle Network.

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