Howa 1500

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charlesb
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Howa 1500

Post by charlesb » Mon Sep 07, 2015 11:20 pm

I have been curious about the Howa rifle action for some time, having read that it was originally a Sako design. It has a flat bottom like a Mauser or model 70, with the 3 position sliding safety off to the side, like a Mark X Mauser.

The other day I found a used Howa in .223 that had a 24" bull barrel (No taper) and was in a pillar-bedded Hogue rubber-coated stock. It had a big Nikko-Stirling 3-12x56 scope on it, with an illuminated dot in the middle of the crosshairs.

I tried the illuminated dot a few times, decided that it was not my cup of tea, and have left it turned off after that. - I seem to do better with a plain old black dot. Later I tried turning on the illuminated dot after dark, and discovered that it's not just the dot that gets illuminated, but also the entire field of view. At the lowest setting it's OK though, and would be good for hunting at dusk or dawn, when the cross-hairs are not easy to see.

I bought a box of cheap Federal 55 grain loads after discovering that none of my neck-sized 223 brass from another gun would go into the Howa - and that I had a .223 neck sizer die, but no full-length sizer! So I was stuck having to buy a box of fresh ammo.

You can't buy dies in this little desert town, so I will order a 223 full-length sizer die tomorrow.

At the shooting range, I discovered that it was already sighted in. At 50 yards, it shot about one inch high. I shot a three shot group that worked out to be around one inch, then I tried a five-shot group and it was also one inch, with three holes for the five bullets.

I am optimistic that with my reloads, it will do a bit better.

I was very happy with the action. The bolt travel was smooth with no dragging or hangups, the trigger was a bit heavy for me, but crisp enough.
Loading was accomplished fairly easily, and there were no feeding, chambering or ejection issues.

After I got it home, I suddenly remembered that I had a bore-scope, so before cleaning it, I took a peek. There was a good deal of carbon, but not much copper evident. It being a .223, I didn't expect to see any throat damage or appreciable wear. It was all in good shape.

After getting it squeaky-clean, I pulled the action out of the stock and adjusted the trigger down to two pounds, and put it back together.

Now that I've finally had a chance to fool around with a Howa 1500, I am happy to say that it is as good as I thought it might be. Lately I've been looking at the Weatherby Vanguard, which is a Howa action finished to Weatherby specs, and I am now more seriously considering the Vanguard deluxe model with the nice stock and high polish on the metal.

The three rifles I look at the most these days are the Winchester model 70 Sporter, The Browning X-Bolt medallion, and the Weatherby Vanguard deluxe. - All purdy-looking rifles.

One drawback to the Howa and the Weatherby Vanguard is that none of the short magnums like the 300 or 325 WSM are offered in these.

The Nikko-Stirling scope was a lot better than I thought it would be. I dunno why, but I've always assumed that there was something hokey about them. The thing looks to be pretty solid though, with good, clear optics. The reticule is a dot in the middle of thin cross-hairs, with thick posts on each side and on the bottom. - The dot is about 22 bullet-hole size at 50 yards at 12X, so I guess it will look about 44 caliber size at 100 yards.

Not bad! I would not hesitate to buy another Howa, or more likely a Vanguard.

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Post by charlesb » Wed Sep 09, 2015 10:25 pm

Thought I'd post some pictures.

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Here is a new trigger I've ordered, a Rifle Basix Varmint trigger that adjusts from 12 oz to 1.5 pounds.

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The embarrassing pink color will be one of those "Only your gunsmith knows for sure" kind of deals, nobody but I will ever see it.

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Post by Bullseye » Sat Sep 12, 2015 6:46 pm

The next question is what amount do you think you'll set the trigger weight?

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Post by charlesb » Sat Sep 12, 2015 8:22 pm

It's supposed to come pre-set at one pound. - I'll probably just leave it at that, more or less at the middle of its adjustment range.

It's a bench gun, highly unlikely to ever be shot in the field. My son and I get into competitions to see how few holes we can wind up with at 100 yards, with five round shot strings.

The only matches ever shot at the club are trap and service rifle matches, so we just compete with each other, sharing the same gun and ammunition.

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Post by Bullseye » Sun Sep 13, 2015 8:56 am

I figured that rifle for a precision gun based on all the upgrades you installed. I was just curious as to what weight you preferred for your benchwork.

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Post by charlesb » Wed Sep 16, 2015 3:41 pm

Well, it seems like precision to my son and I... It's about the best that we can do on our budget. I have been privileged to shoot the real thing though, a 30 pound benchrest gun that was astoundingly accurate, in a class by itself.

The trigger for the Howa 1500 that I ordered from Brownells was delivered today. I am happy to report that it is black, not pink as I was led to believe.

I had my gunsmith's apprentice (my son) install it while I sat in another part of the shop, fooling around on the internet so I wouldn't be looming over his shoulder.

Now the gun has a trigger that breaks cleanly at one pound, with no discernible take-up - though there is a bit of over-travel. The apprentice will be tasked with putting an overtravel screw in the back of the trigger-guard soon, and then I suppose it will be about as close to perfect as I can expect.

One un-looked-for feature of the Rifle Basix Varmint trigger was that it doesn't have a simple screw hole like the original trigger, but a slot that allows you to position it a bit forward or back to suit your preference.

It's good to have an apprentice... Yesterday he loaded 50 rounds of match ammo for me, using some 68 grain BTHP bullets I found in my bullet collection. - I guess the thing to do now is wait for the evening, and go shoot it a bit.

There's a double-mountain just west of the shooting range that puts you in the shade for the last few hours of the day. At this altitude, when you get out of the direct sunlight the temperature drops ten, maybe fifteen degrees instantly.

They call them "The Twins" of course.
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Post by charlesb » Sun Sep 20, 2015 11:22 am

I took the Howa out to shoot a bit. First I fired some cheap Federal Blue label factory .223 loads with 55 grain bullets. Typical three-shot groups at 100 yards would be two in the same hole, with another hole about 3/4" off to the side.

Then I got out my carefully assembled target reloads using 68 grain match BTHP bullets. These shot all over the place, barely staying on the paper. - Imagine my consternation at this development!
A three shot "group" was about a foot in diameter. Looking through the spotting scope, I noticed evidence of key-holing so I quit shooting the target rounds.

Back at the shop, I belatedly decided to check the rifling twist, which appears to be around 1-12"... So I guess it's a good thing that I ordered a box of 55 grain bullets a few days ago. They'll be here tomorrow evening.

Note that current Howa heavy .223 barrels have a 1-9" twist. Mine is an older gun with the slower 1-12" twist, only useful with the lighter bullets.

I can handle that, as I have no plans to shoot at long distances or at deer. In fact, it's doubtful that this gun will ever shoot at anything except paper, at 100 yards although I imagine it would make a fair varmint rifle.

After the morning shoot, my son and I agreed that the detachable magazine kit that Howa offers will be the next upgrade for this rifle. - Then a Boyds laminated thumb-hole stock.

Hey has anyone else noticed? Boyds just went up on their prices. The 99 dollar stocks are now 129.

I should have ordered that stock last week!

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Post by Bullseye » Wed Sep 23, 2015 5:59 pm

This sounds very much like what I experienced with the 55 grainers in a 1-7" twist barrel as they blew all over the place. Some of them actually blew apart in mid-flight from the rapid twist rate of the barrel. My spotter called it as he was tracking the vapor trail to the target. No hit on the target but a quick puff of smoke mid-range in the mirage trail. Those bullets did hit manage to the target were all over the face at 200 yards. The heavier 69 and 77 gr. bullets flew straight as an arrow.

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Re: Howa 1500

Post by charlesb » Tue Dec 22, 2015 7:48 pm

The Howa has a Boyd's stock now, in the "Coyote" color pattern. This is what it looks like these days:

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I glass-bedded it and now it shoots a bit better. I'm having trouble getting my favorite powder though, so load development has been on hold for quite a while.

The next step is to reduce the 24 inch barrel to 18 inches, and give it an 11 degree target crown.

The Rifle Basix varmint model trigger is a dream. Even though it breaks at one pound, it is very predictable and I always know what to expect from it.

I've told Santa that I want the 22cal-6mm 11 degree crowning tool from Pacific Tool and Gauge, but there is some question as to whether I have been a good boy or not, so only Christmas morning will tell.

Today is my 24th wedding anniversary. All of my other wives only lasted a year or so, so I really treasure this one. - I tell her regularly that she is my favorite one, of all of my wives.

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Re: Howa 1500

Post by Bullseye » Tue Dec 22, 2015 8:08 pm

That stock has a a beautiful coat too. Sure looks good!

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Re: Howa 1500

Post by charlesb » Mon Jan 25, 2016 7:24 pm

Santa decided that I did not really need a muzzle-crowning tool, so I had to finally break down and use my own money. The tool should show up in a couple of days. I also have a new chronograph, two pounds of my favorite powder (AA5744) and some 45 grain .223 bullets on the way.

In anticipation of getting the crowning tool in, I have already reduced the barrel to 18" with my hacksaw. The gun handles a LOT better now, and isn't so ungainly to wave around. One unexpected thing was that the hacksaw cut came out almost perfectly square in all axis. - I could never do that again in a thousand years, I must have been holding my mouth just right.

Once I get the crown done, I'll post a few pictures. It sure looks different, and I would not hesitate to shoot it off-hand now.

A bonus is that I have a six-inch section of heavy .223 bull-barrel now. I thought I'd rent a .22lr chambering reamer and eventually home-brew a single-shot target pistol with it.

Update: I got a notice today that the powder I ordered may not ship until 30-60 days after I get the tracking number, due to the increased demand. - Glad I ordered two pounds! - Next time I'm going for the eight pound jug.

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Re: Howa 1500

Post by 35bore » Mon Jan 25, 2016 9:58 pm

I have had pretty good luck in the past with howa rifles. Everyone of them a hunting rifle and everyone of the shot around an inch to an inch and a half, with premium ammo (100 yrds).

You have a very nice looking rifle there, and with the shorter barrel I'm guessing it'll be somewhat more maneuverable.

Enjoying the site, and again that's a nice looking rifle. Coyote rifle?

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Re: Howa 1500

Post by charlesb » Fri Jan 29, 2016 6:12 pm

Thanks for the kind words, 35bore. It's a range gun, but may do double duty as a coyote rifle.

Here are pics as I reduced the barrel and re-crowned it: - Click image to see it larger.

Hack-sawed 6" off!
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Crowned, de-greased, ready for cold blue.
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The finished 11 degree target crown.
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One reason I shortened the barrel is so that factory loads would work well with this Nikon P-223 4-12x40 scope designed for an 18" AR. Note the elevation turret markings. With the proper load, this can be dialed in to any range accurately.
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A few views:
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It handles much better now, and is light enough to shoot off-hand. A detachable magazine box conversion, and this gun will be finished.

I'll probably lose interest in it after it's done, and sell it so I can build another. - I'm bad about that.

Weather permitting, I'll take it out tomorrow for accuracy testing and to chronograph the load I am now using.

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Re: Howa 1500

Post by 35bore » Thu Feb 11, 2016 3:12 pm

Just curious if it made it to the range?

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Re: Howa 1500

Post by charlesb » Sat Feb 13, 2016 7:03 am

The weather did not cooperate for almost a week, it was windy around the clock for what seemed like a long while.

Finally though, I did get to take the rifle out and shoot it. One advantage of the method that I use for crowning a barrel does not require that the barrel be removed. In fact nothing has to be removed, not even the scope, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that the rifle did not need to be sighted in after removing 6" of the barrel and re-crowning it. - It was still hitting very close to the center, in fact, but was a few inches low.

I tried two loads, one with 52 grain bullets that was a bit hot, and one reduced load with 40 grain bullets traveling under 2,000 fps.

The hot load printed groups that were tight but not outstanding, at or around one MOA. - Bullet holes all touching but strung out enough to take the group size out to one inch. (My son and I use five-shot groups)

The light load was not nearly as good, closer to two MOA. Usually the light loads are the most accurate of all, but I'm thinking that these were too light. The chronograph said 1700 fps. In the past, my best luck with the light loads was at around 2200 fps, so they need a bit more grunt next time around. - Maybe 12 grains of AA5744 instead of eleven.

I am ordering some 55 grain polymer-tipped bullets, and have cooked up some high velocity 40 grain loads to try, next time I get out. - I've been busy with the firearms repair lately, and currently have two guns waiting for attention, and an old turn of the last century Colt revolver that needs a new bolt and cylinder hand to be fitted - a slow process at best. Also, the shop is a mess as I am installing a counter, and preparing to move my milling machine in there.

Am hoping to get out and shoot the Howa some more this week. It did OK, but I need to work on the loads a bit, find what it likes best.

One thing that my son and I both noted was that it is a lot more fun to shoot now. No longer just a bench gun, it is very pleasant to shoot off-hand.

I'll put aside a few hours and shoot a few more groups this week, some time. I've been so busy lately though that I have trouble getting any range-time in there.

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