[Review] Howa 1500 Barreled Action: Easiest Bolt Build?

Some would tell you that a bolt gun is just a bolt gun.

Lift the bolt, pull it, push it, drop it…seen one, seen them all.

They are wrong.

Howa 1500 in MDT and Boyds
Howa 1500 in MDT and Boyds‘ – top to bottom: MDT ESS, MDT LSS-XL Gen 2, Boyds’ Platinum, Boyds’ AT-One

If you’re looking for a bolt-action rifle you’re probably looking at it for one of two reasons – either to hunt with or to reach out a long distance and touch something. It doesn’t matter if you’re at a PRS event or in the mountains of Montana, you need a bolt-rifle that works – always.

From Remington in America to Tikka in Finland, no two bolt-action actions are the same. While some legendary names have fallen from grace due to their failure of quality control, other names have never gained the respect they deserve.

Enter – Howa.

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Who is Howa?

If you’re a history buff, you already know who Howa is. For the rest of us, here is a summary:

Howa as a company is well over 100 years old, founded in Japan they have since made everything from massive industrial machining tools, to construction vehicles, to recoilless rifles, and AR-18s.

For the collectors out there, Howa built Arisaka rifles are highly prized. You can find more about their history and their role in WWII arms development on their Howa Firearms History page.

Basically – if it can be built, Howa can build it.

Golden Bear .30-06
Howa Golden Bear in .30-06

For the American firearms market, Howa had their big break with the Golden Bear bolt-action rifle in the late 1960s, of which the Howa 1500 is a direct descendant of. And that brings us to now…

Howa 1500 Barreled Action

I became interested in the Howa 1500 because of how many of them I had been seeing on Brownells. With well over a dozen versions of the barreled action being offered at great prices, I wanted to see if these lived up to their hallowed company’s name.

Eager to let me find out, Legacy Sports arranged to have several models sent to me – a 6.5 Creedmoor, .30-06, .308 Win, and .300 Win Mag arrived shortly after at my FFL.

I won’t bore you with those details, because the fun starts when I mounted them in MDT Chassis and Boyds’ Rifle Stocks.

The Bare Action and Barrel

It’s…well, it’s an action and barrel. I’ll be honest here – this part isn’t exciting. It’s also hard to really judge it since it’s kind of like looking at a meat patty outside of the bun. Sure, it’s tasty and important – but it’s missing most of what really makes it awesome.

Howa BAs all come with hinged floorplates and internal magazines. They are simple, robust, and clean. Really everything that you could ask for from a magazine system.

Here is where the nice features start – the bottom metal, is metal.

With the huge influx of budget-minded bolt-action rifles on the market, a common trend we’re seeing is the use of plastic for the bottom “metal” of the rifle action.

While plastic saves cost and a tiny amount of weight, it’s damned unhelpful for strength and mounting in an aftermarket stock. Right off the bat, Howa pleased me by having true metal in their bottom metals.

Thumbs up
Good on you, Howa

Mount Up

I’ll focus on the chassis and stocks used for this project in articles to come, but I want to give you a short preview first – since they go hand in hand with the Howa 1500 itself.

MDT provided me with their ESS and LSS-XL Chassis to go with my Howas and I have to say – these are just mind-blowingly awesome chassis. I went into this hugely skeptical of their price tags and if they could actually deliver on them…

Howa 1500 in MDT
LSS-XL Gen2 and a Caldwell bag

But now after using them, my wallet cries knowing I can never go back to budget chassis.

wallet

Boyds’ Stocks were another one I’ve never used before, and they were kind enough to provide me with two – their AT-One and their Platinum Stock. Both are outstanding.

While the MDT chassis are built like tanks, the Boyds’ stocks are beautiful to look at, stunningly lightweight, and provide that warm natural feeling that simply cannot be replicated with anything but real wood.

Howa 1500 in Boyds
Nothing feels like wood, except real wood. There is a reason people keep going back to a classic.

I plan on buying a couple more Boyds’ for my .270 Win Tikka and my Ruger 10/22 as Boyds’ has now become my goto for hunting stocks.

Both systems were very easy to install, it was literally just removing two screws – setting the barreled action in the stock/chassis, and screwing it into the right torque level.

Check out my complete review of the Modular Drive Technologies Chassis and the Boyds’ Rifle Stocks!

Howa bout’ Function

Did you laugh at my pun? Good.

Howa actions are crisp and smooth – period. I tried a few different oils and greases on mine (since I had four actions to test, why not change up the flavor!) and so far my favorite has been CherryBalmz Bolt-Balm.

It’s thick, slick, and comes in the smallest container I’ve ever gotten. However, I use just the thinnest amount of the stuff and it lasts for…well, almost forever. So I fully expect this tiny jar to last me years – at least.

CherryBalmz Bolt Balm
CherryBalmz Bolt Balm

I know I said those people who said that “all bolt actions are the same” were wrong, but they aren’t completely wrong. For the most part – a bolt rifle is a bolt rifle. But like the Willy Wonka Factory, it’s the little things that matter most.

Outside of a smooth action and great accuracy, bolt-actions need the little things going for them to really put them over the top of their competition. Howa 1500s have two major “little things” that stand out to the user.

H.A.C.T. Trigger

By far what sets them apart from the pack is the Howa Actuator Controlled Trigger.

Basically, it’s the best out-of-the-box trigger I’ve ever used. I would compare it to and place it on par with two-stage triggers from Gessisle and Timminy.

All four of my actions had identical pull weights and they matched what Howa claims them to be: 3-pound pull weight triggers. I happen to love 2-stage triggers in basically all of my rifles, hunting and tactical, so that was perfect for me.

The only downside to these triggers is there isn’t really much of a way to adjust them if you wanted to do so.

Being a tinkering type, I poked around online to see if I could mess with the weights of the triggers – not that I needed to do so, I just…wanted to.

Always Sunny Meme

To my mild disappointment, all I found was videos on how to trim the springs of the HACT to reduce the pull weight or take up of the trigger.

I’m not a fan of screwing with springs like that since bad things can happen, so I decided to not try it.

I hope that someday Howa offers a spring pack that would allow me to fine tune the trigger, but at this time there isn’t such a thing on the market.

That said – it is still the best factory trigger in my collection. And if you’re planning on doing your rifle on a budget, it’s really nice getting a very high-end trigger feel without the added aftermarket cost.

Coffee Safety First

This is another one of those little things, a 3-position safety! No, it doesn’t come with a full-auto setting.

BUT!

It does come with three safety options – fire, trigger disconnect, and bolt locked/trigger disconnect.

Howa 1500 in Boyds
Howa 1500 in Boyds’

Fire is…fire. It Lets you fire the rifle. Kind of handy but also generally standard.

The second setting is a trigger disconnect, this makes it so that even if the trigger is pulled – the rifle won’t fire. But while in this setting it still lets you work the bolt allowing you to load, unload, chamber, or extract a cartridge while keeping the rifle safe from accidental fire.

This might not be too awesome for competition, but for hunting, it can be very handy – being able to safely open the bolt, stuff an extra round in, and close the bolt all while keeping the rifle safe from fireing is a nice feature.

The third setting is a complete safety that locks the bolt handle in place while disconnecting the trigger.

Accuracy and Shooting

Keep in mind that to get the most out of your barreled action, you need to use the right parts. You get what you put in. That said, as long as you do your part and set your Howa 1500 up with the right stock/chassis and feed it good ammo, it is astonishingly accurate!

MDT Chassis

The best set-up I found was the Howa 1500 BA in 6.5CM – heavy barrel, mounted in the MDT ESS chassis and using Hornady 6.5CM 140gr ELD-Match ammo

Best Barreled Action
460 at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

With this, and my Vortex Diamondback Tactical 4-16x (review coming soon, awesome scope!) I shot this group:

Howa 1500 on MDT ESS
Group near bullseye is a 5-shot group, Howa 1500 in 6.5CM on the MDT ESS Chassis

The group near the bullseye is a 5-shot group at 150 yards, slightly under 1/5th MOA (bullseye is 1/4″). I shot this off a bag and rear bag set-up on top of a plywood bench, no concrete, lead sled or vice clamps.

Oh, and I didn’t even let the barrel cool between shots – that was a rapid-ish string, 5 shots across about 30 seconds.

And if you’re wondering what that flyer is at the top of the target – that was from the gentleman next to me trying to ring steel with his Mosin-Nagant using Tulammo…he was only off his target by 4 feet…

I tested 6 different ammo types and brands through that exact rifle, almost all of them were between 1/2 and 1 MOA – the only one that wasn’t was the cheap stuff I shot while breaking in the rifle.

Don’t let the ESS fool you, the LSS-XL also made for an outstanding shooter!

5-shot group with Howa 1500 in .308 in a MDT LSS-XL chassis flyer to the far left was the shooters fault
A 5-shot group with Howa 1500 in .308 in an MDT LSS-XL chassis – just under 1/2 MOA (flyer to the far left was the shooters fault)

The flyer to the left was my fault so I threw it out of the grouping and fired a 6th round to give me a nice 5-shot group, without the flyer this is under 1/2 MOA using Federal Gold Medal Match Sierra Match King 168gr ammo.

Both the ESS and LSS-XL can deliver amazing stuff – if you do your part!

Boyds’ Gun Stocks

While the MDT chassis are designed and built for ultra-precision, Boyds’ stocks are for more common shooting. While groups clearly opened up once I switched, they still remained very respectable. A testament to not only Boyds’ great work, but also to the Howa 1500 itself.

Howa 1500 in Boyds AT-One, 300 Win Mag
Howa 1500 in Boyds AT-One, 300 Win Mag. 5-shot group 3/4 MOA

Boyds’ AT-One is a great stock to work with, a nice cross between a precision stock and a classic wood. And it produces great results. Above is a 5-shot group using the AT-One stock shooting 300 Win Mag, slightly over 3/4 MOA.

Before you start chewing me out in the comments…yes, I know that I shot horrible there.

In my defense, I saved the 300 Win Mag till last so I had already shot about 40 rounds of 6.5 Creedmoor, 60 rounds of .308 (took a while to sight in, my fault), 30 rounds of .30-06, and 15 rounds of 300 Win Mag all in one range session…my shoulder was getting really sore!

However, that really should tell you how great of a BA and stock this set up is. 300 Win Mag is a beast of a cartridge and even after a long day of shooting, I still put out a 5-shot rapid string under 1 MOA with using only bags for support.

The AT-One makes it very easy to get in a great shooting position and the Howa 1500 puts rounds where you send them, period.

By the Numbers

Reliability 5/5

Bolt guns are often the most reliable out there, but there are some that just don’t work.

I never had a problem with the Howas, both with using magazines from MDT in the chassis or using the Howa internal-magazines with the Boyds’ stocks – I never had a single misfeed, stick, or failure to extract.

Accuracy 5/5

Do your part and a Howa 1500 BA will shoot like a dream.

While the best I achieved was 1/5th MOA, I would expect a better shooter and hand loaded ammo to trim that number down even further.

If you’re building your Howa as more of a hunting oriented set-up, I would absolutely expect at least 1 MOA with decent factory ammo. The .30-06, .300 Win Mag, and .308 rifles all shot that or better using mass-produced mid-tier ammo.

Ergonomics 4/5

While it depends on the stock/chassis that you put the Howa BA into, I’ve found two things about the BA itself that I don’t love – first is the bolt handle’s knob is really small. Granted, I have big hands – but the knob is on the small side regardless.

Second, the safety takes more force to actuate than I would like. While this ensures it won’t be engaged or disengaged by accident, having it be slightly easier would have been nice.

Both of these are fairly minor issues though and in no way really impacted my shooting.

Looks 5/5

Howa offers their BAs in a few different Cerakotings and in a standard bluing.

The blueing is very well done, dark color, and even. Their Cerakote is equally well done. My BAs came in an Australian Brown (a dark FDE) and standard bluing. Both looked outstanding!

Customization 5/5

It’s a barreled action, it’s designed to be customized!

I found almost every major manufacturer of stocks and chassis offered an option for the Howa 1500, while I went with MDT and Boyds’, I also saw McMillan, Bell & Carlson, H-S Precision, GRS, and Manners carried options too.

Bang for the Buck/Value 5/5

I’m impressed.

For the price this runs you, you’re getting a lot for your money.

To me, this is by far the best way to enter into the semi-custom bolt-action rifle world. While you could spend upwards of $5,000 on the perfect custom rifle, you can easily build a 1,000-yard rifle with the Howa 1500 BA for under $1,000 – including glass.

If you wanted to bump up your budget a bit, the MDT chassis is a perfect mate for the Howa 1500 action and would set you up perfectly for PRS and F-Class competitions.

Overall Rating 4.5/5

These are great BAs and for the price, very high value. While there are some minor things I would change, they also offer several nice features that aren’t found in other rifles of the same price point.

Parting Shots

With four BAs, 2 stocks, 2 chassis, and 5 different optics tested – I’ve had some real time and options to get to know the Howa 1500 barreled action.

The best thing I can say about it is the value Howa delivers. Yes, there are better actions and barrels in the world of custom precision shooting and high-end hunting – but not at this price range.

Even at double this price range, you’re not going to find a lot of options that keep up with Howa.

If you want an out-of-the-box rifle to take hunting, a BA probably isn’t what you’re looking for. But if you a semi-custom rifle to fit you and your needs, or if you just like to tinker a little, then the Howa 1500 Barreled Action is perfect!

All you need to do is decide what caliber and finish you want and the rest falls into place.

I would highly recommend their 6.5 Creedmoor option, it was by far the best I used and a blast to work with.

Best Barreled Action
460 at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

If you want to learn more about the 6.5 CM then you’ll want to read our Ultimate Guide to the 6.5 Creedmoor!

Do you have a Howa 1500? Planning on taking yours out hunting or to a local long-range event? Let us know in the comments! And check out the rest of our favorite gun and gear in Editor’s Picks.

27 Leave a Reply

  • Curtis Almas

    I have had my 1500 .270 for about 5 years now and I love it. The last day of deer here in Michigan was yesterday and I dropped a doe at 375 yards using Winchester XP 130 gr. I do not hesitate at this distance with off the shelf cartridges. I currently have the factory stock but, I am planning to buy a new stock and some better glass for it.

    4 months ago
  • Isaac Smith

    Was this written by a seventh grader? Seriously, it cannot be this hard to find someone with a high school writing level. Do better work, PPT.

    5 months ago
  • Jack Dahlmann

    I own 3 Howa rifles that started as barreled actions 6.5 Grendel in an At-1 Boyds, a 6.5 Creedmoor in an MDT LSS chassis and a #00 Win Mag in an Archangelstock. all 3 are !/2 MOA shooters with my handloads. I did clip the springs to achieve 1 1/2 # trigger pulls that are safely "bump Proof". I am retired and really enjoy these rifles and they will shoot with about any rifle out there, All 3 sport Vortex 6 x 24 PST scopes Jack D SW Florida

    6 months ago
    • John

      Thanks for sharing, Jack! Awesome job on those trigger mods too!

      6 months ago
  • Ryan M Staebler

    Very new to the gun community, and I have discovered long range precision is a particularly deep rabbit hole. I find the modular nature of the barreled action interesting. While I know custom builds get crazy unique/expensive... do you guys at Pew Pew Tactical ever see the modularity of Bolt-action rifles reaching that of the AR-15 platform (if its like that already and I am otherwise oblivious... tell me. I won't cry.)? I ask this because after scrolling through Howa 1500 barreled-actions on Brownell's, I tried looking for Tikka barreled-actions to no avail. Love the content you guys rock and make vital information so readily accessible in a user-friendly format. If y'all had a dedicated YouTube channel it would blow up!

    6 months ago
    • David, PPT Editor

      Sadly no I don't think it will, I do think that barreled actions will grow in selection and offering - just not to the same level as the AR platform. Right now for an off the shelf BA, Howa is one of the only answers. If/when Tikka, Savage, and others see there is a vibrant market for it - they'll start making a product. I would LOVE a Tikka BA in an MDT ESS. That's my dream rifle.

      6 months ago
      • Ryan M Staebler

        Maybe an AR-15 juxtaposition was a stretch, but to see the market go to that direction would be very cool. More power to the consumer. Hopefully all this buzz about the Howa BA will generate some interest among those companies. And once again thank you guys for doing what you do, the reply really pushes a sense community rather than a place I go to read about things I can't afford! I am thinking about going with the 6.5 chambered Howa BA in the Boyd's At-One stock to save some money there for my first build. Now to learn about scopes...

        6 months ago
      • Celltech

        With as cheap as Cabela's has been selling Savage 12s you can get the whole rifle and just throw the junk stock away. Sell off the stock barrel for $150+ and get a hand lapped prefit. Great way to start down the home built precision path...

        6 months ago
        • David, PPT Editor

          Very true! Likely what I'll have to do for my Tikka also.

          6 months ago
  • Bryan Hocking

    I have a 1500 heavy barrel in 6.5 Creedmoor. With the cheap scope and stock it came with, I've taken it out to 700 yards max and 500 reliably and repeatable. Planning on putting it in the XL Chassis and getting a good scope. Should make total cost around $2000.00+.

    6 months ago
  • Celltech

    I recently purchased a Howa 20" heavy fluted .308 action from Brownells for a rediculous low price. Added a B&C stock and made a serious shooter for little money. The trigger is indeed amazing for a stock action. It is adjustable for pull weight and cutting that spring down to get it lower is very easy. The quality and workmanship of these actions is comparable to anything out there. I don't know how they are profitable at these prices. For some reason I am interested in the mini action in 7.62x39. Just sounds like a fun and light combination.

    6 months ago
  • Michael Difford

    I purchased a Howa 1500 BA in .308 win fluted Varmint and fitted a GRS Berserk stock couldn't fault the rifle at all, once I got the right load for the rifle, under 1/2 moa was great to see on the target. I was Very surprised at its accuracy out of the box i'm highly impressed

    6 months ago
    • John

      Awesome to hear, Michael - thanks for sharing!

      6 months ago
  • Michael Malooly

    I bought a S&W 1500 (made by Howa) used in 1981. Just a standard sporter model in 30-06. It has been a great rifle and very accurate. In 1990 Remington produced match ammo in 30-06 using the 168gr Sierra BTHP match bullet. This consistently shot MOA or better 3 shot groups including the cold bore zero. My favorite handloads would shoot the same. Even the trigger was clean and broke at 3.25 - 3.5 lbs. I was a sharpshooter on our Special Response Team and the first department rifle I had I had difficulties with it being consistent and my initial LE sniper training (as I thought it might be). I asked permission to use this rifle I brought as back-up with it's 2-10 lower end standard scope. I kept right up with all the $1500 rifles and all the shooting in the week-long course and competitions. After that it became my rifle for SRT use until the next year when the department replaced my issue rifle with a new Remington 700 PSS with a Leupold VX III 6.5x20 scope. My S&W 1500 is still my best bud of a rifle. None of my sons prefer it because it has no rubber recoil pad. Just the plastic buttplate. In looking at the Howas - if in the market for a new or used rifle, I wouild not hesitate to buy it.

    6 months ago
    • John

      Very cool bit of history Michael - thanks for the story!

      6 months ago
  • Derrick Johnson

    Can you verify your group size and distance on the 6.5 CM group? You said the bullseye is 1/4...not sure if you mean 1/4 MOA. 1/4 MOA at 150 yards would be 3/8ths of an inch. The bullet holes for a 6.5 will be approx 1/4 of an inch and the bullseye appears to be at least 3 times the diameter of the bullet holes. One MOA at 150 is 1.5 inches. Great article in any event, just trying to get a handle on accuracy potential!

    6 months ago
    • Jason Johnson

      Thought the same thing when I saw the pic. 6.5mm, or .264 being slightly larger than 1/4" or .25" the bullet diameter would be larger than 1/4" bullseye. Looks more like 1/2" diameter. Doesn't matter either way... Accompanying pics get the point across. Thanks, nice article... I have a Howa BA that needs a stock. Been trying to decide.

      6 months ago
    • David, PPT Editor

      Bullseye is 1/4-inch size, the group was slightly under 1/5th MOA - that ragged hole was a FIVE shot group at 150 yards.

      6 months ago
      • Derrick Johnson

        I can't see how the orange dot is 1/4 inch when a single bullet hole should be 1/4 inch with a 6.5. But great shooting!

        6 months ago
        • David, PPT Editor

          I can take a set of calipers to it later tonight, either way, the MOA of the group is 100% accurate (Range Buddy app is awesome).

          6 months ago
  • paul clark

    Would you recommend glass-bedding the Boyd's stock? Also, what was your break-in procedure?

    6 months ago
    • David, PPT Editor

      Glass-bedding wouldn't hurt, but for my applications, I felt it would be unnecessary. I was looking for hunting accurate from the Boyds' stocks, so as long as it was around 1 MOA I was going to be happy - I ended up getting closer to 3/4 MOA with only mid-tier hunting ammo, so I was very pleased.

      6 months ago
    • Clean the oil and powder residue out of the barrel before each shot using a commercial bore cleaner with an ammonia content. After firing each cartridge, use a good bore cleaner (one with ammonia) to remove fouling from the barrel using only a soaked patch. Do not use anything abrasive since you are trying to seal the barrel. For the first ten rounds, clean and let the barrel cool between each round fired using a patch and rod only. Following the initial ten shots, shoot 2 more rounds, cleaning between each pair of shots. This is to make sure the burnishing process is complete. To keep the barrel cool, wait about 5 minutes between break-in shots during your break-in period.

      6 months ago
      • paul clark

        Thank you for the quick response. Is Sweet's 7.62 solvent acceptable?

        6 months ago
    • David, PPT Editor

      Howa sent me instructions and I followed them almost to the letter, the short version is for the first 10 shots clean the bore with a soaked patch - no brushes, just a patch (I cheated a little and used a bore rope - not a bore snake, just a bore rope) after every shot. After those 10, do 2 shots between each wipe down. Also during all of that to let the barrel cool for 5 min between each shot. Worked very well!

      6 months ago
  • Richard

    Good article, David! Incidentally, you might want to tell your readers that the Boyds' laminated wood stocks start at just $137, and you can add more features from there. The Boyds' At-One gunstock is just $207, complete.

    6 months ago
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