Howa 1500 – latest rifle reviewed

Stuart Wilson gets to grips with the Howa 1500; especially the top-of-the-range chassis system from Oryx.

Our latest review rifle comes from Howa; a model 1500 in calibre 300 AAC BLK (300 Blackout) a new creation which is effectively a 7.62x35mm – perhaps a modern take on the infamous 7.62×39?

Howa rifles don’t need any introduction, their rifles have been finding a strong following for many years now. A tried and tested two lug design action, with a neater flat bottomed action and a built in recoil lug – to my mind this is much easier for bedding the action and is far simpler for any customisation work that involves cracking the barrel out; these are just my personal findings.

When any rifle gathers a good following the resulting increase in available accessories will always help both shooter and the shooting industry alike. The Howa 1500 has a solid following and some of the available accessories include extremely well engineered and high end stocks, in this case the Oryx chassis system from MDT.

Included in the boxed Howa was Highland Outdoors Aimsport moderator, tipping the rifle off nicely and promising to cut the worst of the crack from any muzzle report.

I only had to mount a scope before I was ready to get the rifle out for a quick zeroing session. I had tracked down some ammunition, placed my order and after boresighting the Howa I would have to wait for the ammunition to arrive – I opted for Hornadys 190gr subsonic offering, which I will explain a bit later on.

Action and barrel

Most of you will be familiar with the Howa 1500, a rugged, reliable twin bolt lug designed action, simple and no frills in its most basic form, not detracting at all from its performance or ability in any way.

Reminiscent of the Remington 700’s tubular action with the stepped top, but superior layout underneath, the action has a simple flat surface, with a built in recoil lug in the bottom, Fashioned in one piece, if I was designing an action from scratch this would be my first choice.

This particular action is the mini version, a shorter style with a shorter bolt throw, grouping .223 Rem, .222 Rem, .204 Ruger and 300 AAC BLK, which will give you some indication of the shortness of the rounds in question.

The action cycles without issue, with the bolt handle being swept back slightly, and although raising quite high for its rearward stroke, the handle is slightly scalloped out to avoid any undue fowling of an installed optics ocular bell.

The bolt face, in this case small rifle, has the two lugs, a claw type extractor, with a classic plunger style ejector, with a spring beneath, flinging spent cases out of the ample ejection port.

The left side of the action has the bolt release button, simple and effective, and this two position safety sits to the right hand side of the action, with the bolt being operable in both the ‘safe’ and ‘fire’ position, with the ‘fire’ position logically being forward.

The barrel of this rifle is a mere 16”, and has varmint profile and is also threaded to take the moderator; this, coupled with shorter length will make the barrel very rigid compared a longer 26” of the same profile, but with less velocity, and since this rifle is aiming for subsonic performance, that shouldn’t be an issue.

The barrel and action are finished in a satin black that is pretty close to a matte finish, with only the back of the bolt shroud showing a silver cocking indicator that will be connected to the firing pin. Weaver bases were supplied for this rifle – it’s worth mentioning that, when installing rails onto rifle actions, care must be taken.

Several points to watch for; screws/bolts protruding inside the action because they are too long, they can stop an action from cycling, stop a bolt lug from rotating into a fully closed position, and may cause a mixture of mechanical issues – or if you are very clumsy – some damage to your bolt and or its lugs.

You may also find the screw/bolts can bottom out on the barrel threads before they securely tighten the rail to the action (again because the screws/bolts are just a little too long) my advice is as follows – loosely thread every screw/bolt into the rail or rail pieces, tighten each in turn to make sure they hold the rail tightly in place, backing each one back out to loose, and repeating for every screw/bolt in the rail.

The most likely candidate for adjustment will be the screw/bolt that meets the internal barrel threads inside the action, a careful bit of file work will see the offending bolt cinch the base down without bottoming out on these threads. (This rifle needed exactly that work on the front base screw/bolt) Following this procedure early on will save you lots of headaches later on.

MDT Oryx stock

I really enjoy a solid piece of engineering, and the Oryx stock is a cracker, with a full length aluminium chassis supporting the action and forend, and even extending back to complete the job of holding the cheekpiece and the butt stock.

The whole feel of the stock is purposeful, with the pistol grip giving authoritative handling

The forend is extremely rigid and with the aluminium running right to the front, bipod work is no issue, shooting in any position will see no issues with the forend contacting on the barrel, I couldn’t even flex the barrel to meet the forend because of the clearance and rigidity.

The bottom of the forend has a machined thread to take a bipod/sling stud, with several other slots around 30mm long which I assume will take m-lok type accessories or something similar, two green plastic panel provided the grippy finish to the chassis, and also look good against the matte black finish of the aluminium.

The magazine well is part of the aluminium chassis, allowing a 10 shot magazine to be used, and housing the release clip for effortless mag changes.

The pistol grip gives the shooter comfort, stability and perfect trigger finger placement, with the very top being slightly thin for my hands, a minor point that’s all, the rubberised over-moulding of the pistol grip gives a very tactile feel.

The aluminium chassis extends behind the action, holding the same line throughout, with a small groove machined into the wrist to allow the bolt to operate in the rear wards position, with an adjustable cheekpiece offering uncompromising cheek weld to the shooter, loosening two allen-headed bolts allow adjustment up and down.

The butt pad is a solid rubberised construction, offering some recoil absorption and ample grip in the shoulder for shooting, with the length of pull being adjusted by adding or removing ¼” spacers, loosening the butt pad bolts allows the shooter to slip a spacer in or out without full disassembly due to carefully machined slots in the spacers. The factory length of pull is 13.75” with the overall length of the rifle without the moderator being 35.5”.

Once I had a little ammunition, I had managed to grab 20 rounds only, of Hornadys 190gr Subsonic offerings, the curious 30 cal rounds looked very strange, with next-to-no shoulder, and decidedly short looking. My closest point of reference being 308 Win, a calibre that I would never choose to shoot 190gr ammunition.

The test rifle was a 1 in 7” twist, screaming for subsonics, and what it is really designed to use, the bore-sighted scope led to some lower than usual shots at 50 yards, a quick tweak saw a 50 yard zero to start with, with the group cutting just around 3/4”, the target board goes out to 100 yards, top the magazine up, and shooting at a fresh target spot, two shots cut in 7.5” low, so I adjusted for a 100 yard zero ready to try for a group.

I was really impressed with the muzzle report, or lack of, a small muzzle mounted Aimsport moderator and I reckon this was nearly as quiet as my silenced .22 rimfire, the resulting five shot group just slightly breaking the two-inch mark.

I wasn’t too disappointed, perhaps I expected a little better, but the reality is that shooting the quiet little beast is great fun, restricting the test to one ammunition choice is also not really a fair representation of what a rifle can produce.

I am sure the rifle will bed in after a little more use, and I am sure trying some other variants of ammunition will certainly help, new rifles always benefit from gentle initial use and careful cleaning to improve on their outt-of-the-box performance.

Final thoughts

The Howa Oryx 300AAC BLK is an intriguing piece of kit, the stock is fantastic, and the Howa 1500 action has never disappointed, with a handy overall length (without moderator) of 35.5” and weighing in at 8.2lbs .

However, I do find that I’m asking myself would I buy one and if so, what would I use it for? Well it’s a pretty cheap short range target rifle, which will send steel plates ringing with a solid clang, a seasoned reloader would eek out the very best accuracy and maybe push the ranges way beyond 100 yards, but as the rifle stands today it would suit me perfectly for sneaking daytime foxes in quiet areas, enabling deadly accurate and deathly quiet shots to 100 yards. 

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