Author Topic: Howa 1500 Varmint Supreme - Review and Modifications  (Read 10535 times)

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Offline Archfile

  • Posts: 26
Howa 1500 Varmint Supreme - Review and Modifications
« on: March 08, 2006, 05:21:12 AM »

I bought this (the above image is not my rifle, just a sample image) rifle in .22-250 for long range rabbit shooting and just general plinking, given that Ii dont get many chances to use it and Im usually not too worried about ammo cost this was a fine choice of calibre, the weight of the rifle was initially an issue, but i just took the bolt out and walked around with it whilst watching TV in the evening.

I guess, given that this is my first rifle, I didnt really know what to expect build wise from this Howa, I'd never even heard of them before searching prior to buying this one. The metalwork is far better than some and on par with others, the bolt (not being a m98 style action) is not sloppy when open, and it rock solid when closed, huge lugs and oversize ejector pin with m16 style extractor makes this bolt a large, heavy and reliable looking design.

Blued/Steel example of the Howa 1500 bolt and action closeup

The barrel is nicely finished in a dull stainless, target style recessed crown and 24" long, bit less than 1" at the crown. Reciever drilled and tapped for mounts, and currently has stainless mounts and some cheap black 1" rings in the highest configuration I could find on the day. Stock is heavy strength laminate like the one in the above image, the venting holes were poorly finished and needed re-sanding and finishing to make them smooth, the barrel touched in 2 places along the left side. The palm swell in the stock is pleasing and the high cheek on the stock is good for prone use.

Currently it sits on a prop sandbag (borrowed from a place I used to work) and I shoot whatever factory loads I might be interested in on a given day. It is fitted with a Mueller 4-16x 50mm mildot scope in high rings. The Mueller scope is bargin of the century, the optics are amazing considering the price, many scopes at 2x or 3x the price are optically inferior. The build strength appears to be much higher than other entry level prices optics, the 1/8th clicks and mildot reticle are good, the illumination only lights the centre portion with the mildots and doesnt cause glare in the tube until the highest settings. Eye relief a pleasant 3-3.25" and easy magnification change. Adjustable objective on the front end of the scope.

Mueller Tactical MilDot scope 4-16x 50mm AO

Mueller Tactical MilDot reticle (illuminated)

I guess you really want to know what it shoots like, you'll have to keep reading, the trigger was heavy and ruined my efforts at a decent group, so out of the stock the action came, at which point I noticed significant pressure from the forearm at about 6 inches from the muzzle end, on the left side.

Trigger was adjusted to minimum 'safe' setting, feels about 2lb, perhaps a little less, this is not the perfect trigger, but not bad from what i hear, to me it creeps a little.

I sanded the barrel channel out with fine paper, also used wet & dry to finish the holes for venting the heat (see the URL for an image) as they were rough as hell, then finished with some clear finish made locally (in Melbourne, Australia) at this point
I had ordered some compound for bedding the action and decided while I waited for it to arrive to make some 13mm Aluminium pillars up (holes only 1mm larger than the stock screws), I had to drill the stock out a little and sand a little, then use a tiny chisel to finish the hole for the rear pillar, once done the stock was bedded in the normal fashion, just with some oversize pillars rather than some shi**y tube.

Once completed I had to re-sight it in, and did so with some factory ammo, cant recall what it was, i didnt shoot a group with it, i wasnt interested in that. I promptly went 3 from 3 rabbits at what turns out to be downhill angle (about 10-15degrees from flat) about 200m, at this point i was pleased and went home. Last night someone I was on the phone with asked what kind of group size i was getting with hand loads, i promptly told them Im neither tried a tight group, nor loaded any ammo for it.

SOoooo, I went out today, and for interest sake, to show what a reasonably priced rifle (not cheap, but no where near the price of a Rem700 or something in Australia) with a bargain priced scope, in the hands of a total beginner could do with THE CHEAPEST FACTORY AMMO I COULD FIND, there is no point dribbling on about how this and that $2,500 rifle with $3 hand loads shoots. The real world, people shoot what they can get on a given day, and in a rifle that is a reasonable price.

Ammo was a 40rnd box of white box Winchester hollow points, the ones with the little clover fold on the tip. 45gr and rated on the box as 4000fps - flat bullet tails which I was able to determine given the 3 faulty rounds as described above. Over the counter price at the not too cheap local hunting store of $34 for 40rnds (Australian Dollars).(WARNING: 3 of the 40 rounds had visible cracks all the way up the sholder and neck, 2 had cracks so bad that the bullet would slide out with no effort - This I assume would cause catastrophic cartridge failure and serious injury)

First 3 rounds of the barrel (after being put away clean) were a one hole cloverleaf on the largest side fitting under 1/2 of one inch (God knows how you accurately measure this on paper tho, its under 1/2 inch tho) Now, to my mind, we measure the longest length between edges of holes, and then subtract 2* 1/2 the bullet dia.

So in this case we have

group size = (0.489 Inch)-(2*(0.5*.224))
group size = (0.489 Inch)-(0.224)
group size = 0.265 Inch

(If this isnt correct, feel free to comment)

So, to sum up I did do some work on this rifle prior to using it, but only around the house work, and using basic tools (borrowed from my father and returned clean) and some time, I'd estimate the time to be in the order of 50 hours, perhaps 65 at most, total cost of modifications would be the cost of clear varnish finish, sand paper, two bits of alu and the bedding compound. All in all next to bugger all.

Cheap rifle, bargain scope, cheap nasty factory ammo and total beginner behind the rifle and a sub .3" group, not much better to be hoped for ever Id have thought. I'll admit that it could well be a lucky group, but taking into account my lack of experience, its not likely to be that lucky 2 or 3 times, when I get a chance to try again, Ill shoot two more groups and add to this.

The Howa 1500 Varmint heavy barrel in synthetic 'pepper' laminate stock is an interesting looking, and in this case with minor modifications by a never owned a firearm beginner a VERY accurate piece of gear, my advice to you is to "get behind one today" and for this price, who cares if the barrel is burnt out in no time or the calibre is 'a little big for rabbits' like my father pointed out, at this price you can buy 2 and still get off light for that kind of performance.

I'll borrow a digital camera when i get a chance and take a photo of the rifle in question, including the pillar bedding job and the group I fired (incidentally for those of you who know our currency, the group is easily covered with spare by a 5cent coin)


Offline Archfile

  • Posts: 26
Howa 1500 Varmint Supreme - Review and Modifications
« Reply #1 on: March 08, 2006, 05:28:19 AM »
Incidently I forgot to say, that target was shot from a little over 110m, there is an incline and if I was to get 100m from the target I'd be on the steep part of the incline.

Next on the cards when I get some spare income is going to be a Heavy Barrelled Howa 1500 action, thrown into a Hogue Overmolded stock with the full length Aluminium bedding.

Howa standard barreled actions (I'd get a heavy barreled one tho)

Image shows the Hogue Overmold with Aluminium bedding block integrated

Some rifle actions in Hogue Overmolded synthetic stocks.

I'm thinking .204 Ruger because longer barrel life, less recoil, less noise (jesus the .22-250 is a loud and hard slapping round for the size of the bullet.) and marginly lower barrel fouling.

Just have to wait until the .204 brass is a reasonable price here, and then i will reload some ammo for it, imagine that kind of accuracy from my .22-250

Cheap handloaded .204 ammo and it will be the rifle for me, cheap, accurate, not too loud/heavy and will a wonderful practical and not overpriced stock, in a practically indestructible finish.... I'm almost giggling with the thought of it... Just have to pass the idea thru management, see if she will approve... her cz 17 hmr varmint should persuade her to see the sense in letting me buy/choose firearms.


Offline jwc007

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Howa 1500 Varmint Supreme - Review and Modifications
« Reply #2 on: March 09, 2006, 08:55:51 AM »
Very Nice!  Thanks for posting the info!
"Easy is the path to wisdom for those not blinded by ego." - Yoda

For all of those killed by a 9mm: "Get up! You are not dead! You were shot with a useless cartridge!"

Offline Archfile

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Howa 1500 Varmint Supreme - Review and Modifications
« Reply #3 on: March 09, 2006, 07:10:15 PM »
Further research over the last few days has led me to look at something slightly different, consider this:

.204 ruger ammo here runs (for hornady vmax 32/40gr) to about $37aud a box! Which is super expensive.

Thus Reloading is going to have to ensue, problem is, .204 brass is hard to buy here, so could we form it from its parent brass, which appears NOT to be the .223 that it would on the surface be, it is infact .222 Mag brass.

So, next consideration, its a tall and not particularly efficient case design, perhaps something a little fatter like the .223 would offer a better design, dispite having a little less volume.

Enter the .20 Tactical (stupid name)

As you can see the 20 tactical is almost identical to the .204 ruger, the ballistics information listed for it on would indicate almost identical performance, from a load that is made from a necked down .223 shell (with a 30degree sholder) possibly THE most common small centrefire round in the world.

All well and good, so we need a neck sizing die, FL die and something to shape the sholder angle. All is well.

Consider this tho, if we stuck with the default .223 sholder angle, we could have brass ready to use in ONE step, enter the simple idea of the 20 Practical*

After searching around, Kevin (smith that helped with Warren's 20 Practical Prototype) suggested that Pac-Nor had reamers and profile settings for the 20 Practical used to make Warren's barrel, and with Pac-Nor's ability to prefit a barrel to an action, all I'd need is to have it headspaced. I was going to buy a barrel anyhow, reloading gear was probably on the cards for the rifle to begin with, now its just one step earlier in the scheme of things, offset by the fact we are looking at slightly less powder and the cheapest brass possible..

I'm becoming more and more positive that this is going to be a viable and cheap way to go for a super accurate, good looking, practical varmint round for smaller varmints out to 450m maybe more.


*No doubt many others have done the same thing without calling it this, but i think the name is appropriate

Offline nodo

  • Posts: 45
Howa 1500 Varmint Supreme - Review and Modifications
« Reply #4 on: April 08, 2006, 08:28:55 AM »
I was wondering if you ever got a chance to take any pics of the work you done. I am getting ready to purchase one of these rifles in .243 and would be interested in doing a little work on it to improve it any way I can.

Offline Archfile

  • Posts: 26
Howa 1500 Varmint Supreme - Review and Modifications
« Reply #5 on: April 13, 2006, 05:42:19 AM »
still havent had a chance to take any photos, i will do when i can tho. You'll love the Howa - a truely great rifle in my mind for the price you pay for one.