I stumbled into the Legacy Sports booth at last year’s SHOT show and handled the Howa line of rifles. Howa’s quality really impressed me.
Additional research uncovered a cult following of the Howa rifles with plenty of aftermarket parts and more than a few mentions of sub-MOA accuracy. As a student of longer range shooting, I ordered the heavy barrel Howa Target Master scope package to see what the Howa brand could deliver to precision shooters.
Howa Machinery Company Limited is a Japanese firm and a highly diverse manufacturer of products ranging from construction/manufacturing to firearms. Howa’s long-storied history dates back to creating the accurate Japanese Arisaka rifles. In the 1970s, they manufactured AR18/AR180s under a licensing agreement with Armalite and currently manufacture the 1500 and Vanguard receivers for Weatherby, S&W and Mossberg. Their Japanese-made line of Howa precision rifles are marketed in the U.S. by Legacy Sports.
The Howa rifles are incredibly well made with a fit and finish far above their shelf price. The overall fit of this Howa 1500 Targetmaster is notably better than the comparable Remington 700 and Savage actions. The bottom metal is actually metal, the bolt runs smoother, the receiver is beefier and the barrel is finished with a very crisp, recessed, match 90-degree crown. The heavy, 20-inch hammer-forged barrel has a lustrous deep-blued finish.
The Howas are seldom sold without the scope kit, which makes the rifles a good value proposition for buyers looking at Remington 700 or Savage models. Considering the mid-$700 street price of this Howa rifle scope package, the quality, fit, finish and excellent accuracy should make it an easy choice on the showroom floor.
The Hogue stock is probably one of the best budget-conscious, light factory gun stocks available and can take a beating in the field. Paired with Howa’s new two-stage Howa Actuator Controlled Trigger, the shooter has a great stock with a decently crisp, creep-free trigger in the 2- to 3-pound range.
During my first zeroing at the range, a fellow shooter had a nicely upgraded and suppressed .308 Howa 1500 complete with a McMillan stock and Timney trigger, which he was using to casually paint a 2-inch lead splatter on the 300-yard gong. He noted the rifle regularly delivers 1/2-inch 100-yard groups.
Within the first 50 rounds, I could see why the Howa rifles have such a following. Connecting with 4-inch steel plates at 200 to 400 yards was boring. The Howa Target Master is easily a sub-MOA gun. Based on my testing, I saw a few .6-inch 100-yard groups. One rather impressive five-shot group was a 2-inch lead-painted set of hits on my steel silhouette head at 300 yards with Hornady 168-grain Z-Max .308 ammo shot off sandbags.
The barrel is a 1:10 twist, which delivers good accuracy with a wide range of bullet weights, however, the rifle preferred heavier 168-grain-plus bullets.
Just to prove how great this Howa could be, I swapped the Hogue stock for a $499 MDT HS3 precision billet magazine-fed chassis, plus $289 MDT Skeleton Stock, and I upgraded the trigger to a $116 2-pound Timney. The results easily matched the consistent sub-MOA capabilities I had seen demonstrated at the range with an upgraded Howa. As with any trigger upgrade and Hogue to billet stock swap I have done before, the upgrade improved my groups by 30 percent easily, which meant sloppy 1-inch 100-yard groups moved into the .7-inch range, and my best groups shrank to well below that.
For $900 in upgrades, the Howa can play with the custom guns even with the included Nikko Sterling optic, but you might also want to spring for a higher-end scope if you are willing to go that far with upgrades.
The Howa Target Master package includes a $399 MSRP 4-14 Nikko Sterling scope, rings and base. This 30mm Nikko Sterling Target Master 4-14 adjustable, Mil-Dot scope features side parallax adjustment, low dispersion ETE multi-coated lenses, re-zeroable ⅛”-100-yard MOA turret adjustments and an illuminated reticle that actually delivered a usable illumination setting when it is pitch black out. The half-Mil-Dot reticle is glass-etched, shockproof and waterproof.
During my testing, I found the scope easy to use, and surprisingly clear, and it held perfect zero throughout my testing of well over 1,000 rounds — even through a standard box test. I will note that the scope does have a rather short eye relief. From my perspective, the short eye relief and mixed MOA turret adjustments with Mil-Dot reticle are the major shortcomings of the scope, however, the optic clarity and features are exceptional considering the price.
The Howa Target Master package is a fun rifle, easy to shoot and useable right out of the box with exceptional, longer-range precision rifle capabilities.
- .308 Caliber
- Hogue Green Stock
- Barrel Length: 20 inches
- Profile #6 Heavy Fluted
- Twist 1:10
- Length of Pull 13.87 inches
- Length 40.25 inches
- Weight 9.8 pounds
- MSRP $913