HOWA Chassis Rifle (HCR) review


Howa is a Japanese company that specializes in machinery and civilian arms. You might recognize their work in the Weatherby Vanguard line which they manufacture.  In addition to the Vanguard, they’ve also produced the Mark 5 action (for a period of time) and guns for Smith and Wesson and Mossberg.  Their action is known as the Model 1500 and shares some common features with the Remington M700.  Howa rifles are currently being marketed in the USA by Legacy Sports International.

The Howa Chassis Rifle (HCR) is geared towards the precision rifle shooter by mating a heavy barreled 1500 action with an Accurate-Mag aluminum chassis and LUTH-AR MBA-3 stock.  Like most of Legacy International’s line, the HCR is available in a wide range of calibers (223 Remington, 243 Winchester, 6.5 Creedmoor and 308 Winchester) and barrel length configurations (20″, 24″ and 26″) with and without a threaded muzzle.

As alluded to earlier, it is difficult to handle a Howa 1500 action and not immediately notice the similarities between it and the Remington 700 (similar action profile, bolt, lowered rear bridge and firing pin assembly).  The 1500 does have some key differences including a tang mounted bolt release, 2- stage trigger, 3-position safety, M-16 style extractor, primary extraction location and integral recoil lug.

For testing and evaluation of the HCR, Legacy International sent a 20″ 308 Winchester with a non threaded muzzle brake in black, model HCRL93122.  At the time of writing (February 2017), street price on this rifle is right around $1,000.  You can look at this price one of two ways, as an inexpensive entry level precision rifle; or, $1000 is a lot of money (and it is!).  Take your pick.  Either way, you would be hard pressed finding a factory precision rifle offering at this price point with this many features.

The hammer forged heavy barrel on the test rifle had a similar profile to a Remington Varmint contour, however, the shank was slightly thinner with a diameter of 1.180″.  The muzzle of the barrel was .854″ in diameter.  Twist rate varies by caliber, the 308 shown here is a 1:10″, 223 Remington 1:9″, 243 Winchester 1:10″, and the 6.5 Creedmoor 1:8″.  The twist rates for the 6.5 Creedmoor and 308 Winchester are spot on in my opinion, but I probably would have run the 223 and 243 twists a little faster.

Headspace on the test rifle was set just below SAAMI minimum of 1.630″.  I tried three different brands of 1.630″ gauges and the bolt handle would not fully close on any.  I actually consider this a good thing.   I build my personal rifles this way.  For 308 Winchester, SAAMI allows chamber headspace between 1.630″ to 1.640″, ammunition runs smaller.  The idea is for the ammunition to fit into the chamber.  As a general rule, tighter headspace will yield greater accuracy with virgin (non fire formed) brass.

A bolt release is located on the side of the tang on the left side of the rifle (above), the 3-position safety is located on the right side (above).

The HCR uses a two stage trigger, the first stage averaged 1 pound, 4.2 ounce with approximately 1/8″ of travel, the second stage averaged 2 pounds 10.6 ounces for an a total average trigger pull of 3 pounds 14.8 ounces.  I’m not a two stage trigger guy, but this is a decent offering on a factory rifle.  In my opinion, it is better than a factory Remington 700, but not quite as nice to the touch as a Savage Accutrigger.

Like the M700, the HCR uses a two lug bolt with a 90 degree throw with a swept handle that ends with a knob.  I liked the shape of the handle and it cleared the scope when cycling the action.  Instead of a standard spring extractor, it uses an M-16 style extractor.  The upside of the M-16 style extractors are they tend to hold onto case rims better.  The downside is if you are unlucky enough to blow up a rifle, you have another source of shrapnel.  Like everything else in life, there is a trade off and many shooters feel the M-16 is desirable and equip their 700s with them at great expense.  Howa includes one for the asking price.  It is also worth noting that the constant tension ejector, similar to those found on the M700 and Savage 10/110, is positioned relatively close to the extractor.  I am guessing this arrangement would work particularly well on shorter cases like the 6 BR if you planned on using a Howa 1500 action on a 6 BR build.

Accurate-Mag makes the chassis and Magazine system for the HCR in the USA. The chassis is similar to the Modular Drive Technologies (MDT) LSS in that is accepts AICS style magazines and an AR-15/M16 M4 carbine buffer tube.  The fore end accepts M-LOK accessories on three sides (left, right and bottom).  It does not have a QD stud to mount a bipod (just like the MAGPUL Hunter 700– shame on you MAGPUL), but it does have a 10-32 threaded hole to accept one (MAGPUL wants you to drill and tap your Hunter 700).  For testing I threaded a QD stud place and attached a Harris bench rest bipod.  The chassis accepts any AR-15/M16 M4 style pistol grip and comes equipped with a ERGO grip.

Legacy International provides an Accurate-Mag 10-shot steel AICS style magazine with each HCR.  This is a very high quality- and expensive magazine (at the time of this writing these magazines sell for around $70 each). The magazine is retained in the chassis with a paddle release located to the rear of the magazine well.

The HCR comes equipped with a LUTH-AR MBA-3 buttstock on a 6-position AR-15/M16 M4 buffer tube.  This combination gives length of pull adjustments 12.5″-16.75″ (the shorter length of pull adjustments are ideal for position shooting in the field).  Initial length of pull adjustments are made with a pin engaging the buffer tube.  Once the position of the stock on the tube is decided, a small screw is tightened to clamp the stock on the tube.  Final adjustments to length of pull and cheek weld are made with external locking knobs.  The recoil pad is vertically adjustable with two screws that allow re-positioning.  Typically I run a MAGPUL CTR with a cheek piece on chassis rifles that use carbine buffer tubes, this was my first exposure to the LUTH-AR MBA-3 and I was pretty impressed with it.

To evaluate the precision (better term than accuracy) of the HCR I loaded up some Sierra MatchKings (SMKs) over Norma brass and Wolf primers.  I loaded to magazine length, 2.860″, since this type of rifle was really designed to feed from a magazine.

For optics I selected a Nightforce SHV 4-14x50mm F1 scope in Nightforce rings. The SHV is considerably less expensive than the rest of the Nightforce line and I feel it offers superior optics and adjustments to competitively priced scopes.

I used a Warne one piece picatinny rail made specifically for the Howa 1500.  Two piece Remington M700 mounts will work with the 1500 action, however, one piece mounts will not.

My initial testing is always prone, from a bipod with rear bag.  Target was a 1″ orange dot at 100 yards.  I like to fire five shot groups because I prefer some sort of honest feedback over making myself feel good.

The best loads were both with the 175 grain SMK and IMR 4064.  The 43.5 grain group (left) measured .556″ (.531 MOA) and 44.0 grain group measured .625″ (.597 MOA).  Just over 1/2 MOA with two different loads on the first try!  That is good for any gun, especially one at this price point.

On the firing line the rifle handled well.  Feeding, extraction and ejection worked with 100% reliability- this is something we should expect with a factory rifle, and unfortunately isn’t the case with all (the Savage 10/110 can have ejection issues such as those documented during out testing of them).

Here are my final thoughts on the Howa HCR:

  1. RPR who?  There are a lot of things I don’t like about the Ruger Precision Rifle (RPR), but since many shooters don’t actually shoot and just like to buy guns, it falls on deaf ears (see my mid range precision rifle build post). At any rate, in my opinion the HCR is a better value (doesn’t have plastic parts everywhere and a crooked forearm) and I would argue more capable than an RPR.
  2. Half minute?  Well, it is almost a 1/2 MOA gun with the right load.  Note the 175 SMK loads above.  That is decent for any rifle, especially one at this price point.
  3. Hows a Howa?  They make a nice barreled action.  The metal is well machined and the little features like an OEM M16 extractor are nice.  They actually include the factory bottom metal with the rifle in case you ever want to throw it in a traditional stock.
  4. LUTH-AR MBA-3 stock is shockingly nice.  I don’t write a lot of AR-15/M16 M4 parts and accessories, so this one wasn’t on my radar.  It is functional and works as advertised.  I would suggest improving it for center-fire rifle use with the addition of a heavier locking screw for the buffer tube clamp and a thicker recoil pad- but hey, it greatly exceeded my expectation.

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To learn more about Legacy Sports International, visit their webpage.  To buy a Howa rifle, or barreled action, check out Brownells.