Review: Howa MINIACTION 7.62×39

Review: Howa MINIACTION 7.62×39

With the prevalence of modern sporting rifles (MSRs) like the AR-15/M16 M4 in today’s marketplace, there is something appealing about a compact bolt action rifle.  The clean lines, short cycle of the bolt and compact action make for a fast handling little package;  all with fewer parts and less maintenance than an MSR.  When these attributes are combined with a common military cartridge like the 223 Remington or 7.62×39 Russian, you are destined for greatness.

Domestic options for such a compact carbine include the Remington Model 7 in 223 and a short, hard to find run of Ruger M77s in 7.26×39.  Beyond these, CZ offers the Model 527, a mini action in 7.62×39.  Most recently Howa, imported from Japan by Legacy Sports International, answered the call with the MINIACTION series of rifles.

Based on the proven 1500 action design, the MINIACTION’s bolt is nearly an inch shorter than a traditional short action (similar in size to the Remington Model Seven).  The MINIACTION is available in the most popular short cartridges, .204 Ruger, .222 Remington, .223 Remington, 6.5 Grendel, and 7.62×39 in both sporter and heavy barrel contours and comes equipped with a synthetic stock and detachable magazine system.

The ubiquitous 7.62×39 cartridge can be found almost anywhere in the world and is most often encountered in SKS or AK type rifles.  The short .30 caliber round is available over the counter and for bulk purchase with enough hitting power for white-tailed deer.  While steel cased ammunition may not be the most accurate (we’ve measured extreme run out when compared to brass cased ammunition), it is cheap and you can pick up empties with a magnet.

I was excited when my T&E MINIACTION shipped.   When it finally arrived, I was like a little kid at Christmas and sprinted to the gun store to pick it up.  I couldn’t wait to shoot it!  I’ve been chasing the 7.62×39 super accurate rifle white whale for a couple of years (I even made a custom Remington 700 7.62×39 precision rifle).  In my head I had a vision of shooting my surplus TULA and Brown Bear steel cased surplus ammunition into tiny little bug holes at 100 yards with little to no recoil.

The 7.62×39 cartridge is uniquely problematic in some ways.  Ammunition and rifles for the Russian cartridges have been built all over the world to a variety of specifications.  SAAMI specifies a bullet diameter of .311″- .002″, and a groove diameter of .310″ (see page 53 of this link).  Since these specifications are voluntary, you’ll see rifles with .308″, .310″ and .311″ groove diameters using .308″, .310″ and .311: bullets.  The Howa is equipped with a #6 .311″ groove diameter and 1:9.45″ twist (also recommended by SAAMI).  Since most steel cased ammunition uses .311″ diameter bullets this will work fine.  For hand loading, light .311″ bullets are less common, so you have fewer options than you’d get with .308″ bullets.  Often custom gun makers looking to work exclusively with .308″ 125 gr. bullets will use a .308 with a slow 1:12″ 1:14″ twist.  (The 7.62×39 is a small cartridge that doesn’t hold a lot of powder.  For information about how barrel length affects muzzle velocity in the 7.62×39, check out my post here)!

Like the larger 1500 short action receiver, the MINIACTION from Howa looks a lot like an improved version of the Remington 700 (it even uses the same two-piece scope mounts).  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.  How cool is that?  (For a more detailed look at the Howa 1500, check out our review here).

The rifle comes in a solid HTI pillar bedded polymer stock with polymer bottom metal.  The stock on this rifle was OD green, however black and various hydro dip colors are available.  It is equipped with a soft rubber recoil pad that does a good job mitigating the light recoil of the 7.62×39 cartridge.

Howa offers a decent factory trigger.  This one broke at a crisp 3 pounds 1.3 ounces and is far nicer than a factory Remington 700.

The 7.62×39 variant of the MINIACTION feeds from a detachable 5 shot polymer magazine.  The magazine release is forward of the mag well and requires a strong tap on the magazine to fully engage.  During the course of testing, it reliably fed 100% of the time.

To get the MINIACTION ready for the range, I installed a TRACT Optics 3-15x42mm TORIC scope in Warne rings and bases (also from TRACT).  This scope is a perfect fit for a rifle like this, providing a wide range of adjustment, an adjustable parallax, and compact size.  When you pick up the rifle, you know you have a good combination.  I’ve been using TRACT scopes for the past few months on my hunting and sporting type rifles and have been pleased with the balance of performance, clarity and value.  A solid option.

Testing was conducted shooting prone from a Harris bipod with a rear bag.   Target was a 1″ orange dot at 100 yards. After zeroing, I fired 5-shot groups.  All data was recorded with a MagnetoSpeed barrel mounted ballistic chronograph.

For testing and evaluation purposes, I shot 5 different kinds of factory ammunition and 20 different hand loads.  The factory ammunition represented 3 different manufacturers and 5 different bullets ranging in weight from 122 to 154 grains.  I’ll summarize the factory ammunition in the table below and provide a glimpse into how the rifle performed with handloads; however, a more detailed report on hand loading the 7.62×39 will be forthcoming.

Group sized ranged from 1.399″ (1.336 MOA) to 3.275″ (3.128 MOA) with an average group size of 2.162″ (2.065 MOA).  Muzzle velocities ranged from 2,164 to 2,512 feet/second.

An average group size of just over 2 MOA made me happy.  The Brown Bear and Hornady steel cased ammo both came in sub 1.5 MOA, that made me even happier!  If you take a look at the concentricity post I wrote, which used steel cased ammunition in a custom built Remington 700 with a .311″ barrel, you’ll see this is pushing towards the upper end of performance out side of getting lucky with 5 straight steel cased rounds.

For hand loading purposes I used Lapua brass.  That’s right, Lapua makes 7.62×39 brass.  Pretty much the exact opposite of the crooked COMBLOC steel cases.   It comes ready to accept .308″ diameter bullets (if you were wondering) and accepts a large rifle primer (the Hornady dies I have include an expander for both .308″ and .311″ diameter bullets).    Quality brass in hand, I selected the Sierra’s .311″ SPT Pro-Hunter bullet and tried a number of different powders including the new CFE BLK, H4198 and BL-c(2).  After quite a bit of load development, I was able to come up with a couple of loads that would hold under 1 MOA!

Check out this one with Lapua brass, CFE BLK powder, Wolf primer and a Sierra 125 SP Pro-Hunter.  Not quite the bug hole I wanted, but I’ll take it!

So what do I think of the Howa MINIACTION?

  • Neat little rifle.  Soft recoil with a .30 caliber bullet, albeit a short one, but it is still comfortable to shoot.  It has a mild report and I have cases of steel-cased ammunition laying around.
  • 1.5 MOA with steel cased ammo.  Sub MOA with the right hand loads. Averaged just over 2 MOA with the 5 factory steel cased loads I tested.
  • Plinker, hunter, shooter.  A great little plinker, especially in the 7.62×39 or 223 Remington. Take it to the range and have a blast.  Need to sit in a tree stand and hunt deer at less than 200 yards, it will do it with the right shot placement.  Want a loaner for your buddies at the range.  This one will be a blast.
  • .311 bullets?  You can reload for 7.62×39, BUT, components are a little less common than you would think for a cartridge that is this well known.  The Sierra 125 SPT Pro-Hunter worked well.
  • Detachable magazine, and no, it isn’t an AK mag.  It worked pretty well.  Ours was a little difficult to seat, but once it was in it fed 100% of the time.
  • It fired reliably.  My good friend owned a CZ527 in 7.62×39 and encountered ignition issues (light firing pin hits) with the steel cased ammo.  A call to CZ and a new firing pin spring failed to fix it so he sold it.  We didn’t have any problems with the Howa.  In fact, we did have one round that failed to fire, but it wasn’t the gun’s fault and the primer hit on the dud cartridge was impressive (see image below).
  • Custom MINIACTION?  If you want to make a custom MINIACTION, which would be pretty cool, Brownells sell them!
  • FUN.  I got a kick out of this little rifle!

In case you were wondering what my 7.62×39 Remington 700 looked like, here it is:

To see how I built it, check out Building a Remington 700 in 7.62×39 mm Russian.  That was a lot of work.  Would have been easier to buy a Howa MINIACTION!

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