Howa 1500 with MDT ESS chassis system in 6.5 Creedmoor

My favorite part of the shooting sports is the ability to customize your equipment.  Take a look at the Glock and AR-15.  Both have massive aftermarket parts industries.  With a few simple tools, parts can be swapped out and a new gun built in a short amount of time.  Bolt action rifles can get a little more complicated.  Often the modifications involve some sort of stock or chassis replacement.  This means you are buying a completed rifle just to scrap half of it.  A waste of money.  Why not sell barreled actions without the extra parts?

Attentive to the precision rifle market, Brownells now sells barreled Howa actions in a variety of configurations.  To highlight the customizability of the actions, I selected a Howa 1500 barreled action with a 24″ #6 contour barrel chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor that I plan on installing on a number of different chassis.  No need to pay for a stock you plan on throwing away, brilliant.

6.5 Creedmoor?  #6 Contour?  Don’t like the caliber, barrel contour or length?  Want threads?  Take a look at their expansive list of options.

I’ve tested a couple of different Howa 1500 factory rifles that performed well out of the box. The 1500 barreled action is made in Japan, and has a Remington 700 (top half)/Winchester 70 Post-64 push feed (bottom half) vibe to it.  To learn more about the action, and how it compares the ubiquitous 700, see my post Howa barreled action review.

I was pleasantly surprised by the number of chassis and stock offerings for the Howa.  In this post, let’s take a look at 1500 in the Modular Driven Technologies (MDT) Elite Sniper System (ESS) chassis.

Like MDT’s other chassis, the ESS uses any AR-15/M16 M4 pistol grip.  The ESS departs from the rest of the MDT product line it does not use a standard AR-15/M16 M4 stock.  Eliminating this interface allows for a design that does not increase the length of pull.  The stock has an adjustable comb (both for height and lateral adjustment), length of pull and horizontally adjustable recoil pad.  Comb and length of pull adjustments are accomplished with a hand wheel and are secured with a cap screw and clamp system.

MDT offers a number of different fore ends for the ESS in both aluminum and carbon fiber (not in production at time of review).  These forearms accept MLOK accessories, are available with and without a top rail or night vision rail, in 12″, 15″ and 18″ lengths.  The rifle above is shown with the night vision rail.

To install the MDT ESS, the barreled action is dropped in place, the action screws are tightened, and the fore end is attached.  No bedding.  No headaches.  No specialized tools.

The ESS comes configured to work with MDT’s polymer AICS style magazine shown above).  To use steel AICS magazines, the magazine catch needs to be trimmed.  I trimmed mine on a belt sander and it worked like a champ.  Editor’s note: there seems to be some confusion on whether or not the Howa 1500 action itself needs to be modified to work with AICS style magazines.  It does not.

To rifle, as shown above, consists of the following:

You’ll notice I swapped out the factory trigger in favor of a Timney.  I’ve had great luck with their products and the Howa trigger was no exception.  Adjusted to 1.5 pounds, it is a pleasure to shoot with.

This semi custom rifle looks great, but how does it shoot?  I loaded up some 123 gr Sierra MatchKings (SMKs) over Varget.

BOOM!  Sub 3/4MOA from a factory action that was bolted into a stock.  I’ll take that.  I suspect with proper load development, these results could be improved upon.

So what do I think of the Howa 1500 in the MDT ESS?

  1. Looks great!  Aesthetics matter in this game and this rig passes muster.
  2. Good job Howa and MDT.  This is MDT’s best offering to date, a product that is on par with some of the much more expensive chassis systems on the market.
  3. Magazine release is outstanding.  The ambidextrous magazine release is easy to activate yet still out of the way.  To utilize steel magazines, I had to trim the catch, no biggie.
  4. Good end-user fit.  The adjustable stock works well.  The wheel adjustments take more time then quick adjustments found on other chassis, however, these allow for micro adjustment.  Once everything is set, a set screw holds everything firmly in place with no rattling.
  5. Easy installation.  The ESS is easy to install, simply screw into place and install the forearm.  The lug and trigger areas allow for use with minimal modification.
  6. Precision.  I bolted a few parts together and ended up with a sub MOA rifle.
  7. Looking forward to the future.  I can’t wait to get my hands on a folding ESS and carbon fiber fore end.