Review: Howa Chassis Rifle

Howa's Chassis Rifle is an accurate, long-range rifle package ready to go out of the box.

Review: Howa Chassis Rifle

The Howa Chassis Rifle package includes a scope and is ready for long range shooting right out of the box. It is very accurate and includes M-Lok capabilities for accessories. (Photo: Legacy Sports International)

When stories of long range sniper kills in the global war on terror filtered home, interest in long range precision rifle shooting began to increase. But 10 or 20 years ago, the equipment to shoot at long ranges could easily cost $5,000 or more. Manufacturing knowledge and techniques have improved and today the cost to get quality equipment has dropped dramatically.

Companies such as Howa are emerging as leaders in value. An example is the Howa Chassis Rifle (HCR) that comes in a variety of calibers suitable for long range shooting. It is capable of precision right out of the box, and comes complete with a long range, high powered rifle scope mounted and ready to zero. Remarkably, the retail cost is only about $1,300.

Howa’s Model 1500 action is not new and has been around for decades, but the HCR reviewed here does not have a traditional sporting stock. Instead, it has a one-piece chassis mounting system with aluminum bedding.

Now, the following is a big deal. The HCR is guaranteed to shoot less than one minute of angle (MOA) when using premium factory ammunition. A few manufacturers make that guarantee, but doing so can be very troublesome because of variables such as ammunition and skill of the shooter, both of which are not controlled by the manufacturer. And rifles, even ones of the same model from the same manufacturer and taken consecutively from the assembly line, can vary in precision even when using identical ammunition. When both rifles’ specifications and tolerances are identical, invisible barrel metal characteristics may cause one rifle to shoot better than the other.

It can be awkward for a manufacturer to tell a customer that it’s the customer’s incompetence, not the gun, that’s the problem. But Howa, and the importer, Legacy Sports, have taken the challenge and make the guarantee. That’s something the retailer can use to sell these guns.

Buyers have many caliber and barrel length choices, and both heavy and standard barrel profiles are offered. All HCR barrels are cold hammer forged and free floated to enhance precision. Additionally, muzzles are threaded permitting the attachment of different muzzle devices. Calibers available include .308 Winchester, .243 Winchester, 6mm Creedmoor, 6.5mm Creedmoor and .300 Winchester Magnum.

What About Optics?

The HCR has no iron sights, but is available as a package with aNikko Stirling Diamond Long Range 4-16x50mm second focal plane scope mounted on an aluminum one-piece base. The sample gun came with the scope mounted, but some of the ring screws were not tightened properly. That can happen with any gun from any manufacturer, so it’s always a good idea to check screws before shooting. Make it part of the cleaning and lubrication process that should be undertaken on any new gun before it is fired.

The scope’s turret markings are in minutes of angle, not milliradians. Each turret click represents 1/4 MOA, allowing precise adjustment. Both the elevation and windage turrets can be locked by pushing the outer ring of the turret in, but on the sample gun, the elevation turret had to be rotated slightly back and forth in order to get the locking ring to seat. Click adjustments though were positive. The illuminated reticle has five red and five green intensities. Power is provided by one CR-2032 coin cell.

The scope has what the manufacturer calls a return to zero (RTZ) that, after dialing in elevation changes, allows the scope to be quickly returned to zero. However, when the zero point is reached, the turret does not stop turning. The shooter must be able to see the markings on the turret to line up the zero mark with the index mark.

In addition to a focusing ring on the ocular bell, which is used to focus the reticle, not the target, the scope has a parallax turret on the left side. It is marked for various ranges from 10 yards to infinity, which is very broad, and removes parallax as well as focuses the target.

The HCR is ready to accept many accessories on its M-LOK-compatible Accurate-Mag 6061-T6 aluminum handguard, which also allows the barrel to float freely. A special quick detach sling swivel socket can be installed on the buttstock and an M-LOK socket can be installed on the handguard. Those items do not come with the gun and are available from their manufacturers.

Push-Feed Design

The HCR is a push-feed design with two substantial locking lugs at the front of the bolt. It cocks on opening and the last three digits of the serial number are etched into the bottom of the bolt handle. The gun’s manual cautions that excessive dry firing may cause the firing pin to break. That usually is not a concern with a centerfire gun and is a definite negative because dry fire practice can and should be an important part of perfecting a shooter’s skill, especially with long range precision shooting. Is the firing pin that fragile? I wonder.

The M-16 style extractor arguably grasps the cartridge rim a little bit better than does the Remington 700 style extractor found on many push-feed bolts. The M-16 type simply grabs more rim for a more positive hold. The ejector is a spring-loaded plunger that is positioned to toss brass more horizontally than most rifles so brass is less likely to strike the scope’s windage turret.

The 10-round detachable polymer box magazine is a single stack, single feed design that permits loading one round at a time by simply laying a loose round on top of the magazine and closing the bolt. This is an important feature because the shooter can keep the gun running in an emergency when no loaded magazines are available. Of course, it requires training and skill to do quickly, but it could mean the difference between life and death in a real-world confrontation. Howa supplies one magazine with the gun, but more are available.

Rounds fed smoothly in the sample gun whether from the magazine or loaded one at a time. That’s important, because a bolt that binds hinders quick follow-up shots. Interestingly, the gun comes with a conversion kit to easily replace the external box magazine with an internal magazine that has a hinged floorplate. If your customer wants it, it’s there. If not, it doesn’t have to be installed.

A Luth-AR MBA-4 buttstock attaches to the AR-style receiver extension or buffer tube and can be adjusted to one of six different lengths of pull. The comb height can also be easily adjusted, but the rubber buttpad does little to dampen recoil. It does however keep the butt from slipping when the gun is shouldered. The gun’s weight of about 11.5 pounds helps to reduce felt recoil. The buttstock also features a rail on its flat-bottomed heel that can be used to attach a monopod. The buttstock has a screw that when tightened eliminates any wobble and rattle that sometimes is present with buttstocks that attach to a receiver extension tube.

The two-stage trigger has a first stage take-up of about 1/8 inch followed by a crisp, surprise break and then about 1/8 inch of over travel. The test gun’s trigger broke at about 3.5 pounds. The trigger cannot be adjusted by the end user.

The safety is mounted on the right side of the receiver just behind the bolt handle. All the way forward is fire, the middle position is safe and prevents the firing pin from falling but does allow the bolt to be cycled to unload the gun, and all the way back prevents the trigger from being pulled, the firing pin from falling and also locks the bolt in place.

At the Range

Accuracy of the sample HCR out of the box was excellent and the gun lived up to the company’s boast of less than one MOA capability. Because of a lack of time, I did not break in the barrel as recommended by the manufacturer before test firing the gun, but it didn’t matter.

The Nikko Stirling scope also performed well. A box test was performed where a group is fired, a given elevation is dialed in and another group is fired using the same point of aim. Then, a given windage correction is dialed in and a third group is fired. Next the elevation dialed in earlier is eliminated by returning the elevation adjustment turret to where it started and another group is fired. Lastly the windage turret is returned to its original position and a fifth group is fired. If the scope tracks properly, the last group should be superimposed on top of the first group, which it was. And the elevation and windage adjustments corresponded to the movement of groups. The scope passed this crucial test.

It’s going to be hard to beat this rifle and scope combination, especially at its price of $1,299. Getting a precision rifle with scope that performs this well right out of the box will appeal to many of your customers who want to enter the precision rifle world. 


Manufacturer: Howa
Model: HRC
Caliber: .308 Winchester
Action: Bolt-action repeating rifle
Barrel length:  26 inches
Twist: 1:10 inches
Overall length: 49.25 inches
Weight: 11.5 pounds
Stock:  aluminum chassis
Sights: Nikko-Stirling Diamond Long Range 4-16x50mm scope
Finish: blued
Capacity: 10-round detachable box magazine
MSRP: $1,299


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