Howa 1500 Mini Action rifle

The Howa 1500 Mini-Action is a dainty little rifle, ideally suited to the 204 Ruger, 222 Remington and 223 Remington for which it is chambered.  As the name, Mini-Action, implies this rifle has been scaled down to suit those three small calibre centrefire rounds.  The chamber and bolt are 12 % smaller than regular short action rifles.  The rifle can be had in either stainless steel or conventional blued steel.  The stock is synthetic injection moulded polymer in a choice of black or green.

The specifications list the weight of the bare rifle at 2.73 kilograms (6.0 pounds) and my scales confirmed that.  The overall length of the rifle was 105.4 cm (41.5 inches).

The review rifle was provided by Outdoor Sporting Agencies, the Australian importer.  It was supplied along with a Nikon M-223 3-12x42SF scope in QD lever rings on two piece bases.

The Barrel

The 22 inch (56 cm) sporter weight barrel of the Mini-Action is of #2 contour with a 0.568 inch muzzle diameter.  It is manufactured by Howa itself using the drawn steel method which is generally believed to deliver the more uniform and less stressed metallurgy that translates as better accuracy.  The barrel, like the action, was of stainless steel.  The rifle was chambered in 223 Remington with a 1:9 inch twist bore.  The rifling is produced by the cold hammer forged technique.

Receiver and Bolt

The Howa 1500 Mini Action bolt features a 90 degree lift and a classic 2 lug design.  The forged, one-piece bolt, apart from having been reduced in size, has also been lightened in keeping with the Mini Action’s quest for minimal weight and fast handling.  The bolt face is recessed and features thick encasing for the cartridge case base.  The bolt is well ventilated to ensure shooter safety in the event of a blown primer or similar incident.  A long and robust claw extractor combines with a large ejector to provide very positive extraction of fired shells.  A cocking indicator reaches the rear of the bolt when cocked allowing confirmation of the rifle status by feel without needing to look.  The bolt release catch is positioned on the left hand side of the receiver, directly across from the safety.

The receiver is machined from a one-piece block of steel.  The receiver is tapped for scope mount basis and came fitted with two-piece bases of the slotted picatinny type.  The moulded plastic detachable magazine holds ten rounds; enough for a close range encounter with a mob of pigs, or a pack of wild dogs.

aussiehunter recessed face of the bolt with its big ejection plunger and large extraction claw

Trigger and Safety

The Mini Action features the recently adopted HACT trigger.  That is, the Howa Actuator Controlled Trigger which is a complete redesign of the previous trigger.  It is a two stage type trigger with lighter weight of pull and negligible creep.  The weight of pull is adjustable, nominally in the range of 2.5 to 3.8 pounds.  I measured a consistent and crisp trigger pull of 2.6 pounds as received, which is pretty much ideal for a lightweight hunter, so I left the adjustable setting as was.

The safety catch, located on the right hand side of the receiver, just behind the bolt handle, is of the three position type.  Conveniently, the middle position, between fully locked and fire positions, still locks the trigger but allows the bolt to be cycled for unloading.

aussiehunter adjustable HACT two stage trigger on the stainless steel receiver of the Howa 1500 Mini Action

The Stock

The synthetic stock is of injection moulded polymer and can be had in either black or green.  The length of pull was 35 cm (13.8 inches).  The stock was comfortable to use with good ergonomic design.  Most of my field use ended up being on rainy days, so I can say with authority that I had no problem with the stock being slippery to handle under those conditions.  The stock gave every impression of being sturdy and robust for field use.

My only criticism is a very subjective and personal one.  While the stock is a durable and functional one without doubt, I would have liked to see something a bit more streamlined and dainty to match the fine design of the Mini Action metalwork.  That of course is purely my aesthetic view and does not in any way impact on the rifle’s functionality.

aussiehunter Polymer stock with its bedding block and pillars

The Scope

OSA provided a Nikon M-223 scope with the rifle.  That is a 3-12×42 SF scope where the elevation turret has Rapid Action Turret Technology.  Essentially that means it is a ballistic turret pre-calibrated for the trajectory of a 55 grain polymer tipped projectile out to 600 yards.  The trajectory assumes a MV of 3,240 fps for the projectile.  Having found a sweet and accurate load for, say, the 55 grain Nosler Ballistic Tip, the Howa Mini Action could double as a wonderful light varminting rig.  Perched on the side of a valley with a good population of rabbits and foxes a shooter could enjoy an afternoon of long distance varminting.

To make the most of the Nikon M-223 scope on the 223 Rem Howa it would make sense to zero the rifle to be on point of aim at 100 yards (91.4 metres), rather than the standard 1.5 inches high at that distance.  That way you can set the elevation turret to the 100 yard mark and then simply dial in the distance you will be shooting and place the cross hairs of the reticule dead on what you want to hit.

The optics of the M-223 scope was sharp and clear while the various scope turret adjustments were distinct and precise.  With a range finder and an accurate load, the side parallax adjustment would ensure the utmost precision.  The size and weight of the M-223 made for a nicely balanced fit to the Howa Mini Action.

aussiehunter Nikon M-223 scope has a ballistic target specific to the 223 Rem trajectory

Off the Bench

Howas are one of those rifles that have a reputation for shooting well, as is, straight from the box.  So, I was expecting good performance straight up.  At the range I had a good selection of factory ammo to choose from.  My approach was to shoot a five shot group then thoroughly clean the barrel.  That way, each different type of ammo had the same conditions; a clean, cool barrel.  On that first range session my five shot groups ranged in size between 0.8 and 1.3 MOA, which I thought was excellent.

One of the best groupers on the day was the standard Federal 55 grain soft point load, a good choice for anybody intending to pursue dogs, pigs, goats or smaller deer.  The Federal 55 grain soft points consistently grouped just under MOA, which is all you could ask of the rifle and ammo combination.  I adjusted the sighting of the Nikon M-223 scope to place those projectiles about 1.5 inches high at 100 yards and I was set for any hunting opportunities.

At the second range day I tried a variety of other ammo that I had not gotten around to trying the first time.  Group sizes were spread from 0.4 to 1.7 MOA, with an overall average for the day of 1.2 MOA.  The larger groups tended to be reasonable clusters that were blown out by fliers, so I was not too distressed about that.

The most accurate ammo types tested were the Federal Premium loading of the Nosler 55 grain Ballistic Tip and by the American Eagle 50 grain jacketed hollow point, both of which were comfortably sub MOA.  I have to say also that those 50 grain American Eagle HPs tend to shoot sub MOA in all the 223 Rem rifles I have tried them in so far, making them an ideal choice for varminters who do not reload.

aussiehunter Federal factory 55gr SP in Howa Mini Action 223 Rem

Cleaning

Stainless steel barrels are reputed to be easier to clean than convention steel barrels, and that certainly is my impression.  For the first hundred rounds I thoroughly cleaned the barrel every five shots.  I used white cotton patches to confirm that there was no residual metal fouling.  After the first hundred rounds, having completed the testing of a variety of factory rounds, I dropped back to cleaning every 20 or 30 rounds.

One point to note with the Howa 1500 Mini Action is that the diameter of the bolt is also reduced from what you would find on a standard short action rifle.  That meant that my old short action bore guide did not fit in the action for cleaning.  I chased one up as fast as I could as it pays to use a bore guide to prevent the cleaning solvents from seeping down into the trigger and action bedding areas.

In the Field

I took the Howa Mini Action out on a number of hunts, looking for wild dogs or feral pigs.  The monsoon season in the wet tropics of far North Queensland is a challenging time to hunt such game.  The country is saturated and the grass thick and often head high.  Despite considerable effort I did not get to pull the Howa trigger on any game.  Again, that did not concern me either.  I am a great fan of the 223 Remington for use on such animals, with the proviso that suitable projectiles be employed.  I was quite confident that my choice of Federal 55 grain SPs would do the job well, given the chance.  In addition, the rifle and scope were well sighted and the handling of that lightweight combination left nothing to be desired.  The rifle was short and pointy and handled well.  The action was smooth and cycled quickly.

The one thing I can say without doubt is that the stainless steel barrel and action, stocked in synthetic polymer was ideally suited to use in the wet season of the deep north.  Nearly every time I took the Howa hunting I got rained on.  At times the rifle could not have been wetter if I had used it for a paddle in my kayak.  I had to chuckle at the end of one sodden hunt, as I packed up to go home, I poured a good thimbleful of water out of the magazine!

In Summary

The 223 Remington is a personal favourite of mine and I found the Howa Mini Action rifle, topped with a Nikon M-223 scope, to be an excellent vehicle for making the most of the calibre in hunting situations.  The rifle was lightweight, of dainty dimensions, well balanced and ruggedly constructed from stainless steel and polymer.  It should suit seasoned hunters just as well as it would juniors and women.

With the correct choice of ammunition a Howa Mini Action in 223 Rem would be a good all-rounder for varmints through to medium game.  Fitted with the M-223 scope and using 55 grain polymer tipped bullets at an MV close to the ballistic turret setting, a shooter could confidently target varmints out to extended ranges.

For a shooter who would be targeting largely rabbits and foxes, the 204 or 222 option might suit better.  Either way the Howa Mini Action should have a lot of appeal to both recreational and pest control shooters.  Accurate, fast handling and largely impervious to inclement weather it would be a real workhorse choice for an all seasons rifle.

Typical retail pricing for the Howa Mini Action rifle starts at about $800 and the Nikon M-223 scope is from around $700.

 

Nikon M-223 3-12x42SF scope.

Maker

Nikon

Model

M-223 3-12x42SF

Magnification range

3x through to 12x

Objective lens diameter

42mm

Field of View

11.2m/100m (at 3x) to 2.8m/100m (at 12x)

Adjustment graduations

1 click = 7mm at 100m (1/4 inch at 100 yards)

Eye relief

94 – 102mm

Parallax adjustment

Side focus turret 46m to ∞

Reticule choice

Nikoplex

Elevation turret

Ballistic turret with one full revolution giving sighting ranges from 100 to 600 yards for a standard 55 grain polymer-tipped projectile with a MV of 3,240 fps.

Tube diameter

25.4mm (1 inch)

Length

333mm

Weight

530 grams

Waterproofing

Up to 1m submersion for 10 minutes

Fogproofing

Nitrogen gas filled