Howa ‘mini-me’ a maxi attraction

Daniel O’Dea

In February’s Australian Shooter I reviewed Southern Cross Small Arms and their new TXP X chassis system and made mention of the APC (Australian Precision Chassis) they make as OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) for Legacy Sports/OSA for sale here and in the US. The Howa APC rifle has proved popular in both, with the ever-reliable Howa 1500 barrelled action mated to this modern modular chassis rifle system. I also wrote that I’d given my older Howa 1500 in .223 a new lease of life by removing it from its original stock, dropping the barrelled action into a Howa APC chassis and adding the 10-round detachable magazine kit. It’s proved to be a handy package so I was enthralled when I received from OSA the ‘mini-me’ version for review.

In turn the Howa 1500 Action has been around in its many forms for decades with a long list of companies such as Smith & Wesson and Weatherby lending their names to the rifle. My first centrefire rifle was a CMC Australian Mountaineer in .308 Winchester and I had the same gun in 22/250 which I had the chamber reamed to 22/250 Ackley improved, both rifles Howa 1500 variants. The Howa 1500 Mini Action scales down the standard Howa Short Action rifle by 12 per cent and is purpose built for smaller cartridge length calibres in the .223 Remington class such as .222, .204 and even 7.62x39.

Generally, most firearms manufacturers only produce one or two action lengths, a standard to handle longer traditional cartridges in the 30-06 length such as .270 Win, 25-06 Rem, .280 Rem, .35 Whelen and even some of the shorter Magnum calibres. Then there’s a ‘Short’ action to handle .308 Winchester length cartridges or smaller - think anything from .222 Remington up to .308 Win including 22-250, .243 Win, 6.5CM and 7mm-08.

In most cases where cartridges shorter than action length are used, you’ll find a block of some description in the magazine or floorplate to take up the leftover space not used by the cartridge length. Likewise, sometimes a bolt stop will shorten unnecessary bolt stroke travel and in these cases you literally can have wasted space, materials and bolt cycle beyond what the cartridge requires.

From a manufacturing standpoint it has traditionally made more economic sense to use just one or two actions to accommodate all cartridge lengths, but with the ever-growing popularity of smaller calibres such as .223 Remington it now works well to have a more compact, lighter, purpose-built action and some companies such as Sako have been doing it for years.

I’d also note smaller doesn’t necessarily mean weaker with such Mini Actions having ample material left in the breech/receiver ring area to contain the pressures created by cartridges they’re designed to use. If anything, chambering a small cartridge such as .223 Remington in a standard action is overkill as logically the smaller the diameter of cartridge case, the thicker the chamber wall when using the same receiver ring diameter.

Comparably the Howa Mini action is 29mm shorter than the standard Howa Short Action at 150mm, the receiver ring diameter measuring 29.5mm against 34mm and bolt length reduced to 152mm (6”) from 175mm (6.9”), and when you add up all reductions the results are quite tangible, producing a lighter and more compact package.

Last year I met a stockman on a large NT cattle station who was carrying a Howa Mini Action .223 Rem on his travels. He said he’d accounted for 42 pigs with it the previous week and was very happy with it since purchase - it had proved a light and effective option for him. One criticism of chassis-style rifles is they’re no doubt heavier than the myriad of modern synthetic stock options and many don’t feel they make good carry rifles for general hunting. Others don’t quaff about humping a few extra pounds and are happy to sacrifice the weight advantage of a synthetic stock in favour of the modern ergonomics and features of a chassis rifle. The Howa Mini Action APC in effect can give you the best of both worlds, providing the calibre is adequate.

A standard Hogue-stocked Howa 1500 .223 Rem rifle weighs in bare at 3.55kg (7.8lb), my own Howa APC registering 3.8kg (8.4lb). The Howa .223Mini Action APC with stainless 20” heavy barrel, received for review, weighs 3.3kg (7.3lb) including bases, so in effect you can have a heavy barrelled .223 chassis rifle at the same weight or less than the standard synthetic stocked option. Of course, these comparative weights may vary slightly dependant on barrel weight and profile options.

The APC chassis itself is machined from aircraft-grade alloy with black Cerokote finish, the main APC body acting as a solid, free-floated, bedding platform for the Howa barrel action. The ventilated octagonal-shaped handguard has the flat-sided slots at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock machined as M-Lok compatible for attaching accessories and it comes with an M-Lok sling Swivel installed on the handguard for sling or bipod fitment.

The system runs a stand MSR (Modern Sporting Rifle) AR-style pistol grip and six-position buffer tube, the APC having a Hogue rubberised pistol grip featuring stippling and finger grooves for a sure grasp in all weather. The six-position Luthar stock is well featured including an adjustable cheek riser, other small details like an on-board Allen key and short rail section at the buttstock heel for a rear monopod there if required. The stock is also compatible for QD swivel cup installation, though sadly in NSW the firearms act considers collapsible stocks as prohibited so the stock has to be fixed in place for sale in NSW.

The rifle comes with a compact 10-round polymer magazine marked for use with .222, 204, .223 and .300 Blackout. The magazine slots nicely into the black polymer trigger housing which incorporates an easy-to-operate magazine release catch at the front edge of the housing. The magazine catch is not fenced or recessed in any way and I’ve heard it argued the exposed position could lead to accidental release, though I can honestly say I’ve never had an issue with it on my own rifle and find it easy to locate and use in low-light conditions such as spotlighting.

The Howa 1500 Mini Action shares all the familiar features of its big brother including a three-position safety and Howa’s HACT two-stage trigger system. HACT is an acronym for Howa Actuator Controlled Trigger and is claimed to both eliminate creep and lighten trigger pull. In use you have an initial light take up for about 3-4mm of travel before you hit a wall, from there on you have a crisp trigger break which averaged around 3lb on my Lyman trigger gauge.

It’s a safe system to use in the field as there’s always a controlled trigger take-up before the final break, though naturally the best trigger practice is not to touch it at all until you’re safely on target and ready to fire. Even so, two-stage triggers have long been recognised as less conducive to operator-caused accidental discharge and is why they’re favored by military and law enforcement.

Unfortunately you can’t choose the weather and the day I had the little Mini up for testing was blustery with driving rain, yet down on the range performance remained predictable. As mentioned, I’ve owed several Howa 1500-based rifles and have reviewed and fired many more. Generally I find groups around the 1” (25.4mm) mark or better at 90m are readily achievable with good factory ammo, likewise in my experience Howa rifles have proved capable of outstanding accuracy once run in and tuned up with a favoured handload or with a factory recipe your rifle likes.

The TSPX Howa 6.5 CM I recently built up will deliver half MOA groups or better all day with its pet load. Back to the Mini and even with the prevailing conditions, most five-round groups were still a few points plus or minus the 1 MOA mark and I had at least three shots into ½ MOA.

The Howa 1500 barrel action is an accomplished, accurate and reliable rifle base. Complete rifle variants are generally available at a good price and this latest rendition as a Mini Action in the APC chassis format will be perfect for those looking for a way into a chassis rifle platform without the weight deficit associated with a standard-length actioned rifle. More at  osaaustralia.com.au.

Specifications

Rifle: Howa 1500 Mini Action APC

Action: Bolt-action

Trigger: Howa HACT two-stage trigger

Trigger pull: Adjustable (3lb as tested)

Calibre: .223 Remington tested

Capacity: 10-round detectable polymer box magazine

Barrel: 508mm (20” barrel)

Twist rate: 1:9

Sights: Compatible Remington 700 bases.

Stock: APC with Luthar adjustable stock

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