Howa 1500 Review: The Best Budget Hunting Rifle

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DSC 0008 Moment Howa 1500 Review: The Best Budget Hunting Rifle

Nowadays, it’s not hard to find a good hunting rifle under $500. With a lot of competition between manufacturers in this price range, there are a lot of quality options. However, in my opinion, one of these rifles outshines the others with its build quality, feel, finish, easy operation, and accuracy. It’s the Howa 1500 (with a Hogue stock). What’s more, as of 2020, you can pick up a brand new Howa 1500 for under $400!

The Howa 1500 is a Versatile Platform

One big thing that separates the Howa 1500 from the crowd of other budget-friendly rifles is that it’s built with the same barrelled action as many custom builds and competition rifles. Howa 1500 barrelled actions (everything except the stock) are well-known and have a great reputation in the shooting world. The crazy thing about this is that when I bought my Howa 1500 at the end of 2019 I paid less for the rifle than I could find the barrelled action!

This makes it easy to purchase the rifle and upgrade it later with a better stock if desired. If you don’t want that upgrade you’re still getting an extremely quality rifle at a very affordable price.

Why the Howa 1500 is the Best Budget Hunting Rifle

After handling and shooting several of the most popular sub $500 hunting rifles, including the Savage Axis, Mossberg Patriot, and Ruger American, I decided to purchase the Howa 1500 for a number of reasons.

1. Accurate

From my experience and research, the Howa 1500 is a very accurate rifle. Many of the other sub $500 rifles out there are also very accurate and nearly all of them come with a sub-moa guarantee, as does the Howa 1500. In my opinion, these rifles all have similar accuracy. I wouldn’t give the Howa an edge in this category but would say it’s more than sufficiently accurate for a hunting rifle and is plenty capable of ringing steel past 1,000 yards.

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With reloads, my Howa 1500 in 308 Winchester will consistently put 5 shots in a 1-inch group. I’ve shot a few different brands of cheap, factory ammo out of it and consistently get 3-shot groups between 1 and 1.5 inches. If your main purpose with this rifle is hunting you have no need to worry about the rifle’s accuracy.

howagroup Howa 1500 Review: The Best Budget Hunting Rifle
5-shot group at 100 yards from my Howa 1500 in 308 Winchester.

2. Versatile and Customizable

Because the Howa 1500 barrelled action is used in many custom rifles it means that you can find a lot of aftermarket stocks to change up the look and feel of the rifle. It’s also amazing that you can get that kind of quality for less than $400! Getting a premium stock can even improve your rifle’s accuracy. The wide use of the action means there are also a lot of customizations you can make, such as adding a detachable magazine with a larger capacity.

3. Affordable

The price point is where I think the Howa 1500 starts to break away from other budget options. I purchased my rifle for $360. Other rifles come in at a similar price point but don’t have the same quality and features as the Howa. The Ruger American and Ruger American Predator rifles are very popular, very accurate rifles. However, at the time I bought this rifle the Ruger American Predator cost $100 more and the Ruger American cost $60 more.

4. Comfortable and Well-Balanced

The Howa 1500 comes equipped with a Hogue rubber over-molded stock. The stock is easy to grip, firm, and comfortable. The rubber molded over the stock frame means that the stock is quiet and won’t make a racket when it hits branches and rocks while you’re hunting. It’s still easy to grip when wet so if you’re hunting in adverse weather or get sweaty hands you’re not going to lose grip on your rifle. The stock is sturdy and firm so the free-floated barrel does not touch the sides of the stock.

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By comparison, most other rifles in the sub $500 price range have hard, plastic stocks. Even in perfect conditions, the stocks feel cheap, hard, and slippery. No doubt those rifles can still shoot well. I just don’t like the stocks. Also, even straight from the factory, the stocks of many of these rifles make contact with the rifle barrel that is supposed to be free-floating. This can impact accuracy. My guess is that it’s probably minimal. However, if you’re after consistency in your shooting it could be an important factor.

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Shooting the Howa 1500 at long-range.

5. Excellent Trigger

The trigger on the Howa 1500 is the Howa Actuator Controlled Trigger. The HACT trigger has an easy take-up period, then hits a firm wall, which factory-set to a 3-pound pull weight. I absolutely love the trigger on my Howa 1500. It is smooth and crisp and feels like a trigger on a much more expensive rifle. The pull weight for Howa’s HACT triggers is adjustable.

There’s nothing wrong with the two-piece AccuTrigger-type triggers that many of the budget hunting rifles now feature. However, I much prefer the traditional one-piece trigger systems and Howa has done an excellent job with the HACT system.

VID 20210518 102149294 Moment edited Howa 1500 Review: The Best Budget Hunting Rifle
Shotting the Howa 1500.

6. Smooth Action

The action on the Howa 1500 is extremely smooth. It is the smoothest action I’ve ever felt on any sub $500 rifle and I think it’s even smoother than many other expensive rifles. There’s no gritty feeling, it doesn’t squeak, it opens and closes smoothly and easily. As you probably know, things always change a little bit when pushing and pulling cartridges. But it’s still smooth during shooting. Overall, the Howa 1500 action has the feel of a much more expensive rifle.

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VID 20210518 101620754 Moment Howa 1500 Review: The Best Budget Hunting Rifle
Action closing on the Howa 1500.

Where Other Rifles Out-Perform the Howa 1500

With any budget rifle, there are always going to be some trade-offs. There are two specific ones I feel you have to make with the Howa 1500.

1. Weight

The Howa 1500 weighs 7.1 pounds without a scope. That’s not too heavy, but it’s also not as light as the Ruger American, Mossberg Patriot, or Savage Axis, which all weigh about 6.5 pounds. Weight is an important consideration for my rifles because I usually end up putting in a lot of miles while hunting and I don’t want a rifle that weighs so much it’s bothersome. If Howa could shave a half-pound to pound off the 1500 it would be appreciated.

2. Threaded Barrels

You only get a standard barrel with the Howa 1500. Other budger rifles, like the Ruger American Predator, offer threaded barrels. This can be advantageous if you like to use a muzzle brake or suppressor on your rifle. As I mentioned before, I want my hunting rifles to be as light as possible so I usually forgo barrel attachments. But it would be nice to have a suppressor option to help save my ears.

Conclusion

If someone asked me which budget rifle they should buy the Howa 1500 would be my top suggestion. The quality of the rifle and Howa’s great reputation give this rifle more value at a lower price than most other sub-$500 rifles on the market today. The only situation I wouldn’t recommend this rifle is if you regularly use some kind of barrel attachment. I have not regretted purchasing my Howa 1500 and believe this rifle deserves much more consideration in the budget rifle category than it is currently receiving.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>