It's not always easy to get the best fit for your needs with an off-the-rack hunting rifle. This can be especially true for small-framed adults who are looking for a gun with a more compact shoulder stock length or a bolt-action chambered for calibers that generate less felt recoil. You also don't get all that much say when it comes to other features like the barrel length or stock material. It's a take-it-or-leave-it package deal.
But a few years ago I discovered that Brownells provides an easy one-stop-shopping method of putting together a top-notch hunting rifle, with the features you choose, without the need for expensive gunsmithing or replacing factory installed components. The steps include ordering a barreled action, a shoulder stock, a scope mount and then assembling them yourself at home. This may sound complicated at first but it only requires the same tool set and skill level enthusiasts need to disassemble and reassemble a bolt-action rifle for routine maintenance.
Howa 1500 Long, Short and Mini actions can be mixed and matched with different stocks to build bench rest rifles or light weight hunting guns.
Brownells exclusive Howa 1500 barreled actions are manufactured in Japan. I’ve found Howa rifles to be well made, reliable and accurate at fair prices for guns in this class. Past projects using Long and Short Howa actions, along with accessories from Brownells, have yielded rifles that I enjoy using. For this conversation, we'll focus on Howa’s 1500 Mini Action sized and chambered for use as a close-range, low-recoil deer rifle.
1. Choose Your Barreled Action
Simply stated, Howa's barreled actions are ready-to-shoot rifles minus a shoulder stock and scope mount, which are the two most commonly modified or replaced components of commercial rifles. The barrel, receiver and bolt assembly have been fully fitted and finished at the factory, so no additional gunsmithing is required. Some companies stop there. But Howa completes the action by including a factory installed trigger group, bottom plate with integral trigger guard, a magazine assembly and the pair of bolts used to hold it all together.
Choose the Howa 1500 barreled action that best fits your needs.
The Howa actions stocked by Brownells are configured with a variety of features. Many rifle makers offer just two action sizes, but Howa makes three. The Long Action employs a 7.4" bolt assembly suitable for larger cartridges including the .30-06 Springfield, 7 mm Remington Magnum and .300 Winchester Magnum. Short Actions are outfitted with 6.9" long bolts to accommodate .308 Winchester, 6.5 Creedmoor, .243 Winchester and similarly sized rounds. The Mini Action houses a 6" bolt shortened for cartridges commonly used in Modern Sporting Rifles including .223 Remington, .450 Bushmaster and 7.62x39mm.
The factory installed HACT 2-stage triggers feel great right out of the box. I have yet to find a good reason to replace or upgrade them. Barrel lengths are available from 16.25" to 24", depending on the caliber. Barrel contours range from the slimmer, lighter Sporter option up to the Heavy bull barrels. The barrels are factory threaded for muzzle brakes and compensators with knurled thread protector provided. Actions are available with internal magazines (hinge plate) or removable polymer box magazines. Most actions have a matte blued finish but you can find models with Cerakote finishes and carbon fiber wrapped barrels.
For the sake of transport and sale, the Federal government treats barreled actions just like complete rifles. This means that a barreled action ordered from Brownells will need to go through your local licensed firearms dealer to get to you. All of the same forms, fees and background checks apply.
2. Select a Shoulder Stock
Brownells offers a variety of Howa 1500 compatible shoulder stocks including traditional hunting models, adjustable competition configurations and chassis systems. But in this case, I chose to check in with the good folks over at Boyds Hardwood Stocks.
You can build the Boyds stock you want using the company’s website.
Boyds offers sturdy, weather-resistant drop-in laminated wood stocks, which are built to order. Customers can access the company website and type in the specifications for their rifles. In this case, it’s a Howa 1500 Mini Action with a Heavy #6 barrel. Then the site displays a selection of stock shapes, color options and add-ons. For this action, Boyds currently offers 17 stock configurations in 14 different laminated color schemes along with a solid walnut option. Once you have the stock style and wood picked out there are additional finish, recoil pad and length of pull (LOP) options to choose from for an additional charge.
Boyds offers stock colors from eye catching to perfectly tame.
The stocks shown here are the At-One Thumbhole with the standard finish and features. The textured polymer fore-end cover has dual sling swivel studs so that one can be used to support a bipod. Push-button releases on the right side of the shoulder stock allow the polymer comb to be raised or lowered, and the aluminum recoil pad plate can be adjusted to a length of pull between 13.25" to 15". Boyds offers eye catching colors like the purple and gray Royal laminate (Top) and the orange and gray Blaze option (Bottom). The Royal Jacaranda's brown, gray and burgundy layers (Center) offer a rich color scheme for those who want something a bit more subtle.
3. Pick Out a Scope Mount
Which scope mount to use tends to boil down to personal preferences. It will also depend on if the rifle is going to be outfitted with a new scope and a set of rings that will be selected specifically for this gun or if an on-hand scope and rings will be used. Which is better, two-piece or one-piece, Picatinny or Weaver, is a debate for another day. In this case, I went with a Warne MFG. Company one-piece 0 MOA Picatinny rail from the Brownells catalog.
4. Pulling It All Together
Once you have retrieved your barreled action from your local dealer, and all of your other parts have arrived, it's time to put the rifle together. There's no need for a fancy gun vice or workbench, a kitchen or card table will do the trick. It’s helpful to spread out an old blanket or beach towel to keep bolts and screws from rolling away. Lay out the parts and follow the manufacturer's instructions for each of the components.
The assembly of the Howa 1500 Mini went smoothly. The action dropped into the stock without any sanding, grinding or cutting, just like it was supposed to. The scope rail seated and tightened down without any problems. Once the rifle was complete, I ran a set of bench checks, lubricated the bolt assembly and it was ready to go. It took less than an hour to setup, assemble and then clean up but I've done this before. Make sure to set aside enough time that the job does not need to be rushed. If the stock or scope base does not slip into place, then double check your part numbers; it may be the wrong size for your action.
For those who would like to know, here's how this particular rifle priced out at the time of this writing (not including shipping and taxes since they vary by region):
- Brownells Howa 1500 Mini, 20" Threaded Heavy Barrel, Blued Finish, One 5-Round Magazine, Chambered in 7.62x39mm (100-026-422WB) $465.49
- Warne 1500 Mini Action Scope Base 0 MOA (947-000-267WB) $63.99
- Boyds Hardwood Stocks At-One Thumb Hole, Royal Jacaranda $237
- Total: $766.48
This rifle swings nicely, looks great and fits me like a glove. It's also a solid option for younger folks who are still growing into larger rifle calibers. In regard to price, it neatly splits the difference between many off-the-rack guns with fewer features and models with similar features that can cost a good deal more.
So far, the only problem I've run into with Brownells Howa barreled actions is their popularity. Because of high demand the diversity and availability of inventory is constantly shifting. The action you're eyeing this week may not be in stock next week. Customers then have to wait, sometimes for several weeks, before the actions are back in stock. This can make purchasing the just-right model something of a patience game. But based on my experience, it's worth the wait.