Howa 1500 and the 6mm ARC

By Randy D. Smith

Howa 1500 Mini-action chambered in 6mm ARC with Harris bipod, Citadel sling, and Vortex 6-14X44mm scope. All were included in a standard Howa package except the bipod.

New off-the-shelf bolt action rifles are outstanding values. While prices for all firearms are higher now than ever, modern machining and design changes are producing some excellent values. Many entry level rifles are capable of accuracy that was rare in almost any production model twenty-five years ago. The introduction of cartridges designed to increase the performance of AR15 style rifles have carried over to bolt actions with pleasing results.

I had a bucket list of firearms I wanted to test and write about. I wanted to see just how one of the new, so-called modern long range cartridges would field test but the Creedmoors, some of the PRC’s, and the 6.8 Western have been discussed ad nauseum. The one, relatively new cartridge I have experience with is the 350 Legend and I have been impressed with its performance but it is not a long-range offering, rather it is designed to meet certain state deer season regulations. The 350 Legend just turned out to be a fine, low recoiling, medium range cartridge with some real advantages for many hunters, as well. I wanted to experiment with a round known for a high ballistic coefficient. Such a characteristic is due to a high sectional density bullet with less drag and better energy retention at extended ranges.

I hit the jackpot during a visit to my local gun store and examined some newly arrived Howa 1500 rifles and carbines chambered in 6mm ARC. I’ve felt for years that the Howa 1500 rifle did not receive the attention it should. While this is my first Howa, I’ve owned and hunted with several Weatherby Vanguards over the years chambered in 300 Weatherby Magnum, 30-06, 223, and 257 Weatherby Magnum. All of those rifles were excellent performers. Howa manufactures Vanguard actions and barrels for Weatherby. Weatherby adds its own stock design, a refined bolt venting system, different triggers and a bit nicer finish for certain versions, but the foundation of the Vanguard is the Howa action. I’ve also read that some gunsmiths are using Howa actions as the foundation for their custom models. That says a lot for the Howa action. Most of those ole’ boys are hard to please and have exacting standards. Universally, the Howa 1500, imported from Japan by Legacy Sports International, is considered an excellent design.

The Howa’s economical price point is tempting. This model is a nicely finished package rifle featuring a 6-18X44mm Vortex scope, an HTI® synthetic, pillar-bedded stock, nicely finished recoil pad, 20” threaded barrel, and Citadel sling for a store price at that time of less than $550. It also features Howa’s mini-action which is 12% shorter than most short actions. Howa’s mini-action utilizes a solidly built, polymer detachable magazine. Best of all, the Howa was chambered in 6mm ARC, a relatively new Hornady cartridge that shows some real promise.

Three cartridges designed to fit AR15 actions – 55 grain SP Fiocchi .223, 108 grain Hornady ELD Match 6mm ARC, and 150 grain Winchester 350 Legend 150 grain Extreme Point.

The 6mm ARC cartridge was designed and introduced by Hornady in 2020. A particular government entity requested a cartridge with longer range capabilities than the 5.56 X 45mm but still usable in the standard AR16 platform. The AR10 platform, utilizing the powerful .308/7.62 X 51 Nato round, is much heavier than the more compact AR16. It can prove burdensome in the field. Weight and economy were the military’s primary reasons for adoption of the 5.56 X 45mm to replace the 7.62 for combat use

The 5.56 X 45mm is generally considered to have a combat effective range of 546 yards. I believe that is an optimistic estimate. I wouldn’t consider attempting a shot on a coyote at anywhere near that range with a .223, the civilian version of the cartridge. For many calling and opportunistic field shooting situations I have a personal limit on coyotes or bobcats of around 350 yards under excellent environmental conditions. I always try to close the distance. I would not be interested in trying for a mature feral hog or average whitetail deer at ranges exceeding 200 yards. My Ruger American .223 Ranch Rifle equipped with a fixed power 4X scope lives in my work truck. The Ranch Rifle is excellent for quick deployment and reliable accuracy. A 4X magnification is really all I need and nicely fits the cartridge’s capabilities. When I get out of the sage brush and rolling sand hills of my area and venture to more open country the .243 offers significant advantages over the .223.

The 6mm ARC is a cartridge capable of nearly identical performance capabilities of the .243 yet functions in a lighter weight rifle. I’m sort of mixing apples and oranges here because while the AR10 military rifle is much heavier and more expensive to manufacture than the AR16 that doesn’t really compare to modern .243 bolt action sporting rifles which are compact and available in nicely configured and reasonably priced packages. Still, the 6mm ARC can be utilized in mini actions such as the Howa. The short Howa handles like the Ranch Rifle with the long-range capabilities of a .243.

I have nothing against hunting with an AR10 or AR15. Many hunters in my area use and swear by them. I have an AR15 chambered in .223 that is as accurate as the Ruger Ranch Rifle and I’ve managed some excellent longer-range hits with it. Still, I prefer the handling qualities and simplicity of bolt action and lever action rifles for sporting purposes. The Howa, like the Ranch Rifle or an AR15, has a drop out magazine. This is my normal state with the Ranch Rifle – transported empty with a loaded magazine or two waiting in the console.

Hornady is currently pricing 6mm ARC rounds competitively with the .243 Win., a wise marketing move. 6mm ARC ammunition is not currently as common as some other rounds in most big box retail stores but I found them easy to locate using the internet. My local dealer usually has a fresh supply available because he’s been selling these Howas at a steady pace. I use 100 grain projectiles in my .243 and 55 grain in my .223 rifles. The 6mm ARC utilizes a 105 grain projectile at around 2750 fps velocity. Recoil is a bit lighter than the .243 but most wouldn’t notice. The 6mm ARC is pleasant to shoot in the Howa mini action. The .243 has only a slight trajectory curve edge of around 4 inches (18” versus 22”) at 400 yards. For most hunting situations at that range with so many variables in the field that difference doesn’t matter much when measuring minute of coyote.

The older I get the more I’ve come to favor light weight, compact, low recoiling bolt action rifles. I really notice the advantage when using run and gun hunting tactics for coyotes, deer, and feral hogs. The 1500 mini action was designed for .223, 6.5 Grendel, and 7.62 X 36. The 350 Legend is now also available. The Grendel is the parent case for the 6mm ARC. The 6mm ARC has much longer-range potential than any of the others. The Howa has an excellent two stage trigger that rivals the blade style triggers of my Ruger American, Mossberg, and Savage rifles.

The only addition I made to the Howa was a Harris folding bipod. The Vortex scope on this rifle is a 6-18x44mm, a bit higher magnification than I prefer for general hunting. I suppose the company is promoting the long-range potential of the 6mm ARC but with a rifle that light and compact, I need the bipod to attempt ethical shots beyond 150 yards. Timeworn muscles and old eyes just seem to work better when using a bipod or cross sticks. That, or experience, has taught me to take every hunting advantage I can muster. I’ll claim the latter and let it go at that.

The non-adjustable synthetic stock on this Howa is really superior to most of the rifles I own. The fore end is wide and flat, excellent for rest style shooting. The pistol style wrist is low with a comfortable and versatile sweeping angle. There is a comfortable stippling pattern at the wrist and forearm. There is virtually no play between the free floating barrel and stock, and tolerances are quite close. The recoil pad is well fitted, giving, and looks to be destined for a long service life. The sling studs are quite secure, something that needs to be considered when compared to other budget rifles. Sling studs screwed into cheaper synthetic stocks can be a pain to monitor and maintain.

Close up of Howa Mini-action showing bolt, safety switch, magazine, and chamber.

The bolt action is a 90 degree, two lug, push feed system that so-far has worked flawlessly. The polymer trigger guard and magazine well are all one unit and secured with two solid fore and aft pillar bedded anchor points. The magazine is an in-line five round unit that extends below the trigger guard. The release latch is placed in front of the magazine. It is easy to access even with bulky gloves and there is a solid click when inserted. The three position safety switch is located to the right side of the bolt base. The rear position locks the bolt, the middle position allows for bolting without trigger engagement and the front position is for firing. The switch is broad and easy to access with audible clicks for each position. There is a slight extension at the rear of the bolt body that can be seen or felt when the rifle is charged and ready to fire. The bolt can be removed by depressing a roomy switch on the left of the bolt base. The bolt itself is roomy and of one forged piece. I’ve not been impressed with some of the screw on bolt ends that I’ve used. Some of the bargain models I’ve tested work loose.

The barrel is hammer forged and 20” long with a threaded muzzle. The thread cap matches the contour of the barrel which just makes the rifle’s appearance better than many others. The scope rings and bases are solid. Howas have a sub-MOA guarantee and after sighting in the scope using the bipod from a concrete shooting table mine produced excellent groups. I do have a problem with claims of just how tiny the groups are in rifle reviews. It encourages the notion that if a shooter can’t match these groups there is something wrong with the rifle. There are a lot of marksmen who shoot better than I do and achieve impressive groups. There are also a bunch who couldn’t hit a pie plate offhand at fifty yards without divine intervention. My only claim is that this rifle and cartridge combination has consistently impressed the heck out of me.

Three compact, low recoiling, and accurate, modestly priced rifles – A .223 Ruger American Ranch Rifle, a 6mm ARC Howa 1500 Mini-action, and a 350 Legend Savage 110 Hog Hunter

I have three rifles in this class that I shoot a lot. The .223 Ruger American Ranch Rifle, a .350 Legend Savage 110 Hog Hunter and this 6mm ARC Howa Mini Action are all excellent shooters, compact, rugged and dependable in a price range that can be met by most budgets. All the rounds are designed for the AR15 action. The 6mm ARC has more range and authority than the other two. It sets in the middle of cost per round. I wouldn’t necessarily trade in my .243 for a 6mm ARC but for a recoil sensitive shooter or someone who wants a compact, rugged, light bolt action hunting rifle with greater range than a .223 the 6mm ARC might be just the ticket.

Howa has been manufacturing and refining the model 1500 for over fifty years. This rifle/cartridge combination would be an excellent unit to start a shooter on the basic skills. It is well designed, powerful, low recoiling, pleasant to shoot, a nice universal size for a variety of body builds, and consistently accurate. It is an easy rifle to master and the 6mm ARC cartridge has a lot to offer for the one rifle, predator and whitetail hunter. It should be excellent for hunting American pronghorn. I consider it one of, if not the best, modestly priced rifle on the market.

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Copyright 2023 by Randy D. Smith. All rights reserved.