A total package
testing the bolt-action, modular Howa HCR in 6.5 Creedmoor
The Howa Chassis Rifle chambered in the vaunted 6.5 Creedmore—a sharpshooter’s workhorse.
“The most important six inches on the battlefield is between your ears.” —Ret. USMC Gen. James Mattis
The quote on the preceding page is too true when it applies to guns and shooters outside of the military. It’s a common trend when a gun owner believes putting more money into his gun makes him a better shooter. Truthfully, the more money one spends on a gun only makes the gun better to shoot; it doesn’t make the shooter a better shot. The skill set of a fundamentally sound marksman will always be on the marksman himself. Being fans of bolt action rifles, we like to test our abilities to shoot outside the norm.
Looking for a new project to get into, we noticed that Howa’s Howa Chassis Rifle (HCR) was quickly garnering attention and making a name for itself in the precision shooting world. When the opportunity came up to get some trigger time behind it, we couldn’t pass up the chance. For those who may not be up to speed on Howa, the company was founded in Japan in 1907 and is steeped in firearms heritage. In the past, Howa has produced everything from Ariska rifles to M1 Garands to AR-180S, so the firm is well versed in producing military arms. For the civilian market, it produces a wide variety of bolt-action rifles for hunters and precision shooters alike. Surveying the firearms environment, Howa recognized a growing interest in boltaction rifles mounted in modular chassis and so designed and engineered its own, the project culminating in the HCR.
The HCR was built with modularly and value in mind to allow user-friendly modifications to save on gunsmith expenses and rifle downtime. To keep the price down, Howa used its popular 1500 action as its foundation. Because of this, there was no need for Howa to invest money in producing a
“there’s a growing interest in bolt-action rifles mounted in modular chassis.”
proprietary action to mount on the chassis. Furthering its value, the HCR, as featured, comes in a package that includes a scope and optic mount, but more about that further on.
At the core of the chassis is Howa’s two-lug bolt 1500 action with a cold hammer forged (CHF) 24-inch Contour 6 heavy barrel. With modular chassis being popular in the precision shooting world, Howa responded with its own BML 6061T6 aluminum chassis, which features a free-float M-LOK forend. The rifle can be
quickly fed ammunition with a 10-round Accurate-mag.
For truly added value and instant out of the box action, the HCR is available as a package that comes with a Nikko Stirling 4-16x50mm scope. The scope’s hold-fast reticle is illuminated and has parallax adjustment from 10 through 500 yards. It also comes with two quick-release steel 30mm rings and an EGW 20 MOA rail to mount on the action. The scope is easy to get behind with the fully adjustable Luth-ar MBA-3 buttstock on a six-position mil-spec Ar-15-style carbine buffer tube. This allows shooters of all skill levels to get behind the rifle and place rounds on target, making this a fully functioning outof-the-box precision rifle. For even more customability, the buffer tube can accept most any AR-15 mil-spec-sized buttstock and the chassis can take just about any AR-15 pistol grip as well.
Unfortunately, the weather was not favorable on the first day to start the barrel break at the rifle range. Rainy, gloomy and muddy, but if the range is open, we’re there anyway. As we set up to level the scope and tighten the rings, we became aware of the familiar smell of fine cigar smoke and a grunted refrain: “Not you again.” The range master, an old school veteran and sniper, couldn’t pass up giving another Marine a hard time. He took a look at the HCR, nodded, and brought us his DR Greenlaw bench rest, a custom shooting platform that any competition shooter can appreciate.
Leveling the scope was easy thanks to the quick detach rings provided. We started the break-in process using a Match 130gr from Prime Ammunition for the first 20 shots. Howa recommends you clean the barrel with a patch and rod for the first ten rounds to cool down for every shot after 5 minutes. That gave us enough time to fine-tune the Luth-ar buttstock between shots. Using the provided 3/32 hex wrench, a few twists, turns, and it was set. The last 10 rounds are cleaned every two shots to complete the recommended break-in process. During those last 10 shots, we paid extra attention to the Nikko Stirling Hold Fast illuminated reticle, which was useful on that gloomy
“He took a look at the HCR, nodded, and brought us his DR Greenlaw bench rest, a custom platform any competition shooter would appreciate.”
day. The rain really started to come down before we could check the shot grouping, and we had to call it a day and head home as the weather finally compelled the range to shut down.
“The entire forend allows the use of M-LOK accessories, so it can be outfitted however the user may like.”
Day two’s weather outlook was almost as bad as the first: overcast and cold with some light rain throughout the morning. The goal was to confirm the rifle’s zero and pick an ammo to stick to for the rest of the review. We went out with Prime’s 130-grain OTM, Hornady’s 130-grain A-max and Winchester’s 140-grain SMK HPBT. Each brand produced small and better groups, but this rifle did the best with the Prime. We noticed Hornady consistently grouped high and to the left, which also happens in our trusty Remington 700. Each rifle is unique and we expect with time, the zero will shift as the gun is broken in. We went with the Prime after getting the best 3/4-inch group at 100 yards. We’re positive the gun can easily pull
together even better with a more skilled shooter and a choice of tuned hand loads. The rifle did occasionally print left to point of aim, and we blame that on us learning the trigger.
For support, the HCR chassis comes with a sling swivel/ bipod on its forend, where we put a 6-9-inch Caldwell spring-loaded bipod on the sling swivel for prone shooting. The entire forend has cuts to allow the use of M-LOK accessories so it can be outfitted however the user may like. Shooting in a prone position with the HCR is made comfortable with the adjustable cheek rest on the Luth-ar stock. We didn’t use the pistol grip traditionally while prone. Instead, we preferred a thumb-outside grip similar to what one would use with a straight stock.
When shooting in a kneeling or standing position, the pistol grip provided a controllable platform. While one might not normally think of a pistol grip as a precision rifle feature, we appreciated the versatility the grip provided when firing from unconventional positions after running through a few drills.
The gun is a solid 10.2 pounds slick and almost 12 pounds with an optic employed. All that weight absorbs a lot of the energy coming from the 6.5 Creedmoor round. We would like to have shot a threaded barreled version with a nice muzzle brake, but we didn’t have the opportunity this time around. When reloading in the prone, the Accurate-mag ejects via a tab release and clears the magwell without getting stopped on the ground.
Coming from using a modified Remington trigger, we do like and are still learning to take advantage of the Howa Actuator Controlled Trigger system (HACT). The takeup was short, light and smooth. The wall was solid and broke very nicely. We are not trigger snobs and have no desire to adjust it from the factory setting, but we did notice the trigger reset felt spring-loaded prior to cycling the bolt after round fire. While working on rapid follow-up shots, we went for three rounds at 200 yards on a 14x20” silhouette plate for time. Shots from the
“The scope has some really nice features like a 30mm tube, aircraft-grade aluminum body, Return to Zero turrets and illuminated German-style crosshairs.”
bench were all center-mass hits. A cool feature we would like to have taken advantage of is the monopod Picatinny rail section on the base of the Luth-ar stock.
The Diamond Series Nikko Sterling scope is designated for long-range distances. The scope features a 30mm tube, aircraft-grade aluminum body, Return to Zero (RTZ) turrets, and illuminated German-style crosshairs. For peace of mind and added value, the Nikko Sterling comes with a lifetime warranty for the original owner and a 5-year warranty on its electronics.
We repeated the drill at 100 yards off hand standing with no sling, going three for three rounds in just under 10 seconds. The pistol grip really came into play while standing, giving us familiar ergonomic support. The action cycled perfectly with no hang-up. Even when we intentionally worked the bolt as quickly as we could, the mechanism extracted and fed perfectly and the one-piece bolt felt strong and solid. The bolt knob is about the size of a large marble and rests perfectly between most thumbs and index fingers. The bolt knob clears the bell-housing fine when employing bare hands, but when we wore gloves our thumbs hit the housing, often causing us to adjust our grip to complete the cycle movement.
On the final day of shooting, we came to a few conclusions. First, the HCR performed very well. Out of the box, this rifle provides a great platform for bolt action rifle shooters of varying levels. The HCR can fill the bill for every activity from recreational shooting to going head-to-head against your local long rifle guru. If you’re a tinker and twist kind of person, its modularity allows you to outfit any which way you desire. Whether you’re a seasoned shooter or someone looking to just get into the action, you’ll surely want to consider the Howa HCR.
Founded in 1907, Howa is a company that's steeped in firearms history. The HCR is the company's latest out-of-thebox straight shooter.
The Luth-ar buttstock allows for quick mobility behind the gun and stability for accurately fired rounds, shot after shot.