A to­tal pack­age

test­ing the bolt-ac­tion, mod­u­lar Howa HCR in 6.5 Creedmoor

Firepower - - CONTENTS - TEXT BY ERIK LOPEZ / PHO­TOS BY CLAY BELL

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.

HOWA

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.

EN­GI­NEER­ING

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.

RANGE

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.

PER­FOR­MANCE

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.

FI­NAL THOUGHTS

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.

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