During the SHOT 2016 Range day I had the pleasure of firing Howa’s new MiniAction series of rifles. Howa rifles, which are imported by Legacy Sports and made in Japan, come in a plethora of calibers and configurations. The MiniAction series is available in .204 Ruger, .222 Remington, .223 Remington/5.56 NATO, 6.5 Grendel and 7.62×39! For testing I was provided two rifles, a 6.5 Grendel that included a Nikko Stirling Panamax rifle scope and a rifle chambered in 7.62×39 that did not include a scope. The rifles came several weeks apart. I picked up the 7.62×39 rifle the day I shipped the 6.5 Grendel back to Legacy Sports. Because the rifles were identical, save for the chambering, I am going to consolidate both reviews into this article.
Key Specifications of the Howa MiniAction Rifle include:
- The Howa MiniAction rifle is available in .204 Ruger, .222 Remington, .223 Remington, 6.5 Grendel and 7.62×39.
- The MiniAction features Howa’s 1500 barreled action. The action has been decreased by 12% compared to Howa’s Short Action receiver. For comparison the Short action is 6.9” and weighs 13.1 ounces. The Howa MiniAction is 6” in length and weighs 10.2 ounces.
- The Howa 1500 MiniAction rifle sits in a synthetic stock and is pillar bedded. The stock has a pretty decent recoil pad.
- Barrel lengths run from 20 to 22 inches. They are available in lightweight as well as heavy profiles. The rifles I tested featured a heavy profile barrel.
- The Howa 1500 MiniAction has a three position safety, as well as the HACT trigger. The trigger pull for both rifles measured around 1.5 to 1.75 pounds.
- Rifles included one 5-round detachable magazine. 10-round magazine can be purchased through Legacy Sports.
- These rifles can be purchased as a package that includes a Nikko Stirling scope, or as a stand alone rifle. The rifles that I was provided both included a set of Leupold mounts.
Field testing the 6.5 Grendel Howa MiniAction Rifle
Prior to field testing the 6.5 Grendel I attached the Leupold scope base and Leupold rings, and mounted the provided Nikko Stirling Panamax scope. The Nikko Stirling Panamax is a second focal plane, 3-9 power scope that features a traditional mil-dot reticle. Ammunition for testing was provided by Legacy Sports. Legacy sent me 60 rounds of Hornady MATCH 123 grain A-Max. I shot 5 rounds of Hornady MATCH 123 grain A-Max bullets through a chronograph during zero which yielded an average velocity of 2,341 feet per second. I zeroed the rifle at 100 yards. The Hornady ammunition feed-reliability was mostly consistent. During the shoot I had to push the bullets down to realign them in the magazine, or else cycle the bolt several times due to a round not feeding properly. I found the Howa chambered in 7.62×39 to be 100% reliable. Because I was using a fixed parallax scope, I took a small soap pen and made a non permanent mark on the stock were my nose indexed with the rifle stock. Checking the scope’s parallax at 100 yards I found no parallax issues. Throughout the test, I made sure to keep my head in the same position every time to mitigate potential parallax error.
Testing was done at the ranch in the highlands of Central New Mexico. The elevation of the ranch is 6200 feet. Temperature during the shoot was 91 degrees Fahrenheit, with full value wind that alternated between 12-15 miles per hour, in gusts from my 3 o’clock position to my 9 o’clock position. My target for the shoot, after zeroing on paper, was an 8 inch by 10 inch steel plate. Since the rifle came as a package, I decided to test the rifle with the included Nikko Stirling Panamax scope. During testing, the only problem I had with the Howa MiniAction was the front sling stud sliding out of the stock. Typically when I shoot scoped rifles I use a bipod. I tend to load bipods pretty heavily, which caused the stud to work its way out of the stock. Frustrated, I removed the bipod from the stud, screwed it back on the stock, reattached the bipod, proned out with a less aggressive load and felt the bipod disconnecting from the rifle again. Grabbing my 5.11 RUSH 12 pack from my truck, I stuffed the pack with some loose clothes from my vehicle,dropped the pack on the ground, proned out behind the rifle, loaded the rifle into the pack and proceeded to zero the rifle. I had a solid zero within 5 shots. The Howa mini action rifle, paired with 123 grain Hornady A-MAX easily held .75 to 1 MOA at 100 yards.
After I achieved a good zero, it was time to start moving back. I grabbed the 5.11 pack, rifle, and rear shooting bag and shifted to my next shooting position, 205 yards from the steel target. Proned out and loading the rifle into my pack, I held .8 mils high, favored the right side of the target, squeezed the trigger, then heard the ping of steel and observed an aggressive sway of the target. Cycling the bolt several more times I made 3 hits in row.
From the 205 yard line I walked back another 200 yards and positioned myself on a small hill that offered a good line of sight to the target. Holding 2.8 mils high and 1 mil to the right, to account for a 15 mph full value wind, I shot 3 more rounds and observed 3 more hits. Impressed by the mild recoil, clarity of the Nikko Stirling Panamax, and the amazing ballistics of the 6.5 Grendel round, I was anxious to get into the long range portion of the shoot.
I pulled back another 200 yards to prone out at 618 yards. My kestrel read full value,12 – 15 mph wind. 618 yards required a 5.5 mil hold for elevation and 1.6 mils for wind. Since the Nikko Stirling has a traditional mil dot reticle, I had to stack mils. Placing the bottom mil on the center of my target, I counted up 1.5 mils above the target, found a reference point on the prairie behind the target, held my bottom mil on that reference point, accounted for wind and squeezed the trigger. I saw the target sway, then heard the impact of the round. An 8 inch by 10 inch target looks very small through a 9 power scope. My second and 3rd shots were a miss while my 4th and 5th shots were hits. Since I don’t like to make expensive noise I decided to end the test at the 618 yard line. Shooting from 600 to 1000 yards I would have preferred a bipod, scope level, spotter and a high power scope in the first focal plane, with a Horus reticle.
Initially I wanted to test this rifle as a package, but in retrospect I should have attached a better scope and really pushed the range on this rifle, especially since in several weeks I would take the 7.62×39 MiniAction out to 1000 yards. Save for the weak sling stud/stock failure, which I was later able to fix, the Howa MiniAction rifle’s performance impressed me. Although I liked the Nikko Stirling scope, I would personally use something with a more up-to-date reticle, such as a Horus H”X”, Vortex EBR-1/EBR-2/VMR, Leupold TMR, Nightforce MOAR or even the Nikko Stirling Half Mil-Dot Reticle. If I had a young shooter who wants to get into precision rifle or needed a varmint rifle for the ranch, this rifle could easily fit that role. This rifle would have no problems killing coyotes at 500-600 yards with medium wind. I would have liked to attach a better scope and taken the rifle back to the ranch for a second round of testing. Unfortunately my schedule is tight, and I have to plan my test-shoots months in advance. All in all, I really liked the rifle and think Legacy Sports will do well with it. The day I dropped the Howa MiniAction rifle off at FedEx, my FFL called and said that a Howa MiniAction rifle, chambered in 7.62×39 was ready for transfer. A bolt action rifle chambered in 7.62×39 was something that I have wanted to shoot for a long time.
Field testing the 7.62×39 Howa MiniAction Rifle
Prior to field testing the 7.62×39 Howa MiniAction rifle, I checked the scope mount to ensure proper torque and attachment. Since this rifle did not include a scope, I attached my old Vortex PST 2.5-10 rifle scope. I always get nostalgic when I use this scope. Not only did I use it to learn the fundamentals of long range shooting, but the first article I wrote for The Firearm Blog was a review of this scope. The Vortex PST that I used is a second focal plane, and features Vortex’s EBR-1 MRAD reticle. My only gripe about the Vortex PST is that if you over-torque the rings then they squeeze the main tube and the scope will not track properly. The field of view is amazing, and the clarity is excellent. The Vortex PST is fixed parallax, so consistent head placement is paramount. My Vortex PST has become my primary hunting scope save for antelope hunts. For hunting antelope I prefer my Bushnell HDMR with a Horus H59 reticle.
After mounting the scope I checked the front sling stud, and was delighted to see that Howa had secured the sling stud with better mounting hardware. I attached a bipod, proned out, aggressively loaded the bipod, and breathed a sigh of relief when the bipod held strong.
Testing was done at the ranch in the highlands of Central New Mexico. The elevation of the ranch is 6200 feet. Temperature during the shoot averaged 99 degrees Fahrenheit. Fellow TFB writer Tom R and his cousin joined me for testing. Aside from testing the Howa MiniAction rifle, I also tested a Hensoldt ZF 4-16 rifle scope. The Hensoldt ZF 4-16 was mounted on my Remington 700 chambered in 7.62×51/.308 Winchester. Besides spotting for me, Tom R, fresh from his recent precision rifle training at the NRA’s Whittington Center, brought out two rifles to shoot: his fancy Remington 700 and a Christensen Arms Ridgeline rifle chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor. Tom R’s cousin had also read Tom R’s recent review of the Whittington NRA class and was eager to try a 1000 yard shot. All shooting was done facing west. Wind during zero was coming from our 12 o’clock. After confirming zero the wind fluctuated between 10-15 mph and primarily came in, left to right, from our 10 o’clock position.
The ammunition that I used for the test was 124 grain, steel cased, hollow point Wolf Performance Ammunition. Zeroing at 100 yards, I found the 7.62×39 Howa Mini Action to be capable of 1.5 -1.75 MOA groups. Running 5 rounds through my chronograph yielded an average velocity of 2,488 feet per second. Loading the magazine to full capacity, I found that the rounds loaded 100% of the time.
I zeroed my rifles and Tom R confirmed the zeroes on his rifles. At that point it was time to move back. After zeroing on paper, our primary target for the rest of the shoot was an 18 by 18 inch steel plate. Our first shooting station of the day was 425 yards as confirmed by my Leica LRF 1200. Once we had set up shooting mats, spotting scopes, and packs we consulted our ballistic calculators and Kestrels and got to work. Tom R got behind his Remington 700 and had a 100% hit ratio. Securing his Remington 700, he proned out behind the Christensen Arms Ridgeline, chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor, and again had a 100% hit ratio at 425 yards. From the 425 yard line, we had 12-15 mile per hour gusts of wind from our 10 o’clock to our 4 o’clock position. Next it was Tom R’s cousin’s turn to shoot. His cousin, an accomplished hunter, was new to long-range precision shooting. After Tom and I made a few tweaks to his body position, he had no problems hitting the target.
At 425 yards, shooting a mass-produced 7.62×39, I was not sure what kind of accuracy I would achieve. The 7.62×39 is not exactly know as a precision round. Proning out in the dirt, with a rear bag and a heavy load on the bipod, I found my target, made sure the bubble on my scope was level, exhaled slowly and squeezed the trigger. Ping! Through the scope I observed a solid hit near the middle of the steel target. Cycling the bolt, I sent another shot down range and was delighted to see my round land 6 inches from the first shot. The third shot landed near the first. 3 shots, 3 hits. At 425 yards, I had grouped about 7 inches. That echoed what we had seen at 100 yards in regard to group size. I grabbed my Remington 700, shot 3 rounds, and got 3 solid hits. Time to move back.
Our next shooting station was at 840 yards. Once again, Tom R shot his Remington 700 and the Christensen Rifle first. At this point in the shoot the wind became aggressive. Tom R made consistent hits with both rifles, as did his cousin. Proning out behind my Remington 700, I had no problems getting a high hit ratio with the Hornady 178 grain ELD-X rounds. I kind of half-joked that we should try the Howa, “just to see.” Consulting my ballistic program, the data we had gathered from our previous engagements, and my trusty gut, I held 8 mils and sent a round down range. We were all pleasantly surprised when the round impacted very, very close to the target. Tom R gave me a wind correction and I squeezed off another round. The round impacted on the edge of the target. I sent several more rounds down range, and had more hits than misses. Frankly, we were stunned. Consistent hits with 7.62×39 at 840 yards.
Our last shoot of the day was at 1000 yards. We consulted our ballistics calculators and Kestrels, studied the mirage on the range, then Tom R got settled in and started making noise. Once again his gear, DOPE, and training shined. His Remington 700 performed well, his Christensen Arms 6.5 Creedmoor was simply amazing. One thing his cousin wanted to do was make a 1000 yard shot. He proned out, loaded the rifle into Tom’s ruck, waited as Tom dialed the scope, and squeezed the trigger. He was all smiles when I called his first shot as a hit. My Remington 700 performed well at 1000 yards. After getting a decent hit ratio at 840 yards with the Howa MiniAction, we were all anxious to see what the rifle, and more importantly the ammo, would do at 1000 yards. I didn’t have good data at 1000, so I thought, in the words of Todd Hodnett, “just let the bullet tell you what it wants to do.” I held 9 mils high and sent a round down range. Since my Vortex PST was only a 10 power, I had a good field of view at 1000 yards. I observed the splash of the bullet. Once Tom R told me how many mils low I was, I dialed my scope up several mils, adjusted for wind, and fired again. My second shot was very close to the target. I made the corrections in my head, waited for Tom R to give me his observations, dialed up another mil, accounted for wind, squeezed the trigger, and was not really surprised when Tom called out a hit. Cycling the bolt, I sent another round down range and observed another hit. I missed my 3rd and 4th shots due to erratic wind from multiple directions. The wind died down a bit and I was able to get my 5th round on target. At this point we concluded our test.
After two solid days of testing the Howa MiniAction rifles I came away very impressed. The rifles were accurate, lightweight, compact, and are affordable. As mentioned earlier, after seeing what the Howa MiniAction 7.62×39 was capable of, I have no doubt that I could have placed the 6.5 Grendel on steel at 1000 yards. The 7.62×51, 6.5 Creedmoor, and 6.5 Grendel performed exactly as designed. What amazed me was what military surplus Wolf 7.62×39 was capable of. Granted the ranch sits at 6200 feet. Due to barometric pressure and temperature the day of our shoot, our density altitudes were around 10,000 feet. Could I have made consistent shots in the middle of winter with 7.62×39 at 1000 yards? Probably not. Could I have made consistent hits at 1000 yards, at sea level? Probably not. Could I have grouped in the middle of the target as opposed to the edges? Maybe with match grade ammunition. Is the 7.62×39 round suitable for precision work past 600 yards? I think there are better options. That said, given the conditions, the 7.62×39 exceeded expectations. Another thing to note, that when running the Wolf Performance Ammunition through the chronograph, the ammunition was consistent with a spread of 35 feet per second (2492, 2506, 2471, 2490, 2481). Not bad for mass-produced ammunition. I really wanted to buy the Howa MiniAction that I was provided for testing. When my editor inquired with Legacy, we were told that the rifle I tested was a prototype and that I would have to return it. The Howa MiniAction 6.5 Grendel was a nice rifle and would be perfect for training a young shooter or shooting varmints. The MiniAction 7.62×39 was an absolute blast to shoot, and would be perfect for plinking, training, teaching fundamentals, or hunting. I will be adding this gun to my collection as soon as possible. Thank you Tom R for being a good spotter and friend. A big thank you to Legacy Sports for providing The Firearm Blog these rifles for testing.
As always, tips, opinions and humor are welcome in the comments below. Stay safe!