Make & Model:
HOWA ALPINE MOUNTAIN RIFLE
5.7 pounds (2.58kg)
40.25 inches (102 cm)
20 inches (51 cm)
Hand laid fibreglass, gel coat green finish.
Dull grey Cerakote
Length of Pull
13.87 inches (35cm)
.308W, also available 7mm-08, 6.5 Creedmoor, .243 Win
Two stage 2.7 lbs let off.
Price: RRP $1900
HOWA BOUT A LIGHT ONE?
The Japanese are clever chaps: in the aftermath of WWII their economy was in ruins but by the early 60’s they were already rapidly becoming experts at copying designs and then improving on the original. Nowadays of course, Japanese quality is legendary and Japanese innovation and design are world-renowned.
In the case of Howa, they stuck to the proven formula of copying an existing design then adding their own touches. The Howa M1500 has been around for a number of decades now and is what we call a proven design; it’s well-made, reliable and has a number of well-regarded features. What’s interesting to me is that for years now this model has been sold in New Zealand as a budget rifle, because ironically it doesn’t use any of the modern budget rifle manufacturing tricks. The action is old-school forged and machined, and that’s not the cheap way to make a rifle action. Oh – and it looks a little bit familiar. For the train-spotters out there the hint is the recoil lug, it looks a little bit Sako-like; and of course it is, because the action is a close copy of the Sako L579 or Forrester. In its day the Sako was a well-regarded action and even today it’s still admired by hunters for its graceful lines, strength and smoothness. The Howa version, while being a little bit different in the bolt and receiver bridges, definitely shows its heritage is as much Finnish as it is Japanese.
The Alpine Mountain Rifle is Howa’s take on a proper lightweight hunting rifle and at 5.7 pounds it’s right on the money, weight-wise. It looks the part too, with a 20 inch No1 contour barrel, green fibreglass stock and a matte grey Cerakoted barrel and action.
The trigger is a two-stage unit and is a 3-lever type, as opposed to a traditional single-stage 2-lever trigger; Howa call this HACT (Howa Actuated Controlled Trigger). Looking at the trigger and online images I suspect that the designers had safety in the back of their minds when conceiving this component. The first thing I noticed was that the sear adjustment screw was sealed. Sear adjustment is what allows the user to dial out creep, and in this case sear engagement is set at the factory and the sealed screw only adjusts the tension on the actuator rather than the engagement contact area. The sear sits on the actuator and the trigger then presses on the actuator to release the sear. Feel-wise they have done a pretty good job as there’s minimal creep in the trigger, just a noticeable increase in pressure until the sear releases, at just on 2.7 pounds. The trigger is not what I’d call crisp, but at the same time there is no real creep. The reason it’s not super-crisp is that the sear works on the actuator at a mechanical disadvantage and this makes it difficult for the sear to fall off the actuator. While it is a safety feature, to Howa’s credit they’ve managed a pretty reasonable trigger all the same.
Safety-wise the trigger employs a 3 position safety, with position 1 being Fire, position 2 being Safe – although the bolt is not locked, while position 3 is Safe and bolt locked.
The stock is made by Legendary Arms Works (formerly High Tech Specialties) in proper hand-laid fibreglass, with an alloy bedding block up front, and alloy pillar at the rear, and it’s finished with a quality Pachmeyer Decelerator recoil pad. It’s a traditional straight-combed American design, shoulders nicely and at 724 grams is a true lightweight stock. At this price point a proper fibreglass stock is a real bonus, and in this case it has transformed the rifle. The Howa is finished with an alloy and steel floor plate setup, but is also available with a detachable magazine system.
Cerakoting is becoming more and more popular on factory rifles and Howa have chosen to use Cerakote over carbon steel, rather than stainless steel, to protect this one from the elements. The finish itself is tough and durable and, unlike stainless, is completely rust-resistant. The only downside is that the Cerakote finish is of course not applied to the inside of the barrel, so care will have to be taken to stop any accuracy-robbing corrosion from forming there.
AT THE RANGE
Pulling the trigger for the first time reminds you that light rifles have higher levels of felt recoil, but having tested a few light rifles in recent years I was pleased to note that the Pachmeyer Decelerator recoil pad was very effective in taking the bite out of the recoil. The two-stage trigger was easy to adjust to as the initial pull is very light and comes to rest easily on the second stage.
For testing the rifle was fitted with a Zeiss Terra 3X 3-9 x 42. The Terra appeared bright and sharp and the fine centre crosshair made shooting groups quite straightforward.
To confirm accuracy we tried 6 loads in the Alpine Mountain Rifle and it became clear that the slim No1 contour barrel would heat up very quickly; groups opened up after 3-5 shots. This is really of little consequence in a hunting situation though, where it’s the first or second shot that counts.
Two rounds shot best in the Alpine hunter: the 150gr Nosler Ballistic Tip and the Norma 170gr TipStrike factory rounds; both these consistently shot just below the 1 MOA mark. Other rounds tried included the Sierra 150gr TMK, Winchester 150gr Soft Point factory, Norma EcoStrike 150gr factory and Norma Oryx 170gr factory. All these other rounds grouped between 1.2 and 1.6 inches at 100 yards. To be fair, the rifle may have shot tighter groups if I’d had the time to let the barrel cool completely between shots – but due to tight timeframes I could only let it cool till it was comfortable to touch, rather than stone-cold.
The concept of the Alpine Mountain Rifle has been around for a while now and Howa’s interpretation of that concept is a solid effort. The highlights for me were the quality stock, Cerakoted finish and the quality of the action.
The trigger is good rather than great, and accuracy is good rather than outstanding – however, like many rifles, in-depth load development could easily turn this one into a ¾ MOA performer. It seems to me to be a great option as a Bush rifle where shots are generally less than 300 yards and, often, much closer. Editor-in-Chief Simon Gibson and I both took the rifle into the bush; carrying it was a real joy, and Simon took a yearling with it. It balanced on the floor plate and the stippled finish on the stock made for positive grip. At $1800 the Howa is good value for money, particularly where you see packages from various retailers that have a scope, rings and gun case included in the one price; these deals usually save you a few dollars over the normal retail for the individual items and would certainly be worth a close look.