Howa 1500 Mini EXCL Lite

Quality at a nice price
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The Howa Mini EXCL Lite is based on the Howa mini action housed in a polymer
chassis stock. This rifle is a .223. It is also available in 6mm ARC, 6.5 Grendel and more.

We have quite a choice of bolt-action rifles with detachable magazines holding 10 or so cartridges. Some examples: CZ 600 Trail in .223 or 7.62×39; Howa 1500 Mini and Mini EXCL Lite; Mossberg MVP series; Ruger Scout rifle; Ruger American Ranch rifle in 5.56; Savage 110 Scout and Carbon Tactical; Steyr Scout with optional 10-shot magazine; Tikka CTR, UPR; and Tac-A1.

With the push of a button, the Mini EXCL Lite stock can be folded to allow convenient
storage of the rifle in a UTV, boat, or light aircraft. In open position, it locks rigidly in place.

Stepping Up

Living on a farm, I like to have a rifle handy for vermin control, most often a .22 LR or .22 Magnum. Recently my truck rifle has become a .223 rather than a rimfire. The rifle shown here is my latest, a Howa 1500 Mini EXCL Lite in .223. Built on the Howa mini action, it’s housed in a polymer chassis stock. The buttstock is adjustable for length of pull and can be folded for storage.

The Howa Mini action is a little gem, 12% shorter than the Howa short action. The receiver is machined with a flat bottom for easy bedding and with a large integral recoil lug. The bolt is forged in one piece, with a recessed bolt face and M16 style extractor and ejector. It feeds from a proprietary detachable magazine holding 10 rounds in .223. Barrel is medium profile, 20″ long with a 1:8 twist. The 1:8 twist will stabilize many of the ballistically efficient bullets such as the various 70–75 grain match and hunting bullets. I like high B.C. bullets mainly because they are superior in resisting wind drift. I’d be exaggerating to say it’s windy every day on the plains. No, it’s only windy on the days I want to shoot something.

Overall length varies from 41″ to 44″ depending on where you have the LOP set. The unloaded rifle weighs 6 lbs., 12 oz. on my certified scale while the factory web site says 7-1/2 lbs. As shown with Zeiss 3-9 x 40 scope in steel Warne rings/bases, weight when empty is 7 lbs., 13 oz. It’s not what I would call “lite” by today’s standards, but the weight is due in part to the medium profile barrel. I can tolerate a bit of weight in return for the steady hold provided by the muzzle-forward balance.

The two-stage trigger is very good with a smooth first stage of about a pound, then a crisp 3-1/4 lb. break for the second stage. The manual provided doesn’t mention pull weight, much less advise how to adjust it, but there are videos online for assistance should you require a lighter pull. For a rifle that may be used in cold weather, I don’t mind the factory pull, especially considering the rifle is not super light.

The fast 1:8 twist stabilizes heavier bullets and the barrel is throated to accept bullets seated out. Most bullets in the 55-grain range in factory loads will jump about 0.20″ to the rifling depending on bullet profile. Longer bullets seated out can be single-loaded. Magazine length is 2.33″, which limits bullet choice a bit. I like the Hornady 75-grain ELD Match bullet but seated to cartridge overall length of 2.390″ as recommended by Hornady results in cartridges just a bit too long. When this happens, my reliable standby is the 75-grain Hornady BTHP.

The LUTH butt stock allows adjustment for length of pull from 12" to 15". Adjustable LOP is a useful feature for a rifle used in varying conditions with the shooter dressed for the weather.

The 75-grain Hornady ELD Match bullet seated to a cartridge overall length of 2.390" is slightly too long for the Mini EXCL magazine box. The 75-grain BTHP is not quite as ballistically efficient but will fit the magazine box.

Few Choices

These days, one takes bullets where you can find them. Most 0.224″ bullets can be loaded to fit the Howa magazine provided the bullet length is an inch or not much more. According to the online JBM bullet length list, the ELD-M bullet measures 1.121″. The Hornady 75-grain HPBT length is 0.981″. Others to consider are the Berger 73-grain Match BT (0.970″), Hornady 73-grain ELD (1.046″), Lapua 77-grain Scenar (1.043″), Nosler Custom Competition 77-grain HPBT (0.980″) and the Sierra 77-grain HPBT Match King (0.994″).

Howa barrels are cold-hammer-forged. A great deal of care is exercised in maintaining barrel quality with chambers carefully cut and headspace set properly. I’ve shot around 15–20 Howa barrels, mainly on Vanguard rifles, which Howa produces for Weatherby, and have never gotten a bad one. It was no surprise when the Howa consistently shot under one MOA five-shot groups with a variety of factory and hand-loaded cartridges. I’d have been astonished if it hadn’t. I’m going to bench it again when warm weather makes trigger control easier, with a higher-powered scope, and see if it will give consistent groups under 1/2 MOA. Function was always smooth and reliable.

Small point of interest — the Weatherby people who have had a strong working relationship with Howa for decades, pronounce the name “Hoe-ah” rather than “How-ah.” However you say it, Howa rifles, like the Vanguards I admire so much, provide the best value for your money.

Street Price: Around $900

HowaUSA.com

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