Small Action, Big Performance

Legacy Sports’ Howa Mini-Action Gets
The Most Out Of The 6.5 Grendel

By Mark Hampton

It would be easy to sum up this article in one sentence—really neat rifle and cartridge combo. That’s it in a nutshell. When I was first offered the opportunity to test and evaluate Howa’s new mini bolt action in 6.5 Grendel, I leaped. Never having a Howa rifle in hand, I really was looking forward to the experience. On top of it all, I had never shot the 6.5 Grendel, so this was going to be a real treat for a rifle crank like me.

As many of you already know, the 6.5 Grendel was originally slated for the AR platform. Bill Alexander of Alexander Arms and Arne Brennan worked together and came up with this nifty little 6.5 cartridge. The Grendel is based on the PPC cartridge configuration––or 6 PPC necked up to 6.5mm. It has a case capacity of 35 grains of water. The accuracy of the PPC family of cartridges is well established, and it should be no surprise, because with the excellent ballistic coefficients of 6.5 caliber bullets, accuracy remains consistent with the Grendel. While the 6.5 Grendel was developed to deliver full performance advantage in AR’s, in a bolt-action rifle like the Howa, bullets up to 130-grain can be seated out as far as 2.420 inches. This cartridge is extremely versatile and the choices of premium bullets make it shine.

After shooting 6.5 caliber cartridges for over 30 years, I have great respect for the accuracy, mild mannered characteristics and ability to take game beyond what I thought should be possible. Back in the late ’70’s and early ’80’s, I hunted a lot with a 6.5 JDJ (a pistol round based on the .225 Winchester case) designed for the T/C Contender and was amazed at its performance—running around 2,350 fps with 120-grain bullets. With slightly higher velocity and a better selection of bullets, the 6.5 Grendel makes a worthy candidate for equal applications. This versatile cartridge has previously been available only in AR’s and a few custom rigs built on the CZ 527 platform. Well, today it’s making its debut in a budget-friendly bolt-action.

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Mark tested the Howa short-action in 6.5mm Grendel off Caldwell’s
BR Front Shooting Rest. He was in such a hurry to start this test
he forgot to shave.

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The Howa Mini-Action package includes a detachable magazine
system and comes mounted with a 3-9X scope.

Gene Lumsden, CEO of Legacy Sports International, introduced some new chamberings for the Howa Mini-Action rifle. New for 2016, the Mini-Action is now available in 6.5 Grendel. Howa is now the very first factory bolt-action rifle offering this cartridge. Other calibers include .204 Ruger and .222/223 Remington. My test gun arrived with the new Nikko Stirling Panamax 3-9X riflescope with half Mil Dot reticle. The 1-inch scope was fitted in 2-piece bases with wide rings, providing plenty of gripping-surface. One of the first features I noticed was the short bolt––at least it appeared short to me. And it was––the company claims the bolt of the new mini-action is approximately 12 percent shorter than regular short actions.

This provides an expeditious bolt throw for super quick reloads if necessary. It also equates to a little less weight. Working the bolt was silky smooth. The bolt takedown is tool-less. You just have to rotate the bolt head 90 degrees and the firing pin can be removed for ease of cleaning. The bolt has two lugs, and the bolt handle itself acts as a third safety lug. The bolt also features three pressure vent holes, which vent downward in case of an over-pressure load. The Mini-Action shares the same Sako-style extractor as the rest of the Howa family. The ejector is an M16/M14 internal plunger style.

My gun weighed right at 7 pounds with scope and came with a 22-inch barrel. The Howa is available in three different barrel configurations: 20-inch lightweight, 20-inch heavy barrel and 22-inch standard. All of these barrels come with a 1:8-inch twist. Another feature I liked was the 3-position safety located directly behind the bolt where you can easily manipulate it with your thumb. A HACT 2-stage trigger comes standard on all Mini-Actions. The rifle came with a light, synthetic, detachable magazine with 10-round capacity. Spare 5- and 10-round magazines are available. Located directly in front of the magazine was the release mechanism, protruding at an angle downward. The stock came (with sling swivel studs installed) in a lightweight, OD green, Hogue composite stock with black rubber buttpad. Other stock options available include plain black, multicam or Kryptek highlander camo.

As luck would have it, my good shooting partner, Joe, came over for a visit one weekend so we took the Howa to the range for an extended workout. Hornady’s Match 123-grain A-MAX ammo was used exclusively. We started out from 25 yards and found the point of impact almost dead center. We then moved directly to 100 yards and proceeded to see how the 6.5 Grendel worked in a bolt-action rifle. The trigger wasn’t bad from an out-of-the box rifle, breaking around 4 pounds.

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The new action (above) has a bolt throw 12 percent shorter than
conventional short actions, and is ideally suited to cartridges
such as the 6.5 Grendel. A 3-position safety is right under the
shooting-hand thumb (below). It locks the bolt and allows the
rifle to be cleared with the safety “on.”

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On that particular day, the wind was gusting nearly 30 miles an hour, so we didn’t have ideal shooting conditions, and the wind was responsible for blowing over the chronograph screens more than once! Joe and I both were impressed with the short bolt-throw. More impressive was the size of our 3-shot groups. Both of us were consistently shooting 1-inch, three shot groups at 100 yards with factory ammunition. The lack of recoil was also noticed, making this a fun little gun to shoot for extended periods. As we finished up our session, Joe commented he would like to have one of these Howa’s in 6.5 Grendel at hand as he cruises around his farm. Coyotes are a problem he deals with on a regular basis.

The 6.5 Grendel would make a dandy little varmint gun indeed. Joe felt this would be a good, accurate, lightweight rig you could carry easily and use for calling varmints. Hornady’s 95-grain V-MAX or Nosler’s 100-grain boattail would knock the lights out of any pesky vermin. But that’s not the only application I can see fit for this round. It would be a great deer rifle for shooters like my wife who don’t like harsh recoil as well as younger shooters getting their feet wet in whitetail hunting. This set-up is deadly accurate for hunting whitetails, and handloaders could spice things up with Nosler’s 120-grain Ballistic Tip, Sierra’s 120-grain Pro-Hunter or Hornady’s 123-grain SST.

Antelope hunting out in the Western US would be an ideal place to see the Grendel in action too. I’m surprised we haven’t seen more bolt-actions chambered in 6.5 Grendel hit the market. Perhaps after this Mini-Action, more will follow. The heavy barrel bolt gun in 6.5 Grendel will be right at home for competition and target shooting. Using a multitude of high quality, premium target-type bullets with high BC, the Grendel could be loaded with superb accuracy potential.

There are more powerful 6.5-caliber cartridges for long-range applications such as the 6.5 Creedmoor, .260 Remington and 6.5×284, but all have a much larger case capacity and require larger actions. The smaller Grendel performs beyond what many may anticipate––and does so with less powder and longer barrel life.

I haven’t loaded for the Grendel yet but research suggests Vihtavuori N530 and Ramshot TAC have load densities and burn rates I believe will work well with the cartridge. Technical data from Nosler states Hodgdon Benchmark and Alliant Reloder 15 are good choices for accuracy too. Hornady, Nosler and Hodgdon all provide ample reloading data. Lapua offers excellent brass. The Grendel case utilizes small rifle primers.

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Alexander Arms sells budget-friendly Wolf ammo with a 123-grain softpoint bullet––which should be great for informal target shooting and such. The company offers other factory choices loaded with premium bullets, including Hornady 123-grain A-MAX, 120 Nosler BT, 120 Barnes TSX, 123 Lapua Scenar, 129 Hornady SST and 130-grain Swift Scirocco. Shooters have ample choices for informal target shooting, competition or hunting.

As I was cleaning the Mini-Action after the initial range session, my wife, Karen, asked if she could shoot it. Of course, I couldn’t say no, so we packed up the remaining rounds of Hornady ammo and made a trip to the farm––on a calm day. We have steel targets situated at various yardages. Karen started out at 150 yards. Once we determined where to hold by using the hash marks below the reticle, Karen had no problems ringing steel out to 300 yards––the longest range we shot. She appreciated its well-balanced nature and mild recoil. One thing I noticed while carrying the Howa for any distance, my hand would accidently bump the magazine release––the magazine would fall out every time. The 10-round magazine feeds fine without any feeding issues. Personally, I would prefer the 5-round version fitting flush with the stock.

Overall I was pleased with my first experience shooting a Howa and the 6.5 Grendel. This Mini-Action would be a fine choice for shooters who are looking for an affordable rifle capable of delivering accuracy. Price ranges from $608 to $855, depending on barrel and scope package. It is set up with a scope and ready to roll right out of the box. The 6.5 Grendel offers a lot of potential, and I enjoyed shooting this combination thoroughly. It will be interesting to see if other bolt-action offerings become available for this efficient little cartridge.

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Mark only had time to acquire one factory load from Hornady and hasn’t
even begun handloading the round. Factory ammo did produce 1-inch,
3-shot groups repeatedly at 100 yards.

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Notes: Group sizes were the result of 3-shot groups at
100 yards. Oehler 35P (www.oehler-research.com)
screens were set 12 feet from the muzzle.

Howa Mini Action
Maker: Howa Machinery Ltd
1900-1 Sukaguchi
Kiyosu, Aichi
452-8601 Japan
https://gunsmagazine.com/company/howa-machinery-ltd/

Importer: Legacy Sports Int.
4750 Longley Lane Ste.
209, Reno, NV 89502
(800) 553-4229
https://gunsmagazine.com/company/legacy-sports-international-llc/

Action type: Bolt-action
Caliber: 6.5 Grendel (tested, many others)
Capacity: 10+1
Barrel length: 20 inches
Overall length: 39.5 inches
Weight: 6.6 pounds
Finish: Cerakote grey
Sights: Scope provided in Talley rings
Stock: Hogue, green (tested)
Price: $753

3-9x40mm Stirling Panamax
Maker: Nikko Stirling Int.
Shanghai, China
Importer: Legacy Sports

Magnification: 3X-9X
Objective Diameter: 40mm
Eye Relief: 4 inches
Click Value: 1/4 inch
Tube Diameter: 1 inch
Weight: 16 ounces
Overall Length: 12 inches
Reticles: 1/2 Mil-Dot (tested), Plex
Price: $139

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