September 27, 2019
By David M. Fortier
I have long been intrigued by the possibilities of a lightweight and compact bolt gun chambered in 7.62x39mm. This cartridge would allow for a very short action and make for economical shooting. In recent years a number of options have become available, with the one seen here from Legacy Sports. Their Howa Model 1500 Mini series features a scaled down action machined from forged steel. To put the exact size in perspective a standard length Howa features a bolt length of 7.4 inches while a short-action features a 6.9 inch bolt. The miniature action used here measures just 6 inches. Due to its small size it is perfectly suited for use with the 7.62x39mm cartridge. The good looking miniature action and Soviet Avtomat cartridge seem like they were made for each other.
Examining it you’ll note the Howa features a rotating bolt with dual front locking lugs. The bolt face sports a plunger type ejector, claw extractor and the design cocks on opening. One feature I really like is the well placed 3-position safety. This locks the bolt closed or allows the rifle to be unloaded and cleared with the safety on. It is a practical feature, especially for the hunter. Another feature I like is its method of feed, a detachable box magazine. The polymer magazine holds five rounds and features central feeding. The rifle’s ‘bottom metal’ is polymer and features an unprotected magazine release lever. Howa fits the Model 1500 with their H.A.C.T. trigger. This is a two-stage design which is both fairly light and crisp.
Howa offers a number of different barrel options from lightweight to heavy. My review rifle came fitted with a 20-inch heavy weight barrel which measures .72 inch at the muzzle. The barrel is cold hammer forged and cut with a 1-9.45 inch twist. The action is pillar bedded into a synthetic stock and Howa offers a number of different color/pattern stock options. My review rifle came fitted with a black stock with a 13.8 inch length of pull and a very soft rubber recoil pad. Overall length is 39.5 inches and with the included scope mounted the rifle weighed in at just 7.4 pounds.
Howa offers both individual rifles as well as rifle packages. I requested one of their packages which included a set of Leupold scope bases, 1-inch rings and a NikkoStirling Panamax 3-9x40mm scope. The NikkoStirling features Mil and ½ Mil marks on the reticle, decent optical performance and reliable adjustments. This is actually a pretty nice package for the sportsman looking for one stop shopping. You can buy a Howa package, zero and hit the woods with it. Just add a sling and swivels and you’re ready for the field.
Next, I selected three popular 7.62x39mm loads for testing. These consisted of Hornady’s 123 grain SST, Winchester’s 120 grain PDX1 Defender Split Core Hollow Point and Wolf Performance Ammunition’s Military Classic 124 grain Soft Point. Both the Hornady and Wolf loads feature steel cartridge cases while the Winchester load features nickel finished cases. All three feature expanding projectiles suitable for medium sized game or self-protection. If you’re looking for 7.62x39mm load which hits hard any of these three will do the deed.
Heading to the range, I shot the Howa from off a rest with rear bag at 100 yards to evaluate accuracy. Four five-shot groups were fired with each load with velocity readings measured using a Labradar Doppler radar chronograph. I found the magazine to load easily and it snapped securely into place without issue. Rounds fed smoothly, chambered easily and the bolt operated with little effort. I found the safety easy to operate and the trigger was quite acceptable. No, it’s not an uber light match unit, but it is very well suited for its intended purpose. Recoil is very mild as is the report. Extraction and ejection proved reliable and bolt operation was fairly smooth with zero issues encountered.
The 7.62x39mm cartridge never earned a reputation for startling accuracy, and I was using hunting loads. Even so the accuracy was in-line with what you’d expect. Legacy Sports International’s Howa Model 1500 Mini posted a best of 1.3 inches and averaged 1.5 inches at 2,368 fps with Hornady’s 123 grain SST load. This will put meat on the table at the distances one could expect to use a 7.62x39mm.
Thanks to its short bolt throw, due to the micro length action, the Howa Mini is capable of quick follow up shots from the shoulder. The safety is well placed and falls easily under thumb. It's quick to disengage while quickly shouldering the rifle. In the field the rifle proved well balanced and easy to carry. It shoulders quick and proved accurate from a number of alternate shooting positions. The rubber buttpad keeps the butt positioned exactly where you want it on your shoulder, rather than allowing it to slide around. While a seemingly insignificant feature, it’s one I appreciated.
Overall the Howa Model 1500 Mini performed well. It proved reliable and would make a good truck gun. Accuracy was very good and thanks to its weight, it proved stable from field positions. It was fun to shoot “looped up” with an old GI web sling or off a bipod. The Howa had no issue staying on a silhouette firing prone with a sling at 300 yards. I have to say the Howa generated a great bit of interest among friends and other shooters. Everyone wanted to handle it and I was peppered with questions.
For the rifleman sitting on a mountain of 7.62x39mm ammunition Legacy Sports’ Howa 1500 Mini makes a lot of sense. More so if they live someplace where the ranges are relatively short. I had a lot of fun reviewing it. Thanks to its uber short bolt throw, it’s extremely fun to shoot rapid fire. Mild recoil makes it well suited for teenagers and recoil conscious shooters. If a bolt gun in 7.62x39mm interests you I suggest checking out the various offerings by Legacy Sports International. I’ve always liked the 7.62x39mm cartridge and having a bolt gun so chambered just offers a new twist on the fun.
Legacy Sports International
Wolf Performance Ammunition
Legacy Sports International Howa Model 1500 Mini 7.62x39mm Accuracy and Velocity Chart
|Load||Velocity (fps) ||Standard Deviation ||100 yards (inches) |
|Hornady 123 grain SST ||2368 ||8.9 ||1.5 |
|Winchester 120 grain PDX1 ||2314 ||20 ||1.9 |
|Wolf 124 grain SP ||2389 ||25 ||3.2 |
Groups are an average of four 5 shot groups fired from a rest at 100 yards. Velocity readings measured with an Oehler 35P Labradar Doppler radar chronograph at an ambient temperature of 76 degrees F 1,030 feet above Sea Level.
Howa Model 1500 Mini 7.62x39mm SpecificationsAction
: Manual turn bolt with dual opposed front locking lugs Caliber
: 20 inches, .72 inch diameter at muzzleRifling
: 1-9.45 inch twist Overall length
: 39.2 inchesTrigger
: H.A.C.T. Two-stage Sights
: 5-round detachable box magazinesLength of Pull
: 13.7 inchesWeight
: 6.8 pounds without opticMSRP
: Starting at $589