August 23, 2023
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Merely an hour before, the high-country of the 49th state was displaying her iridescent charm with brilliant blue skies, light feathery breezes, the chirping of birds, and that early-fall brand of warm, Indian summer sunlight that almost feels like love. This was about to come to an abrupt end. Alaska can be a mischievous and fickle mistress with a penchant for raining on your parade…as well as everything you have packed into her otherworldly realm. Malevolent black clouds with wispy banners of sleet sweeping the terrain below them poured over the snow-capped peaks in front of me and gained momentum as they raced down the massive glacier several miles from my position. I’ve spent enough time in Alaska’s wilds to know when I was about to be on the receiving end of Mother Nature’s diabolical sense of humor, and one thing was certain; it was time to pack up shop, move from the concealed hunting position I occupied on a willow-covered glacial moraine, and seek shelter under an out-of-the-weather Sitka Gear “Flash Shelter” tarp we set up days before the current ugliness in anticipation of just such an occasion.
The maelstrom swept off the glacier with frightening speed well before I was completely prepared to move and it’s wrath was impressive. The initial gusts knocked me off-balance as I stuffed my pack with gear in anticipation of a hasty egress to a more hospitable locale. The wind continued to pummel me as I crammed the .300 PRC Howa Carbon Stalker I was field-testing into an Eberlestock gun-pack. Normally, I stow my gear slowly, deliberately, and quietly before leaving a hide in order to not spook any last-minute visitors (moose, bear, caribou) that may arrive late for the party. This was not the case on this occasion. I loaded up my pack with unfettered gusto because I was supremely confident there was absolutely no way game animals were going to be moving in the current hurricane-like conditions.
THIS is where breaking character and violating your own fieldcraft rules will bite you right square dab in the rumpus-room. I was cramming binoculars and other hunting accoutrements into my Eberlestock, with a level of violence more suited to doling out during a good game of “Whack-A-Mole” after overdoing it on the espresso, when I experienced that funny feeling, you get when being watched. I obeyed my “Spidey-senses,” turned, and there on a barren knob of another moraine 150-yards away was a respectable black bear. Even under pristine conditions, his presence in that position would have been odd as there was no cover and no surreptitious means of ingress or egress…but there he was…and he was staring directly at me. Hard.
I immediately transitioned from “Action Packer Man” to predatory mode, and slowly and deliberately began drawing the Howa Carbon Stalker from my pack. The bear continued to glare at me as the Howa cleared the pack and I shouldered it from an awkward seated position. Whether it was curiosity, or his desire to evaluate me as a potential after-lunch snack that rooted him to the spot, I’ll never know, because the minute I brought the Carbon Stalker on line with the bruin, it charged down the moraine into the cover below, never to be seen again. The storm intensified, the Howa Carbon Stalker received one of several foul weather testing installments, and there was several hundred pounds less of hot Italian black bear sausage to be processed and secured in my chest freezer.
The fault was all mine. The .300 PRC Howa was impressively light for its caliber-class and drew easily and quietly from my Eberlestock pack. Its ergonomics were instrumental in shouldering it and putting “sights on target” from a less-then-ideal rushed shooting position. I, on the other hand, violated my “crouching tiger/hidden dragon” rule of remaining stealthy when exiting a hide and as a result, added another chapter to the lessons learned files.
A Different Brand of Hunting Demands a Different Class of Long Gun
For those who love the wilderness, hunting can be the most fulfilling, exciting, and timeless of all outdoor pursuits. Like most human endeavors, however, this age-old institution is not immune to one of the inevitable truths (and curses) of the human condition. The sad, yet inevitable, certainty is this: Everything usually gets old and stale after years of routine…with the exception of tacos, pizza, and that dreamy late-1970’s poster of Farrah Faucet or Cheryl Ladd in her minimalist, yet tasteful pink bikini. Whether you are spending the day in a tree stand, getting berated by an indignant squirrel while waiting for a nice buck to show up, or sitting under a spruce tree in driving rain calling for a moose that may never come, repetition and redundancy breeds ennui. It also spawns the desire to venture into new and unfamiliar territory…like mountain hunting.
Mountain and backcountry trek-style hunting takes a sportsman’s level of fieldcraft and outdoor prowess to an entirely new level. In addition to the elevated physical fitness levels necessary to properly execute an Alpine-like hunt safely and efficiently, the addition of specialized gear and clothing to your kit is equally imperative. This high-stake brand of back-country game-getting also requires a rugged, lightweight rifle engineered to withstand the rough and tumble environment of high country hunting. Mountain environments are unforgiving, and everything an adventurer carries into them, including their weapon, will be exposed to the rigors of driving winds, rain, snow, and other horrific climatic conditions. Your long arm and gear will also be subjected to potentially catastrophic impact and shock related punishment resulting from dropped backpacks and slips/falls by the hunter while navigating the difficult, unstable terrain inherent to the alpine.
This is where Howa Precision Rifles steps into the arena with their recent lineup of accurate, light-weight Model 1500’s. There is no air of mystery surrounding the weapons we tested in the 49th thanks to call-signs that speak volumes about their intended purpose and attributes: The .300 PRC “Carbon Stalker” and 6.5 Creedmoor “Super Lite.” So get that fire cracklin’, grab a refreshing beverage, give your faithful pup a good pat on the head, and enjoy the story of these two capable Howa rifles as they face the challenge of being tested and evaluated on America’s last frontier!
A High-Caliber Contradiction in Terms: The Affordable Howa Super Lite and Carbon Stalker
Men and women who immerse themselves in the pursuit of high-country and expedition-style hunting are a special breed, an elite breed, a breed of hardy individuals who have no tolerance for coffee drinks with names like “sea-salted caramel mocha hello-kitty macchiato” or those pretentious enough to drink the aforementioned frou-frous beverages with their pinkie fingers fabulously pointed outwards at a 90° angle. The rookies who decide to pursue this rewarding and oftentimes dangerous brand of hunting will immediately be confronted with a set of cold, hard, and unavoidable fundamentals. These fundamentals are non-negotiable, and as sure as time and tide, have the potential to “shlap” the uninitiated in the face, Sean Connery backhand style, if ill-prepared. Achieving and maintaining an elevated level of physical fitness and honing back-country survival skills, to include map reading and GPS navigational proficiency, are critical. Selecting the proper clothing and equipment necessary to do battle against the elements and terrain commonly encountered “up yonder” is also paramount.
There is one universal truth, however, that can prove to be the most traumatic for those of us who aren’t Fortune-500 members. It is the price tag for the specialized gear necessary to ensure your comfort and safety while traversing God’s country. The outfitting costs involved are often cringe-inducing, and the retail price you pay for an adequate rifle/scope combo plays a significant role in the “murder hornet” reminiscent sting incurred by your monthly credit card bill. By their very nature, mountain rifles are engineered to be uber-light, extremely rugged, accurate, and weather resistant. These shared attributes commonly come with a hefty penalty to those who consider themselves fiscally responsible. It is not uncommon for mountain rifles and their lightweight kin to retail at prices starting at $2K and rocketing off into the $5K “How much is a kidney selling for on the Chinese black market these days and, follow-up, do you think my wife would miss it?” stratosphere. Fortunately, we’re gathered here today to deliver some good news to you in relation to both your overall pack-weight AND bank account. These glad tidings are spelled H-O-W-A.
Howa’s solution to back country hunters’ financial woes was to add several rifles to their Model 1500 lineup that possess all of the attributes commonly found on more expensive “high-end” rifles without including a price tag equal to the amount of U.S. currency commonly required to bankroll a revolution in a third world country. How they were able to pack all of these ideal high-country rifle traits into their Carbon Stalker and Super Lite bolt-guns is somewhat baffling. Did their engineers and gunsmiths sell their souls to an old fella a-pickin’ and a-grinnin’ on a beat-up guitar at a crossroads below the Mason-Dixon Line or entice a mysterious old gypsy lady to weave some type of dark arts magic? The answers to that question won’t be found here because their marketing professionals weren’t saying and I didn’t ask…but whatever blend of wizardry they conjured up resulted in two rifles that contradict the norm when it comes to incredibly well-built mountain guns and the damage normally incurred by your credit score after throwing down the plastic to purchase them!
Born for the High-Country: The Howa Super Lite
The first Howa Model 1500 to arrive in the 49th was the 6.5 Creedmoor Super Lite. Upon my arrival at my local FFL holder’s gun shop, I was greeted at the counter with “the goods” by the owner. I immediately removed the Super Lite from its box with a flourish, hefted it mightily into the air over my head, and boisterously shouted “THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE…until next week when the Carbon Stalker gets here…it’s running a bit late!” Two things occurred immediately after my soul-stirring proclamation. First, the store associate behind the counter attempting to carry on a civilized phone conversation with a normal customer (who did not suffer from impulse control issues) was not impressed by my enthusiasm, and second, I was supremely disappointed because something was terribly wrong. The rifle was too light. A major part or component of the Super Lite was obviously AWOL…MIA…or worse…scavenged and added to a rifle being sent for review to some hack on YouTube.
My thirty-year career as a street cop and criminal investigator served me well when I immediately and expertly confirmed that the barrel and stock were, in fact, attached. My cunning and instincts continued to gnaw at me, however, and I just knew there had to be some manufacturing error or omission that justified why the rifle weighed in at approximately the same heft as a properly made Italian submarine sandwich. I laughed jauntily (didn’t want to ruin the moment for the employees and customers who were now gawking at me with nervous concern), hurriedly removed the bolt from the shipping container, and added it into the mix. I was certain its inclusion would provide the poundage necessary to prove I hadn’t just accepted a child’s airsoft gun or balsa-wood replica piece. Its installation did nothing to increase the rifle’s heft or assuage my fears. Luckily, I had an epiphany (or was it a quick perusal of the rifle’s web page) and the Super Lite’s specifications were made clear. No quality control or shipping mishaps occurred. I was holding a true-blue four-pound and seven-ounce mountain rifle with a hand-laid carbon fiber stock and a price tag that wouldn’t limit my diet to Ramen noodles and PB&J sammies for the rest of FY-22!
The Howa Super Lite that ventured north for testing was chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor. The minute you get your mitts on a Super Lite, it will become immediately apparent there is nothing flamboyant or exotic about the rifle (with the exception of the superb Kryptek Altitude or Obscura camouflage patterns emblazoned on its stock). It is a rifle based on practicality and function. Mountain rifles are meant to be carried on long treks into harsh, otherworldly environments and perform their intended purposes with absolute lead pipe cruelty and reliability. Whether the mission at hand is harvesting an elk in the Colorado Rockies, a Dall sheep in the arctic peaks of Alaska’s Brooks Range, or a white tail in the foothills of West Virginia, these rifles are meant to survive catastrophic conditions while still achieving pinpoint accuracy downrange. The Super Lite fits this template to a tee. The Super Lite’s stock and barrel are force multipliers in the rifle’s light weight characteristics. I shouldered the rifle numerous times in a variety of shooting positions in an effort to formulate an opinion on its user-friendliness under field conditions. These positions ranged from prone and comfortable to awkward and sideways around a boulder with my spine contorted into a dead-man’s curve yaw that would cause an orthopedic surgeon to grin in anticipation of an easy payday. In sickness and in health (and practically an upside down shooting position), the rifle’s ergonomics synced up perfectly with its intended purpose of making precision shots when engaging targets in less than ideal shooting locations.
It takes two to tango, and that includes a cooperative tryst in which two separate and distinct companies contribute towards a shared goal of manufacturing a great weapon. The firearms industry has learned over the years that teamwork and collaboration can lead to tremendous success in the design of new firearms. These collaborations often produce firearms with the same (or even greater) quality as that of custom weapons. The Howa Super Lite and Carbon Stalker are prime examples of what can result from these joint efforts.
The Stocky’s stock outfitted to the Super Lite is a key component in the rifle’s successful “battle of the bulk” and a direct result of the collaboration between Howa and Stocky’s. Stocky’s is a Florida-based company whose ironic genesis is primarily thanks to a massively disappointing fail! Stocky’s president, Don Bitz, founded the innovative after-market stock building firm largely in part due to the difficulties he experienced while searching for a good aftermarket stock back in the day. Much to his consternation, he found himself in an era practically devoid of well-made, ergonomic aftermarket rifle stocks. Like many other good and true Americans faced with a difficult obstacle, he took the bull by the horns, started his own stock manufacturing company, and voilà…problem solved! Stocky’s became a force to be reckoned with in the now highly competitive world of aftermarket long arm components. Mr. Bitz and Stocky’s also maintains a burning passion for the 2nd amendment and is a major contributor to the NRA and National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF). The Stocky’s stock outfitted upon the Super Lite weighs in at only about 21½ ounces and sports a recoil defeating Limbsaver recoil reducer butt-pad. If you are recoil sensitive or plan to train a younger shooter on the Howa Super Lite, Limbsaver estimates their product eliminates up to 70 percent of felt recoil.
As we move forward on the Super Lite, our next stop is the trigger and bolt group. The Super Lite’s HACT (Howa Actuator Controlled Trigger) is a proprietary system that is designed to nullify trigger creep. It is a two-stage trigger that has a three-pound, seven ounce pull on the test rifle. The thumb-activated safety is a simple three position push-forward, pull-back design that is simple to operate, intuitive, and incorporates a capability normally bogarted by the Mauser level-style safety which is the option to lock the bolt in place. The bolt is of a monolithic design and is forged as a single component. If you’ve ever busted thick brush in bear country with a round in the chamber, this feature is critical. Briars, alder, and other foliage exhibiting an Andrew Cuomo/Harvey Weinstein-like propensity for grabbing on to things they shouldn’t have-way of catching your bolt-throw and either partially or completely ejecting a chambered cartridge. A secure bolt is a good bolt…and the Howa safety is designed to assist the operator in that regard. Now let’s talk about the remainder of it! The Super Lite’s bolt features an integral recoil lug and opposing locking lugs. It also features an M-16-stylized extractor. It is engineered with over-pressure vent holes and a bolt face guaranteed to be true and square to the chamber. The rifle’s appetite for inducing down-range pain is fed by a single stack polymer flush detachable magazine with a 3+1 round capacity. While the test rifle’s preferred diet was 6.5 Creedmoor, the Super Lite is also available in the ubiquitous .308 Winchester chambering.
Since we’re still in close proximity to the bolt on our tour of the Super Lite, here’s a short rundown on the ready-to-rock pre-fitted picatinny optic rail. This rail is mounted above the action, “bridge-style,” and gives the Super Lite bragging rights for being nearly expedition-ready right out of the box (with the exception of a good sling and the addition of your go-to rifle scope). No scope ring bases or other potential fail points…just a good ol’ fashioned solid-state rail. Moving towards the muzzle, the next component on our anatomical tour of the Super Lite is the barrel. It is thin. The End. Play epic theme music and roll credits. Just joshing ya! The 20-inch, 1-10 twist barrel is purposely engineered to be slim in order to decrease the rifle’s weight, while still retaining a reasonable degree of accuracy.
One of the undesirable mannerisms of a thin barrel is problematic barrel harmonics. These harmonics (vibrations that travel through a rifle barrel when firing) can greatly affect a long-arm’s accuracy (Ruger’s old-model Mini-14s are a great example). The second problem child of a dainty barrel is the propensity for it to heat-up rapidly during multiple-shot strings of fire, also degrading a rifle’s down-range performance. In light of the potential pitfalls of a thin barrel, let’s just put the cart before the horse and indulge in a “spoiler alert.” The thin barrels of the Super Lite and Carbon stalker did not succumb to the laws of physics/metallurgy previously described and performed quite well during range testing. Before we move on from our discussion of the rifle’s barrel, let’s finish up with a quick word on the rifle’s business end. If you are a suppressor or muzzle brake aficionado, this is your “feel good” moment. The Super Lite’s muzzle is threaded (muzzle protector cap included) to the tune of ½"-28 and ready for the noise dampening/recoil defeating device of your choice.
Never Fear, BIG BROTHER IS HERE: The Arrival of the .300 PRC Carbon Stalker!
Shortly after the Super Lite made its Alaska debut, I received word that its big brother arrived in the 49th and was ready to rumble. Most of what there is to say about the Carbon Stalker is akin to the plot line of the 1993 Bill Murray comedy “Groundhog Day” (minus the Sonny and Cher background music). My observations and assessment of the Carbon Stalker were eerily similar, if not a downright carbon (no pun intended, I swear) copy of the Super Lite’s attributes. It was extremely light, given its 300 PRC capable long-action designation (6 lbs., 12 oz.). Like the Super Lite, this was largely due to its custom carbon fiber stock manufactured by…huge reveal coming…Stocky’s! The test rifle’s stock was emblazoned with a Kryptek Altitude camouflage scheme, but the rifle is also available in the classic “true carbon fiber” black/gray weave pattern. The Carbon Stalker featured the previously detailed three position in-line safety with the same ability to lock the bolt in place when placed in position number two.
There were several dissimilarities between the Ultra Lite and the Carbon Stalker. The Carbon Stalker sports a 24-inch barrel and will arrive from the factory drilled and tapped for your preferred method of optics mounting. The Carbon Stalker also has an integral/onboard box magazine rather than a detachable magazine like the Super Lite. This is a non-issue, if not a plus, for many back country hunters as there is no chance of a mishap occurring and the magazine being ejected in error, effectively turning your rifle into a Debbie-Downer single shot rifle. Remember, nothing says, “abject terror” and “Honey, those are rust stains in my undies…I swear.” quite like being charged down by a brown bear with only a single round with which to properly greet it! Additional bonuses in the Carbon Stalker’s “plus column” is it’s two-stage match trigger, a lifetime warranty and a sub-MOA assurance policy. The rifle’s trigger was buttery-smooth and crisp…with an average breakover weight of 3lbs/3ozs. The Carbon Stalker is available in mini, short, and long actions and capable of launching multiple calibers down range, to include 6.5 PRC, .300 Winchester Magnum, 308 Winchester, 7mm-08 Remington, 6mm ARC, .223 Remington, and 7.62X39.
There is one more caliber the Carbon Stalker is geared for that will be of extreme interest to our good friends in the Midwest who are required to use straight-walled cartridges for white tail hunting. That caliber is the ever-popular .350 Legend… a formidable deer harvesting pill capable of executing accurate and humane shots on medium game at 250 yards and in. Variety is the Spice of Life…Enter the 6-36x56 Vortex Razor HD GEN III and 2.5-15x42 Trijicon Credo! I’ve never been a widower or divorcee, but I do seem to recall an adage that goes something like: The first time you marry for love, the second for money, and the third for companionship (or was it for never having seen a single episode of Sex in the City or The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills?). Anyway, the point is that common sense should always dictate life’s most important decisions like what optic to attach to your hunting rifle. In that regard, I made one practical decision and another dictated by necessity when outfitting the Super Lite and Carbon Stalker test weapons.
The Super Lite received a light weight, yet adequately powerful optic complimenting the rifle’s purpose as a potential long-distance mountain rifle: the Trijicon Credo. The Credo mounted on the Super Lite was Trijicon’s 2.5-15X42 power version and one that previously proved its game-getting prowess during a late-fall Texas white tail hunt. The Credo is a second focal plane rifle scope with an illuminated MRAD Center Dot reticle. For hunters who may experience rapidly evolving situations in the field, the Credo features an exposed elevation adjustment tower and a return-to-zero option. It’s multi-power illumination source utilizes a CR2032 battery with an estimated 68-hour lifespan when engaged. The optic was engineered to rigorous military spec ruggedization standards and prior to being released onto the market and were subjected to immersion, vibration, extreme cold weather, and drop testing by Trijicon. The scope’s 2.5-15x magnification is perfect for Alaska hunting, where it is not uncommon to reach out to the 300+ yard line to harvest a monster caribou or busting a brown or black bear in brushy terrain at 50 yards and in.
Conversely, the scope I mounted on the Carbon Stalker was a bit incongruous (that sounds better than “nonsensical” or “daft”) for a rifle designed to be extremely light for its caliber-class. I had a long distance/high magnification optic in the stack for testing and evaluation that would give the Hubble Space Telescope a run for its money and I needed to put it through its paces on a real-world mission. In my defense, sometimes gun-writing demands sacrifices, and a few pounds of added pack weight was a small price to pay for the level of professional journalism you have grown to expect from Firearms News. Enter the 6-36X56 Vortex Razor HD GEN-3. This optic has the appearance, specifications, and capabilities of a heart attack serious military application rifle optic. What it does not possess is the light weight and minimalist footprint of a rifle scope expressly designed for a mountain gun and was never meant to. It is a long distance optic for large and capable rifles. Think military application/long distance shooting and your characterization will be spot on. First and foremost, the Razor HD GEN-3 is engineered with superbly clear glass. Both MRAD and MOA illuminated reticles are available and it also features exposed locking turrets for rapidly evolving situations in which adjustments are required on-the-fly. Its weight (45.1 ounces) is appropriate for its role as a long distance, high magnification rifle optic. It is designed for rough work, with recoil/impact resistance engineered into its design and features Vortex’s scuff/blemish/oil/dirt resistant proprietary ‘Armor Tec’ coating on the lenses.
Combined Training Exercise: Range Day with the Super Lite and Carbon Stalker
Whenever you manage to pull off a six-hour shift at an Alaskan rifle range in early June with cool, clear weather and a complete absence of Alaska’s state bird (the Culiseta Alaskaensis, or Alaskan mosquito), you relish ever second of it. Thanks to a late freeze that demolished our usually densely packed population of those pesky bloodsuckers, a key detractor to serious shooting business was thankfully out of play. Cool weather, a bonus, would also prove to be a boon for the thin-barreled Super Lite and Carbon Stalker, because a cool (not cold) barrel is a happy barrel. Here’s the rundown of their performance. The Super Lite was first at bat, and it did not disappoint. I sent two different 6.5 Creedmoor rounds down range to the 100- and 300-yard lines. The first of these was Hornady’s Precision Hunter, featuring their 143-grain ELD-X bullet. This cartridge pushes the ELD-X projectiles out of the barrel at 2,960 fps. Hornady’s Precision Hunter ammunition achieved an average shot grouping (three five-round groups) of 1.484-inches at the 100-yard line, with the best five shot group registering in at 1.472-inches. The ELD-X knocked out an average 3.224-inch group at the 300-yard marker with the closest group measuring 3.122-inches. The second cartridge devoured by the Super Lite was Federal Premium offering topped with a 140-grain Nosler AccuBond bullet. Federal’s medium game cartridge achieves a muzzle velocity of 2,725 fps and carries 2,2308 foot pounds of ouch in each helping. This cartridge achieved an average shot grouping of 1.878-inches at 100 yards with a top scoring group registering at 1.472-inches. Federal Premium knocked out an average 3.36-inch group at 300 yards with a best group score of 3.008-inches.
The rifle’s kick could easily be described as youth-friendly, and the Trijicon Credo’s clear glass made paper punching out to three hundred yards a pleasure. Could a target or bull barrel do better? Absolutely, but on a grueling, long distance hunt where those engaged in it commonly cut the handles off of their toothbrushes and drill holes in their already whispery-light titanium sporks to shirk off excess pack-weight, who needs ‘em?! The Carbon Stalker/Razor HD duo followed in the footsteps of Team Super Lite/Credo with accuracy on par with its smaller brother. Due to the recent ammunition crunch even gun writers had to power through, I tested the only cartridge I could get my mitts on…Hornady’s 212-grain Precision Hunter topped with their ELD-X bullet. As fate would have it, this round was the right round for the Carbon Stalker…verging on the vaunted title of “Teacher’s Pet!” The Hornady Precision Hunter cartridge punched a group average of 1.293-inches at 100 yards with its best group coming in at 1.278-inches. Stretching out its legs to the 300-yard line resulted in a group average of 3.221-inches and top scoring group of 3.122-inches. The Limb Saver recoil pad attached to the Stocky’s stock performed extremely well and tamped down the .300 PRC’s felt recoil to a level reminiscent of a full-house .308 Winchester. When Howa range day was over, I was satisfied. The rifle’s actions performed reliably, and both weapons exhibited accuracy commonly associated with rifles sporting heftier retail prices. That combination puts the Super Lite and Carbon Stalker into the vaunted “winner, winner, chicken dinner” class of common-sense, “get the job done” back-country rifle. Complete victory did not belong to the Howa 1500 duo yet, though…because they still had to survive their debuts in both the mountains and glacial valleys of the Alaska Range and on the desolate and barren tundra of Adak Island.
The Triumphs and Tragedy of the Howa 1500s’ Alaska “Vacation!”
This portion of our tale was to be the epic Hemingway/H. Rider Haggard portion of this project…but sadly enough, the only way to describe the sad series of events that followed my hunting buddies and I into the field can be summed up in three words: Passionless moose and Covid. The Carbon Stalker was able to prove itself against the rain, sleet, snow, and swirling glacial dust that sandblasted it during a two-week moose hunt in the high country and riverine conditions of the Alaska Range. Unfortunately, fourteen solid days of cow-calling resulted in abject failure on the hunting front…with not a single bull moose showing it’s normally randy countenance to Kenai Jay (my intrepid hunting partner) or me even once. We never figured out if the cows just weren’t “into it” or the bulls were experiencing “Low-T,” but as we departed for home from our tiny gravel strip via Super Cub, it was readily apparent that no amount of Cabernet, Netflix, and “chill” (whatever that means) was going to put the ‘Ying into the Yang’ of those massive Yukon moose lazing about like overly chaste monks in the high country of Alaska’s interior. As previously stated, however, I purposely allowed the Carbon Stalker and Razor HD to get absolutely pummeled by the weather. This resulted in nearly zero surface rust visible on the rifle and an action and trigger group that functioned as smoothly after the punishment as before. The Razor HD survived the ordeal with the same verve. The optic didn’t exhibit a single hint of internal fogging or moisture incursion and no visible blemishes on the scope’s copper-reminiscent ‘Stealth Shadow’ hard anodized exterior.
The Super Lite, on the other hand, got off…well…super light. It was destined for a caribou hunt with a former coworker and his teenage daughter on the remote, windswept island of Adak in the Aleutians. The rifle experienced all of the rough and tumble handling, bumps, and drops associated with getting there via Alaska air services, ATV’s, and push carts, but alas, larger and darker forces were at play. My friend and his squad made it out yonder to Adak, but good times were not to be had. Sadly enough, what started off as a true Alaska hunting expedition morphed into a historical reenactment of what life is like inside of a New Guinea leper colony. Every single member of their hunting party were deep-sixed by Covid within days of arrival. This occurred while they were on standby in their lodging and waiting out a particularly volatile weather pattern smashing through the Aleutians from Siberia. Whether the Covid that struck all of originated from a skeevy toilet seat at their bush taxi’s aerodrome, or our good Dr. Fauci ran out of beagles to murder and decided to sprinkle some of that Wuhan nastiness into several of the hunting party’s Mountain House freeze dried meals, it is a crappy Scooby Doo mystery that will remain unsolved. Suffice it to say, however… the hunt was a total disaster. At least for my friends. The caribou were totally jazzed about the whole debacle!
Never Judge a Rifle By Its Price Tag: Final Notes on the Howa Super Lite and Carbon Stalker
Thus far, the word “light” has been used 21 times in this article, but as we near the close of this tale, we’d like to impart how unheavy (that’s a real word…at least according to the internet) the rifles, given their caliber classes, were at least one more time. If you’ve ever had to spend time in close proximity to an area that was malodorous and/or funky, like an unkempt barnyard, waste treatment plant, or the general area downwind from Michael Moore’s dirty poo-poo undies filled clothes basket, you probably noticed that over time you became habituated to the nasty waftings emanating from them. You will be happy to know that this little analogy doesn’t hold true when it comes to the Super Lite’s total weight even when outfitted with an optic and stoked with its four-round 6.5 Creedmoor loadout. No matter how I tried, I absolutely could not get used to how light it was. The Carbon Stalker, while a beefier rifle, also gets extra credit points for its big-power cartridge/light weight platform characteristics.
The Super Lite/Trijicon Credo partnership and the Carbon Stalker shared several traits that I consider important when testing a rifle intended for rough and tumble hunting in the back country. They were exceedingly light for their cartridge/power classes, exhibited excellent ergonomics, commendable accuracy, and easily survived punishing bumps, drops, and horrific climatic conditions. The rifles also emerge from their factory box nearly “ready to rumble” with the exception of scope attachment. Many rifles greet their new operators with spartan exteriors, devoid of bonus accoutrements like the Super Lite’s picatinny rail, or both Howa 1500’s up-engineered recoil pads and threaded suppressor ready barrel.
On the topic of shortcomings, I only have a few gripes. The Super Lite and Carbon Stalker’s safeties are strategically located and I liked their three position bolt-locking functionality. I did have minor reservations about the safety lever’s sturdiness, however. The somewhat thin metal construction and overall design is one that I would like to see beefed-up. Anything can happen on a mountain hunt and a bad drop into rocks could be catastrophic on any potential fail point that isn’t “down to clown” with mishaps. The other issue is also minor, but only because it happened in my living room and not on a steep boulder strewn mountainside or steeply sloping glacier. While preparing the new rifle with a sling, I hefted it to my shoulder and “gonk,” the sling swivel stud came free from the front stock and the rifle, optic and all, went crashing to the carpeted floor. The fix was easy (Gorilla Glue), but the results could have painful had the failure occurred in hostile terrain, or on my wife’s new coffee table!
Aside from these correctible issues, I thoroughly enjoyed Howa’s purpose-driven 1500’s. Howa Machinery is not a “wet behind the ears” new kid on the block. The Japanese firm has been manufacturing weapons since the 1940’s. The practical, functional, and exacting nature of the Super Lite and Carbon stalker perfectly illustrate the firm’s dedication to craftsmanship, a philosophical doctrine that began over eight decades ago with their manufacture of the iconic WWII-era Arisaka battle rifle. Their gun-building prowess progressed into the 21st century, and the Super Lite and Carbon Stalker are definitive examples of their continued efforts to design and manufacture modern, high quality, affordable bolt action rifles. While the Super Lite and Carbon Stalker were “always the bridesmaids and never the brides” when it came to this year’s failed hunts, they proved themselves to be capable, accurate, reliable, and rugged weapons perfectly capable of carrying out their intended purposes in less than ideal conditions.
Howa’s 1500 Super Lite and Carbon Stalker, partnered with rugged and exceedingly clear optics like the Trijicon Credo and Vortex Razor HD Gen-3, are great options for practical back country or mountain hunters. The bottom line is this: If you are on a quest to find a lightweight, powerful, go-to rifle that doesn’t require a huge “win at the track” or armored truck heist to get it into your gun safe or onto your backpack, these two rifles are a perfect fit.