If someone had told me just a few years ago that Howa would make an affordable hunting rifle weighing just 4 pounds, 7 ounces, I might not have believed them. The standard Howa 1500 bolt action rifle has always been a strong and accurate design, but it was never a lightweight. Today’s walnut-stocked Hunter model, for example, weighs well over seven pounds.
Thank you for reading this post, don't forget to follow and signup for notifications!
With its Super Lite model, Howa has set a new standard for affordable factory rifles weighing less than five pounds, and that’s quite an accomplishment. Virtually every major manufacturer offers a hunting rifle weighing less than seven pounds. The list gets shorter when you limit the weight to 6 1/2 pounds – and even shorter if you want a factory rifle weighing six pounds or less. When you start looking for a rifle weighing less than five pounds, you’re generally looking at a custom or semi-custom rifle that’s going to have a hefty price tag. The Super Lite, with an MSRP of $1,399, is much more affordable.
Initially, the rifle is being chambered for two of America’s most popular rifle cartridges, the 6.5 Creedmoor and 308 Win. The rifle sent to us for testing was stamped 6.5 Creedmoor on the barrel.
To reduce weight, Howa did not resort to tricks often used by other manufacturers, such as fluting barrels and bolts, which can increase the cost of a gun. Howa took a different approach, starting with the receiver. It’s actually a scaled-down version of the 1500 short action and is sized in between the short action and Howa’s popular mini action. Howa calls it a “reduced” short action, and it shaves a lot of weight from the machined receiver and forged, slimmed-down bolt, while retaining the strong and safe action design Howa is known for.
The downsized action is still equipped with Howa’s standard three-position safety. The bolt is locked down with the safety in the rearmost, engaged position. In the middle position, the safety is still engaged, but you can cycle rounds through the action. You simply push the lever all the way forward to fire. The rifle also uses Howa’s proprietary two-stage trigger, which broke crisply at an average pull weight of 2 lbs., 12 oz., with just the slightest hint of creep on a very slow trigger pull. The trigger is adjustable down to a pull weight of about 2 lbs., but I left it at its factory setting for testing. I’m not generally a fan of two-stage triggers for hunting rifles. I prefer the simple, clean, no-slack design of good single-stage triggers, but I would have no issue hunting with this trigger because the first stage has a very light take-up until the trigger stacks solidly, and you know exactly where you’re at in applying pressure to the trigger.
The rifle comes with a detachable, three-round polymer magazine that sits flush with the bottom of the receiver. It takes a fair amount of force to operate the recessed magazine release lever to drop the magazine, but that’s a good thing. I’ve dealt with some designs of the past that had protruding magazine release levers that could easily snag on brush and dump a magazine at an inopportune time. This one isn’t coming out of the magazine well unless you want it to. I found the latch a little tricky to operate at first because once you remove a magazine with the latch remaining in the open position, the mechanism will not lock a magazine down automatically when you reinsert one. You have to hold the magazine in place and rotate the latch to lock the magazine in place. However, I found that if you rotate the latch to the closed position manually, before inserting a magazine, the magazine will automatically click into place. The operation becomes second nature with a bit of practice. Rounds fed smoothly and reliably from the magazine.
You will find no game-spooking glare on this rifle from either the barreled action or the stock. The dark, blued-steel action is mated to a slender, 20-inch, blued-steel barrel that’s threaded (1/2-28 TPI) and suppressor ready.
Additional weight savings were achieved with the Super Lite by using a hand-laid carbon stock from Stocky’s. Wearing a Kryptek Altitude or Kryptek Obskura camo pattern, this stock is equipped with an Accublock patented lug bed and a Limbsaver recoil pad. While you might not think a significant recoil pad is needed for guns chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor and 308 Win., you’ll think otherwise when you shoot the Super Lite. The rifle is so light that it wants to jump after each shot, and those accustomed to shooting these cartridges in heavier rifles may be a little surprised by the recoil. Although the gun’s a bit lively, it’s easy to maintain a solid grip thanks to a soft-touch black webbing stock coating that helps you grasp the gun in all weather.
Aesthetically, the rifle is easy on the eyes. The stock has clean and classic lines, and I rather like the Kryptek camo patterns. Functionally, the gun fed, fired, and ejected rounds without issue. I did find the bolt cycling to be a little sticky, as the gun arrived from the factory, but lubricating the bolt improved things nicely.
I wanted to keep things light for testing, so I chose to put the gun through its paces with a Leupold VX-3HD 3.5-10X40 scope mounted atop the rifle’s pre-installed Picatinny rail in a set of Warne rings. This lightweight wonder of a scope weighs just 13.5 ounces, has crystal-clear glass, and delivers superior low-light performance. For this rifle, the VX-3HD checks all the boxes and brings the rifle’s full-up weight to 5 lbs., 15 oz. The use of steel rings added a bit to that weight, but it also improved balance between the hands. The gun still has some weight-forward balance which helps in steadying up for a shot.
I expected some velocity loss from the short, slender barrel when I took the rifle out for range testing, and that proved to be the case. With three tested loads, the drop in velocity ranged from 119 fps to 186 fps from factory numbers, which isn’t enough to worry about in most circumstances. A fourth load, however, which used a 147-grain bullet – the heaviest tested – showed a significant 322 fps falloff in velocity.
Although ultralight rifles aren’t always known for producing tack-driving accuracy, the Super Lite comes with a sub-MOA accuracy guarantee. According to Howa, this sort of accuracy is possible in the Super Lite because Howa installs barrels to meet stringent headspace specifications, and ensures bolt faces are true and square to the chamber. Still, rifles this light can be difficult for many people to shoot accurately, and I’ve found that I usually have to modify my technique to get the best results on the bench.
Accuracy testing with four loads produced mixed results. I wasn’t that impressed with the first couple of loads, which grouped bullets into clusters measuring an inch and a half to two inches. Perhaps the rifle just needed a little time to settle down – or maybe I did. In any event, things changed dramatically when I started shooting groups with Hornady’s Superformance 129-grain SST load, which produced average three-shot groups measuring just 0.53 inches and the best group of 0.36 inches. The rifle seemed to prefer lighter, faster bullets over heavier, slower ones, but Winchester’s 140-grain match load also performed well, turning in 0.99-inch average groups and a 0.61-inch best group. Notably, all testing was done with a nearly full-value wind blowing 7-12 mph. That made me appreciate the results even more since the types of places I would most likely carry this rifle aren’t always noted for calm weather or windless days.
Groups did tend to open up a bit as the relatively thin barrel heated up, but that’s to be expected. This is not a rifle designed for high-volume shooting. It’s built to help you get to the top of a mountain and make your shot count. The magazine holds only three rounds, but under most hunting circumstances, if you haven’t gotten the job done by the third or fourth round, you’re unlikely to make it happen with a fifth.
As noted, rifles this light can be more difficult for people to shoot well. That’s partly because of increased recoil and partly because the effects of inconsistent shooting technique are magnified with such light rifles. The cure for both situations is to practice. For hunters, that means practicing the types of shots you’ll be taking in the field. It’s one thing to shoot very light rifles well at the bench, where you can modify your rest and technique for best results. It’s another thing to shoot them well under field conditions. You may find that they don’t shoot as well from a hard rest such as a rock, tree limb, or even a bipod, as they will from a soft rest, such as a backpack. Experiment and plan shots accordingly.
Whether you’re hunting with a heavy or light rifle, always be prepared to capitalize on shot opportunities under a variety of field conditions. Finding those opportunities, especially in vertical country, can get a lot easier when you’re carrying this rifle.
Howa Super Lite Rifle
Caliber: 6.5 Creedmoor, as tested
Action Type: Bolt action
Trigger: Adjustable two-stage
Rate of Twist: 1-8
Barrel: 20-inch slender profile
Finish: Blued steel
Stock: Carbon fiber, Kryptek camo
Magazine/capacity: Detachable, 3+1
Sights: None, Picatinny rail installed
Overall Length: 38.75 inches
Weight: 4 pounds, 7 ounces
Black Hills Ammunition
Warne Scope Mounts
***Buy and Sell on GunsAmerica! All Local Sales are FREE!***