Review: Howa Superlite

by
posted on March 19, 2024
Review Howa Super Lite Lead

Conventional wisdom suggests this rifle shouldn’t exist let alone function smoothly and shoot precisely. Yet here it is: Howa’s 4-pound, 7-ounce Super Lite. Ultralight accuracy with a caveat.

Howa Super Lite bolt-action rifle chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor.

Right out of the box this airy rifle grouped as well as standard, 8-pound factory rifles did in the 1990s. Adding one simple, screw-on attachment doubled that accuracy.

I remember when a major U.S. rifle maker in the early 1990s boldly guaranteed three-shot, 1.5 MOA precision from its rifles, an unheard-of marketing claim at the time. Weatherby made it stick, but those were 8- to 10-pound rifles. My Super Lite Howa rifle meets that standard at half the weight. The addition of a 7.8-ounce suppressor tightened group size to sub-MOA, some as tight as .35 inch.

You might consider the addition of an aftermarket silencer cheating, but the threaded muzzle of the 20-inch, hammer-forged barrel on this Super Lite indicates it has been engineered with a suppressor or muzzle brake in mind. Many if not most experienced shooters anticipate tweaking a new rifle to achieve its finest accuracy—floating the barrel, glass bedding the barreled action, adding an aftermarket trigger, tailoring ammunition and bullet seating depth, etc. Merely removing the checkered muzzle cap and screwing on a silencer seems more than fair.

At first heft the Super Lite feels like a kid’s BB gun, too insubstantial to safely ignite enough nitrocellulose to generate 62,000 psi of pressure and propel a 129-grain bullet 2836 fps. Yet that’s what my test model did. The first three 129-grain Browning rounds I fired at 100 yards gathered inside a 1.23-inch circle. Three Fiocchi 129-grain SSTs huddled 1.3 inches. The last three Hornady 147-grain ELD Match bullets I fired bunched inside .75 inch. And my shoulder barely registered it had happened.

Howa Super Lite action open with box magazine removed.

Recoil drives skepticism of super light rifles. Sharp, heavy, painful recoil. This Super Lite in 6.5 Creedmoor produced none that these old bones could detect. I’d planned to test this Howa with a suppressor screwed to its hammer-forged barrel, but, in the interest of full disclosure, figured I’d better endure a few unsuppressed blows first. Twenty-five shots in an hour and I was ready for more. According to a recoil calculator, when firing those 147-grain bullets, I was absorbing 22.17 foot-pounds of recoil energy at a recoil velocity of 17.81 fps. That’s 1 foot-pound more energy and 5 fps more velocity than generated by a 180-grain .30-06 fired in a 9-pound rifle. Sure didn’t feel like it. Can we credit the Howa’s ½-inch Limbsaver recoil pad? Or its Stocky’s Accublock carbon-fiber composite stock? There’s long been a theory that certain composite stocks somehow absorb recoil and spread it over time. I don’t know. Certainly this rifle’s high, straight-line comb moderated any cheek slap. Removed from the barreled action, the stock weighed 16 ounces. I find it almost magical that a rifle this light can control recoil so well. 

With fear of recoil no factor, I settled in and test-fired eight brands of ammo with and without a Silencer Central Backcountry silencer attached. Some shot faster and grouped tighter with the muffler, some the opposite. Were I planning to hunt with this rifle, (and I did), I’d find a load matched to the silencer for the sound reduction if nothing else. Being free to swing into action and shoot in an instant without fear of ringing ears and additional hearing loss is priceless. The 5.5-inch titanium Backcountry adds just 7.8 ounces to the setup. With the Leupold VX-3 2.5-8x36mm scope screwed to the Picatinny rail that came on the Super Lite and three rounds in the detachable polymer magazine, the hunt-ready rifle weighs 6.5 pounds.

The unlikely Howa Super Lite springs from an improbable history that has taken its manufacturer from enemy to ally, from textiles to war munitions to sporting rifles. The Howa bolt-action has connections with Weatherby, Mossberg, Smith & Wesson and the Biggest Little City in the World but not, despite an early name, a motor car manufacturer.

The automobile reference stems from Howa’s birth name in 1907: Toyoda (with a D, not a T) Loom Works. Toyoda manufactured machines for the textile industry until 1932 when it began making hand grenades for the Japanese Army. In 1941 it merged with Showa Heavy Industries—which was building cannonballs, military aircraft parts and rifles—to become Howa Heavy Industries. Yes, it built M99 Arisaka rifles.

After the war, Howa returned to making textile machinery, but by 1952 was cleared to manufacture weapons for the Korean War. Hunting rifles came off the line in 1959. A new factory in 1965 led to the bolt-action Golden Bear rifle introduced to the U.S. at the Chicago SHOT Show in 1967. This model evolved into the Model 1500 by 1979 and it became the barreled action for the Weatherby Vanguard rifles, Smith & Wesson M1500 rifles and Mossberg M1550 rifles.

Howa Super Lite rifle bolt.

Howa’s connection to Reno, Nev., the Biggest Little City in the World, reflects its current U.S. distributor, Legacy Sports International, which catalogs an extensive variety of light to target-heavy Howa rifles, all based on the proven M1500 push-feed action with dual locking lugs, M16-style extractor and plunger ejector inside the bolt face. The system is quite similar to Remington’s M700 except this Super Lite HACT trigger is two-stage and its safety is three-position. The trigger shoe moves easily to the tension stage and then breaks at a crisp, repeatable 3 pounds.

The action of the Super Lite represents a tweaking of action size, it’s diameter smaller than that of a typical short-action. The one-piece, forged bolt/handle is narrower than traditional short-action bolts, including Howa’s own M1500. Three large holes in the bolt body and one in the front receiver ring stand ready to vent gases in case of a catastrophic failure. This downsizing of the action began with the New Ultralight Arms M20 rifle in the late 1980s, continued with the Kimber 84M and is possible due to use of today’s finest steels thoroughly tested for strength. The beefy actions of the Mauser 98, Weatherby Mark V and Winchester M70 may no longer be necessary.

The only glitch I could detect on my sample rifle was a stiff magazine release lever inset ahead of the magazine. This may be intentional to prevent accidental release. The lever must be engaged with a fingertip through a ½-inch hole and pulled down and back firmly to release the polymer magazine. Similarly, it must be pushed firmly to lock the magazine back into battery. My only other small complaint is the Picatinny rail that comes attached. I find it unnecessary and hindering easy access to the ejection port. It hasn’t interfered with ejection, but I prefer the additional space one gets with a two-piece base. A hack saw could fix this quickly, but do it only after you’ve proven your scope and rings will fit.

Despite being an ultralight rifle aficionado since 1988, I’ll confess I wasn’t impressed when I first picked up this Howa Super Lite. I changed my mind after 75 shots from the bench and one at the whitetail now in my freezer. This is one impressive ultralight rifle.

Howa Super Lite 6.5 Creedmoor rifle accuracy results with three factory ammunition loads.

Technical Specifications
Type: bolt-action centerfire rifle
Caliber: 6.5 Creedmoor (tested), .308 Win., .243 Win., 7mm-08 Rem.
Magazine: flush detachable box; 3-rnd. capacity
Barrel: 20"; sporter contour; cold hammer-forged; 1:10" RH twist; ½"x28 threaded muzzle w/thread protector
Trigger: HACT, two-stage; 3 lb. pull weight
Sights: none, one-piece Picatinny rail
Safety: three-position toggle
Stock: Stocky’s; straight comb; carbon-fiber; Kryptek Altitude or Kryptek Obskura Transitional camo finish; 13.25" LOP
Metal Finish: blued
Overall Length: 39"
Weight: 4 lbs., 7 ozs.
Accessories: none
MSRP: $1,039; howausa.com

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