Review: Suppressed Howa 1500 Mini in 350 Legend

by
posted on May 31, 2024
001 BH15350 Rifle L 01

I've been on a quest to wring out the practical performance potential of Winchester's  350 Legend straight-walled rifle cartridge. Testing has included range time with a Magnum Research BFR single-action hunting revolver, and an at-home custom Brownells BRN-180 piston-driven AR-15. I've even explored its defensive potential using an off-the-rack Ruger AR-556 modern sporting rifle (MSR).

However, if we go back to the 2019 launch of this cartridge, Winchester's marketing campaign carefully emphasized the use of the 350 Legend as a bolt-action hunting-rifle round. This is despite the fact that this .357-caliber cartridge's external dimensions and rebated rim are clearly compatible with AR-15 magazines. Was the deer rifle focus intended to help promote the early Winchester Repeating Arms bolt guns? Or was the goal to steer clear of anti-gunners coming after Winchester in the media for making 'bigger bullets' for AR platforms? It was probably a bit of both. But half a decade later, the straight-walled 350 Legend has proven to be well suited to harvesting medium and large-size game at 150 to 200-yards from bolt actions and semi-automatics alike.

As of this writing, factory-assembled 350 Legend bolt-actions are available from manufacturers including CVA, Mossberg, Ruger, Savage and Winchester. But I opted to take a different route by assembling a rife for this evaluation. I've had positive shooting experiences in the past with the manufacturers and distributors discussed here. I also knew it would be possible to get just the features I wanted for a fair price. One my priorities with this test was to finally run this round through a sound suppressor, for which this particular 350 Legend rifle configuration would be a great fit. Here's how it came together. 

Brownells Exclusive Howa 1500 Barreled Action

Brownells is the sole distributor of Howa 1500-series barreled actions, which have been manufactured in Japan by Howa Machinery since 1979. These actions are essentially ready-to-use rifles. Just add the drop-in shoulder stock or chassis system of your choice, install an optics mount and you're ready to go. No additional gunsmithing is required.

Brownells offers a variety of Long, Short or Mini action configurations in a variety of calibers. Customers can choose from different finishes, barrel lengths, plain or threaded muzzles and either standard or detachable magazine bottom plates depending on the actions they have in stock at the time. The Brownells catalog also includes a selection stock and mounts which allows for one-stop shopping. However, the serialized barreled action must be shipped to your local FFL since it is legally classified as a firearm.

Howa Action

The Howa 1500 actions are loaded with sometimes overlooked features. The barrels are cold-hammer forged for improved accuracy. The forged steel receiver features an integral recoil lug with the two lugs of the bolt assembly providing generous engagement when locked in place. The bolt's M16 style extractor and ejector are among the most durable designs available. The handle sports an integral rounded knob and the rear of the assembly has an easy-to-see circular silver cocked firing pin indicator.

The conveniently located top right side three-position safety can be pressed all the way forward into the FIRE position. The central SAFE position blocks the trigger but allows the bolt to be opened or closed while the far back SAFE position blocks both the trigger and the bolt from cycling. To the left of the receiver is a lever which is pressed down to allow the bolt assembly to be removed. With the various Howa actions I've worked with over the years, the bolt assemblies have cycled smoothly right out of the box.

Howa receiver and barrel

For this evaluation I went with the Brownells  Howa 1500 Mini Action (#682146318524) with a receiver and bolt length which are specifically sized for AR-compatible cartridges, including the 350 Legend. The heavy #6 profile barrel is 16.25-inches long with a muzzle threaded at 5/8 x 24 TPI. for compatible muzzle devices including brakes, compensators and, in this case, a sound suppressor. A knurled thread protector is provided.

These actions ship with Howa's top notch adjustable HACT two-stage trigger, which is installed at the factory. They are usually preset to somewhere around three-pounds. This particular trigger's arch of travel was just 0.25-inch with half of that being a feathery light take-up before breaking crisply with just 2-pounds 10-ounces of trigger pull. I saw no reason to make any further adjustments.

This particular action ships with Howa's detachable magazine base plate. It's a one-piece polymer unit which incorporates the magazine well and the trigger guard. The magazine release is a small triangular lever mounted to the front of the magazine well. It's supported by stout front and back screws, and it arrived with one caliber-compatible five-round magazine. Additional 5- or 10-round magazines are available from Brownells or Legacy Sports International, which imports Howa’s factory-completed rifle models. This Howa 1500 action was listed for $449.99 on the Brownells website at the time of this writing.

Boyds Agility Stock 

Although Boyds Hardwood Gunstocks provides ready-made stocks through various online dealers, I highly recommend visiting the company's homepage before you buy. From their website customers can order exactly what they are looking for by hand picking just the features they want. In this case I ran a site search for the Howa 1500 Mini with the heavy # 6 barrel. There were 16 stock shapes to choose from for this gun along with 20 wood options and around nine more upgrades to select, depending on the stock selected. The prices for a fully finished, ready-to-use stock start at $141.

Boyd's Agility gunstock

The stock configuration selected for this rifle is the Agility model which starts at $243. Its contours and characteristics blend those of classic hunting rifle stocks with modern bench-rest guns. The fore-end is mostly rounded for a comfortable hold but flattened along the bottom side to set securely into a sandbag rest. This stock comes standard with front and rear sling swivel studs, a push-button adjustable aluminum butte plate and soft rubber recoil pad.

When selecting the upgrades, a possible choice would have been one of the more costly, fancy solid hardwoods. But I like the company's signature multi-color hardwood laminates. And so I went with the handsome gray and brown Shady Camo pattern treated with the standard matte finish, both of which are included in the price of the stock.

Boyd's stocks ship with smooth griping surfaces unless laser engraved texturing is requested. Shown here is the Fleur de Lis with diamond pattern checkering applied to the bottom edge of the fore-end and the grip. Black caps for the fore-end and grip were also added. The two addition upgrades selected included aluminum pillar bedding, front and rear, along with a height adjustable comb. With all of the extras installed, the stock shown here totaled $499 before taxes and shipping.

Rifle Assembly, Scope & Specifications

Installing the Brownells Howa 1500 barreled actions into a Boyds drop-in stock is about as simple an at-home build process as one could hope for. I like to begin by opening and then removing the bolt assembly from the receiver, followed by taking the magazine out of the polymer base plate. Then remove the two support screws from the receiver along with the base plate. Set the action into the stock, press the base plate into place and install the two support screws. This is a good point at which to install the scope mount followed by reinstalling the bolt and the magazine. With a bit of lubrication, verification that the bore is clear of any debris and a final bench check, the rifle is now ready to use.

Howa parts

For all formal and informal testing, this handy little 350 Legend rifle was topped off with a Warne Mountain Tech Zero MOA 7656M one-piece Picatinny rail, provided by Brownells. A set of Warne MSR Flat Top Quick Detach 1-inch rings were used to support a Meopta brand Meopro Optika5 2-10x42mm rifle scope. I haven't worked with these U.S. and Czech Republic assembled optics much in the past because their prices were relatively high ($1,600 to $2,400). But recently, the company launched some entry-level optics lines which include the Optica5 for $449.99. The crisp, clear sight picture and features don't look or feel 'entry level' to me. This scope provided more bang for the buck than the price implies.

Meopta scope

The completed rifle, with the optics rail and an empty magazine, tips the scales at 6-pounds 15.2-ounces. The aluminum and steel stock adjustment fittings, which make the stock heavier than the non-adjustable models, places that added weight back at the shoulder. This gives the compact rifle a handy feel and an easy swing. This particular Agility stock's length-of-pull (LOP) proved to be adjustable from 12.5-inches to 14.25-inches for an overall length of 34.25-inches to 36-inches. Lifting the adjustable cheek riser about a quarter of an inch gave it a just-right height for this particular optic and ring set.

Howa 1500 Mini

Range Time with Silencer Central’s Banish 46

At the shooting range, the Howa 1500 was put through its paces using two factory five-round magazines. The rifle was a smooth operator that reliably fed, fired and ejected all rounds tested without any hitches, hang-ups or issues throughout the course of testing. The levels of felt recoil generated by 350 Legend ammunition were moderate and comparable to that of .30-30 Win. This contributed to an enjoyable shooting experience suitable for a variety of body shapes and skill levels including youth and small-framed trigger trippers.

Banish 46 and baffles

Formal bench-rested three 3-shot group accuracy testing was conducted at 100-yards. A Garmin Xero C1 Pro radar chronograph was used to measure bullet velocity for ten consecutive shots. The ammunition for this portion of the test included two supersonic rounds and one subsonic load.

Howa in lead sled

Once the formal accuracy testing for a given load was completed, a fourth group was fired with a Silencer Central Banish 46 sound suppressor installed. Designed specifically for use with larger than .30-caliber bullet sizes, this suppressor is compatible with cartridges ranging from .338 Lapua to .45-70 Gov't. Made of titanium and Inconel (a durable nickel alloy), it is 10-inches long and weighs 20.4-ounces in its full-size configuration. For those situations in which a more compact can would be helpful, the front section can be removed, along with two baffles, to reduce the overall length to 7.9 inches and decrease the weight to 16.3 ounces. Since the test was conducted at an indoor range, I used the suppressor in its 10-inch configuration for maximum sound reduction. 

.350 Legend ammunition and Banish 46 suppressor

Federal's Power Shok load is topped off with a 180-grain jacketed soft point which left this rifle traveling at an average of 2048-fps for 1677 ft.-lbs. of muzzle energy. It yielded a best single group of 1.68 inches with a three group average of 1.82 inches. When fired through the Banish 46 suppressor it produced a 1.98-inch group with no appreciable change in point of impact.

Next up was Hornady's American Whitetail 170-grain jacketed soft point. Bullet velocity averaged 2205-fps for 1836 ft.-lbs. of energy with a best group of 1.56 inches and a group average of 1.79 inches. The suppressed group sizes were again at the larger end of the unsuppressed spectrum measuring 1.96  inches.

Hornady America Whitetail 350 Legend and accuracy results

The subsonic load used for this test was Winchester's Super Suppressed 225-grain open tip round. This cartridge has a listed velocity of 1080 fps. However, when fired from this gun's 16.25-inch barrel, the bullet velocity average dropped to 994 fps for 494 ft.-lbs. of muzzle energy. It also exhibited about a three-inch drop in the point of impact compared to the supersonic loads. This load punched out a best group of 1.91 inches for a group average of 2.07 inches. But when these rounds were fired through the Banish 46, they were impressively quiet, closing in on 'Hollywood' quiet. The suppressed group was 2.11 inches, or, dead center of the unsuppressed group size range.

Parting Shots

The 350 Legend is still in its infancy when it comes to rifle cartridge life spans. Remember, it's facing off against straight-walled rounds like the .45-70 Gov't. which has been in use for over 150 years. But I can say now from personal experience that, when fired from a bolt-action like the Howa 1500, the 350 Legend is a moderate-recoil option that will get the job done while being more pleasant to work with. And unlike some straight-walled options, this round can comfortably transition between bolt-action and semi-automatic MSRs if you want to enjoy shooting it from both types of actions. For more information about the rifle components discussed in this review, visit brownells.com, boydsgunstocks.com and silencercentral.com.

Howa 1600 receiver stamp and stock

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