The Perfect Training Rifle: Howa Mini Action in 7.62×39 — Full Review

Send to Kindle

Long range shooting is an expensive endeavor. A good rifle, nice scope and ancillary gear can easily set a marksman back several thousand dollars. Shooters on a budget, or those who want to get in a lot of training repetitions, may pick up a rifle that mimics their main long-range rifle relative to weight and feel, but that uses a less expensive round.

The Howa Mini Action next to a Howa short action. Note the difference in the action sizes.

I am currently gearing up for a National Rifle League competition in the Fall. For that competition, I will use a Howa chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor, mated to a Kinetic Research Group stock. I want to train, but at this stage in my training, there is no need to tap into my expensive 6.5 Creedmoor ammunition. To save my ammunition and extend the barrel life of my 6.5 Creedmoor, I assembled two training rifles.

The first training rifle is a Remington 700 that features an old-school 1/12-inch twist barrel. 1/12 twists stabilize 147- to 168-grain ammunition well, and the best bang for your buck, relative to .308/7.62 training ammunition, is Austrian 147-grain ammunition. My Remington 700 holds MOA at 100 yards and, at the altitudes I shoot, is perfectly capable of hitting an 18-inch target at 1,000 yards.  Like the Howa, the Remington 700 is mated to a Kinetic Research Group stock. These rifles feel identical and have the same manual of arms.

The Howa Mini Action features Howa’s two stage HACT trigger. The trigger breaks at 2 pounds and is clean and crisp. Pictured is the Nikko Stirling First Focal Plane 4-16X. It’s a high-quality piece of glass.

The second training rifle is a Howa Mini Action chambered in 7.62×39. The Howa Mini Action Rifle debuted several years ago at SHOT Show and features an action that is 12 percent shorter than the Howa short-action rifles.

SPECS

  • Cartridges: .204 Ruger, .222 Rem., .223 Rem., 6.5 Grendel & 7.62×39
  • Barrel Length: 20-in. lightweight, 22 in. standard & 20 in. heavy barrel options
  • HTI®synthetic, pillar-bedded stock & recoil pad
  • Capacity: 5 or 10-round detachable magazine (depending on caliber)
  • Bolt: Forged, lightened, one-piece bolt w/ two locking lugs
  • Safety: Three-position
  • MSRP: $608

Don’t have a spotter for the day? Use a PhoneSkope to record your shots through a spotting scope. Pictured is a Bushnell Legend T-Series spotting scope, red dot for acquiring the target faster and an old cell phone attached to the spotting scope via a PhoneSkope.

I am indifferent about the size of the action. My main draw to this rifle was the 7.62×39 chambering. I always considered 7.62×39 to be nothing more than a machine gun round, great for low-cost plinking and basic target shooting. Aside from some hunting applications, I never considered 7.62×39 suitable for long range training application. Until, one day shooting at the ranch, some friends and I were shooting steel out to 1,000 yards and, in between strings, I decided to send a 7.62×39 round out to 1,000 yards. Since I didn’t have any data about the rifle or round, I “walked” my rounds on target. Four rounds later, I made contact with the steel plate. Cycling the bolt, I sent another round and observed an impact. I sent several more rounds down range, and had more hits than misses. Frankly, I was stunned.

The 7.62×39 is certainly not the best round for long-range shooting. It is slow and has a low ballistic coefficient. Unless you are handloading, or shooting expensive hunting ammunition, you are mostly left with imported bulk ammunition. With that said, 7.62×39 is perfect either for training new shooters or reinforcing one’s own skill set. Let’s look at what makes the Howa Mini Action, chambered in 7.62×39 the perfect training tool.

For testing, the author set up a 10- and 18-inch gong. The Last Stand from Action Target is an excellent choice for those looking to add to their collection. These target systems set up in minutes.

It is inexpensive to shoot

A quick online search reveals that bulk 7.62×39 retails for around .20 to .23 cents a round. This equates to $230 dollars for 1,000 rounds. You can do a lot of training with 1,000 rounds. In comparison, 1,000 rounds of .308/7.62×51 M80 would cost roughly $670. I primarily shoot Wolf WPA Military Classic ammunition through my Howa Mini. It typically holds between 1.5 to 1.75 MOA at 100 yards, which is not bad. One thing I particularly like about Wolf WPA Military Classic is its even velocities. The most extreme spread I have witnessed was 35 feet per second. This spread is amazing, considering that I have seen Hornady Match grade ammunition with extreme spreads of 70 feet per second. The average 10-shot velocity of Wolf WPA Military Classic ammunition through my Howa Mini is 2,488 fps. I tend to buy ammo in lots of 1,000 rounds. Even with a heavy shooting schedule, this will last a good portion of the year. 

Article Continues Below

7.62×39 Recoils …  Just Enough!

So why do I not feel like a Howa Mini Action chambered in 5.56/.223 Remington is the perfect training rifle? The 7.62×39 has an edge over 5.56/.223 Remington because 7.62×39 has a little bit more recoil. The first position that long range shooters master is the prone position. Learning correct body position, how to load a bipod, and how to use a rear bag are all essential skills for a long-range marksman. Correct body position manages recoil, which then allows a shooter to both observe their shot and get back on target faster. The 7.62×39 can be shot all day with little to no discomfort, though a shooter will not be able to observe hits or misses without good body position

Howa Mini Action rifle with a MagnetoSpeed chronograph. When the author shoots out to subsonic range with the Howa Mini Action, he always uses a chronograph. Tracking velocities provide insight to the behavior of the bullet down range. A LabRadar doppler chronograph would work well.

7.62×39 and Its Use for Seasoned Long-Range Shooters

One of the most dynamic variables in long-range shooting is wind. To be a good long-range shooter you must learn how to read and shoot in wind. Standing on a range with a Kestrel can be fun, but you don’t know what is happening down range until you cook off a round. One drill that I like is to set up a 10- and 18-inch gong on the range and work back in 100-yard increments. I intentionally set up targets, so that I must contend with ½ value or full value winds. To account for variations in velocity, I usually zero my Howa Mini with a MagnetoSpeed chronograph and leave it on the barrel for the duration of the day. After each shot, I note the impact and take a quick peek at the velocity.

The Howa Mini Action feeds from a five-round box magazine. The author has not encountered feeding issues with this rifle.

Things get interesting when you start shooting at the transonic range, which for a 7.62×39 is between 500 and 600 yards. I personally think good shooters are made practicing in the transonic range. At this range, shooters can practice truing a ballistic solver. One thing that I have noticed with a 7.62×39, is that the smallest mistakes are amplified. Bad parallax? Round is in the dirt. Rifle is not level? Round is in the dirt. Round flew over the target? Check the MagnetoSpeed for a hot round. Round landed below the target? Check the MagnetoSpeed for a low velocity. Are holds not lining up with your ballistic data? Check your Kestrel for Density Altitude and temperature. Shooters can get away with a lot of when using a super caliber like the 6.5 Creedmoor or .300 Norma Magnum, but the 7.62×39 will hold a shooter accountable for every variable, and that accountability will only make you better.

Quick Tips for training new shooters and children

For beginners, a red dot is the only way to go. When teaching fundamentals, parallax issues, scope shadow, can be a big distraction. Obviously proper scope setup and parallax are eventually taught, but initially can be a hindrance. The author likes to start with a red dot until the fundamentals are sound, then move to a low powered second focal plane rifle scope, with a simple mil dot reticle.

 

  • When starting out a new shooter in the prone, skip the magnified optic and attach a red dot, and a bubble level. Stress perfect body position and proper use of the rear bag, bubble level, and bipod.
  • A 10-inch gong at 50 yards is the perfect target for new shooters.
  • For children, the red dot sight is important, especially when it comes to eye dominance. If a child is right handed but left eye dominant, or vice versa, that will quickly become apparent. It is easier to troubleshoot eye dominance without having to contend with variables such as eye relief or scope shadow.
  • Most red dots do not have scope shadow, and you can get a new shooter accustomed to what a perfect sight picture should look like. This will carry over when you are adjusting comb height and eye relief for a magnified optic.
  • Take some foam and tape to the range to build up comb height. You cannot teach a new shooter how to check parallax without a solid cheek weld. “Chin welds” and bad parallax go hand in hand.
  • For children who have a deer hunt in several months, and who have never shot a rifle, I will start them on a heavy barrel .17 HMR rifle with a red dot. When the fundamentals are sound, the shooter will then progress to a Howa Mini Action rifle with a red dot, then eventually a second focal plane, low powered magnified optic.

Lasting Impressions

The Howa Mini Action rifle and the author’s competition rifle. The competition rifle is a Howa 6.5 Creedmoor that is attached to Kinetic Research Group stock. Legacy Sports International is currently working on a Howa Mini Action that sits in a chassis.

The Howa Mini Action is a neat rifle, and I think the market has been asking for a bolt action rifle chambered in 7.62×39. The Howa Mini Action rifle is good for hunting, training, or general target shooting. My personal Howa Mini has around 2,000 rounds through it and has been an invaluable training tool for my upcoming competition. When my god daughters get old enough to hunt deer, they will be trained using my Howa Mini Action and, depending on the terrain we hunt, may very well harvest their first deer with the rifle as well.

For more information about the Howa Mini Action series of Rifles, click here.

For more information about Action Targets, click here.

For more information about Phone Skope, click here.

To purchase a Howa Mini Action rifle on GunsAmerica, click here.

{ 11 comments… add one }
  • John R August 29, 2017, 7:58 pm

    Magazine advertisements work. When I saw the Howa Mini Action advertisement in Guns and Ammo this past spring I just had to have one, I chose the heavy barrel option. I have not been disappointed. This is an extremely accurate rifle
    Mostly I got really nice clover leafs using Golden Tiger 124 grain led core, steel case, FMJBT. Taking it out to 400 yards to a 12″x12″ steel plate was a breeze. Would like to take it out further but here in central Indiana I’m lucky to have access to a 400 yard range.
    I pared the rifle with an Outer Impact 0 MOA rail, Burris Zee rings, and the Burris Predator Quest 6-14 scope and these components make a sweet rifle.
    Still love my Arsenal SLR 107FR AK but the Howa is in a different class all together.
    Some of the previous comments mentioned the 6.5 Grendel which Howa also makes in a heavy barrel configuration and its next on my list.

    • Thomas Gomez August 31, 2017, 7:49 pm

      Hello John
      Thank you for the feedback. Golden Tiger is pretty good ammo. My mini will hold 1 MOA with it.
      I hope this finds you well.

  • Norm Fishler August 28, 2017, 2:06 pm

    Just looking at the magazine pictured, I cannot help but wonder if standard AK mags will work in the 7.62×39 chambering . . . . Anybody know? Whether they do or not, if it is as good of a shooter as the one reviewed, this rifle should prove solid competition for the CZ 527.

    • Thomas Gomez August 31, 2017, 7:50 pm

      Hello Norm.
      The Howa Mini action feeds from a proprietary magazine.

  • Tommy August 28, 2017, 10:41 am

    Just so you know, .20 cents per round works out to 5 rounds for a penny. Pretty cheap ammo!!! I will take 5000 rounds at that price!! I think you mean 20 cents per round, or $0.20 per round.

  • Mike August 28, 2017, 8:54 am

    The first thing that struck me is how nice it would be to have a bolt action 7.62×39 in the tool box, for pure, simple shooting time at the range. Like you, I’m not afraid of steel cased ammo, and to be honest shooting is expensive. Like many people, it’s not my only hobby and the funds need to get divided.
    Then came the second thing, As you broke down cost, you mentioned things like ballistic coefficient and 1000 yards. Considering that Wolf also makes the steel cased 6.5 Grendel round for nearly as cheap as the ak round, I’m curious as to why you didn’t choose that one. I know you broke down your logic of recoil control, setting up good habits, etc, but you also mentioned using this as a tool for new shooters. The 6.5 Grendel has this section in the bag over the 7.62×39, at least according to my shoulder.
    For me, I think I’m really falling for the Grendel round because it streamlines many issues that I have with shooting regularly.
    1. Cost. Shooting my 6.5 Creedmoor can get expensive when you are shooting for tight groups. Even so, a .308 will cost quite a bit for quality match grade ammo. My 6.5 Grendel AR build just put in 3/8″ groups at 100 yards with the Hornady Black ammo which I can find at $16-17/box. Not cheap, but not stiff either. The Wolf averages around 1 1/4″. Not bad either for $5/box.
    2. Versatility. I can choose to shoot the Grendel round through either a bolt action, or a semi-auto rifle. From what I read European arms will be available in the Grendel round in the coming years, as they are being tested for use as a modern battlefield round, which means that they are building arms around the round.
    3. Accuracy and range. The round is touted as an intermediate round between 300 and 800 yards. Some reading online tells of shooters hitting consistently and accurately at 1200 yards. This can also be achieved with a semi-auto rifle, I like that. As mentioned 3/8″ groups at 100 with the ELD match, and 1 1/4″ with Wolf.
    4. Size and weight. No longer do I need a big heavy long gun set in a bolt action to hit comfortably at long range. It can be done with a small bolt action or AR15 (!) sized rifle.

    So for me, what this means is that I can take my small AR15 in 6.5 Grendel, comfortable to carry or haul it around, use it to blast cans, bottles, tennis balls, or even a washing machine, with the cheaper Wolf steel cased, then in the same range day with the same gun, turn around and settle in behind a bi-pod and a bag and hit steel at 600 yards at my local club.
    It’s so soft shooting with a brake on that I wouldn’t hesitate to put a 5 year old behind it, as long as they are ready for the percussion of the round when you pull the trigger.

    Different guns have come in gone as they vie for space in my safe. If they just sit there unused, they go bye-bye. Until now, I’ve needed to take different calibers in different sized guns on every range outing, based on what I feel like hitting that day.
    Bowling pins or cans, AK or AR (.556); 2″ stickies at range, .308 bolt gun. You get the picture.

    I’m curious as whether or not you have considered the 6.5 Grendel as a viable round for your purposes. For me, it’s been a great addition.

    • Thomas Gomez August 31, 2017, 8:01 pm

      Hello Mike.
      6.5 Grendel is a great round, and I was not aware that Wolf was selling it so cheap. I have tested the Howa Mini in 6.5 Grendel and it performed very well. My only concern is that their is only one company making inexpensive 6.5 Grendel.

      Sounds like you have a nice rifle! I hope this finds you well.

  • GS54 August 28, 2017, 8:32 am

    I too bought the Howa in 7.62×39, as I was already enjoying an AR upper in the same cartridge, and wanted a bolt gun to try. I opted to not send the steel jacketed bullets found in the cheap ammo down the bore of either rifle, and PPU/Prvi ammo is easily the best, both in results (accuracy and speed), and cost per round…and then I have brass for reloading!

    One thing the author overlooked…a borescope view of his rifling before and after 2k rounds of steel jackets down the tube. Bet his other rifle does not see steel!

    • Thomas Gomez August 31, 2017, 8:15 pm

      Hello GS54.
      You are correct. My mini is the only rifle that I will shoot steel cased and bi-metal ammunition through. Time will tell how long the barrel will last. I don’t clean copper out of my bores, only carbon. I am keeping a journal and I might do a follow up article on the lifespan of a semi-precision rifle barrel in regards to bi-metal ammunition.

      Have a great weekend!

  • Bob August 23, 2017, 6:13 pm

    One of my Arms is chambered for 7.62×39 and I prefer to shoot brass case ammo, just less wear and tear I’ve been told… The stuff I’ve been picking up has been about $0.70 a round and quality has been good. Shooting the other day with a friend with an AK every 6th round or so (he was shooting some steel import) there would be a noticeable difference in sound. At that price and just putting holes in paper I guess it really doesn’t matter. But it could have something to do with you not hitting the steel more… What was the drop at 1000 yds?

    • Thomas August 24, 2017, 12:20 pm

      Hello.
      There are some platforms where I would avoid steel cased ammo. My Ar-15’s are fed brass, but my Glock and my Howa Mini action can handle steel cased ammo.
      Assuming a temperature of 85 degrees and a density altitude of 10,000 feet, the bullet would drop 598.4 inches and I would have to hold roughly 16 mils. Time of flight would be 2 seconds.
      I hope this finds you well.

Leave a Comment

Send this to a friend