Budget Rifle Showdown: Savage vs. Mossberg vs. Howa vs. CVA

Today’s manufacturers make it rather easy to get “bang for your buck.”

Most serious shooters dream of a custom rifle.

Whether that is a hand-fitted, custom barrel with a grade VI or VII walnut stock with fine tooling and engraving on the action and bolt, or one manufactured with one of today’s super materials like Kevlar, fiberglass, or carbon fiber, it’s hard to argue the quality and craftsmanship that can be had when price is no object.

Most custom rifles start at the $2000.00 range and go up to the stratosphere from there. $5000.00 is certainly not uncommon, especially from some of the more renowned companies or individual builders.

Add some high-end glass on top and you can rather easily cross the $8000.00-$10,000.00 mark, or about the price for a lower-end used car with a median level of miles on it.

The vast majority of folks, though, are somewhere “in the middle” when it comes to their income and affordability.

That is, they can’t afford or don’t want to spend the money for a fancy custom rifle, but are also not looking for a bargain bang stick that will be fired 1 to 3 times per year and then put away.

That’s where this review comes in.

A team of shooters with varying experience went through, shot, and evaluated four, mid-range priced rifles from Mossberg, Savage, Howa, and CVA to see just what kind of bang for your buck you get in a mid-priced rifle. The criteria was real-world pricing no less than $350 and no more than $700. 

Just like the middle class is the largest economic group, the range, and choice of rifles in this price range was rather large, so we chose several well-known, one not as well-known and one brand new rifle to the market for this evaluation.

Each rifle was scored on a range of 1 to 5 on fit, feel, function, appearance, and something rather intangible – that we called “factor.“

“Factor,“ was anything that did not fit into the other classes that might be a selling or performance point that needed to be noted. Finish, fluting, and several other features were found on almost every rifle that fit in this category.

For purposes of evaluation, we chose the 6.5 Creedmoor caliber for several reasons: First, it has been on the market long enough and has proven itself an inherently accurate caliber that is capable of maintaining accuracy in even non-custom rifles out to the most extreme ranges. 

Second, when we put the call out for Ammunition to our friends at Hornady, that was one of several calibers they listed as having no problem getting us enough ammo for the test!

Most importantly, though, the 6.5 Creedmoor has become a “mid-range priced” ammunition fitting our needs almost perfectly. It’s more expensive than .223, but nowhere near the cost of 7mm or .300 Win Mag, both popular, long-range hunting calibers. 

Each rifle had three different types of Hornady ammo fired through it – performance, match, and hunting.

About the Shooters

Kevin Hedger

Kevin Hedger is a lifelong outdoorsman and hunter that has been shooting rifles at both game and paper for over 40 years. He’s also a bit of a technical genius that can take apart and fix most anything from a firearm to a four-wheeler in the field and with duct tape, lube, a crescent wrench, and a screwdriver so it can at least get you home.

MasPic2ter of improvisation, Kevin Hedger fixes the short chair problem…

Marshall MacFarlane

Marshall Macfarlane is a former member of the Canadian Armed Forces that has been an Arizona permanent resident for 22+ years. He also is the genius behind the outdoor website, “Desert Rat Outdoors,” where he reviews all kinds of cool products and gear for the desert and beyond.

Chad Haymon

Chad Haymon spent the majority of his career as a preacher for several, well-known churches in the U.S. before going full time into the gun business. He is a founding member of 2AO, The Second Amendment Organization, and is an NRA-certified firearms instructor as well as FFL holder under the name,  “PrizeGunner.”

Ace Luciano is a long time hunter and shooter. He had rarely fired the 6.5C before today.

Ace Luciano

Hunter, shooter, outdoorsman, and well-known writer and author Ace Luciano is most known for his big game hunting and rifle knowledge, as well as his wingshooting and youth mentorship. Ace has over 40 years of shooting experience and has opinions on just about everything- including lots on guns and ammo.

We had to overcome several challenges while performing this evaluation, as, unexpectedly, the COVID-19 epidemic closed not one, but TWO of the Ranges that we normally use for rifle shooting, with the second one we drove to being closed by the police as we pulled up at 8 AM.

No matter, though – a quick trip to Walmart for a folding table and chair and the fact that several of us keep way too much gear in our vehicles set us up at a secret spot in the desert to perform the majority of our shooting tests. 

While accuracy was not one of the judge criteria, we knew that all four of the rifles we were going to be shooting advertised MOA accuracy with factory ammunition. 

Our experience was that, even with our less than perfect set up, all rifles lived up to that claim- with some being rather surprising. 

The desert-adapted testing setup.

Here are the results. 

Overall winner: CVA Cascade  4.7 / 5.0  Real World Pricing: $550.00

One of the newer firearm manufacturers on the market today (they were founded in 1971) CVA is most known for their Muzzleloading rifles- first having only sidelock finished guns as well as kits and, more recently, for their single-shot centerfire. Their reputation for quality at excellent prices is well known.

Evaluators consistently scored this rifle high on “appearance” and “factor.” A deeper dive into the features and looks of this rifle make it easy to see why. The threaded barrel and action came finished in Cerakcote flat dark earth. Matched with a fiberglass reinforced, soft touch-finished stock in Veil Wideland Camo, this rifle is sure to turn some heads in the field and on the range.

Other cool factors were the removable spacer to adjust the length of pull and the butter-smooth action. Topped with a Riton 5-20×50 scope, this rifle proved to be a tack-driver. Reviewers also noted the cascade had an exceptional trigger and felt the most like a much more expensive rifle.

Most Surprising: Mossberg Patriot Rifle  4.4 / 5.0  Real World Pricing:  < $500.00

The Mossberg Patriot was a surprisingly attractive performer.

Billed on the Mossberg website as, “attractive, accurate, and affordable, the Mossberg patriot rifle comes in several different finishes with handsome walnut and both solid color and camouflage synthetic stocks. 

Ours came out of the box with a matte finished, fluted barrel, and bolt as well as a surprisingly attractive walnut stock. The trigger on this rifle is surprisingly good, especially considering the price point. If you are a fan of wood stock rifles that shoot very, very well, this is certainly a firearm that would be well at home in the field or on the range. 

Toward the end of the evaluation, when each of the reviewers were asked if they would like to shoot any of the other rifles again, this was the most chosen rifle. The Vortex scope that came with this rifle was certainly adequate for our testing and should perform well for most short to medium-range hunting situations, but we would expect this rifle to perform even better with some higher-end optics from any Quality rifle scope manufacturer. Testers loved the wood and fluted barrel combination with many comments such as, “it’s good to see a wood stocked rifle that performed so well in this price range.”

 Best Value: Howa 1500   4.0 / 5.0  Real World Pricing: <$500.00

You truly get a lot when you buy a Howa.  

The rifle we were sent was their Game Pro scoped package, which includes a HOA 1500 rifle paired with a Hogue, pillar bedded overmolded stock and recoil pad. A truly high-quality option and product that is priced at a bargain basement price point, especially considering that it comes standard with a Nikko Stirling Gamepro 3.5-10×44 scope mounted on an included Picatinny rail. This is Legacy Sports’ “house” brand optic, and it performs rather well for most hunting and shooting purposes. The company manufactures only rifle scopes – no cameras, microscopes, or other optics. Just hunting and shooting optics and has been around for almost 70 years. Now manufactured in China, this surprisingly high-quality optic comes with rather good glass for the price, though it certainly would not go toe to toe with any of the European and high-end American and Japanese glassed rifle scopes on the market.

That doesn’t mean that it is not perfectly adequate for today’s average hunter or shooter. Every one of the shooters of this rifle said that out of the box it would be their number one choice for a first hunting rifle or an additional rifle in other calibers if they were on a budget. 

Savage Axis II Combination 3.8 / 5.0  Real World Pricing:  <$450.00

This group from the Savage Axis2 was the best of any rifle in the test- especially considering it was at 200 yards.

Savage is a company that has been a long known for their value in the shooting world. Their Axis line takes that value to the extreme by adding Savage’s Accu trigger, one of the best triggers on the market, and pairing it with a scope that has been mounted and bore sighted for a “range – ready“ package that is hard to beat for the money.

While we did not rate any of the rifles on accuracy and all were able to demonstrate MOA with several different types of ammunition, the Savage turned in the best group of the entire test – a 5-shot, 1/2 MOA group at 200 yards. This was quite surprising, considering the lower quality of the Bushnell Banner scope compared to some of the other scopes we used, maximum 9x magnification and a rather large reticle that made shooting precisely at distance not exactly the easiest thing to do with it.

If the price is your main concern with a new rifle, the axis II should certainly be one of your top choices.

Shooters complemented the Accu-trigger, proven action, and overall performance. The axis lost points in the “factor“ score as well as “feel“ for the much lower-end and plastic stock it came with compared to the others, but that added to its low price-point. 

As you can see, none of these rifles is a “poor” choice for a mid-range shooter. All excelled in at least one aspect, and most in several. Every one of these rifles shoots MOA and should perform very well when topped with a quality optic.

That’s the best part about choosing a rifle these days. There really is no bad choice.

Sidebar:

One of the best things about the 6.5 Creedmoor is that ammunition for it is plentiful and rather inexpensive- on par with most .30-06 ammunition with a range of sub-$15.00 to $50.00+ for premium bullets.

The majority of our test was performed with 140 gr. Hornady ELD Match and the new 143 gr. ELD-X Precision Hunter. Today’s hunting ammunition is better than it has ever been, relegating reloading to those that love the process or for whom 1/2 to 1 MOA accuracy “just isn’t good enough.”

Every gun in our test, even with the non-ideal conditions, placed at least several, 3-shot groups into a 1” group.

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{ 40 comments… add one }
  • Sam Meyer July 13, 2020, 8:44 pm

    The Savage group is 1/2 MIA ???? Only if you measure the three closest shots – that group is easily 1″, not bad by any means – if you tossed the fifth, which would open that group to at least 1 1/2″. Also-by what measure is Ace “well known”?? I’ve been shooting and reading about the sport for 45 years and never heard of him before now – a new “expert”.

  • stan July 13, 2020, 5:32 pm

    Accuracy is the most important reason to buy a gun. Your test was more about looks.
    Who cares what the gun looks like if your cant hit your target!

  • Mark Potter July 9, 2020, 5:45 pm

    “…While accuracy was not one of the judge criteria…”
    That’s where I stopped reading. Especially after the glowing introductions of the shooters. No reason to include accuracy unless it wasn’t very good.

    • Jose July 11, 2020, 12:31 am

      The article said “all were able to demonstrate MOA”. That means all were able to put shots in approx a 1” diameter circle at 100 yds or 2” at 200 yds… and so forth. After that nothing more needs to be said about accuracy because any critter you shoot at is dead and, anything sub-MOA is shooter dependent….

  • Don July 8, 2020, 10:10 pm

    I guess we’re supposed to get the names of the rifles from the article and then look them up on their respective web sites for pictures and details to fill in the gaps in this comparison.

  • Mudshark July 8, 2020, 9:13 pm

    What a crappy no-content article. A great reminder to ignore your click bait. Lotsa hype and shooter bios, but next to nothing in the way of useful info. Eff off.

    • Jose July 11, 2020, 12:34 am

      It’s a top level article that says all three shoot MOA. Anything else falls in the category of shooter preference and price point sensitivity….so go research them yourself….

  • Eric Gilliam July 8, 2020, 7:09 pm

    I actually enjoyed this review. Been looking at those CVA’s every since they started making them in 6.5 creedmoor. Looks like it has a cerakoted barrel too? Wondered about the feel of the trigger, glad to hear it was a favorite and can be adjusted. A big fan of the threaded barrels as well…my can needs a new partner.

  • Stan Graham July 8, 2020, 6:34 pm

    I liked the review. Clearly geared towards entry level shooters looking for best gun for their dollar. Hunters buying these rifles likely wont be as concerned with tehnical minutiae as more advanced shooters. Good, basic info here

  • Randy Lovstuen July 8, 2020, 6:19 pm

    Jeez, you guys- Complain much?
    Is that all this site is- “could’ve, would’ve, should’ve, blah, blah, blah…”
    Almost every critique here is about what the article is “not.“ Did you ever stop to think that that’s maybe not what the article was? For example, they didn’t use a 308 – they used the 6.5 Creedmoor. That’s what the article is about.
    Also, the article wasn’t about “the most accurate rifle for mid range pricing.“
    Testing for accuracy requires very specific criteria that must be applied across every gun- same person, same ammo, same conditions, same rest, same number of shots through the barrel, etc.
    This is an article simply about what you can get for that kind of money-and it seems like the answer is quite a lot.

  • B rad July 8, 2020, 8:39 am

    Agree with all the other criticisms on this article. No pictures of the four rifles together for comparison. There was more information on the test shooters than the rifles. VERY POOR.

    • Ace July 8, 2020, 5:54 pm

      B Rad, that would’ve been GREAT – but, contrary to many of the perceptions out there, gun writers don’t just wave their magic wand and guns appear on their schedule in the desired amounts, calibers, and configurations that they want when they want it.

      Next time, we’ll try for a “family” pic!
      Thanks for the feedback-

      -Ace

  • Randy Jenks July 7, 2020, 4:26 pm

    I agree that this article did not give enough information I was expecting to see a chart with how each one fared in each category

  • W Zinn July 7, 2020, 1:56 pm

    I ran a T/C Compass in 7mm-08 last fall. Rifle cost me $250 new and shoots sub MOA at 100 yds using PPU 140g PSP-BT. Amazing rifle and features for the price.

    • Ace July 8, 2020, 5:58 pm

      WZinn, that’s another great choice.
      TC makes some quality products.

  • mark July 7, 2020, 11:15 am

    Seriously, I can’t believe that I spent the time to read this. I get better info in casual conversation at the range. Points needed in any review: ACCURACY, trigger qualities(break, creep, etc), use the same glass on each rifle. One thing that would be really nice would be a corrosion test, wet the rifles down thoroughly and then leave them outside overbite for about four days, spray them with mist once or twice in the evening. Those are what count in a hunting rifle.

    Mark

    • Ace July 8, 2020, 5:29 pm

      Mark, those are great ideas – and having just gotten to know the audience a little, now will have less “background“ and more “technical“ info in the future.
      An accuracy comparison needs to be done alone and on its own, though. All the guns have to be shot by the same person, with the same ammo, from a dead solid rest to see what the gun is capable of. Unfortunately, the two days that we did these evaluations, we did not have those due to Covid.
      What I CANNOT tell you is that every one of these guns shoots MOA, with the Savage having the best group for me.
      -Ace

      • Ace July 8, 2020, 5:30 pm

        Ugh-
        What that should read is “CAN” tell you.

        Every one of these guns shoot MOA.

      • Jose July 11, 2020, 9:00 am

        Ace…. I think you meant “CAN TELL YOU” instead of “CANNOT”. That is:

        “What I CAN tell you is that all guns shot MOA……“

        Reason: the article said all rifles shot MOA.

    • Jose July 11, 2020, 9:23 am

      Mark…. when you’re paying for a review then you can get your corrosion test…LOL. Also, these rifles have to be returned to the manufacturer and if you return rifles whose finish has been substantially degraded the writers might not get more rifles from these same manufacturers to test for future articles.

      As far as your comment about “points needed” such as accuracy, trigger creep, etc, all the rifles shot MOA or better and since trigger creep, etc all contribute to the ultimate outcome of “accuracy” and since accuracy is MOA, these other factors (whatever they may be) didn’t affect accuracy! You could say they also didn’t address barrel manufacturing procedures but however these barrels were manufactured, it didn’t affect accuracy beyond MOA. Also, this was a top level article that tells beginners what accuracy they can expect out of these rifles along with a few other items such as cost, scopes they came with, etc.

      Bottom line: the article was free. Quit whining about “corrosion tests”…..

  • Scott Y July 7, 2020, 11:03 am

    I agree with the other commenters above. Not much of a comparison conducted.
    Should have included the Ruger American Predator in this review.

    • Ace July 8, 2020, 5:33 pm

      Scott, we would have LOVED to have had Ruger participate.
      Unfortunately, I received no response from them, despite multiple communication methods and attempts.

    • Cragganmore July 8, 2020, 6:05 pm

      A budget rifle showdown, not using the same glass, not judging accuracy?! If I were the sponsors (rifles and ammo) I would be pissed. And as a reader, this is CNN level journalism. It’s a waste of time to read and contains no actual data.

      • Jose July 11, 2020, 12:47 am

        Then reread the article. It says every rifle shoots MOA. Anything better than that is shooter dependent and insignificant. It also proves that all these rifles are so accurate that they ALL SHOOT MOA REGARDLESS OF SCOPE TYPE USED!!! This is good to know as it means any decent scope will also give you MOA accuracy. So shut up and appreciate the time these folks took to give you the information they did give you and stop acting like you paid for this review and were then disappointed that you didn’t get what you paid for!!

  • Azone July 7, 2020, 11:00 am

    I know everyone likes being a critic at times but I’m still unclear on what you’re trying to accomplish here. You mention rifles aren’t for shooting comparisons so why talk about what kind of ammo was used and best groupings on your least best rifle? According with your rating then that would mean the Howa rifle should be ranked #1 because your article is trying to demonstrate which rifle is the Best Value and Howa won as Best Value rifle but you have it listed at #3. However the article fell short it did work for perhaps first time budget rifle buyers having some insight for these types of rifles and hopefully navigating through a buying decision process.

    Thanks guys

    • Ace July 8, 2020, 5:36 pm

      Azone, That’s exactly who this article was for. And experienced shooter that knows a ton about different guns was not the target audience.

  • John R. Willis July 7, 2020, 10:29 am

    I’m not a fan of the 6.5 Creedmoor. It seems like those in the Gun Biz are lobbying for this Round. I understand that its an accurate round. If memory serves, I first heard about this round shoot steel with Pistols in the late 80’s. I’m a firm believer if being practical. For me, nothing beats the 7.62×51 NATO. Ammo can be found on the side of the road, just like small block chevy parts. Kidding aside, for shooting, surplus ammo is what shooter’s love to find and saves tons of money . I agree with the other commenters, accuracy is important…and the 7.62×51 NATO is a very accurate round. It can also be found in myriad of projectile offerings, from 55gr sabot rounds all the way up to 175gr. Handloading makes even more combinations possible. Give me the NATO rounds please. 😉

    • Ace July 8, 2020, 5:41 pm

      There certainly is nothing wrong with a 308.
      Notice anything wrong with a 30-06. Or a .300 WinMag. Or 7 mm Rem MAG. Or a 6×55 Swede.
      This wasn’t a knock on any other rounds- But there are plenty of folks that choose to shoot the 6.5 for a plethora of reasons.
      There is a clear reason why the Creedmoor has been a big hit, but it’s also certainly not the miracle pill many would have you believe. -Ace

  • KM July 7, 2020, 9:39 am

    A rifle review that doesn’t mention how they shot other than to say “they put several 3 shot groups into an inch”. Which rifle did it more often than the others?
    What did the actions feel like?
    Other than the Savage, how were the triggers?
    C’Mon Man!
    I can get this kind of “review” from a company advertising page in a magazine.

    • Jose July 11, 2020, 12:52 am

      All shot MOA . Anything better is meaningless as it’s hooter dependent. MOA is a fantastic starting point………

  • Ron July 7, 2020, 9:03 am

    I’m a little surprised at using the Savage Axis. Would not the 11 TH with Nikon scope that can be bought for $500 – $525 be a better comparison?

    • Ace July 8, 2020, 5:47 pm

      That would also have been a good choice.

      We left the choice of which rifles to send with the companies that wanted to participate. Savage wanted to see how the Axis would stack up.
      The LAST thing we would ever do is turn down EXTRA guns!

      -Ace

  • JIM July 7, 2020, 9:00 am

    WHAT ABOUT ACCURACY . That’s more important than looks ,pretty is just for show

    • Jose July 11, 2020, 9:07 am

      All shot MOA or better. Nothing else to know. And they did it with a wide variety of scopes and different ammo. This gives the consumer good confidence that they can reliably buy based on other criteria and still get great accuracy….

    • Jose July 11, 2020, 9:33 am

      The article said all rifles shot MOA. Shooting sub MOA is so shooter dependent as to not be noteworthy since if you aim at any critter at a reasonable distance with an MOA rifle you’ll most likely kill it. Shoot a deer at 100 yds and if you hit within 1” of where you aimed, the typical aim point area on the deer is so large and the 1” impact area is so small that the deer is dead. Same at 200 yds for a deer and, most deer shots are 50-90 yds…..

  • Bear Hunter July 7, 2020, 7:10 am

    I don’t have a Mossberg Patriot, but I do have the 4 x 4 for which the safety does not lock the bolt, and when carrying in the field, it has the disconcerting tendency to drop, ejecting the chambered round. More than once, the magazine dropped out with the recoil of the first shot. This could be critical if a follow up shot is needed. No more Mossberg rifles for me. My Howa/Nikko combo was used to drop my first bear.

    • Jim July 7, 2020, 9:03 am

      I have a Mossberg Predator based on the 4×4 have had no such problems and is very accurate .If your was defective return it for repair or replacement / did you touch base with Mossberg ?

      • Daniel Alvarez July 7, 2020, 11:17 am

        Agree, very little of the important info is available in this article–accuracy results being vitally important here. Also, more pictures of the rifles would have been nice. Ater all, a picture is worth a thousand words.

    • cam miller July 7, 2020, 12:34 pm

      I have a 4X4 in 25-06. Never had the problem you mentioned. It has take 15+ deer and more yotes than I can remeber

  • Alan Demmel July 7, 2020, 7:05 am

    Great info, thanks !!

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