New 308 Win. Bolt Guns: Howa, Mossberg Square Off
Here are two very different rifles, the Howa Alpine Mountain and Mossberg MVP LR, that we pitted head to head. One surprised us with its accuracy, while the other left us wanting more.
One can be spoiled by shooting accurate rifles, and accuracy typically comes at a cost. With the idea of finding a relatively inexpensive rifle that shoots accurately, is consistent, and is easy and comfortable to use, we looked into new rifles from Mossberg, the MVP LR, $945; and from Howa, the Alpine Mountain Package $1577. These two new rifles are both chambered in 308 Win./7.62x51mm NATO and are positioned by their manufacturers to do very different tasks. Even so, the shooter who prizes hole-in-hole performance will be challenged picking between these two because of the inherent trade-offs they present.
The Howa was designed to be a lightweight hunter, and the Mossberg’s intent is to shoot accurately at long range. We feel both rifles accomplish their intended purpose, but as you will see, we found a potential pitfall in the Howa’s magazine release, and with the Mossberg, we found we wanted better accuracy and a little better set-up for long range. With that said, both of these rifles had sub-MOA accuracy. We were surprised at the accuracy of the Howa and actually expected better accuracy out of the MVP LR, but at the end of testing we were satisfied, but not elated, with the results we achieved with both rifles.
We test-fired both rifles using a sandbag rest, mechanical rifle rest, and bipod in the prone and off a bench at target sets at 100 yards. The firing sequence consisted of five shots. Then we allowed the barrel to cool and changed ammo brand and fired another 5-shot string. Ammunition consisted of a range of bullet weights: Aguila 150-grain FMJ-BT, Hornady Match 178-grain BTHP, and Black Hills 168-grain BTHP. We also increased consecutive shot strings to 10 rounds to see the effect of a hot barrel on accuracy.
The variables in the test were the scopes. The Howa came with a Vortex Viper 3-9x40mm scope. The Viper scope is a traditional hunting scope with screw-on turret caps. With the caps removed, the turrets are pulled up to adjust windage and elevation. The magnification ring is large and easily rotated without disrupting aim. A Dead-Hold BDC reticle is in the second focal plane, so the reticle stays the same size even when magnification is increased or decreased. Subtensions on the reticle can be used to judge holdover for elevation and wind adjustments, but the scope needs to be on the highest magnification setting. We saw a bit of parallax at distances past 100 yards, but for hunting purposes, we could easily live with it. This is a basic scope, and we thought it was a good pairing with the Howa. Initially, we also thought this scope might be a liability compared to the scope we used on the Mossberg, but the little Howa kept pace with the Mossberg from the bench, so the optic wasn’t a liability at all.
On the Mossberg LR, we mounted a Meopta ZD 6-24x56mm RD ($2070; Meopta Sports Optics), which is specifically designed for long-range shooting. The Meopta features an illuminated MilDot II reticle with an integrated range finder and is calibrated for tactical calibers like 7.62x51mm NATO/308 Win., 338 Lapua Mag. and 50 BMG/12.7x99mm NATO. The MilDot II RD reticle is located in the second focal plane, and when the magnification is set at 12x, the reticle subtensions can be used for windage and elevation adjustments and range finding. The scope has finger-adjustable windage and elevation turrets; one click for every quarter-minute. Clicks are tactile and audible. We used Weaver Tactical rings and the Picatinny style rail that came with the Mossberg. After bore sighting, the Meopta was easy to zero. We found adjusting the reticle for parallax to be simple, and it showed a clear sight picture all the way to the edges of glass. We really liked this scope, though some would have wanted the reticle in the first focal plane, but all agreed it was well suited for long range work. Here are the details on how these 308 bolt guns shot with these optics:
Mossberg MVP LR 27697 7.62mm NATO/308 Win., $945
GUN TESTS GRADE: A-
The MVP LR is well suited as an entry-level rifle for long-range shooting; it offered reasonable accuracy, but not quite on par with the lighter Howa.
|ACTION TYPE||Bolt, 2 lugs, 60-degree lift; tactical handle|
|OVERALL LENGTH||39.5 in.|
|BARREL||20 in., matte blued steel; medium bull fluted, threaded|
|OVERALL HEIGHT||6.5 in.|
|STOCK LENGTH OF PULL||13.25 in.|
|WEIGHT UNLOADED||8 lbs.|
|WEIGHT LOADED||9.3 lbs.|
|ACTION||Matte blued steel; installed picatinny rail|
|MAGAZINE||Detatchable polymer box; accepts M1A/M14 and AR10-style|
|STOCK||Polymer pillar bedded; adjustable cheekrest; OD green strippled benchrest style; dual front swivels|
|TRIGGER PULL WEIGHT||3 lbs., LBA adjustable|
|WARRANTY||1 year limited|
This is the list price. Using the Gallery of Guns Gun Genie on the Mossberg site, we found several rifles near the Houston office selling for between $696 (Fountain Firearms) and $815 (Full Armor Firearms). The Mossberg MVP LR is built off Mossberg’s MVP series of rifles. It uses a proprietary bolt-face design that feeds from both standard AR-10 style and M1A/M14-style magazines. We had plenty of Magpul AR-10 style magazines on hand and had no issues with them.
The bolt was a push-feed style with two lugs, and it cocked on opening. Manipulating the bolt was smooth, and it wiggled slightly, but we had no issues working it from a variety of shooting positions. The bolt body had a decorative spiral, and the bolt handle had a large tactical-style knob, which we liked. The bolt throw was 60 degrees, which gave plenty of room for our fingers between the bolt handle and the Meopta’s eyepiece. A one-piece Picatinny style rail came installed on the receiver, and it provided enough space to mount the large Meopta scope. However, we would have liked a slightly longer rail because the Meopta is such a long scope, as are other long-range glass. In our opinion, since this rifle is touted as “long range” in its name, we would have also preferred a Picatinny rail that offered 20 MOA elevation, such as an EGW heavy-duty scope base (296-000-242WB, $70, Brownells). This is something an owner might consider buying if 1000 yards is the goal.
The safety had two positions; fully forward is the “Fire” position; fully rearward is the “Safe” position, which locks the trigger, though the bolt can be manipulated to eject a round out of or into the chamber. It was located on the right side of the receiver and fell under the thumb of a right-handed shooter. The bolt release was located on the left side of the receiver. To remove it, partially retract the bolt, press the bolt release button, and the bolt assembly pulls free from the receiver. The 20-inch barrel had a 1:10-inch twist and a medium-bull taper with shallow flutes. The muzzle was threaded for a device and wore a protective sleeve, which we liked. The magazine release was inset into the bottom of the stock so there is no fear of an accidental magazine dump. The inset was small, and large-fingered shooters could only get the tip of a finger into the hole to press the release paddle. The paddle was flush with the bottom of the stock. All metal wore a nice matte-blue finish.
The trigger is Mossberg’s LBA system, which allows users to adjust the trigger. From the factory, ours measured 3 pounds. It was crisp with no take up and broke cleanly and consistently. The trigger guard and magazine well were polymer. Nit: A slight flare on the magazine well would make magazine changes a bit smoother, though we had no issues.
The synthetic stock is similar to a benchrest stock, with a wide, flat forend well suited for shooting off a rest and a vertical pistol grip with palm swell, which made shooting the rifle prone or seated very comfortable. The barrel was free floated in the stock from the action forward. The stock had a green stippled texture covering the entire stock. The black cheekpiece was adjustable via a push button, and it wore a rubbery texture that was comfortable and provided a good cheek weld. As we raised the cheek piece, it wiggled ever so slightly; the less it was extended, the less it wiggled. The rubber buttpad was sharp edged and serrated; it stuck to our clothing. Sling swivel studs were installed, as well as an attachment point for a bipod. We would have liked an adjustable LOP with different size spacers, but team members of all statures liked the feel of the stock and found it comfortable to shoot. The MVP LR had a nice heft to it, so it stayed in place on the bags and made recoil feel less.
We fired from the magazine and single-loaded cartridges with no issues, and found it quite easy to shoot three-shot groups under a minute of angle. With the Aguila 150-grain FMJ BT ammo, we were able to get our best group, three shots in 0.46 inches. With the Black Hills ammo, our best group opened to 0.66 inches. With Hornady Match, our best group was 1 inch. On average, this rifle shot just under 1 MOA for three shots at 100 yards. Also, we ran the Mossberg until the barrel was hot — 10 consecutive rounds — and did see group size increase slightly.
Our Team Said: We really liked shooting this rifle, but had hoped for smaller groups. It is entirely possible the owner could find factory ammo and/or handload ammunition to get this gun at a half-inch at 100 yards. The MVP LR operated smoothly and had enough heft to absorb recoil. The stock was comfortable and the trigger was crisp. This is a good entry-level long-distance rifle at a fair price.
Howa Alpine Mountain Package HMR33143+VX 308 Win., $1577
GUN TESTS GRADE: B+
The Alpine Mountain was lightweight and accurate, but we thought the magazine release may be an issue for some hunters.
|ACTION TYPE||Bolt, 2 lugs, 70-degree lift|
|OVERALL LENGTH||40.25 in.|
|BARREL LENGTH||20 in.|
|SIGHTS||Vortex Viper 3-9x42mm; talley rings|
|OVERALL HEIGHT||6 in.|
|STOCK LENGTH OF PULL||13.5 in.|
|WEIGHT UNLOADED||6.7 lbs.|
|WEIGHT LOADED||6.9 lbs.|
|ACTION FINISH||Gray cerakote|
|BARREL FINISH||Gray cerakote|
|MAGAZINE TYPE||Detachable polymer box|
|STOCK||Fiberglass, pillar bedded|
|TRIGGER PULL WEIGHT||3.5 lbs., 2-stage adjustable|
The Howa Alpine Mountain Package model is built for hunting. Lightweight and very maneuverable, our shooters said they could carry this rifle all day on a hunt. With the mounted scope, the rifle weighed 6.7 pounds. It had nice balance for shooting off hand, and from a rest we were surprised at the accuracy.
The Alpine Mountain starts with Howa’s 1500 action with a light contour 20-inch barrel — make that a skinny barrel — with a 1:10-inch twist rate. We thought that once the barrel heated up, groups would suffer badly, but that was not the case.
The barreled action wore a gray Cerakote finish that was well executed. The 1500 action is a push feed that uses two lugs and has a 70-degree bolt lift, which had our fingers close to the eyepiece of the Vortex. It cocks on opening and operated smoothly with little wiggle. The smooth bolt knob was drilled out to relieve metal and reduce weight. The three-position safety allowed the rifle to Fire in the forward most position. In the middle position, the trigger is locked, but the bolt can be manipulated. In the rearward position, the trigger and bolt are locked. The bolt release was located on the left side of the receiver and is pressed to remove the bolt assembly.
The HACT (Howa Actuator Controlled Trigger) trigger is a two-stage trigger that is user adjustable, but Howa recommends owners take the rifle to a gunsmith for adjustment. Ours was factory set at 3.5 pounds, and that was perfect for us. Testers liked the bit of take-up with the first stage; the second stage was consistent. The face of the trigger was grooved for better trigger-finger grip and no slip.
The bottom metal is actually polymer and is Legacy Sports’ Ammo Boost kit, which features a detachable polymer magazine. The Howa came with a five-shot magazine, but 10-rounders ($52; Legacy Sports) are available. Magpul 10-round magazines ($19; Magpul), which are compatible with the Mossberg, are less expensive.
The magazine release sat forward of the magazine, and in our opinion, was in a position where a user could easily dump the magazine by accident. One team member carries his deer rifle at that balance point, and when holding the rifle, his hand hit the magazine release and dumped the magazine. Also, if you were to brace the rifle against a rest or push through thick brush, you could also accidentally dump the magazine. We would put a stiffer spring in the release to make it a bit more difficult to press.
The fiberglass stock was pillar bedded and free floats the barrel all the way to the receiver for accuracy. It wore a green-and-black spiderweb-type finish that we liked. It had a bit of texture to make gripping the rifle more secure. A Pachmayr Decelerator buttpad was perfectly mated to the stock. Sling swivel studs were installed.
With such a light rifle, you can expect recoil, and we were right to do so. But the little Howa’s buttpad helped reduce felt recoil. The crisp trigger and Vortex Viper scope helped us shoot sub-MOA groups. We were surprised at how well this rifle shot. With Hornady Match ammo loaded with 178-grain BTHP bullets, our smallest three-shot group at 100 yards was 0.65 inches. With the Black Hills 168-grain BTHP bullets, the smallest group increased to 0.75 inches. Aguila ammo gave us 0.97 inches with its 150-grain FMJ BT bullet. It did not take long for the skinny barrel to heat up. With 10 consecutive shots, groups enlarged slightly, but by no means greatly eroded accuracy. We doubt either of these rifles would be shot until its barrel was hot to the touch.
Our Team Said: The Howa provides a lightweight, accurate hunting-rifle combo package right out of the box, but the magazine release gave us some concern and we downgraded it accordingly. If that’s not an issue for you, move the grade up. If you already have an AR-10 or another semi-auto 308 Winchester rifle and have been thinking about adding a bolt gun in the same chambering to broaden your prep, either the Howa or Mossberg will provide enough accuracy to rival or surpass your autoloader. If you see your use mainly as an overlook gun, then the Mossberg is likely the better bet. If you see needing to tote a rifle up and down hills, then pick the Howa. Both will shoot groups under an inch with the right ammo, if you do your part.
|Aguila 7.62x51mm 150-gr. FMJ Boattail||Mossberg MVP LR||Howa Alpine Mountain|
|Average velocity||2715 fps||2699 fps|
|Muzzle energy||2454 ft.-lbs.||2427 ft.-lbs.|
|Smallest group||0.46 in.||0.97 in.|
|Average group||0.63 in.||0.98 in.|
|Hornady Match 308 Win. 178-gr. Boattail Hollowpoint|
|Average velocity||2539 fps||2534 fps|
|Muzzle energy||2548 ft.-lbs.||2538 ft.-lbs.|
|Smallest group||0.96 in.||0.65 in.|
|Average group||1.1 in.||0.77 in.|
|Black Hills 308 Win. 168-gr. Boattail Hollowpoint|
|Average group||2554 fps||2569 fps|
|Muzzle energy||2434 ft.-lbs.||2462 ft.-lbs.|
|Smallest group||0.66 in.||0.75 in.|
|Average group||0.83 in.||1 in.|
To collect accuracy data, we fired three-shot groups from a bench using a rest. Distance: 100 yards with optics. We recorded velocities using a ProChrono digital chronograph with the first screen set 15 feet from the muzzle.
Written and photographed by Robert Sadowski, using evaluations from Gun Tests team testers.