Trailheads to Treestands

Howa Super Lite Rifle Has A Place in Both Worlds

By Steve Comus

Originally published in the September/October 2023 issue of Safari Magazine.

            Howa has introduced a lightweight hunting rifle that represents the realization of a dream: a credible rifle that weighs a scant 4 pounds, 7 ounces. At less than 4 ½ pounds, this rifle delivers sub-MOA (minute of angle) accuracy.

            And there is an SCI backstory to this new rifle to boot. It all started decades ago in Southern California when I was with Western Outdoor News and Andy McCormick, who now heads the company that introduced the Super Lite, was with a regional retailer.

            At that time, Andy, after hours, was a truly hardcore hunter, and I was writing about hunting. We didn’t hunt a lot together but got to know each other well.

            Fast forward a couple of decades when Andy and some of his coworkers redirected their activities into Legacy Sports International, headquartered in Reno, Nevada — still close to the Mother Lode of sales opportunities in the Golden State, but nestled in a much more gun-friendly environment.

            Now, still a couple more decades down the line from then, Andy and his company have continued to be staunch supporters of SCI and this coming year are expanding their involvement even more.

            With that kind of a history, Andy and I exchange emails from time to time, often to discuss some successful hunt he has just concluded.

            It was on one of these email strings that Andy talked about the Howa Super Lite rifle, and everything just fell into place.

            Howa’s rifles always have been known for accuracy and dependability. That’s nice. But lightweight was not what their models had been — until now.

            When the head of a company also is a hardcore hunter, it is not surprising to see LSI/Howa come out with something that can work well for all manner of hunting and, as Andy quipped, be valid from the trailhead to the treestand.

            In the email, Andy asked if I might want to give one of the Howa Super Lite rifles a ride, noting that chamberings of .308 Win. and 6.5 Creedmoor were available. The answers were simple: “Yes. In .308.” Although both cartridges are credible for different kinds of hunting, in my world, the .308 offers more versatility.

            The Super Lite, as delivered to SCI’s Tucson offices, sported a 20-inch thin contour barrel with muzzle brake and a Picatinny rail atop the action for sight mounting.

            This new offering has a unique Howa Action that is in between the Howa Mini Action and standard Short Action platform and sports a Stocky’s synthetic stock. It uses a three-round removable box magazine. 

The removable magazine in the Howa Super Lite rifle holds three rounds and feeds in-line with the bore.

            There were repeated trips to the range with the Howa Super Lite as I tried to learn all I could about its preferences, idiosyncrasies and the like. This included mounting three different scopes, with the one that really complemented the rig being Swarovski’s 2.5-10x scope.

            Melvin Forbes of Ultra Light Arms fame many years ago advised me well when he explained the ethic and dynamics involved in matching a very light hunting rifle with a scope. The entire package has to be one with itself, which bluntly means that it doesn’t make any sense to put a heavy scope on a light rifle.

            Yet it makes no sense not to “use enough scope,” meant as a slight usurpation of the Robert Ruark wording. The Swarovski 2.5-10x represented the best of all worlds for this particular rig, which, hunt-ready with scope, sling and magazine full of ammo, weighs right at 6 pounds.

A Swarovski Habicht 2.5-10×42 scope proved to be just the ticket for the new Howa Super Lite in .308 Win.

            At the range, it became obvious quickly that something I learned in the mid-1990s when I first shot a light rifle with a carbon fiber-wrapped barrel remains valid. As I recall that rifle was from Christensen Arms.

            Realizing peak inherent accuracy in a light rifle hinges on how the rifle is held. For SCI members, it is akin to holding and shooting a big bore dangerous game rifle. It needs to be held firmly, but a death grip is overdoing it.

            And so it was with the Howa Super Lite.  When I held the butt firmly against my shoulder, grasped the pistol grip authoritatively with my trigger hand and sandwiched my offhand between the forend and the sandbag, the rifle delivered its best accuracy. When I lightened the holds, the groups grew to as much as twice the size.

            As it turned out, my best three-shot groups at 100 yards off the bench in inches were 0.62 and 0.68 center to center. Groups from most loads hovered around the 1-inch mark. The tightest group was with 150-grain bullets.

            This triggered some more nostalgia because that group was with my favorite .308 Win. handload that features Hornady’s #3031 spire point, flat base 150-grain .30-caliber bullet. Although that bullet today is a bit different, it is the modern equivalent of Hornady’s very first .30-caliber bullet in the long ago.

            Joyce Hornady formed that company in 1949, the same year I began hunting, albeit with a longbow and arrows. But I digress. The Hornady #3031 bullet in a .308 Win. is akin to a marriage made in Heaven. It is a combination that works wonders on hunts, and it doesn’t do badly on the range.

            A majority of the 100-yard groups saw the first two bullet holes overlapping each other, with the third shot making the final group size. Whether this was a result of the light barrel heating up, pilot error or a combination of those factors, I do not know. Regardless, the rifle delivered credible hunting accuracy with most loads, which included 150-, 165- and 180-grain bullets of varying design, composition and brand.

Three-shot groups at 100 yards from the Howa Super Lite rifle in .308 Win. hovered around an inch for most loads, but were as small as 0.62-inch, center to center. Groups, as shown here with two of them, tended to see the first two bullet holes touch or overlap and then the third shot made the final group size. Whether this was because of the light barrel, pilot error or both is unknown, but all groups were good enough for most hunting situations.

            Impressive was the light felt recoil of the Super Lite when shooting full house .308 loads. It felt more like a .243 than a .308, which means the muzzle brake was doing its job quite well. And why not? The higher the pressure at the brake, the better the brake works. And the .308 is a fairly high-pressure cartridge.

The muzzle brake on the Howa Super Lite features holes in a spiral design. The brake is very effective at taming recoil on the light rifle, making a .308 feel like a .243.

            Following the range sessions, I took the rig into the desert to do some informal shooting at targets of opportunity, not so much to collect any trophies as to check out how the rifle carried and how it behaved in hunting situations. It carried like a feather, handled like a dream, and proved to be credible, even when shot from the standing offhand position.

            As the rifle was configured, the full field of view appeared instantly in the scope when the rifle was shouldered, with the crosshairs on-target. This, again, is an indication that the right scope is on the right rifle for the right results.

            The Howa Super Lite is not a target rifle. It is a thoroughbred hunting rifle that can perform well in a variety of hunting situations. When weight matters, it is a good model to consider. And even when weight doesn’t matter, it still is a good hunting rifle — best of all worlds.

Steve Comus is the editor-in-chief of Safari Magazine.