July 04, 2022
By Joe Ferronato
For hunters, a good rifle is worth its weight in gold. In the case of Howa’s Carbon Stalker, this rifle’s weight should be measured in platinum. Starting at a weight of four pounds, ten ounces, for mini-action models, this rifle is a backcountry hunter’s dream. It’s a feather on your pack and will put your shot in the sweet spot at the moment of truth.
I recently tested the Carbon Stalker chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor, one of three short-action offerings for the platform. It may be considered cheating to test the rifle in such a soft-shooting, inherently accurate chambering, but I was impressed nonetheless by its performance.
First impressions of the rifle were good. It’s pleasing to the eye due to its sleek design, but I would prefer a solid color over the Kryptek Altitude camo. The rifle is so light that picking it up makes you think it’s made of a lightweight polymer you’d find on a kid’s airsoft gun rather than a tack-driving hunting rifle.
The textured finish on the stock is grippy and offered secure handling, which is something I appreciate in a hunting rifle. With the standard swivel sling studs, this rifle would carry comfortably on a hunt, and it will accommodate a wide variety of bipods.
The model I tested came with a Picatinny rail for scope mounting, but you can also mount your scope directly to the tried-and-true Howa 1500 action, which is drilled and tapped to receive scope mounts. A bonus of the 1500 action: Unlike other push-feed, dual-lug actions, it features a three-position safety that allows you to cycle the bolt while keeping the gun on safe. As tested, this rifle weighed six pounds, two ounces, without an optic. Once I mounted the Vortex Razor LHT 3-15x50 scope, the weight jumped to eight pounds.
Built For Accuracy
There are a few factors that affect the accuracy of a rifle. First is a quality trigger. The Carbon Stalker comes standard with the Howa Actuator Controlled Trigger (H.A.C.T.) two-stage trigger that is as reliable as they come. Many people, especially those in the world of precision shooting, don’t like a two-stage trigger pull. In that setting, I tend to agree, but on a hunting rifle, having to pull up slack first doesn’t bug me at all.
The H.A.C.T. allows the user to get a comfortable position on the trigger without fear of it going off. The slack at the beginning of the pull is substantial, but it settles in nicely. Once you have the trigger set, a solid 2.5-pound pull sets the gun off. It’s crisp and precise. Personally, I like using a single-stage trigger more, but after spending time on the range with the Carbon Stalker, it grew on me.
Another great effect on accuracy is recoil. Hard-recoiling guns can create a flinch in the shooter, causing rounds to go haywire and group inconsistently. Because the Carbon Stalker was a lightweight hunting rifle, I expected the recoil to be significant, even though it was chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor. My expectation was correct.
At the shot, this lightweight rifle wants to jump off the bench if you don’t have a solid hold, but with the LimbSaver buttpad, the recoil on the shoulder was comfortable. Furthermore, the Carbon Stalker is threaded to accommodate a muzzle brake or a suppressor—either of which will mitigate recoil, making this gun more than pleasant to shoot.
The stock of your rifle needs to fit appropriately and comfortably for you to execute an accurate shot. Lightweight hunting rifles most always lack adjustable combs or adjustable length of pull, so it’s important to find one that allows you a comfortable cheek weld and shoulder position—if you can’t get comfortable on the range, it won’t get better in the backcountry. This rifle doesn’t feature an adjustable comb or length of pull, but the stock design is comfortable and should fit a wide range of shooters. It’s sleek and has a low comb, so mount your scope low to the barrel to ensure you don’t have to lift your head to take a shot.
The last, but most important, component for accuracy is the barrel. Howa’s 1500 action is mated to a cold-hammer-forged barrel, and over the years those barrels have proven their ability for accurate and consistent shots. The Carbon Stalker, as tested, had a 21.25-inch barrel that holds true to the legacy. The barrel on this rifle is shorter than others, but weight had to be sacrificed someplace to the hit lightweight category.
On The Range
I consider myself a solid minute-of-deer shooter, as compared to my colleagues who are proficient shooters and can make any rifle shoot quarter-sized groups. The advertised sub-MOA accuracy that many rifles carry is usually right at my shooting ability.
After a quick bore sight to ensure my impacts would be on paper, a few shots at 50 yards gave me great confidence in the accuracy of the gun. Once pushed out to 100 yards—my desired sight-in range—both the Howa and the Vortex functioned flawlessly. Tight groups and solid adjustments made for a quick zero.
While testing, I used Hornady’s 140-grain ELD Match ammunition. It’s a great round to test accuracy and flies like the 143-grain ELD-X Precision Hunter, which is my go-to round for hunting with a 6.5. The ELD Match claims a muzzle velocity of 2,710 fps, as measured with a MagnetoSpeed chronograph from a 24-inch barrel. Firing eight shots through the shorter, 21.25-inch barrel, the average was 2,614 fps—a difference that was expected from a barrel that was three inches shorter. This speed difference will not be an issue for most hunters, but it will influence the bullet’s efficacy at longer ranges.
The Carbon Stalker carries that sub-MOA guarantee for accuracy, and it sure did meet that requirement. Every shot that rang out landed near the shot before it, though I never saw any same-hole shots. With my last three-shot group, after adjusting my zero when the wind died, I landed three shots 0.75 inch apart in the bullseye.
For the price, Howa’s Carbon Stalker delivers a quality that any hunter should be proud to carry in the hills. With caliber options ranging from the mini-action 6mm ARC all the way up to .300 Win. Mag., this rifle will perform in the most rugged country and land your bullet on its mark.
Howa Carbon Stalker Information
- Type: Bolt-action repeating rifle
- Caliber: 6.5 Creedmoor (tested)
- Magazine Capacity: 4+1
- Barrel: 21.25-in., cold hammer forged
- Overall length: 41.875 in.
- Weight: 6 lbs., 2 oz.
- Stock: Stocky’s Custom Carbon Fiber
- Sights: None; drilled and tapped for scope
- Trigger: H.A.C.T. two stage
- Price: $1,119
- Website: howausa.com