The One Rifle I Wish I Hadn’t Sold
An old, ugly, and surprisingly accurate Howa 1500 still gives the author nightmares
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Have you ever sold a rifle only to regret it later? I don’t mean a little regret as in, I probably shouldn’t have sold that gun. I mean the type of seller’s remorse that stings every time you think about it. If you were to find that gun again, you’d pay almost any price to have it back. I vaguely remember my dad selling his Ruger .22-250 when I was a little kid, which was a rifle that shot coyotes so well that I still hear stories about it. My uncle still brags about shooting a coyote across one and half sprinkler quarters (three quarters of a mile) with that rifle. I’m sure my dad regrets selling that gun, but I won’t ask him about it.
There are some guns that I will never sell—even if my attachment is purely sentimental. I’ll never get rid of my first 10/22, or the ugly-ass old Remington Model 710 in .30/06 that was the first big-game rifle I saved up and bought (in this rifle’s defense, it’s far more accurate than it looks). I regret selling, like my first service rifle, a Springfield match M1A, but I’ll probably never get rid of my second service rifle, a Colt Match AR with a Lilja barrel and custom steel under-handguard float tube. However, many guns are just tools to me, and I’m not sentimental about many of them. That said, there is one rifle I truly (and frequently) regret selling: a heavy-barreled Howa 1500 in .308 Winchester.
My passion for guns and shooting has always overreached what I could afford to add to my collection, so most of my guns ended up on a cycle where they’d eventually be tucked back into the closet as my interest switched to something new, and eventually I’d sell them with the justification that I simply wasn’t shooting them anymore.
The Howa 1500 .308 was an unlikely candidate for such a status. It was ugly as sin. I was young and broke at the time, but I wanted a rifle I could shoot long-range with. I found that Howa on the second-hand rack at a local gun shop. It had a heavy 24-inch blued barrel and a laminated thumbhole stock with an awful rattle-can paint job. I don’t remember what I paid for it, but it wasn’t much. I don’t know what it was about that rifle that gave me the warm and fuzzies. I just remember feeling like I was holding something special at the time.
Once I had it home, I pulled the stock off to see that underneath the atrocious paint job, there was no bedding, just a laminated stock. I also removed the cheap scope and rings that were on it (I had pretty low standards for glass at the time, so for me to call the scope “cheap” is really saying something). I took some sandpaper to the stock to make sure the barrel was totally floated, put on a Leupold VX1, and started working up handloads. This diamond in the rough ended up being one of the most accurate rifles I’ve ever owned, even to this day. With 168-grain Hornady A-Max bullets atop 41.5 grains of Hodgdon Benchmark, that rifle would average just over half-inch, 3-shot groups and .75-inch, 5-shot groups at 100 yards.
That Howa became special because it was the first scoped, long-range rifle I’d ever had. I’d been competing in service rifle for several years and was up on my shooting and wind calling out to 600 yards, but that had all been with iron sights. I had to buy what I could afford at the time for glass, which was a straight 10x magnification SWFA Super Sniper Mil-Dot scope and set of 30mm Weaver tactical rings. I gave the stock a slightly less-cringy paint job and added a cheek rest to the comb. I also had the muzzle threaded, and it was the first rifle that I ever bought a suppressor for.
Accurate rifles are always fun to shoot, even if they are much more accurate than sum of their parts should be. This rifle was just that. I could shoot it well to 800 yards and lobbing 180-grain Trail-Boss-propelled subsonic bullets into steel plates at 200 yards was pure joy. It had whatever stock trigger those rifles had at the time, and I remember it being a little bit rough.
Objectively, I shouldn’t miss that rifle as much as I do. Now I have rifles that can match the Howa’s accuracy and are all-around superior in other ways. There aren’t any single memories tied to that rifle like a big hunt or competition. However, it was a true gem, and just what I needed at the time. It was a core part of some very formative years for me as a shooter. I can afford a bit nicer gear now, and the more rifles I shoot, the more I realize how rare a specimen that Howa 1500 .308 actually was.
There are plenty of folks who’ll tell you not to ever get rid of any gun, but reality isn’t that simple. There are plenty of reasons to let go of some guns. Sometimes it’s out of necessity, and sometimes it’s to help fund the next gun, but think long and hard before sell. If you have a rifle that’s as accurate as that Howa was, you’ll likely regret letting it out of your hands. Fairbanks, Alaska is a pretty small town, and if I ever happen to see that rifle at the local range again, I’ll be going into my wallet and making an offer.