Howa Golden Bear History

Discussion in 'Other firearms built on Sako actions' started by stonecreek, Jun 24, 2018.

  1. stonecreek

    stonecreek SCC Secretary Forum Owner SCC Board Member

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    I stumbled across the following from Howa Heavy Machinery in a history of their firearms manufacturing:

    Howa presented the Howa Golden Bear bolt action rifle at the Chicago Shot Show in 1967. Approximately 3000 golden bear rifles were exported to U.S.A and passed all the tests at HP White Laboratory, which is one of the world’s most prestigious firearms testing laboratories.
    After the introduction of the rifle, Howa won the fame and acceptance in the U.S market.

    ※Golden Bear rifle

    [​IMG]
    As most Sako enthusiast are aware, the "Golden Bear" was an almost exact copy of the Sako Finnbear. A very few features differed (mainly the Golden Bear's aluminum bottom metal), but they were so close that even the bolts would exchange. The Golden Bear was distributed only for a couple of years in the late 1960's, and I had no idea how many of them were sold until finding this article. All were chambered for .30-06 except for a very small handful on a slightly shorter action which were in .308. Conventional wisdom is that Sako sued Howa for patent infringements which stopped the production and sale of the Golden Bear (While I don't doubt that this is true I've never seen any documentation of this and an email I sent several years ago to Howa got an indignant response that they would never copy anyone's design!)

    A little further down in the Howa firearms history is found this on the Model 1500:

    1979: Howa started to export Howa Model 1500 which was based on the successful Golden Bear rifle.

    ※M1500

    [​IMG]

    There are some similarities in the 1500 and the Sako L-series, but they are not close enough to be siblings -- maybe second cousins. Several small parts from the 1500 will interchange with L-series Sakos. IIRC, the first of these were sold under the Smith & Wesson brand (replacing the Husqvarnas which S&W marketed earlier.) They are now marketed as Weatherby Vanguard and under the Howa label itself.


    It was gratifying to learn a little more about the scarce Golden Bear and its history. I've owned a couple of them and found that they were of fairly high quality, perhaps not as high as a genuine Sako but a notch above the typical hunting rifle from most American manufacturers.
     
    Rogan Kinnear and deergoose like this.

  2. paulsonconstruction

    paulsonconstruction Sako-addicted

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    Sounds as if there were only a few thousand made, yet it seems there is one for sale about anytime I search the web. Howa has always made a good rifle, as evidence by the Weatherby. I picked up one of their new "Mini-actions" over a year ago & other than an atrocious DBM system & mag release, it is a very nice design & shoots very accurately. Kind of a poor man's L461. I just bought the barreled action(6.5 Grendel), then stocked & scoped it for shooting long range targets. It looks like you could use their extractor in the small action Sakos. Very robust & positive extraction & ejection.
     
  3. stonecreek

    stonecreek SCC Secretary Forum Owner SCC Board Member

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    I forgot to mention that the Howa history just calls it the "Howa Golden Bear" and doesn't mention its full name which was "Dickson-Howa Golden Bear". I've never come across any clue as to who or what the "Dickson" comes from or represents. Possibly it was just plucked from the air to give the rifle a more English-sounding name or imply some association with the British Dickson shotguns.

    Incidentally, the apparently very small number of short-action .308's were made on an action just a tad bit longer than the L579 (about a 3" magazine as opposed to the 2.8" magazine of the Sako). The .308 Golden Bear's action was about the same diameter as the longer action, unlike the L579 whose diameter is reduced from that of the L61R. The "short" Golden Bear also has the third lug, unlike the L579. I have only see one of these in the flesh, which I hastily bought for a fair price. It is in the Deluxe configuration (skip line, contrasting grip cap and fore end) and in near new condition.
     
  4. iskra

    iskra Member

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    R331-2.jpg R331-3U.jpg R331-16.jpg R331-10.jpg R331-7U - Copy - Copy.jpg R331-20.jpg R331-11.jpg Coming to this forum actually in a second instance concerning what I believe to be a Prototype, pre production rifle I acquired many years ago. Nothing as exciting as a Sako prototype. Rather the Sako approximate mirror-image of the “Dickson Howa Golden Bear” rifle of the latter sixties.

    My rifle, just as the Golden Bear at inexperienced, glance a Sako. But for anyone familiar with Sakos, clearly not. Also clearly not the Golden Bear either. Perhaps the central clue of “different” in the fact of ‘cock-on-closing bolt mechanism. Moving from there to “nuance” differences from the Golden Bear which hopefully my rifle photos, below, to reveal.

    In evaluating a mystery rifle, normally nomenclature as available to reflect critical clues. The rifle as marked, with initials “YSS”. Such does reflect a Japanese firearms maker, though best even recent Internet information concerning the firm itself, unavailable. Yet too, strong suspicion that virtually all the nomenclature is aftermarket and likely more diversionary-purposed than genuine resitation. Principal clues, childlike stampingi crudeness and irregularities. Such as presumptive chambering reflected as “30-60” and first digit of five digit serial numbers discrepant between barrel and receiver. Barrel with “3”, action with “6”. Suc as remaining digits corresponding. The very high number of these serials, suggesting large production; contrasted in a rifle by all indications totally unknown.

    My best guess, the nomenclature added post-factory for purposes of export from Japan. Also likely needed to meet importer requirements reflecting US Federal Gun Control Act of 1968. Other hearsay, I won’t go into, but with indications such rifle may well have been among an importation “lot” marketed by retailer Wisner’s gun shop of San Diego. A firm itself long out of business. Coincidentally or not, I purchased this rifle at a gun show in the San Diego area several decades ago.

    As to the rifle itself… All said concerning the poor quality & suspect nomenclature, standing in stark contrast to by all appearances to a quality rifle in high condition right down to excellent, fine checkered stock and pristine bore. Such, though I’ve not fired nor function tested it cycling rounds. I do have a set of Foster headspace gauges for 30-06 and plan employ them with next collection general ‘spring cleaning & inspection’ cycle

    .So! My information here & photos above; the sum of it. Here, requesting any info/thoughts/opines; etc concerning my ‘mystery rifle’ from Sako experts, likely best positioned as any Internet forum for knowledge of “Salo pretenders”!

    Thanks and ‘ya’ll keep safe’!
    John
     
  5. paulsonconstruction

    paulsonconstruction Sako-addicted

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    There is nothing I can see from the photos that shows any resemblance to a Sako. The parallel action dovetails, the "notch" in the left side of the action port, the machined "dip" in front of the rear dovetail, the large rectangular bolt guide, the two step barrel shank & the clunky bolt handle are NOTHING like a Sako or an imitation of a Sako, IMHO. Piece of junk is how I would describe it.
     
  6. stonecreek

    stonecreek SCC Secretary Forum Owner SCC Board Member

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    The bolt release and the bottom metal outwardly resemble those found on a Sako. And he bear's head might seem to somehow evoke a Sako "thought". But I have to agree with Paulson that there is very little to suggest that the rifle was intended to be some kind of Sako imitator or even trade on Sako's reputation. Or even that of Howa's Golden Bear.

    I suppose the rifle could be of Japanese origin, but am totally unfamiliar with any manufacturer represented by the "YSS" stamp. Perhaps you can fill us in on that. It is a mystery that any fairly modern turnbolt would cock on closing. I'm ignorant here: Does the Arisaka cock on open or close? Could this rifle be an offshoot of the Arisaka, instead of the Sako or Howa?
     
  7. iskra

    iskra Member

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    Sorry - Redundant post deleted!
     
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2020
  8. iskra

    iskra Member

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    Apologies I've been a while. Life happening!
    First, the question concerning the Japanese Type 99 military rifle production. Yes, Howa was a wartime principal manufacturer of such rifle and its mechanism, "cock on closing".
    Second, YSS is listed in both US Federal Indices as well as some States. Below reference, listings both clear and easy to reference:
    http://www.earmi.it/armi/database/Gun Make Codes.htm
    Content:
    "YSS Firearms Co. JA YSS Mfr. of rifles"
    No further information turned up!

    Second, something of a wandering Thead, but only one available to be found with reference to "YSS":
    https://www.thehighroad.org/index.php?threads/extremely-odd-rifle-help-caliber-30-a-o-a.519533/
    Summary: Entirely 'other' rifle marked "YSS" discussed in this Thread. Such with accompanying nomenclature reflecting same childlike construction. Otherwise, reference/tie in with Howa in some contexts. Rifle in such Thread, allegedly acquired as part of wider shipment Wisner gunshop in San Diego. Such the general region in which I purchased my subject rifle of this Thread.
    Small 'bits & pieces'. My below theory rests far less on such 'bits & pieces' than observing an apparent quality rifle in-hand. (Notably conclusion differing from paulson construction, with only photo-limited opportunity as opinion base. My differing impression based on experienced, hands on, repetitious observations. I do find the rifle to be excellent quality in most all details. Based on such, my emerged theory.

    YSS may or may have not produced my rifle. I'm inclined to believe the entire nomenclature most likely for purpose of meeting Japan export and US import laws and applied at some later period for just that purpose only. I do believe the rifle was a prototype. That as the simplest explanation for its existence in the particular rifle format, including general quality & attention to details; as combined with engineering design producing the cock-on-closing mechanism action.
    A core question, why anyone have gone to the trouble of such apparent one-off rifle production? To what end? Not just a "custom rifle" but of sufficient difference, not attributable to any other then-production sporting rifle as spring-boarding.
    I do visualize a hierarchical, conservative board of directors of a major Japanese firm, demanding and receiving a finished product, eye candy, for "production consideration". Indeed, likely there were more such model versions. Quite possibly one such, the Golden Bear as produced! And now. my particular rifle, for whatever reason, "in the wild".

    I've decided to take the rifle to a gunsmith for headspace measurements and caution-forewarned test firing if appearing appropriate. That with cautions, considering a "demonstration model" perhaps never intended as firing capable.
    At best this rifle possibly to achieve "unique shooter" status. At worst, "destructive testing"! In any event without a whole bunch of documentation - "provenance" materials; never approaching collector status of any sort.

    If anything of further interest, here 'threatening' to return with yet a Thread report! :)
    Any further thoughts/opinions welcomed!

    Thanks to all commenting, whatever context.
    Best & Stay Safe!
    John
    Finis!
     
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2020

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