I have the 7 mag. Howa is a mixed bag IMHO. They are known to be good shooters out of the box with an adjustable trigger. The synthetic stock is flimsey junk, as are most in a rifle of that cost such as savage or rem. Like the other two, you can get a factory laminate, or an aftermarket synthetic. I would go for the factory laminate if doing it again. The good side is the great action, pretty good trigger, and a good shooter, cheap. It's a toss up with a savage to me. As far as a Howa being a weatherby, it is the otherway around. Howa mad this gun and sold it as a vanguard, a mossberg, and smith and wesson. I hear weatherby is going to remarket the vanguard again, but when I bought mine, they were higher than the howa self labeled rifles. As far as having too much freebore, I can easily hit the lands if I load a bullet out very far, I don't think there is too much.
Overall, I would say go for it, but you may have to do a bit of tinkering with the bedding, etc. Bases are easy, it takes a remington 700, so you can get darn near anything. If you wanted, you can replace the trigger with a timmney from midway usa, but I don't think it needs it. One other thing, the barrel is metrically threaded, so you might have a bit of trouble finding a smith who wants to fool with rebarreling. I know there are some out there though. By the way, I live off I30 and ridgmar. The academy over here has had a few rifles.