The Howa is my choice of rifle over Savage, Remington, or any other mid grade brand. I would not recommend a heavy barrel varmint/target type rifle for general use. Too heavy and unwieldy for most game hunting. Better suited for range or fixed position varmint(prairie dog) shooting. That price is plenty high for my budget but may not be for your friend.
The Weatherby Vanguard is basically the same rifle(made by Howa) and can be found at very reasonable prices.