By Todd Burgreen
The Blaser R8 Ultimate straight-pull bolt action rifle will appear as something new and radical to many U.S. riflemen. “Can’t put your faith in something untested or fully proofed” they will scoff. Yes, the Blaser straight-pull bolt action represents cutting edge rifle technology, combining many innovative features (nine patents are associated with its design) with accuracy producing enhancements. However, this “radical” bolt action has been going at it strong since 1993 in Europe and around world. Certain niche market segments in the U.S. have also caught on. In fact, the R8 follows up on an earlier Blaser straight-pull bolt action model, the R93.
Personal experience with an R93 Tactical 2 over a decade ago at a sniper/long-range course at Storm Mountain left no doubt something special was at hand. The Blaser R93 Tactical 2’s distinctive aesthetics immediately put one on notice that this is not an ordinary rifle. Groups measuring .5 inch or smaller instilled the author’s confidence and received covetous glances from classmates. The most obvious departure from the established norm is the Blaser straight-pull bolt action. The straight-pull bolt is simple to operate, even for the most committed turn-bolt gunner. The Blaser straight-pull bolt allows a shooter to stay on the scope and work the action without interrupting sight picture.
The R8 is bigger, stronger and has several new features compared to its R93 predecessor. One big change is the ability of the R8 to chamber dangerous game cartridges, such as the .458 Lott and .500 Jeffery. The R8 has a larger bolt than the R93 and uses different geometry in the locking parts to enhance the strength of the action. It is a more robust rifle offered in calibers stretching from .222 Rem. through .500 Jeffery. One R8 receiver will handle any cartridge. All you need is another barrel, proper magazine insert and appropriate bolt head for the desired cartridge. The R8 has a collet behind the bolt head that is slotted into 13 segments and has a raised ridge in the front. As the bolt is closed and cammed shut, the collet is pushed forward against a tapered section at the rear of the bolt head. This causes the front ridge to expand outward and into a groove in the barrel, locking the bolt to the barrel in a full 360-degree contact. The harder the bolt pushes back, the tighter the collet holds. The collet both centers and headspaces the round in the chamber in the same position shot to shot. This is crucial in any rifle, where repeatable, precise accuracy is demanded. This is one of the signature features of the Blaser straight-pull bolt action.
The R8 Ultimate’s trigger group is integral with the magazine box; when you remove the magazine you also remove the trigger group. This helps to reduce the overall length of the R8. The trigger connects all parts mechanically without using springs for ultra-reliability and positive reset no matter the conditions. The trigger pull was a crisp 3 pounds, 1 ounce. The R8 uses the proven Blaser safety system. This allows the rifle to be carried uncocked, which reduces the possibility of a negligent discharge if the gun is dropped. The safety is pushed silently forward to cock the rifle when ready to fire.
Blaser allowed full exploration of the R8 Ultimate by providing .22LR, .270 Winchester and .375 H&H barrels/bolt collets/magazine inserts. Blaser’s literature indicates that R8 barrels are hammer-forged, including the chamber. (Certain small bore calibers with sharp shoulders have chambers cut. The .243 Win is an example of this.) Hammer forging the chamber keeps dimensions and alignment with the bore more precise due to the operation taking place at time of production versus cutting the chamber later with a different set of machinery. This is just another example of Blaser’s accurate production methods.
A Blaser 4-20x58mm IC optic accompanied the R8 Ultimate. The Blaser optic and mounting method could spawn an article in their own right. Blaser mounts their optics via recesses machined into the barrel directly over the chamber area. Most U.S. rifles are drilled and tapped over the receiver. The Blaser-machined recesses accept a saddle scope mount. This is not practical for the Blaser R8 Ultimate, considering its receiver is designed to move forward and rearward when the action is worked. The mount placement and method used impact no tension on the barrel. It is free to oscillate. There is no need for large mount bases that can interfere with your sight picture or the aesthetics of the rifle. Manipulating/rotating two small levers is all that is needed to mount/remove the optic. This was done multiple times with each chambering of the R8 tested. Scope zero stayed put where it was notated for each caliber.
Blaser stresses the importance of the reticle in the first focal plane along with thin reticle structures minimally covering the target even on the highest magnification. The daylight visible illuminated dot is adjustable to extreme light conditions and activates when the cocking lever is slipped into the fire position; this further illustrates Blaser’s attention to detail. The elevation turret can only be dropped back down when you return to zero. This is just a thoughtful measure, so the hunter does not forget to return to zero if dialing in elevation adjustments in the field for long shots. The parallax adjustment is on the right, so it is opposite of what we are used to here in the U.S. The adjustment turret for the parallax is also protected against unintended movement. The turret is locked for a distance of 100m, is graduated for distances greater than 100m and is easily pulled out to select the desired distance.
The R8 Ultimate’s stock is as modular as the caliber flexibility. The R8 Ultimate tested herein arrived with a thumbhole stock, adjustable recoil pad, recoil absorption system and an adjustable comb. The R8’s thumbhole stock offers the user superior manipulation over standard stocks. The ergonomics of the thumbhole seats the heel of the hand much better for fluid shots and steadies the rifle during bolt manipulation, especially hurried ones. The multi-level adjustable comb is intuitive to set to user requirements. Once fitted, the integrated memory function ensures return to the correct comb position for every shot.
Good marksmanship in the field starts with confidence. Confidence is built through firing a rifle that is not overly punishing (each of us has different standards and tolerances with this) and is inherently accurate as demonstrated from the bench. The optional Blaser recoil absorption system makes for a pleasant shooting experience even with larger calibers. The internal absorption elements are available in different hardness levels which can be adjusted to your preferences and produce a noticeably reduced muzzle climb and shove backward while shooting. The recoil absorption system offers unmatched comfort while shooting; this was much appreciated when the .375 H&H barrel was installed.
The R8’s switch caliber ability is a real asset. This would be negated somewhat if problematic to accomplish smoothly by the end user afield. One can only imagine the engineering hours spent in figuring out how to achieve switch-barrel capabilities over a swath of calibers ranging from .22LR to .500 Jeffrey. Now compound this by a factor of 10 considering Blaser accomplished this by needing only an Allen wrench to do it! The various sized cartridge case heads are handled by switching out the collet heads along with the magazine body insert as broken down into six groupings by Blaser. Barrels are held in place by two bolts through the forend. This is about as easy as it gets.
As can be imagined with three different calibers to proof, the R8 Ultimate was evaluated over multiple trips to Echo Valley Training Center (EVTC). Round one consisted of getting acquainted with switching between calibers. Caliber changes were done in the field on the fly between bench testing. After a half dozen caliber swaps, the process was narrowed down to less than 5 minutes, including adjusting the Blaser optic.
The .270Win was the first up. Readers may be surprised by the cartridge choice, especially considering the on-going craze for anything starting in 6.5mm. The .270Win has been getting it done since 1925, and the .270Win has a following around the world including Europe, Africa and Australia. SIG SAUER Elite 140-grain CET, Black Hills Ammunition 130-grain GMX and Hornady 130-grain SST produced sub-MOA accuracy at 100 yards. The SIG 140-grain led the way with a .40 cluster of three rounds.
The .375 H&H was up next. As alluded to earlier, the Blaser recoil-absorbing stock earned its keep in helping tame an accepted dangerous big game cartridge in a rifle weighing less than 9 pounds. Hornady 300-grain DGX and Buffalo Bore 270-grain TSX loads were the mainstay of testing. Both Hornady and Buffalo Bore offer numerous bullet types in the classic .375 H&H caliber. Accuracy was in the 1MOA range with both loads.
The .22LR was the last caliber tested. This was a relief after numerous rounds were sent downrange with the two centerfire calibers. The .22LR caused the most anxiety of not working correctly due to the compact size of a rifle that also accommodates larger calibers. However, Blaser has it figured out with the appropriate collet and magazine insert. It was nice to have the same bolt throw, feel and distance as your serious hunting rounds, while still sending .22LR downrange. The Blaser trigger was a gem conducive to wringing the most accuracy out of any chambering. The author’s range T&E consisted of normal firing from the bench position for an accuracy assessment of CCI Target standard velocity 40-grain, American Eagle 40-grain, Wolf 40-grain, Winchester M-22 40- grain and SK Standard Plus. Groups at 25 yards were in the .33- to .5-inch range and at 50 yards, .75 inches.
After bench testing, the fun started in the form of various T&E scenarios. The Blaser R8 with its portability is intended for stalk or still hunting forays. This translates into fluid offhand shots at game. A hunter will often adopt a kneeling or sitting braced position in lieu of standing offhand. If lucky, a quick set-up of a BOG tripod is doable. The author used the EVTC Jungle Walk Range to get a sense of handling the Blaser R8 Ultimate and its multiple calibers. Targets were set up randomly along the meandering trail. A shooter must move down the path until a partner points out a target for engagement, albeit a paper, clay pigeon or steel target. While not empirically quantifiable, the Blaser R8 Ultimate proved to “hang” well and was very manageable in getting into and out of field shooting positions. Follow-up shots were quick with the straight-pull Blaser R8 bolt action being almost as efficient as a semiautomatic. Each caliber was given multiple runs.
In this day and age, one finds that most rifles are created for specific tasks in mind; i.e., varmints, brush, sheep, dangerous game, tactical, “beanfield” or stand rifles. As can be expected, most perform their assigned tasks well. It is a rare breed of rifle that can do multiple tasks as well or better than a specialized weapon. The Blaser R8 Ultimate comes damn close thanks to its ability to shape shift seamlessly through calibers, while maintaining amazing accuracy and reliability. This performance does not come at a bargain price from our Germanic colleagues across the Atlantic. A svelte handling rifle chambered in a multitude of calibers and capable of sub-MOA accuracy cannot be ignored by any hunter who frequently stalks or still hunts no matter the terrain. What Blaser has created with the R8 Ultimate is a rifle platform capable of handling any hunting situation and/or quarry.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Echo Valley Training Center
Black Hills Ammunition
Buffalo Bore Ammunition
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V24N9 (November 2020)|