Nick Latus tests the straight-pull action of the Blaser R8 topped with a Zeiss scope, grassing a big buck and a fox with a swift double shot
At my local stalking patch in East Yorkshire, a colleague often calls for my assistance when his time is limited and fraying activity by roebucks is giving the farmer some serious cause for concern. During the last season, three of us had hit the roe population hard on this particular farm due to significant damage to restocked hardwoods and commercial willow.
I had been vigilant since the does went out and the buck season started, but I had not seen any bucks across the 500 acres or so of arable and woodland habitat that the ground covered. However, a weekend in April brought some sunshine, and it was an excuse to take the rifle and Rommel – my newly acquired Bavarian bloodhound – for a walk in the woods.
Furthermore, it would give me a chance to try out the Blaser R8 and Zeiss Varipoint M 3-12×56 in the field. I had already put a few shots through the rifle on the range, and was impressed with its accuracy and speed of reload with the already legendary Blaser straight-pull action. The model I was using was definitely a workhorse in its one-piece green synthetic stock ‘professional’ version, but it was nevertheless a thoroughbred, and soon proved its credentials on its maiden outing.
This is a rifle with fine lines, and I was immediately impressed with the practical aspects of the overall construction. The anti-slip inlays on the forend and pistol grip of this straight-combed stock gave confidence in mounting, and even with the heavyish scope, the set-up was perfectly balanced and extremely pointable as the rifle came to the shoulder.
One of the more remarkable features of the R8 is its drop magazine/trigger system. The trigger guard, blade housing and the base of the four-round (in .30-06) magazine box are combined in a single unit. Pressing two easily accessed but unobtrusive catches on either side of the unit will dump the mag and de-cock the gun. The movement is crisp and efficient, and I really like this system despite the regular whines heard about making it easier to lose the whole unit. I don’t think it is any easier to lose this unit than it would be to lose the standard drop magazine seen on other rifles. Admittedly if you lose the unit you lose your trigger system too, but in reality you shouldn’t really be losing bits of your gun. The trigger was a real joy to use in practice, and the release was consistent at two pounds.
To fire, push the de-cocker situated on the top of the tang forward until the slide stops exposing a red square, indicating fire mode. Every time you fire and re-work the bolt, the action is automatically re-cocked. To make safe, push the catch in and forward simultaneously.
The straight-pull system is designed for speedy reloading – not always necessary to British stalkers, but a distinct advantage to driven boar hunters on the continent. That said, rapid reloading may well be the key to putting an animal in the larder if the initial shot does not quite fly true.
Zeiss Varipoint M 3-12×56 T
Carl Zeiss’s legendary optical genius always provides a brilliant sight picture. Arguably, Zeiss scopes are second to no other sporting optics manufacturer – though Swarovski would certainly dispute this. This is not the place to argue the relative merits of either company, but few would disagree that these two have been the top two sporting optics manufacturers for a long time.
The Varipoint 3-12×56 T*’s 30mm tube and 56mm objective bell give a substantial boost to low-light performance. It should certainly handle all stalking scenarios with the 3-12x magnification range, and its hunting turrets make for easy handling during zeroing and operation of the illumination feature. Brightness control is achieved by pulling out the turret to engage the illuminated aim point.
Subsequent turning adjusts brightness, and this does not disappoint. This scope is nearly identical to the Zeiss Diavari – the difference is found in their respective reticle systems. The Varipoint system places the #0 reticle in the first focal plane, while the illuminated portion is placed in the second image plane. Increasing the scope’s power magnifies both the field of view and the reticle – but the size of the illuminated aiming point does not change.
Blaser invented the saddle mount in the early 1990s, and this solution replaced all other mounting systems within the Blaser range. Two inconspicuous notches in the barrel hold the one-piece base. Removing the scope together with the mount and repositioning it on the barrel is easily done in seconds. After the initial zeroing-in, this procedure may be repeated as often as desired, without any loss of precision. I tested this claim on the range and can confirm no change in zero was noted.
The day dawned warm but mousy – that is, to those who do not understand Yorkshire vernacular, with heat haze or hanging mist. I hadn’t much confidence in finding a buck as we had hit the population hard the previous season, but I was still happy to be out with rifle and hound. However, severe fraying on the corner of a willow stand restored hope – a buck had obviously recently filled the vacant territory.
With renewed interest, I scanned the ground more carefully and worked into the wind along the boundary marked by an ancient hawthorn hedge. Then things began to happen fast. Occupied though I was spying through the Leica Duovids, Rommel soon caught my attention with an agitated half woof. Following the hound’s gaze, I immediately saw a fox heading straight towards us. Not one to pass on a sitter, I mounted the rifle in the ‘v’ of the shooting sticks, and drew a bead on Charlie’s chest. He realised his mistake and turned to avoid us, but the 180-grain polycarbonate tipped bullet was on its way and dealt the predator an instantaneous death.
Miraculously, a roebuck then stood up almost next to the fallen fox, and the rapid reload of the R8 came into play. I followed up the fox shot with a perfectly placed shoulder shot on the six point buck, which burst forward through the hawthorn in a final rush of adrenalin.
I cast off the hound, and squeezed through the thorns to find Rommel happily chewing at the exit wound on the now dead beast. It was one of the shortest but most enjoyable stalks I have ever experienced. Sometimes you just have to take what nature offers.