For those not familiar with the Blaser concept: Blaser uses a straight-pull bolt action when the case is being recycled, which gives it a faster cycling time than a traditional turn bolt movement.
This is very useful in situations such as shooting driven boar, and that’s one of the reasons why the older R93 model was apparently the best-selling rifle in Europe for many years. Blaser also offers quickly interchangeable barrels in a wide variety of calibres.
Although I have only shot the Blaser R93 on a couple of occasions, I have heard that the top-loading magazine was fiddly and not to everybody’s taste. The new R8 has addressed this issue, at the same time tweaking the bolt and trigger system.
Let’s start with the bolt. Being a straight-pull system, it only requires the bolt handle to be pulled backwards. My early attempts to lift the bolt made me feel a little clumsy, but I quickly mastered it. The bolt assembly slides into the back of the barrel, helped by two long guides that slide along the stock to the lower side of the barrel.
Once the action has picked up the round and driven forward to chamber, a circle of locking tabs expands symmetrically into the rear of the barrel, locking the bolt. This system has the advantage of reducing the length of the action and barrel assembly by 3.5in, making it much easier to use in confined conditions such as woodland stalking.
To cock the mechanism, there is a large lever assembly on the rear of the bolt that also acts as a safety catch, cocker and de-cocker. When you apply forward pressure to this lever, it will come out of safety and cock the mechanism. To de-cock, press directly down and it will slide back into safety. While it seems a little strange, it is a very safe system. If you want to slide the bolt backwards to remove the round with the safety on, just push it down and the bolt will slide back. I discussed this with my local gun shop as I found it very stiff to push forward, but they have had no complaints about it or on the older R93s.
Now we come to the most interesting innovation: the magazine. As I already mentioned, the old R93 could only be loaded from the top. The R8 sports an entirely new design: a detachable magazine that incorporates the trigger assembly. Some might be worried about losing this, rendering the gun completely useless, but it is nevertheless a clever yet simple design. As soon as the magazine is released, the bolt de-cocks. It is easily removed by squeezing a spring clip on either side – pull it out, then reload it in the normal way.
The .308 model holds four rounds; as for the construction, the trigger guard and base plate are made of aluminium, but the rest is made of high-impact plastic. If you prefer a top loader, slide a catch to lock the magazine into the stock and insert the rounds in the normal manner. This also eliminates the worry of dropping the magazine. In my test, I found the magazine to be compact and sturdy, but it did have to be forced into the stock – possibly due to the gun being brand new.
As for the trigger, there are no springs – instead, there is a desmodromic mechanism that moves a plunger in the stock, allowing the cocking mechanism to do its bit. This didn’t seem to affect the trigger, though – it released at a consistent two pounds, and felt superbly crisp and light.
The 17mm barrel is attached to the stock by two captive nuts, which can be removed within seconds by means of a supplied hex key. Heavier barrels are also available. I’m told the R8 barrels are much easier and faster to break down than R93 barrels, but surprisingly, the R8 and R93 barrels are not interchangeable.
With a barrel length of 23in, the R8 will retain its compact design even with a moderator fitted. There is also plenty of gap between the forend of the stock and the barrel, which allows a fully floating barrel. It is also screw-cut for a moderator.
This model is available from .222 all the way to .500 Nitro. To change the calibre, all you need is a new barrel (along with magazine insert), and possibly another bolt head depending on the calibre selected.
The stiff, high-quality synthetic stock comes with studs fitted to the rear and the very front. If a bipod is required, there is a position for an extra stud already machined – a small yet very useful addition. The anti-slip inlays fitted to the pistol grip and under the forend enable a perfect hold in all weather conditions. The comfort and feel of the stock left me with no doubt that it is a quality chassis.
The inspection was complete – time to head to the range. Once I had zeroed at 150 yards, I achieved a group of 1.5in using some home-loaded 150-grain soft nose bullets running at 2,750fps. This was without any bipod or rear restraint – I just laid the forend on a shooting bag. The group tightened up a little after a few more shots, and I have no doubt that with more use and a little experimenting with different ammunition, this rifle can shoot even better.
Now it was time for the long-range test. I achieved groups of approximately 5-7in at 500 yards using cheaper ammunition, without a bipod and with a light wind blowing. Multiple shots also did not seem to affect the accuracy. Considering that this is a lightweight hunting rifle, less than 1 MOA is very respectable with popular ammunition.
A short time later, I travelled up to Scotland to help control the red hind population on the Ledgowan estate, near Achnasheen in Ross-shire. As ever, I checked the zero again before we departed to the hills, and achieved a 34in group at 1in high at 130 yards with the forend lying on a small grass mound. No issues with accuracy there, then.
After a few days’ stalking, I was able to shoot some hinds using 150-grain soft nose ammunition. This proved effective in quickly dispatching the animals. The weight of the rifle (8.5lb including scope) was a real bonus, especially in the wet and windy conditions. The quicker cycling of the rounds was helpful when a follow-up shot was required. As it was a relatively short gun and in .308, the muzzle lift was quite apparent just after each shot, but I found the better manoeuvrability to be more than worth it. The conditions were very wet and cold and I struggled a little with the safety or cocking lever, as well as the loading of the magazine. With more time, I expect that these niggles would soon go.
The trigger was an absolute delight and I can see why this is so popular in Europe when used for both woodland stalking and driven boar. My colleagues Matt and Darren, both experienced riflemen, had a great time with the rifle as well, and the only negative point they raised was value for money. The retail price of approximately £2,750 (plus £390 for mounts) might put some off, but the R8 is nonetheless attractive to the specialised group of sportsmen who buy into the name and reputation of Blaser.
After this test, I can see why so many Blaser rifles have been sold. They provide fantastic accuracy – you should be guaranteed a ‘rifle for life’, bearing in mind you can add extra calibres to the same chassis. It is a divisive rifle – you will either fall in love with it or put it straight back into the gun rack. No prizes for guessing what side of that division I am on – when I next go boar shooting, I know what rifle I’ll be taking. TP