Stuart Wilson discovers a straight-pull performer in the form of the Blaser R8 Ultimate with full-length barrel silencer
I have used a few variants of the Blaser straight-pull rifle over the years – I never owned one, but always enjoyed getting my hands on one. The first time I shot one was at Swarovski’s underground range; a ragged one-hole on a chamois target will always be etched in my memory.
I have also hunted with a .270 Blaser up in some wild areas of Scotland, and was more than happy to grass a couple of cull stags. The function and performance of these rifles have always been without question – I have just never sealed the deal with a purchase.
Blaser’s straight-pull rifles offer several advantages over a conventional bolt-action. Most of you will be familiar with Blaser’s R93 and now their R8, so I won’t spend ages on the system itself – I’ll quickly cover the main gains as I see them.
First, there is a length saving because the action is so compact. Comparing the ‘in battery’ position of bolt faces, the Blaser wins hands down – the result is a shorter rifle for the same barrel length. This shifts the weight back towards the shooter. Secondly, the straight pull is extremely fast on reloading, whether it’s in a hunting situation or on a range.
It’s the inner child in me (some say it’s not so ‘inner’) that always enjoys an unboxing. The rules are simple: Whatever is in the box has to maintain or exceed that initial impression.
This unboxing hit the spot – and pulling the fully silenced R8 Ultimate from its cloth sleeve, who wouldn’t be happy? Synthetic and with a full-length sound suppressor, along with a Blaser scope and saddle mount – a truly practical package.
The scope was soon cam-locked on to the rear of the barrel, with a quick adjust to get the right tension. In fact, the scope can be attached and detached in seconds.
I managed to slip a £10 note between the objective lens and fully moderated barrel sleeve. This would be fine for testing purposes, but I would perhaps prefer to get the scope a step higher, bearing in mind the stock is adjustable – but more of that later.
I plumped for Winchester 180gn softpoints, hoping that the heavier bullet would eke out the best velocity and accuracy from this rifle. The barrel was a squat 16.5in without the moderator, but you can never be sure how things will pan out.
Bore sighting a Blaser R8 is simple enough. The bolt, when withdrawn, stops on a protrusion on the magazine; this governs the throw of the bolt, effectively tailoring it to the multitude of calibres that can be changed through the switch-barrel design.
Depressing this magazine stop will allow the bolt to pull back to the action stop. A small button, once pressed, allows the double-railed bolt carriage to be fully withdrawn. It’s a neat system – just take care once the bolt is out, avoiding any dirt ingress, and you now have a clear view down the barrel for rough bore sighting.
Using a cardboard target board with a centrally placed A4 sheet helps line both scope and bore to get your first rounds on to the paper. For me, zeroing presented no issue, and the real first group printed an inch high at 100 yards and was comfortably within an inch centre-to-centre.
I am sure that further testing could tighten this yet further – and bear in mind all my shooting was from just a front bag, to try and replicate shooting from stick or shooting from a high seat rail.
The only thing I did notice was heat haze from the full-length moderator. it was quite a warm day with no breeze, so on the higher magnification, after seven to eight shots, everything was decidedly warm. Of course, this will only ever be noticeable when zeroing. If you’re in the field, it would take a truly fortuitous stalking session to bring this about.
The R8 Silence was very sweet to shoot, the balance seemed good, and the fully moderated barrel certainly tamed any recoil and blast, which in the context of a fast-reloading straight-pull really helps keep you welded to the rifle as you cycle the action. Any rifle whose design facilitates this style of shooting will always result in more successful and accurate shots.
The Ultimate Silence stock is a neatly built synthetic design. It has some clever features built into it that also offer the best option of being tool-free. A button when depressed allows the cheekpiece to raise, set with a range of click-stops for a custom height to suit your needs.
Cheek weld that can be tailored to the shooter is sometimes overlooked; it is important for consistent shooting in a variety of positions.
The butt pad is also adjustable tool-free, with a neat lever sitting flush into the stock when locked. When pulled up, it allows for the length of pull to be adjusted and also the height of the butt pad. Once set to your required dimensions, the lever cams tightly into place, locking your settings for you.
The forend and pistol grip have rubberised inserts, giving a tactile, secure feel to all shooting positions, and overall the stock dimensions are good. The forend width is wide enough to give a good grip while keeping your fingers away from the full-length moderator. Finished off with sling studs fore and aft, the stock is cleverly designed and has reams of functionality.
Barrel, action and mod
When you first use a Blaser R8 (or its predecessor the R93), it’s a game changer. It would be hard to deny the joy of cycling the action without even shooting a round. When mounted in the shoulder, the bolt does come back like it is going to hit your nose. once you are used to that, it’s a fast-cycling rifle with no hesitation.
The Blaser R8’s action is solid. It closes with a reassuring clunk, perhaps a little more noisy than a conventional bolt action. It can be operated quietly, if the situation dictates, by being deliberate with the bolt handle.
To the rear of the bolt is the cocking lever, basically a thumb toggle that engages and disengages the firing pin hammer spring, which makes a rifle with a chambered round quite safe – though you should always apply muzzle awareness regardless of any safety catch.
The bolt head locks into the barrel with a collet-type arrangement that offers nearly 100 per cent lug engagement, and this bolt head can be swapped out from the bolt if a calibre change requires a different size bolt face; this is also a tool-free operation and uses a small, sling-loaded bolt head retention bar that also indexes the bolt head into to one position, meaning the retention bar will not close until the bolt head is rotated correctly.
The trigger presented no issues, fading into the background of a beautifully engineered rifle It’s worth noting that several trigger options are available, as I found out on the configuration page of Blaser’s website. this is definitely worth a look if you are in the market for a Blaser R8.
The R8 features a similar – if not the same – box magazine insert system to the R93. On its predecessor, this was dropped in through the top of an open action; with the R8, the trigger group can be dropped out by pushing two clips, which when extracted from the bottom of the stock fetches the magazine box out with it. Easier reloading, and a step towards better safety and security.
Moving to the barrel, which is where the saddle mount clips, the Silence model I had on test had a fully moderated or fully shrouded barrel fitted, which made for a bull barrel look. As a result, the rifle seems to feel much lighter, tipping the scales at just over 8lb without scope. It is not heavy and the balance, for a moderated rifle, is fantastic.
The finished length of this barrel was 24in, with the barrel at 16.5in. The shroud simply unscrews like a conventional moderator, differing only by the way it engages onto a shoulder of the barrel at the chamber end, sealing against this shoulder with what looked like a heavy duty, high temperature o-ring.
I didn’t need convincing that the Blaser straight-pull action is good. My only reservation, at first glance, is using a thumbhole stock with a straight pull. That said, the thumbhole of the Ultimate stock is not restricting in any way; the hand is brought into a stress-free, nearly vertical position, complemented by the shooter’s preferred length of pull and cheekpiece height adjustments.
In use, the R8 Ultimate Silence is well balanced, accurate, quiet, and extremely easy to use and shoot. I would love to see the range of Silence calibres increase to include .243 Win, and maybe after that even a .22-250 Rem – these calibres would surely find favour among UK shooters.