Tim Pilbeam field tests the Blaser R8, which sees the popular R93 updated with an innovative magazine unit and a new trigger
I conducted this review – as I usually do – from a practical point of view as opposed to a technical one. What’s most important to me is how the rifle feels, how it handles and – crucially – how it performs in the field at that critical time when the trigger is about to be pulled.
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.
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 in to 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.
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 inspection was complete – time to head to the range. For this review, I used my 4.5-14×50 M4 LRT Leupold. 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.
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 3/4in group at one inch 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.
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.
Many thanks to Rupert from Open Season for supplying the rifle.
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