The .375 bullet shattered both shoulders. A stone’s toss into the thicket, the gemsbok collapsed. If it had not, however, my second shot would have come in a heartbeat. My rifle cycled twice as fast as any turn-bolt – though it was stronger than many, and exceedingly accurate.
Far away in the patchwork of forest and farms quilting rural Germany, Bernhard Knobel directs operations for Blaser (that’s blah-zer, not blay-zer). Founded in 1957, it’s a relatively young enterprise, but has introduced some truly innovative rifles and shotguns. Its R8 straight-pull rifle, named for the year it began to supplant the similar R93, was the first Blaser rifle to debut in the U.S. Its improvements over the R93 are significant, if not all readily visible.
Like its predecessor, the R8 bolt head locks with a collet forced into a circumferential groove in the barrel shank by forward movement of the bolt. But the R8 is stronger. Its locking angle is steeper than the 45 degrees on the R93. A bushing slides into the collet’s center during lock-up for added support. In tests, the R8 endured pressures of 120,000 psi. “Gauges failed before the rifles did,” Knobel told me.
Defining features of the R93 appear in the R8: hammer-forged interchangeable barrels; screw-less scope mounting; a single-stack magazine tucked into a compact trigger group. Thanks to its telescoping, radial-head bolt, the Blaser action is about two inches shorter than that of a standard bolt rifle!
The thumb-piece that cocks the R8 is the only safety. Shove it up and forward to the stop. You’re ready to fire. To de-cock, push ahead again, but down slightly, and let it return to the rear. “You can carry an R93 or an R8 safely with a round in the chamber,” emphasized Knobel. “They’re not cocked until you thumb that tab ahead.”
Barrels come in various lengths and contours, fluted and not. Most chambers are hammer-forged – though cartridges with a sharp shoulder or a big disparity between body and neck diameters mandate a traditional process. External plasma nitriding boosts surface hardness. Scope rings and base clamps can’t mar the barrel, and they don’t slip from the barrel notches. Saddle rings fit so precisely, you can remove the scope and replace it without losing zero.
Yes, I tested that. I’d been firing an R8 at a pail filled with chalky Texas rock 600 yards distant. After a reassuring series of hits with this .300, I removed the Zeiss 6-24x56 scope, then I latched it back in place. Favoring into a 9-o’clock breeze, I pressed the trigger. Boom! A plume of dust spouted from the pail. Two more hits proved it was no fluke. Return to zero? Absolutely! There’s no room for error at 600!
You can replace barrels with equal confidence. The R8’s lock-up ensures center shots after you switch barrels, then snug the original back in place. Tools? All you need is the supplied T-handled allen wrench to remove barrels and the stock (the R8 wrench is 5mm, the R93’s 4mm).
One big improvement in the R8: the removable magazine/trigger group. A pair of tabs bracket the trigger guard where it meets the receiver. Pinch them, and the assembly falls into your hand. You can top-load the stack without removing the box, or you can load it in your hand. A sliding tab inside the box locks it in the rifle. The magazine, of aramid-reinforced synthetic material, is lightweight, strong and slick. One box accommodates all cartridges for which the R8 is chambered (dozens!), from .223 to .416 Remington Magnum. But the inner parts, easy to change by hand, work for families of cartridges.
The rifle automatically de-cocks when the magazine/trigger group is removed. A magazine cap and a block for the cavity in the rifle, both of polymer, protect them so you can pocket the assembly.
Specified trigger pull for R8s exported to the U.S. is 2.5 pounds. In Europe, R8 triggers break at 1.6 pounds. Stateside hunters can special-order the light trigger, installed by Blaser.
Stocks for Blaser’s R8 include the original European and straight-comb American profiles, plus a plethora of other styles including thumbholes and stocks with leather appointments. Walnut, synthetic or laminated. The most recent: a laminated prone stock with vertical grip, adjustable comb and rail-equipped forend. It’s clearly designed for long-range shooting. So is the heavy, 27-inch, fluted barrel in .338 Lapua.
Wait. The Lapua? Based on the .416 Rigby, this rimless sniper round has a loaded length of 3.68 inches. It’s a tad longer than “full-length magnum” cartridges fashioned from .375 H&H brass. It’s bigger in diameter too: .588” at the web, compared to .532” at the belt. (At .521” and .532”, rim diameters are nearly the same.) The flat-shooting .338 Lapua is gaining favor of late, not only in military circles but in long-range matches, such as the Vortex Extreme Challenge that, with steel target as far as a mile off, has twice humiliated me. The Lapua’s 250- and 300-grain BTHP bullets (Scenars and Sierra MatchKings) sail into the blue yonder with miserly concessions to gravity and wind. For steel plates beyond 1,000 yards, there’s arguably no better choice in rifles you can carry with one hand.
Yes, this Blaser is portable. It’s lighter than it looks. It’s little heavier, in fact, than some hunting rifles of standard profile. Now, if you add the Schmidt & Bender PM II 5-25x56 scope I used to check its accuracy, the heft climbs considerably. The aggressive brake adds a bit to muzzle weight and, of course, to blast. But it effectively tames recoil and barrel jump. A lighter R8 in this chambering has a mid-weight barrel with Blaser’s Dual Brake and a Professional Success stock. I chose the GRS version with laminated prone stock because the .338 Lapua has the legs for prone shooting with powerful optics. Whichever you pick, you can easily switch barrels, bolts and magazines to accommodate lesser rounds. My sample came with .308 components too.
The R8 trigger contributes to accuracy with a clean, consistent break. My Timney scale registers 2 1/4 pounds on this rifle. At the range, I found the stock comfortable on both bench and bipod (Blaser has a carbon fiber bipod that helps fight weight creep). No doubt shooters helped contour the finger-grooved grip, deep thumb flute, parallel toe “hooked” for left hand or toe bag. Ditto the tapered forend, shallow up front and gently rounded on the belly. Comb height is easily adjustable. You needn’t remove the comb to slide the bolt out for cleaning.
I benched the Blaser with three brands of ammunition, all with 250-grain BTHP bullets. All shot well. Black Hills took “tightest group” honors, with a 0.7” knot. It’s worth noting that potent long-range loads often show improved accuracy, in angular measure, at distance. That is, a rifle shooting into 0.7” at 100 yards may deliver 2-inch groups at 400 – not 2.8-inch, which you’ll get from the math. Bullets that excel far away are long, pointed and spun fast. Like a top, they may not “go to sleep” right away.
The R8 functioned smoothly and without fault, as expected. If you’re looking for a quick-cycling rifle that’s lighter than it looks, has a carriage-class trigger and slick, sunrise-reliable magazine, plus, at least to my mind, the best scope mounting arrangement available, you’ll like this new Blaser – even if you don’t want to switch barrels or hit steel plates a mile away.
Oh yes. Price. The R8 in .338 Lapua is expensive. A scope to match, like the S&B PM II, will set you back as much as a divorce attorney’s retainer. But do you want the most sophisticated of long-range rifle, or just one to spew bullets?--Wayne Van Zwoll