September 30, 2019
A lot of serious riflemen have been thoroughly impressed with the Blaser bolt-action system since it was introduced in the 1990s. I’ve heard many of them remark about how speedy the action works. Every one of them was what I thought was a bit overenthusiastic in describing the system, especially those who were hard-core hunters. But after recently spending a considerable amount of time with two new R8 rifles, I’m a believer. And readers need to know that the Blaser R8 has a lot more going for it than just speed. In fact, Blaser calls out the R8’s safety, versatility, and accuracy in addition to its speed.
Speedy, Safe, Versatile
In 2000, when Shooting Times devoted an issue of the magazine to celebrate the close of the 20th century, then Rifles Editor Rick Jamison wrote an article entitled “The Bolt-Action Rifle of the Century.” Within that article he gave the Blaser rifle a special mention, saying it was “the most innovative bolt action of the century.” He cited the design’s practicality, functionality, and aesthetics for why it was the runaway winner for most innovative bolt action of the 20th century. About 10 years later, Shooting Times writer Greg Rodriguez called the Blaser rifle a “technological wonder.” He, too, was impressed with the gun’s fast action and versatility.
Back then, the Blaser rifle was called the R93. It has morphed into today’s R8 model, but many of the features Jamison and Rodriguez liked about the rifle are retained, including how the bolt locks up and how barrels in a wide range of calibers interchange.
The Blaser R8 straight-pull rifle does not have a lug-type bolt-locking system, and the bolt does not rotate to lock. Instead, the bolt head is an entire ring of thin, spring-like fingers (a collet, if you will) that go all the way around the bolt about a half-inch behind the boltface. These fingers are wedged outward when the bolt is closed (the bolt cams forward and backward rather than turning as with a conventional bolt action), and the wedge is driven back on contact with the cartridge in the chamber. This forces the collet fingers outward, and the knuckles engage a circular ring that is integral with the rear of the barrel. The setup provides 360 degrees of lockup. And as pressure builds upon firing the round, the cartridge head pushes back against the boltface, and the locking surfaces wedge even tighter, making the rifle incredibly safe.
The system is designed in such a way that bolt heads can be interchanged, and the unique way that barrels attach also enhances the rifle’s versatility. You can make the same rifle shoot everything from .22 Long Rifle rimfire rounds to .500 Jeffery dangerous-game rounds simply by swapping bolt heads, magazine inserts, and barrels.
The system is centered around an alloy frame that serves as a bedding block and is imbedded into the stock. The frame has recesses for the bolt’s bilateral rails, and the barrel is attached to the bedding block by two screws that are easily accessed from the bottom of the stock. Each R8 comes with a T-wrench that mates perfectly with the screws and makes swapping the barrels very easy.
Changing bolt heads isn’t quite as easy, but it’s not difficult, either. First, decock and unload the rifle. Then open the bolt assembly and remove it. Place it on a stable surface with the underside facing up. Use a small screwdriver or similar tool to push the bolt head retaining latch to the left, leverage it out, and swivel it up. Then rotate the bolt head counterclockwise a quarter turn and pull it out. Install the new bolt head by lifting the retaining latch, pushing the bolt head over the firing pin until it touches the stop in the bolt housing, and turning it clockwise a quarter turn. Stop when the retaining latch can be positioned into the groove of the bolt head. Tilt the retaining latch down and engage it.
One of the most notable features of the R8’s unique design is the incorporation of a detachable magazine that is integrated with the trigger guard and trigger assembly. When you remove the R8’s magazine, the trigger guard and trigger come with it. It’s all one assembly.
Integrating the external trigger linkage with the magazine offers a safety advantage. If you leave a cartridge in the chamber when removing the magazine, there’s no trigger left in the gun to fire it. When the magazine is taken out, the R8 automatically decocks, and while the magazine is out, the cocking slide cannot be engaged.
Speaking of the Blaser R8’s cocking slide, the rifle’s safety system requires the cocking slide to be pushed forward to cock the rifle. A red square is visible below the cocking slide when the safety is disengaged. It’s a silent operation, so hunters don’t need to worry about that. The system takes some getting used to, but one benefit is it allows the rifle to be carried with a cartridge in the chamber and uncocked.
Back to the trigger group/magazine assembly. It reduces the overall length of the rifle by about 3.5 inches compared to a rifle of equal barrel length or stock length that has a conventionally located magazine forward of the trigger guard. Consequently, the R8 is compact.
Additionally, the R8’s trigger pull quality is not compromised by being removable. The triggers on the two R8s I used for this report both broke at a clean, crisp, and consistent 1.75 pounds each, no matter how many times I took the magazine/trigger system assemblies in and out of the guns.
Yet another innovative component to the Blaser system is the scope mount. The barrel is not drilled and tapped for scope mounting. Instead, four recesses are machined into the barrel (two on each side), and they accept a specially designed saddle-type scope mount. The scope mount utilizes two swiveling levers that turn and lock the scope mount in position. The levers then fold against the mount, keeping them from getting in the way when operating the rifle. The system is fast, easy to manipulate, and does not affect zero when reinstalling. The scope mount is sold separately at an MSRP of $452.
Shooting Times received samples of the R8 Success and the R8 Professional. The Success model came with a .223 Remington barrel, and the Professional came with a 7mm Remington Magnum barrel. The Success has an elegant European walnut thumbhole stock, and the Professional has a synthetic stock that is dark green with black inserts. The details of both rifles are outlined in the accompanying specifications boxes.
And Accurate, Too
As illustrated, the R8 is innovative, safe, versatile, and speedy. And it’s accurate to boot. I found the bolt cycling and function on both R8s I fired to be smooth and clean, with reliable, no-flaw extraction. As for accuracy, both rifles were very close to MOA with five separate factory loads in various bullet weights for each caliber. Specifically, the .223 Rem. R8 Success averaged 1.03 inches overall for three, five-shot groups with each load at 100 yards. My best five-shot group measured exactly 0.5 inch, and it came with the Browning 50-grain BXV ammo. The 7mm Rem. Mag. R8 averaged 1.38 inches overall for three, five-shot groups with each load. Its best five-shot group was 0.78 inch, and it came with the Remington 150-grain Core-Lokt ammunition. Clearly, the R8s can shoot very well.
So, what you get with the R8 is a very nicely crafted modular rifle that retains zero while being disassembled and reassembled easily in just a few minutes. You get a great rifle whose chambering can be switched out for a wide selection of other chamberings.
You get a rifle that is incredibly safe. You get a rifle that is compact, well-balanced, and fast to operate. You get a rifle that handles well and shoots accurately. Obviously, the Blaser R8 is an expensive rifle. The two rifles I fired for this review have MSRPs of $6,109 and $4,397 respectively. But for riflemen for whom money is not the top concern, the Blaser R8 is a top choice.