One gun to do it all? The Blaser R8 Ultimate switch-barrel, straight-pull rifle might not cover every base, but it gets pretty darn close.
What Sets The R8 Ultimate Apart From Other Straight-Pulls:
- Interchangeable bolt heads, magazines follower and barrels makes it capable of chambering nearly any cartridge.
- Conversions require a minimum of tools.
- Radial lugs offers extremely fast and strong lock up.
- Adjustable buttstock allows a supreme fit.
- Optics are quickly mounted via proprietary scope mounts.
- No matter the caliber, the rifle knocks out the bullseye.
I have a safe full of rifles. I probably have too many rifles. No, wait! My wife sometimes reads my stuff, so let me rephrase: I have all the rifles I need and some for hunting buddies. From .22 LR to .470 NE, I’ve got a rifle for just about any occasion.
They all have a sling, mounts and optics (well, most of them) and, after a while, they start to take up a considerable amount of room. Not that I’m getting rid of any of them … .
While I was at the Dallas Safari Club convention, I wandered past the Blaser booth and paused to consider the benefits of owning a rifle capable of covering all—or at least nearly all—the bases. After chatting with the Blaser folks, I think I might have found a definite answer.
About the Blaser R8 Ultimate
The Blaser R8 Ultimate is the latest iteration of the R8 straight-pull bolt-action rifle and gives about as much flexibility from a shooting system as anyone could ask for. If you’re unfamiliar with the basic design, it’s a magazine-fed repeating rifle with interchangeable bolt heads, magazine followers and barrels, as well as a proprietary scope mounting system. The rifle is fast—once you get used to the straight-pull bolt—and is well-suited for both precision shooting and fast follow-up shots.
The action locks up using a set of radial lugs, and while it’s a radical departure from the traditional dual locking lugs of the Mauser 98, Winchester 70 or Remington 700, it’s strong and reliable. The modular design of the action might take some getting used to, but with a few tries, you’ll be assembling/disassembling the action quickly. In fact, removing and installing any part of the system is relatively “mindless,” and the only tool required is the Allen key that locks down the barrel.
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It all goes together in a relatively simple manner, with the parts either sliding or snapping into the receiver, which, itself, is permanently mounted in the stock. The barrel is screwed to the forend with two Allen-head bolts; the manual indicates that “finger-tight” is sufficient. The magazine is snapped into the trigger assembly, which is then snapped into the bottom of the receiver. Then, the two rails of the bolt assembly (with the proper bolt head installed) are slid into the rear slots of the receiver. This unit contains the cocking/de-cocking lever.
You’re now ready to shoot.
Switching bolt heads is just as easy. There’s a retainer latch underneath the bolt assembly. Using a fingernail, small screwdriver or the tip of a pocketknife, move the latch to the left and outward (while keeping the slightest amount of rearward pressure on the bolt). Twist the bolt a small amount to the right, and it’ll slide out easily. Reverse the process to replace the bolt head.
I find that when using this straight-pull design—although it might be initially awkward to those of us used to a conventional Mauser-style turnbolt—it’s easier to keep the butt of the gun on the shoulder while reloading. While most of the R8 rifles have a more traditional, pistol-grip-style stock, the R8 Ultimate uses a thumbhole-style design with a palm swell grip and a nicely textured grip.
The comb and buttstock are both adjustable, providing all sorts of flexibility to the unit. A spring-loaded button on the left side of the stock allows the shooter to raise and lower the comb height, and a lever on the lower left side of the butt releases the recoil pad to customize the length of pull. In the middle of the recoil pad on the left side is another spring-loaded button to raise the recoil pad up and down. In short, a perfect fit is easily attainable in a matter of seconds.
The proprietary scope mount uses four recesses on the barrel and a rail attachment to quickly and easily attach the optic to the rifle. The test rifle came with a Blaser Infinity 2.8-20×50 scope that featured a fine duplex reticle and an illuminated center dot. While rather heavy—the Infinity weighs in at 27 ounces—it was crystal clear and took adjustments just fine.
The Cartridge Trio
With all this in mind, I thought of the best choices in cartridges to maximize the effectiveness of this rifle … without overdoing things. While I was staring off into space at the Blaser booth, I was informed of the new .22 LR conversion kit.
“I’m sorry; the what?!?”
“Yes, Phil,” the Blaser folks confirmed. “We’re now offering a conversion kit for the R8 to allow the same stock, receiver and trigger system to be used for a .22 LR.”
This system is slick.
So, in the name of universal availability, I chose the trio of .22 LR, .30-06 Springfield and the .375 Holland & Holland Magnum. I can’t think of too many scenarios that couldn’t be effectively handled by that trio. Yes, a serious prairie dog hunter might opt for a speedier small-bore, but these three cartridges are among the most popular ever developed and work wonderfully.
Range Time With The Blaser R8 Ultimate
I packed up a big box of ammo (because I had three cartridges to test) and my range bag to head over to the proving grounds (better known as “Dad’s Backyard”).
Ol’ Grumpy Pants’ initial reaction to the Blaser R8 was what you might have come to expect: “What the hell is that thing?”
After going through the barrel/bolt head/magazine changing routine, he started that raised-eyebrow-cocked-head look he gives when he’s thinking about giving his approval. And, once I had 15 rounds downrange, he was on board with the whole idea.
I started with the .30-06 barrel and took a few shots to get the gun zeroed. Because both barrels were sporter barrels, I decided on three-shot groups for accuracy testing. I had a couple of Federal loads, a pair for Sig Sauer and a Nosler factory load that I’m particularly fond of.
It was apparent from the first group that this gun was a shooter. I like bullets between 165 and 180 grains for an all-around load for the .30-06. The worst group—coming in at an average of 1.1 MOA—was Federal’s new 175-grain Terminal Ascent load. The best load was Federal’s 165-grain Fusion load, which put three shots into just over ½ MOA.
The Sig Sauer Elite Hunter Tipped 165-grain load and 175-grain Elite Performance load each averaged right around ¾ MOA, and the Nosler 180-grain Ballistic Tip load printed just a bit bigger. The 22-inch barrel gave velocities just a bit below the advertised values on the boxes, but nothing to the point of concern.
Next up was the .375 H&H barrel, with which I decided to test Federal’s Cape-Shok 300-grain Trophy Bonded Bear Claw softpoint and the Norma 300-grain Oryx load. This was an eye-opener: I know the .375 can be an accurate cartridge, but the group size rivaled that of the .30-06 barrel. The Federal load printed three shots at exactly 1 inch, and the Norma load measured .65 inch, with the best load at ½ inch. The 24-inch barrel showed 2,520 fps for the Norma load and 2,415 fps (advertised 2,400 fps) for the Federal load.
Using the same scope for the two calibers, I had to make an 8-inch elevation adjustment and about 2 inches of windage. All things considered, it was pretty consistent.
I next converted the rifle to handle the .22 LR—just about as radical a departure from the .375 H&H as you could ask for—and moved from the 100-yard target board to the 50-yard board. Federal’s Gold Medal 40-grain bullets put five shots in a dime, and Remington’s Thunderbolts put five in a nickel.
This rifle is the bane of limb rats everywhere. When using the .22 LR conversion, the bolt throw is shortened up to about half the distance of the .375 throw. While I had no issues whatsoever with feeding or extraction, I will say that loading the .22 LR magazine was a bit of a chore, because the cartridges tended to roll to one side or the other of center instead of in the loading groove. I found it easier to remove the trigger assembly, load the magazine and replace the assembly.
Pros and Cons
Is the Blaser R8 Ultimate the ultimate rifle? It’s a matter of taste. The Blaser is a great system, especially for the traveling hunter. It can be broken down and housed in a compact case and is wonderfully repeatable. And I suppose the price ($5,428) will play a major role in your decision-making process. Does the Blaser, with two or three barrels, satisfy your needs as a hunter?
If you intend to hunt a wide variety of game animals, which will require a number of different calibers, the Blaser R8 will certainly fit the bill and provide you with a wonderful level of consistency. The trigger pull will be the same for all your chosen cartridges: My Lyman digital trigger scale indicated the test rifle’s trigger broke at just under 2 pounds. And, with the fast flexibility of the Ultimate’s stock, you can modify the rifle for the amount of clothing you’ll be wearing. The bolt location, safety, stock feel, balance, trigger pull and other features will all be the same every time you go hunting. There’s definitely something to be said for that.
If you enjoy the driven hunt—during which multiple running targets are a strong possibility, if not a certainty—the speed of the R8 is an assured benefit. This rifle can send the lead downrange faster than any turnbolt and second only to an auto-loader. It’s more than accurate enough for precision shooting at nearly any distance and is both ergonomic and portable.
All that said, you probably know I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to rifles. I love the old cartridges, their history, and the rifles and actions in the style of the late-19th and early-20th centuries. A worn walnut stock, replete with the scars of many hunting adventures, grabs my attention. I enjoy a stock with a good figure and flat top checkering, as well as the simple warmth of walnut. I enjoy the craftsmanship and hand touches of a Gewehr 98 Mauser or pre-1964 Winchester Model 70.
Does the R8 Ultimate have those characteristics? Well, no, but that might be a good thing in your book. The Blaser R8 is its own animal and doesn’t try to be something it’s not. Being completely honest, I prefer a Mauser-style action or double rifle for dangerous-game work. That said, I know a good number of professional hunters who rely on the R8 for guide work among Africa’s most dangerous animals.
If I had to find one major issue with the rifle system, it would be in the safety/cocking system. It’s undeniably safe, but I’ve seen hunters have issues pushing the lever into the “fire” position. It takes considerable effort and, with cold hands, it can be a struggle.
Blaser’s R8 Ultimate could end up being a “new classic.” Col. Townsend Whelen said it very well: “Only accurate rifles are interesting.”
The R8 is most definitely an “interesting” rifle. For those who are forming their own opinions about what a rifle is or isn’t, the R8 has the potential of being one of the quintessential designs.
If you appreciate flexibility, I can’t think of a better system for you than the Blaser R8 Ultimate.
Blaser R8 Ultimate Specs
Action: Straight-pull, bolt-action repeater
Caliber: Wide selection—from .22 LR to .500 Jeffery (tested: .22 LR, .30-06 Springfield and .375 H&H Magnum)
Length: +/- 42 in., depending on stock configuration
Weight: +/- 10 lb. scoped, depending on barrel
Magazine capacity: Cartridge dependent
Length of pull: Adjustable from 14 to 15.25 in.
Sights: Barrels drilled for Blaser rail scope mount; some barrels have iron sights
MSRP: R8 Ultimate with one standard barrel: $5,428; .22 LR conversion kit: $1,499; Extra standard-taper barrel with magazine insert: $1,299; Blaser R8 scope mount: $459; Blaser Infinity 2.8-20×50: $3,895
For more information on the Blaser R8 Ultimate, please visit blaser.de/en/.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the June 2020 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.
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Good point on the safety.