Since selling my Sauers some years ago and moving onto Blaser I didn’t really think that the R93 could be improved upon. For many years it has been the best selling sporting rifle in Europe, first introduced in 1993 it has steadily outsold all other rifle brands for nearly 20 years, thats some pedigree. Countless people have been through the range and been won over by the quirky yet simple design of the straight pull action. As a dealer I obviously want to sell these rifles but as most people who know me and the range business know, it is more important to me that someone gets exactly the rifle they need, hence the reason I launched the fitting centre.
For several years I put the R93’s to use in the field and on the range in a variety of calibres and to be honest I just couldn’t fault them, admittedly I made a few tweaks here and there such as a shorter barrel, a cheekpiece for more repeatable cheek weld, a lightweight moderator and a bipod completed the outfit but in reality the real meat and bones of the rifle remained unchanged. Now those of you who use their rifle on a regular basis will know what I’m referring to when I mention ‘feel’, the rifle has to feel like an extension of you, weight and balance being two of the key ‘feels’ and the R93 was the first rifle I had used extensively that had that ‘feel’, it was just natural which gave me confidence and when your dealing with deer that’s crucial.
So in 2009, when the R8 was released in the UK I really did wonder how the designers at Blaser could improve on what I already considered perfection. For a number of years I had heard criticisms of Blasers, the safety catch (cocking/de-cocking button), the noisy action, the top loading magazine and the infamous ‘Blaser click’ were all given as reasons not to buy one. Without going into an explanation of these, all of which are utter nonsense, I could only think of one improvement that had been incorporated into the new R8 which was worth anything at all and the way it was marketed wasn’t really relevant in the UK stalking market, that was the incorporation of a removable magazine, as it happens Blaser being Blaser didn’t just incorporate a removable magazine but the entire trigger assembly!
Now, as most people who know me will testify, I call a spade a spade and when I first had a play with the R8 my first conclusion was – brilliant, what happens when I leave the house without the trigger unit? Ok, a number of people will be saying its no different to leaving without the bolt, I agree, but the law does not demand that the bolt be stored separately to the rifle and I suspect a great many people including professional stalkers who are using their rifles almost daily rarely remove the bolt and in a Blaser with a cheekpiece fitted its nigh on impossible anyway, so if I don’t remove the trigger for storage what’s the benefit of having a removable magazine over a fixed one? As I mentioned earlier a removable magazine has never really bothered me, they may be a little easier to fill for some but I can get three rounds into a R93 way before most can remove, fill and refit a removable one or even replace a spare one. How many times do UK stalkers use all the rounds in their magazine and need another one quickly, I’m sure that in their dreams quite a few will but in reality hardly any at all, the only likely need would be on the hill when culling hinds but even then I have been able to get rounds into the fixed magazine and keep shooting in the time it took for a detachable magazine to be refitted. So, I wasn’t really sold on the R8, certainly not enough for me to change from the R93, or could I be persuaded?
I have been supplying Blasers and Mausers since I relaunched the range last year and to be honest its been a mix of R93’s and R8’s with no real preference for either. When I relaunched I thought it would be a good idea to put a R8 on the range just so people could get hold of one, it would have been shortsighted not to and so last July I did just that, my thinking was that I would use the R8 in place of my range 308 which was a R93, I would also give it a test drive in the field to see if and how it differed from my beloved R93’s. Having taken delivery of it I immediately sent it to Simon Lawrence to have the barrel shortened to 20″ and have a new Nexus compact moderator fitted, I then fitted a kick stop in the stock to counterbalance the moderator it now sported as well as the all important cheekpiece – essentially it was now kitted out exactly like my R93, but did it still feel he same? In a word no, it was chunkier, the cheekpiece felt different because of the slightly chunkier stock, the pistol grip was thicker as was the fore end, the bolt wasn’t as smooth and slick either. I was a little disappointed to be honest and put it in the cabinet and sort of forgot about it, it would make do as a demo and a range rifle.
A couple of months went by and a couple of Level 1 courses passed with the R8 being the estate rifle for those who didn’t have a Firearms certificate or wished to borrow a rifle, but it wasn’t until the third course we ran when the assessor (Peter Pursglove from BASC – a commission ranger for 27 years) said to the class, “if you’re not sure of your rifle, use Paul’s Blaser, I guarantee it will shoot and its simple to use!” Had I been too harsh on the R8, I hadn’t really given it a chance, I’d become so obsessed with the R93 and its abilities that I’d ignored the R8, I decided at that moment to give it a chance. The following day I swapped a Z6i onto it in place of the Z4i it was wearing and took it to the range to zero it for a 150 Gn hunting round instead of the 155 Gn Target load it had reliably punched into paper for six months without a hiccup, zeroing complete I took it to the woods immediately and set up on a well used ride to hopefully claim its first deer.
After an hour or so of waiting a yearling fallow buck stepped out onto the ride, I quickly put the cross hairs on him and instinctively squeezed the trigger, the second I’d done so I knew I’d pulled the shot, it just didn’t feel right, the grip, the trigger release felt different to my R93. I quickly cycled the bolt but it was too late, the animal had staggered forwards a few paces into the undergrowth on the side of the ride. I finished cursing, in reality it was my fault, I was just so used to the feel of the R93. I waited what seemed like an age before getting the dog and approaching the area where the animal had disappeared, as we neared the spot I wound the magnification right down in case a quick shot was needed, on reaching the spot where the deer had been hit I could see traces of very dark plummy coloured blood with some green in it indicating a liver/gut shot, cursing again I put the dog on the trail. We hadn’t gone more than a few paces when I saw the animal get up and start running, automatically I shouldered the rifle and took a freehand shot at no more than 20 metres, thankfully I’d put he bullet in the right place this time and cleaned up my mess. I’m happy to recount this, as a deer manager I accept that sometimes things go wrong, if you shoot enough deer it will happen eventually. Now I’m not proud of making a cock-up, as I say it happens but I do expect to be able to put it right and in this instance the rifle had handled how I’d expected it to, I hadn’t had time to think about it I’d just reacted instinctively, perhaps the first shot hadn’t been taken with my usual confidence, perhaps I was expecting the rifle to fail me rather than the other way round. Either way it made me think whether I was being unfair and over cynical about the R8.
That night in front of the wood burner with a decent malt, I stripped the rifle down and reassembled it, getting more used to the handling, the feel and the balance. After an hour or so it felt more natural but something was still not quite right. I went down to the gunroom and got my original Nexus moderator out of the cabinet, back upstairs I replaced the Nexus compact with the original which is an inch and a half longer but that extra length comes back down over the barrel rather than adding to the overall length – now call me fussy but that small difference was all it took, I have spent almost everyday for the last few years handling my R93, so much so that the feel was ingrained and I had developed a muscle memory for it – with the moderator change the R8 now felt right, a chunkier version of my R93’s, this I could work with.
To coin an old phrase, the rest is history. From that point I used the R8 exclusively for stalking as well as keeping it on the range, the 308 barrel taking all the punishment I could deal out. One of my initial concerns was forgetting the trigger, well I have to be honest here, I made it as far as the truck on several occasions before having to go back but now, grabbing the trigger has become second nature. Speaking of which, the detachable trigger unit or detachable magazine, are there really any benefits? Well to watch the R8 trailer which I posted last week where the shooter casually pulls another unit from his pocket, ejects the cover and slams it into the rifle before continuing his onslaught, you would be forgiven for believing that a spare trigger unit is essential, indeed if you have a spare few hundred pounds to spend I will happily supply you with one. So what are the benefits or advantages? When the R8 was first launched, the big selling point was the drop mag and if you shoot driven boar on the continent then I agree entirely, and if you can afford to shoot driven boar on the continent and use a R8 you can almost certainly afford a spare trigger/magazine unit, probably two or three! But what about the UK market where we have the tightest rifle shooters in the world, where the thought of practice and spending money or even having to pay for stalking fills them with dread, what of them? Well, as I eluded to earlier, the Blaser isn’t a cheap rifle to start with and by the time you’ve put some decent glass on top with a couple of extras you probably won’t have too much change from £4000 so do you need a removable magazine? Well to be honest it does make loading a tiny bit easier and it does take four as opposed to the three the R93 holds, which effectively gives you four in the magazine and one up the spout, a lot of other drop mag rifles are three in the mag and one in the spout. But where the removable trigger/magazine really wins and something Blaser missed by a mile when they first launched it in this country is the safety aspect. We are constantly being reminded about safety, take the bolt out, take the magazine out, bury it in a safe place three miles from the gun……Lets get real here, take a Blaser bolt out and you realise what a pain it is but until now there was no choice, put a cheekpiece on the stock and its nearly impossible. Almost every day I travel with a rifle in my vehicle, its a risk I take and whilst I do the best I can to secure the firearms when in transit, it gives me a great deal of security knowing that the gun is completely useless without a trigger, no engineer I know could get his head around making a trigger unit to make the R8 work. If I have to leave the vehicle unattended for any reason the trigger is in my pocket – simple.
So, when all said and done, is the R8 an improvement on the R93? In design, undoubtedly, the chunkier grip and build feel purposeful and tactile. Safety, the worlds safest rifle has become even safer. Accuracy, nothing changes! The blaser R8 carries on where the R93 left off, there is nothing the little men at Blaser haven’t thought of. My initial misgivings were born from nothing more than complete and utter familiarity and reliance on the older R93 and with the sad news that in the near future production of the R93 will cease, where will Blaser bolt action rifles go next, there are some stock modifications already for the R8, the Professional Success, the thumbhole stock again brilliantly engineered, but where next? I thought for years that the R93 was the ultimate sporting rifle, I’m happy to say, I was wrong.
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