Blaser R8: Revisited

Three magnums, three barrels, 'one gun'...

NZG&H first reviewed the Blaser R8 Professional Tracker back in issue #135. It proved to be a fine rifle with great balance and an almost shotgun type feel to it when bringing up to the shoulder.

For those familiar with the Blaser family of firearms, feel free to jump ahead a paragraph. For those who aren’t, Blaser is a German firearm manufacturer recognised here in New Zealand for its flagship R93 Straight Pull bolt-action rifles. High quality materials and leading edge design are just some of the features you will find in Blaser firearms, not to mention some outstanding stock timbers, and engraving and chequering that has to be seen to be believed. Head over to the their website and check out the gallery for yourself, it is impressive to say the least.

The Blaser R8 at the Taupo NZDA Range.

For this review we will be focusing primarily on the rifle’s straight out-of-the-box accuracy, and in particular, its interchangeable barrels and scope. Also of mention is the Atzl-Match-Hunt-Trigger which simply put, provides two separate trigger weights from the one trigger system.

A recent discussion with Hugh Bradley of Stager Sport Ltd, saw the R8, a Zeiss Conquest HD5 3-15x42 scope, the three aforementioned barrels and proprietary Blaser ammunition arrive by courier. Hugh had been in talks with Mark Bridgman, Director of Custom Cartridges in Taupo and event organiser of the hugely successful annual Sika Show, to arrange some range time with him. Mark would also be handloading for the .300 barrel as ammunition in this proprietary chambering was not currently available. 

I contacted Mark to organise an appropriate time for me to head down to Taupo to assist him with the range work. We agreed to play it by the weather, which also suited me as I planned on heading into the Northern Kaimanawas for few days afterwards – you can’t go to Taupo and not get out for a sika hunt!

ON THE RANGE
As soon as the rifle arrived I headed up to my local NZDA range to put some rounds through it. Long story short, with the 7mm barrel fitted and using the Norma 139gr Hornady Interlocks, I promptly shot a sub MOA (.75”) 3-shot group at 100 metres followed by a sub MOA (2.5”) 3-shot group at 300 metres, too easy! 

Next mission was to catch up with Mark. Leaving home early I met up with him at his workshop, where he showed me through his extremely comprehensive custom reloading setup. The number of reloading dies he has is staggering, I won’t even begin to list them.

Mark Bridgman, Custom Cartridges proprietor and Sika Show Event Organiser, at work in the reloading room.

We had factory 7mm and .338 Blaser Magnum ammunition, but as mentioned, no .300 ammunition, and this is where Mark’s services were required. With the dies supplied he worked out a suitable load combination of the following:

• Norma 180gr Oryx projectiles
• 79gr AR2219
• Federal 215 Magnum Primers
• Norma brass

To reiterate here for a moment, the premise for this review was to test the R8’s out-of-the-box accuracy with Blaser’s proprietary Norma factory ammo. However we also wanted to test a developed load. Mark’s gear made short work of the ammunition preparation and 20 rounds were ready to go within minutes – then we headed off to the Taupo NZDA Range.

Shooting at 100 metres was the order of the day and we wasted no time putting holes in the targets. MOA and sub-MOA groups were easily achieved and this from Mark’s first developed load – bottom line, Blaser rifles can shoot! This accuracy was repeatable with each of the three barrels and chamberings. Swap the barrel, swap the scope, shoot good groups, swap it all back, continue to shoot good groups, use factory ammo, use reloads, it doesn’t seem to matter. It’s impressive, and the kind of repeatability Blaser has become famous for, the kind that builds confidence in your shooting, and hunting.

Shooting from the bench towards the 100m targets.

In between groups Mark and I familiarised ourselves with the Atzl-Match-Hunt-Trigger. What this unit offers is two separate trigger pull weights, the Match weight at 0.55lbs and the Hunt weight measuring 1.40lbs. Alternating between the two weights is as simple as dropping out the trigger/magazine mechanism and flicking the button latch over.

In both Mark’s opinion and mine, the Atzl-Match-Hunt-Trigger, while extremely crisp and light, was somewhat “tricky” to use at first. We both felt that the trigger seemed to have an almost “electronic” type feel to it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a bloody nice trigger, and after a couple of range sessions we soon became accustomed to it – my comments are more of an observation than anything else.

With the range work out of the way, it was time to hit the hills...

BLASER R8: IN THE FIELD
North & South: Nik hunts sika, fallow and tahr...

IN THE FIELD – PART 1: NORTHERN KAIMANAWAS
After finishing up at the range I headed straight out to the end of Clements Road and began the walk into Cascade Hut. My plan was to spend a night at the hut and then fly-camp the Kaipo Saddle area for the next couple of days. Having spent a huge amount of time hunting the lower and mid-Kaipo, Tiki Tiki Stream, Ruatea Stream (Jap Creek), Oamaru Valley and surrounding catchments, the saddle area had always been on my list to hunt.

The weather forecast was for fine weather all week, so low temps were certainly on the cards. Leaving the Clements Mill road-end car park at 3.30pm I made my way along the track and began the grind up the hill. I was nearing the summit just on dark, but I had with me the new LED Lenser H7.2 and used the opportunity to give the torch a test – it performed really well, illuminating the track in a powerful beam, however after about 30 minutes I decided to fly camp, preferring to walk the track during daylight, not wanting to miss out on all this new scenery.

Nik's first hunt with the R8 involved a 28km loop from the Clements Mill Rd Carpark through to the Cascade Hut, up to the Kaipo Saddle and back out to the carpark.

I was up early and down the track to the Tauranga-Taupo River, reaching the Cascade Hut at about 9am. Some breakfast and a coffee, followed by one last nudge up to the saddle. The bush in this area, like most of the Kaipo, is stunning, offering premium country in which to test your stalking skills. Having hunted sika in just about all the types of terrain they occupy, it is the expansive beech forests of the Northern Kaimanawas that I enjoy the most.

Camping just off the track I spent a couple of days getting amongst it, learning some new spots and getting a feel for the area. I put up about seven deer, however they were quicker than me, providing several “Mexican Standoffs” with flurries of squealing, all great fun.

On the last day I bush-bashed my way out to the Cascade Track. Along one of the main ridges, a young hind broke cover and took off downhill. Further on I came across a nice saddle with a fairly large and recently used wallow and set up the trail cam to overlook it for the next couple of months. Hitting the track and making my way back to the car I reflected on what had been a great couple of days in a fantastic area of the Kaimanawas.

IN THE FIELD – PART 2: TE PUKE RANGES
Back in the Bay of Plenty and back to my local for an afternoon hunt in the Otawa Block. While the bush here isn’t quite as scenic as the Kaimanawas, it does offer challenging hunting and being able to hit the bush within 25 minutes from home is awesome! 

Leaving home about 2.30pm I reached the farm cattle yards just before 3pm, providing a couple of hours for an afternoon hunt, perfect. A short 10 minutes later and I am at the bush edge; with the Te Puke public land, hunting begins as soon as you enter the scrub as the fallow tend to live in very close proximity to pasture. 

The reason for Te Puke being a challenging spot to hunt has a lot to do with the windfall in the area, and in particular, rewa rewa leaves. In many areas they blanket the ground in a thick humus layer. The stiff, dry leaves make it extremely difficult to stalk through. Fortunately the habits of fallow provide a way to hunt these areas, they leave well-defined game trails and it is these that allow the hunter to move through relatively quietly. 

This Te Puke fallow yearling was harvested with a 30m neck shot from the, at the time, 7mm Blaser Magnum chambered R8.

About 20 minutes later and I am on to game, a doe and yearling are making their way through the bush, heading out to the feed areas, grass. For this hunt I have fitted the 7mm Blaser Magnum barrel with the Norma 139gr Hornady Interlock ammunition, extremely over-gunned for these deer, but close encounters are the norm here and this one was no different. The two deer are about 30 metres away with their heads down browsing, I line up on the neck of the yearling and fire, dropping it instantly. While I had ample time to make the shot I find that with the straight-comb stock of the R8, and the fact that it comes up so easily to the shoulder and subsequently the scope to the eye, it almost feels like it gives you extra time to get settled.

Dressing out the yearling, I headed for home, dropping off the venison to hang in my brother-in-law’s chiller for a few days.

IN THE FIELD – PART 3: SOUTH OPUHA, TWO THUMB RANGE

Next mission. As we were once again attending the annual Tahr Show I discussed with Don MacDonald, NZG&H Optics Editor, some options for a tahr hunt. After a few emails and phone calls a decision was made to hunt the Two Thumb Range, in particular the South Opuha. 

We would fly into the hut, spend a couple of nights there and then walk out. For this hunt I opted to use the .338 Blaser Magnum barrel and the Norma 230gr Oryx ammunition. Time to bring out the big guns!

The morning following the show we drove to Fairlie and by mid-afternoon we were buzzing along the South Opuha Stream with pilot Mike Prosser in his Hughes 500, sighting a small mob of tahr on the way.

Touching down at the hut we quickly settled in and headed out for an evening hunt. Straight out behind the hut we climbed a few hundred metres and began glassing the huge open faces and bluff systems. Within an hour we began to see animals moving down from the high stuff and feeding among the tussock. With a plan of attack sorted for the next day we tramped back down to the hut, grabbing an early dinner and some sleep.

The next morning Don opted to head down the valley while I chose to head directly up the ridge opposite the hut, heading towards where we had seen the tahr the previous evening.

The weather was perfect, clear with a light breeze blowing straight towards me. After reaching the spot from where I would begin sidling I instantly got onto game – a young tahr perched on a rock enjoying the morning sun and providing some photo opportunities. Throughout the day I continued to see, film and photograph plenty of animals, a couple of reasonable bulls, and a very close up encounter with a large mob of tahr including what looked to be a big bull who unfortunately managed to do a disappearing act... However, it had been a fantastic day on the hill.

A young bull tahr up high on a bluff enjoying the morning sunshine.

The next morning we were up early and began the 14-15km walk out to the road end. While heading downstream we spotted a yearling tahr crossing one of the steep side creeks, and it was only moments later that five bulls appeared, and one in particular looked a good animal to harvest. They were on the move and at a distance of around 300 metres. The R8 was zeroed for 200 metres with 12” of drop at 300 metres. For the walk out I had removed the scope and placed it in my pack – no dramas for the R8 – dragging the scope out I quickly and easily fitted it onto the rifle and was ready to roll!

From a slightly awkward sitting position, I waited until the animals stopped, took aim on the top of the biggest bull’s shoulder and fired... and missed! They immediately ran about 40 metres towards us and stopped, the bull front on to us at this stage. Centering my aim on his chest I fired again, this time a solid hit, he scrambles another 30-40metres and stops side on, a third and final shot straight through both shoulders and he tumbles over. Whew! Apart from the miss (purely operator error on this occasion...), the second and third shots had been on the money, he soaked up two 230 grain Norma Oryx projectiles, bull tahr are tough.

Nik with his bull tahr shot with the Blaser R8 in .338 Blaser Magnum.

Cleaning up the bull, we continued down the valley, spotting a young bull, nanny and kid feeding amongst the scrub. 10kms later we hit the road end where Don’s wife Jodie and their two boys, Max and Ben, picked us up. A fantastic trip into great country.

CONCLUSION

The Blaser R8 performed well, each of the three barrel chamberings are capable of sub-MOA accuracy at 100, 200 and 300 metres. Having previously owned an R93, reviewing the Blaser R8 Professional Tracker back in issue #135, and having now re-evaluated the R8 with its proprietary ammunition and Match-Hunt trigger system, I can confidently recommend these rifles to anyone in the market for a high quality modular rifle. The selling point for me is the R8’s repeatable accuracy between barrel swaps and its ability to maintain a consistent point of impact when the scope is removed and replaced.

Blaser rifles are not cheap, however, what the new rifle buyer should consider is the R8’s switch-barrel capability and the huge range of calibres it can accept – from .204 right through to .500 Jeffery – that means versatility and what I particularly like is that you get it all from one stock and scope combination. Confidence in your firearm equates to consistent performance in the hunting field. The Blaser R8 delivers on that.

Nik

SIKA HUNTING TIPS & INFO:
 
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