Gun test: Blaser R8 Ultimate Carbon in .308 Winchester
- Credit: Chris Parkin
Chris Parkin reviews the Blaser R8 Ultimate Carbon rifle in .308 Winchester, and declares it "utterly peerless"...
Blaser’s quest for lightweight has led to the Ultimate Carbon format on the R8 action. With what I found when I tried the K95 Ultimate last year, Blaser’s adoption of the same strategy for the multi-shot straight pull R8 seems a natural progression.
The R8 Concept
Much of this R8 is a continuation of the simply concept Blaser offer to the rifle market – first-rate engineering tailored to produce some of the finest off-the-shelf rifles. The company combines technologies that differ from other rifles out there, yet still provide
a mindful approach to fully integrated ergonomics to suit a wide range of user preferences.
The rifle begins with a 15x1mm capped thread at the muzzle for a moderator or sound brake, to which I fitted a Barton GunWorks lightweight aluminium mod for the standard sporter weight 17mm diameter cold hammer forged barrel at 22"/560mm. The matt blued finish is deeply applied and understated and matches the anodised finish on the central aluminium action walls and scope mount, for a uniform look that contrasts the metallic mechanics against the organic carbon stock.
The barrel swells to 31mm at the breech end with twin studs below, each of which anchor into the bedding block spanning the recoil lug within the stock. These are captured below by 5mm Allen-headed nuts within the stock to facilitate Blaser’s fast change barrel. The barrel’s upper shows twin opposing rebates either side for the scope mount. My review rifle came with a Blaser scope and a Blaser/Zeiss rail mount. It is also available with Swarovski mounts as well as rings in 25.4/30/34mm for more conventional tubed mounted optics.
This proprietary mounting solution is true quick release, with capped levers folding open with half a turn anticlockwise to remove, swap or replace the optic. This is especially useful if you want to add an alternate, such as a red dot or Picatinny mount for night vision.
Although relatively expensive, this system has a true return to zero and I have filmed videos of real-time proven groups shot on paper in the .22 rimfire version of the R8, with the scope removed and refitted between each shot. Blaser’s barrels are manufactured to consistent tolerances and even when swapping between them or changing calibres, where a re-zero would be needed, you rarely ever notice that one mount won’t fit straight onto another barrel. The mounting system is also very reliable through recoil and rough handling.
For those not familiar, Blaser R8s use a linear bolt carrier that extends from the back of the stock’s internal chassis rails. This straight pull arrangement is lightning fast and durable, with 14 collet-like locking lugs operating radially, splaying open into the barrel’s internal abutments to restrain pressure. The bolt heads are easily removed without tools and can be swapped for the desired cartridge size.
The face itself is push feed with a plunger ejector, and strips rounds from a central position in the top-loading magazine, which is calibre and length specific but easily swapped.
You can run a .30-06 and a .243 by simply swapping the barrel, as both can use the same bolt. But when transforming from, let’s say, a .243 to .300 Win Mag, both the barrel and bolt face need to be replaced. I cannot state strongly enough how modular Blaser’s entire design concept is.
Integrated, illuminating safety
There is a de-cocker on the rear of the bolt carrier’s upper surface, with no difficulty in accessing it, either. Push forward for fire, toggle rearward and allow it to descend back for safe. Unlike a safety catch, a de-cocker alleviates physical spring pressure from the firing mechanism, so no potential energy is available to initiate a primer even if everything were to let go. Only until you physically supply it and cock the action.
Open or closed, the system has to be one of the safest available and you won’t find yourself in any kind of muddle because Blaser have covered all scenarios. For example, if you are loaded and cocked, simple pulling the bolt after firing will free and eject the case, push it home. There’s no bolt rotation required and it’s reloaded and live. A half press on the de-cocker as you pull on the bolt knob allows the action to open silently for ease of emptying or reloading. It’s entirely intuitive and after a while you find the web of your hand falls to it naturally, rather than your thumb.
The bolt release catch is a small button on the right rear action rail, almost hidden under what may be called the action shroud. Bolt open, drop the magazine/trigger unit out and the button can be pressed to withdraw the bolt. Twin buttons either side of the ‘magazine’ are easily squeezed, bare fingers or gloved, to drop it clear. This also carries the trigger guard and trigger but not the trigger mechanism itself, which is hidden under the bolt. The striker mechanism is housed in the rear of the bolt.
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Regular readers will no-doubt have heard my descriptions of this trigger before, available in ‘standard’ format single-stage pull weight or ATZL format, where a switch on the magazine’s rear can swap to a lighter weight. This trigger is market leading for a production rifle. Yes, there may be some lighter, or customs that are more adjustable, but this just works and allows you to confidently place a gloved finger and squeeze with perfect perception and reliable timing of the shot release.
There are other great triggers, but somehow Blaser just make this one more memorable. I think it may be because whichever Blaser you pick up, and I have shot dozens, they just all feel the same. None are seemingly in need of a tweak, none are just 99% right. They are all identical, with such fine mechanical tolerances that they consistently measure at 436g – that’s less than one pound!
Change of calibre
Four rounds are held in the magazine, loaded from the top centre and pressed between laterally sprung feed lips. This again offers an alternate solution to ammunition feeding as the radiused internal shape has a single rotary sprung paddle that rolls the rounds around the internal frame to deliver each to the top.
This can have single rounds added while in the action with the bolt open or removed. You can also have additional spare magazines and – another surprise – that spare magazine has its own inbuilt trigger blade. And guess what? It retains the identical feel of the original trigger mechanism. If you are unlikely to remove the magazine, when it’s empty, a small switch deep in its internal well allows it to be locked in the rifle. I personally lock it in as it’s so easy to load it when on the gun, so why risk removal and losing things?
So much more than Straight Pull
Finally, we come to the ‘straight pull’ factor. This seems to be the key Blaser feature for many. It may be the headliner but it’s by no means a one-trick pony. This a machine with refreshing ingenuity and designed with utter aplomb. (Remember, I don’t like Blasers!) The straight pull on this .308 rifle initiates by pulling the 23mm bolt knob back. It sways about 30° rearward as it unlocks and the carrier travels 101mm rearward to open, eject and allow a round to rise from the magazine ready to be driven into the chamber for the next shot.
It is lightning fast, which many shooters will consider the most impressive feature, yet I consider two other attributes to be of equal importance. First, the action can be opened slowly and quietly as well as quickly. There is a lever operated plunger above the bolt face that physically aids primary cartridge extraction, so there’s no need to worry about opening the action with undue force to make up for the lack of rotary camming leverage that would usually provided by a turnbolt handle.
Second, you can reload slowly and quietly as well. All the mechanics slide smoothly from the extending trunnions to the handle itself. The magazine follower is silent and, being polymer, damps the intrinsic noise of brass sliding along it. Feed is linear, with minimal upward angle, so bullet meplats remain undamaged on their short trip to the chamber with the relatively small jump over the radial locking abutments. All you have to ensure is that the bolt goes fully forward into battery, but also that the handle clicks forward from its 30° sway – something you never even notice when shooting at speed.
Is it just a name?
Ultimate Carbon is an exciting name. It seems to leave no space for further improvements, and in fairness I can’t see what else you could do to one anyway. It is compatible with bipod forend, adjustable cheekpiece, extended recoil pad and recoil reducers, but mine was supplied quite simply in a matt carbon sheen with just rubber inlays wrapping the forend, grip and comb for improved handling and a warmer feel on your skin.
Length of pull is 370mm/14.5" using a radiused edge recoil pad to lock into the shoulder. It’s fast mounting without any snags. The forend has a polymer tip with sling studs, which can be swapped for bipod accessories. There is a minimal beavertail shape with longitudinal finger grooves providing assured grip for the leading hand or support bags on the range. The barrel fully floats in all conditions and your fingers certainly won’t catch it either.
The forend is separated from the butt stock by the aluminium walls of the central action, blending almost seamlessly. The grip becomes the focal point, with swooping thumbhole shape and generous hand-filling palm swell. The carbon fibre’s warp and weft sculpture is most evident here, giving a real technical presence to the organic structure.
It can be shot left-handed, but it’s a 90% right-handed shape. Blaser like to concentrate and advertise the additional grip benefits with a relaxed, yet still an assured hold on the gun, which I would wholeheartedly agree with. It’s incredibly comfortable and confidence inspiring, with its 76mm reach to the trigger blade. Stalking in confined woodland with muntjac almost certainly under your feet, the gun is ready to lift onto your sticks at a moment’s notice. You really appreciate the deft, quiet handling with just one hand controlling the rifle, especially when reaching slowly and quietly lifting it to the sticks or when manoeuvring around foliage with the carbon itself deadening any noise. At 1,030mm/40.5" long and just 3.1kg/6.8lb, it’s a handy tool, while the R8’s shorter overall action length allows a generous barrel on what is a relatively short overall design.
With the stock removed, you see the care and attention to the carbon fibre’s lay-up construction in maintaining strength and stiffness in the tightest of spaces around the forend, with contrasting detail from the machined bedding of the barrel’s action, which also carries the rails for the bolt carrier. The stock doesn’t resonate, either from recoil or when bumped and brushed against foliage. The gun is fundamentally quiet with a neutral balance even with this larger scope on board, perhaps a little larger than most would want for such an intrinsically light rifle. I shot 60-70 rounds though it from the bench and found it very stable through recoil and especially through reload. It didn’t tire me at all to shoot it. Shooting from sticks or the high seat was equally pleasing.
Like any rifle, performance on paper was obviously ammunition dependent, but nothing from the premium lines disappointed. Federal’s 150gr Nosler Ballistic Tip gave consistent results and performs well on game. The rifle was a real pleasure to shoot and handle, the stock is comfortable and recoil is linearly transferred courtesy of the low bore line.
Carbon fibre’s ability to be moulded and structured, combining strength and stiffness where needed with some flex where it’s beneficial, perhaps assisted with the rifle’s soft recoiling feel, which was particularly noticeable when making awkwardly positioned shots.
I took one very unconventional shot on a muntjac at around 130m and retained a clear sight picture and full view of the shot reaction. I’m not one to push ranges, yet the precision and accuracy available from the rifle were well aligned to the longer range. I really liked the illumination control system. Pushing the de-cocker forward lights up the simple reticle centre dot, which in poor light was an excellent soft red dot.
It’s so unfair to pigeonhole the Blaser R8 as just a fast-reloading rifle. It takes a long stride into every aspect of modern materials, manufacturing and design with consistent ingenuity. Classic rifles are great in that they bring tried and tested technology, yet Blaser fondly embrace the latest tech and encode it seamlessly into their designs, perhaps becoming the antithesis of the ‘classic modern rifle’, which still prioritises the human as the main functional parameter.
I’m almost loath to find them so utterly peerless, so my only defence is the significant price you pay for the privilege of owning one. That said, they are certainly worth it.
Calibre: 308 Winchester (many others available)
Overall length: 1030 mm/40.5”
Magazine capacity: 4+1 detachable magazine
Trigger: crisp single stage, 436gr/15.5oz. measured pull weight
Barrel length: 560mm/22” (measured crown to cartridge head)
Length of pull: 370mm/14.5” (compatible with all Blaser recoil pad modifications as well as adjustable cheekpiece.
Safety catch: 2 position de-cocker (iC compatible)
Blaser Saddle Mount: £322
Blaser 2.8-20x50 Scope: £1990
Tel: 01483 917 412