Gun test: Blaser R8 Ultimate X

Blaser Ultimate X in action

Blaser Ultimate X in action - Credit: Chris Parkin

German powerhouse Blaser have been blazing a trail for decades. Chris Parkin finds out what the addition of a 10-round magazine means for the Blaser R8 Ultimate X in this test and review

Blaser R8 Ultimate X rifle

Twin latches lock the polymer mags in position - Credit: Chris Parkin

When Blaser announced that the Ultimate X rifle would ship with a 10-round detachable magazine, the rifle shooting world got very curious. Seen as the leading manufacturer of brand-specific actions and very modular rifles, would this be the last great, fast-fire step for Blaser?

Although it is sometimes assumed that straight-pull Blasers are best kept for fast-fire, wild-boar scenarios, where they are doubtless one of the fastest reloaders, it’s often forgotten that these rifles are noted for reliable accuracy and precision, regardless of the specific model. The Ultimate X appears to showcase the long-range and precision-rifle abilities of Blaser, but this rifle has by no means lost any of its handling character at speed. Although ‘straight pull’ is the buzzword, speed and power are nothing without control and that is where impeccable ergonomics has been a key factor in Blaser’s success.

Blaser R8 Ultimate X rifle

Picatinny rail option was sent with the Ultimate X, improved versatility with large optics and thermal or NV - Credit: Chris Parkin

First impressions
The short collet locking action allowed the overall rifle to be a little shorter. Further combining the trigger and magazine to shorten it even more came with the compromise of restricting physical space for cartridges to fit below the bolt’s path, where it instead neatly shares space with the trigger blade’s general location.

Treading their own path, Blaser’s trigger is actually in the stock in the tang region and not underslung as most rifles are, so the trigger guard and even the blade itself is merely an actuator for that mechanism and doesn’t actually encapsulate the mechanism itself. When you compare the Ultimate X alongside any other R8, there is effectively a spacer between stock and action to move the grip away from the bolt, allowing the trigger to sit in new space and essentially enabling a longer extension of the magazine. It’s all about packaging.

When you compare it with a physically large, long, precision rifle, what has fundamentally been lost? Well, nothing. The simplest way to visualise it is that the grip is stretched back, and whereas previously the bolt handle was directly adjacent to the trigger guard, that trigger guard, blade, and your hand, are now about 45mm farther from it. But you now have an extended 10 round magazine.

In other respects nothing has changed; all Blaser functionality remains the same. You can swap barrels, bolt heads – left or right-handed – as well as the action stroke length, which is still controlled by the magazine’s integral bolt stop. So, being available in calibres from 6XC all the way up to .338 Lapua Magnum, the target and hunting worlds are your oyster. Although advertised as made for long-range shooters, there is nothing to stop you installing a lighter, slimmer .30-06 or 9.3x62 barrel to give you a fast-fire boar gun with huge shot capacity.

Five- and 10-round polymer magazines are available, showing twin side latches that, when squeezed together, allow them to drop into the palm of your hand for replacement or reload. They load like all other Blaser mags; you can push rounds in from the front or down from the top. In the latter case, Blaser’s retreating bolt carriage offers masses of space for access with bare or gloved hands in all climatic conditions.

Blaser R8 Ultimate X rifle

Asymmetric grip with inlaid tactile rubberization improving feel - Credit: Chris Parkin

Further details
As before, the fundamental action chassis/rails are within the polymer stock, here showing adjustable length of pull (30mm longitudinal), cheekpiece (37mm vertical) and recoil pad (50mm vertical) for comfort. Full compatibility with the different forends means you can add barrels slimmer than the truly free-floated 22mm unit mounted here, as well as Blaser’s bipods. The Ultimate bipod paired beautifully with this rifle for long-range precision shooting. Other differences at the time of delivery were a Picatinny rail with Allen bolt claws latching into the twin recesses on the barrel, ideal for larger optics and one-piece inclined long-range mounts, thermal or night vision instead of Blaser’s usual QR saddle with 30mm rings or rail mount optic.

This hammer-forged barrel is deeply fluted and all colour matched in a deep black finish. Although the rifle is heavier than sporting specs at 4.14kg bare weight, it retains reasonably fast handling and is not unusable in a dynamic situation thanks to its centralised mass, which is balanced by the mechanically adjustable thumbhole stock. But with a moderator, bipod and heavy precision LR scope it soon bulks up. With a light barrel you would get this muzzle speed back for hunting, nice as heavy barrels are, they are called that for a reason.

Operation is as before – straight-pull pivoting handle, push-feed bolt face stripping rounds from the top of the mag, and linear feed to the chamber without the extended lug abutments common to most turnbolt rifles. Reloads were very fast, and due to the slight layout extension the bolt shroud is farther from your face, which is much appreciated with any big .338 Lapua.

On that note, I will also say that I prefer this polymer stock to the laminate versions. I have shot both materials side by side, and you get more damping from the Ultimate polymer, without any specific noise penalty from recoil resonance. The cheekpiece sits under your cheekbone without jaw displacement at whatever height you require for excellent scope alignment – a factor that makes this large rifle feel a little more delicate than you might expect.

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There is a de-cocker with illumination control for Blaser optics, but I shot this rifle with a large LR capable 34mm Schmidt & Bender PM II, as it suited my needs. Moderation was provided by a Wildcat Evolution threaded 18x1, while I set the length of pull at 365mm and raised the pad a little for my preferred prone shots.

The Ultimate bipod has long, slim carbon legs that pivot above the barrel for stability. I find these need loading up to take up play and fully stabilise aim. During recoil, which is easily seen on video, the linear transit for the gun is superb as it effectively uses this damped leg flex to soften any muzzle flip through recoil, stabilising your field of view to spot fall of shot and aim point for follow up shots as the gun seemed to spring naturally back to battery, after your weight and position resist its travel.

Blaser R8 Ultimate X rifle

Fluted 22mm barrel is fully floated and all Blaser forend accessories like this Ultimate bipod are compatible - Credit: Chris Parkin

Shooting performance
Muzzle brakes cut recoil considerably and give superb shot-spotting ability, but I still like to have a bit of recoil motion. I feel that recoil’s almost complete translation to sound isn’t how I like to shoot, but if you do like a brake you will get an incredibly stable, low-recoil rifle with this setup. It doesn’t lend itself to a PRS-type setup as there is no barricade stop or extensive forend accessory/weight mounting space, but all rifles are somewhat focused on their market preferences and I too prefer this slightly more generic build.

Performance on target was reliable, with no forend flexibility to interrupt barrel harmonics. Ammo was limited, but of the three I tried, 178gr Hornady Superformance won the small group prize from a box-fresh rifle that any buyer would undoubtedly tune far more extensively. The key initial sub-MOA capability is verified; I don’t test ammunition, I just verify realistic expectations.

As the price of everything in life is rising, owning a Blaser is undoubtedly a luxury. Nevertheless it is also a superbly made rifle and the detail and complexity of the bolt’s underside function is a great example of where your money is going. You see the usually hidden mechanics, with intricate component manufacture and design rarely encountered elsewhere. The detail of the integral latch for bolt head swap is just one of these factors that can help justify the cost, certainly for anyone wanting a multicalibre rifle. Twin 5mm captive Allen nuts in the forend facilitate barrel change, and there’s a recoil lug in the chassis to mate with the barrel.

Like the scope mounts, Blaser barrels can be interchanged with superb return to zero without any of the mechanical bedding stresses that harm action vibration in use. Threads on the barrel are faultless and the trigger breaks like little else, including custom rifles, with 600g on my scale, ±35g every time. That’s mostly down to the speed at which I tension the scale, not the mechanics themselves. Just when you thought Blaser had everything covered, another option is introduced. Will it suit all users? Perhaps not, but it’s nice to see the company returning to the precision rifle fold that is becoming so increasingly popular. 

Ammo

Bullet
weight
(gr)

Veloc.
on box
(fps)

Av. veloc.
recorded
(fps)

Muzzle
energy
(ft/lbs)

5-shot
group @
100m
(mm/")

Hornady
Superformance
SST

150

3000

2938

2875

21/0.8

Hornady
Precision Hunter
ELD-X

178

2600

2594

 2660

18/0.7

Hornady GMX
(copper)

165

2750

2744

2759

23/0.9

Specifications
Calibre:    R8 STANDARD, 6XC, 243, 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5x55, 6.5x65 RWS, 270, 7x64, 308, 30-06, 8x57, 9.3x62 R8 Magnum, 6.5 PRC, 270 WSM, 7mm RemMag, 300 WSM,300 WinMag, 300 Norma Mag, 338 WinMag, 8.5x55 Blaser, 338 Lapua Magnum
Overall length:    1085mm/42.75” (360mm L.O.P.)
Weight:    4.14kg/9.12lbs
Magazine capacity:    10+1 detachable magazine
Trigger:    crisp single stage, 436gr/15.5oz. measured pull weight
Barrel length:    600mm/23.5”
Length of pull:    Adjustable360-390mm/14-15.25”
Safety catch:    2 position de-cocker (iC compatible)

Prices
Rifle:    £6,389
Blaser Picatinny Saddle Mount:    £343
Blaser Ultimate Bipod:    £679

Contact
www.blaser-group.com
01483 917 412

Also used
Hornady ammunition: www.edgarbrothers.com
Schmidt & Bender PMII: www.schmidtundbender.de/en
Wildcat Moderator: www.wildcatmoderators.co.uk 

Blaser R8 Ultimate X rifle

Ultimate X extender detail seen here between stock and action - Credit: Chris Parkin