Straight pull hunting rifles have been around for a over a century and yet their acceptance in the United States has been only moderate, whereas in Europe and Britain it has been enthusiastic. The reasons for this are in all likelihood not simply based on practicalities or performance, but a result of firearms legislation and the cultural pressures created by it. In the United States it is not a particularly difficult process to acquire a hunting rifle, the bolt action and lever action tend to reign supreme, and Americans are used to an environment in which the rifles are mostly inexpensive. In Europe and Britain, obtaining a hunting rifle is often an onerous legal process involving considerable difficulties for the would be rifle owner. The result of this is that rifle ownership tends to be the province of those who have the money, social, and educational background to “jump through the hoops” and get their rifle. As a consequence that rifle is a highly valued possession and may be the only one the shooter will be able to obtain: with the result that rifle buyers will usually try to buy the best they can afford. Not only that but in Western Europe the social class system is strongly established and you will note that Western European rifle and gun makers tend to offer firearms at varying levels of finish, at progressively escalating expense, to provide arms to suit the different social classes.
Choosing a Rifle: A Straight Pull, or Not a Straight Pull?
Straight pull rifles have some advantages, and also some disadvantages. Before you decide on what to purchase it is best to consider what you want to do with this rifle, and the situations you plan to use it in. A straight pull rifle will produce excellent accuracy: for example the Canadian Ross straight pull rifle earned itself a good reputation amongst snipers during World War I, but it acquired a positively evil reputation amongst the foot soldiers whose need was for a rifle that would work regardless of mud, crud or lack of maintenance: for them the simple and rugged Lee Enfield was a much better weapon.
A straight pull rifle’s mechanism needs to be more complex than a comparable bolt action because it requires a sleeve within a sleeve mechanism to achieve lock-up. Additional complexity means the action needs to be kept clean and lightly lubricated. In dry and dusty conditions it may well be best to avoid oil altogether and use a good dry lubricant. During the Vietnam war for example Australian troops were issued with the “SLR” (i.e. the FN FAL). During the dusty dry season soldiers discovered that it was best to clean all oil out of the action and to use powdered graphite instead to avoid jamming caused by dust sticking to the oil. So, because a straight pull rifle such as the Blaser R8 is more complex than a bolt action, and thus more prone to being affected by dust and grit, you must be aware of this, clean regularly, and use the right lubricant for the conditions you are shooting in.
A straight pull rifle action can be made as strong as a bolt action, however it typically does not provide the same level of failsafe protection as some very strong types of bolt action such as the Mauser 98, Remington 700, or Winchester Model 70 amongst others (the American Champlin is one of the strongest rifle bolt actions ever made). This is because the front locking lugs of these bolt actions turn into battery and are complimented by a backup lug at the rear, typically under the bolt handle root. In the event of a blow-up the front and rear locking tends to prevent the bolt being sent back into the shooter’s face (Typically the barrel opens up and the stock is shattered so the shooter may have hand and arm injuries). A straight pull action however normally does not have an auxiliary back up locking mechanism (some bolt actions don’t either) and so is dependent on its main locking system. The upshot of this is that if you are using factory ammunition or handloads which are loaded to factory specifications as per a reputable loading manual then there is no reason you should have a problem.
The straight pull action’s main advantage is both the slight gain in speed of operation, but more importantly that cycling the action only requires two movements (i.e. back and forward) by comparison with the four needed to cycle a bolt action (i.e. bolt up, bolt rear, bolt forward, bolt down). The fact that the straight pull bolt only needs to be pulled back and pushed forward in one plane means it is much easier to keep the sights on the target whilst cycling the action. Being able to cycle a turn-bolt action quickly whilst keeping the sights undisturbed on the target is a much more difficult skill to learn.
So if you want an accurate rifle that makes it easy for you to fire a second or third aimed shot then a straight pull rifle might just be for you. This is one of the reasons the straight pull rifle is more common in Europe where fast action driven wild boar hunting is popular.
The Blaser R8 is the successor to their R93, which has now been taken out of production. The R8 features a more substantial and re-designed action, which is front locking. The action uses a sleeve within a sleeve method of locking as can be seen in the diagram above. Locking is done by a thirteen segment collet which is expanded to lock directly into the barrel. The collet is expanded by an inner sleeve which is pushed forwards under the collet forcing the locking lugs outwards. Lock-up is around the full 360 degrees of the bolt and barrel. Notably in the R8 the inner sleeve maintains direct pressure under the locking lugs keeping them firmly in place. The action is unlocked when the bolt handle is pulled directly rearwards which withdraws the sleeve under the locking lugs allowing them to spring inwards, unlocking the system and permitting the bolt assembly to be cycled.
The bolt of the R8 is held within a slide assembly that mounts onto the action. When the bolt is pulled back the slide assembly moves on the action rails in a way similar to the innovative Mauser 66 bolt action. Like the Mauser 66 the magazine of the R8 is directly above the trigger but, unlike the Mauser 66, the magazine is removable. The magazine is removed by depressing the buttons just above the trigger guard on each side of the action. Removing the magazine also removes the trigger making disabling the rifle for transportation an easy affair. When the magazine is removed the action is automatically de-cocked rendering it safe. Note: for those who prefer a fixed magazine the R8 can be ordered with a fixed magazine, or the detachable magazine can be locked in place. Just like the Mauser 66, the positioning of the magazine directly above the trigger in the Blaser R8 makes the rifle shorter than a comparable bolt action.
The Blaser R8 does not have a safety catch per se but instead uses the cock/de-cock system common on many European rifles. The large cocking button is located directly at the rear of the action at the tang and so is convenient to use and very visible. In order to fire the rifle the cocking button is simply pushed fully forwards which cocks the action. To put the rifle back into its safe condition the cocking button is pushed forwards and then released to slip back under spring pressure to its de-cocked position. The use of a cock/de-cock system provides a high level of protection against an accidental discharge. With the rifle de-cocked it cannot be fired and cannot fire if dropped. The singular downside of the cock/de-cock system is that the shooter is normally carrying an un-cocked rifle that must be cocked before it can be fired. Under most circumstances this is not a problem: but if in pursuit of dangerous game this system is not necessarily the best choice. In the event of an unexpected charge by something nasty, being able to flick off a safety catch is more sure than having to press a large button to cock the rifle. In that scenario safety means having the rifle fire when it is urgently needed to.
The trailer below from Blaser shows the features of the R8 in action.
The Blaser R8 is a take-down rifle which makes it easy to discreetly transport and comfortable to carry. Like many European rifles nowadays the R8 permits interchangeable barrels, the system being easy to use, simply unscrew the two captive Allen key screws under the fore-end to remove the barrel and the replacement barrel is slipped in and attached by re-tightening the screws. Interchange of calibers within one caliber group only requires a change of barrel and possibly a change of magazine insert. Moving from one caliber group to another requires the bolt head be changed and magazine insert changed. The R8 is available in a large range of calibers from .204 Ruger through to .500 Jeffery including most of the popular choices in between.
Not only does the R8 permit changes of caliber, but it also makes it easy to switch from right to left hand operation. All that is needed is a bolt/slide assembly for right and/or left hand operation which can be slipped into place with the ease with which the bolt/slide assembly can be removed and replaced.
Cleaning the R8 is pretty much as easy as cleaning a bolt action rifle. The bolt/slide assembly can be removed in much the same way a bolt is removed and then the barrel can be cleaned from the breech end. Alternatively the barrel can be removed from the rifle for cleaning also.
To see the Blaser R8 interactive animation explaining the main features of the rifle click here.
You will find the full list of calibers, groups, and models available for each if you click here.
You will find the instruction book for the Blaser R8 with full details if you click here. (English language section begins on page 22).
Rifle-scopes and Mounts
Blaser make mounts specifically for the R8. The R8 barrel is drilled for the Blaser mounts and there are styles to suit different types of rifle-scopes. The Blaser R8 uses a saddle mount on the barrel and there are mounts for ordinary ring mounting for 25.4mm (1″), 30 mm or 34 mm tube diameters, and there are mounts for Swarovski, Zeiss, Schmidt and Bender and Prisma integrated rails.
Blaser make rifle-scopes which you will find if you click here. The three models are a 1-7x28mm, 2.8-20x50mm, and a 4-20x58mm. All these rifle-scopes have Illumination Control (IC). This means they are connected to the cocking switch on the Blaser R8 rifle so that when the cocking switch is pushed forward into the cocked position the illuminated red dot in the rifle-scope reticle comes on. This is one of the features demonstrated in the Blaser Trailer video above.
The Blaser R8 is available in a large range of optional styles and can be further owner customized. It is possible to purchase a rifle with a composite stock and have an interchangeable walnut stock for it for example. Models range in price from quite expensive to eye wateringly so. But the Blaser R8 is very much a “Porsche Class” rifle made with the best of German attention to quality and detail.
Blaser R8 rifles are made with your choice of synthetic or walnut stocks in configurations suitable for small, medium and big game hunting. There are also models suitable for dangerous game for that “once in a lifetime” African Safari.
Below each model’s picture you will find a link to that model’s page on the Blaser website with full details.
Models With Synthetic Stock
The synthetic stock models are made for use in adverse weather conditions and are intended to be more damage resistant by comparison with walnut stocked models. These models can be had with standard open sights, HiViz open sights, as well as without open sights, match barrels, and fluted barrels are also offered.
For the calibers, barrel styles and lengths for each model click here.
The R8 Professional is made in dark green, savannah, black-brown or camo color schemes and features elastomer inlays on the fore-end and pistol grip for improved grip.
The R8 Professional Success is like the Professional but with thumbhole stock for those who prefer that style of pistol grip.
Professional Success Leather
The R8 Professional Success Leather features leather instead of elastomer on the fore-end and pistol grip.
Professional Success Black Edition
The R8 Professional Black Edition is like the Professional Success Leather but also features a gold-plated trigger, titanium-nitrided bolt head, and a blued steel bolt handle ball.
Professional Success Monza
The R8 Professional Success Monza is designed for the shooter who is also a motor-sport and/or motorcycle aficionado. There are a range of accessories available from the Blaser Shop that go with this model.
Professional Success Ruthenium
The R8 Professional Ruthenium features a Rutheniun finish complimented by a DLC (Diamond Like Carbon) coating on bolt head, trigger and bolt handle ball. The stock inlays are of impregnated leather.
Long Range Professional Success
The R8 Long Range Professional Success is made in .338 Lapua Magnum and comes in two versions, one with elastomer stock inlays, and the other with leather (illustrated above).
Professional Success Stutzen
The R8 Professional Success Stutzen is a short and handy carbine version of the Professional Success.
Professional Success Stutzen Leather
The R8 Professional Success Stutzen Leather features leather instead of elastomer grip panels in fore-end and pistol-grip.
Professional Success Stutzen Ruthenium
The R8 Professional Success Stutzen Ruthenium features a Ruthenium finish as well as the DLC (Diamond Like Carbon) coating on bolt head, trigger, and bolt head ball.
The R8 Carbon Success features a carbon fiber stock with leather inserts in the fore-end and pistol-grip. This is a very attractive and durable combination that looks like a twenty-first century hunting rifle.
Rifles with Wooden Stock
The R8 Luxus is available in with a range of engraving. The Luxus is simply a “deluxe” rifle for someone who appreciates fine walnut and engraving.
The R8 Black Edition combines the delightful contrast of walnut stock wood with black action and barrel.
The R8 Attaché is like the Black Edition but with walnut action side plates and a wood bolt handle knob. This model is one of the prettiest of the Blaser R8 range. We did a Revivaler post on one of these in .375 H&H Magnum some time ago.
The R8 Baroness is a luxury model available with high grades of walnut stock wood and action engraving.
The R8 Ruthenium features a Ruthenium finish complimented by a DLC (Diamond Like Carbon) coating on the trigger, bolt handle ball and bolt handle ball.
The R8 Stradivari is a luxury model for someone who wants the best walnut stock wood combined with a simple and clean non-engraved finish.
The R8 Intuition is configured specifically for a woman’s physique. This model is only available with a walnut stock which is designed to provide the lady shooter with an optimal cheek weld.
The R8 Compact is made for younger shooters and those with a smaller anatomy. The Monte Carlo stock has an overall length of 350mm (13.78″) to suit a shooter with a smaller frame.
The R8 Success Individual features a thumbhole walnut stock with leather inserts in the fore-end and pistol-grip.
The R8 Silence is designed to protect the hearing of the shooter, and of course of their hunting dog. The sound moderator forms an outer shape like that of a conventional bull-barrel but is lightweight and gives the rifle good balance.
This model is available in the following calibers:-
Cal. .308 Win., 8×57 IS and 9.3×62 with barrel lengths 42 or 47cm
Cal. .30-06 with barrel length 47cm
Cal. .300 Win. Mag. and .300 Blaser Mag. with barrel length 52cm
Noise reduction (with cal. .308): 28 dB
Long Range GRS
The R8 Long Range features a laminated wood stock and is made in .338 Lapua Magnum. The stock features adjustment for length of pull and cheek-piece height.
If you are someone who is used to and prefers a straight pull rifle then you will most likely be best served by taking one on your African Safari. So, if you regularly use a Blaser R8, and that is what you are most familiar with then you will be better off with a Blaser R8 specifically made in a suitable African caliber than with anything else. You should consult one or more professional hunters or experienced sporting hunters before making a decision, but, if you are faced with a dangerous situation in which you have to act swiftly then there is no substitute for instinctive familiarity with your rifle. Remember that in the Bible story of David and Goliath that David chose not to use King Saul’s armor and weapons because he was not familiar with them. Instead he chose to take his simple sling-shot that he was very practiced with.
In making the choice to use a straight pull R8 you need to ensure that you maintain it impeccably and use the right lubricant (sparingly). You also need to do a decent amount of shooting with your safari rifle. A dangerous game rifle needs to be heavier than a rifle in a standard big game caliber and you need to be able to manage its weight and recoil. The Blaser R8 Safari rifles are available in such calibers as the .375 Holland & Holland Magnum and the .458 Lott. Both of which are excellent. Rifle weight for these sorts of calibers should be around 9lb or a bit more. The Blaser R8 is also made in .500 Jeffrey which is a great cartridge with a solid reputation. However, a .500 Jeffery needs to tip the scales at around 11lb (i.e at least 10½lb or 10¾lb). If the rifle is made too light the trigger guard is going to hurt your middle finger and the bolt handle knob may hurt your trigger finger. Some shooters of .500 caliber big game rifles like to wear suitable gloves to mitigate against any potential for the rifle to cause discomfort. All that being said a properly set up .500 caliber rifle can be very pleasant to shoot. Blaser offer the stock mounted KickStop unit which helps mitigate recoil by about 20%, for the heavier calibers that would be a good choice. A muzzle brake is not something I’d personally recommend. The increase in loud muzzle blast gases coming back at you and others in your shooting party is not pleasant.
So, make sure your rifle is properly set up, do plenty of practice with your rifle so you can shoot it accurately and without discomfort, and enjoy your African safari with your Blaser R8.
The R8 Selous is named in memory of Frederick Courtenay Selous, one of the most highly respected of the big game hunters of Africa’s golden age. This is one of the most “drop dead gorgeous” rifles that Blaser make. The blending of high grade walnut stock wood, color case hardened action, and black finish, make this a twenty-first century classic safari rifle.
The R8 Kilombero is made in a more restrained style and the blending of the black finish of the action and barrel, tasteful walnut stock wood, all complimented with a traditional English style recoil pad, make for an elegant rifle.
The R8 Professional Hunter is made with a synthetic stock and built to be durable and weather resistant. If your plans include hunting in Alaska or anywhere the conditions are going to be rough and/or wet then this will be a preferable rifle than one with a walnut stock, no matter how beautiful the walnut might be. This is a practical rifle for when you need to be ruthlessly practical.
The Blaser R8 is one of the best known and respected of the straight pull rifles coming out of Europe. Build quality is “Porsche class” and the rifles exhibit typical German attention to detail and design refinement. The Blaser R8 is a superb choice for a hunter who wants to enjoy the advantage of the clean straight back and forth reload and the ease of keeping one’s sight picture undisturbed during reloading. This was exactly the feature that made the Ross straight pull rifle popular with snipers during the First World War, and it is the feature that makes the Blaser R8 Long Range rifles popular with military and police snipers nowadays.
The Blaser R8 delivers good accuracy and its trigger is an unusual “Desmodromic” type that uses direct acting cams and levers rather than springs. There is also an Atzl Match/Hunt trigger available for some models and calibers which provides a light .55lb (250 grams) match trigger which can be switched to a 1.43lb (650 grams) hunt trigger. The Atzl trigger cannot be used for rifles chambered for the long safari cartridges such as the .375 Holland & Holland Magnum or .458 Lott.
If you are looking for a top shelf straight pull rifle then the Blaser R8 is one of the best possible choices you could make. If you do decide on one you will have a rifle that can almost match a double rifle for speed of the second shot, and that will be much faster for the third.
Note on Reloading Ammunition for a Straight Pull Rifle such as the Blaser R8
A straight pull rifle’s action requires the same sort of consideration as a pump or slide action: both use a straight motion to chamber, lock, and extract, and so they are in many respects similar. A straight pull rifle action, like a pump action, does not have the same sort of camming power as a turn-bolt action to chamber a tight cartridge, nor does it have the camming power to extract a tight cartridge or fired case. A turn-bolt action delivers its camming power in the upward and downward movements of the bolt handle. A straight pull doesn’t have that movement – that’s the whole point of the straight pull design, to eliminate the up and down bolt handle movement. Because the straight pull action lacks the power to chamber a tight cartridge, or extract a tight fired case, when you are reloading ammunition for one you should full length size your cases to factory specification. Yes, this will shorten case life, but it’s a price you pay for the convenience and speed of the action. It is important that you not attempt to use partially full length sized cases, nor neck sized cases, those are fine in a turn-bolt action, but not in a straight pull.
When loading for a straight pull rifle you should always ensure you are not attempting to “red-line” in the maximum pressure range. Only use loads from a reputable loading manual and stay a bit below maximum. Additionally be careful not to load below the specified minimum load. Light charges of slow burning rifle powder can sometimes cause a detonation caused by what’s known as the Secondary Explosive Effect. So ensure you use the components listed in the loading manual, and stay within the minimum and maximum listed loads.
(All pictures courtesy Blaser except where otherwise marked).
Jon Branch is the founder and senior editor of Revivaler and has written a significant number of articles for various publications including official Buying Guides for eBay, classic car articles for Hagerty, magazine articles for both the Australian Shooters Journal and the Australian Shooter, and he’s a long time contributor to Silodrome.
Jon has done radio, television, magazine and newspaper interviews on various issues, and has traveled extensively, having lived in Britain, Australia, China and Hong Kong. His travels have taken him to Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan and a number of other countries. He has studied the Japanese sword arts and has a long history of involvement in the shooting sports, which has included authoring submissions to government on various firearms related issues and assisting in the design and establishment of shooting ranges.