Feb 10, 2015
The price of success
Several years ago I moved from Sauer rifles to Blaser. For many years my trusty Sauers had never failed me, in fair weather and foul, never once causing me an issue. The move to Blaser was a tough one, I’d seen enough about them and read more than a little, and at the time they certainly weren’t the seemingly household name that they are now. So, why move? For many years, the R93 was the biggest selling rifle in Europe, with countless thousands sold. Our continental cousins have a very different outlook when buying kit. Hunting is a way of life, a passion, and they have no qualms when investing the thousands they do, with budget rarely being a governing factor. For me it was simple, their relentless accuracy and the speed with which I was able to get second and third shots off when opportunities presented themselves. Don’t get me wrong, I was pretty sharp with the Sauers when needed but I was getting to a stage in my stalking career where more and more multiple opportunities were arising. I was covering a lot of ground, with huge deer populations, and the ability to get quicker shots off was a definite bonus.
This isn’t a bragging article, I’ll leave that to the internet forums and armchair stalkers. Suffice to say, on one particular estate, I was tasked with removing as many deer as possible between the beginning of February and the end of April. It wasn’t uncommon to shoot over ten animals a day. The numbers were staggering and I have absolutely no doubt that the ergonomics and speed of the Blaser, along with the confidence it gave me, helped put extra animals in the larder. The popularity of the R93 continued for over a decade, before Blaser decided on the need for an upgrade; the R8. The biggest difference was the removable magazine. True to form, the new rifle didn’t disappoint, with typical Blaser quirkiness, they combined the removable magazine with the trigger unit. I have already written about my change from the R93 to the R8 along with the teething troubles I had. The trouble was no more than the new model feeling unfamiliar, after becoming so used to the R93. So how would the new thumbhole version of the R8, the Professional Success feel, the first time I took it for an outing? I have never been one for choosing rifles, or come to think of it, choosing anything that doesn’t perform a function or serve a purpose. It has to feel right, immediately. How many of us lament the sale, whether of rifles or shotguns, we wished we’d hung on to? I’ve certainly made my fair share of mistakes over the years. But having spent several years with the R8 Professional, both in the field here in the UK and Africa, as well as on the range, I can confidently say that the move up to the R8 was a good one. I really didn’t think Blaser would be able to top the R8 Professional. I was wrong.
When the Success was first unveiled, I baulked. It just didn’t look right. I’d never before used a thumbhole stock for my own purposes. Of course I’d seen and used plenty at the range, some custom and some commercially available, but all had felt too bulky and certainly not for a hunting rifle. Once again, I had simply become too accustomed to one particular rifle. The feel, the balance and the weight, all felt perfect. The confidence it gave me was exactly what I needed, in every situation I had so far encountered. From longer shots on African Trophy game, up close and personal woodland stalking, to a brutal range session. The R8 never let me down. I cannot think of a situation where the R8 didn’t excel. For some years I have had an excellent relationship with Blaser (the company), and following my decision last year to go ahead with the planned running boar range, their enthusiasm piqued. There is no doubt that the straight pull action; the quick-change magazine system and reliability of the Blaser put it head and shoulders above the competition when it comes to driven game. But just how would the thumbhole stock version fare in all the different situations? Rewind to last year’s CLA gamefair, at Blenheim. The temperatures soared, thunderstorms loomed, yet the crowds came. I had been asked to help out on the Blaser stand, and with so many local clients I happily agreed. Little did I know, that after three days, my first impressions would change. Almost every person I spoke to who visited the stand was there to look at or get hold of the Success stock, in all its various guises. And after three days of handling it and talking about the options, I knew I was in trouble!
Just as before, Blaser had delivered, on every angle. The new stock was a perfect fit, ergonomic, tactile and balanced. I just had to put one on the range to get a proper feel and to be able to use it in the field to form a genuine opinion. In October last year, two R8 Professional Success models arrived, one right handed and one left. Both with standard .308 Win barrels along with a fluted match barrel. All that was needed was some glassware to put on top, and a quick call to the rather fabulous Christine at Swarovski saw three demo Z6i’s checked out and on their way! The arrival of the rifles and the scopes coincided with a demo day I had planned for the range in November. The pressure was on to get a better handle on the new stock. I set aside a full week before the open day to put them through their paces, the plan being to spend as much time shooting them with different barrels and at different distances and in as many different situations as possible. Simply waving one around or having a few shots just isn’t enough. Too often, a rifle is sent to a magazine or pundit who has a few shots with it, takes it to pieces and marvels at the engineering, and then writes a glowing report about how it will shoot a nice group. Very rarely do I have a rifle at the range that won’t shoot a decent group. Admittedly, a Blaser will more often consistently out-shoot many other brands, and digest a wider selection of ammunition. More often than not, whether we care to admit it , operator error is the usual cause of inaccuracy. What I am trying to say is, I didn’t expect the Success to be more accurate, but a few shots were not going to give me a true feel of the rifle or the ability to talk about it and be able to recommend either model to clients and customers alike. It is all well and good walking into a shop and having a look, taking one off the shelf. Undoubtedly the shop assistant will have some in depth knowledge about stripping it, along with all the other benefits mentioned in the sales blurb. When I am dealing with a client, investing several thousands of pounds on a rifle package, I want to be confident that I have researched that product as thoroughly as possible. I need to know what (if any) limitations it may have, where it may excel, are there any extras or modifications that may make it even better? With so many options available from Blaser, this makes it even more critical. Setting aside the fine-tuning details, what mattered most were first impressions. I have previously said that, initially, I wasn’t enamored by the looks. After three days handling one at the CLA, I was less bothered.
Strangely enough, on talking to several Blaser owners, it appeared I wasn’t the only one. I set up the stock at the range with three different barrel and scope options; a standard length barrel with 2.5 – 15 x 56 Z6i, a 20 inch barrel with 2 – 12 x 50 Z6i, and a heavy match barrel with 3 – 18 x 50 Z6i – all in .308. I also used three different moderators, one of which was the new compact MAE which I have had imported from New Zealand specifically for Blasers. For almost every standard Professional, either R93 or R8 I have supplied, I have also supplied an additional cheek piece. Enabling the shooter to get the proper cheek weld and straight line of sight through the scope, essential to consistent and accurate shooting. The first and most noticeable difference between the two models is the height of the comb. For years, manufacturers have produced ‘one size fits all’ stocks, and Blaser were no exception. Blaser have designed the Success stock in such a way that the correct cheek weld, head position and therefore line of sight is almost perfect without the need for extras. The slimness of the stock, both the butt and the fore end, is also perfect. As I have already mentioned, most thumbhole stocks are either custom versions or far too heavily built, and whilst ideal for a target situation or a heavy varmint rifle, are rarely suited to a hunting rifle. This only leaves the grip. The move up from the R93 to the R8 proved problematical for me because of this. Moving from a slim pistol grip to a slightly more bulky version initially caused me a few issues, which as I have mentioned, was purely down to my familiarity with the rifle. The shape of the grip and the ergonomics lead to the most natural grip I have ever felt. Imagine reaching out to shake someone by the hand, then simply closing your grip without altering the angle of your hand – it’s so intuitive and natural. However, all that glitters is not gold! One of only two areas of concern I have is highlighted here. One thing I am constantly repeating to people at the range, ‘finger off the trigger until you’re ready to take the shot!’
The perfect design of the grip and the positioning of the trigger unit, leads people to instinctively reach for the trigger in an all in one gripping movement. The pile of empties gradually grew and it didn’t take me long to find a confidence with the rifle that would normally take much longer. The design of the stock led to rapid and easy target acquisition. The comfortable hand position allowed consistent and instant trigger finger placement, leading to less time on target and a quicker release of the shot. On shots at 200m and over the sheer comfort of the stock allowed for a more precise shot as well as comfort from positions not ideal with a standard stock. One of the most noticeable improvements came from when shooting off sticks. Around 90% of all my animals, whether with clients or on my own, are taken off sticks. I’ve even had my own sticks designed and made. Shooting off sticks is one of the most important skills a stalker can learn; yet it is seldom practiced. The design of the stock brings the hand gripping the stock, into a more natural position, thereby lowering the arm of that hand into a more compact, natural and more importantly, stable position. A more compact, natural and stable position will only lead to a more accurate shot. In every situation a stalker may encounter, the success stock proved every bit as functional and tactile as its standard cousin. The 20-inch barreled version with the new short moderator felt almost carbine-like and was a joy to use in heavy woodland, whilst the 23-inch standard version gave me the confidence I needed when reaching out for longer shots. When coupled with the match barrel, it really goes to show how truly versatile this rifle is. Here is a rifle that one day can be used in heavily wooded areas for tricky fallow, the next day on a mountain hunt for Chamois and the next day punching targets at extreme range. Never before have I encountered a rifle like this, one stock and trigger, with as many barrel options as needed to suit almost every situation imaginable. But, there may be limitations. I have already mentioned the trigger finger issue. With practice and good discipline this is not insurmountable. The rifles were supplied with the new adjustable ATZL Match/Hunt trigger. The trigger has two settings, light and incredibly light. The hunting setting breaks at 650g, whilst the match setting breaks at 250g. The standard trigger breaks around 100g more. To me, the standard trigger remains the benchmark for all other rifle triggers and the lighter trigger needs especial care. I have put enough people behind the rifle to know that even on the heavier setting, it is still too light, especially for hunting. The final test for me, and one that could potentially throw a spanner in the works is the speed of reloading.
As with all stocks, to reload generally means removing the hand from the stock and cycling the action, and in this respect, the Success is no different. The big question was, whether it was as intuitive and quick as its cousin. The answer is no. The standard Professional comes out on top when genuine speed of reloading comes into play. Now, before anyone reading this starts jumping up and down and ranting…bear with me. What I am talking about here is pretty negligible. I have used both, a lot, in almost every conceivable situation and reloading the standard Professional intuitively is quicker, but not necessarily by enough to make a difference to most shooters. When reloaded properly, the difference is small enough not to matter and is unlikely to cost the shooter the animal of a lifetime. What might cost the shooter the animal of a lifetime is the method of reloading the Success action, in an attempt to do so quicker, by not disengaging the hand fully from the stock. Several times I have seen this demonstrated, and every time it makes me cringe. The design of the Blaser action and bolt require it to be shut firmly in order to cock the bolt fully. There are countless stories on the internet from experts who have had the 'Blaser click.' There are only two reasons this happens, and both are user error. The most common arises through the use of reloaded ammunition, where the headspace is too small. On a standard turn-bolt, the bolt is tighter to shut. On a Blaser, the bolt will shut but won’t cock fully and therefore won’t fire. The second reason for a 'click' is the bolt not being shut firmly or properly. It is this reason that will potentially cause issues for the shooter adopting the method mentioned above. The Blaser action is not a sloppy action. When the bolt is opened, it stays open. It requires some force to pick up a round and chamber it properly.
The Success stock is not designed for some sort of trick shooting. There are two choices; take your hand off the stock and reload it properly, or try some fancy trick and risk not chambering the round properly, then spend the rest of your days wishing you hadn’t tried to be clever when that huge Kieler or Gold medal Roebuck got away. So, the million-dollar question. Which is better? Quite simply, either. Both have a place, although one is more universal than the other. The Professional Success is a natural progression for Blaser, a true all rounder that suits their modular system probably better than the standard Professional. Clearly this is how Blaser themselves are thinking, judging by the number of variants available. But is there a situation in which the standard Professional excels? Most definitely. The world of driven game. It is far more intuitive and natural to move the hand from the pistol grip on the standard Professional, than on the Success. Forget the trick shooting reloading methods. For a true all round rifle, with legendary accuracy, superb ergonomics and which fits the bill perfectly 95% of the time, the Professional Success has no equal. To test the R8 Professional and Professional Success side by side please contact us for an appointment.