September 23, 2010
Every once in a while we have the privilege of being proved resoundingly wrong. Like most gun nuts, I'm an opinionated sort. My father used to quote an old wise man who said, "The opinions of a man aren't worth the ashes of a rye straw." Where guns are concerned, it didn't take for me.
I like old guns with all-steel parts and good walnut. And the heavier a gun is and the more structural integrity it has, the more accuracy potential it has. Some of the old fellows I used to hang around glued their benchrest actions into the stocks with Acraglass.
When they got a rifle shooting the way they wanted, you didn't touch the screws. Allegedly there were shooters who, trying to find the perfect height to glass a pressure point into the end of the barrel channel, had struck on the perfect layer of electrical tape and--afraid to mess with it--left it there for decades.
So when I had the chance to test a Blaser R93 bolt action, I approached the project with the philosophy that as it was a modular design, it doubtless had characteristics other than great accuracy to recommend it. I was about to get an emphatic shock at the range.
Other than being skeptical about a rifle that arrived in a box that would barely hold a tennis racket, I was skeptical about the price. Rifle Shooter had requested a basic, matte-blued and synthetic stocked version. Even this base model retails at well over $2,000, which is a lot of money for a plain-Jane gun. I wanted to know what, if anything, made it worth that.
The rifle came to me without a manual. I guess Blaser figured a gun editor should be able to figure it out. The only thing that gave me pause was the little hinge-and-spring-in-plastic magazine box. After looking it over, I promptly managed to get it installed upside-down--and stuck. Feeling slightly foolish, I unjammed the darn thing, righted it, and the rifle went together beautifully.
The system really is a marvel in modern modular engineering. The action "bed" is precisely formed and incorporates steel orienting hubs, so it comes together exactly the same each time. The barrel bolts in with two Allen-head screws that are captive in the stock so you don't lose them. The aforementioned magazine fits in a mortise precision formed for it. Then, providing you have the magazine in correctly, the bolt slides in from the rear--but not like a conventional bolt.
BLASER R93 PROFESSIONAL
|Blaser, www.blaser-usa.com, 410-604-1495
|straight-pull bolt action
|22.7 -inch free floated
|6 1/2 pounds
|milled for Blaser scope mount
|milled for Blaser scope mount
|3 1/2 -lb. crisp single-stage
|synthetic with rubber inserts
|manual cocking system
The Blaser is a straight-pull design, and when out of the rifle the bolt is squarish and slightly ungainly, with two long steel rails protruding forward from the bottom portion of the bolt.
Those two rails line up with and slide forward into two--for lack of a better description--raceways that are incorporated into the stock. As the bolt slams home, the bolt handle itself rotates slightly forward and locks, activating the multiple locking lugs around the bolt body.
To remove the bolt, depress the right side of the magazine, push in a little bolt catch located on the top right of the action and slide it out. Amazingly, bolts are available in right or left hand and may be easily swapped out.
Now the marvelous thing about the bolt face is that it is interchangeable--along with the magazine and the barrel i
tself. With two or three bolt faces and a handful of polymer magazines, a hunter could have one rifle in several different calibers--all interchangeable in a matter of minutes. The scope bases attach to the barrel itself, so each barrel will always come back to perfect zero when reassembled.
The Blaser R93 breaks down into the four major components — stock, barrel, bolt and magazine — with the use of a simple (and supplied) Allen wrench.
Blaser had neglected to include a scope base, and as Blaser bases are particular to both the gun and the scope rings you intend to use, they proved hard to get. Fortunately, Petersen's Hunting editor Lee Hoots happened to have a base and rings and let me borrow them.
After mounting a 3-9X Kahles scope on the barrel, I gathered a handful of boxes of .243 ammo and headed for the range, dragging my lovely wife along to spot for me. After posting targets and getting on paper, I settled in to see what the little rifle could do.
Honestly, I was expecting groups in the 11⁄2- to two-inch range. I popped three rounds of Remington 95-grain AccuTips into the magazine, settled in on my Sinclair benchrest, and promptly shot a 3/4-inch group. Amazed, I shot three more. They impacted in a little row--again about 3/4 inch.
I got up, stretched and rescued my wife from the friendly little old man who was talking her ear off. I needed a witness. With her behind the spotting scope, I really bore down, realizing that the rifle was offering much more than I had expected and intending to see how far it would go.
My first two shots weren't just touching; they were overlapping by half the bullet diameter. I fired the third. As the rifle came out of its recoil and I began searching for the bullet hole in the target, my wife said "Whoa!" (She grew up with horses, too). The hole was no longer a peanut. It was a perfect cloverleaf, all holes overlapping.
BLASER R93 PROFESSIONAL
|.243 Win Ammo Type
|Bullet Weight (gr.)
|Muzzle Velocity (fps)
|AVG Group (in.)
|Speer Nitrex Grand Slam
|Federal Speer TNT
|Federal Sierra GameKing
|Hornady BTSP Light Magnum
|* Manufacturer's velocity figures.
Notes: Accuracy tested off a Sinclair bench rest; results are the average of three-shot groups at 100 yards. Velocity recorded 10 feet from the muzzle with a Chrony chronograph.
The accompanying chart will tell the rest of the story. The Remington AccuPoint load that I first tried proved the most accurate of those tested, with a .43-inch average over three groups. To be sure I wasn't experiencing a fluke, I fired three more groups and added them into the equation. The average came down to .38-inch. Of all the loads tested, none averaged over an inch.
Being a lightish hunting rifle, I wondered how it would shoot with varmint bullets. Again, the chart shows the results of my testing with two varieties: aA Federal load incorporating a 70-grain TNT and a Hornady 58-grain V-Max load.
The Blaser liked the V-Max load almost as much as the Remington AccuTip. With those two loads--both of which averaged 1/2 moa or less--I would consider myself well-equipped for deer, antelope or some serious coyote hunting, as well as for bumping off the odd groundhog on Grandpa's farm.
Back at home, I examined the R93 with attention to ergonomics and hunter-friendly features. The stock itself is a good-looking synthetic stock that Blaser touts as "Shatter-proof and thermo-stable even under extreme conditions," that sports rubberish grip inserts fore and aft.
The author testing the R93 at the range. It performed beyond expectation. Note the unique plunger-type safety/cocking mech
The barrel is free-floated in the stock. The front sling swivel is located in the end of the fore-end tip, rather than in the typical spot.
The bolt is easily the fastest I have ever used. Just pull back, push forward. Operation is smooth, positive, and has a quiet but satisfying "ka-chunk" sound as it is operated.
The safety takes some getting used to. It is a manual cocking design that actually compresses and depresses the firing-pin spring as the safety is deactivated and activated, providing a design that truly is unable to fire when the safety is on. However, operation requires a good amount of thumb movement and is fairly stiff.
The trigger breaks fairly cleanly at about 31⁄2 to four pounds, with no creep. A bit of overtravel is present, and I am an overtravel nut, but obviously it didn't interfere with the rifle's performance on the range.
The polymer magazine works well and is not particularly hard to load. However, the magazine contains only three rounds in standard calibers, two in magnum calibers.
Obviously the goal is to need only one. Unfortunately, I--like many hunters--occasionally err, and I like more than one additional round on tap if I do need to follow up. If I hunted with an R93 magnum, I would definitely top off with one in the chamber before shooting, if time permitted.
As for the barrel, judging by the performance of my test sample, it is match quality. Length is 22.7 inches in standard calibers. The Saddle Mount scope-mounting system is particular to Blaser and locks directly into mortises milled into the barrel. I would prefer a simple drilled-and-tapped barrel that would accept a Weaver-type rail and standard rings.
Women who tried the Blaser straight-pull action preferred it to conventional bolt designs. Its smooth forward-and-back stroke should make it easy for youngsters to work as well.
Balance is superb, as it should be on a rifle with that kind of a price tag. In standard calibers it weighs in at just over 61⁄2 pounds. I ran several speed drills, cycling the bolt and squeezing the trigger rapidly, and I found that it is significantly easier to stay in the scope and keep the rifle on target than with a standard bolt action. Also--other than the difficult-to-manipulate safety--both my wife and a friend's wife preferred the rifle to standard bolt-action designs, finding it easier to function.
Another advantage to the rifle is the ease of transporting it, especially for those who do a lot of travel by air. Broken down, the system fits into a much smaller case than your standard hunting rifle. Makes it lots easier to climb into the taxi.
Is it worth the price? Well, yes. For the discriminating hunter and shooter who demands quality and performance, and is willing to pay for it, the R93 is a cutting-edge design that delivers as much or more than promised. â€¢
Gun services provided by Turners Outdoorsman (www.turners.com). Range facilities provided by Angeles Ranges (www.angelesranges.com).