Blaser R8 V Mauser M03
Pete Moore gets the two top changelings to go head to head to see who’s the boss or even if there is one
As a gun writer I wear my heart on my sleeve; if I like something or not I say so! However and given the quality/ability of the majority of modern firearms there’s usually a narrow margin between winners and losers, which is down to small features and even cosmetics. I also love head to head tests where two products of similar ability and design are judged. So here it is - who’s the best switch barrel the Mauser M03 or the Blaser R8?
SIG FAMILY VALUES
I have owned a Mauser M03 Extreme since 2007 and thought it would be the only switch barrel I would ever need. Conversely and though appreciating the features of the original Blaser R93 I never liked its fixed, top-loading magazine system, which was awkward and this alone put me off! But the launch of the R8 in 2008 with its detachable box magazine made it a truly competitive choice. However, I could live without it… that is until Blaser produced what I consider their finest model ever - the Professional Success. With its synthetic, thumbhole stock it won me over and in March 2013 I bought one in 270 Winchester. I now find both this and my faithful M03 to be near perfect but distinctive designs, which I view differently!
Without doubt the Blaser is the more popular brand, which has proved a huge success in the UK over a broad spectrum of shooters. Odd, as on the whole we are a very conservative nation and the radical approach that the R93 offered would not seem to appeal, but it does!
Ironically both makes share the same factory and production facilities at Isny in Germany, though I always got the impression the M03 was the ‘red haired’ step child, whereas the R93/R8 was the beloved daughter! Ironically barrels are made by JP Sauer (Sauer 202 etc) who are also part of the SIG group that owns Blaser and Mauser. Not that I care, as they are some of the best, massproduced, factory-made tubes I have ever seen!
WOOD; I THINK NOT!
My aim here is not to get picky on calibres and therefore accuracy, but to look at the standard R8 and M03 as to build and functionality. Suffice to say both have proven time and again they can shoot with no concerns over return to zero. In that they are true shooters and the royalty of switch barrels. But if you are investing what will probably be £3000+ including scope mount then I hope my scribblings will be of service in making that very important choice!
I have chosen in both cases what I consider the most practical of furniture; synthetic. Made of a solid material Blaser calls theirs the Professional and Mauser the Extreme. This is no skinny, hollow black plastic moulding but a solid handle to get hold of, complete with rubber gripping inserts in the usual places. Top quality wood and engraving is OK; if you like that sort of thing. But it will not make you shoot better, all they do is put the price up exponentially and probably make you worry more about damage. Come on guys it’s a hunting rifle get real!
WHY A SWITCH BARREL?
The idea is to do a sort of girlfriend or beer comparison; as in beer doesn’t mind how many other types of beer you go out with – 1 point to beer… As daft as it sounds I always see the Blaser as female and the Mauser as male!
First why a switch barrel system? The concept offers a single chassis that barrels can be attached/removed quickly and easily, which means one rifle to get familiar with then select mission-specific barrels/calibres and optics. In both cases this is achieved by twin studs on the underside of the barrel reinforce at 6 o’clock that pass down through a receiver extension in the forend and is retained by captive nuts.
Likewise the bolt heads can be swapped to suit calibre. The system however does require quick detachable (Q/D) scope mounts and Blaser and Mauser approach this in different ways. Typically they are not included in the price, so factor in another £350-400 for the pleasure of glass. Be aware as that might break the bank!
First up the R8. It is an elegant and modern design and does not use a receiver in the traditional sense. The bolt assembly runs on rails in the lower chassis member and shows a large alloy shroud (carrier) with the operating handle on the right, which is pulled back and pushed forward to cycle the action. Getting a left hander is easy as all you get is a L/H carrier with the handle on the other side. Unlike a fixed receiver turn-bolt system that means a dedicated L/H action, which are normally less common on other makes and often more expensive.
Locking is direct to the barrel via a 13-lug, multi-collet head. This pushes forward into a ring in front of the chamber and expands to give a 360° engagement with no worries on strength. This is removable to suit different calibres and is accomplished by lifting a lug and pulling the head free. It’s an easy job but can be confusing at first.
The action stroke is smooth with your hand grasping the drop-down bolt handle and swinging it back for primary unlocking then pulling it fully open. It is fast with potentially less disturbance to the shooting position! The de-cocker is a sliding thumb lug at the rear of the bolt carrier that pushes up to fire with the firing hand thumb. To de-cock you push it in and it springs back down. It can also be used to open the action with just a slight upwards movement. In use I always find it hard to operate from the shoulder and tend to lower the gun slightly to accomplish this.
The R8 detachable magazine offers an increased payload of 4+1 in standard calibres over the R93’s 3+1. It locks by twin, integral catches and uses calibre-specific, rotary inserts that slips into the trigger mech housing (TMH). It can be top-loaded too, but like the R93 it’s not as slick as I would like. It can also be locked in place should you wish. The TMH also incorporates the lower trigger guard/ blade and some shooters feel this is a bad design saying if you lose your magazine the rifle is useless. Technically true but you have to make that call and I have no problems with it!
As the R8 has no upper receiver the only place to put the scope is on the barrel, which is great as there’s less chance of misalignment or zero loss. The QD mount is low and locks by twin, fold-out rotary latches on the left and is adjustable as to tension by opposed slot screws. I have found that most new mounts need a tweak to get them set right. Typically you get the choice of 1”/30mm rings, Picatinny and European rail mounts.
The action build along with the way the magazine and trigger are located means the R8 on average is 2-3” shorter than a standard bolt-action of comparable barrel length. Trigger pull is good though Blaser do not offer a single set facility. However there’s the ATZL trigger, which offers two pull weights for target and hunting - 250 grams (8.8 oz) and 650 grams (22 oz) accordingly. Nice but unnecessary!
One aspect of the Blaser’s radial locking system I have heard commented upon by both Highland Ghillies and African PHs is that some consider it a bit fussy if dirt/ debris gets between the collets. This has never happened to me winter or summer, but as an engineer and armourer I understand what they mean. I would love to try this theory out but I reckon Blaser ain’t going to lend me a rifle to find out!
The M03 is apparently a more traditional, turn-bolt design; apparently! It uses an inner chassis and is noticeably heavier by around 1 lb than other guns in its class and has a more conventional looking receiver for scope mounting. The base is longer with 3-lugged locking rotors front and rear that locate into sockets on the receiver bridges. Options include 1”/30mm rings, Picatinny base and European rails. To engage the locking handles are pulled rearwards, the base located and the handles push forward where they lock. There is no adjustment but the tolerances are high so no problems.
The action is a conventional turn-bolt type and uses 6-lugs that engage in the chamber extension. The head is quick change; just hold down the de-cocker and slide the bolt head off to change calibre. The bolt handle is long and offers plenty of leverage, at the rear of the shroud is a flap-type de-cocker that pushes left to right to cock (FIRE). Underneath is a plunger that when pushed de-cocks (SAFE) and the lever springs back, operation is easy and more instinctive, though some complain it can nip your thumb as it does it. Like the R8 it can also be used to open the action by slight pressure. Trigger pull is good but you can opt for a single set unit too.
The magazine is a conventional double column box with the release button at the front, which can be locked to retain the mag if you wish. In standard calibres it offers a generous 5+1 and is very easy to top load due to the massive, ambidextrous ejection port. This has got me out of trouble on a few driven hunts where I ran dry and needed another shot quickly.
Summing up these two systems is not easy as I use and like them both. But in that time I have also re-thought my switch barrel needs too. The M03 has been my main stay for 8-years and I have a number of barrels and calibres, though in the last 3-years I have mainly used it as a boar gun in 8.5x63 with a short/heavy iron sight barrel and low power scope. My 6.5x55 and 223 tubes get less use in favour of my other fixed calibre guns. I think I now really appreciate the M03 for the fact it’s a massively tough and strong gun that breeds confidence from both ends and something I take when conditions could be bad and the game worse! In that I see it like my old Land Rover. It would be my choice for Africa or long range in 300 Win Mag with iron sights and a brake. Truth is if you commit to any switch barrel system you need to get rid of all your other guns!
The R8 is more like a Range Rover being good looking, modern and capable. It’s a lovely system and an elegant and shootable rifle, the straight-pull action is smooth and fast and I can live with the slightly slower de-cocker movement and top loading if required does not bother me. The proper detachable magazine is the best thing Blaser ever did too. I bought it in truth more as a single calibre to do most things and in 270 Win it has not disappointed. It has not been through the mill like the M03 but the two years of use I have given it, it too has not disappointed rain, snow or shine! As of yet I have not got another calibre, I toyed with 223 Rem, 6xc and 300 Win Mag but I have not committed.
As can be seen from the Girlfriend or Beer table there’s little in it on rifles and mounts with small features on both sides that will steer your choice. For me and as long as I hunt I will have both wife and mistress with the M03 and R8 as stable mates that offer different things for different needs. If I had to pick one I would be hard pressed to choose. So I’ll finish with this comment: I’m 62 now and do less overseas and hard core hunting than I used to, so I feel the lighter weight, slick action of the R8 and its Professional Success stock suits my current needs better. But if I was young and adventurous again, the M03 would get the nod!
Blaser and Mauser Products are imported by Blaser Sporting Ltd. CONTACT: Blaser Sporting Ltd, (trade only) 0207 6222116 www.blaser.de www.mauser.de
All Prices Are Guides Due to the Changes in US & European Exchange Rates