Review: Blaser R8 .22 Long Rifle Conversion Kit

posted on September 12, 2020
One afternoon some years back, the shop talk here at NRA Publications turned to drillings, those predominantly German-made guns built with three fixed barrels, usually both smoothbore and rifled, and each one in a different caliber or gauge. The senior man present, American Rifleman Technical Editor Pete Dickey, exhaled a dismissive blast of cigarette smoke and said, “Drillings? Who would want a gun that does three things badly?”

There was no arguing that logic, and though I had introduced the subject, I knew the conversation was over. But that didn’t dash my interest in versatile guns, which started with my pal George and his Savage Model 24, a .22 LR over .410 smoothbore, a ticket to high adventure for a couple of sixth-graders when we could afford ammo. And it does nothing to dim my enthusiasm for the phenomenal versatility of the Blaser R8, a thoroughly modern rifle that does absolutely nothing badly.

Right-side view of a Blaser rifle with scope shown on white background.

Another German invention, the R8 is a straight-pull repeater with a slew of innovative design features, the most useful of which is its ingenious method of interchanging barrels/calibers. Inside five minutes using a single tool—a supplied hex wrench—an owner can transform her or his rifle to any of a mind-boggling 40+ chamberings, from tiny to titanic. The quick-change R8 has been a big hit with European hunters, but is less appreciated here in the U.S.

Gun laws in Europe often restrict or inhibit the number of firearms a person can legally own, so there’s serious incentive for models that can serve multiple purposes. Americans scorn such laws, and of course NRA and its members are doing everything in our power to ensure they don’t take root here. We’re prone to own multiple rifles for different kinds of shooting and hunting, and tend to be skeptical about versatile designs. But let’s not blame the messenger.

Lately I’ve been working out the newest R8 offering, which came as a surprise when first announced: A barrel conversion chambered for .22 Long Rifle. Now, the same rifle others use for elk, or for elephants, is fully capable for any and all .22 rimfire hunts and with accuracy potential to even hold its own in some types of rimfire competition.

Rifle barrel and parts arranged on white background.

The .22 conversion comes as a kit, which brings up an elephant of a different sort, the one in the what’s-it-cost room. The kit itself lists for a salty $1,450, and if you’re wondering, becoming an R8 owner starts in the $4,000 neighborhood. Likely you’re thinking that’s another reason it’ll never sell like hotcakes in America, and of course you’re right. But if you’re the kind of gun guy who pays attention when smart firearm-design engineers are given a free hand, let’s take a look.

Blaser R8 trigger housing and magazine shown on white background.
Blaser's R8 features a removable trigger housing (l.) that includes a convertible magazine. A magazine insert is supplied with the Blaser .22 rimfire conversion kit (r.) and has capacity for six rounds of .22 Long Rifle stored within.

Before getting to the .22 conversion we’d be remiss to skip over two other design innovations. The rifle’s trigger and magazine form a single unit, wherein the mag box sits directly atop the trigger assembly. Simply depress two spring tabs, and the whole thing drops right out (watch the video above). Beside the obvious safety aspects, this cuts a few precious inches of overall length, consequently reducing weight and improving handling in close quarters. Or owners can opt for performance advantages of longer, heavier barrels without exceeding typical sporter dimensions. Slick.

Close-up view of Blaser R8 receiver shown on white background.

Equally ingenious is the way action-lockup occurs via an expanding collet. Nudge the bolt handle forward and 13 separate lug segments seat and lock into a 360-degree recess. A backward nudge to unlock makes the operating cycle incredibly fast, requiring just a slight flick of the wrist. Even so, the action securely handles boomer rounds up to .470 Nitro and .500 Jeffrey. Really slick.

Bolt and bolthead of a Blaser R8 rifle shown on white background.

Come time for a barrel/caliber switch, you’ll need the hex wrench to free the action screws (which are trapped in the stock where they can never be misplaced), plus a few minutes to remove the existing barrel and bolt carrier, free the inner bolt body, and change the bolt head—none of which requires a tool—then reverse the process by installing a new bolt head and finally reattaching the body. Those lacking fine motor skills (like me) may need an extra 20 seconds to change the magazine box liner, but that’s easy too.

Rifle bolt heads shown on white.
The Blaser R8 bolt head is easily removed for conversion from .308 Win. (l.) to .22 Long Rifle (r.). Just rear of the bolt face are 13 separate lug segments that are used to seat and lock into a 360-degree recess within the barrel.

The rimfire conversion bolt swaps in the same way despite its 12 o’clock firing pin and twin extractors. its single-column 6-round magazine is contained in a placeholder with the same outer dimensions as the center-fire box. The .22 LR barrel matches the outside contour of standard R8 center-fire barrels, meaning it’s a shade heftier thanks to the smaller bore.

Underside view of Blaser R8 bolt shown on white background.

That seemed to pay dividends at the range. Or something did, because the R8 conversion, though decidedly not a match rifle, shot like one. With match-grade ammo we averaged 0.54” 100-yd. benchrest groups and had no trouble on calm days keeping all shots on eight-inch gongs out to 250 yds. For that application we used a high-magnification Blaser scope, which calls attention to another transformative feature, the R8’s quick-change optics capability.

A rifle on a bench in the hands of a man installing an optic.

Machined into receiver’s upper surface are opposing, fore-and-aft recesses that accept Blaser proprietary saddle mounts. The sleek mounts feature peglike projections that tightly fit the recesses. To “saddle up,” you simply fit the mount in place and then turn down circular locking tabs on the left-hand pegs. Installation requires a few seconds and zero tools.

The mounts are sold with rings attached, and naturally there are various sizes and heights to accommodate practically any scope. Also offered is a short mount designed to fit Aimpoint red-dot sights, which are often paired with R8s in the hot-and-heavy throes of driven wild-boar shooting. The system adds minimal weight, but for those seeking a more robust option, the latest addition is a Picatinny-rail version.

Close-up view of a rifle and optic with wooden background.

In seconds, owners can switch from one mount to another, from a long-range precision scope to fast-tracking red dot or to anything in between. Such changeability multiplies the rifle’s utility and not only when exchanging calibers. With our .22 conversion, in little more than an eyeblink, we went from long-range/big-scope platform to a mobile-hunter set-up with a compact scope to running-target/red-dot mode, and found that the optics would remain zeroed through many remountings.

While the accuracy remained impressive regardless of the optic employed, the red-dot gave another kind of gratification. Since rabbits were not in season, we simulated that challenge via rolling claybirds, and despite encountering a learning curve that made us envy the skilled running-boar hunters we see in videos, we eventually got the hang of sniping the bounding, close-up targets.

Man standing in a field shooting a bouncing clay target.

Even with its multi-tasking .22 conversion, the Blaser R8 won’t exactly match the versatility of a drilling bearing both smoothbore and rifled barrels, but even skeptics like the late Mr. Dickey would have to appreciate a gun that can do so much so well. Few of us will appreciate it enough to actually meet the asking price, but there’s intrinsic value nonetheless. When given freedom and corporate backing, creative firearm designers devise amazingly useful solutions to benefit shooters. The R8 is an outlier example, but fortunately innovation extends to good guns across the spectrum of price and application.


380 ACP
380 ACP

The .380 ACP: History & Performance

Despite disagreements surrounding the .380 ACP cartridge's performance, its history shows it to be a popular, effective round, because people have always enjoyed small, easy-to-carry pistols that can be quickly deployed.

New For 2023: Aero Precision Solus

Designed as an "out-of-the-box" shooting system that can be configured and customized according to the needs of the end user, the Aero Precision Solus is a contender for today's popular Precision Rifle Series circuit.

Gun Of The Week: Davidson's Winchester Model 1895 Texas Rangers Edition

Watch American Rifleman staff on the range this week with the Winchester Model 1895 Texas Ranger's 200th Anniversary Edition, a Davidson's Exclusive rifle that commemorates the storied history of Texas law enforcement.

The Armed Citizen® March 24, 2023

Read today's "The Armed Citizen" entry for real stories of law-abiding citizens, past and present, who used their firearms to save lives.

Elbert Searle's Prototype Savage Squeeze-Cocker Pistol

Elbert Searle isn't one of the most well-known firearm designers, but his Savage Model 1907 and its derivatives were popular guns in their time. Now, a unique prototype pistol of his has been discovered, illustrating what else could have been in Savage's early 20th-century handgun lineup.

Spring Sales, Savings & Sweepstakes Ongoing

Special incentives from Hornady, Smith & Wesson and Beretta have already been come and gone, but they were just the first. Things have accelerated since.


Get the best of American Rifleman delivered to your inbox.