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The ultimate rifle.

* I like takedown rifles. The idea of being able to put a big rifle in a small box for travel seems ideal to me. Unfortunately, takedown designs to date have been a poor compromise. They give up shooting qualities in exchange for portability, and for my money that is unacceptable.

A few months ago I saw a rifle that hit me like a swat between the eyes. It was a takedown, designed by Horst Blaser of Germany, called The Ultimate. The manufacturers told me that they had "reinvented" the rifle, and that the Ultimate wasn't just a name: this was the ultimate hunter's rifle. I doubted that. Everything I knew about rifles told me it couldn't be. This rifle was just too "trick" to work; but with an open mind and an almost kid-in-the-candy-store excitement about the new rifle, I had a sample sent to me for testing.

To be my ultimate rifle, it would have to be portable, safe, reliable, versatile, accurate and shootable; and, it would have to exhibit all of these qualities in my hands while I shot it. If it passed my acid test, I could have the rifle I had always wanted. Better still, though, there would at last be something truly new that really worked in the firearms industry.

I picked up a thin, slightly oversized briefcase at the airport. It weighed less than the briefcase that I normally carry my life in. I would have been happy with the weight and size of this "guncase" with one rifle in it--but this case held two .270s and two scopes. The rifles were completely disassembled. The scopes were removed from the barrels, and the barrels were taken down from the receivers, leaving the longest piece of the 22-inch barreled rifles just over 22 inches.

Completely assembling both rifles took about two minutes and required the use of only one Allen wrench that was held neatly concealed in each rifle's forearm. Disassembling the rifles required only the turning of a thumb wheel on the scope mount and rotating it out of a front mount that is exactly like those used by Redfield, Leupold or Burris.

Pushing a button released the forestock, and removing a single hexhead screw released the barrel assembly.

The barrel assembly held sights, scope mounts and the recesses for the bolt locking lugs, as well as the recoil lug that would absorb the recoil upon firing. Because the barrel assembly acts as a cannon breech, the short bolt, with its three locking lugs, can handle all of the gas pressure on firing, leaving the receiver to cope only with recoil and to act as a handle for attaching the stock. These duties require neither the strength nor the weight of a conventional steel action, allowing the Ultimate to utilize lightweight aluminum in this area. This greatly reduces the minimum weight limits of the action.

The rifle had indeed passed the portable test, weighing under 7 pounds and fitting into a case only slightly larger than a briefcase. This portability is extremely important if you travel, especially on airplanes, where conventional rifle cases are subject to damage and theft. A rifle taken down and hidden away in a briefcase is less likely to be taken by a burglar or used by an inept person in your own home.

To be reliable, the rifle would have to be strong and well-designed, as well as easy to inspect, clean and repair. The bolt on the Ultimate has three huge locking lugs and an extractor that slides in a "T" slot in the bolt. While my tests were only run over four days, and with just over 100 rounds, I found on failures.

I even intentionally fired some "overloads" in the rifle. (These were the kind that cratered primers and left shiny marks on the case heads at the ejector cut). Even at these pressure levels, bolt lift was effortless and extraction perfect. I concluded that the camming action of the Ultimate's bolt is so powerful that bolt lift cannot be used as a pressure indicator when working up loads in these rifles.

The action on the Ultimate can be totally fieldstripped without tools, should it require cleaning. This is unlikely, however, because the lockwork is almost dustproof, being sealed by an "O" ring and a precisely fitted plate underneath.

Should it require disassembly (i.e., if it were soaked), it can be done without any tools other than some pointed object, like a ballpoint pen, to depress a spring detent that holds the cover plate in place. If any part even breaks, it can be instantly replaced with a similar part from any other Ultimate rifle. All parts, including barrels and bolts, are totally interchangeable.

The magazine holds two rounds and feeds them in a straight line, as opposed to the staggered configuration in most bolt actions. With this straight-line approach, the cartridge is pointed straight into the chamber when the bolt strips it out of the magazine. When the magazine releases the cartridge, it just can't go wrong.

Our Ultimate feeds and extracts perfectly, has only a few parts and can be easily repaired or cleaned. I penned a tick beside "reliable" on my list.

The safety concept on the Ultimate is also quite different from what we are used to on bolt actions. On the back of the receiver there is a safety lever that resembles a hammer on conventional arms. This lever and a button on the right side of the receiver make up the safety system that allows the rifle to be carried safely with a cartridge in the chamber.

When the Ultimate is on "safe," the firing pin spring is uncocked. In other words, the firing pin is not blocked as it is in conventional safeties. Even if the force that could drive the pin to the primer is released (i.e., if the trigger is pulled, or the sear breaks or the rifle is dropped, jarring the sear out of position), there simply is no stored energy in the system to fire the rifle.

In action, the rifle is loaded and the bolt closed, but the firing pin spring is not cocked. The "cocking" of the firing pin spring is accomplished by pushing forward on the cocking lever (much like cocking a hammer in reverse). The rifle is now ready to fire. If it is fired, and the bolt cycled, it will re-cock the firing pin spring and fire again, just like any other bolt action. The safety lever remains forward, and the spring is automatically cocked every time the bolt is lifted.

If the shooter wants his rifle back on "safe," he simply pushes the button on the receiver that releases the mainspring and returns the cocking-safety lever to the rear position. Now, even if the bolt is cycled, the firing pin spring stays in the uncocked position. Cartridges can be cycled through the rifle in total safety.

With this system, the rifle with function and can be carried safety in the field with a round in the chamber, making the working capacity of the rifle three rounds. This is enough for any modern hunting situation. In my opinion, if you haven't accomplished your task after three rounds, call the war off and try again tomorrow.

Coupled with the safety lever and button, there is a third button on the receiver that can be engaged or disengaged at will to lock the bolt down. Personally, I view this as the least functional part of the rifle. It does, however, serve to keep the bolt firmly locked in firing position, and it prevents it from being unwittingly lifted by brush, costing the hunter a shot. The bolt lock is manually engaged and disengaged, but if the rifle is fired when the bolt is locked, the recoil automatically unlocks the bolt for reloading.

We'll give the Ultimate a tick in the "safe" column as well. In fact, it may be a bit safer than many conventional bolt actions. However, don't let this sense of security breed an accident. The Ultimate should be carried out and used under the same laws of common sense and safety that apply to any other arm.

In the versatility category, the Ultimate really shines. As I said earlier, both barrels and bolts are interchangeable. This makes an entire range of calibers instantly available to the shooter in one rifle. The current chamberings include .243, .270, .308 and .30-06--all cartridges based on the .30-06 case head and bolt face. In the belted-magnum guise, choose from 7mm Rem. Mag., 300 Win. Mag., .338 Win. or the grand .375 Holland & Holland.

To change calibers with the same case head and length, you simply swap barrels. Changing to the belted magnums, you swap barrel, bolt head and magazine box (all without tools). Keep in mind, none of this requires a gunsmith or factory fitting. You can buy a rifle today in one caliber, and then stop by your dealer's shop or your hunting buddy's house and get the extra parts for another caliber and they'll fit your rifle. Couple this with instantly detachable scopes and factory-fitted iron sights on each barrel, and that's versatile!

Just imagine a set with a .243 and a 4-12X scope, a 7mm Mag. scoped in 2-7X, and a big .375 with a 1-4X and its iron sights. All game animals from chipmunks to elephants are in serious trouble! The scope mount bases on each barrel are identical, so you can change scopes from one barrel to another. The only change required is to sight the scope in for each particular barrel and cartridge. This feature is exceptionally handy in the event that Murphy's Law takes its toll on a scope.

Oh, by the way, just like most arms manufacturers, I almost forgot you south-paws--but rest assured that the Ultimate didn't. If you want a left-hand rifle, just order a left-hand bolt assembly on your rifle. No extra charge, muss or fuss. Want both left and right hand? Get one bolt each way--they interchange!

Okay, here we are, most of the way home in our search for the ultimate rifle. Our test rifle is certainly portable, safe, reliable and versatile; but now, the acid test. Could all of these magical attributes be found in a rifle that is capable of fine accuracy and shootability? By accuracy, I mean the rifle's ability to shoot small groups. Shootability is a word I use to describe the shooter's ability to apply that accuracy to the target (coupled with the arm's ability to put the first round at the same place) mile after mile, day after day.

In shooting, most things are compromises. Most of the time, a light takedown rifle with the Ultimate's portability and versatility would fail badly in the accuracy and shootability tests. The very best of these rifles that I have been before were marginal in accuracy and return-to-zero capability. As you'll see, the same is not true of the Ultimate rifles that came in the small case from the airport.

One was a highly-engraved custom display model that had its firing pin cut off to meet the requirements of the SHOT Show. It was a .270 with a 6X Zeiss scope. The other rifle was also a .270 (firing pin intact), with a 3.9X Leupold scope, but this one was a standard production rifle.

Both had 22-inch ultra-light sporter barrels and weighed in at under 7 pounds. Each was about 3 inches shorter than a conventional bolt rifle with the same barrel length. Of course, I had already begun to make excuses for their moderate accuracy. We sometimes read "...and this was most acceptable accuracy from a lightweight." The catchphrase is intended to make the 2 and 3-inch groups often printed by light sporters sound acceptable.

My return to the ranch was just before sunset, leaving little shooting time that day; but my curiosity wouldn't let me wait until tomorrow to fire the rifles. I took the plain rifle (hastily assembled), with its scope and some handloads of 130-grain Hornady spire-point bullets, to my front porch. From there, it is 110 yards to an 8-inch steel plate that hangs on my backstop just for occasions like this. I thought I would take a few offhand shots, not expecting many hits.

I loaded a single round, snuggled around they very comfortable Bavarian-styled stock, and settled the cross-hairs on the plate. I coaxed the unfamiliar trigger, not knowing what to expect. I was surprised to feel the trigger break like a glass rod at less than 3 pounds, and I was even more surprised to hear the solid "whang" of a center hit on the steel target. I quickly stuffed three more rounds into the little rifle, still thinking the initial hit was an accident. The next round was a hit that left the steel plate hanging with only its edge facing me--a target just about 1-1/2 inches wide. For this third shot my confidence was high enough to really try to make a hit. I gave the shot all I had and heard the bullet whack the edge of the plate over 100 yards away! I followed this with a quick fourth round (almost casually), aimed at the full target now facing me and knew it would hit. And, of course, it did.

Not bad performance for any rifle, but consider that the rifle that had just put on this show was working against extreme odds. It had been made and sighted in with 130-grain ammunition in Germany, taken apart, and flown to Georgia, where it was a star performer at the SHOT Show for three days. During the show, it was used to demonstrate its takedown ability to all who passed by. That is to say, its scope was removed and replaced, and its barrel was removed and replaced--at least 1,000 times. It was then cased and flown to Colorado where I picked it up.

I fired its first shots since it left Germany, and it hit a target less than half the size of the vital area on a mule deer. And it did this four times, offhand, at over 100 paces! I went to bed that night with visions of dancing sugarplums.

The next morning I assembled my benchrest gear to give the rifle a scientific test. With Federal Premium 130-grain spire-point boattail factory ammunition, the first three shots grouped just over 1/2 inch on center. The point of impact was just left of center and 2 inches high...almost benchrest accuracy at exactly the point of impact where the rifle was sighted in when it left Germany.

Several more groups with this, and the barrel from the other rifle proved that this wasn't accidental. Next, I sighted both barrels and their attendant scopes to the same impact point. Here, I wanted to see how both barrels and their scopes would perform in symphony. I also wanted to test the takedown/scope removal features' ability to return to zero.

I fired three shots with each barrel/scope combination, taking the scope off of the barrel and completely removing the barrel from the action between each shot. The results bordered on witchcraft. The six-shot group measured 1 inch wide by 1-1/4 inches high! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the rifle will shoot.

If you take this accuracy and couple it with an adjustable trigger of finest quality, a trigger that doubles as a single-set trigger (pushing the trigger forward puts it in the "set" mode, adjustable down to let-off weights measured in ounces), then you have a rifle that is very easy to hit with. House it in the smoothest action I have ever felt, and it gets special.

The action, with its 60 degree bolt lift, is incredibly smooth. The only action even remotely comparable is the old 1910 Mannlicher, but the Ultimate's is smoother. Words fail to describe it, but it is something like stroking the ears of a Labrador puppy. The locktime is very fast, and the stock feels good. The short light rifle is quick, with a lively balance.

Even after we total all of the Ultimate's qualities--match accuracy, superb trigger, smooth action and comfortable stock--its most important "shootable" quality may remain hidden. This is the fact that we can pursue all of our rifle challenges with one rifle, even though we use different cartridges. When we go on that once-in-a-lifetime brown bear hunt, or pursue that big trophy buck, wwe will have the same rifle in our hands that we used to shoot prairie dogs all summer. Yes, it will have a different barrel, but the stock dimensions, trigger pull and balance will be the same.

Absolute familiarity with one's rifle is possibly the most important factor in making that one all-important shot on a special hunt. The man who said, "beware of a man with only one gun," knew what he was talking about!

So there were have it, quite possibly...the ultimate rifle. Even though it sounds magical, it isn't the result of chance or magic. It is the product of science and high-tech machinery similar to that which engineered the space shuttle. These machines are driven by the hands and mind of Horst Blaser. The final design of the rifle was modified by other men like Gerhard Blenk (master guide, dedicated mountain sheep and red stag hunter and a champion Biathalon competitor). It is this combination of machinery and men who understand rifles that produced this highly practical rifle. The machines permit absolute precision--part to part, rifle to rifle...all the same.

The rifle can be taken down and reassembled, and it will still shoot accurately because the parts that allow the rifle to shoot well really don't come apart. The barrel, locking lugs and sights remain in one unit. The scope mounts are designed to be removed and replaced thousands of times. They are made of the finest heat-treated steel. The front mount is of proven dovetail/screw design, and the rear mount is a combination of a solid steel claw, powerful camming action and "V" grooves cut into the barrel. The rear mount is activated by a powerful but simple and unobtrusive wheel that is easily turned by finger power alone. As Gerhard Blenk said, "it works because we planned it that way."

Finally, the stock is only a "handle" to allow the shooter to hold and align the rifle. The two-piece design removes the tension between barrel and action that is found in normal rifles. The fore-end is attached to a hanger extending from the aluminum receiver, and it has no effect on the vibrations and accuracy of the barrel. The buttstock is held in place by a strong through-bolt, attached only to the rear of the aluminum receiver. Again, it is a handle and doesn't contact the parts that produce accuracy. With this design, beautiful wood can be used as stock material, and when it warps (as all wood stocks eventually do), it simply doesn't have any effect on the rifle's performance.

The Ultimate is a shooter's rifle--the product of shooting knowledge, design genius and space-age technology.

Possibly, the best part is that this isn't a terribly expensive toy, available only to counts and kings. The rifle retails for just over $1,000. An extra barrel costs under $300. Add another $200, and you can have game-scene engraving or the sheephunter model. The latter is a superlight .270 (without iron sights) that weights 6-1/2 pounds without scope. If you will write or phone Camex-Blaser U.S.A., Inc. (308 Leisure Lane, Victoria, TX 77904, (512) 578-1258), they can furnish you with the name of your nearest Ultimate dealer.

The latest technology to accompany the Ultimate design stems from America and Chet Brown of Brown Precision. Brown Precision specializes in superlight rifles and fiberglass stocks. They have tailored their skills around the Ultimate and made what might best be termed an "ultimate-Ultimate." By adding an American-style fiberglass stock and turning some weight from the barrel, brown has a scoped .270 weighting 6-1/4 pounds. This is a strong, accurate rifle, so compact and light that it will almost go unnoticed in a sheephunter's backpack. They are also planning a .375 that will weigh about 7-1/2 pounds. The barrels are finished in matte nickel and the stocks with wrinckled dark finish. With this custom conversion, you can enhance the Ultimate's qualities. The custom is lighter, stronger and rustproof. For the special Brown conversion, contact Brown Precision, Box 270W, Dept. GA, Los Molinos, CA 96055, or phone (916) 384-2506.

If this isn't the ultimate rifle, it comes very close. I suspect that if the Ultimate's qualities are surpassed, they will be topped by the efforts of its own inventor. I have already seen top-break single shots and double rifles that are revolutionary--again products of Blaser genius. I have a feeling that a mind like John Browning's is alive and well and living in Bavaria. The best may be yet to come. Right now, the Ultimate is good enough for me.... I'll use this until something better comes along.
COPYRIGHT 1985 InterMedia Outdoors, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:evaluation
Author:Seyfried, Ross
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:Aug 1, 1985
Words:3529
Previous Article:Beretta 92SB-F; military pistol.
Next Article:The single-shot rifle lives!
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