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The Blaser S2 Safari

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My first impression of the S2: that rifle fits me very well! To test this I usually close my eyes and then point the rifle at some target. If I then open the eyes and the sights are properly aligned at the target, I know the gun fits me. The gun is big and heavy but well balanced with the weight right between the hands. The S2 comes up to shoulder like a dream – an impression everybody I had I let handle the rifle. And the weight helps to reduce the recoil, of course. Being heavy it also provides a very stable shooting platform if you shoot it offhand.

My S2 has a very nice crisp trigger pull adjusted to about 3 pounds (front trigger) respectively 4 pounds (rear trigger).

The S2 Safari allows the usual Blaser scope mount. And since I own a lot of scopes with Blaser mounts this means that theoretically I could use any of those for the double. Practical considerations, however, limits this to my Leopold’s 1.5 – 5 x 20 because only they have a long enough eye relief.

The open sights are excellent. They are the best I have ever seen on a big game rifle.

Since buying the gun I’ve shot several hundred rounds with the .470 NE. The gun doubled not once and there were no other problems whatsoever.

Basic facts

  • available in calibres .375 H&H, .500/.416 NE, .470 NE, 500 NE

  • weight (my .470 NE) 5.3 kg (= 11.7 pounds)

  • barrel length 62 cm (24.4 inches)

  • overall length 105 cm (41.3 inches)

  • price here in Germany for my "deluxe" model is 6656 €, standard model: 6072 € (published by Fankonia and Triebel, July 2010)

  • straight British type stock

  • Blaser kickstop. That is a kind of pipe filled with tungsten granulate imbedded in the stock that counteracts recoil)

  • Gun has no ejectors.

  • Free Floating Barrels

    The barrels of the Blaser S2 are kept like insert barrels in two outer barrels. These outer barrels are held at the muzzle by a kind of double interconnected "O" – rings a feature that gives the double rifle a somewhat unusual look. The inner barrels are free floating and can expand independently from each other. This means that if the rifle heats up from shooting the barrels are not bending sideways as they do in a conventional DR. Sighting in a conventional DR can be very annoying and time consuming process. You have to wait until the barrels have cooled enough to continue shooting. With the S2 you can just go on shooting and it doesn’t matter in which sequence you shoot the barrels. Due to the free floating barrels concept you do not have to observe any specific time interval between the shooting of the two barrels. It is also irrelevant whether you shoot the right or the left barrel first.

    Blaser’s S2 has no ejectors

    In my eyes this is no shortcoming. Please read Taylor’s or Boddingtons comments on this topic. I tend to agree to their opinion that you don’t need ejectors.

    Tilting block lock

    The tilting block locking system was invented in the early years of the last century by Jäger, a gun maker working in the famous gun making town of Suhl. It is immensely strong and locks directly into the barrel(s). During the years it was used on and off by several German and Austrian gun makers. British gun makers never copied it, I don’t know why. Perhaps it was the "NIH" (Not Invented Here) syndrome. It might also have been a question of license fees because Jäger certainly took out a patent on his invention. In 1986 Blaser revived the tilting block lock, using it in their famous K77 UL ("Ultralight") break open single shot rifle. From then on it has been a design feature of Blaser rifles, single shot, combination, drillings and doubles.

    As mentioned before it is one of the strongest DR locks. The .470 NE develops a maximum pressure of 2700 bar (ca. 39200 psi). Lutz Moeller reports on his website that Scheiring from Ferlach built a break open single shot tilting block rifle in cal. .300" Pegasus. Due to a loading error this rifle was fired with a .300 Pegasus cartridge that developed ca 6000 bar (87,000 psi). Result was quite a loud boom, but the rifle survived this without any problems. You might therefore assume that with the Blaser S2 there should be no problems with "hot" loads. But even in a rifle with a tilting block lock, you would be well advised NOT to use overloads!

    Aside from the fact that any load going beyond max pressure is unsafe, you might get extraction problems. Even should the lock of your DR take the overpressure, your cartridge cases might stick to the chamber. This would slow down reloading and that could be fatal during a big game hunt.

    Keeping the pressure within the barrel/tilting block is one of the main advantages of this locking system compared with any other DR lock. Conventional DR’s are kept close by the under barrel lugs. There is usually an additional device to resist the barrels tendency to pull away from the standing breech when firing. This could be a "dolls head" or a "Greener" cross bolt passing traversally behind the standing breech and through a matching hole in the rib extension. This conventional kind of design is much more pressure sensitive. Each firing of the rifle pushes the barrels away form the breeches face. Therefore there is an inherent tendency of conventional DR’s to "shoot loose" and to "come off the face" of the breech - depending of the quality of steels used, the quality of workmanship and the frequency of use, of course.

    With the Blaser tilting block design the forces of the pressure is kept within the barrel/tilting block system. There is only the force of the recoil and it pushes the barrels plus tilting block against the standing breech not away from it.

    To further explain the implications of the tilting block lock: you could take the barrels out off the rifle, put cartridges into the barrels, fit the tilting block onto the barrels. Now, holding the barrel plus tilting block in your hand - you could hit the firing pins with a hammer and fire the cartridges. That is certainly not something I would advise you to do because the recoil would certainly rip the barrels violently out off your hand! I mention this only to explain that even under this condition the cartridges explosion would be contained within the barrel - tilting block system. The tilting block would not be ripped out off the barrel just because the action is not closed.

    I am often asked: "Does the barrel overhang hinder a fast reloading?" My experience is: no, absolutely not! Funny thing is: when I was using double rifles of conventional design nobody ever inquired whether the dolls head or the rib extensions of a Greener lock hindered reloading!

    Reloading Double Rifles

    This is a good opportunity to talk about reloading double rifles. Sometime ago I saw a video issued from a German hunting magazines. The topic was "Big Game Hunting". It showed a sequence where a hunter shot an elephant. With his first shot he tried a brain shot. That, however, had not the intended effect. The elephant turned and ran away. He was then able to anchor the elephant with his second shot, a hipshot. Now he had to reload, because the elephant was not down yet. He opened his double rifle (a non ejector) picked the empty cases out one after the other and then started to scrabble around in the pocket of his hunting jacket for new cartridges. After sometime time he was able to locate them and to inserted them into his rifle. This reloading sequence is interesting because the hunter did almost everything wrong. He was lucky that the elephant did not turn around and attacked him.

    Reloading a double rifle goes in two steps. Step one is getting rid of the empty cases. This is easy if you have an ejector rifle. Opening the rifle the ejector catapults them out off the rifle. The Blaser is a non ejector. You don’t have to pick the empties out - just lift the barrels after opening about 45 degrees and the cases will drop out of the barrel.

    Step two is inserting new cartridges. Do not carry your cartridges in your pockets or in a cartridge holder that is closed with a flap. This slows down the reloading process considerably. Instead carry them in a cartridge belt or a cartridge holder in your front where you can easily grip two cartridges side by side ready to insert them into the rifle.

    The magic recipe here is to experiment with cartridge holders or cartridge belts to find the one that fits you best. The other "secret" is training. If you fire your double only a few times each year do not expect to be a fast reloader. To build up your reloading speed you have to repeat the act using dummy cartridges until a muscle memory develops that allows you to do it automatically.

    The Blaser’s S2 manual cocking system

    Both barrels are cocked by pushing the cocking device forward that sits on the top of the receiver. This means that you can safely carry the DR uncocked with cartridges in both barrels. If the rifle is opened, both locks are automatically uncocked.

    This is a very useful feature because this way you are always positive about the state of the rifle. Load the gun and close it and it is NOT cocked and on safe. By the way: cocking the action is completely noiseless.

    "Black velvet" barrel finish.

    The S2 shares this feature with other Blaser guns. This finish is very corrosion resistant. I have used Blaser guns since about 15 years. Here in Germany I hunt in all kind of adverse weather. Many times I go out in rain or snow. Coming back home from a hunt late in the night usually I just put the gun away. Next morning I wipe down barrel and lock and apply some gun oil.

    I have to confess that due to business pressures I sometimes forgot to do this. But even with this somewhat negligent way to take care of my guns I never had the least bit of rust on any of my Blasers. The black velvet finish also has the advantage of not being light reflecting. That is an important feature for any African hunt. One of the most stupid Big Game rifle designs I ever saw was a gun that came with a highly polished stainless steel barrel and action. This may look very pleasing to the eye, but using such a gun in the bush is like carrying a lighted signal wand around, advertising your presence to the game.

    How does the Blaser Safari DR shoot?

    When I started testing the S2 the immediate result was that the two barrels didn’t group together, but each barrel for itself produced very thigh groups. I was told that it would not be possible for my local gunsmith to regulate the gun and that it had to go back to the Blaser factory at Isny. There it was regulated for Wolfgang Rommey ammunition with 500 grains Woodleigh soft nose bullets. The regulating was done by exchanging the double "O" – rings which keep the barrels together in such a way that a thigh group was achieved.

    After regulating the rifle Blaser sent it back to me. It came with a test fire report (please see below)

    The size of the test-group is 1.2 inches – at 100 m (109 yards) – that is almost minute of an angle precision! Boddington in his book Safari Rifles I (1990) mentions on page 167 that two shots with a DR into two inches are "exceptional" and four inches are "acceptable accuracy". Compared to this the Blasers regulation is sensational. However I decided to even improve on this result!

    My objective was to develop my own ammunition and to find an optimal load. Starting point were loading data published by DEVA ("Deutsche Versuchs- und Prüf-Anstalt für Jagd- und Sportwaffen" = the German test-center for sport- and hunting guns). They published the following load:

    Woodleigh 500 grains SN bullets with 113.0 grains of N 160 (Vithavuori) powder with a muzzle velocity of 2238 fps.

    The advice of Graeme Wright from his book "Shooting the British Double Rifle" turned out to be very helpful. Graeme Wright points out that the center of gravity of a double rifle is lower than the barrels. "Hence … the effect is that each individual barrel will move away from the other barrel and upwards. The right barrel moves upward and to the right and vice versa. When a cartridge is fired the bullet starts to move in the barrel and at the same time the barrel starts to move in recoil" (Graeme Wright, page 80)

    "For the hand loader this knowledge can be used to adjust the ammunition for a particular rifle … if a bullet is going too slow (right barrel) it will stay in the barrel too long and receive too much upwards and right movement and therefore should land high and right to the aiming mark." Conversely if the bullet goes to fast it will not stay long enough in the barrel and will impact below and to the left of the aiming mark. So by changing the amount of powder it is possible to change the point where the bullet lands on the target: if you increase the velocity the impact points of the barrels move together.

    If you go on increasing the velocity the barrels "cross each other" i.e. the left barrel hits to the right of the right barrel. Graeme Wright warns that this process may not always work as described but with my Blaser S2 double rifle it worked beautifully (see below)

    For my test loads I used Vithavuori N 160 powder, Federal 215 primers and Woodleigh 500 grains roundnose bullets. Distance was 100 meters (109 yards). Scope was a Leupold Vari XIII (1.5 – 5 x 20) set at five times magnification. I started with a load of 112.0 grains N 160. With this load the right barrel produced a tight group to the right of where the left barrels shot. Diameter of both groups taken together was 5 inches.

    My next load was 112.2 grains of N 160. Now the left barrel printed to the right of the right barrel. In other words the barrels "crossed over". According to Graeme Wright the ammunition was to fast. So I reduced the load to 112.1 grains – and bingo, both barrel shot perfectly together. (See picture). (Scale on the left side is in centimetre, 1 cm = .39 inches) L1 and R1 are the results of the first two shots from the left and right barrel, L2 and R2 are third and fourth shot immediately after L1 and R1.

    One week later I tried this load again; and the results were sensational! However, one word of caution: since double rifles can act very temperamentally we have to assume that other S2 with this load may not shoot equally well. If you would use a scope that is not so heavy like the Leupold or heaver than it, the S2 might react differently. So I suspect that each S2 owner has to find an optimal load for himself using the same procedure that I employed. This should be no problem for hand loaders – but if you use factory ammo you have to take what they sell. Perhaps one of the professional hand loaders could help you.

    With such precision there should be no problem to use the S2 on plainsgame on distances up to 150 yards. So it seems that Blaser is quite right when claiming on their website that S2 can be used on a "single rifle safari". In other words when you are hunting with the S2 for big game you don’t have to take a second plainsgame rifle along. (However I do admit that using a .470 NE on a klipspringer might be a little extreme…)

    The intrepid Hans J. Wild is 74 years old and has been involved in the IT industry for 40 years. He is a veteran safari hunter and has been on 12 African safaris so far including safaris to Zimbabwe and Namibia. He plans to continue his safari career this year…

    The above mentioned optimal load is not too hot: the spent cartridge cases just fall out off the barrel. When I increased to loads to DEVA published maximum of 113.0 grains N 160 the cases were extracted but did not always easily fall out of the barrels chambers.

    The final step.

    The final step of a "Dangerous Game Rifle" test is to take the gun to Africa and try it out on big game. But this is another story – to be told in future.

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    •  •

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