Beware of the Man With One Gun – The Scout Rifle Concept

(….who knows how to use it.) – Attributed variously to the likes of Jeff Cooper, Elmer Keith, etc.

As with any tool (or musical instrument, for that matter), people spend a great deal of creative energy trying to imagine the single, perfect, one-size-fits-all solution.  Of course, this is all very entertaining, even if there is no real-world solution.  Maybe we’re just multi-taskers at heart.

But…..if there was such a real world optimum solution, surely it would be the Scout Rifle, a concept more definitively attributed to Jeff Cooper.

A Few Words on the Scout Rifle Concept 

(from – the best one stop resource on the subject.)

Since one must take care with one’s speech it is appropriate that we address the issue of just what a “scout rifle” really is.

By the definition of the Scout Rifle Conferences held under the auspices of Jeff Cooper the scout rifle has been defined as a general purpose rifle suitable for taking targets of up to 400 kg (880 pounds) at ranges to the limit of the shooters visibility (nominally 300 meters) that meets the following criteria:

  • Weight-sighted and slung: 3 kilograms (6.6 lb). This has been set as the ideal weight but the maximum has been stated as being 3.5 kg (7.7 pounds ).
  • Length: 1 meter (39 inches)
  • Nominal barrel length: .48 meter (19 inches)
  • Sighting system: Typically a forward and low mounted (ahead of the action opening) long eye relief telescope of between 2x and 3x. Reserve iron sights desirable but not necessary. Iron sights of the ghost ring type, without a scope, also qualify, as does a low powered conventional position scope.
  • Action: Magazine fed bolt action. Detachable box magazine and/or stripper clip charging is desirable but not necessary.
  • Sling: Fast loop-up type, i.e. Ching or CW style.
  • Caliber: Nominally .308 Winchester (7.62 x 51 mm). Calibers such as 7 mm – 08 Remington (7 x 51 mm) or .243 Winchester (6 x 51 mm) being considered for frail individuals or where “military” calibers are proscribed.
  • Built-in bipod: Desirable but not mandatory.
  • Accuracy: Should be capable of shooting into 2 minutes of angle or less (4″) at 200 yards/meters (3 shot groups).

Rifles that do not meet all of these specifications are technically not “scout rifles.” Thus rifles of this general design in calibers other than those stated above are not true scout rifles but actually “pseudo-scouts.”

However, even though Steyr Mannlicher (and now Savage) are making production rifles of this general type (as well as some wild variations) they are under no legal obligation not to call their deviations “scouts” as a marketing tool.

Thus, the Steyr .376 Scout also known as (and probably better referred to as the “.376 Dragoon” although the factory dislikes the term) nor the .223 variation are true scout rifles. For that matter neither are the custom made scout-like rifles made up in .30-06, .375 H&H, or what ever caliber. However, there are many parts of the scout design that can be handily used on non-scout rifles.

All that considered, I’m inclined to think of the scout rifle as something akin to what most American deer hunters have been carrying for years, perhaps with one or two “tactical” improvements.  What do you get when take a simple, reliable, all purpose bush rifle (or carbine) and improve its accuracy, shave its weight, add useful sights or optics, etc.  Answer:  A better all purpose bush rifle.

Production Scouts

These are few and far between, really numbering only three (that I know of):  a) The original and very expensive Steyr Mannlicher Scout (as designed by Cooper himself), b) the more recent and more affordable Savage Scout, and c) the brand new Ruger Gunsite Scout.

Selling at roughly $2,100 without a scope (see picture above), the Steyr may only be suited for more well-healed purists.  For most of the rest of us, the Savage would serve nicely, within a fairly reasonable budget.  Priced new in the range of$750 without scope, this is a pretty good bargain.

This new offering – the Ruger Gunsite Scout – has some real potential.  Designed with assistance from Cooper’s Gunsite, this is based on Ruger’s solid M77 platform and has lots of great standard features at a suggested retail price of $995.  Worth a look.  Here’s one good review at The Truth  About Guns.

If you’re willing to color outside the box, of course, there are other production “alternatives”.  One of my favorites being the Springfield M1A Scout or th  e equally nice SOCOM 16.  No, with prices beginning at around $1,500 without scope, these aren’t all that cheap, but these “Cadillacs” will serve nicely if you don’t mind the extra weight.   I’ve been arguing with myself on this particular option for quite a while….maybe, maybe, maybe.

And, speaking of battle rifles, the AR or even FAL platforms – fitted out with appropriate mounting rails, are an easily converted, if still heavy-weight option.  Good Armalite AR-10 carbine versions can be had in the range of  $1,400 or so.  Naturally, if you’re willing to downsize the cartridge, a .223 or 6.8 SPC version can be accommodated on a normal (and much lighter) AR-15 platform.  Frankly, if you put a nice “reflex” sight on one of these, you’re pretty well “good to go” in my opinion.

The DIY Scout

This is really where the fun starts.  After all, if you’re going to play the “what single rifle would you take with you to a desert island” game, you might as well enjoy the all-too-American pleasure of making it a one of a kind solution.

You might start with online help, platform specific guides, or books such as “The Poor Man’s Scout Rifle”.   Naturally, there are a wide variety of resources available on the web.  Do a little research and develop your own point of view.  Here are a few of mine.

The Issues:

  • Weight:  In the field, extra weight is a real killer.  Of course, if you’re generally mounted, then weight doesn’t really matter that much, does it?  A heavier semi-auto might serve you well.  Don’t forget, though, weight applies to your ammo too….lead is heavy.  Want or need to carry more?  Consider downsizing the cartridge and, possibly, the platform at the same time.  Understand this:  Cooper’s classic solution optimizes weight and ballistic performance, not rate of fire or other issues.
  • Length: Carbines are really handy, but shorter barrels tend to produce lower muzzle energy as a function of shorter powder burn.  But, that’s not the only factor involved in accuracy.  Proper or optimum barrel length is a rather more complicated topic, as noted in this article.  Depending on your application…say long-distances in open country….a longer barrel may be appropriate.  For the rest of us, eighteen to twenty inches is probably going to be OK.
  • Cartridge:  As Cooper himself allowed, the .308 may well be the optimal cartridge, but a number of factors might “permit” alternatives.  Again, let your application be your guide.  Truthfully, I don’t see that much use for the .22 WRF scouts, but if your tactical concerns feature the “rabbit apocalypse”, don’t let me stop you.  As for the .223, I think that’s probably at the absolute minimum end of the scale, don’t you?  Sticking to a common cartridge makes a certain amount of sense, but higher performance compromises could include the .243, the 7mm-08, the 7.62×39, and others.  And, as for “shotgun scouts”, huh? What?  Get a tactical light and a ghost ring sight and call it good.  Geesh.
  • Optics:  For many, this is the whole iconic deal…the forward-mounted, extended eye relief scope.  They can work great for rapid target acquisition, but so do a variety of others, notably the holographic “reflex” style red-dot sites.  The military loves them, and so do I.  They provide great low-light assistance…without magnification however.  (See a good write-up on their application here.)  So, I ask you, “if you really need magnification, do you also really need the wider (both eyes open) field of view advantage of a forward mounted scout scope?”  Hmmm, good question, I think.  You do realize that the effective field of view (through the scope itself) is reduced, right?  (See this from Chuck Hawks.)  And, for the record, the “ghost ring” and high-vis front sight might be sufficient in of itself.   But, if you insist on the standard solution, fortunately, companies like Brownell’s now offer a very wide selection of mounting options.  Some will even allow use of standard pistol scopes, which typically require eye relief of at least 18 inches.
  • Bipod & Sling:  I say use whatever you want.  The bipod can be useful, no doubt, but is completely optional.  A sling, of course, is absolutely necessary, but use what you like.

A little internet searching will open up worlds of possibilities.  Here are a few of my favorites:

The “Lever Scout”

This is a pretty easy option for most, the Marlin 336 in .30-30, being among the most affordable and ubiquitous rifles in the country.  I’m about half-way there on a version for my wife….just need to set up the optics.  If you can, look for one with a “peep” sight already installed and then deal with the scope issue.  Really, even with the short-comings of the cartridge, this is a very affordable option. 


Another “Lever Scout”

What my wife really wants and, just maybe, will get some day.  This option has all sorts of advantages to lever-gun aficionados.  The BLR Lightweight comes in very nearly at the required recommended weight limits, is chambered in .308, has a detachable magazine, and can be had in a takedown version (I know!!).  Priced similarly to the Savage, this might well scratch your cowboy scout itch. 

The “Ranch Scout”

Nearly as ubiquitous as the Marlin 336, the Mini-14 Ranch rifle is an obvious option for many wanting to upgrade what’s already in the safe.  Now available in 6.8 SPC (along with the Mini-30 in 7.63×39), a little better ballistic performance can also be had in a very reliable and lightweight package.  There are lots of after-market accessories for these, including scout scope rails.  If I keep my mini, I’ll probably do this.


The “Surplus Scout”

Many, many, many “scouters” have gone this route with everything from old Mausers to 1917 Enfields.  Pick your poison, especially if you have an old “trunk gun” lying around and have a bit of gunsmithing skill.  This is an affordable way to go, but usually you’re going to miss widely on the weight limits.  You might as well consider other off-the-shelf options like the lightweight Remington Model 7 or another bolt-gun already in the closet.  I had, for a while, a real beauty built out of an old Remington 788 by a fellow from Olympic Arms…..a little heavy, but really nice.


25 responses to “Beware of the Man With One Gun – The Scout Rifle Concept

  1. The semi auto doesn’t meet the criteria of Jeff Cooper like the ar he called the m16 a poodle shooter a scout gun should be a bolt action

  2. “7.62 R is the ballistic equivalent to the 30-30 in almost every way.”
    not trying to get in an argument … but … not true.
    while bullet trajectory is similar with a 150 grain 30-30 bullet, the extra 30 grains of bullet weight over the typical 7.62×39
    round gives the 30-30 a large advantage.
    factory 30-30’s are loaded with 170 grain bullets as well, and the leverevolution ammo makes it even better ballistically.
    not to mention 30-30 rounds are handloaded in many more bullet weights.

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  4. Hi again after all this time. I took the plunge this year and built a Ruger Mini 14 and Mini 30 into full out Scout Rifles. I installed the Amega Scout mount and fully replaced the springs for Wolff extra power springs. I went through and removed a few edges internally and have Nikon P Series Monarch scopes with the GG&G scope mount. In addition, I am in process of selecting a pair of Nikon BDC Pistol Scopes for the true scout build.
    Looking forward to sighting in this spring. I have already learned that 10 round magazines are perfect for this build.
    After all components are in I will send an update if you wish. Sofar the reflex point ability and weight is blowing my AR away.

    • Hey Scott – Appreciate the update and happy to hear about your own Scout project. If I can get my own gunsmith motivated to get his Parkerizing tank ready, I’ve got my wife’s Marlin 336 Scout ready to finish. Keep us posted…send pics and a description of your project and I’ll review for publication, how’s that? – HT

  5. The scout concept of the forward mounted scope. While on a security job where my job was to document the happenings at the point of confrontation. The set was a guard and a camera man. With you eye glued to the viewfinder to get the best video the opposition would sneak in close with large stones, rubber filled with deer urine and many other nasty surprises. My guard was not good at his job of guiding me out of trouble while my eye was glued to the view finder of the camera, Several times I came very close to being surrounded and cut of from support members of the teem. Because I had my eye in the view finder I couldn’t see anything out side of the viewfinder. This left me dangerously exposed to the hostiles. I learned to control the camera while it was at my side rather than covering my field of view. The bell went off and I realized that by shooting with both eyes open you have a 180 degree field of view. So you could see a bad guy trying to flank you. I could switch between targets very fast and not depend on another person to watch everything I couldn’t see. This is real battlefield survival. So using the scout method BID system allowed me to not get blind sided but still get the camera shots that made the day. My partner and eye built Scout System guns with the help of Chief AJ. We had mini 14s in 556. We would have men working the moving targets one on each side of the valley. The targets were colored balloons set in the center of the tire. You would say pull and men from two different sides of the valley would roll tires toward you for left and right. If you scored they would immediately roll another tire with a balloon in the center until you missed more than you hit. Then we gave the guys rolling the tires paint ball guns so the could give us harassing fire while we tried to move and shot targets that bounced down at us without getting hit by paint balls. This was a fabulous exercise. By having the open area between the eye and the optic and both eyes open you could dodge shot from the paint ball guys while the would roll two or more tires with balloons in the center at us. So by leaving the optic out with both eyes open you could avoid stumbling over rock. stepping in wholes and still make regular hits while avoiding the paint ball snipers. If your eye is 2 and 1/2 inches away from the scope you can’t see the commotion going on beside you. This is the whole BID concept/

  6. The AR-15 LIGHT Scout concept based upon a Bushmaster Carbon 15 reciever is very viable. A scout length rail is easily purchased. In my case, I combined both a .556 upper and a 7.62R upper together for caliber flexibility and nowdays scarecity.I like the Nikon P22 Fixed 3 power BDC Reticle Scope for this purpose, and use it on both uppers. The scope is amasing, really. you can get the benefits of scout features because of it’s small size and rugged build, but still get BDC hits to 300 yards or more if youre a good shot. 7.62 R is the ballistic equivelant to the 30-30 in almost every way. One just has to accept the concept that the “Black Rifle” makes a decent hunter.
    On a Carbon 15 platform as mentioned above, I think Col. Cooper would chuckle a bit and say “Ya, its a scout rifle of sorts”.

    • Scott: I like it! I’ve actually considered doing something quite similar, should I add another AR to the collection. The Carbon 15 was/is a fascinating platform in any regard. The 7.62×39 round, as you say, does have a bit more viability as a hunting round, to be sure. I do like convertibility, but these days I’m inclined to (first) simplify and (second) go for depth of support (i.e. spares, ammo, etc.). If there’s one thing that the regulators should have taught us by now, is that they’re becoming more adaptive. We might learn a thing or two here as well. Thanks for your input. – HT

      • Hi, wanting to add a bit more info from my November 4 post. I am very happy with my 5.56/7.62×39 “light” scout. I origionally was going to go with the Nikon “Coyote/Predator” 3-9 riflescope because it is in a word perfect for a semiautomatic. I have the 4.5-14 x40 Coyote on a .308 specifically because it is a scope designed to hunt hunters. The main reason I changed my mind and am using the Nikon P223 3x32BDC on my “light” scout however is because it has the best weight/size/power ratio you can ask for. It weighs less than a pound, is 8″ long and although fixed 3 power has the BDC increments allowing for 600 yard shooting- if youre good eanough to hit. The main thing to consider is every single ounce of weight or mass counts against you in a scout rifle. This is the rifle you would take with you on a 30 mile ruck march if you had to, or the one youre going to use to bring home dinner-whyle youre already hungry. Therefore, at least the way I am enterpreting the Scout Rifle Concept- it needs to be light and sleek. With this philosophy of use, I would disdain the use of battery powered/red dot sights as well. (As an afterthought)

      • Hey Scott – Great to get a few more detail; I’m sure many will benefit. I agree completely that in Scouts generally (and more so for a “light Scout”) that weight is a major consideration. I’ll look into the Nikon. What’s your .308 platform, btw? – HT

      • Hi again, I actually have several .308’s. I have a Savage 10 in a dedicated Choate sniper stock, using a 5-20 Nikon Monarch, I have another Savage 10 in the Choate Varmint Stock scoped with a Nikon Buckmasters 4-16. Perfect for mountain game. The one I mentioned earlier is my Saiga .308. I put a Nikon 4.5-16 Coyote Scope on that because those russians are building 1 MOA Rifles patterned after the AK. It would make for a high quality Counter-Sniper or a semi auto anti- Hog rifle. In the south Hogs are tearing up the fields and ruining farmers crops to the point where some farmers are about to go bankrupt. Last- I have an AR 10T. That is my dedicated Bench Rest Heavy Hitter. I have hit Water Baloons set out to 1000 yards :). So, in order to fill the gap, I am building the perfect semi auto scout-Survival Rifle. If you like, one day I can list all the major parts used in building my Scout-Survival.

      • Shucks, I forgot to mention The scope on the AR10T is a Nikon Monarch 5-20. Lastly I also have a Savage Axis set up as a basic hunter. Out of the box the Savage Axis in .308 was shooting 4 MOA but with about 11 hours of work and bedding it back into it’s factory stock and now finally is 1 MOA as well. It is using a Nikon Buckmasters 4-16. Note that ALL my scopes have BDC.

  7. I like the “Lever Scout.” What specifications is it? Any upgrades? Thanks.

    • Sean: I like them too. There are no specific “specs”, per se, other than Cooper’s (or yours, for that matter). Depending on your preferences, you should feel free to optimize your own according to need, budget, etc. If the forward mounted scout-scope is a big deal to you, consider a mount such as this one at MidwayUSA (though it seems to be out of stock at the moment). Optics can be a significant part of the “equation”, but also consider issues such as barrel length, back-up (or primary) iron sights, adding a lighter-weight composite stock, sling, etc. What’s particularly great about the “lever-scout” is that it can be among the easiest to design yourself. Good luck. – HT

      • Hey Harry, why no posts on ARL since 01/2013? Some folks over at Navy’s have been wondering where you’ve been….everything okay? Tanks

      • Hey, what can I say…that I haven’t already said, I mean. Appreciate the question though. – HT

        PS – More might be coming, I haven’t decided.

    • Hi Sean, after reading your comment I decided to do a bit of research. I found you a decent web site to get you started in building a Lever-Scout, and the scopes to do it. I can’t attest to these people’s quality- however they seem to have exactly what you want one stop shopping. they are
      Hope that helps you, but like I said I never bought anything from them, however the pic of the Ruger Ranch Scout above in this very article is their work so I would be comfortable ordering from them.

  8. Love the 336

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  10. The first “gun” you show has 19″ barrel on it. I have seen BB guns with a longer barrel than that. What you show isn’t a gun, it’s a toy.

    • I see you intend to live up to your moniker there Torch. OK, that’s your opinion. Mine would place me well outside and away from the business end of your “toy”. Please note the referenced article on the ballistic influences of barrel length and come try again. Thanks. HT

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