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 SteyrScout.org – 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.

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