Crimson Trace

February 17, 2017

Guest Feature: The Scout Rifle

The Scout Rifle Study is a free-access, on-line, web-based book. It covers the history of the Scout Rifle and its place in the 21st Century. You can register for free access here: Scout Rifle Study.
Owning only one rifle does not appeal to Americans. In some European countries government restrictions make it more common. This is why drillings and vierlings - rifle and shotgun combination guns with multiple barrels - are popular there. In the United States we can own multiple rifles specialized for specific tasks. This is appealing but so is owning a single rifle you can do anything with.

Former Marine and Gunsite Academy founder Jeff Cooper began experimenting with carbines in the mid 60s. This led to his conceptualized solution to the one rifle question. Cooper's Scout Rifle concept is most often looked at as a set of ridged specifications regulating the physical makeup of the firearm. What's often overlooked is the practical application and friendliness of the rifle Cooper was trying to create.

In the early 80s Cooper held conferences with riflemen and others he respected to put forth the criteria of the Scout Rifle. This was a concept Cooper formulated around the notion of a rifle to best suit a man working alone in the wild, while operating as a military scout, hunter, or both. Though Cooper massaged the specifications over time, they might best be represented by these 10 elements.

The Steyr Scout Rifle was designed with input from Jeff Cooper. It is the longest running commercially produced Scout Rifle.
1. Compact bolt-action rifle chambered for 308 Winchester.
2. Barrel of 19 inches or less.
3. Length of 39 inches or less.
4. Forward mounted, low powered, long eye relief optical sight.
5. Reserve ghost ring sights.
6. Ching or C.W. shooting sling, with hammerhead recessed attachments.
7. Good trigger.
8. Maximum unloaded weight of seven pounds, with accessories attached.
9. Integrated bipod. (optional)
10. Mechanism for storing extra magazine or ammunition on the rifle. (optional)

Incidentally and unfortunately, this list has become the only guide for assembling a Scout Rifle. Cooper's definition went far beyond elemental makeup; he wanted a rifle that was "friendly" and stipulated its most outstanding characteristic as "handiness." He wanted a rifle ideally adapted to the snap shot that still provided two MOA or better precision at any reasonable shooting distance. Cooper wanted a "general-purpose" rifle. Cooper also wanted a major manufacturer to mass-produce his conceptualized carbine and in 1990 Steyr Mannlicher showed interest. Seven years later the Steyr Scout Rifle became a reality.

Others creating Scout Rifles now do so without Cooper's input. The result is that they overlook the importance of his "friendliness" requirement. This focused on the interface between the shooter and the rifle, and is partly achieved with a butt stock having an adjustable length of pull. The other aspect of friendless Cooper desired dealt with the stock's comb. The center of Steyr Scout Rifle's comb is very high, only a fraction of an inch below the centerline of the bore. Additionally, the comb does not drop from nose to heel, it rises.

This might seem counter to conventional wisdom but Melvin Forbes of New Ultra Light Arms pioneered this concept in 1983 with his model 20 lightweight rifles. (Incidentally, Forbes stocked a prototype Scout Rifle for Cooper in 1987.) With a comb configured in that fashion, it allows the shooter to establish a solid check weld, while being able to see through the optical sight. Just as important, during recoil the shooter's cheek slides forward and down the comb. With a conventional rifle stock the crest of the comb is driven into the shooter's cheek and the drop prevents the cheek from experiencing a comfortable interface.

Is the Scout Rifle the ideal general-purpose rifle? Is it the only rifle you really need? One configured properly, like the Steyr Scout rifle just might be. Keep in mind, the Scout Rifle – as Cooper envisioned it – was never intended to be the ideal whitetail, elk, coyote, or safari rifle. Cooper was searching for one rifle that could do all things exceptionally well, while still having serviceable utility for personal defense or in a limited military role.

Today the Scout Rifle is more popular than ever. In addition to the Steyr, Mossberg, and Savage offer their renditions and the Ruger Gunsite Scout Rifle is one of the company's best selling long guns. Various custom builders like Jim Brockman, Dove's Guns, and Granite Mountain Tactical also offer custom scout-like rifles. But the Scout Rifle remains as misunderstood as it is popular. This is the primary reason The Scout Rifle Study was written and published in a free access, web-book format.

In the age of the AR, many will scoff at the idea a bolt-action rifle can be the ideal one-rifle solution. To keep things in perspective, you must realize the Scout Rifle was never intended as a weapon for a fire team; it was to be a rifle for one man, operating alone, in a hunting or scouting capacity. This means light weight and ruggedness are paramount. And, in today's world this means legal ownership cannot be overlooked. There are some locations where ARs are prohibited and you cannot take one to Africa.

When considering one rifle for the world, the Scout Rifle reins supreme. It has finally become, as Cooper predicted, the rifle of the 21st Century. Ironically, those who own or are interested in Scout Rifles are primarily die-hard gun folk. Surveys show Scout Rifle enthusiasts own 10 or more firearms and purchase firearms at a rate of about two per year. Maybe what this tells us is that serious shooters, shoot Scout Rifles.

-- Richard Mann