The Scout Rifle: Gun Test

Jeff Cooper shooting a Scout rifle. photo courtesy of Gunsite Academy

If there is such a thing as a Renaissance man in the world of shooting, Jeff Cooper qualified. He was instrumental in starting the sport of action pistol shooting, which lives on today with USPSA and IPSC competitions all over the world. Cooper also developed and taught the Modern Technique of pistol shooting, which changed how we shoot defensive handguns, and is the foundation for most of the techniques used in pistol shooting today. He was a hard-core big game hunter with worldwide experience. He founded Gunsite Academy, one of the top firearms training centers in the world. And Cooper was a prolific writer who authored several books on guns, shooting, and self-defense.

An additional Cooper legacy is the continuing popularity of the Scout Rifle, which he first began to develop in 1968. He wrote about the idea behind the rifle design in his book The Art of The Rifle.

“Back in my high school days, the scouting and patrolling manual in the R.O.T.C battalion stated as follows: ‘The scout is a man trained in ground and cover movement from cover to cover, rifle marksmanship, map reading observation, and accurately reporting the results of his observation…The scout, therefore, was a man by himself or possibly with one companion. He was not supposed to get into fights, but if he could not avoid contact, he was expected to shoot quickly, accurately, and hard. His weapon, therefore, should be somewhat more specialized than that of the line soldier.”

Cooper recognized that the needs of a scout are different than a typical military man, and that the Scout Rifle was for solving problems, not fighting battles.

Cooper thought the Winchester Model 94 lever-action rifle and the Mannlicher 1903 Carbine bolt-action both had attributes useful for this idea. However, in 1968, Cooper became intrigued with the short and lightweight Remington Model 600 Carbine in .308 Winchester. After using it on a couple of backcountry trips in Central America, he thought it would make a good basis for the Scout Rifle concept: A bolt-action carbine chambered in 30-caliber, less than one meter in length, and less than three kilograms in weight. The gun is fitted with iron sights, a forward mounted optic and a practical sling. The idea was to have a short, lightweight, accurate rifle that allowed for fast handling, aiming, and reloading.

From left: The Savage Model 11 Scout Rifle with a Weaver fixed 4X Scout Scope, the Steyr Scout with a Burris fixed power 2.75X Scout scope, and a Ruger Gunsite Scout with a Leupold VX•R 1.5-5X x 33mm Scout FireDot scope.

For “crossover” use—when a rifle is used for defense as well as hunting—the Scout Rifle makes a lot of sense. As Cooper wrote, “The best weapon for the military scout may also be the best weapon for the private citizen stalking the deer.”

There are currently four production-grade Scout Rifles that I am aware of being manufactured and sold today:

Steyr made the first commercial Scout Rifle and worked with Cooper on the design. It is the only Scout Rifle made today that had Cooper’s hand on the tiller as it was designed, and the only Scout Rifle with his stamp of approval. That’s not to say Cooper would not approve of the others—he likely would—but this is the only rifle introduced with his blessing while he was still alive.

Ruger designed its Scout Rifle in conjunction with Gunsite Academy, but years after Cooper had passed away. Savage and Mossberg both have more recently introduced versions of the Scout Rifle.

I have experience with all but the Mossberg, and my analysis of the three follow. Some notes:

All of the Scout rifles I have are chambered in .308 Winchester. This was by far Cooper’s choice. He distained the 5.56 and allowed that a 7mm-08 might be ok. He did like the .350 Remington Magnum, but no manufacturers offer that chambering.

I have not done a formal accuracy test with these guns, so I can’t really comment on their accuracy other than to say that in the shooting I have done—zeroing, running drills, etc.— they are all good shooters.

Here’s my analysis:

Steyr Scout

Steyr Scout Rifle.

The Steyr Scout was the first commercial Scout Rifle. As noted earlier, it was developed by Steyr Mannlicher of Austria in conjunction with Jeff Cooper, and introduced in 1998. It's a bit different design than most Americans are used to seeing in a rifle, but is innovative and features European style engineering.

It’s available in .308 Winchester, which is a common chambering for Scout rifles, as well as .223 Remington, .243 Winchester, and 7mm-08 Remington. The gun has a 5-round removable box magazine with a “magazine in reserve” setting for manual loading. You will hear a double click when inserting the magazine fully into the magazine well. If you push the magazine into the rifle until the first click, the mag is held in place but will not feed ammo into the gun. This is, in effect, a magazine cut-off. This allows you to single-load ammo while maintaining a full magazine, if you want to use a different specialty round or if you are in a situation in which you have time to single-load the rifle while keeping the full magazine ready in case the situation deteriorates or changes. There is a second magazine stored in the butt of the rifle, where it is easily accessed.

The gun is lightweight, 6.6 pounds, due to the aluminum receiver and the polymer stock. It has a 19-inch, hammer forged, fluted barrel. There is a Weaver style rail integral to the rifle for mounting optics, either conventionally or in the forward “Scout” position. There is a UIT (Anschutz) rail on the bottom. Overall length is 39.4 inches.

The unique roller tang safety locks the bolt shut in the safe position. It also has a mid-way position that allows the bolt to open while on safe, or fully forward in the fire position.

The two-stage trigger is user-adjustable. Mine is factory set for a total pull weight of 3 pounds, 10 ounces. The first stage is 14 ounces. There are back up, flip-up sights. The rear is a ghost ring and is adjustable for elevation. The front post is adjustable for windage.

One unique feature of this rifle is the integral folding bipod. The legs are cleverly hidden in the stock, but pushing a button on the bottom releases them. There are three points of attachment for a sling, the third being for the Ching sling. I have the Burris fixed power 2.75 Scout scope on mine.

The slick action of the Steyr scout combined with its light weight makes it feel alive in the shooter’s hands. MSRP: $1,499.

Ruger Gunsite Scout

Ruger Gunsite Scout Rifle.

Ruger introduced their Gunsite Scout, based on their Model 77 action and developed in cooperation with Gunsite Training Center, in 2011. It's available in .308, and 5.56 NATO/.223 Remington. Mine has a matte stainless steel finish with a black, wood-laminate stock. This gun has an 18.7-inch barrel. With the removable flash hider installed it's 40 inches long. It weighs 7.3 pounds. Ordering the Ruger Scout Rifle with a synthetic stock and a 16.1-inch barrel cuts weight by about a pound, to 6.25 pounds. The extra weight on my gun is an asset when shooting, because it aids in reducing felt recoil, but in truth if I had it to do over I would do as Cooper suggested and go for the lighter weight.

The receiver is a typical M77 with a three-position safety. The single-stage trigger is clean and crisp and breaks at 4 pounds, 14 ounces on my rifle.

The forward-mounted Picatinny rail allows mounting of Scout-style scopes. I have a Leupold VX•R 1.5-5x33mm Scout FireDot scope mounted in Leupold quick-detach rings on mine. This big, bright 30mm tube scope has a huge eyebox, which is important in a Scout scope because it allows for quick target acquisition. The FireDot illuminated center dot is visible in daylight and is intensity adjustable. This dot draws your eye to the center of the scope and provides a positive aiming point.

The Ruger M77 receiver has integral scope mounting locations for conventionally mounting a scope. My gun came with scope rings for that mounting option as well as the forward scout position.

The rifle comes with a 10-round, detachable box magazine with a release just forward of the trigger guard.

There is a soft rubber recoil pad with three half-inch spacers that will allow adjusting the length of pull. There are back-up sights, with an adjustable ghost ring and a protected, ramp front sight. The action has a controlled-round feed extractor.

The weight of the Ruger Scout helps control Recoil for faster re-acquisition of the target for follow up shots. Like all Ruger guns, the Scout is well built and should prove to be very dependable during years of hard use. MSRP: $1,139-$1,199.

Savage Model 11 Scout Rifle

Savage Model 11 Scout rifle.

In 2015 Savage introduced the Model 11 Scout. It's a .308 Winchester and built on their famous 110-style action. This gun has an 18-inch barrel with another 2.5 inches of removable muzzle brake. A muzzle brake will reduce muzzle flip and recoil, allowing fast follow up shots. It's great at the range, where you are always wearing hearing protection, but it's loud.

The stock on the Savage is injection-molded synthetic in a tan color they call “natural.” The stock has three sling attachment locations, per Cooper’s design; front and rear with a center attachment for a Ching sling. There is an adjustable comb on the stock to adjust for the best cheek weld, depending on the sighting system used. The length of pull is also adjustable, with spacers between the stock and the one-inch black, recoil pad.

The rifle comes with a detachable, double-stack, 10-shot magazine. There is a fully adjustable Williams peep-style rear sight and a protected, blade-style front sight. The gun comes with a rail that is mounted forward so it bridges the barrel and action, attaching to both. My gun is fitted with a Weaver fixed 4X Scout Scope.

Like most new Savage rifles, the Scout has the user-adjustable AccuTrigger. Mine breaks sharp and clean at 2.75 pounds, which makes it the best trigger on any Scout rifle I have tried.

The bolt has a large, oversized handle that’s a big asset if you’re wearing gloves or want to run the gun fast. The safety is tang-mounted, three-position and it does lock the bolt closed when it’s on. The gun is a bit heavy at 7.8 pounds, at least if we use Cooper’s guidelines of three kilograms, or 6.6 pounds. The overall length is 40.5 inches, which also goes over his one-meter length guideline by a bit more than an inch. If the brake is removed, the length is within Cooper’s specs.

The excellent trigger on the Savage Scout allows more precision for longer shots, while still being very fast for the close work.

The Savage Model 11 Scout rifle is priced lower than any of the three Scout rifles I have tried. Time will tell, but Savage rifles are tough and durable. This gun represents a great value in a Scout rifle. MSRP: $818.