Some guns are instant successes. Others require years for their wonderfulness to percolate down to the shooting public. And so it has been with the scout rifle, the brainchild of Jeff Cooper, a hugely influential writer, instructor, Marine Corps officer, and all-around shooter and hunter. Before 2011, there was only one factory-made scout rifle. Since then, Cooper’s idea of the perfect all-around rifle has caught fire, and there are now at least five.
He used the term scout to evoke a lone soldier who had to move rapidly and shoot only rarely, but accurately. This was a rifle for him—but also for the hunter who wanted one gun to do many jobs. Cooper began work on the concept roughly in 1980, and the specs he eventually came up with are these:
A bolt action in .308, or if that was not feasible for some reason, 7mm/08.
- Feeds from a 10-round detachable magazine.
- Weighs about 7 pounds without scope.
- Employs a ghost-ring rear peep sight and a blade front, either as primary sights or as backup.
- Optional scope is a fixed-power IER model of low magnification mounted on a Picatinny rail.
- Barrel length is between 16 and 20 inches.
- Trigger pull is roughly 21⁄2 pounds.
- Accuracy of 1⁄12 to 2 inches at 100 yards.
- Not to be used to hunt critters of more than 1,000 pounds, or dangerous game, or at ranges longer than 400 yards.
Given the new popularity of Cooper’s design, my editors issued me a challenge: Get your hands on as many scouts as you can, they said, to find out which are the best. So I have done. (Or tried to; one test rifle came without a firing pin.) After handling and/or shooting the current crop, I concluded that today’s best scout rifles are not the latest offerings but the earliest.
Cooper had a number of rifles custom-built to his formula, but he could not interest a manufacturer until the mid 1990s, when Steyr, in Austria, saw the possibilities. They collaborated, and in 1997 the company rolled out the original Steyr Scout Rifle. It’s ironic that Cooper, who was the most conservative of men as far as firearms design went, had a major hand in creating one of the most radical factory rifles ever built.
Like most truly good designs, the Steyr Scout has hardly been changed at all since its introduction. The fold-down integral bipod has been strengthened, but that’s about it. The highly ergonomic polymer stock comes in a choice of four colors and houses a spare five-round magazine in the butt. A lengthy extension incorporated into the receiver has milled grooves that will take Picatinny or Weaver rings, and concealed within it are ingenious fold-down, rear-ghost-ring and front-blade sights. The 19-inch barrel peeks shyly out of the receiver extension. The bolt, which has four lugs and a great big tactical knob, glides back and forth with sinister smoothness.
On my test rifle, the trigger broke at 31⁄4 pounds and was adequate. I have, however, shot Steyr Scouts that had terrific triggers, so this could probably be blamed on the crummy gun writer’s samples that I seem to get. Overall weight is 6.6 pounds, but it feels lighter, and the gun comes in .223, .243, 7mm/08, and .308. A 10-round magazine and adapter kit are available.
I shot the Steyr Scout with government-issue M118 7.62 sniper ammo, Federal Gold Medal 168- and 175-grain commercial loadings, and Federal Vital-Shok with 165-grain Sierra GameKing bullets. The rifle was so accurate that I’m afraid to put down the group sizes. I shot the kind of spreads you get from a very good heavy-barreled .308 match rifle.
The price, right now, is $1,499, and I can tell you that if they made it left-handed, Steyr would have a check from me for that amount.
The company that has gotten my money, because it does make a left-handed version, is Sturm, Ruger. Its Scout debuted in 2011 and is called the Gunsite Scout because it was designed in collaboration with the staff at Gunsite Academy, which Jeff Cooper founded. (I’m told by the folks at Ruger that when it came out, sales for the rifle simply exploded, and it has proved so popular that there are now no fewer than 11 variants.)
You can get a Gunsite Scout in all stainless or chrome-moly, with a laminated wood or synthetic stock, in .308 or .223, with a 16.10- or 18.70-inch barrel, and 10-round steel magazines or 10-, five-, or three-round polymer magazines (which are much better). The rifle comes with a flash hider, a Picatinny rail for an IER scope, and an excellent rear ghost ring and front blade sight. They’re very robust and easy to adjust precisely. If you want to use a conventional scope, the Gunsite Scout comes with Ruger rings that clamp onto the receiver, but you will have to remove the ghost ring.
The Gunsite Scout is not perfect. Its weakness is the trigger. But this can be cured by getting an aftermarket trigger from Timney. Give it and the rifle to a gunsmith along with maybe $100, and he will hand you back a transformed Scout. I can’t tell you what a difference it makes—worth every cent.
If you want to use an IER scope (see sidebar on p. 24), your work is done. If you prefer a standard scope, you have one more modification. XS Sight Systems makes an extended Picatinny rail that replaces the Ruger rail. It incorporates the same ghost-ring sight, which you do not have to remove, and with it, you can use Picatinny or Weaver rings, with unlimited scope positioning.
Currently I own Gunsite Scouts in .308 and 5.56, and I traded in another .308 to get the current one. Each has been a sub-MOA gun. Feed them what they like, and they will put five shots in under an inch, and often well under. The real-world price, depending on which version you get, is usually around $900.
In the end, it’s ironic—with scouts now more popular than ever—that Jeff Cooper, who spent his life as a pistolero, may well wind up being remembered for a rifle he designed.
But it’s a hell of a rifle.
GEAR TIP: A Scope for Scouts
When I first started shooting scout rifles, I decided for some now obscure reason that I didn’t like the IER scopes, which were a part of Cooper’s overall design. Oh boy, was I wrong. The scope that turned me around is the Burris Scout 2–7×32 , a compact IER model with excellent optics, first-rate adjustments, and a Ballistic Plex reticle that makes hitting at 300 yards and longer a snap. In combination with Leupold QD rings, I think this is the ultimate scout-rifle sight. I like everything about it, including the price, which is very reasonable at $479. Shop around and you’ll find it for under $400. —D.E.P.