The Scout Rifle Study: A Book Review and Critique of the Scout Rifle Concept

Let me preface this by saying that I remain a big fan of the Scout Rifle concept and the Steyr Scout in particular. When I ordered a copy of Richard Mann’s “The Scout Rifle Study”, I was hoping to find a critical assessment of the concept. I was hoping to see pros and cons of the forward-mounted optic in particular, and the inclusion of an AR-10 on the cover made me think that there might be serious discussion of the modern lightweight self loading rifle in the context of the Scout Rifle concept. Basically, I was hoping for a book that would independently critique Cooper’s concept, and bring fact-based conclusions about where it was suitable or unsuitable.

Instead, the book is much more a compilation of the primary source material of the Scout Rifle, as a one-stop-shop for those who are already happily convinced that it is a universal general-purpose rifle needing no defense. If the Scout Rifle is considered a cult, this book would be its Nicene Creed, not its Ninety-Five Theses. Of course, for the person who is a devotee of the concept, this is a great book, compiling all of Cooper’s original definitions and detailing the history of Gunsite and the various Scout Rifle Conferences.

As one might expect, the various pseudo-Scout rifles made by Ruger, Savage, Mossberg, and others are discussed, but ultimately deemed underserving of the title for various violations of Cooper’s standards (ignoring the fact that the Steyr Scout fails to make the required weight, because Cooped deemed it worthy). The entire realm of self-loading platforms are rejected on the basis that they are too heavily regulated in some places (and more importantly, not legal to use on African safari).

I was particularly curious to see discussion of the forward-mounted optic and its characteristics, as this it really the only thing that distinguishes a true Scout Rifle from a light and handy rifle with iron sights. While Cooper’s original reasons for the choice are well explained (balance, situational awareness, and access to reload from the top), they are not challenged but simply accepted as dogma. To my mind, the proliferation of detachable magazines that load from the bottom (including the anointed Steyr Scout) make the access reason moot. I think the balance of low-light performance and magnification against peripheral situational awareness is a discussion worth having as it applies to traditional scopes versus forward mounted ones, but the book does not include this. Mann does include a series of benchmark tests of various essential Scout Rifle shooting tests, though, and of the rifles that come out in the top three by his scores, two had traditional scopes and one had only iron sights.

That all said, the book remains a useful and valuable reference for the dogma of the Scout Rifle, although at $45 I think it is a bit overpriced for what appears to be a print-on-demand paperback.

43 Comments

  1. For an example of a “Pseudo-Scout”, try a Marlin lever-action with a 1.5-5X Bushnell scope mounted over the action on see-through mounts.

    With the scope set at minimum magnification, it can be used much like an Aimpoint sight. Keep both eyes open, throw the rifle up to mount, and you see the crosshair superimposed over the target. This fulfills the first requirement of the Scout principle.

    See-through mounts allow the use of the regular iron sights, thus fulfilling the second Scout requirement.

    Reloading is of course done through the loading gate, thus fulfilling Scout requirement number three.

    I did it once with a Marlin M1895 in .45-70. If I were doing it today, I’d use one in .450 Marlin, thus resulting in a true “Lion Scout” with a considerably faster second shot than the Steyr or any other bolt-action version.

    The Scout Rifle concept is a good one for a general-purpose “knockaround” or “survival” rifle. In a substantial enough chambering, it can also be a reasonable short-range “stopping” rifle for dangerous game.

    On the modern battlefield, its place is debatable at best. As Major John Plaster points out, the problem with a sniper having a highly-specialized sniping rifle of the bolt-action persuasion is that when he finds himself in close contact, he needs a high-firepower backup weapon more than most soldiers do.

    A typical Scout Rifle would put a military scout in the same situation. And if he has to carry an SMG or M4 carbine equivalent for such eventualities, why does he need the Scout Rifle?

    cheers

    eon

    • I’ve thought about the same setup except with the BLR or Savage 99. I’d think It’d be just about perfect for in the woods shots out of a deer stand. I think it would just about fit the same criteria debated here.

  2. Seems like InRange could do a test of various long-eye-relief scopes vs. red dot vs. irons vs. traditional scopes in various scenarios and show what works well in each case.

  3. Unconditional love and uncritical / unquestioning praise have no point in productive, rational discussion. I’m glad you provided the critical thought where the book failed to.

    You’ve framed exactly what the book should have been. I’m not a dedicated Scout Rifle fan (though I once built a “pseudo” on an SKS), but if you wrote the book you outlined, I would definitely buy and read it.

    Another potential gap (granting the semiauto / overseas legality argument) is other manual repeaters. I just saw Eon’s levergun comment; additionally, several major manufacturers make / made pump rifles that fire powerful cartridges with spitzer bullets from detachable box magazines, which would / could probably meet Scout criteria.

  4. The general theme of things seems to harken back to earlier sporting rifles, having barrel length iron sights and a 4 power scope over the reciever. Any event that would render a scope useless would not be a serious game changer to the practical huntsman taking a yearling elk or deer in the fall.
    So long as war making is off the table, most any mid century sporting rifle will do the job as well as any scout rifle.

    I think much of what is driving the scout rifle movement is the remarkably poor feeding of typical modern hunting rifles, such as the Remington 700, savage 11, or winchester 70 to name a few. They all rely on push feed bolts and spring loaded plungers to extract. This has saved many surplus rifles from being sporterized, yet many mid century surplus rifles feed more reliably and smoothly, and are more friendly to top loading, despite the heavy springs and triggers.

    At the price point, scout rifles. Certainly have their place along side other current production guns at the price point but in overall function and polish, I think any properly sporterized surplus rifle will out perform. (Even at the same price point)

    • Most modern semiauto rifles also rely on push feed bolts, and spring-loaded plungers to eject, and yet fire as many rounds between stoppages as many hunting bolt-actions will fire in their lifetimes. I’m not saying their reliability is perfect, but their jams tend to be magazine- or fouling-related rather than through shortcomings of the two components you mentioned.

      The only bolt-gun jams I ever experienced were with a [controlled-feed / inertial-eject] Spanish Mauser in .308. It was so-so with 150gr spitzers, but the blunter Core-Lokt 180s would always hang up on the feed ramp. This isn’t a criticism of Mauser or Oviedo, who didn’t design or build the rifle for that load (or even that caliber), but it is something to consider unless you want to limit your Scout to FMJ.

    • What have Remington 700, Savage 11 and Winchester 70 in common? They are cheap and it shows in the problems. Buy a properly designed and manufacured action and build a rifle around it and all these problems are gone. The price is of course higher and often surpasses some self-loaders nowadays. Buy once cry once. The days of really cheap bolt actions are gone and were the result of two world wars dumping their surplus on the market.

    • i think a variable magnification scope is the way to go nowadays with these scopes having improved so much in recent years. When Cooper drew up his concept variable optics were barely useable for a weekend hunter. Today I would dare going into africa with one.

      For a driven hunt a red dot is the way to go. The purpose the original Aimpoint sight was designed for actually. Military picked it up later.

  5. I read almost everything Col. Cooper ever wrote on the concept, and some of his “requirements” were more advisory than etched in stone.
    The real problem with the scout concept is not that the requirements can’t be met, but as the military/hunting/general purpose firearm, the concept is largely obsolete. In the days when scouts wandered free from the military, trying to locate an enemy force while living off the land, the Scout rifle would have filled the bill perfectly. Today a military scout is probably using a drone to locate the enemy from a desk. Sure there’s plenty of reason to have a nice, short, handy, hunting rifle with a bipod — but there’s lots of ways to achieve that.
    The top-loading is linked to that obsolete military concept — Cooper envisioned using stripper clips.
    Basically, Jeff Cooper, who I greatly admired and actually got to meet at the 2000 NRA convention came up with an ingenious solution to a non-existent problem (a phrase he used to describe the various “wonder nines” back in the 80s.

    • Regarding the use of stripper clips, the early Scout rifles were sometimes rebuilt Mausers with fixed magazines. In that context, I would gladly keep the capability of reloading via stripper clips. Cooper did not seem to mind the detachable magazine Styer not having them.

    • As I recall, he used the expression, “ingenious solution to a non-existent problem”, to describe double action pistols.

      • He also considered the double-action revolver outdated, superseded by the 1911-type self-loader. Myself, I consider the DA revolver the best all-around “utility” handgun ever conceived, especially in .357 Magnum.

        He objected to the Glock system in that it encouraged unsafe handling and resultant ADs. I’ve always believed that keeping your finger off the trigger until your sights were on the target was just common sense, and with a Glock, it’s a necessity. Yes, I have used Glocks and similar “Safe Action” self-loaders; no, I am not a fan of them.

        I would note that a DA revolver (or self-loader) with a 12-lb DA pull is less likely to result in accidents. The Glock “New York trigger” with a 20-lb pressure is more-or-less an admission that the revolver designers had the right idea to begin with.

        cheers

        eon

        • “. . . [A] DA revolver (or self-loader) with a 12-lb DA pull is less likely to result in accidents” – or hits!

          As to your next sentence, the facts that:
          A. The New York trigger is actually 8.5lb;
          B. Of the thousands of departments, agencies, and militaries that have adopted Glocks or comparable pistols, only a small minority have adopted the NY trigger;
          C. Pistolsmithing to give DA revolvers ~6lb triggers is considered desirable (albeit not overly common due to expense); and
          D. It would be cheap and easy to give Glocks 12lb triggers, but no one really does;
          Perhaps YOU had the right idea (“keeping your finger off the trigger until your sights were on the target was just common sense”)?

          Throw in the facts that Glocks hold 3x as many rounds, are easier to reload, and don’t leak, and it sounds like Glock might’ve been onto something too!

          This is not to say that the inventors of DA revolvers were “wrong”; they were great in the 1850s, right up until people discovered the concept of using the pistol’s recoil (while mitigating it in the process!) to accomplish the same function.

          • In their book Shooting to Live with the One-Hand Gun, W.E. Fairbairn and Eric Sykes maintained that a service sidearm should replicate a machine gun as much as possible. Their idea being that the whole “stopping power” and “one-shot stop” theory, born of Hatcher’s work and the Thompson-LaGuarde tests, was pretty much nonsense. Instead, you should keep shooting until the adversary is down, period.

            So a high-capacity pistol would be very much in line with their thinking.

            They had a rather jaundiced view of cartridge power, as well. Pointing out that the only “one-shot stop” on record with the Shanghai Municipal Police was when one of their officers shot a miscreant squarely in the heart- with a Colt M1903 in .32 ACP.

            That said, the DA revolver in .357 Magnum is about the most foolproof relatively high-powered handgun most people can handle without intensive training. No, I do not consider IPSC competition a reliable simulation of someone’s actual ability to cope with a defensive emergency. Frankly, “cowboy action shooting” is probably closer to reality.

            The 1986 FBI Miami shootout was probably the most realistic example ever seen. Being an actual life or death encounter.

            And FBI agent Mireles brought it to an end with a S&W Model 10 M&P .38 Special.

            cheers

            eon

          • Eon,
            Interesting that you brought up the Fairbairn / Sykes quote, given that the .357’s claim to fame was its first-shot-stop rate (mid 90s%). Different era, different projectiles.

            .357 is an amazing round, and its powder capacity gives it the edge in a carbine. In a service-size handgun, though, .357 SIG or even the much-maligned .40S&W (for those who don’t insist on treating it like a skinny .45) can beat it because they don’t leak. Even 9mm+P wins from a subcompact for the same reason. All else being equal, the lack of unsprung recoil means they’ll kick less too.

            I don’t really buy the foolproof argument. No gun is perfect, and each has its quirks. To me, the fact that a semiauto’s challenges (loading and inserting the magazine, racking the slide) are over and done with before the fight make it more suitable for the inexperienced user (Not that I recommend it, but two ladies in my CCW class said their husbands load their EDCs!). The need to apply 12lbf to a 1-2lb object is the “gift” that keeps on sucking (even for me as a fairly large, strong, and experienced shooter). An expert can mitigate it, though no one short of Jerry Miculek will ever shoot equally well in DA (and you can bet that even his DA triggers are custom jobs much closer to the Glock’s than to 12lb).

        • I have to agree, Eon. Of all my handguns, my old .357 is what’s beside my bed, and the one I strap on when walking the property. I used revolvers my entire career, as my Department didn’t convert to Glocks until 2017, the year I retired. Honestly, for whatever reason, I have always hit what I wanted with that revolver. I certainly miss my share of shots, just never with that one. I don’t believe most revolvers have 12 lb triggers either. I have met one 1917 Colt that took two hands to press the darn thing though!

    • “The real problem with the scout concept is not that the requirements can’t be met, but as the military/hunting/general purpose firearm, the concept is largely obsolete.”

      Quoted for truth. A “modern sporting rifle” in several different calibers would do basically everything that Cooper was looking to do, but we all know….the one gun to rule them all doesn’t exist. Some of his criteria are simply dated, as, in his day, variable scopes were often bad, a red dot wasn’t a precision hunting tool, plastic or polymer parts were questionable, QD systems weren’t repeatable, BUIS weren’t a thing, and “enough” bullet always involved a 3 or a 4 in front…unless it was the awe inspiring .270, of course.

  6. Hmmm…the Scout Rifle concept(s) have been an interesting study these past few years since Cooper described it. I have found my Enfield No.5 has pretty much fulfilled my “Scout” requirements from the get-go. Light, handy, adequate power, reliable feed and extraction, easy to maintain. Just no ‘scope. And it’s loud. But such is compromise….

    • “(…)Enfield No.5(…)”
      Did anybody attempted turning Krag–Jørgensen carbine? As loading is different from most bolt-action repeating rifles (NOT directly from top) this may allow greater flexibility regarding scope installation.

      • They had them as a cavalry weapon. VERY rare. And people created them later for hunting. The Krag was VERY popular as a hunting rifle in some areas.

  7. Seems to me that Cooper was an African fantasist, who wanted to both hunt big game and terrorists.

    This rifle was influenced by his ideals of a man by himself, looking for lions or two legged beasts on the plain, when the two legged beasts would have had AsK and, probably cut him and his party to pieces.

    In full disclosure, I’ve never liked Cooper. His ideas on shooting were perhaps the genesis of some things, but his other, more right wing ideas were kind of nasty.

    Or I could be wrong, as our friend says.

  8. Just wondering…
    And no one thought that there was no higher meaning and “philosophical concept of a scout rifle”?
    But is there, turned by merchants into a cult, life hack from shooter with senile farsightedness, in the absence of red dots in his time? 😉

    In general, IMHO, the idea of ​​a “scout rifle” was embodied in M4A1.

    • No, 556 is too lightweight for most game. A KAC SR-25 is more like it and still relatively lightweight.

  9. I have that book and agree.

    I had a scout rifle. Ruger 77 lightweight carbine in 30-06, three sling points, forward Leupold Scout scope on a modified Mk1 rib. Great little rifle that held 1MOA. After one deer season I retired the scout scope and fitted a regular Leupold 1.5-6×32. It made it much better.

      • One of the less well-liked sighting systems the Wehrmacht had to deal with, having neither the advantages of a practical telescopic sight or the ruggededness of iron sights.

        The quick pickup that would normally be associated with a 1.5X optical sight was negated by the small exit pupil, i.e. the shooter had to “hunt” for it to get his eye “in the scope”. And once he had, 1.5X was really no improvement over iron sights.

        And in the end, only a few issue rifles could mount the scope, thus negating the idea of using it to turn any rifle into a DMR (in modern terms) by just replacing the rear sight.

        The later combination of the Zf4 with the G43/K43 semi-automatic rifle turned out to be the better idea. Most DMRs today are more-or-less built along the same lines.

        cheers

        eon

        • Certainly, the overall configuration remained conceptually fascinating in spite of its deeply flawed first incarnation.

  10. Excellent review, more this stuff please. Maybe InRange could have a deep dive into this subject someday?

    Basically I´ve owned kind of a Scout rifle since 1991, a Tikka in 308 win caliber. It has a 1.5-5 scope over the receiver, still has the back-up irons but I never needed them. Heard about the Scout concept over ten years after I bought the rifle. I have shot pretty much anything with that rifle, from different birds to moose. And from about 20 meters till up to 250 meters. I have proper ex-army shooting sling in it, which helps a lot offhand shooting. But because scope is mounted over the receiver, purists would argue that it isn´t true scout rifle. But it´s used like a scout rifle. Carried a lot, shot a little bit less.

    To my experience, scout rifle concept is fine from deer size game to bigger. If you´re going to shoot a birds with it(like we do a lot in Nordic countries), typical scout scope doesn´t have enough magnification for precise shot placement. Besides a lot of hunting happens early in the morning, or late in the evening when scout scope is almost useless, for reasons what Ian pointed out.

    But I like the scout rifle idea. It´s great for carrying around in the woods of Scandinavia.

  11. You have to go back to the 1980’s, when the idea was that any rife could be judged on a sort of point system, usually velocity and accuracy. Buy this rifle and not that rifle because that one had a 0.1″ better group when so-and-so tested a factory sample. Think of an annoying History Channel type show on military armor — “tanks get 3 points for armor, 4 for the size of the gun, etc., now here are the top 10.” Never mind ergonomics, if the crew can bail out quickly, speed of reloading, turret traverse speed, ease of acquiring targets, reliability, radios that work, ease of maintenance, if the tracks could get across marshy ground, etc. Never mind where the tanks were to be deployed or against what they were to fight. If it can not be turned into a data point, it does not matter seems to be the mentality. In reality, it is how the whole thing works together to accomplish a particular goal.

    The main rifle projects going on, even among private citizens, at the time were coming up with new wildcat cartridges that usually did little that existing cartridges did not. The vanity license plate equivalent in the gun culture.

    What Cooper did was start a project that focused on the whole system of a rifle, and not just bench rest accuracy and velocity and the other data points that were always tabulated in the gun magazines at the time. And the rifle was supposed to be good for more than one purpose. Being able to nearly instantly acquire and hit a pie-plate sized target at 100 yards is almost infinitely more useful than bench rest accuracy for nearly all shooters. He pointed out that people might actually have to carry the darn thing, so why not be light and compact? In WWII he served on a battle ship and noted that, compared to bullet diameter, the big guns on the ship did not have long barrels, yet were incredibly accurate. So why not shorten rile barrels?

    The Scout had some goals set down for size and weight and such, and that got people thinking outside the box as nothing was already around that met those goals. Whether or not the exact goals were met, that is not the point, it got people thinking and trying things out.

    Fan of the Scout Rifle or not, I think the the point was looking at the idea of firearms as overall systems to address multiple scenarios, rather than things designed to incrementally optimize whatever one is capable of quantifying.

  12. i always get a kick out of Ian pointing to himself as he says “I’m Ian”. Yeah dude we get it You’re Ian theres no one else in frame. And also his dipshitty up talking. Other than that, love the guy.

  13. Colonel Cooper did a lot of good AND bad.
    That said, the Scout Rifle is one of his better ideas. Although a lever gun with a forward mounted pistol scope is a better North American rig. I’ll eventually mount pistol scopes on my Marlin 1894 and Hi-Point carbine.
    I know a 2x scope works great mounted on my Benjamin air rifle.

  14. Forward mounted sight systems is indeed not new.
    Verney & Carron developed a system in which the front post is replaced with holographic sights.

    Did someone tested a similar system?
    Does it really help to reduce aiming time up to 100m?
    (It would be interesting to know if this setting could be useful for scout rifle concept)

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