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Looking Back at The Scout Rifle

Monday, July 06, 2009 - Greg Rodriguez, Guns & Ammo

There was a time when the late Jeff Cooper's scout rifle idea was as hot as piercing your nether regions is today.  Its popularity peaked when Steyr introduced its Scout Rifle, which was designed with input from Colonel Cooper.  Savage, Ruger, and custom gunsmiths like Lew Bonitz and Jim Brockman followed with scout-type rifles of their own, but the concept never caught on as much as Cooper would have liked.  That's too bad, because the scout configuration makes for a handy little rifle.

For those not familiar with the concept, the scout rifle is essentially a lightweight, general-purpose rifle capable of handling just about any defensive or hunting situation.  According to Cooper, a scout rifle should be chambered for a cartridge of sufficient power to cleanly take game up to 500 pounds and with a flat enough trajectory to make hits as far as the operator is comfortable shooting.  In short, Colonel Cooper sought a versatile, handy rifle that was user-friendly - or, as he told me a year before his passing, "a rifle that is on your side."

The scout concept was further refined over the years at Cooper's Gunsite Academy.  And at the First Scout Rifle Conference held at Gunsite in 1983, Colonel Cooper and the rest of the Ekeiboloi Society settled on the criteria for a scout rifle: three kilogram maximum weight, one meter maximum length, a forward-mounted telescope, and chambered in .308 Winchester.  For those who don't read metric, a scout rifle will have a thin barrel of 20-21 inches, an overall length of less than 39 inches, and a finished weight somewhere south of seven pounds.  A true scout rifle is a compact, fast-handling package: a pleasure to tote afield.

I've toyed with various custom and factory scout rifles since I first read about the concept in my misspent youth.  I built two rifles on military surplus Mauser actions that I dropped into synthetic stocks.  Ghost ring sights and a Leupold extended eye relief scope mounted on XS Sight's scout mount provided the rugged, foolproof sighting system my utility rifles required.

Those rifles served me well, but they were crude - a fact that was all-too-apparent after I threw the first real Scout Rifle, the then-new Steyr Scout, to my shoulder.  I was so impressed, I sold my jerry-rigged Mausers and acquired two scouts: a Steyr, and a custom number built on a Model 70 by Jim Brockman, to satisfy my itch for the ultimate jack-of-all-trades.

Pros and Cons

Overall, the scout concept is a good one.  Because it is so light and compact, it is a pleasure to carry, which means you aren't apt to get caught without a rifle when you need one.  Its .308 Winchester chambering is more than adequate for its stated role of cleanly taking game weighing up to 500 pounds.  Despite its lethal punch, it shoots relatively flat, and recoil is easily manageable.

As good as it is, there are a few flies on the Scout concept, with poor low-light performance being the most significant.  In typical evening hunting conditions, I've had trouble acquiring both target and reticle several times when I felt I would have been able to shoot without difficulty with a conventional scope.

At long range, more magnification would be nice, though I can still make accurate shots with the forward-mounted scout scope and its 2-power magnification.  However, I'm quite certain a shooter with a higher power, conventionally mounted scope would battle to compete with a good shooter with a scout rifle when it comes to making good hits fast at close range or on moving targets, so perhaps the point is moot.

The Scout Rifle Today

Though the scout rifle's popularity has waned somewhat, there are still some great guns on the market.  Steyr still offers the Cooper-inspired Scout, though it is now referred to as the Mannlicher Scout.  Ruger's Frontier is close, though it lacks iron sights.  Jim Brockman and Grizzly Custom's Lew Bonitz still make great custom scouts.  In fact, Bonitz is building one for me on a Model 70 as I write this.

Perhaps the most true-to-concept version that we unwashed masses can afford is Savage's Model 10 FCM.   Though it is not as refined as a Mannlicher Scout or a Lew Bonitz custom rig, the little Savage has much to recommend it.

Back-up iron sights and a forward- mounted scope base are de rigueur on the modern scout, and the Savage M10 FCM has both.  A rugged, ramped front with a narrow blade and an adjustable peep rear provide an excellent sight picture, though I much prefer the sight picture of a ghost ring rear.  Fortunately, you can remove the aperture easily, leaving a nice, big ghost ring rear sight.  I mounted a Leupold scout scope with a heavy duplex reticle in Warne rings on my test rifle's forward-mounted Weaver-style base.

I was thrilled with my test rifle's AccuTrigger.  It broke at a hair less than two pounds, which made it easy to break accurate shots from less-than-perfect rests.  Though its injection-molded stock is nothing to write home about, the FCM has an excellent recoil pad, which does a great job of attenuating the recoil of the super-light .308.

Finally, like all Savages, the FCM is reliable, accurate, and affordable.  In fact, it is priced low enough that, with a bit of careful shopping, you can get the rifle, some good rings, and a Leupold extended eye relief riflescope for a little over $900. 

Refined it isn't, but Savage's Model 10 FCM more lives up to Colonel Cooper's demanding standards.  And it's affordable.  That all adds up to make it, in my humble opinion, the ultimate jack-of-all-trades.

Courtesy of Guns & Ammo Online