Scout Rifle Shangri-La – Happy Birthday Jeff Cooper

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Jeff Cooper coined the term “scout rifle” and defined its intended purpose and configuration.

It is only fitting this post happen today. You see, today is Jeff Cooper’s birthday. In the late 60s Cooper began experimenting with lightweight bolt-action carbines. Greatly influenced by the life and writings of Frederick Russell Burnham, Cooper envisioned this general-purpose rifle as, “…a short, light, handy, versatile, utility rifle.” Cooper called his idea of this conceptualized carbine a “scout rifle.”

In an effort to create a blueprint so others could build a Scout Rifle, Cooper defined his the concept by setting forth some parameters. Though the definition was a bit malleable, its foundation never really changed until August of 1999 when he wrote, “The Steyr Scout is clearly the best personal rifle in the world.” Up until that time Cooper insisted the ideal general-purpose rifle would weigh 3 kilograms (6 pounds, 9.8 ounces) or less, with back-up sights, an extended eye relief scope, and a sling attached. Naked – out of the box – the Steyr Scout weighs 6 pounds, 10 ounces.

After extensive research, as far as I can discern, Cooper never found Scout Rifle nirvana; a rifle that would satisfy his ideal definition. Most often this base definition was repeatedly stipulated as a short-action .308 Winchester less than a meter long, weighing 3 kilograms or less, equipped with a ghost ring rear sight, square post front sight, extended eye relief riflescope, and a CW or Ching sling.

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Though the Steyr Scout Rifle does not “make weight” it embodies all that Cooper envisioned in a Scout Rifle and became his legacy.

The insurmountable element seemed to be weight. Even his beloved “Sweetheart” (Scout II) was overweight. This problem of weight was likely one of the reasons his explanation of the concept general-purpose rifle varied from time to time, with defined or target weights varying between 3.0 and 3.5 kilos.

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Scout II “Sweetheart” was one of Cooper’s favorite rifles. Like the Steyr Scout Rifle, it did not meet the 3 kg weight limit.

In the 1980s another man hand another idea. Melvin Forbes of Granville, West Virginia decided he was going to build the ultimate hunting rifle and that it would weigh less than 6 pounds with a common 3-9X riflescope installed. Unlike Cooper, Forbes was not a trainer or military man. He was a hunter and a gunsmith. They also differed in that Cooper attempted to create scout rifles by working with available components; Forbes designed his own.

Starting at the front action screw, Forbes built a perfectly balanced rifle that would best be described as a sporter. He machined his own action by hand and installed thin contour Douglas barrels and Timney triggers. Most importantly, by working with Allegheny Ballistics Laboratory, Forbes used aerospace technology to create a rifle stock that was and remains the lightest and strongest ever manufactured.

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Melvin Forbes of New Ultra Light Arms set the standard with regarding to light weight hunting rifles in 1985.

His story – the story of New Ultra Light Arms (NULA) – is legend and spawned an entire industry of lightweight hunting rifles, none of which are as durable or accurate as NULA rifles. By full-length bedding the barreled action to his stiffer than the barrel stock, his rifles only need zeroed once, shoot most bullet weights to the same point of impact, and deliver them with match grade precision.

So, you’re probably wondering why Cooper and Forbes never collaborated. Cooper needed a less than six-pound rifle and NULA was building .308s that weighed five pounds.

The truth is, they did. At the SHOT Show in 1987 Cooper approached Forbes about stocking a rifle for him. It was chambered in .350 Remington Magnum, built on a ZKK 601 action, had a pedestal barrel, a cartridge butt trap and Pachmayer flush sling sockets. If my research has not betrayed me, “Fireplug IV,” as Cooper called it, was completed in 1988. Other than that rifle, the only Scout Rifle ever built by Melvin Forbes was another .350 Remington Magnum put together for gun writer Cameron Hopkins. (You’ll see more on this rifle soon; it is headed to West Virginia.)

As they say, this is all another story and the rest of it can be found in my upcoming book. But, it does establish the connection for the rifle you are about to be introduced to.

I’m convinced if you want to purchase the best commercial example of a Scout Rifle, the Steyr Scout is the one. Even though it does not “make weight,” it embodies the message Cooper was trying to get across and it is not too expensive. However, I wanted to experience Cooper’s full theory and the only way to do that would be do shoot a Scout Rifle meeting the “ideal” definition.

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A New Ultra Light Arms rifle in .308 Winchester will weigh about five pounds with a 22 inch barrel. It will meet Cooper’s 3kg limit, even with a 3-9X riflescope.

It seemed the only way to make that happen would be to turn to Melvin Forbes and New Ultra Light Arms. However, as good of friends as we are, Melvin refused to comply, arguing his idea of the ideal rifle, though similar in ways to Cooper’s, was different and better. He correctly stated it would not balance properly and the forward mounted scope was inferior in many ways to a traditional riflescope.

A Kimber seemed to be another lightweight option but design flaws with the rifle precluded it from being seriously considered. The barrel attachment method will not support precision accuracy and the barrel is to thin – whippy – to allow for reliable scope attachment; the flex from shooting will speed screw release. And, the stock is too flimsy to facilitate a tight sling without point of impact shift. In other words, the stock can be pulled against the barrel. That left a NULA rifle as the only feasible option.

Fortunately, I had a NULA in .308 Winchester. I called Jim Brockman of Brockman Custom Rifles who had done some amazing machine work on a lever-action pseudo scout rifle for me a few years back. We discussed the project and he said he could make it happen. 30 days later – yesterday, the day before the anniversary of Cooper’s birthday – the Brockman / NULA Scout arrived.

When I shipped the NULA to Brockman it weighed less than five pounds. Brockman modified his rear ghost ring Gen III sight and installed it on the rear bridge of the action. He then installed his winged, Tritium post front sight, six inches behind the muzzle. This was done to allow the suppressor adaptor sleeve to fit over the end of the barrel and to prevent the front sight from becoming a snag magnet. Other than the design cleverness of these sights, nothing magical here; any good gunsmith can install sights.

What Brockman did next is akin to art as far as machinists are concerned. He crafted Talley steel bases to match the contour of the NULA barrel. For those who’ve no knowledge of how a machinist works, this might not seem like a big deal. This is skill you don’t learn in high school shop class; it’s a three-dimensional contour, made to fit. Its Elvis, Sinatra, and Hank Williams Sr. all at once.

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Countered steel scope bases like this don;t just happen, they take talent like you can find at Brockman’s Custom Rifles.

I unboxed the rifle and immediately test fired the open sights. They were dead on at 100 yards! I mounted the scope and the first shot struck within six inches of the point of aim at 100 yards! After a zero shift I found the rifle shot just as well as it did before it when to Brockman. Of course, Cooper cared nothing about bench rest accuracy. So, after removing the scope and attaching it to check for point of impact shift – as expected, there was none with the Talley rings – I fired five shots from the slung, seated position, in 30 seconds. The resulting group measured 2.5 inches.

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The 6 pound, 1.7 ounce Brockman / NULA Scout Rifle. That weight includes the sights, scope, and sling.

Is this the grail of scout rifles? I’m sure many would argue the point but what I can tell you is that in one day this Brockman / NULA masterpiece might have become my favorite rifle. I have christened it “Dory” after the two headed spear used by Spartan warriors. Like the stock on the NULA rifle, its handle was made of super strong Cornelian cherry dogwood (cornus mas), and its two different tips used for different but similar purposes, represent the two different sight systems.

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So there it is; 10 years after Cooper’s passing we finally have a Scout Rifle meeting his definition. It is indeed a glorious thing in concept, performance, and price. A base rifle from NULA will set you back $ 3500.00. Comparatively, the wondrous metal work and sights by Jim Brockman, who I now refer to as the “Scout Doctor,” are a real bargain at $ 475.00. Throw in the Talley rings and a Burris Scout Scope and you’re approaching good used pickup truck prices. (Brockman can install the Talley bases and sights or most any bolt action rifle.)

Used pickup trucks are easy to find.

History has shown the Scout Rifle grail is not.

No one – including Cooper – suggested the journey would be short or cheap!

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Brockman / NULA Scout

Length: 37.5 inches

Weight: 6 pounds, 1.7 ounces with sights, scope, and sling (2.77 kg)

Chambering: .308 Winchester

Capacity: 4+1

Sights: Brockman Gen III

Scope: Burris 2.75X Scout Scope

Rings & Bases: Talley Quick Release

Sling: Galco RifleMann

 

LOAD:                                                             PRECISION: (3, 3-shot groups)

Remington 150 grain Core Lokt                  0.62”

Hornady 168 grain A-Max                           0.99”

Barnes 175 grain Precision Match              0.94”

Hornady 178 grain Precision Hunter         1.35”

 

For more information on the Brockman / NULA Scout Rifle, Jeff Cooper, New Ultra Light Arms, Melvin Forbes, and scout rifles in general, check out the book, The Scout Rifle Study, which is planned for release in late 2016.