This is the first in a series of articles concerning Scout Rifles. It could be considered an addendum to my book, The Scout Rifle Study.
The Problem with the Scout Rifle Concept
As those who frequent the Scout Rifle forum and its similar Facebook page: Jeff Cooper’s Scout, know, there are ongoing arguments about what is and what is not a Scout Rifle. The argument is not just between those in the know and those who are not, it exists between many who have been a student of the Scout Rifle for a very long time. This series of articles will attempt to address some of the reasons for these disagreements, but more importantly it will look at the enigma that is known as the Scout Rifle by questioning – with no disrespect to Cooper intended – the concept, the name, the rifle, the community that worships it, and perceived or practical performance standards of a general-purpose rifle.
Based on some work Jeff Cooper conducted with a Remington Model 600 in 308 Winchester, to which he had attached an aperture sight and a low-powered intermediate eye relief scope, he devised what would be called the Scout Rifle Concept. This concept rifle Cooper would refer to as a general-purpose rifle was inspired in part by the Winchester Model 94 and Mannlicher Schoenauer which he praised. They were what Cooper considered “precursors” to the Scout Rifle and he felt that they, “offered the combination of extreme lightness, short overall length and ease of use and maintenance with power and accuracy perfectly adequate for field use against four-footed game short of the very largest—or against men.”
While influenced by these weapons, the concept was also rooted in the duties of a military scout who was trained in ground and cover, movement from cover to cover, map reading, marksmanship, observation and accurately reporting the result of the observation. Most likely, due to his early adventures in Arizona, near where Cooper established the Gunsite Ranch, and later in Africa, where Cooper greatly enjoyed hunting, this notion of a scout was – to Cooper – exemplified by Frederick Russell Burnham.
Over the years Cooper worked with a variety of rifles configured in an attempt to meet the parameters of the definition he created. A definition that, if it did not evolve, was at least somewhat inconsistent. Ostensibly, Cooper’s Scout Rifle can be defined as having the following characteristics:
- Weight of less than 3.5 kilos (7 pounds, 11.45 ounces) but ideally less than 3 kilos (6 pounds, 9.82 ounces) with the optical sight and sling attached.
- A maximum length of one meter (39.4 inches)
- Chambered for the 308 Winchester, with allowances for the 7mm-08 Remington where the 308 Winchester could not be legally owned, and for the 243 Winchester for those who are recoil sensitive.
- A short-action with a 19-inch barrel.
- Axillary iron ghost-ring sights.
- A fixed, low-power telescope mounted as low over the bore as possible.
There were some other suggested optional accouterments, but this is most likely the best homogenous and unrefuted definition that can be assembled from all of the writings Cooper offered.
Two very important defining but somewhat ambiguous characteristics are missing from this definition. Cooper felt his Scout Rifle should be friendly, meaning it was easy to carry, fast to get on target, and well configured to allow for excellent marksmanship from field shooting positions. He also felt that it should fill the need of a general-purpose rifle, meaning that it could effectively perform general-purpose rifle tasks anywhere in the world. In other words, while it might not be perfect for any single task, it could passably perform all tasks. It was not to be a specialized rifle but one that was very generalized.
It should be noted that Cooper’s intent was not to devise the ideal general-purpose rifle for a single individual, but one for any individual. The primary problems with this concept are twofold. He specified a very specialized rifle for very generalized use, which is a necessity for, well, almost no one living now or even when Cooper devised his concept. This is mostly because most of us will live and operate in a very small area for our entire lives, meaning our needs are not that wordily, but also partly because we are not restricted to one rifle for the things we need a rifle to do. It is also rather ironic because specialization was what Cooper intended to avoid.
Another problem centers around the definition, which specified – by most written documentation – a riflescope with an eye relief of about 10 inches mounted forward of the rifle’s action. This aspect of the definition essentially established a genre that lumped all rifles with a forward mounted optic into one described as Scout Rifles, with no concern about the remaining requirements. And, the totality of the definition was so difficult to adhere to that those attempting the task would ultimately decide to forgo one or more the requirements.
So, what Cooper gave us was a blueprint for a rifle that was nearly impossible to create – Steyr, one of the best rifle manufactures in the world, tried to do it and failed. And, at the root of the concept is a rifle that, arguably, no one in today’s world really needs, and that was crafted for a man and time that no longer exists.
The message here is that when discussing the Scout Rifle as defined by Jeff Cooper, it should be done with an understanding of what Cooper was attempting to define. In Cooper’s writings I can find no reference to an attempt to define a rifle that everyone would like, chambered in a cartridge that was everyone’s favorite, or that was specifically configured to address the individual and specialized problems or desires they might have.
For example, Bob might really want a scout-like general-purpose rifle, but also one that was ideally adapted to deer hunting in his home state of Oklahoma. The result is that Bob chooses a scout-like rifle but outfits it to best serve not only his general-purpose need, but also to best help him kill deer where he hunts. There is nothing at all wrong with this. In fact, there is a lot right with this. However, we all – including Bob – must accept that Bob’s new rifle is not a Scout Rifle as conceived by Jeff Cooper.
This uncovers the problem with the Scout Rifle Concept. It is not the only rifle most people need. It is however the one rifle Jeff Cooper thought most people needed. Need is a relative thing and without a proof-positive performance benchmark, it is also something that is damned hard to prove. Needs vary as do the speculations on how to fill them. Your needs and speculations on fulfilling them do not support the alteration of another man’s concept, they only mold and define yours.
In Part 2 of this series, we will continue by examining the problems with the name Cooper chose for his concept rifle.