This is the third in a series of articles concerning the Scout Rifle. It could be considered an addendum to my book, The Scout Rifle Study.
The Problem with the Scout Rifle
The primary problem with the Scout Rifle is that today it is used by a generation of folks who are accustomed to rifles ideally adapted to the specific tasks they need their rifles to perform. Cooper’s Scout Rifle was ideally adapted to, not being ideally adapted to, anything. It is not the best rifle for deer hunting, it is not the best rifle for fighting bad guys, it is not the best rifle for engaging targets at very close ranges, intermediate ranges, or long ranges. Name a specific, singular task for a rifle to excel at, and the ideal rifle for that task will not be a Scout Rifle.
Cooper and others have speculated that most do not understand the problem, riflecraft, or rifles, enough to appreciate that the Scout Rifle is the best rifle for general-purpose use. While this might be an elitist position to take, to a large extent it is true; few shooters do in fact understand these facets of weapon application and firearm suitability to have what would be considered a qualified opinion. However, like with most everything else in life, the free market has a way of establishing what best suits the most people. And, at the same time, it seems odd that the so-called best rifle for general use would be such an enigma.
The AR15 is a perfect example; it is the most popular rifle in America. You could argue the reasons for this, but it is undeniably the de facto general-purpose rifle of the modern era. Cooper felt it was inadequately chambered for general-purpose use. However, for the masses, the 223 Remington is a suitable general-purpose cartridge. It will effectively deal with bad guys, it will feed a family, and it can be effectively employed in a survival-like, cataclysmic event. For most Americans it fills the general-purpose need better than a rifle meeting Cooper’s definition would.
Other than the need to shoot a grizzly bear, elk, or moose, for what earthly purpose would someone living in the United States need a Cooper defined Scout Rifle, if he already has an AR15? Think about that for a moment…What matters most to the user is that their rifle will best suit their individual needs.
Few of use ride horses or walk that far anymore, so weight is not as important as it would have been to the scouts Cooper conceived his rifle for. Modern optical sights and quick-detach rings are so reliable that the need for back-up iron sights is not as critical as it once was. In fact, good modern optics are so affordable the best solution for a failed optic is another one. Modern low-power variable riflescopes are superior to scout scopes in almost every facet from snap shooting, to distance shooting, to shooting during times of limited light. And, with the fantastic advancements in bullet technology, smaller caliber and lesser recoiling cartridges are now delivering external and terminal ballistics equal to what the original 30-06 was capable of.
All of this makes the Cooper defined Scout Rifle less appealing to the modern man. It does not mean the Scout Rifle is any less effective or a bad idea, it just means that today we have better options to fill the general-purpose needs most of us have. Because of this, many put together rifles for general purpose use and call them Scout Rifles, not because they are Scout Rifles, but because they are to be used to solve modern, scout-like problems.
Some folks now offer that a semi-automatic rifle that meets Cooper’s definition could also be a Scout Rifle. In fact, Cooper never said it couldn’t. However, his suggestion for the allowance of a 7mm-08 in place of the 308, due to jurisdictional prohibition would seem to support the idea that a semi-automatic is non-qualifying. Or maybe, it’s just non qualifying in certain locations. It would seem however that as much as Cooper enjoyed hunting and testing his developmental Scout Rifles and the Steyr Scout Rifle in Africa, that he would be reluctant to bestow the Scout Rifle name on a rifle you could not take hunting there? However, most people today could care less about any of that.
The Cooper defined Scout Rifle still probably remains the best-defined rifle to serve as a world-wide general-purpose rifle. Meaning that, no matter where you might be operating, it will serve you very well. While that is an honorary distinction, it is not one most want their rifle to have. Most of us would prefer a rifle that would serve us in the best way, where and how we will most need it. If a man wants the best general-purpose rifle for Georgia, there is no need for it to be moose, zebra, or Kodiak bear capable.
The problem with the Scout Rifle is that, as cool and interesting as the conceptualized rifle may be, all but a very few individuals really need it. Or, maybe put a better way, would have cause to apply it across its full range of capability.
As an example, I’ve spent a great deal of time – months at a time – in Africa. Enough time to have the requisite experience to develop a qualified opinion on what might be the best general-purpose rifle for that region. Given the vast array and size of game and threatening animals there, the potential for interaction with poachers, as well as the likelihood of farm attacks, I think a Scout Rifle might be the best one-rifle to have in that country. However, I would strongly urge the replacement of the common fixed power scout scope with one offering variable power performance, to better permit the rifle to do what will most likely need to be done.
On the other hand, where I live in West Virginia, given the wild game that exists here, given the rare but real potential of dealing with civil unrest and home defense, I’ve chosen a rifle that better conforms with the conditions of utility that I might need. It is a Wilson Combat AR15 chambered for the 30 HAMR that’s topped off with a 1-4X Trijicon Accupoint riflescope. It is not a Scout Rifle but for me it fills that Scout Rifle, general-purpose role, where I need it filled.
And that is the problem with the Scout Rifle; today, most people need and want something just a little bit different, but something that also fills their interpretation of the Scout Rifle role that they need filled. What they need is a scout-like rifle, conditioned to their geographic location and individual needs. This is why, with inspiration from Cooper and his Scout Rifle Concept, I floated the notion of the CUR – conditional utility rifle – several years ago.
Lots of folks have heard of cur dogs; not many folks really know what they are. Some think a cur is a mongrel or mutt. The word “cur” is often used to describe such a beast, but a real cur dog is not a product of accidental breeding. A cur is a dog that has been purpose breed to fulfill a certain hunting need and/or to provide protection for the owner and camp. A cur is not a scent-hound or a sight-hound; a cur is unique in that it relies on its nose, eyes and ears, equally, to hunt and to protect.
The other unique cur characteristic is that they are, to a large extent, geographical. A cur in the deep south will serve a slightly different purpose than a cur found in the Allegheny Mountains. In fact, the Rhodesian ridgeback is a perfect example of an African bred cur. Ridgebacks hunt and protect with the equal application of their eyes, ears and nose. A cur dog is a general-purpose dog for a specific geographical location.
It was my inspiration for a rifle whose specifications would be conditional on where and how it would be used and who would use it. Along with some shooter dependent size restrictions, a CUR [rifle] would also allow employment of multiple sights systems to best serve the geographical general-purpose needs of its owner, thus mimicking the cur dog’s equal reliance on all of its senses to be employed as the geographically constrained situation dictates.
Cooper’s Scout Rifle was the inspiration for the CUR classification, but a Scout Rifle is more of a general-purpose utility rifle suitable for everything, anywhere in the world. You might say the CUR is more of an adaptive Scout Rifle, with sort of a 21st century twist that’s driven by individual and geographical needs. It is in fact a better way to describe most of the rifles people today call Scout Rifles.
In Part 4 of this series we will examine the problems with the Scout Rifle community.