This is the sixth and final part in a series of articles concerning the Scout Rifle. It could be considered an addendum to my book, The Scout Rifle Study.
The Disparity between Definition and Performance
Firearms, regardless of what they’re called, are intended to serve a purpose; they’re engineered and designed to perform specific tasks. With the Scout Rifle Concept Jeff Cooper attempted to codify a rifle that he felt would be the ultimate general-purpose rifle. As it should be clear by now – after Parts 1 through 5 of this series – Cooper’s intent was for a single rifle design that would serve the general-purpose needs of anyone, anywhere in the world.
Cooper’s Concept has been twisted and modified by almost everyone, including manufacturers, who have flirted with this thing called a Scout Rifle. They modify and adjust Cooper’s definition to best suit their individual, general, or specialized needs. Though some consider this sacrilege, it is in fact a good thing; a rifle should be ideally adapted to the individual and their needs. If it is not, it does not matter what it is called, it is not the best tool for the job.
The test I devised and detailed in Part 5 of this series and in my book, The Scout Rifle Study, was created not to determine what is and is not the best Scout Rifle. Its primary purpose was an attempt to interact with and understand Cooper’s explanation of friendliness and handiness. Friendliness and handiness were part of Cooper’s Scout Rifle definition. Even though Cooper dwelled on an elemental definition, his reference to handiness and friendliness were, even by his own admission, the most important aspect of a Scout Rifle.
But here’s the thing, the meanings of these words vary depending on who is using them, and while a particular rifle might be found friendly and handy by many, it will very likely not be the most friendly and handy rifle that could be created for each individual. Yeah, it might seem like I’m talking in circles, but the simple consideration of underwear is a good analogy. By point of fact, not everyone will consider the same style of underwear the most friendly and handy.
For the last several years it has been my goal to find a rifle that was the most friendly and handy for me, but that also – as close as possible if not exactly – met Cooper’s elemental definition of a Scout Rifle. I guess you could say I wanted to find the best scout rifle for me. Thus, the creation of the referenced test. So, after putting 11 different scout-like rifles up to the test, let’s look at the results.
I think the test as scored clearly depicts which rifle I performed the best with. But, I would also note that the top seven rifles on the list are all within 2.69 points (7%) of each other. Practically speaking, they are all so close that the difference is more anecdotal than definitive. What is probably of more consequence than the actual score is that, of these seven rifles only four would be considered Scout Rifles by any credible Cooper definition, and all were the worst performing of the seven.
That having been said, rifle number 1 was a standout. This is a rifle I put together in an attempt to, well, beat the test. In other words, taking Cooper’s advice, I assembled this rifle in a manner that I felt would allow it to deliver the best performance for me on the test that I had created. In the first drill there were only two rifles that delivered a faster time; both were semi-automatics. In the second drill, where loading a single cartridge was required, rifle number 1 was clearly the fastest. It was also the fastest in the load-one shoot-one drill, where it was also evident that loading a single cartridge is faster than inserting a magazine, unless you’re dealing with an AR-style rifle. In the final test, rifle number 1 was an average performer, but even with one miss, overall, it outscored every other rifle.
So, what is this seemingly amazing rifle that outperformed Scout Rifles on a Scout Rifle test? Before we detail this rifle, I want to do two things. I want to settle your curiosity by listing all the rifles used in the test. And I want to share with you some comments from Jeff Cooper.
1. My Cooper-inspired, test-beating rifle (3.51 kilos)
2. New Ultra Light Arms Model 20, 308 Winchester with a Trijicon 1-4X AccuPoint (2.95 kilos)
3. Wilson Combat Protector Carbine, 300 HAMR, with a Trijicon 1-4X AccuPoint (3.6 kilos)
4. Remington Custom model 7, 308 Winchester, with a Burris 2-7X scout scope (3.40 kilos)
5. Dove Mossberg Patriot, 308 Winchester, with a Leupold 2.5X scout scope (3.13 kilos)
6. Savage 11 Scout, 308 Winchester with a Burris 2.75X scout scope (4.02 kilos)
7. Brockman/NULA model 20, 308 Winchester with a 2.75X Burris scout scope (2.74 kilos)
8. Steyr Scout Rifle, 308 Winchester with a 2.75X Burris scout scope (3.54 kilos)
9. DPMS GII, 308 Winchester with a Nightforce 1-4X riflescope (4.08 kilos)
10. Ruger Gunsite Scout Rifle, 308 Winchester with a Leupold VXII 1-4X EER (3.4 kilos)
11. Mossberg MVP Scout, 308 Winchester with a Leupold VXII 1-4X EER (3.61 kilos)
NOTES: All weights represent the rifle with the optical sight and a sling attached.
Jeff Cooper Comments:
“It is curious to see how close the scout’s ideal weapon is to that of the hunter.”
“The ideas which evolved into the modern Scout Rifle are not new. Two classic precursors were the ‘Mannlicher’ and the ‘Winchester.’ The 6.5 Mannlicher-Schoenauer carbine of 1903, with its short barrel, full-length stock, butterknife bolt-handle, and double-set trigger, was world standard from its inception until World War II. During this same period, the classic Model 94 Winchester 30-30, together with its brother Marlins, occupied the same tactical niche in the Americas. These excellent arms 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.”
“It’s [scout rifle] most outstanding characteristic is handiness. It is light, compact, and ‘friendly.” It will put ‘em where you point ‘em from arm’s length out to a range too great for any sensible attempt.”
“The Winchester is, of course, an American classic. Union soldiers were introduced to the lever action repeater toward the end of the Civil War, and since more Americans knew more about the fine points of fighting at the time than any other people, the immediate American love affair with the lever gun is significant. It worked.”
“As we continue to work on the Scout Rifle Project we reflect that two of the greatest sporting rifles ever designed – possibly the two greatest sporting rifles ever designed – were the 6.5 Mannlicher carbine and the Model 94 Winchester 30-30. There were pieces designed by and for men who did a lot of field shooting and, except for the sights, they feature many of the important characteristics of today’s Scout. Truly there appears to be nothing new under the sun.”
“What is wrong with a twenty-inch Winchester 94 in caliber 30-30 (equipped with a good ghost-ring sights) as a police ‘response rifle?’ The M94 is light, quick, easy to work, and compact…that old M94 would seem about as close to the first choice as he can get.”
“This piece, [M94] when fitted with a serviceable ghost-ring sight, may just be the ideal police backup weapon.”
“We recently participated in a most interesting side-by-side test of the M-94 against the AK47. Hardly to our surprise the .30-30 came out way ahead of the Kalashnikov in almost every respect. It is decisively lighter and handier. It is easier to shoot well. It is much more powerful – and it cost a great deal less.”
“The M-94 Winchester is a splendid device.”
“The little 94 Winchester in 30-30 continues to delight us. It is no 400-meter weapon, but 400 meters is a fanciful range for any but certain specialties. Out to 200 meters it odes just fine, and that is inside which the overwhelming majority of effective rifle shots are taken.”
“Some family members have asked us what is meant by ‘GPR.’ GPR is a Gunsite Police Rifle. It is a short-barreled, lever-action 30-30 equipped with ghost ring sights. It is far and away better for urban renewal than any sort of military weapon,”
“These lever-action rifles have proven most satisfactory over the years, and I feel that my devotion to the bolt-action principle was not totally justified. Actually, the action type makes little difference in field service.”
“That Winchester M94 just may be the sleeper of the century. We now plan to sit back and let the shooting world rediscover it.”
The Test-Beating Rifle
Now, let me back up a bit. After I graduated high school in 1983, Cooper was just beginning his frequent writings on the Scout Rifle. I was inspired as many were and my answer at the time was a Winchester 94 chambered in 307 Winchester, because that was as close as I could affordably get to anything scout-like in 308 Winchester. But scout rifles were not my only interest, and after a few years I traded that rifle for half-ownership of a coonhound.
I didn’t think about that rifle much at all until I was reacquainting myself with Cooper’s work while researching my Scout Rifle book, when it hit me that a M94 in 307 Winchester – if it could be loaded to meet Cooper’s, 150-grain bullet at 2700 fps – might, well, be the ideal scout-like rifle, or if not, at least the friendliest scout-like rifle. I did a little searching and found one in good condition and then began the work to turn it into what I felt would be the rifle that would best perform on my test.
The loading was the first step, because without the requisite power the rifle would not qualify. What I found was a new powder called AR Comp, which offered unbelievable performance in the 307 Winchester. Out of the rifle’s 20-inch barrel, 44.6 grains of AR Comp will push a 150-grain Speer Hot Core Flat Nose bullet to 2700 fps. Just as importantly, this bullet will deliver half-inch expansion and 21 inches of penetration in 10% ordnance gelatin, with 69% weight retention. The M94 in 307 Winchester meets the power threshold. But it’s not a 308 Winchester you say. Well, no. But guess what, while it will not feed 308 ammunition, it will chamber and fire 308 ammunition.
Next, I needed to address the sights. At first, I outfitted the rifle with a set of XS Sights, and believe it or not I even managed a couple less than three-inch groups at 200 yards. But this was on an easy to see target. For a rifle to be truly effective at hunting in varied conditions and at ranges the cartridge is capable at, it needs an optical sight, which is of course why Cooper specified such an implement on a Scout Rifle. However, after hunting all over the world in just about every condition imaginable, I’ve found that common 2.5X scout scope magnification is not enough. A variable power conventional riflescope is a better option, with 1X on the bottom end and at least 4X on the top.
At the same time, scout scopes are notoriously poor performers in low light. My answer was a Leupold VX II 1-4X. This is a traditional riflescope and I had seen in previous snap shooting drills that a 1X traditional riflescopes were superior to scout scopes for that type application. I acquired the lowest mounts possible only to discover that the rifle would not eject loaded or unloaded cases because they impacted the windage adjustment turret. The common repair for this is to mount the scope higher or move it fore or aft, but this puts the scope too high, close, or far, to be friendly. The answer was actually quite simple, I just rotated the scope 90° to the left, and then used the windage adjustment as the elevation, and the elevation adjustment as the windage. This worked perfectly.
But I also needed the Cooper specified back-up iron sights. There was no workable solution to attach a ghost ring sight to the top rear of the receiver and still mount the scope low enough. I opted for a barrel mounted aperture sight from Skinner Sights and to my surprise – even though this system is not supposed to work well – it does. I replaced the front, white-striped post wight with a fiber optic bead sight and was still able to obtain kill zone hits at 200 yards, while at the same time running great snapshot times at 25 yards.
The final features were a mechanism to carry extra ammunition, and for that I chose a butt-mounted AmmoCaddy from Versacarry. This is an amazing little device that is so versatile, affordable, and simple, I’m astonished that folks are still spending money on leather, lace-up, butt cuffs. The last accessory was a sling, and for that I cannibalized one of my RifleMann slings from Galco and installed it in the two-point fashion.
Not counting the loaded Versacarry AmmoCaddy, the rifle weighs 7 pounds 12 ounces. That’s ½ ounce more than Cooper’s upper limit Scout Rifle weight of 3.5 kilos or 7 pounds and 11.45 ounces. (If I wanted to, I could hollow-out the butt-stock and it would make weight.) It also has a barrel that is an inch longer than Copper’s specified 19 inches, but overall length comes in at 38.25 inches. It’s not a bolt-action, and it does not have a scout scope. However, in my hands this rifle will outperform every other rifle I have tried when doing scout-like things. Interestingly, if you grab this rifle at the balance point, by wrapping your hand around the scope and receiver, it is only 0.25-inch larger in circumference than a Steyr Scout rifle measured at the same point.
All of this brings us to the point of this six-part analysis of the Scout Rifle and that is, what is most important? In order for a rifle to be a Scout Rifle is it more important that it meet a specific elemental description? Is it more important that the rifle be handy and friendly? Or is it more important that a rifle be the best rifle at performing scout-like chores? And finally, do all these important things matter the most to everyone or just the person owning/shooting/using the rifle?
I’m not saying my M-94 in 307 Winchester is a Scout Rifle, but I am saying that for me it will do Scout Rifle things better than any other rifle I have ever handled enough to learn its capabilities. I’m shocked that Cooper overlooked this rifle and if he ever commented on it, I have not been able to locate his remarks. (If you have them or know of them, please share.)
In closing, I’ll leave you with this. Cooper gave us a definition for the Scout Rifle but we all too often forget to pay any respects to what he considered the most important part of that definition and that’s that a Scout Rifle must be friendly and handy. Cooper had visions of one rifle for everyone, but I find it very hard to go there, at least until we can all agree on what type underwear we will all wear.
Until there is a settled and agreed upon performance test to validate a rifle’s claim to the Scout Rifle title, and until there is a definitive way to measure the friendliness and handiness of a rifle for scout-like field use, by all practical reasoning none of us have the authority or experience to claim that this or that rifle is or is not a Scout Rifle. I have several I consider worthy of that name; some are better for me than others. You’re not obligated to like any of them, and Cooper cannot give his opinion on them either.
The Scout Rifle will forever remain an enigma and we must honor the road Cooper started us down. But by all means, find your own answer to his question. If you’re smart, you’ll base your decision on friendliness, handiness, and performance, rather than an elemental definition that may or may not serve you best.
If you enjoyed this series of articles on the Scout Rifle, you might also enjoy my book, The Scout Rifle Study, which is available on Amazon.