Rifle Identity
Rifle Identity

Rifle Identity

How often have you heard someone refer to their rifle as a certain type of rifle? Maybe a deer-rifle, varmint-rifle, dangerous-game rifle, assault-rifle, prepper-rifle, or whatever other hyphenated-rifle you can imagine. Different folks have different ideas about all these rifle types, just like some folks have different ideas about human gender.

Some might not think a 243 a deer rifle, or that a 308 Winchester is an elk rifle. Others might believe a 375 is suitable for dangerous game while someone else does not. Jeff Cooper did not feel the 375 was adequate for buffalo. Finn Aagaard, an accomplished African professional hunter thought it just fine.

Jeff Cooper and Finn Aagaard were friends, and Finn liked the Scout Rifle concept, but disagreed with Jeff on the suitability of the 375 for buff.

As Cooper often said, rifle specialization is easy. The difficult thing is to find a rifle capable of doing all things equally well. He was talking about a general-purpose rifle and his solution was his concept Scout Rifle. Cooper defined the Scout Rifle a number of times and with one exception was mostly consistent. His criteria was as as follows:

Less than 39 inches long.

308 Winchester, with allowances for the 243 Winchester and 7mm-08 Remington.

Equipped with reserve iron (ghost ring) sights.

Outfitted with a riflescope of about 2.5X magnification and 10-inches of eye relief, mounted forward of the ejection port.

Equipped with a shooting sling.

In addition to the above there were some sundry accessories often included in the specifications, such as a magazine cut-off and a bipod. Most importantly though was a maximum weight limit, and weight is where the definition becomes ambiguous. 

On November 17, 1989 Cooper wrote, “Total Weight: Three kilograms or less.” (6.61 pounds)

On November 10, 1990 he wrote, “It weighs no more than seven pounds.” (3.17 kilos)

In January of 1994 he wrote, “Everything should be kept as light as possible consistent with safety in order to achieve the target weight of 3.5 kilograms.” (7.71 pounds.)

This Remington Custom Shop Model Seven Scout Rifle meets the January 1994 weight limit with the sling and scope attached.

These variations were repeated other times and over time have become argumentative legend. Scout Rifle purists insist if it weighs more than 6.61 pounds its not a true scout. Others believe if it meets all other requirements, and is “just a little heavy,” that’s OK because it’s too difficult – almost impossible – to meet the 6.61-pound limit.

Interestingly, I can find no evidence Cooper owned a rifle meeting every element of his criteria. In fact, the Steyr Scout, which Cooper claimed to be, “…the best personal rifle in the world.” falls short of meeting the lightest limit. I’ve only heard of a few and seen only one Scout Rifle that made the minimum weight.

This is Cooper’s beloved Scout Rifle he affectionately referred to as “Sweetheart.” It did not make weight, but by all accounts was a fantastically balanced and great shooting rifle.

What is crystal clear is what Cooper intended a Scout Rifle to be suitable for. “The most important thing about the scout is that it is a general-purpose rifle…it is not a battle rifle used by fire teams, but rather a weapon to be used by one man carefully operating alone, whether in the hunting field or in a military scouting capacity. Its most outstanding characteristic is handiness. [Italics are mine, most people have no idea what a military scouting capacity is, thus cannot process Cooper’s intent.]

If we go with this generalization I’m sure we could find many qualifying rifles. However, Cooper’s experience with a vast array of weaponry told him if his criteria could be met, nirvana would be reached. My assumption is that Cooper considered an otherwise qualifying rifle, weighing less than 7.71 pounds to be good. That one weighing less than 7 pounds would be better. And, one weighing less than 6.61 pounds, would be ideal. 

I’m getting off track, but it was important to establish that background. You see, if such a general-purpose rifle is a reality, and if Cooper were right, it would seem there should be a something other than specifications to establish its superiority. In other words, aside from meeting stipulations, in the field a Scout Rifle should perform better/different than other rifles. 

This all brings us back to the beginning and what may or may not be a deer rifle. If you use a rifle for deer hunting, is it a deer rifle? If you use a rifle for general purposes, is it a general-purpose rifle? However at the same time, if you’re a boy and think you’re a girl, should you pee in the girl’s restroom? More importantly – and I assure a similar situation that would spark more attention – is the notion that if a boy thinks he’s a girl, should he be able to play on the girls’ basketball team?

This take-down lever-gun in 35 Remington is a fantastic deer rifle and might be referred to as a lever-scout. It however is not a Scout Rifle, but could be considered a general-purpose rifle.

I think the answer to these human gender questions is simple because aside from what anyone might think or believe, there are specifications based on science that describe what a boy or girl is. They have nothing to do with lengths, weights, sights, or performance, but everything to do with chromosomes. You either have those for your gender or you do not. There’s no field test; expect possibly the ability to pee your name in the snow.

As far as the general-purpose rifle goes, that category is wide open. Lots of rifles will effectively fill the general-purpose role. However, to paraphrase Cooper, a general-purpose rifle does not a scout make. Like with human gender, the specifications for a Scout Rifle have been set forth. We cannot change them; the concept is not ours to alter. With regard to a field test, depending on whose hands are at the controls, a Scout Rifle might not perform better than some other rifle.

If you are looking for a great place to discuss Scout Rifles and general-purpose rifles, check out scoutrifle.org.

However, there was a reason Cooper did not base the Scout Rifle definition on performance. A girl might be able to write her name in the snow but that does not make her a boy. With humans, there remains distinct, undeniable, and unchangeable differences just as there are between Scout Rifles and all others. The definition fits or it does not.

About any rifle you want can be a deer rifle, an elk rifle, a varmint rifle, or a general-purpose rifle, but a Scout Rifle is a very specific thing. Ironically, Cooper’s concept promoted a very specialized rifle to fulfill an unspecialized role. If you cannot accept this, well, you are confused, just like those folks who do not know which bathroom to pee in.