This Thing Called a Scout Rifle


The conventional definition of the term “scout rifle” is any rifle with a forward mounted optical sight. Gunsite Academy founder Jeff Cooper coined the term and on multiple occasions defined it. However, his efforts to perpetuate a certain type of firearm are largely lost on the modern shooter. The result is a bastardization of a concept that had a lot to do with a rifle and maybe even more to do with its application.

Humans, being the visual creatures we are, are slaved to the visual reference. A perfect example of this is the Corvette. This car, regardless of the year it was made, is easily recognized. But imagine if you will that you had never seen or heard of a Corvette, and that your only exposure to the vehicle was a 100-word definition. Your vision of a Corvette might then greatly differ from its actual appearance. Might it look like a Mustang or a Camaro?

Scout II or Sweetheart was one of Cooper’s favorite rifles. And while it is without question a Scout Rifle, it meets the application definition but not the elemental one.

The same thing is what has happened to the Scout Rifle. This visual notion that a forward mounted scope is the defining element of a Scout Rifle has convoluted the principle that Cooper was preaching. If you were given a 100 word definition of a Scout Rifle, but had never seen or heard of one, would your impression be the same as it is today? Probably not. And, more importantly, each element of that definition would carry the same weight. In other words, the forward mounted optical sight would not be the single defining characteristic.

To many, all of this talk about Scout Rifles seems outdated and it’s not uncommon for some self-proclaimed expert to say as much. They’ll offer the argument that with the modern semi-automatic firearm, its reliability, accuracy, modularity, and prevalence have pushed a general-purpose concept of the last century into obsolescence. The truth is that what has passed into obsolescence is the realized importance of the rifleman who can get a single decisive and lethal hit, in the field from any position, out to about 300 yards with speed.

Ruger’s Gunsite Scout Rifle, comes closer to meeting Cooper’s application requirements for a Scout Rifle than it does the elemental ones.

As true as this may be, in the era of high capacity – high volume blasting, Ruger has proven conclusively that the consumer has a deep desire for a general-purpose rifle, that is at least somewhat like Cooper envisioned. The Gunsite Scout Rifle is one of Ruger’s best-selling rifles. The next question that then begs to be answered is whether in fact the Ruger Gunsite Scout Rifle is indeed a real Scout Rifle. To answer this, using Cooper’s words from circa 1989, lets look at two variations of the referenced 100-word definition.

The Scout Rifle by Element

  • A bolt-action rifle with a short action.
  • Chambered for the 308 Winchester, 7mm-08 Remington, or 243 Winchester
  • Smooth and round bolt handle.
  • Measuring one meter or less in length.
  • Weighing three kilos or less – field ready – with optical sight and sling attached.
  • 18 – 20-inch barrel (22 inches in 243 Winchester)
  • Fitted with a CW sling and flush sockets.
  • Ghost ring rear sight with square, red filled, front post.
  • 10-inch eye relief scope fitted flush with the rear of the front receiver ring.
  • Optional accessories include a butt magazine for ammo storage and a stock that houses a disappearing bipod.

The Scout Rifle by Application

“The most important thing about the scout is that is it a general-purpose rifle. Its most outstanding characteristic is handiness. It is light, compact, and friendly. It will put them where you point them from arm’s length out to a range too great for a sensible attempt. It will do almost anything that a rifle may be required to do, and do it well. It is not a battle rifle for use 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.”

packer scout
From an application standpoint only, this Packer Scout by Jim Brockman is indeed a true Scout Rifle. However, it will not stand up to the elemental test.

If you read these two descriptions you might very well envision two very different rifles. However, the Scout Rifle is a combination of both explanations. Cooper clearly outlined what a Scout Rifle was to be used for. And, based on his experiences, he specifically detailed how a rifle designed for those purposes should be configured. While both definitions clearly define the Scout Rifle, many rifles could reasonably fit within the parameters of the application definition, but it takes a very specific rifle to meet the elemental definition.

This Jim Brockman customized rifle from New Ultra Light Arms is the handiest rifle I have ever fired. It might surpass the application definition while barely meeting the elemental one. However, the base rifle alone is too expensive for most of us.

Members of what I call the Shadowy Scout Rifle Elite (You can be entertained by their ramblings HERE) adhere to the elemental definition, almost to the point the application aspect is lost. They often treat Cooper’s words like the gospel, with no room for individual interpretation. “Sorry son, your rifle is 6.3 ounces to heavy, the scope is mounted 1/8 inch too high, the heel of your butt pad has not been radiused, your barrel is one-inch too long and oh my…what’s that thing on the end of it?” Therefore, your rifle is not a true Scout Rifle.

This is all I’m sure offered under the guise of good intent, with the hope of maintaining the purity of the concept. I can raise that flag too, but at the same time it must be acknowledged that Cooper never owned a rifle that perfectly met his elemental definition. (I guess it could also be argued that we are all sinners so why follow your faith at all.)

The Steyr Scout Rifle. Proclaimed by Jeff Cooper to be the best personal rifle in the world.


Aside from falling slightly outside his elemental definition, Cooper felt Scout Rifle perfection was reached in 1997 with the introduction of the Steyr Scout. I find that conclusion hard to argue with even today but we must remember, our future and the future of the Scout Rifle is ahead of us, not in the past.

So what really is this thing called a Scout Rifle? It was and remains a concept; a search for the ideal one-rifle answer. As long as there are riflemen who value the importance of a single decisive and lethal hit, in the field from any position and out to sensible distances, the Scout Rifle Concept will never die. And, those interested will continue to seek the excellence of Cooper’s vision.

It is, in my mind, a worthy endeavor.

The Scout Rifle Cover 6 2016 smallThis is a condensed excerpt from Richard Mann’s upcoming book, The Scout Rifle, Its History and Place in the 21st Century. Estimated release date: Early 2017