Back in 1984, Col. Jeff Cooper wrote an article for Gun Digest titled “The Scout Rifle Idea.” Basically, Cooper said that the perfect general-purpose rifle, “if you could own only one,” was a short, light .308 bolt action equipped with a barrel-mounted long-eye-relief, low-magnification scope for quick, both-eyes-open aiming.
He also laid out a full set of other specs involving loading, magazine design, accuracy requirements and handling characteristics. Shooters and rifle manufacturers have been arguing about these ideas ever since, and Cooper’s name has become synonymous with the concept.
For years, Cooper consulted with various manufacturers about commercial production of his brainchild. Several companies have since offered their own “Scout Rifle” designs (notably Steyr and Savage), plus “semi-Scouts” such as the now-discontinued Ruger M77 Frontier.
But now, more than a quarter century after the genesis of the original idea, Ruger has introduced its own formal rendition. It’s called the Gunsite Scout Rifle, in honor of the Arizona training facility Cooper founded in 1979. While the GSR is not an exact manifestation of every feature Cooper called for, it’s about as close as anyone has come.
The Ruger GSR is a new platform in the M77 family, featuring standard Mauser 98-derived features such as controlled round feed, Mauser-type claw extractor, a receiver-mounted fixed blade ejector and a receiver-mounted, three-position safety, but with a 10-round detachable box magazine. The GSR also has the recently developed Ruger LC6 trigger, which—thanks to its improved internal geometry—has a cleaner let-off than the previous M77 trigger.
Continuing M77 features include a flat-sided, flat-bottomed receiver with a forward-angling front bedding screw secured to the receiver’s integral recoil lug, integral receiver top mounts for the supplied Ruger rings and a one-piece stainless steel bolt and handle. You can get that bolt handle on either side; the GSR is available both in right- and left-hand versions.
The GSR’s 16½-inch medium-contour, cold-hammer-forged barrel has a Mini-14 protected post front sight, paired with a receiver-mounted, adjustable ghost-ring rear. A six-inch barrel-mounted Picatinny rail offers a variety of optics options—including long-eye-relief Scout scopes available from a variety of manufacturers, as well as nonmagnifying electronic and reflex sights. The Mini-14/SR-556-type flash suppressor brings the overall barrel length to 19 inches, but helps reduce the .308’s muzzle flash from the relatively short barrel. The 5/8-24 muzzle threads also allow removal of the flash suppressor in case you don’t want anything hanging out there.
The matte-black oxide hammer-forged 4140 steel barrel and investment-cast 4140 steel receiver sit in a weather resistant black/gray laminate stock with conventional front and rear QD sling swivel studs and a cut-checkered grip and forearm. “Gunsite Scout Rifle” is laser-engraved on the grip cap to note Ruger’s design collaboration with the staff of Gunsite Academy.
The stock is designed with a minimal .31-inch difference between the drop at comb and heel, to facilitate the square-behind-the-rifle firing stance Cooper favored and Gunsite teaches. The stock also features a one-inch soft rubber recoil pad, with three half-inch spacers that allow the length of pull to be adjusted from 121/2 to 141/4 inches for individual requirements or to provide proper fit with outerwear or defensive gear.
The GSR’s magazine well and triggerguard are fiberglass-reinforced nylon. The magazine release is a push-forward Mini-14 type “quick drop” paddle just ahead of the triggerguard. Each GSR comes equipped with one 10-round magazine, and five-round accessory magazines are also available.
The Accuracy International tapered stagger-feed magazines require cartridges to be loaded by pushing them down against the follower, then backward under the feed lips, rather than snapping them down directly from above. This means they are therefore guided forward under the magazine lips during the bolt stroke, so the controlled-round Mauser-type bolt actually functions as a push-feed during most of its travel. This results in a notably different feel to the feeding cycle than with other M77s, and it might take some getting used to (at least until Ruger perfects its own proprietary polymer magazines).
BUILDING THE RIFLE
The GSR actually only took about one year to put together from Ruger’s “let’s do it” moment until the product launch in December 2010. After planning meetings in Arizona between Ruger and Gunsite personnel, Ruger’s New Hampshire plant kicked into gear.
Veteran Ruger engineer Roy Melcher was given creative oversight for the project. The GSR would be his final accomplishment prior to his death in December, 2010. Ruger Product Manager Mark Gurney says that Melcher was the one who mandated that the GSR have only a 16.5-inch barrel (Cooper’s original template called for a minimum 18-inch tube). “Roy was a curmudgeon,” remembers Gurney. So when others were suggesting 18 inches, Melcher simply said, “No! It’s got to be 16½ inches. The Frontier has a 16½-inch barrel and it handles beautifully.” So 16½ inches it was.
From the moment the GSR premiered, it has generated a lot of comment from Cooper purists taking Ruger to task for violating one or another of the late Colonel’s original precepts. “The GRS isn’t really a controlled feed mechanism and can’t be loaded from the top” (the magazine lip issue). “The rear sight isn’t really a ghost ring” (the ring is too thick and the aperture too small). “It weighs too much” (Cooper really wanted it to be no more than 6.5 lbs). “There’s only one sling swivel stud on the fore-end” (Cooper’s recommended Ching Sling can’t be installed). “There doesn’t need to be a flash suppressor” (Cooper’s doctrine was for a military “scout” to shoot once and immediately move to a different location). And, of course, “The barrel’s too short!”
Well, I stand with Melcher on that last one. In his original writings on the idea of a .308 Scout, Cooper observed that 2,700 fps for a 155-grain from an 18½-inch barrel duplicates the ballistics of the original .30-06 load from a 24-inch barrel, which “sufficed very well for Theodore Roosevelt and Stewart Edward White in Africa.” Today’s factory loads with advanced propellants equal or exceed that with 16½-inch barrels. When it comes to a Scout Rifle, I think shorter is better—particularly if you’re going to hang a flash suppressor on the end of it.
According to Gurney, “We believe the Ruger GSR is a credible rendition according to Cooper’s concepts. We didn’t try to blindly follow any strict recipe, because Cooper didn’t have a strict recipe. He had guidelines; guidelines based upon an ideal, and Ruger and Gunsite have together followed those ideals as best we could while keeping costs and development time reasonable.”
Personally, I’m not so much interested in how closely the GSR adheres to the Cooper’s precise specifications as I am in how well it shoots, functions, and handles. It does all of these things extremely well. Particularly the shooting.
PERFORMANCE BEYOND THE CONCEPT
When laying out his vision of the Scout Rifle, Cooper wrote that “any combination of rifle and man that can keep all ten shots in five inches” in a series of five two-shot pairs, standing to sitting, at 100 yards “demonstrates excellent practical accuracy;” and that a basic Scout should therefore “be good for two minutes, and 2½ will do very well.” Actually, I’m a little more demanding than that, because if all the rifle will do is deliver 2.5 minutes, that means I have to shoot at least as good as the gun just to keep inside that five-inch standard, both standing and sitting (not my forté). So the first thing I did when our review sample GSRs arrived was receiver-mount one of them with a compact Bushnell 6-24X varmint scope and sit down at a competition-grade benchrest to see exactly how much slack I was going to have to take up myself.
As it turned out, not any. I should confess that I really didn’t expect otherwise, because back in December 2010, when I had my first opportunity to shoot a GSR while taping Guns & Ammo TV at the Ruger factory in New Hampshire, I had been able to shoot 1¼-inch groups from a field benchrest while using a simple 2.5X scout scope—in real time, on camera; which is not a time when I really have my match-competition focus going. The overall average of 30 individual groups with six different commercial .308 Winchester loads through the GSR with the 24X scope was under one MOA.
When I dropped down to as stable a sitting position as I’m capable with Leupold’s new variable 1.5-4x28mm Scout Scope set at 4X, the 100-yard groups were still right at two to 2½ inches. Accurate rifle; good trigger.
I was an early convert to the Scout, because both-eyes-open aiming really works for deer hunting. So in 1987, when Remington offered its handy little 18.5-inch Model Seven 7mm-08 with a synthetic FS stock, I immediately set one up with a custom mount base on the barrel and a 2.75X Scout scope, and have used it for woodland whitetails ever since.
If I were limited to owning one rifle, it’d likely be an adjustable-stock AR carbine in 6.8 SPC rigged with a forward-mounted optic (in other words, a semiauto Scout).
But if it had to be a bolt-action, the Ruger Gunsite Scout Rifle would be the very one.
Left-handed, of course.