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Tactical Bolt Action G&A Lists Rifles

What’s the Best ‘New’ Scout Rifle?

by Tom Beckstrand   |  July 29th, 2013 39

The concept of the Scout rifle popularized by Col. Jeff Cooper existed as early as World War II. While the Germans certainly didn’t refer to their forward-mounted scoped rifles as such, their Mauser K98ks — fitted with ZF-41 scopes — closely match the criteria later mandated by Cooper. The Mauser rifles were a little longer and heavier than the he would have liked, but they were appropriately chambered, had the recommended glass in the right place and fed from stripper clips.

A concept first fielded militarily by the Germans more than 70 years ago that still has a following today obviously has merits. The Scout rifle isn’t perfect for every scenario, as it was — and is — intended to be a general-purpose rifle. Scouts don’t work well if we’re trying to shoot small groups on paper or if we’re engaging multiple targets at close distances. However, they are simple to maintain and operate and quick to reload.

Every rifle has a personality and unique characteristics. Scouts can best be described as agile, quick-loading and -cycling, short, light and featuring redundant sighting systems (one optical and one iron). The reason such rifles hold a captive audience is that they work when called upon for everything from killing game to defending the homestead. The effective range for the Scout is limited to the proficiency of the user, but it likely falls anywhere from 25 to 400 meters.

Capable of functioning reliably with a wide variety of bullet weights under the most adverse conditions, the Scout concept promises to remain relevant for another 70 years. Here’s a roundup of today’s Scout — and Scout-like — rifles.

THE STEYR
The Steyr rifle is the only rifle to meet all of Cooper’s original requirements to be called a “Scout.” It weights 6.6 pounds, has an overall length of 38.9 inches and is chambered in .308 Win. It has an exceptional trigger that is user-adjustable and has the smoothest-cycling bolt of the Scouts tested.

Some of the unique features of the Steyr rifle are the continuous top rail that runs the length of the action and fore-end and the application of alternate materials in its construction. The continuous top rail makes it easy to mount a scope traditionally or forward of the receiver. Steyr’s use of polymers and aluminum keeps the weight down, so the largest steel parts on it are the barrel and bolt. The bolt has two lugs and a Sako-style extractor.

The rifle carries two five-round magazines at all times, one feeding the rifle under the receiver and the other in reserve at the toe of the stock. It is set up to accept the Ching Sling right out of the box. While all Scout rifles are light and recoil more than we’re used to with the .308, the Steyr’s stock did the best job of making the recoil manageable during bench testing.

SAVAGE
The Savage Scout has been around for a while now and represents the best buy of the lineup. The Savage is about a half-inch too long, a tenth of a pound too heavy and doesn’t accept a Ching Sling, so in the strictest sense, Col. Cooper wouldn’t call it a Scout. It offers the shooter a number of features normally only available on rifles that are much more expensive.

The AccuStock and AccuTrigger are two of my favorite features of the Savage Scout. The AccuStock is a light polymer stock that has an aluminum bedding block that runs the length of the action and fore-end. The polymer keeps down the weight (weight is a major consideration for a Scout rifle and an important part of what distinguishes it from other rifles), and the aluminum gives it rigidity to hold the action in place and ensure that the barrel remains free-floating while firing.

The AccuTrigger is the other reason the Savage is a “best buy.” The AccuTrigger is easily recognizable by the additional shoe that rides in the trigger. The Savage rifle came with the trigger set at about three pounds, light and very crisp. The extra shoe on the trigger functions as a safety that has to be depressed for the rifle to fire. It is one of the top three factory triggers available on any bolt-action rifle today.

The Savage has a receiver-mounted rear peep sight and a gold bead front sight. They work well for shooting fast out to 200 yards. There is a rail section forward of the receiver that allows for mounting the scope in the Scout position. Hi-Lux makes a 2-7X that would be a great match for this rifle. The Hi-Lux scope is almost unheard-of, but it offers excellent optical performance at a very reasonable price.

RUGER’S GSR
The concept of the Scout rifle underwent a revival when Ruger unveiled its Gunsite Scout Rifle approximately two years ago. Ruger offers both left- and right-hand models, the only manufacturer to do so without having to contact a custom shop. While the GSR is too heavy to meet Cooper’s requirements, it performs well and is probably the most durable rifle of the lot.

The GSR comes in a laminated stock that, while heavy, is the most impervious to abuse. Laminate stocks are a great way to put incredibly durable stocks on rifles without boosting the unit cost by several hundred dollars. The stock also makes use of spacers to give it an adjustable length of pull.

The action is the Ruger Model 77 short action, offering all the benefits of controlled-round feed and that beautiful external claw extractor. The rear peep sight mounts to the rear receiver bridge and, like the front sight, has wings that protect it from getting knocked about. Scopes can be mounted directly to the receiver or forward of the receiver on a Picatinny rail section, giving the GSR the most scope-mounting options.

Ruger made a wise choice when they selected bottom metal that accepts standard Accuracy International magazines, an industry standard readily accessible from a number of sources. The AI magazines are spendy, so Ruger also offers their own polymer version. The Ruger polymer magazines allow the shooter to top-load the magazine while it is in the mag well for those times when we fire once or twice and want to top off the magazine without removing it from the rifle. It’s a small detail but one that reflects how much thought went into the GSR.

MOSSBERG PATROL
This rifle is the least Scout-like of the rifles here. It does bear some Scout characteristics (redundant sighting systems and a detachable box magazine), so I included it in this roundup.

The Patrol comes chambered in .223 Rem. and accepts regular AR-15 magazines, the rifle’s most unique feature. It ships with a 10-round magazine that bears Mossberg’s rollmark on the baseplate, but it’s made by ASC should you want to purchase more of them.

The Patrol ships with a 3-9X scope and some quick-detach mounts that attach to a Picatinny rail section atop the receiver. I can’t speak to the scope’s durability, but it worked well while I was shooting it and zeroed quickly. The crosshairs are too heavy for precise work, but a 3-9X isn’t really optimum for that role anyway. The leaf sights also worked well, with the fiber optic front sight being very visible even in dim light.

The stock is made from composite material and seems more rigid than polymer. It relies on two thin aluminum pillars to bed the action to the stock. Given the diminutive caliber, the stock is a good fit for the rifle.

The Patrol doesn’t have quite as broad a spectrum for general use as the other Scouts due to its chambering. However, it will still work well for both two- and four-legged varmint control, and you probably already have spare magazines for it.

SHOOTING SCOUTS
Scout rifles were made to be general-use tools that would accompany a rifleman wherever he might go, hence the stringent requirements for weight and length. It’s a rifle made for getting in and out of vehicles, long treks on foot and the possiblity of encountering unexpected situations. It’s also a rifle with a decided preference for snap-shooting (not so much for extremely tight 100-yard groups, thanks to the optical arrangement).

I used Black Hills 168-grain A-MAX and Federal 168-grain Gold Medal Match to evaluate accuracy in the Steyr, Ruger and Savage rifles. The average five-shot groups for the Ruger GSR were 1.81 inches for the Black Hills and 2.13 inches for the Federal. The Steyr liked the Federal better than the Black Hills, with the average Federal groups coming in at 1.53 inches and Black Hills at 1.83 inches. The Savage averaged 1.48 inches with the Black Hills and 2.01 inches with the Federal.

The 3-9X scope that ships with the Mossberg rifle made sighting-in and evaluating it a snap. Black Hills 52-grain ammo averaged 1.39 inches at 100 yards. The 77-grain Black Hills stuff averaged 1.52 inches.

Shooting these rifles was much like shooting any other conventional bolt actions on the market, except that they recoiled more than expected. With the light weight of the rifles, that shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but long range sessions from the bench probably won’t be popular with those using them. A day walking and field shooting is where the Scout shines.

No other bolt-action rifle type offers more versatility than the Scout. With three major manufacturers offering them, and another producing a fairly close approximation, it’s a safe bet that these rifles will be around for our grandkids to enjoy.

  • howler1968

    I’ll cast my vote to the Ruger tho the bolt assembly needs to be blackened. The threaded muzzle is a plus if a suppressor is on your bucket list. The Lefty version is a smart move. Ruger is still its own company….Savage/Stevens being recently acquired by an investment company. Ruger parts are local. You could save a few ozs by working on the laminate stock but get to light and the 308 will punish you. The Savage would be #2 because they are rugged,dependable and American. They all would be good feral hog controllers but the Ruger would be my sought out purchase.

  • Michael Brady

    Tom, It’s a shame you included the Mossberg, which is by no stretch a “Scout Rifle,” but neglected the Browning BLR, which meets the Scout Rifle criteria at least as well as the Ruger or the Savage. Still, I cast my vote for the Steyr, as it’s still comes closest to the Colonel’s ideals.

    • Cymond

      On the other hand, the Steyr lacks iron sights (as far as I can tell). Also, a threaded barrel is not technically a requirement, but I believe it is a good thing.

      • -J Johnson

        The Steyr does include iron sights.
        They are pop up sights designed into the rifle.
        I have to agree with Mike as the Steyr is the only of the bunch the Colonel actually had direct input on also.

        • Cymond

          My apologies, Phil Wong corrected my misconception below. You must admit, they are very well concealed.
          This makes the Steyr a lot more interesting to me. Factor in the bipod and a barrel that could be threaded easily, and it’s really far better than I realized.

        • Michael Brady

          The Colonel may also be the godfather of the recently discontinued Ruger Frontier. He demonstrated Scout III, a 77 Ultralight fitted with a No.1 scope base to Old Man Ruger himself back in the 1980s. Scout III had a more useful 20 inch barrel though.

          PS The BUIS on the Steyr are not iron, especially sturdy, or easy to use, but they’re there…

    • Fred Johnson

      Maybe including the Mossberg MVP is a nod to the upcoming MVP in .308 that may be coming soon. http://www.rifleshootermag.com/2013/01/29/everyman-rifle-mossberg-mvp-in-7-62-review/

  • Cymond

    I think I’m going to get the 16.5″ Scout and Cerakote it black or dark grey. I’d also like to have a Mossberg MVP in 300 Blackout, but I’m not sure if they’re actually produced.

    However, if my petite cousin decides she wants a bolt-action rifle, I’m going to recommend the Mossberg because 223 is better for her.

    I have trouble accepting the Steyr as a true scout due to lack of iron sights, and I personally prefer a threaded barrel.

    • Phil Wong

      FYI, the Steyr Scout Rifle DOES have pop-up “emergency” iron sights at either end of the top Picatinny scope rail – in normal use, they lie flush with the rail so as not to obstruct the view through the EER scope. Lt. Col. Cooper allowed that such a “back-up” iron sight system could be functional for emergency use, as if you have the time to remove a damaged scope in the field, you certainly have the time to flip up the irons. Also, while placing the front sight that far back from the muzzle does shorten the sight radius and compromise the usability of the iron sights somewhat, it also keeps the front sight better protected from damage and snagging on brush than if it were mounted at the muzzle.

      • Cymond

        Ah, thank you. I had no idea, since they’re so well tucked away.

        • brownsilva

          I shot a Ruger GSR belonging to my son-in-law and liked it so much I had to get one myself. The GSR, as engineered, is a very capable general purpose rifle and mine shoots & carries well. Blog research prior to arrival of the GSR led me to do a thorough examination before shooting the rifle. Good thing, as the rear action screw was missing & the Picatinny rail screws were not tightened consistently. Minor quality control issues and/or the lack of final inspection seems to be a common complaint among GSR owners. Once those issues were addressed, I’ve been pleased with my GSR.

    • -J Johnson
  • Chimookman

    I have a Ruger Gunsight Scout, and was disappointed in the workmanship. The rails inside the receiver are razor sharp, with an irregularity at the rear of the action. Many of the reviews on Youtube showed the balky action in operation. MIne would nearly totally seize after running a full ten round mag through it. The flash suppressor, which I wanted to remove and replace with a thread protector proved just about impossible to remove, even with an 18″ breaker bar and the recommended T60 Torx bit, which I bought for that purpose.
    I used gunsmith diamond files to remove the razor edge on the rails and buffed them with a dremel tool and a soft abrasive attachment. The action is now fairly smooth but not first rate. It is inferior in operation to my Savage 111 in operation.
    I believe the reason they stopped taking orders for several months because of issues with the machining on the bolt rails, as the choppy action is an extremely common complaint, indicating lousy quality control I think they got greedy and lost track of quality for a while due to the enthusiastic reception for this rifle.
    I love the stock and dimensions of the rifle, but have problems with the eye relief, so I will likely mount a conventional scope over the action. I was originally planning to buy a Remington 700 SS Mountain Rifle and now wish I had. It would have cost a small amount more, but I believe I would have been much more satisfied.
    As to this year, I will probably hunt Mule Deer with my Savage, instead of relying on the Scout, which continues to disappoint me in extensive target practice. I will likely carry the scout along with my bear and lion tag while hunting and hiking outside of deer season and stick my wife with the Ruger.

    • Chimookman

      Follow up. After adding a good long eye relief scope, the Gunsight Scout turned out to be an easy carry tack driver, and with the Ruger 2 round magazine a fairly comfortable rifle to carry with a nylon sling. I used this deer season and did not regret the choice. The carbine size is a real advantage. I am reassessing my opinions above in favor of the rifle now that the bugs are worked out. ps: I still want a Remington Mountain SS, and will someday buy one.

  • HumbertoD

    Not a bonafide scout rifle, but my Remington 788 in .308 with iron sights, spare magazines and a fixed 4x telescopic sight does the job!

    • watkibe

      YES ! My 788 carbine in .308 meets all Scout criteria except the forward mounted scope. I use a 1.5 to 4.5 scope that lets me keep both eyes open even when I want to use the scope. It has DBMs, irons, great sling with synthetic stock…I’m good to go !

  • Anjin

    Jeff Cooper told me in the 1980′s that the most suitable police rifle is a 30-30 Winchester 94. Idiot-proof, light, simple and easy to handle. Fewer accidental discharges (this was after the Laurie Dann standoff where a patrol car got a new hole in its roof.) I like his idea of a scout rifle, but am still rather at a loss as to what it is for. Car rifle? I do not like any of these choices, especially the Steyr. An Enfield Mk IV carbine would be a much better choice.

    • ZENPATRIOT

      The Scout Rifle is a general purpose rifle, adequate for short and long range self defense and survival hunting.

  • higherview

    I have enjoyed the scout concept promoted by Jeff Cooper and followed the various expressions of his various criteria for the Scout rifle, therefore I enjoyed reading Scouts Out by Tom Beckstrand. What I do not understand is why the extended magazine is being added to the criteria that Cooper presented for his generalist rifle? The forward mounted scope and the ability to grip around the balancing point are central to the Scout concept. Cooper wrote [the forward scope] “allows the rifle to be grasped at the balance during running, jumping and violent exercise much more conveniently than any weapon with the glass mounted rearward.” (38th Ed. The Gun Digest 1984). There are other criteria, but this is foundational to the concept, and by this concept alone only the Savage and the Steyr in the article really qualify as Scouts.

    • ZENPATRIOT

      Good point. But I suppose that can be accomplished using a flush-fitting magazine, assuming one exists for the Mossberg and the Ruger. I do however like the idea of compatibility with existing magazine platforms, such as the Mossberg using AR mags. If the Ruger were designed to use FAL mags, it would be perfect!

      • uisconfruzed

        The Ruger uses a better mag, AI, and a short 5 rnd one is available.

        • ZENPATRIOT

          The Ruger mag may be better, but it’s not as widely available or inexpensive as the FAL mags. And if an FAL mag works, that’s good enough.

          Who’s Al?

  • Ned Weatherby

    Unless something has changed, the Ruger Scout Rifle is a push feed, like the older MK-I versions of Ruger bolt rifles. In 2011, G&A’S own Dick Metcalf even referenced that point.

    So I wouldn’t consider that a selling point – although the Mauser style extractor is still hard to beat. Incidentally, I never heard of any issues – either accuracy, feeding or otherwise, from the push-feed Rugers. It’s just with the magazine they chose, the rifle is necessarily a push-feed.

  • James_G

    Any of the AR-10s would be better then these options for multi-purpose use in hunting and combat. ACOG is a better site then the weak fragile forward mounted versions.

    • StevieP65

      An AR10 with an ACOG would outweigh any of these rifles by four pounds or more.

  • Sodie Ray Davis

    These are Nothing more than British, cal. 303 Jungle Carbines,
    of Witch: I Like Very Much !

  • Droid

    Before I read this article, I was looking into buying a scout rifle, but I felt the prices of the “dedicated” scout rifles were just too high. I read an article about Col. Coopers requirements and figured that I would just make my own. I started with a brand new Ruger American Compact in .308 (Short, light, short/reliable/strong action, accurate, decent trigger, hard hitting caliber & inexpensive). I put a standard 3×9 scope on it and ordered a Limbsaver butt-stock pad to absorb some of the recoil, as well as adding an inch to the shortish stock (personal choice for comfort). There you have it. The rifle was $285 new, the scope ~$50-60 (I had it laying around) and the pad was $25. Add a $10 sling and I meet all of the requirements for under $400. I’m very happy with the results, so I thought that I would share the idea.

    • ZENPATRIOT

      Is your scope LER mounted forward allowing the use of both eyes? If not, it’s not a scout.

  • Tam Dl

    On thing this article doesn’t seem to get is how specific the requirements for a scout rifle are. They are not just a mater of a forward mounted scope, and no German rifle, or anything like it has ever really sketched out a similar concept.

    Start with the DVC requirements you need power (308); accuracy scope sighted bolt action rifle; and speed, which is in the general parameters drawn from a fine english shotgun, to the forward mounted scope. The 3kg weight is drawn directly from shotgun weights, and originally was intended to include the weight of a scope.

    One can’t just hang any scope on any rifle, any stock etc… It has to work and fit the shooter like a fine shotgun would. At Whittington, they shot skeet with these rifles. Many rifles wear the scopes too high, the combs to low, all manner of poorly worked out junk.

    To the general parameters of a fine rifle that hits like a 308 at any range you can see the target at, as fast as you can run a double, Cooper added over the years a lot of stuff that he considered essential to the general rifle role. And by general he meant military and sporting. For me, this is where I parted company with him. I’m not in the military, or so far from help that stuff like back-up sights mater to me. I do shoot a sling, so that stuff was for me. But I want the basics, even the original weight, before I would spring for the doo dahs.

    Then along came the Steyr rifle. This one added a lot of weirdness that was just silly, a bipod? Like teats on a bull. Steyr had to solve a lot of problems and they did it in sometimes novel ways that really detracted from the concept; the the height of glass over bore. And the weird look of the rifle. But all that said, it is still the only out of the box scout there has ever been. And Cooper who had had a rocky relationship with the commercial side of the shooting sports, may be the only gun writer to end up with such a long lasting statement from a manufacturer that enshrines one of his main ideas.

    For me, the Steyr is the only non-laughable non-custom scout. That doesn’t mean the rest aren’t decent rifles, but they aren’t scouts either. In fact, there is a lot that can be done with home made rifles that is closer to scoutiness, than what the manufacturers have been pushing out over the years. And there are a lot of iron sighted rifles that are closer to the concept than badly glassed rifles. The 30-30 lever being something of an improvement over the classic scout if long shots are not on the menu. Cooper seemed to acknowledge this in his praise for the co-pilot, or the classic Win.

  • Bruce

    How about, none of the above – Browning BLR Takedown with factory available scout scope mount and XS sights.

  • MikeDH

    Not trying to sound ig’nant, but this is a serious question:

    Doesn’t an AR in .300 blackout or 6.8 make the concept of a Scout Rifle obsolete?

    • ZENPATRIOT

      It fulfills it; it does not make it obsolete.

      • MikeDH

        Well, I see how a .300/6.8 AR fulfills the role, but what advantage would one have from a bolt action rifle with limited capacity over a 30 round semi-auto that is arguably lighter to boot? The only place I could see a scout rifle having a decided advantage would be very long range shots, in which case, a scout rifle is still not the best choice. Not saying there’s something wrong with a scout rifle, I just don’t understand it’s purpose in today’s world.

        • ZENPATRIOT

          When Cooper came up with the concept of the Scout Rifle, he chose a bolt action over a semi as semis did not have the accuracy that they do today. It is not necessary that a SR be a bolt, only that it be accurate.
          To understand the concept better, I would advise researching Cooper’s original writings on the subject.

  • Ant

    I have to add a gun to the discussion, the Blaser R8 with a carbon fiber stock. The weight is 6.5 lbs – making it lighter than the Stehr and meets Col Cooper’s requirement. Since the scope mounts are on the barrel (in front of the action) there is wide latitude to use a scope that allows easy top access to reload – as required by Col Cooper. The straight pull action and speed that comes with that, set it apart. I have the .308 barrel on it and the length also meets Col. Coopers desires. It has secondary sights (iron sights on the barrel). The only required feature that it is missing from Col. Cooper’s list is the ability to utilize a Ching sling. Though it can use Galco’s Safari Ching Sling – the 3rd generation of the sling that requires only two sling swivels. Further, unlike the Ruger, it has a full length barrel (they accomplish this by having the magazine and trigger combined into the same unit, which shortens then entire rifle length by about 3 inches). This avoids the well documented problem of the .308 having significant velocity loss when fired with a barrel shorter than 22″ in length (see articles by Chuck Haws). All told, the cost puts it at the high end, but it meets all of the requirements. The part I love about the gun is that I can simply swap out the barrel and scope (takes about 30 second) and I have a true hunting rifle in any caliber I choose (.300 Win Mag with a 2-12 x 50 scope) was my choice). The gun lives up to its hype in that it returns to zero. I use the same gun to hunt and then switch barrels and scope and have a great scout gun (which I mostly use for deep brush hunting of pigs, etc).

    • uisconfruzed

      All of that is nice, but IT’S A $5K+ BOLT ACTION RIFLE!
      It’d be awesome for this use if I was Bill Gates.
      Cooper’s “Sweetheart” was a Sako L579, of which I was able to afford.

  • Indiana Jones

    cannot compare Austrian quality with American production. Steyr is No 1 in this list … and I am neither Austrian nor American. So no obvious bias…. just my two bits !!!

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