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What’s the Best ‘New’ Scout Rifle?

by Tom Beckstrand   |  July 29th, 2013 42

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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