A deconstruction and reconstruction of Jeff Cooper’s Scout Rifle concept: it’s not 1983 anymore.
Or: Separating the good abstract idea from a dated concrete implementation to develop a modern concrete implementation.
For the past four decades, people have combined the abstract scout rifle concept, and the concrete scout rifle implementation of 1983. This has led to some people outright dismissing the concept completely, and others to slavishly cling to an outdated implementation. My goal here is to revalidate the concept and develop a potential modern implementation.
Jeff Cooper is, in many ways, the father of the modern shooting community. He established, advocated, and trained the core of modern pistol shooting techniques, concealed carry mindset, and many other ideas. At the same time, many of his ideas were, to put it bluntly, Fuddy as fuck, such as his love of the 1911 and .45 ACP. However, I feel that there is nothing as poorly considered or implemented as his â€œscout rifleâ€ idea.
As soon as you read â€œscout rifleâ€, you probably had a very specific picture in your head. It looked like the Steyr Scout, also famous from Counter-Strike. Or maybe, if youâ€™re more modern, itâ€™s the Ruger Gunsite Scout. Either way, itâ€™s a bolt-action rifle with a forward-mounted, long eye relief â€œscoutâ€ scope. In 1983, Cooper gathered a bunch of experts at the Gunsite Training Center and they defined a set of requirements, here abridged from Wikipedia (feel free to skim over this):
- Caliber: a standard chambering of .308 Winchester/7.62Ã—51mm NATO or 7mm-08 Remington for locales that forbid civilian ownership of cartridges in chamberings adopted by military forces or for its “slightly better ballistics.” As Cooper wrote, “A true Scout comes in .308 or 7mm-08.” The .243 Winchester is an alternative for young, small-framed, or recoil-shy people, but needs a 22 in (560 mm) barrel. Cooper also commissioned “Lion Scout,” chambered for the .350 Remington Magnum cartridge.
- Action: all Cooper’s prototype scout rifles were bolt-actions, and he said the Brno ZKK 601 action is the closest to the guidelines. A bolt-action two-lug, 90Â° rotation was favored, as was the traditional Mauser claw extractor. The bolt knob should be smooth and round, not checkered and positioned far enough forward of the trigger to avoid pounding of the index finger during firing. The safety should be positive and include three positions. It should disconnect the trigger mechanism rather than blocking it. It should be strong and positive and work from front to rear, rear position “safe” and forward “fire.”
- Trigger: smooth and clean, and provide a crisp 3 lb (1,400 g) release.
- Weight: an unloaded weight, with accessories, of 3 kg (6.6 lb); with 3.5 kilograms (7.7 pounds) the maximum acceptable.
- Length: an overall length of 1 meter (39 inches) or less.
- Optics: a forward-mounted telescopic sight of low magnification, typically 2 to 3 power. This preserves the shooter’s peripheral vision, keeps the ejection port open to allow the use of stripper clips to reload the rifle, and eliminates any chance of the scope striking one’s brow during recoil.
- Reserve sights: ghost ring auxiliary iron sights: a rear sight consisting of a receiver-mounted large-aperture thin ring, and typically a square post front sight on the receiver bridge and not on the end of the barrel, where it catches on things, breaks, snags and muddies up. This allows the rifle to be accurately aimed at short to medium ranges even if the scope becomes damaged.
- Stock: synthetic rather than wood stocks. Heel of the butt rounded to avoid snagging on the shirt. A spare magazine stored in the butt. A retractable bipod that does not protrude from the stock.
- Magazine: magazine should be so constructed as to protect the points of soft point spitzer bullets as they ride in the magazine. Some sort of magazine cutoff permitting the rifle to be used in the single-shot mode with the magazine in reserve. An alternative to the magazine cutoff is a detachable box magazine with a double intent which could be inserted to its first stop not allowing the bolt to feed it. When desired, the magazine could be pressed into its second stop, permitting the bolt to pick up the top cartridge.
- Sling: a “Ching” or “CW” sling. Against common practice, Cooper advocated the use of a sling as a shooting aid. The Ching sling offers the convenience of a carrying strap and the steadiness of a target shooter’s sling with the speed of a biathlete’s sling. (The CW sling is a simpler version of a Ching sling, consisting of a single strap.)
- Accuracy: should be capable of shooting into 2 MOA (0.6 mrad) or less (4 inches or 120 mm) at 200 meters/yards (3 shot groups)
These requirements, taken together, lead to what people generally now consider the â€œScout Rifleâ€. They’re heavily influenced by African hunters and “volunteers”, as well as the experiences of other adventurers over the previous decades at the time. Based on this, many people develop intense antipathy towards it, and consider the concept dead. However, these requirements were based on something, Jeff Cooperâ€™s â€œscout rifle conceptâ€ which is far more interesting than the traditional implementation.
The basic idea of the scout rifle was, as the name suggests, a rifle that would be used by a scout. Specifically, a lone person or 2-3 man team, without ready support, who wants to move quickly and relatively quietly, and may encounter hostile wildlife or personnel. Cooper defined it as a â€œgeneral-purpose rifle [that] will do equally well for all but specialized hunting, as well as for fighting; thus it must be powerful enough to kill any living target of reasonable size. If you insist upon a definition of ‘reasonable size’, let us introduce an arbitrary mass figure of about 1,000 lb (454 kg)” capable of hitting (and implicitly killing) a man-sized target out to 450 meters with or without optics. Considering that, the abstract concept behind the scout rifle is still a valid idea. For reference, 1,000 lb is the low end of savannah-dwelling Cape Buffalo, and well over the weight of a Grizzly; Cooper was looking at a pretty powerful rifle.
Before discussing the whyâ€™s of the traditional Scout Rifle implementation, itâ€™s worth contextualizing when it was developed. The First Scout Rifle Conference was held nearly forty years ago at the time of writing this. At the time, you could still purchase newly manufactured machine guns. The post-AWB expansion of the firearms market, community, and development was still twenty-one years in the future. The M16 and AR-15 were still considered toy plastic rifles, although that was starting to change in military circles with the M16A2 only being developed the year before.
In this context, the classic implementation of the Scout Rifle makes a lot of sense. Bolt actions were lighter, cheaper, and at least considered significantly more reliable than semi-autos of the time. Optics were still questionable and much less capable than they are now, so backup sights were an easy requirement. Magazines were similarly distrusted compared to feeding rounds through the action singly or by a stripper clip. Combining these, we can see why an implementation would be a bolt-action with an optic secondary to iron sights, and placed in such a way that the action is clear for reloading with stripper clips. Moving to the stock, we see something fairly modern- requiring a synthetic stock for lighter weight and greater durability. Further details include a second magazine kept handy, and attention paid to keeping the rifle sleek and easy to move around with, including a â€œhiddenâ€ bipod integrated to the stock. Cooperâ€™s specific insistence on the Ching Sling (a sling that attaches at three different points on the rifle) was likewise a forward-thinking hybrid-use sling that functioned both as a carry and a shooting aid.
It’s easy to forget now, but the Scout Rifle, as implemented in 1983, was pretty cutting edge for its day, even if it was conservatively so.
Obviously, a lot has changed in the firearms market since 1983. With that in mind, letâ€™s take the requirements listed above, and make them a bit more abstract for general application, and discuss them a bit more.
- Caliber: A cartridge capable of good terminal effects and accuracy at 500m.
- Action: A lightweight, reliable action.
- Trigger: A light, crisp trigger you can use effectively and accurately.
- Weight and Length: As light and handy as possible while conforming to other specifications.
- Optics and Backup Sights: A reliable optic that functions across the potential engagement distance of 0-500m, and unobtrusive backup sights in case anything goes wrong.
- Stock and other furniture: Durable, comfortable and effective stock and furniture allowing for easy movement while carrying the rifle and effective use.
- Magazine: Easy to use and reliable magazine.
- Sling: A sling that allows for easy carry and use as a shooting aid when necessary.
- Accuracy: Capable of hitting a man-sized target at 500m
You may notice that Iâ€™ve slightly stepped up the range from 450 to 500m. This is because I like round hundred numbers, and should not be difficult to achieve with modern rifles. Several of these are trivial to achieve in the modern firearms market, and others are putting an essentially arbitrary objective number on things that may be a little more subjective. However arbitrary, these numbers are good starting points.
Starting with caliber, .308 remains an excellent baseline general purpose cartridge. Instead of 7mm-08 and .243, I would suggest 6.5 Creedmoor as a good alternative for its superior ballistics and range, reduced recoil, and easy accessibility. At the same time, a good argument could be made for 5.56, which has many fantastic loadings, or the more specialized cartridges that fit the AR-15 action. This would be trading some firepower for light weight, but at the relatively short ranges the concept is dealing with, that may not be a huge issue. In the end, Iâ€™d say that 5.56mm in a good loading for extended range, .308, or 6.5 CM would be the chambering. This heavily depends on what you’re expecting to encounter, and how confident you feel with that caliber.
While Cooper only really considered bolt-actions, he did say “if a semiautomatic action were made which was sufficiently compact and otherwise acceptable, it should certainly be considered”. Living as we are in the age of the AR, the AR-15 and AR-10 platforms provide compact, lightweight and reliable actions that are more capable than a bolt action, especially for a lone scout or small recon element. This also allows a wide variety of excellent magazines.
A length requirement of 1m/39â€ is trivial to achieve with an AR. Even with its stock fully extended, the Knight’s Armament Company SR-25 with a 16â€ barrel only barely breaks that at 39.5â€. However, the weight limit of 3.5kg/7.7 pounds accessorized and unloaded is a little difficult for the AR-10 platform. The SR-25 weighs in at 8.4 pounds unloaded and stripped, but brings significantly more capability than a bolt action. To generalize, I exhort you to pay attention to weight, and not add weight that does not reasonably add capability at the same time. For a specific number, I think that keeping it under 5kg/11 pounds unloaded is reasonable limit. The Mk12 weighs 10 pounds unloaded, so that extra pound gives you some easy wiggle room.
Furniture on the AR platform is generally subjective to your own preferences. The only real requirement is a free-floated barrel. Thereâ€™s too many options and too many benefits to not do so. The rest of it is up to you, but donâ€™t add extra weight and make sure itâ€™s durable. A bipod, while part of the original implementation, is really up to you. If you think that extra weight and dangly bit off the front is worth the trouble, go for it. Slings have advanced similarly, and an adjustable two-point sling allows for easy carry and use as a shooting support while standing without the complexity of a Ching Sling.
Optics have come a long way in the past decade, not to mention the past four. An LVPO in 1-6x or 1-8x provides excellent usability across the 0-500m range, with a generous eyebox allowing for maintaining at least some peripheral vision. Without needing to load from stripper clips, it can be mounted directly above the action, and with the mount will typically be under two pounds. Folding BUIS, offset or not, are trivial to install. Maid has been bouncing around her writeup of what would be perfect in an LVPO, but I would definitely suggest an FFP one in a solid mount at a height comfortable for you.
The original definition states a 2â€ group at 200m, but also states that it should be effective to 450m. To combine them, I will say a 5â€, or 13cm group at 500m. This could be fudged a little bit, say to an 8â€/20cm group at 500m, but the rifle should be easily capable of consistent accuracy out to that range.
To summarize, the Modern implementation of the Scout Rifle Concept is an AR-10 in .308 or 6.5CM, with a 16″ barrel, or an AR-15 in 5.56 with an 18″ barrel, a collapsing stock, LVPO, backup sights, free-floating handguard, adjustable two-point sling, and possibly a bipod. Chances are if you already own more than one AR-15 or AR-10, you already have this rifle, or could shuffle accessories around to configure one like this.
In the twitter post where I teased this article, someone mentioned a suppressor. Personally, Iâ€™m a little torn on that idea. I donâ€™t think a can is necessarily a bad idea for a modern scout rifle implementation, but I think it also goes against some of the underlying principles.
My interpretation is that a scout rifle is a rifle that is mostly meant to be carried, but to be effective if and when it needs to be used. Conceptually, the scout is not looking for a fight, but is prepared for one. The rifle is there for the scout or scouts to defend themselves and return to the element that they are scouting for, even if that element is not available for immediate assistance. If the only way to safely engage is with a suppressor, donâ€™t. Furthermore, it adds additional, somewhat awkward, weight and length for questionable benefit.
I wonâ€™t say that no modern scout rifle should have a suppressor on it, but I think that is a decision that the user needs to weigh the benefits and downsides of. Of course, quick detach suppressors provide another option and layer of consideration.