Today we’re seeing renewed interest in scout rifles. Steyr, Mossberg, Ruger and Savage all offer commercial interpretations of the scout. But, are these modern renditions of Jeff Cooper’s general-purpose carbine suitable for big game hunting?
Gunsite Academy founder Jeff Cooper described a scout rifle as, “…a weapon to be used by one man carefully operating alone, whether in the hunting field or in a military scouting capacity.” He also established a stringent criteria including limits on the rifle’s length, weight, sighting arrangement, accuracy and accessories.
Intrigued, I decided to conduct my own analysis. Two years of testing was conducted on my home range and while hunting the West Virginia hills. I also attended the Advanced Scout Rifle Course at Gunsite Academy. The final evaluation occurred during a plains game safari in South Africa. The results were good and bad.
I’ve worked with all the currently available scout rifles. And, I’ve matched them with most of the quality extended eye relief scout-like riflescopes and various shooting slings like Cooper insisted a scout rifle must be paired with. The problems I’ve experienced had nothing to do with the rifles and everything to do with the scopes and slings.
The low-powered, forward mounted scopes lack enough magnification to see intervening brush or resolve animals with adequate definition in low light to allow for precision shooting. Those problems were not experienced on the sunny high desert and easy to see steel targets at Gunsite. The shooting slings were tremendously assistive at getting hits but, like all slings designed for that purpose, were ill suited for shoulder carry.
On the other hand, when tackling critters out in the open, on well lit countryside, the scout rifles shined. They’re immensely handy when getting out of vehicles. They’re also compact and easy to tote. When shots were presented the rifles snapped up and were on target with immediacy. And, the low magnification scout scopes—used with both eyes open—made hits on running game commonplace. Numerous critters fleeing for their life fell victim to their handiness.
I’m of the opinion that scout rifles outfitted with a low magnification, extended eye relief scope, limit a hunter’s opportunities. They are, as Cooper intended, configured to serve a generalized—not specialized—purpose. Jeremiah Johnson would have for sure traded his Hawken for a scout, but modern sport hunting is a somewhat specialized endeavor. Today’s hunter is after trophies and meat; it’s unlikely they’ll have to shoot it out over a dead elk.
With some scout rifles there is a solution. Both the Mossberg and the Steyr will accept a traditional riflescope without modification or interference with the back-up iron sights. And, with any scout rifle you have the option of installing a higher magnification scout scope like the Burris 2-7X or one of the variable, extended eye relief scopes from Bushnell, Leupold or Nikon. Because of my time afield with scout rifles, the Burris 2-7X scout scope now lives on my Steyr.
We don’t hunt on shooting ranges and, unlike targets, animals like to lurk in thick cover and make an appearance when good shooting light is 15 minutes away. The key to successful hunting with the scout rifle is choosing the right optical sight. With the right optic you’ll have an eminently handy and portable tool. Otherwise, be prepared to pass on some shots, make bad shots, or miss altogether.
What is a Scout Rifle? Jeff Cooper defied a scout rifle as a bolt-action carbine chambered for the .308 Win., no longer than 39 inches, no heavier than 7.7 pounds and outfitted with a low power extended eye relief scope. It also had to have back up ghost rings sights, be capable of two MOA or better accuracy and have a Ching, CW, or similarly styled shooting sling.