Accredited to the late Co. Cooper, the Scout Rifle concept is nothing if not an argument starter.
Broken down into its simplest terms, the idea is a rifle that is considered handy (read light weight), hard hitting and accurate while utilizing a low powered variable optic. Even simpler, it is a do-all outside of extended combat. Back in the day when Cooper put thought to paper, the idea was valid… kind of. In today’s world of accurate, reliable, mag fed semi autos, and quality optics, well to paraphrase the creator of the concept, “an ingenious solution to a non-existent problem.” Perhaps not in Coopers mind, but in my mind they are not meant to be a solution, just an option. But is it a good option?
A scout rifle in the traditional sense is what military rifles would be if no one invented reliable semi auto military rifles. Which is cool in a way and also useful for those people who live in areas where such “military style” rifles are prohibited. Really though, are they really anything but kind of odd hunting rifles? I say maybe.
The traditional idea was designed to be an all around rifle that does nothing perfect but lots of stuff fairly well. The scout gun was not necessarily meant as “the gun a scout would have,” perhaps more as your general purpose rifle. I think people got and still get too caught up on the initial iteration and don’t apply the concept to today’s world. If we lived in a timeless vortex with no further innovation then yes the original styling would be as useful as any other general. In the 70’s and 80’s when the concept really came about, it was a new look at a user friendly gun. In today’s world of sub $500 AR15s, 6.8 chamberings, advanced understanding of powered burn rates and barrel lengths… well I am the first to say that its hard to justify a traditional scout rifle as most people think of them.
But I can. Or at least I can try.
I think most of the criticism of the scout rifle, or confusion over it, comes from those who simply do not understand it and generally miss the point of it in terms of what it is meant to accomplish. Its form is to fulfill a function; unfortunately like with most gun things, even supporters become stuck on the form, such as focusing on the forward-mounted optic, which even for Cooper was not a mandatory feature of a scout rifle.
Instead of the physical attributes that hang so many people up, I focus more on the mission than on the attributes of the rifle for the most part.
I’m not big on labels although it is very mainstream to do so and as such, I do use them to the effect of reaching large audiences. I utilize the RECCE rifle differently from the SPR (Special Purpose Rifle). There is a place for the DMR (Designated Marksman Rifle), GSR (Guerrilla Sniper Rifle), etc. and I can philosophize on each of them for paragraphs on end. But again, on a live fire range I’m much more interested in how you can use that gun to its strengths AND how far you can still push it into its weaknesses.
Example: Utilizing a 3×9 scoped gun on multiple targets staggered around 0 to 25 yards.
The main point I’m getting at is that it is what you use it for. Regardless if my AR10 is used to take a single shot at 600 yards from a concealed location, or if I do it with a Tika bolt action, I’d say in mainstream categorizing terms, that’s a snipers shot and the point is that it doesn’t matter what gun you use to make it, it doesn’t have to be a “sniper rifle.”
And of course a “sniper rifle” is quite different from a carbine or main battle rifle. I think a lot of the different concept platforms can be lumped together in the “concept” category or niche. Patrol rifles, brush guns, scout carbine… they can all be as different from each other as they are from a standard no frills AR15 or AKM. Really though its all an exercise in over thinking things.
One last simple example is people who choose an AR pattern rifle for deer hunting. A deer rifle doesn’t have to be a wood stocked bolt action rifle, thats just what most people normally think of when they hear “hunting rifle.”
As a general purpose rifle like the Scout was originally intended to be, it is hard to beat one of the military pattern guns from anywhere in the world, usually chambered in 308. The M1a, HK91, FAL… conversely, it is hard to refute the utility of a 30-30 lever action. So now I see that there do need to be some parameters so lets see if we can improve on Coopers idea.
The scout rifle is not a combat weapon or pure hunting rifle. It is a great gun for when you are living with your rifle all day and night. It carries easy and shoots well. Up close it is very fast. At ranges you have a precise aiming point. The idea is a gun light enough to carry all day, handy (balance and weight) enough to maneuver through dense brush, and also ballistic-ally capable to reach out to a respectable distance and kill just about any animal found in the US… thus starts the double-negatives.
Light and handy okay, but the ballistics basically call for a 30 caliber load and big loads out of small guns are usually best described as horrendous. the best way to refute that though is by saying that they really aren’t designed for lots of shooting, they are more for carrying, hence the light weight.
On to the next double standard; the fast handling. In all sense of the term, that describes a semi automatic design. Add in the weight and handiness and suddenly the list trims down quickly. The military 308 offerings I listed above are all closer to ten bounds than six. Now I’m a big dude, I’ve carried an 11 pound Garand and a 4 foot long PSL for days in the field. I see zero reason to do that anymore, not with the other options that are out there.
Anymore every time I consider a “scout rifle” with all its criteria, its use, range, capabilities, weight and even price…. I realize I can build a lightweight 6.8 AR for a dang reasonable price, and get a semi auto that excels in every way at the scout role AND many others out of the deal. People will say ammo is the hangnail of that idea but I say its no worse than buying or loading your own 45-70, a very popular brush gun caliber.
There is one last factor to consider in this though; ignorance.
What I say next is irritating, idiotic and idiomatic yes, but again hear me out. In today’s day and age, “gun people” are seen… differently. Its media sensationalism on the dreaded assault rifle, and most gun people would say “screw em if they don’t like it,” but there are some people who don’t like to make a confrontation when you don’t have to. Like it or not, having a decked out AR leaning against your bumper in the campground does have a different image than having a simple wood stocked rifle in the same place (unseen in the truck bed works even better for me). Its reality. Stupid, inconsequential reality, I agree, but it is something to take into account in today’s day and age.
Yet another example comes from a piece I wrote about the M1Carbine a while back. In fact, I think I’ll update that article and post it here soon:
“Another positive of the M1 Carbine is that it is less offensive to the gun weary public than an AR or AK. RIDICULOUS I know but in these stupid times with ignorance of firearms and their uses, a guy riding his tractor in his field with an M1 Carbine on his side will cause less panicked police calls than the terrorist with an AK who must have commandeered a tractor for his fast get away. Gun savvy people know there is no difference but we seem to be the minority these days and to change that we need to keep the sane image alive in the sheeple. Anyway yes it is stupid, but it is a consideration for some.”
This is in part how I believe the Ruger Scout rifle came about. It’s a nice medium between a fudd gun (traditional deer rifle) and an AR pattern gun for the fudds that don’t want an AR. Also, it falls into some of the gaps in states that do not allow hinting with a semi automatic, but it still gives you many of the advantages usually found with a semi such as being fed from a magazine.
I am not the biggest fan of the Ruger offering, which to start is overweight and not capable of being carried at the balance with a large magazine in place. But that doesnt make it worthless. A mag fed bolt action is not just a good option for people who live where semi-automatic rifles are banned, it is a good option for being well armed while creating a lower profile. I particularly like them as a camp gun. I think they work well for that general purpose of putting down feral hogs, hunting deer, or being thrown in the back of the car when traveling. Its a people friendly gun to have next to the door within quick reach because of a nuisance bear problem.
Like I said above, I like taking nice weapons and seeing just how far I can push them. The Scout rifle both is and isn’t a niche gun. they are not for everybody just like an AK47 is not for everybody. I have a couple of specific platforms set up for specific roles. Some of those carry over ingot other roles and other niches better than others. It is a matter of personal training and person preference. In the end sometimes you have to shrug your shoulders and remember that some of the most “impractical” guns are also some of the most fun to spend time with.