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Scout Rifle Revisited: Does Cooper’s Rifle Make Sense Today?

Photos by Sam Soholt

We never had much interest in the scout rifle concept, stemming as it did from Jeff Cooper’s Reagan-era, bush war LARPing fantasies and his disdain for the AR-15. It’s a testament to the conservative nature of the gun world that once a concept recruits a hard core of evangelists, nothing can cause them to stray, no matter what new innovations might come along. 

Following Cooper’s death in 2006, the formula for a scout rifle was more or less cast in bronze, despite his own history of considering new ideas on their merits. 

At this point, it’s probably a good idea to review just what the scout rifle idea was supposed to embody. Cooper envisioned a rugged all-rounder, fit to roam the mountains of the American West, or the plains of Africa, take any animal weighing up to 500 pounds, and serve as a fighting rifle if the need arose. 

A working group was convened at Gunsite in 1983, then again in ’84 in order to hash out the details, and according to Cooper’s excellent The Art of the Rifle, a scout rifle:

  • Weighs less than 3 kilograms (6.6 pounds), including accessories
  • Is less than 1 meter (3 feet-3 inches) in length
  • Is fed from an internal magazine that accepts stripper clips, or a detachable box magazine, both of which have a magazine cutoff to facilitate single-loading
  • In order to accommodate the stripper clip requirement, any scope should be mounted forward of the action, and backup iron sights fitted
  • Has a sling and bipod installed, specifically the Ching sling
  • Is chambered in .308 Win. caliber
  • Is capable of accuracy of 2 MOA or better

Now, if you’re looking at that list and envisioning a late 19th century version of Jeremiah Johnson, rather than anyone in your current social circle, you’d be on the money. In short, it’s a rifle designed by a committee and built for a role that hadn’t existed for almost a century by the time it was conceived.

For tis written, “308 is the Lord’s caliber, and ye shall chamber all scout rifles thus.” Despite being outclassed in a short action in almost every way by the 6.5 man bun, die-hard scout fans insist that their fantasy rifle sling 30-cal projectiles. As it was written, so it shall be. 

The world has moved on, or at least most of us have after realizing that none of the commercially available scout rifles actually hit their target weight limit; fixed power, forward mounted scopes are a terrible idea when quality LPVOs abound, 20-round detachable mags are a thing, and stripper clips are no longer. 

POF Revolution, 7.62 NATO performance in a 5.56 NATO sized package

Once the POF Revolution and Rogue launched, the idea of a 7-pound bolt rifle as the ideal all-rounder should’ve been axed through the head and left to rot. But here we are. 

Despite this, the scout rifle concept still has merit, so long as we recognize some evolution in technology has occurred and we don’t try to dogmatically follow the conclusions that Cooper’s team came up with in 1984. That said, is the rifle he blessed in 1998, the Steyr Scout Rifle, worthy of your hard-earned cash today? We took one to the Montana wilderness to find out.

The last week of spring bear season saw five friends assemble in some of the most spectacular country the U.S. has to offer. It was clear this was going to be a great trip — as we were leaving the airport, a well-dressed and gentlemanly cowboy by the name of John Locke called out, “Hey, don’t I know you?” and we then spent the next 10 minutes talking bear hunting. 

In this part of the world, you can quite literally walk for weeks and still have dirt under your feet that you, the American citizen hold title to. And it’s one of the aspects of this great republic we should all celebrate. 

During our short stay in camp, we got almost the full Montana experience, with the exception of snow. But there were thunderous rainstorms, 80-degree days, bugs, bear, and about 16 hours of usable daylight, making for long days covering lots of ground. Sure, you can get a good idea of a rifle’s capabilities at the range, but it isn’t until you’ve dragged it through the brush that you get to appreciate little nuances like how it interacts with your pack, or how its finish stands up to the elements. 

Our test subject arrived from Steyr kitted out with the de rigueur forward-mounted scope, leather Ching sling, and bare muzzle — none of which survived initial inspection. Instead, a Leupold Mk5 HD 2-10×30 was mounted in the conventional position, a LFT two-point sling installed on the left side of the carbine, and a SilencerCo Omega 36 screwed onto the business end. 

Our test rifle arrived decked out much like the one on the previous pages and wound up like this.


It’s still an odd-looking rifle. The biggest stand-out feature is the barrel shroud, which allows forward mounting of a scope or, in our case, a thermal clip-on. While it was probably never anticipated when designed, the Steyr Scout is a pretty good host for either i2 or thermal devices, offering about 2.5 inches of rail space forward of the day optic, located in an area that’s appropriately spaced from the rear scope mounts. 

You may have to mess around with mounting height however, as the majority of clip-ons are set up for use on an AR, which will place them higher than most scope rings. Or you could use one of the units that screws into the objective bell of your day optic. 

The Scout’s barrel is 19 inches long, which makes for a handy and fast-handling carbine. Like all of Steyr’s barrels, it’s hammer forged in-house, and the company has a long history of delivering accurate, high-quality barrels. 

In this case, the trademark hammer forging spirals are absent due to its slimmed-down profile, but a series of linear flutes are present in the exposed section. The muzzle is threaded 1/2-20 TPI. Yes, I know, you’re thinking, WTF? Due to the barrel profile, there isn’t enough meat to create a sufficient shoulder for the typical 5/8-24 thread found on most 30-caliber cans, so a series of adapters are available to plus up the muzzle diameter to whatever thread pattern fits your needs. 

The Scout rifle had BUIS before BUIS were cool.

The Scout’s bolt has a 90-degree throw and two rows of locking lugs. It’s a “fat bolt” design, so no additional raceways are cut in the receiver walls, and like most fat bolts, it’s very slick to operate. In order to reduce the chances for bolt binding and to give dirt and ice somewhere to go, a series of channels are milled into the bolt body and in the event of a case head separation, excess gases are vented down through the magazine well. 

Bolt removal is a little unusual and depends on operation of the unique, rolling, three-position safety. In order to pull the bolt, first clear the weapon in the normal manner, then with the safety in the “fire” position, raise the bolt handle before rolling the safety to “safe.” The bolt can then be pulled free of the action. 

That safety mechanism has an unusual third position that allows the bolt handle to be pushed toward the stock, locking everything in place, including the firing pin, and preventing inadvertent opening of the bolt and loss of a chambered round. When moved off “safe,” the handle pops back to the neutral, but cocked position.

Five-round, double-column, two-position feed magazines keep the action supplied with ammo, and a spare is located in the butt. With typical Teutonic thoroughness, the spare mag is itself tensioned by a kind of follower inside the stock, which presses down and seals it against dirt. 

Length of pull is adjusted by means of spacers, and while many have criticized the Scout for its somewhat flimsy-feeling integral bipod, it works well enough and is a “nice-to-have” feature. A total of five sling swivel sockets are available, though each requires Steyr’s proprietary studs.

Trigger weight is set at the factory at 3.5 to 4.0 pounds, and while it’s not supposed to be adjustable by the end user, if you pull the action out of the stock it’s pretty easy to figure out which Allen screw to turn. Ours broke right at 3.5 pounds and is a very crisp, quality unit — one of the best factory triggers we’ve encountered in a general-purpose rifle.

Off sandbags, we were able to get right around 0.75 MOA accuracy from ammo it liked, in this case the excellent Barnes 127-grain LRX, which suited our purposes for bear hunting as it pretty much guarantees a pass through. Blood trails are never a given when bear hunting, so double the number of leaking holes is a good strategy. 

Did we get to put the rifle to the test as a bear killing machine? Yes and no. Miles were covered, and bears were seen. At one point, we rounded a corner to find a bear munching on logging road forbs and at 30 yards, placed the Leupy’s reticle on his forehead as he faced us and tried to figure out what we were. 

While a 2-year-old would have provided a few tasty meals, he wasn’t the bear we were after, and so we bade him go in peace until next year. 

The Scout rifle gave a creditable performance in the hunting role. And while we still don’t buy into the scenarios envisioned by its progenitor, it’s a useful tool and viable option for anyone needing a truck gun, a rifle to fit in a scabbard, or to do some bush war LARPing. 

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1 Comment

  • RE Perfitt says:

    This sounds a lot like a Ruger Mini 14/30 or the Ruger American® Ranch Rifle but in 308 Win. The Bipod and optics rail could be added but I think if the Mini 30 was a 308 Win it would all be there in a rifle made in the USA.

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  • This sounds a lot like a Ruger Mini 14/30 or the Ruger American® Ranch Rifle but in 308 Win. The Bipod and optics rail could be added but I think if the Mini 30 was a 308 Win it would all be there in a rifle made in the USA.

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