Steve Clifford – A Tale of Two Rifles
I read Jeff Cooper’s “To Ride, Shoot Straight and Speak the Truth” back in the summer of 1990 and it changed my life in a number of ways. At the time, I was not a hunter and only owned rifles for fun and plinking. His chapter on the scout rifle made a big impact on me. It got me thinking about what a rifle is intended to do.
A few years later, I took up hunting and I was poor. There was just no way to put together a proper scout rifle and my first deer was taken with a muzzle loader that was assembled from a kit. A little later, I bought my first bolt action rifle and due to my budget of almost nothing, I acquired a used Winchester Model 70 with a synthetic stock. It was from the worst era for Winchester and the trigger was horrible. The stock was synthetic but heavy and barrel profile wasn’t very light.
I had the barrel cut to 19” and I put a Leupold 2.5X conventional scope on it. I added a swivel stud just forward of the magazine and fashioned a CW style sling. It wasn’t great but it worked. I didn’t use it for long because I stumbled into a great deal on a Remington Mountain Rifle in .30-06 that happened to be a tack driver (honest .5 MOA with factory ammo). I gave up on the scout rifle for a few years.
In the late 90’s, my financial situation improved and I found a used Steyr at a local gun store with a 2.5X Leupold Scout Scope already installed. It was never my most accurate rifle but I was realistic that 2 MOA was good enough for deer. I used that rifle for a number of years and at one point, was able to buy two more Steyr Scouts; one in .308 and the other in .376. I sold both of those during the financial crisis of 2008/2009 but have used the originial Steyr ever since
Over the years, the Steyr accounted for probably 50 Virginia whitetail deer. The Scout Scope proved to be a weak point in the system. It was clearly a HUGE advantage when deer were out in the open and light was good. I took two deer that were on the run and it was like shooting sporting clays. The forward mounted, low power scope allowed me to track the target with both eyes open and the reticle just superimposed itself in my dominant eye. It was fantastic for that, but there were problems.
The problems were when deer were in cover. Even in broad daylight, if they were in the shadow of cover, it became difficult to find them in the glass. Shooting at dusk or dawn meant stopping my day well before the end of legal shooting light. I finally had enough and in 2007 (I think), I gave up on the Scout scope and went to a Leupold Mark 4 1.5-5X with an illuminated reticle. This is a heavy scope but it has served me well for several seasons. I have never had to pass a deer due to the glass. I have taken several that I would have never been able to see in the 2.5X Scout scope.
This said, I have missed some of the advantages of the long eye relief scopes. I miss the speed and situational awareness of the scout style scope.
In late 2016, I became aware of Steve Bons at Granite Mountain Tactical who was making a genuine scout rifle based upon the Mossberg Patriot Youth rifle. I decided it was time to have a back-up to the Steyr and the Recon had a few advantages over the Steyr. The back-up sights are FAR superior to the Steyr and the gun itself is considerably lighter in weight. It also has a threaded barrel. The barrel threads are not part of the scout criteria but I now hunt on a family farm. The last two deer I shot were fairly close to houses. In order to not annoy the residents, I wanted to get a suppressor. I ordered the Recon with the 16.5” barrel to minimize overall length once the can is installed.
I also switched up the scope this time. I went with Leupold’s new VX2 1.5-4X Scout Scope. Actual high end magnification is 4.2X which is not far off the actual magnification of the conventional scope I have been using. I have not used it for hunting yet, but I have used it on targets in the woods. So far, it looks very encouraging. I can see targets in dense Eastern woods and thick spring foliage. Time will tell how it works against deer but I am optimistic
So I own two genuine scout rifles. Both have strengths and weaknesses. The Steyr has a great trigger, solid magazine and I am a fan of the bipod, but it is heavy and fairly bulky. The Mossberg is light and handy. I haven’t run it through too much accuracy testing but it appears that it is more accurate than the Steyr. I replaced the trigger with a Timney because the factory trigger was atrocious. It lacks a bipod which I use fairly frequently in the field. The Steyr has better attachment points for a sling (the side mount for the middle position makes a big difference when carrying with the sling looped up).
With a sling and scope installed, the Mossberg is right at 3.2kg. The Steyr is 3.76kg and part of that is obviously the scope. Overall length of the Mossberg is 35” as opposed to 39 for the Steyr. I’m using a Wilderness Tactical on the Mossberg and one of Andy’s Ching slings on the Steyr. For those who wonder, the Wilderness sling is .15kg lighter than the leather.
I’m in the process of setting up a practical training range on the farm. The more I have carried and shot the Mossberg, the more I like it and the more I am reminded of why the scout scope was selected in the first place. The variable power is showing a lot of promise and if it works as well on deer as it does on targets, I’ll switch out the one on the Steyr as well.