The Original Scout Rifle

INTRODUCTION

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The Scout Rifle is an enigma but to many it’s an abomination, used by those stuck in the 20th if not the 19th century. To others it is a cult like religion in which there exists grand pubahs who repeat the words of Jeff Cooper as gos­pel, and worship at an alter of a mythical rifle that has never existed. For many more, in fact for most, the Scout Rifle is simply something they do not under­stand; a perplexing, puzzling, oddity or a survival like implement, sitting in the corner of some prepper’s basement.

About the time I became a young rifleman Cooper’s writings about the Scout Rifle were becoming prolific. I was raised a hunter and had military aspira­tions so the notion of a rifle that could bridge the generalities of those two disciplines was appealing. For a young boy whose deer camp companions were armed with the usual, the Scout Rifle had that panache or uniqueness of a Porsche or, for those old enough to remember, a Studebaker Avanti.

 

The Scout Rifle is a Jeep, a Bronco, a Blazer, or maybe more appropriately, an International Scout. It is a vehicle that can do almost anything well. It is the SUV of rifles.

The automotive analogy is a good place to start because the Scout Rifle is not a pickup truck or a muscle car. It is not a sedan or a station wagon. It is not a specialty vehicle designed to serve in a specialized role. The Scout Rifle is a Jeep, a Bronco, a Blazer, or maybe more appropriately, an International Scout. It is a vehicle that can do almost anything well. It is the SUV of rifles.

Richard Mann with a young whitetail doe, taken with a Ruger 77 RSI in 243 Winchester and a 2.5 X riflescope. circa 1987

Originally, it was also something that did not fully exist in its conceptualized form. It was, as Cooper described it, “a concept:” This alone was enough to inspire those the esteemed gun writer John Barsness calls rifle loonies. But this also made it appealing to riflemen; men who put stock in the idea that delivering a single, lethal blow, on a target at a reasonable distance, from field shooting positions, was indeed something of value.

In many ways Cooper’s Scout Rifle concept inspired manufacturers, custom gunsmiths, and garage gun plumbers to create rifles like had never before been carried afield. Though it may not be readily apparent, the theory behind the Scout Rifle concept is still influencing the rifle, the weapon Cooper called “the queen,” today. The principles behind the concept and their appeal to shooters have driven rifle weights down, inspired new sighting devices, led to the creation of better triggers. And, in a way, elevated riflecraft to a new level.

 

“Personal weapons are what raised mankind out of the mud, and the rifle is the queen of personal weapons.”1

JEFF COOPER, The Art of the Rifle

 

Cooper’s scout-like 30-40 Krag. Cooper had a fondness for this action.

My infatuation with the Scout Rifle concept began early. And, even though it influenced the weaponry I carried afield, it was late in life before I gained any experience with an actual representation of Cooper’s ideology.  Not until I became what some would call a professional “gun writer” did I have the time or resources to devote to the actual investigation of the Scout Rifle. I’m sure the relationship I established with Gunsite Academy, the civilian firearms training school Cooper founded in 1976, along with the continued study of his doctrine, influenced my desire to explore the Scout Rifle in depth. After all, how could a man be so right about so many things, and not be right about the Scout Rifle too?

 

This book exists, not because I felt the literary world of firearms needed a dissertation on a singular firearm, but because of my need to understand the Scout Rifle and to determine if it was indeed everything Cooper said it was. Not only did I want to learn what Cooper and a minority group of others felt was so special about the Scout Rifle, a nagging question lingered and it was one I needed answered.

I wanted to know what was so special about the Scout Rifle to inspire one of the most esteemed European firearms manufactures to produce it and if a firearm of that type was indeed still relevant in the 21st century. My original plan was to secure and evaluate modern commercial examples of the Scout Rifle along side more contemporary and popular rifles. The problem was that in an effort to understand the elemental makeup of the Scout Rifle I became obsessed with why Cooper defined the system as he did. This spawned an intense research project that spanned four years and continues to this day.

New Mexico elk taken with an honest to goodness less than three-kilo Scout Rifle.

At first I felt the best way to conduct this research was to talk with any and everyone I could find who had Scout Rifle-like dealings with Cooper. Maybe it was the cop in me, but I felt I needed witnesses. This proved to be an exercise in futility and ultimately had to be abandoned. Witnesses are a tricky thing in that they often remember what they want in a way that best benefits them. This is especially true when the threats of perjury or criminal prosecution are not tools you can use to extract the truth.

You see, to the world of firearms Jeff Cooper was Elvis. And, though I’m sure exceptions exist, any and everyone who had Scout Rifle-like dealings with Jeff Cooper was very much like anyone who had dealings with Elvis. Too many knew more about the Scout Rifle than Cooper did. Too many claimed influence that may or may not have existed. In other words, if you listen to those who were more than willing to talk, they were all responsible for telling Elvis how to shake his leg or look at the ladies. In short, Cooper had long coat tails and a lot of folks like to ride them.

Jeff Cooper, his Steyr Scout, and his wife Janelle – the “Countess” – on the veranda at the Sconce.

Fortunately, Jeff Cooper was a prolific writer. Next to the 1911 pistol he probably wrote more about the Scout Rifle than anything else. With Cooper there existed 50 years of manuscripts ready for the reading. They were his words. And, while many might argue the contrary on this or that point, there is no better way to understand what Cooper meant than to read what he wrote. We either take Cooper at his word or insinuate or declare he wrote things he did not believe or mean.

So, that’s what I did. I read everything I could find that Cooper wrote about the Scout Rifle. I read his books. I read his articles. I read his correspondence. I read his notes. Did I miss something? Without question. However, before long the black and white picture picked up some color.

Richard Mann on the line during the Advanced Scout Rifle Course at Gunsite – 2015.

This web book is the culmination of all that research, supported by extensive testing, and the actual employment of Scout Rifles in the field, where paper and steel were not the only targets. It would be a great marketing phrase to simply say this is the definitive book on Scout Rifles. Considering this is really the only book on Scout Rifles, it would also be factually correct. Surprisingly, that was never my intent.

This book is really nothing more than my attempts to answer my own questions. What initially seemed simple enough turned into a goliath of an undertaking. It is unequivocally the product of an obsession, an obsession that became an addiction. When I felt I had the answers I’d been looking for, the addiction would not abide. And, being the consummate writer, it seemed my only cure was to put it all down.

Jeff Cooper receiving a custom Scout Rifle from Steyr. This rifle is on display at the NRA Whittington Center in Raton, New Mexico.

Here you’ll find the good and the bad with regard to the Scout Rifle, Jeff Cooper, and unashamedly, me. The good news is that I feel there is something in here for all riflemen and especially something for those interested in the Scout Rifle. The bad news is the obsession persists and I see no end in sight.

The Scout Rifle is an enigma – this is an attempt at its decryption.

The Original Scout Rifle

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