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Published Jul 6, 2023 3:00 PM
In the early 1980s, Jeff Cooper, gun writer, former Marine, and founder of Gunsite Academy, began pondering the perfect all-purpose rifle and eventually codified his now-famous Scout Rifle concept. The rifle, he said, must meet the following parameters:
- Measure less than a meter long
- Weigh under 3 kilos (6.6 pounds) with sling and scope
- Be capable of 2-MOA accuracy
- Have a 19-inch barrel
- Be chambered in .308 Winchester
- Have ghost-ring rear and post front sights
- Have a scout scope with about 10-inches of eye relief
What Cooper hypothesized was a general-purpose weapon, with world-wide application, that was just as effective for big-game hunting as for survival or military scouting. At the time, the only way anyone could lay his hands on such a rifle was with the help of a custom gunsmith. That changed in 1997, when Steyr introduced the Steyr Scout Rifle, which Cooper helped design.
Now, a quarter-century later, the Scout Rifle concept remains somewhat of an oddity to many, but there are several Scout Rifle-like commercial options to choose from. None, however, completely meet the comprehensive definition Cooper laid out. But all are very practical, handy, and useful rifles. Here are the four best Scout Rifles you can buy today, plus a fifth option to have a great Scout Rifle built specifically for you.
How We Picked The Best Scout Rifles
There aren’t many rifles marketed solely as Scout Rifles. Currently, there are only four that represent Jeff Cooper’s concept, at least in spirit. Field & Stream has protocols in place to evaluate rifles, but these rifles were tested a bit differently. Between 2015 and 2018, while I was conducting the research for my book, The Scout Rifle Study, I conducted a comprehensive evaluation of all of these rifles. I hunted with them, shot them from field positions, and shot them from a bench. Thousands of rounds were expended, and many animals were taken to determine the strengths and weaknesses of each rifle.
In addition to how closely each rifle adhered to Jeff Cooper’s codified definition of a Scout Rifle, the following elements were also evaluated.
- Shooter Interface: How well does the rifle interface with the shooter in the field?
- Quality of Construction: Were good materials used, and were fit and finish executed well?
- Reliability: Could the rifle be trusted to work all the time?
- Precision: What level of precision could the rifle be expected to yield?
- Adaptability: How well could the rifle be configured to fit different shooters?
- Price: Does the price match the quality and performance the rifle delivers?
Best Scout Rifles: Reviews & Recommendations
Best Overall: Steyr Scout Rifle
- Chamberings: .308 Winchester & 6.5 Creedmoor
- Action: Steyr SBS bolt action
- Weight: 6.0 pounds, 12.5 ounces
- Length: 38.5 to 39.4 inches
- Barrel: 19 inches, fluted
- Stock: Synthetic with adjustable length of pull
- Capacity: 5+1 (detachable magazine)
- Trigger: Adjustable
- Accessories: Spare magazine, sling swivels, hard case
- Closest factory Scout Rifle to Cooper’s definition
- Integral bipod
- Compatible with traditional riflescopes
- Flip-up open sights
- Not available for left-handed shooters
Steyr designed their Scout Rifle with input from Jeff Cooper, and while the finished product did not meet Cooper’s maximum weight limit of 3 kilos, it checked off most other boxes. The rifle offers a few nice features, including an adjustable length-of-pull, flip-up open sights, an integral bipod, and the ability to store an extra detachable magazine in the butt stock. The magazine also has a detent that allows you to feed single rounds into the action while keeping the full magazine in reserve and available with just a push. The Steyr Scout Rifle will also accept a traditional riflescope as easily as a scout scope. Weighing in at just over 6.6 pounds, the Steyr Scout Rifle, which is chambered in either .308 Winchester or 6.5 Creedmoor, isn’t cheap. They are however tack-drivers, and if you’re willing to pay, you’ll get the best factory-made Scout Rifle on the planet.
Best Budget: Mossberg MVP Scout
- Chamberings: .308 Winchester
- Action: Mossberg MVP
- Weight: 6.0 pounds, 13 ounces (7.0 pounds 13 ounces with Vortex Scout Scope)
- Length: 37.5 inches
- Barrel: 16.259 inches (threaded)
- Stock: Synthetic
- Capacity: Shipped with a 10-round detachable magazine
- Trigger: Mossberg LBA adjustable
- Accessories: Picatinny rail on each side of the forend
- Can be purchased with a Vortex Scout Scope
- Only 37.5 inches long
- Will accept AR10 and M14-style magazines
- Full-length scope rail
- Most affordable factory scout-style rifle
- Non-adjustable length of pull
- Not available for left-handed shooters
Mossberg wisely adapted their excellent MVP platform, which, when chambered in .308 Winchester, will feed from AR10 or M1A magazines to offer some of the features Cooper specified for a Scout Rifle. The gun is less than a meter long, comes with a full-length rail that’s compatible with traditional or scout scopes, and it’s outfitted with an aperture rear sight and a fiber-optic front. At 7 pounds, it exceeds the 6.6-pound limit, but those extra few ounces get you a threaded muzzle, flash hider, and two short sections of Picatinny rail on either side of the fore-end for accessory attachment. The MVP Scout Rifle is the least expensive option on this list, and a version is offered with a Vortex scout scope from the factory.
Most Variety: Ruger Scout Rifle
- Chamberings: .308 Winchester, .450 Bushmaster, .350 Legend
- Action: Ruger Hawkeye bolt action
- Weight: 6.0 pounds, 5.76 ounces to 7 pounds, 4.06 ounces
- Length: 36.25 to 38.5, depending on barrel length,
- Barrel: 16.1 or 18.7 inches (threaded)
- Stock: Synthetic, hardwood laminate, or walnut
- Capacity: 4 to 10 depending on chambering (detachable magazine)
- Accessories: Length of pull spacers and scope rings
- Rugged build with reliable action
- Adjustable length of pull
- Available in left-hand.
- Seven current variations to choose from
- Must remove rear sight to mount a traditional riflescope
- Cost more than a grand
Ruger worked with Gunsite Academy to develop what was originally called the Gunsite Scout Rifle. Although it was never intended to meet every aspect of Cooper’s Scout Rifle concept, the rifle does capture the essence of his idea. Now known more simply as the Ruger Scout Rifle, it comes in multiple variations chambered in .308 Winchester, .350 Legend, and .450 Bushmaster. The bare rifle can weigh as little as 6.3 pounds and features fixed sights, a scout scope rail, a detachable magazine, and an adjustable length-of-pull, with the option of a walnut, laminated hardwood, or synthetic stock. These are rugged rifles that will last a lifetime, and a left-hand version is available.
Most Adaptable: Savage 110 Scout
- Chamberings: .308 Winchester, .450 Bushmaster, .223 Remington
- Action: Savage 110
- Weight: 6.0 pounds, 12 ounces
- Length: 37.50 to 38.50
- Barrel: 16.5 inches (threaded)
- Stock: Synthetic, with AccuFit length of pull and comb height
- Capacity: 10+1 in 308 Winchester and 223 Remington, 4+1 in 450 Bushmaster, detachable magazine
- Accessories: Length of pull spacers and comb insert adjustments
- Reliable action
- Adjustable length of pull
- Adjustable comb height
- Available in three chamberings
- Extremely loud muzzle brake
Over the years, Savage has manufactured a variety of Scout Rifles. Their current offering is the 110 Scout, which right at 8 pounds, is well over Cooper’s weight limit. However, it does incorporate the excellent Savage AccuFit stock, which has an adjustable length of pull and comb height to help the shooter better interface with the rifle. This is critical with a Scout Rifle so that you get a proper cheek weld when shooting through the optical or open sights. It also comes with Savage’s great AccuTrigger. In addition to .308 Winchester, Savage also offers the 110 Scout in .223 Remington, and .450 Bushmaster. All have a threaded muzzle with a very large and loud, but recoil-reducing muzzle brake.
The Custom Option: Dove Custom Guns Mossberg Patriot Scout
Specs: (Note: Can vary. Specifications shown are for a Dove Custom Scout Rifle built on a Mossberg MVP Patriot Bantam rifle.)
- Chamberings: Any cartridge based on the .308 Winchester
- Action: Mossberg Patriot
- Weight: Starting at 6.0 pounds
- Length: 34.58 to 40.00 inches
- Barrel: 16.5 inches to 20 inches, with threaded option
- Stock: Synthetic
- Capacity: 4+1, flush fitting detachable magazine
- Lots of options
- Built the way you want it
- Can become very expensive
A talented gunsmith can assemble a Scout Rifle, building it on your own bolt-action rifle or a new one. The key is to find someone capable of effectively and squarely attaching a scout-scope mount that will likely have to be crafted from scratch. The Remington Model Seven is a great rifle to start with, but so too are the Ruger American and Mossberg Patriot rifles. Jerry Dove at Dove Custom Guns in Princeton, WV, has built Scout Rifles on numerous actions and does an excellent job of crafting scout-scope mounts. Modifications on your rifle can range from as little as $500 to several thousand. But even then, you’ll struggle and spend a lot of money trying to meet the magic weight limit of 3 kilos with the scope and sling installed. That said, you’ll have fun coming close, and in the end, should wind up with a great rifle.
Things To Consider Before Buying A Scout Rifle
When it comes to buying a Scout Rifle, the first decision you must make is if you’re OK with a rifle that fails to meet Jeff Cooper’s full definition, but that at least embodies the spirit of his concept. This is important because a factory rifle that meets every element of Cooper’s concept has never been produced. If you want a rifle that will meet Cooper’s definition, you’ll have to go the custom route, and it will cost a lot of money. Expect to spend more than $2,500.
Maybe the most important thing to consider when buying a Scout Rifle is what you will ultimately be doing with it. Will you be hunting with it? Shooting for fun? Or will you try to use it like Cooper suggested you could, as the only rifle you’ll need for everything? If you’re just curious about what a Scout Rifle is like, go with the least expensive option you can find and give it a go before you commit a lot of money.
Q: How accurate is a scout rifle?
I tested 10 Scout Rifles from a sandbag rest, firing 3, 3-shot groups at 100 yards with each rifle. The overall average 3-shot grouping for all 10 Scout rifles was 1.57 inches. This is about what you would expect from a collection of 10 traditionally styled rifles in the same price range.
Q: What scout rifle takes AR10 magazines?
Mossberg MVP Scout.
Q: What is the best ammo for a scout rifle?
Ammo selection depends on the application, just as with any other rifle. However, Jeff Cooper felt a 150-grain bullet at 2700 fps was ideal for general-purpose Scout Rifle use.
Best Scout Rifles: Final Thoughts
All the rifles listed here are good, dependable rifles, but the Steyr Scout Rifle is hands down the best option, even at its near two-grand price. It’s heavier than Cooper wanted a Scout Rifle to be, but as far as factory rifles go, it best exemplifies the essence of his idea and will better immerse you in the Scout Rifle experience than any other gun.
Why Trust Us
For more than 125 years, Field & Stream has been providing readers with honest and authentic coverage of outdoor gear. Our writers and editors eat, sleep, and breathe the outdoors, and that passion comes through in our product reviews. You can count on F&S to keep you up to date on the best new gear. And when we write about a product—whether it’s a bass lure or a backpack—we cover the good and the bad, so you know exactly what to expect before you decide to make a purchase.