By John M. Buol Jr.

The first Scout Conference was held at Gunsite Ranch, Arizona on 6-8 December 1983 under the auspices of the Ekeiboloi Society (from Hoi Ekeiboloi which translates to “those who hit what they aim at.”) The purpose of this conference was to critically evaluate the all-purpose utility rifle in its current standard and component form, and how it may be improved in the future.

The results of this think tank was deemed the “Scout Rifle,” defined as a rifle suitable for general use by an individual, as opposed to groups, for targets up to about 500 pounds in weight. It should hit targets afield as efficiently as possible while remaining handy to carry.

Note that this general mission statement says nothing of how a given rifle must be constructed. The only standard is to produce an easily portable general-purpose rifle of optimum efficiency. “Optimum efficiency” can be summed as: “To obtain first round hits, on appropriate targets, at unknown ranges, from improvised firing positions, against the clock.” The specifics of constructing a scout rifle serve only to meet this goal.

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Current Savage Arms Scout, the model 11 Scout. Photo courtesy of Savage Arms.

Standard Scout Rifle Characteristics

Of course, there are some configurations that have proven more effective than others in achieving this. After years of testing the following composition has been established as fairly standard among Scout Rifles:

  • Weight with sights and sling of 3 to 3.5 kilograms (6.6 – 7.7 pounds).
  • Overall length of one meter (39 inches).
  • Magazine fed bolt action, ideally with a detachable magazine and/or stripper clip charging.
  • Caliber: .308 Winchester (7.62 X 51 mm), due to easy availability, but other ballistically similar rounds may be considered.
  • Primary sighting system: A telescopic sight between 2 and 3 power of intermediate eye relief mounted forward (ahead of the action opening) and as low as possible.
  • Secondary sighting system: Backup iron sights, preferably post front sight and ghost ring (large aperture) rear sight, compact and as rugged as possible.
  • Useful accessories: Shooting aids, such as a sling and bipod, and on-board ammunition carriers provided they don’t add bulk, weight, or otherwise get in the way.
  • Accuracy: Sufficient for typical real-world targets at typical field distances.

More On Specifications

A few words about these specifications. The listed weight and length are guidelines to meeting the goal of “handiness.” A fellow who stands over 6 feet tall, lifts weights and hikes regularly can probably handle a few more pounds and inches of rifle than a short, anemic couch potato. However, the proverbial line in the sand had to drawn somewhere, and one-meter/three kilograms is a good estimate for most hunter-shooters.

Bolt-action repeaters are favored for their strength, weight, simplicity and durability. A repeater is warranted because follow up shots are always possible, even for those who abide by the code of one shot, one hit. Other actions, including semi-automatics, may be considered provided they are sufficiently rugged for field use and light enough to make weight.

Any caliber that is effective against targets 500+ pounds in weight may be considered for a scout rifle. .308 Winchester gets the nod most often because it meets this criterion, will fit lighter short actions, is already popular among hunters, and is a standard military caliber in NATO countries making it widely available most anywhere. Other calibers may be better than the .308, on paper, but the target won’t be able to tell any significant difference.

The “Scout Scope,” a low powered intermediate glass mounted ahead of the receiver, is the most recognizable feature of a scout rifle. Some manufacturers seem to think that clamping an intermediate eye relief optical sight to any long arm somehow transforms it into “scout” configuration. Not so.

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An optic with intermediate eye relief is the most pronounced feature on a Scout rifle. This Burris is 2.75X.

The main advantage of a telescopic sight for field shooting is to bring the sights and target into the same focal plane. Magnification of the target is helpful but not required for hitting. Long-range (1000 yard) target shooters have proven that iron sights can be shot as accurately as optics on large descript targets. Because field shooting requires a balance of speed and accuracy, excessive magnification can be a hindrance preventing the shooter from taking full advantage of the “Bindon Effect”, or the ability of the brain to toggle between images of each eye, such as switching from observing a target with the non-aiming eye to viewing the target through the scope. Mastering this allows fast engagement and prevents the novice error of “getting lost in the scope.” Excessive magnification can make this switch more difficult. Placing an optical sight too far rearward can also make this harder as well.

In addition to increased speed, with no loss of precision at typical field-shooting distances on realistic targets, using a forward-mounted scope aids in balance by keeping the weight of the scope at the balance point and keeps the entire action area open. This allows full, unobstructed access making it easier to top off and even offers the option using stripper clips, if desired.

However, while some models are more durable than others, all optical sights suffer the disadvantage of fragility. It is entirely possible to manage damaging a scope while the rifle itself remains usable. Reports from top notch shooting schools, where students can easily expend over a hundred rounds a day, every day, for better part of week, report that they expect at least one or two optical sight failures in every class. Scout rifles are intended for field use, where replacement glass and gunsmithing services aren’t immediately available. Therefore, a set of iron sights for back up are warranted, ideally consisting of a ghost ring rear sight and post front sight. Fold down sights are optimal but anything that is relatively unobtrusive and functional will serve.

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The Williams rear sight is not click adjustable but can be adjusted for elevation and windage with Allen wrenches. It works fine for a back up iron.

Accessories, such as a sling and built-in bipod are desirable. A speed sling, especially the Ching, is first choice. Any field rifle will be carried a lot and sling helps there. However, the primary purpose of a sling is to help with hitting and a sling increases stability from any shooting position where the support-side elbow can be braced solidly. The traditional two-piece military sling works very well but is slow to employ. A Ching sling is essentially a carry strap with a short piece in the center attached near the receiver. However, it provides a trained rifleman essentially the same support as a loop sling and can be acquired as quickly as a “hasty sling.” And with any type of quick detach swivel, the entire assembly can be removed if you need it out of the way.

Bipods can be cumbersome affairs that like to find all sorts of vegetation in thick brush. Worse, they’re normally only effective from prone (maybe sitting if you’re really flexible) and require a relatively flat surface. In other words, a bipod helps mostly in situations where you already have fairly steady shooting conditions. However, they provide nearly the stability of a bench rest when they can be deployed and are worth considering, provided they can be tucked inside the rifle for carry.

Lastly, and least important, are accuracy considerations. For field shooting, pedestrian equipment of modern manufacture straight from the rack almost always provides sufficient accuracy. Beyond initial break in and occasionally reconfirming zero, accuracy testing is largely a wasted effort for hunter-shooters using arms and ammunition manufactured within the past decade or so. A Scout rifle should be at least capable of printing three shots inside two minutes of angle at 200 yards (four inch group), something most untuned hunting rifles straight from the factory can accomplish.