Prepper Guns: Firearms, Ammo, Tools, and Techniques You Will Need to Survive the Coming Collapse (2016)
A look at the legacy rifle from one of the great gun guys in history.
Jeff Cooper. Photo courtesy of Gunsite Academy.
Jeff Cooper (May 10, 1920–September 25, 2006) was a bit of a renaissance man in the modern gun world. He was instrumental in starting action pistol shooting, which lives on today with USPSA and IPSC competitions all over the world. Cooper developed and taught the “modern technique” of pistol shooting, which changed how we shoot defensive handguns and is the foundation for much of the technique used in pistol shooting today. He founded Gunsite Academy, one of the top firearms training centers in the world. Cooper was a prolific writer, leaving behind several books. He was also a hard-core big game hunter with worldwide experience.
One lasting legacy to the gun world is the continuing popularity of the scout rifle, which he first began to develop in 1968. He wrote about the idea in his book, The Art of The Rifle.
“Back in my high school days the scouting and patrolling manual in the R.O.T.C battalion stated as follows: ‘The scout is a man trained in ground and cover movement from cover to cover, rifle marksmanship, map reading observation, and accurately reporting the results of his observation.’”
He continued, “The scout, therefore, was a man by himself or possibly with one companion. He was not supposed to get into fights, but if he could not avoid contact, he was expected to shoot quickly, accurately, and hard. His weapon, therefore, should be somewhat more specialized than that of the line soldier.”
Cooper thought the Winchester Model 94 and the Mannlicher 1903 Carbine both had attributes useful for this idea. In 1968 Cooper was shooting a Remington Model 600 Carbine in .308 Winchester. He was intrigued with this light, short rifle and after using it during a couple of backcountry trips to Central America he thought it would make a good basis for the scout rifle concept. He used that Model 600 carbine to build “Scout One,” the first of a series of scout rifles.
(Cooper was also a fan of the .350 Remington Magnum in the Model 600-style rifles for hunting big game, which reinforces that he understood terminal ballistics. He was never a fan of “small” for the applied-use cartridges and no doubt would scoff at today’s trend in that direction.)
Cooper first introduced the scout rifle concept in the early 1980s. It was a bolt-action carbine chambered in 30-caliber, less than one meter in length, and less than three kilograms in weight. The gun is fitted with iron sights, a forward mounted optic, and a practical sling. (The Ching sling later came to be identified with the scout rifle.)
Jeff Cooper shooting a scout rifle. Photo courtesy of Gunsite Academy.
Cooper defined the scout rifle as “a general-purpose rifle that is a conveniently portable, individually operated firearm, capable of striking a single decisive blow, on a live target of up to 200 kilos in weight, at any distance at which the operator can shoot with the precision necessary to place a shot in a vital area of the target.” The scout rifle concept, as it evolved over the years, was not a hard set of specifications, and Cooper kept it fluid. However, simply put, today’s concept of a scout rifle is a short, bolt-action carbine weighing seven pounds or less, typically chambered in .308 Winchester and with a forward-mounted optical sight.
Cooper thought that the .30–06 would be the perfect scout rifle cartridge, except that it required a long-action rifle, which made the gun heavier and longer. With advancements in factory-loaded ammo the .308 Winchester comes very close to the .30–06 in performance and he proclaimed that to be the best cartridge for the scout rifle concept. He conceded that the 7mm-08 might also be a good choice for a rifle in countries that ban .308s because of the cartridge’s military applications. He even mentioned the .243 Winchester for the recoil-shy or for places that do not allow the .308 Winchester.
For any prepper, the .308 Winchester is clearly the best choice in a scout rifle. It’s a NATO cartridge, it is very popular with law enforcement, and it’s one of the top civilian rifle cartridges. That means, after TSHTF, if any rifle ammo is available anywhere at all, the odds favor highly that it will be the .308 Winchester.
The .223 Remington/5.56 NATO might well have even better odds of being available and you can buy a scout rifle in that cartridge. But doing so may risk the ghost of Jeff Cooper haunting your nights. Cooper disdained the cartridge in a scout and said, “. . . to reduce a scout to take this cartridge is rather like putting a Volkswagen engine in a Porsche. You can do it, but why should you?”
I must say that I agree with him 100 percent on that. If you are to use your scout rifle for hunting and foraging and for defense, the much more powerful .308 Winchester is a far smarter choice than the .223 Remington.
Cooper initially thought that a ghost ring rear sight with a post front sight was fine and that optics were optional at best. He later revised that when Bushnell came out with a pistol scope that could be mounted forward on the gun. This allowed easy access to the action for top loading and kept the scope away from the shooter’s face. One of the biggest issues then was the quality of the optics, as many of the early scopes could not stand up to the recoil of the rifle and were prone to failure. They were also designed for use on a pistol; so anytime they were mounted on a rifle, compromises had to be made both in the optics and the mounting system. Today there are several outstanding riflescopes designed just for scout rifle use. Companies like Leupold, Weaver, and Burris all make high-quality optics designed to be mounted in the forward, “scout rifle” position. These optics have put to rest the reliability problems that plagued the early scout riflescope sights as the quality is excellent. Today the forward-mounted scope more or less defines the “scout rifle” concept.
The rifles have developed a bit of a cult following in recent years. But, when looking at how the options have changed over the years I have to wonder if Cooper would have refined his concept further. He was a very smart man who developed his own ideas and didn’t follow the pack. But he was a bit old school as well. With the advancements of semiauto rifles that remain true to the scout rifle concept in terms of performance and use, I have to wonder if he would embrace those as part of the scout rifle family?
I was recently discussing the possibility of having a scout rifle competition with another writer who was trying to develop the match. The issue of how fair it would be to allow semiauto rifles came up and I wrote: “I cannot think of a single scenario that you can reasonably have in this match where the semiauto will not dominate.” That’s true. Unless the match designer comes up with some oddball scenario specifically designed to punish the semiauto user, the semiauto will dominate the match.
Some of Jeff Cooper’s scout rifles. Photo courtesy of Gunsite Academy.
The number-one issue brought up by scout rifle disciples when I approach the question of an AR-L semiauto as a scout rifle is the weight. The very popular Ruger Gunsite Scout Rifle weighs 7.3 pounds with a laminated wood stock and is 40-inches long. The DPMS GII AP4 AR-L carbine weighs 7.25 pounds and is only 34.25 inches long with the stock collapsed. Both of these guns are a bit heavier than Cooper’s seven-pound limit, but not by much. Both are in .308 Winchester. As a fighting rifle, it might be argued that the AP4 has the advantage by virtue of being semiauto and having a higher magazine capacity.
The question of if Cooper would have embraced the new lighter, .308 AR-L rifles like this DPMS GII Recon as a scout rifle will remain unanswered.
But the question is moot as Cooper died in 2006, before the boom in civilian AR-type rifles took off. Back when he was developing the scout rifle concept in the '70s and '80s, the options for civilian-owned .308 battle rifles were very limited and none of the guns matched the criteria he put forth for a scout rifle. The recent surge in popularity for AR-style guns led to the advancements and developments that make some of these rifles strong candidates for the “scout rifle” concept. But we will never know if Cooper would have approved. I saw the man around the SHOT Show in his later years, but I never formally met him. I only know him from his writing and do not presume to know his mind. I know that he did not like the AR-15, but that was mostly because of the 5.56 cartridge. I like to think that he would embrace this new generation of lighter weight, .308-chambered semiauto carbines, both as battle rifles and as members of the scout rifle family.
However, with that question remaining in the company of “the number of angels dancing on the head of a pin,” and just as unanswerable, we will stay true to his original concept of a scout rifle in this chapter.
Although it could be argued that the scout rifle idea is a bit dated, everything that was true about the scout rifle when Cooper was developing the idea is still true today. There are some tactical advantages to a bolt-action rifle. Reliability and the ability to use damaged or corroded ammo that will not feed in a semiauto is an example. A bolt-action is much quieter to load and chamber a round, even if stealth techniques are employed with the AR-type rifles. The bolt-action has the potential for a better trigger than can be safely used in a semiauto. On average the bolt-actions are lighter than most semiautos and the bolt-action rifle design is friendlier to carrying with a shoulder sling.
For “crossover” use—that is, a rifle used for defense as well as foraging and hunting—the scout rifle makes a lot of sense. In truth, Cooper designed it for this situation with it weighted toward being a hunting gun. He recognized that the needs of a scout are different than a typical military man and that the scout rifle was for solving problems, not fighting battles. As for the hunting aspect, he wrote, “The best weapon for the military scout may also be the best weapon for the private citizen stalking the deer.”
If you are a bolt-action guy and are familiar with running that style of rifle fast and smooth, then the scout rifle may be what you need for personal and home defense. For a rifle to be used while “scouting” when you are out and about, foraging or checking the road ahead, it is a great choice. After all, that’s what it was designed for.
I like shooting these guns and find that there is a certain kind of confidence to be found in mastering the scout rifle. I embrace the history and the fighting spirit of the man who conceived the scout rifle design. He and I think a lot alike when it comes to gun, cartridges, bullets, and philosophy of life; so how can I ignore his signature rifle?
While the scout rifle is a bit of a niche category when it comes to survival guns for preppers, it’s a competent rifle for our use. Those preppers who buy a scout rifle are never making a mistake, if for no other reason than each time you fire the gun, the spirit of Colonel Jeff Cooper will be watching over you and guiding the bullet to its destination.
The Rifles I Have Used
There are currently four production-grade scout rifles that I am aware of being manufactured and sold today. Steyr made the first commercial scout rifle and worked with Cooper on the design. It is the only scout rifle made today that had his hand on the tiller as it was designed, and it’s the only one with his stamp of approval. That’s not to say Cooper would not approve of the others—he likely would—but this is the only rifle introduced with his blessing while he was still alive.
Ruger designed its scout rifle in conjunction with Gunsite Academy, but years after Cooper had passed away. Savage and Mossberg both have more recently introduced versions of the scout rifle.
I have experience with all but the Mossberg. I can’t comment on that design. It may be fine, or may not be; I can’t say because I have not had one here to test.
L to R: Savage Model 11 Scout rifle with a Weaver fixed 4X Scout Scope; Steyr Scout with a Burris fixed-power 2.75 Scout scope; and Ruger Gunsite Scout with a Leupold VX•R 1.5-5x33mm Scout FireDot scope.
The Steyr Scout was the first commercial scout rifle. It was developed by Steyr Mannlicher of Austria in conjunction with Jeff Cooper and released in 1998. It’s a bit different design than most Americans are used to seeing in a rifle, but is full of innovation and European-style engineering.
The gun has a five-round removable box magazine with a “magazine in reserve” setting for manual loading. It is designed with a double click when inserting it into the magazine well. If you push the magazine into the rifle until the first click, it is held in place but will not feed ammo into the gun. This is, in effect, a magazine cut-off. This allows you to single load ammo while maintaining a full magazine, if you want to use a different specialty load. It also works if you are in a situation where you feel you have time to single load the rifle while keeping the full magazine at the ready in case the situation deteriorates or changes. There is a second magazine stored in the butt of the rifle where it is easily accessed.
Jeff and Janelle Cooper with a Steyr Scout rifle. Photo courtesy of Gunsite Academy.
The gun is lightweight, 6.6 pounds, due to the aluminum receiver and the polymer stock. It has a 19-inch hammer-forged, fluted barrel. There is a Weaver-style rail integral to the rifle for mounting optics, either conventionally or in the forward “scout” position. There is a UIT rail on the bottom.
The unique roller tang safety locks the bolt shut in the safe position. It also has a midway position that allows the bolt to open while on safe or fully forward in the fire position.
The two-stage trigger is user-adjustable. Mine is factory set for a total pull weight of three pounds, ten ounces. The first stage is fourteen ounces. There are backup, flip-up sights. The rear is a ghost ring and is adjustable for elevation. The front post is adjustable for windage.
One unique feature of this rifle is the integral folding bipod. The legs are cleverly hidden in the stock, but by pushing a button on the bottom they are released to open. There are three points of attachment for a sling, the third being for the Ching sling.
I have the Burris fixed-power 2.75 Scout scope on mine. A gun writer friend who is a disciple of the scout rifle and has tested everything on the market related to these guns told me it’s the best scout optic on the market. I’m not sure if I agree with such a definitive statement as there are some other outstanding scopes, but on the other hand, I have nothing to argue against it, either. It seems to be a great scout scope.
The Steyr Scout was the first commercial scout rifle and remains as a category leader today.
Ruger Gunsite Scout
In 2011, Ruger introduced the Ruger Gunsite Scout, a re-designed scout rifle based on their Model 77 action and developed in cooperation with Gunsite Academy. Mine is matte finish stainless steel with a black, wood-laminate stock. This gun has an 18.7-inch barrel and weighs 7.3 pounds. If you order the Ruger Scout Rifle with a synthetic stock and a 16.1-inch barrel, it reduces the weight by more than a pound to 6.25 pounds. The extra weight on my gun is an asset when shooting the rifle as it aids in reducing felt recoil, but in truth if I had it to do over I would do as Cooper suggested and go for the lighter weight. But, that was not available at the time I got my gun. With the removable flash hider installed, my rifle is forty inches long.
The receiver is a typical M77 with a three-position safety. The single-stage trigger is clean and crisp and breaks at four pounds, fourteen ounces on my rifle.
The forward-mounted Picatinny rail allows mounting scout-style scopes. I have a Leupold VX•R 1.5–5x33mm Scout FireDot scope mounted in Leupold quick-detach rings on my gun. This big, bright 30mm tube scope has a huge eyebox, which is important in a scout scope. The FireDot illuminated center dot is visible in daylight and is intensity adjustable. For the scout-style of shooting with both eyes open, this dot draws your eye to the center of the scope and provides a positive aiming point. This variable-power scope is an excellent choice for a multi-use scout scope. Leupold was in early with the scout scope concept. In fact, their early pistol scopes were often used for scout rifles. Leupold was the first optics company to introduce a dedicated scout rifle scope, the M8 2.5x28mm Scout, back in 1996, and they have remained a strong leader in the scout rifle category ever since.
The Ruger M77 receiver has integral scope mounting locations for conventionally mounting a scope and my gun came with scope rings for that option as well as the scout position.
The rifle comes with a ten-round, detachable box magazine with a release just forward of the trigger guard.
There is a soft rubber recoil pad with buttpad and three half-inch spacers that will allow adjusting the length of pull. There are backup sights, with an adjustable ghost ring and a protected ramp front sight. The action has a controlled round feed extractor.
Like all Ruger guns, the Scout is well built and should prove to be very dependable during years of hard use.
Savage Model 11 Scout Rifle
In 2015 Savage announced a Model 11 Scout rifle. It’s a .308 Winchester of course, built on the famous 110-style action. This gun has an 18-inch barrel with another 2.5 inches of muzzle brake. Personally, I question the reasoning behind a muzzle brake on a scout rifle. Muzzle brakes are very loud and, if you are adhering to the scout concept in its use, you probably will not be wearing hearing protection when you shoot this rifle outside of the range. A muzzle brake is a great thing at the range where you are always wearing hearing protection. It will reduce muzzle flip and recoil, allowing fast follow-up shots. But if you need this gun in the field for defense or hunting, there may not be time to put on hearing protection.
Anybody who has fired a short-barrel .308 with a muzzle brake without hearing protection will tell you it’s a one-and-done kind of thing. It only took one time for me shooting at a big Florida hog with a brake on my .308 AR-L to decide that the next one could be the world record, but he was safe until I got some muffs on my ears. I am very glad I didn’t make this discovery during a fight for my life. In a short-barrel .308 a muzzle brake can be so loud that it’s disorienting to the shooter, which could lead to bad things in a defensive situation.
Is a muzzle brake a good idea on a scout rifle?
It might make sense to remove the brake for true scout work. On the other hand, that’s why muzzle brakes are usually threaded on. You can remove them and install a thread protector.
The stock on the Savage is injection molded synthetic in a tan color they call “natural.” The stock has three sling attachment locations, per Cooper’s design: front and rear, with a center attachment for a Ching sling. There is an adjustable comb on the stock to adjust for the best cheek weld, depending on the sighting system used. The length of pull is also adjustable, with spacers between the stock and the 1-inch black, recoil pad.
The rifle comes with a detachable, double-stack, ten-shot magazine. There is a fully adjustable Williams peep-style rear sight and a protected, blade-style front sight. The gun comes with a rail that is mounted forward so it bridges the barrel and action, attaching to both. My gun is fitted with a Weaver fixed 4X Scout Scope.
Like most new Savage rifles, the Scout has an AccuTrigger. Mine breaks sharp and clean at 2.75 pounds, which makes it the best trigger on any scout rifle I have tried.
The bolt has a large, oversize handle that’s a big asset in running the gun fast and while wearing gloves. The safety is tang-mounted, three-position and it does lock the bolt closed when it’s on. The gun is a bit heavy at 7.8 pounds, at least if we use Cooper’s guidelines of three kilograms, or 6.6 pounds. The overall length is 40.5 inches, which also misses his one-meter-in-length guideline, but not by much—a meter is 39.37 inches. If the brake is removed the length is within Cooper’s specs.
The Savage Model 11 Scout rifle is priced lower than any of the three scout rifles I have tried. Time will tell, but Savage rifles are tough and durable. This gun represents a great value in a scout rifle.