Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Steyr Scout

This post has been in the works for some time, spurred on recently by Countertop's mention of my rifle and Brother Rat BullNav's subsequent prodding.

I carry a Steyr Scout rifle in caliber .308 Winchester. (Yes, it's now properly the Mannlicher Scout but mine says STEYR.) It is an outstanding piece of gear, although one that is not as widely or well understood as it should be. This post is about how I came to own one, and why I think it's a damn good rifle.

A bit of history to get us started. I did not grow up shooting or hunting, so my real experience with firearms has been as an adult, and mostly in the military with open-sighted rifles. Thanks to the Marine Corps I had a good grasp of the fundamentals of marksmanship (although my scores didn't always show it), and the added benefit of no pre-conceived notions of what a basic 30-caliber rifle should be. Until I got the Scout, for example, I had not ever shot a weapon with a telescopic sight. Thus when I found myself looking for a 30-caliber rifle I was free to examine the options and give it some real thought.

When I began to peruse LtCol Jeff Cooper's Commentaries in 97 and 98-- looking for something specific on the M1 Garand-- I came across references to the "scout concept" and later the Steyr Scout itself. The discussions interested me, and I began to examine the concept more and more closely. What Cooper was driving at was the design and production of an idealized general purpose rifle, a weapon that combined several specific features into the proverbial better mousetrap. Such a weapon did not exist, except as a custom piece made at great expense and effort.

A rifle is an instrument, the purpose of which is to allow the shooter to be able to effect a decision at a given distance. Given that basic premise, and discounting the needs of specialized arms-- for biathlon, big game, or whatever-- what sort of rifle does that best for the practical range of potential targets? Better still, what features should the rifle have that will enable the shooter to achieve a first round decisive hit, on an appropriate target, under field conditions?

Cooper worked out the answers. His own experience coupled with a culling of various sources led him to conclude that the features of this idealized general purpose rifle could be boiled down to "handiness" coupled with enough power to knock down a target up to about 800 pounds. He wanted it to have the shortness and lightness of the old Winchester lever action, but with a more powerful 30-caliber round, since that sort of cartridge had proven itself across the 20th Century. And he wanted a short list of other features that could otherwise only be had by custom work, and which would enhance its utility for the single man operating alone. And that is what he got in the Steyr Scout. (See this site for a more detailed history.)

And that is what I like about the Scout rifle. I like the whole thing, not just its litany of interesting features. It really is a package wherein the whole far outweighs the sum of the parts. It's a rifle that's made to be taken afield and shot under field conditions. Carry it slung or at the ready, shoot it from various positions, engage targets from 25 meters out 300 (or beyond, depending on your skill), and then you'll begin to appreciate how handy and shootable it is. It mounts beautifully, and the longer eye relief of the scout scope allows you to track the target with your non-dominant eye in a manner not possible with the conventional scope. Every aspect of this rifle is geared toward the practical, to making this as useful an instrument as possible.

A few things pop out instantly about the Scout rifle. The first is that it's odd-looking. Yes, it is. So what? It's not built for looks. Next, that it's not a bench-rest rifle, although it's plenty accurate. If all you do is shoot it off the bench, you'll just end up saying, "What's the big deal?" People also notice how light and short it is, and wonder if that doesn't affect the accuracy. I assure you it does not. For practical accuracy under field conditions, you want to be able to place shot after shot into about a 6-inch circle out 300 meters, without any holdover. This is what the Scout will do, if you're up to the task. If you can shoot better than that, so can it. (Go here for more observations from Father Frog.)

I have seen and heard some objections to the price, which is around two thousand dollars. You get what you pay for, and a rifle is not necessarily something to go cheap on. At any rate, think of what you might dish out for, say, a Ruger M77 Frontier. Add in the scope and mounts, and the sling and swivels, and a set of ghost ring sights (installed by a competent gunsmith no less), and a modified magazine well, now you're in for way over a thousand bucks and you still don't have a real scout rifle. (Sorry, Ruger, we applaud your effort, but you missed the mark.) Nope, might as well spend the money on the real thing and be able to shoot it right out of the box.

In closing I'll say this: the best rating I can give the Steyr Scout rifle is that it rewards the shooter who knows how to shoot. That I can't always shoot up to its potential is my concern, but it has nothing to do with the rifle. It is ready and able to do whatever I need it to do. If you're interested in practical marksmanship, this is the rifle for you.

Scout Resources Online:

Mannlicher Scout at Steyr USA

Cooper's Commentaries (The rifle made its debut in Sept 97, but I suggest you Google "Steyr Scout" and follow every like that comes under Cooper's Commentaries. Many critical references to the project and buried throughout the issues, and it's fun to browse them anyway. I dare you not to learn something.)

Father Frog's Scout Rifle Pages (Indispensable)

Andy Langlois Rifle Leather (He made my Ching sling)

My report on the Gunsite General Rifle Course