I have long been a fan of Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper and his Scout rifle concept. It’s not the best tool for every application of the rifle, but his idea was to create a general purpose answer to the problem of striking a decisive blow on an animal up to 200 kilograms (440 pounds) at any distance the shooter could place a bullet into the vitals of said animal. He further specified that it should be handy and defined it as being one meter (about 40 inches) long and three kilograms (a bit less than seven pounds) in weight unloaded but including sling and sights. Cooper apparently liked round numbers and metric measurements.
The .308 Winchester round, which is very common and compact enough to allow for a shorter and lighter rifle, is sufficiently powerful to meet Cooper’s standard. There are, of course, plenty of other cartridges that will do the trick, but .308 would be a first choice should one have options.
He also specified the bolt action as best suited to the concept. It is light, simple, and strong, and for his purposes a high rate of fire is unnecessary. A practiced rifleman can run a bolt quickly enough for a follow shot on game.
Besides hunting, Cooper felt the rifle would do well in self-defense and would be a good tool for the military scout, though many of us would pick a semi-auto for those roles. That said the Scout rifle could do the job in most cases.
Cooper argued the primary sighting system should be a fixed, low-powered scope forward mounted on the rifle ahead of the action. This goes against convention. Most of us like lots of magnification and variable power scopes, which we usually leave set on maximum. We usually mount them directly over the action. Cooper didn’t trust variable power scopes, having seen a number fail in his career. He passed away in 2006 at the age of 86, however, and missed experiencing many of the advances in optics over the last decade that have led most of us to think that reliable variable power scopes have arrived.
His preferred location of the scope, forward of the action, has great merit. Getting the scope forward allows easier access to the magazine for topping off the rifle and keeps the scope far from vulnerable foreheads. Most importantly, since the scope is farther from your eyes, it doesn’t block your view, which tremendously improves situational awareness– a valuable capability in hunting or self-defense. As a left-hander, I find it also helps me when I try to run a right-handed bolt rifle. The scope over the action makes it hard to reach over the rifle to work the bolt. If you ever get a chance to watch the movie Saving Private Ryan, make note of the American sharpshooter, who was left-handed, and of the extra effort he had to apply to work the action of his Springfield.
A problem with this mount, however, is that it limits the magnification we all love. Since the scope is further away, it is harder to get the eye directly behind it, and the more magnification we have, the more difficult it is to stay centered with it. Cooper felt that any more than 3 power scopes would not work. I’ve found that to be the case with my eyes. The low magnification does have the advantage of allowing us to keep both eyes open, which also helps our awareness. Lower power also minimizes the tremors we all have when shooting off-hand. A rule of thumb I had beaten into me was that 4x was about as much as most of us can handle, and it is certainly true for me. This applies to conventionally mounted scopes as well as forward mounted one.
While Cooper felt 3 power scopes were sufficiently powerful, I know I am not alone in sometimes wishing for more, which is the reason for this review. I do a fair amount of testing from the bench and get better groups with more magnification than I have with any of my fixed power Scout scopes. When working from a bench, you can take the time to get behind a scope, and paper targets on the range don’t require a high level of situational awareness. I was therefore interested when I spotted some variable power Scout scopes on the market. I feared, however, that the rifle I wanted to put it on, the 7x57mm Mexican Mauser I’ve written about before, might not work with them. The scope mount on the old Mauser is an S&K that sits where the original rear sight was mounted. The specs on these scopes indicated that the eye relief might require them to sit farther back than this mount allows. Pistol scopes, however, offer more eye relief, and since I had tried a 2x handgun scope on a Garand with good results, I asked Burris if I could borrow one of their 2-7x28mm Handgun scopes, and they were nice enough to oblige.
The scope has a 1-inch diameter tube and weighs 13 ounces. At its largest point, it is 39mm, or slightly more than 1.5 inches in diameter. It is 9.7 inches long. So overall, it is a pretty compact package and just a bit larger than a typical fixed power Scout scope, though it is six ounces heavier, which is enough to notice.
You get a choice of a ballistic or plain duplex style reticle. The ballistic has little dots on it for holdover or windage. I’m a simple sort and asked for the plain one. I don’t see this as a long range rifle, and it can be zeroed so you can hold dead on out to 250 yards or so, which in my view is a long shot for hunting in the southeast.
The field of view is 21 feet at low power and seven feet at high power at 100 yards. This is narrower than I would like, as a large field of view helps with situational awareness, but since it will primarily be used with both eyes open on low power and you can see around a Scout scope so easily, it is not the problem it would be on a scope that’s mounted close to your eye.
It offers plenty of adjustments for zeroing, 64 inches in both elevation and windage at 100 yards. Each click moves the shot ¼ inch at 100 yards. Eye relief is from 11-21 inches on low power and 10-14 inches on high power.
The finish is matte black, but you can get it in nickel if you like. The MSRP ranges from $419 to $455, depending on finish. The model I had can be found on Amazon for $349, a tidy discount if your budget is like mine.
The scope was mounted on the rifle using the S&K scope mount I reviewed last November. I wish they made this mount in a version for Weaver rings, as it would make it easier to remove the scope if necessary. The one that fits my rifle, however, only comes in a version that uses S&K rings. These are more attractive than Weaver rings and may even work better, but they require Allen wrenches to remove, while Weavers can be removed with a coin or knife blade. For a field use rifle, that’s a good thing. I used a kit from Midway with alignment tools to ensure the rings were properly set and then lapped them so there would be no strain placed on the scope by misaligned rings. A torque wrench got everything snug enough but not too snug.
I actually found there was more eye relief than I needed, and I had to mount the scope as far forward as possible. That surprised me a bit, and it means I probably could have used the Scout version of the scope just as well as the pistol one. I live and learn, but it did work out, which is the important thing.
It was then off to the range to zero. Proof that everything was lined up well is that it was on the paper with the first shot and less than 10 clicks were needed to center the group at 50 yards. The adjustments were consistent and repeatable and moved bullet impact precisely as they should.
Since the range I was using only went to 100 yards and I wanted a 200 yard zero, I used Shoot! , a $40 ballistics software application to compute that the group should be 2¼ inches high at 100 yards, and I futzed with it to get it there. I still need to go to an outdoor range and confirm that it is right at 200 yards. Software simulates and saves time, but we need reality if we are going to use a rifle on game or for self-defense.
The 200 yard zero, by the way, should keep me within four inches of my point of aim out to 250 yards. This is with the 139 grain Privi Partizan load, which is the only one I have been able to find at reasonable cost lately. Truthfully, I would be very unwilling to shoot that far unless I had a lot of time and a solid rest and position. If I combine my abilities with this rifle, I think I would be stretching to go beyond 200 yards in most cases. Serious hunger would, of course, alter that equation.
The scope is bright and clear. With a 32mm diameter objective, it is passing as much light through to the eye as the average young person can make use of at 4.5x magnification and as much as middle-aged and older people can typically use at 6.5x magnification. I discussed seeing through optics in the dark in a binocular review recently should you want more information on the subject. The basic idea, though, is that the more magnification you have, the larger the objective needs to be. There are limits to how much the human eye can take advantage of, and this scope strikes an excellent compromise on letting you see when it’s dark vs. the gain in size and weight larger objectives demand.
My biggest curiosity was how more magnification would turn out using a Scout scope. I think that Colonel Cooper pretty well nailed it. If I go more than 3x in magnification, it gets hard to use the scope off-hand. I start having to squint or close my offside eye and really focus on the scope to see through it. That defeats the goal, which is to have greater awareness of everything else around you and to be able to follow a moving target easily. I’m happiest at around 2.5x, but I can still keep both eyes open and see both through and around the scope at 3x. As magnification increases beyond 3x, it gets harder and harder; someplace past 4x, I lose the awareness that this is all about.
On the other hand, working on the bench, the extra magnification is very welcome. I could see many field situations where it would also be useful, shooting prone, for example. Despite the Colonel’s reservations, I think the variable power scope is worth it, thanks to the improvements in modern optics that he didn’t get to experience. Overall, this test confirmed what I suspected, that one could take advantage of more magnification with a Scout scope under some circumstances, and I found no negatives, other than weight and cost, in going to a variable power scope.
– SurvivalBlog Field Gear Editor, Scot Frank Eire