Many of the best innovations have resulted from gifted individuals pursuing the answer to one simple question: What if…? For the late Jeff Cooper, one such question took seed nearly a half-century ago and ran something along the lines of, “What if you found yourself in dire circumstances and could have only one rifle with which to provide meat for the table and, in a pinch, ensure your own defense?”
Cooper, a retired combat Marine lieutenant colonel and devoted big-game hunter, was uniquely qualified to not only address that question, but to analytically evaluate it. He did so through a series of magazine articles and, in the 1980s, conferences held at the renowned firearm training center he founded in Paulden, Ariz., that today is known simply as Gunsite.
Cooper’s ultimate proposal, cited in his book “To Ride, Shoot Straight, and Speak the Truth,” postulated, “A general purpose rifle 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.” He would eventually dub the platform “scout” after its namesake military operator—an individual dispatched ahead of a main force to reconnoiter an area and who was reliant on his personal skills of evasion and on his equipment for safe return. Of course Cooper knew that a rifle that could serve in that role could just as well serve the civilian hunter, rancher or self-defense-minded individual, and so the requirements he outlined for such an “instrument,” while arguably somewhat arbitrary, were, nonetheless, rather specifically dictated by his considerable experience.
For hunting pursuits, Cooper had long admired the ’94 Winchester lever-action and the Mannlicher carbine for their handiness and natural pointing qualities. So the specifics he cited for inclusion in an archetypical scout rifle are not surprising: an overall length of one meter (39 inches) and a weight of 3 kilograms (6.6 pounds) for handiness; provision for a compact, fixed-power scope of intermediate eye relief mounted ahead of the action for simultaneous situational awareness and fast target acquisition; a facility for rapid reloading and/or extra ammunition capacity for adequate firepower; and, finally, a reasonably powerful chambering, preferably in the form of a short-action cartridge such as the .308 Win., for terminal effectiveness on quarry of 200 kilos (440 pounds).
Cooper’s experimentation progressed through a series of scout prototypes built on bolt-actions ranging from a Remington Model 600 to a Brno ZKK Mauser action to a Ruger M77 Ultralight fitted with a rib from a Ruger No. 1 single-shot action. Ruger later legitimized the latter configuration as a factory pseudo-scout in the form of its now-discontinued Frontier Rifle, which whetted some shooters’ appetites and laid the groundwork for a more thorough execution. Surprisingly, it has been reported that Bill Ruger, when shown Cooper’s Scout III, the Frontier’s forerunner, was nonplused. Regardless, the Frontier could be considered the forerunner to the company’s latest offering: the M77-based Ruger Gunsite Scout Rifle.
The new rifle is the result of several years of collaboration between Ruger and Gunsite, but according to Ruger Product Manager Mark Gurney, discussions that led to rifle’s development got underway in earnest in November of 2009, only a year before its launch. Initially Gurney and Ruger Media Relations Director Ken Jorgensen met with Gunsite Range Master Ed Head in Arizona to discuss the project. They returned to New Hampshire to iron out the details and create a list of potential features. They later revisited Arizona where both Head and Gunsite owner Owen “Buz” Mills provided key input on the project. Back in New Hampshire, longtime Ruger engineer Roy Melcher turned his creative mind to the project. Melcher had developed the Security-Six revolver series, had contributed heavily to the original Mini-14 project and had designed the 77/22 bolt-action rifle. He had been called out of retirement several years earlier when Ruger re-tooled the Mini-14 production line and product offerings. The Scout Rifle would be his final contribution to the company before his death late last year.
“The Ruger Gunsite Scout is a credible rendition according to Cooper’s concepts,” said Gurney. “It is not an attempt to blindly follow a strict recipe, because Cooper didn’t have a strict recipe. He had guidelines based upon an ideal, and Ruger and Gunsite followed those ideals as best we could while keeping costs and development time reasonable.” Gurney added that Head, too, “did not have a dogmatic, ‘this is the recipe’ approach.”
According to Gurney, Melcher took the laundry list and created the first couple of prototypes. “We initially wanted the gun to take M14 magazines and even thought about making our own M14 mag,” he said. But inconsistencies in how existing magazines presented the rounds for feeding into the action dissuaded the team from that approach. A second prototype had a polymer stock and fed from Accuracy Int’l-pattern magazines guided by modified bottom metal from Badger Ordnance. “We took both—the wood-stocked M14-magazine gun and the polymer-stocked AI-magazine gun back to Gunsite for Ed to wring out,” said Gurney. Both Mills and Head preferred the more substantial feel of the wood stock, and at 7 pounds the team decided that the quarter pound that could be saved by using polymer would actually be detrimental to the rifle’s shooting qualities. “Also [Head] was insistent that the stock have an adjustable length of pull, and doing that in polymer would have cost quite a bit more,” said Gurney.
What finally emerged is both a true scout rifle and one of only three widely available production scouts on the market. What’s more, it neatly fills the void in price and features left between the other two. The Steyr scout, which Cooper personally collaborated on with Steyr of Austria, is certainly more feature-laden with its integrated bipod, multiple sling points and integrated spare magazine stowage, but it is priced at more than double the cost of the Ruger. The only other factory option, Savage’s 10 FCM Scout, while now in its second iteration and featuring that company’s proprietary AccuTrigger and AccuStock, comes standard with only a four-round detachable magazine and is not significantly less costly than the Ruger.
The Gunsite Scout Rifle possesses the M77’s signature features: a flat-sided, flat-bottomed receiver with a forward-angling front bedding screw secured to the receiver’s integral recoil lug; integral mounts for the included Ruger rings; a one-piece stainless steel bolt and handle; a Mauser-type claw extractor; a receiver-mounted pivoting blade ejector; and a receiver-mounted, three-position safety.