The Scout Spirit

| Game On |
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Testing Col. Cooper’s Theories In A
Team Competition At Gunsite

By Shari LeGate

Much has been written about the Scout rifle and over the years the gun has amassed a cult-like following. But you can’t talk about this legendary rifle without bringing up its creator, the late Col. Jeff Cooper and the well-known Gunsite Academy. Even as a career competition shotgun shooter, I knew of the Scout rifle and Gunsite. I even have my own Scout rifle—a Ruger Gunsite Scout chambered in .308 Win—the gun I took with me to the very first post-Cooper Scout Rifle Conference & Competition, held as part of the celebration of Gunsite Academy’s 40th anniversary.

Cooper’s design of a bolt-action, general-purpose rifle is a light, powerful, utility rifle capable of handling most hunting and personal defense situations well. It must be easy to carry and user friendly, but it’s not a competition rifle. Cooper began developing the rifle in the late 1960’s and spent many years working with Steyr to develop the gun to his specifications before bringing it to market.

For the longest time, the only way to get a Scout was through Steyr Arms or to take a short-action rifle to a good gunsmith and have it customized to meet the Scout criteria. But in the past few years, there’s been a resurgence of the Scout and as a result, other manufacturers have introduced Scout rifles of their own. Savage, Mossberg, Ruger and Browning all have their own versions of this iconic rifle.

There are many Scout rifle experts who have written more about the technical aspects of this rifle than I will ever know. But, my affection for this rifle isn’t for its features and design, which I find exceptional, but for something much deeper.

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Shari’s team during the competition included (left to right) SplitHoof
(a nickname), Vee Miller III, Shari LeGate, Andy Langlois, Mike Ainsa
and Gary Kohler.

Scout Spirit

My affection for this rifle stems from the spirit of the rifle’s concept and Cooper’s belief in the overriding importance of a shooter’s capabilities when it comes to shooting this rifle or any gun. Cooper wrote, “What matters, is not what the equipment can do, but rather what it will do in the hands of its operator under field, rather than in laboratory conditions.” We have such a saying in the competition circle, but it’s not nearly as eloquent, “It’s not the gun that makes the shooter. It’s the shooter that makes the gun,” meaning you can have the best gun possible, but if you don’t know how to use it, mentally, practically or physically, you won’t make the shot.

That phrase kept running through my mind during the three days of instruction and one day of competition at the Scout conference. This was a dedicated Scout Rifle training course, directed and supervised by Range Master Il Ling New with Gunsite instructors Gary Smith and Mario Marchman. Starting with classroom instruction about the concept and culture of the Scout Rifle by noted author and Scout rifle historian, Richard Mann, I immediately knew I was out of my element. I am not a bolt-action rifle shooter and I was surrounded by bolt-action rifle experts.

Il Ling New, who I can truly say is a Scout rifle maven, a devotee of the philosophy of Jeff Cooper and without a doubt, one of the best instructors I’ve come across, began the training class. Thankfully, she understood my inexperience with this rifle. Il Ling, Gary and Mario were patient and indulgent, working with me in my efforts to master the gun before the competition, which was not an easy task.

My biggest challenge was working the bolt. I was slow, clumsy, inefficient and could not get the action to run smoothly. It would stick and bind up. So much so, I would have to come off the gun and fight the bolt to move it. The instructors saw my struggles and first thought it might be the ammunition. I was shooting Black Hills Gold .308 Win Match topped with 168-grain Hornady A-Max. It wasn’t the ammo. We then thought it might be my rifle, a Ruger Gunsite Scout, Model 6803. It wasn’t.

After two days of fighting the bolt, Mario asked if he could try the gun to ascertain what the problem was. I handed him the gun, he took several shots that were quick, smooth and exactly on target. The bolt worked seamlessly and the ammunition performed perfectly. He turned to me and matter of factly said, “It’s not the gun or the ammo. It’s you.”

A classic example of Col. Cooper’s doctrine. A good gun, good ammunition, but a not so good operator. I was manhandling the gun, forcing the action, grabbing the bolt in my fist, trying to shove it into position. Mario spent a little time teaching me the bolt-action move—Up, Back, Forward, Down, using an open palm. Once I learned how to manipulate the action, both the gun and the ammunition performed flawlessly.

We have another saying in shotgun, “Treat the gun like you would treat a woman. Gently, but firmly, move the gun in the direction you want it to take and it will respond. Shove, push or manhandle it and it will make your life miserable.” I remembered that old adage later in the evening as I was practicing working the bolt in my room, preparing for the competition the next day.

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Shari took the class with her Ruger Scout Rifle and Black Hills ammunition.
She’d had the rifle for a while, but the class taught her how to work the
action smoothly and shoot accurately under pressure.

Course Of Fire

The competition course of fire was unlike any other I’ve shot. Each stage reflected Cooper’s principles and highlighted the general-purpose concept of the Scout Rifle. Every station’s score was based on both time and accuracy and a missed shot incurred a penalty of 20 seconds added to your time. Separated into 5-person teams, we began.

Stage One (9 shots): Shootability. Cooper was clear that a Scout Rifle’s action must be smooth. Standing in the high-ready position at 25 yards, we took 3 shots hitting the scoring center as fast as possible on command. (Thankfully, I had learned to work the action.)

Stage Two (3 shots): Worst-Case. This stage replicated a worst-case scenario; the optical sight is broken, the detachable magazine is lost and there’s only one round of ammunition. The shooter stands at 50 yards, with the rifle in one hand and a single cartridge in the other. On command, the shooter drops to the kneeling position, loads the rifle and makes the shot with iron sights only.

Stage Three (6 shots): Shoot-n-Load. Cooper preached the importance of being able to shoot one and load one. Starting in the standing position, the shooter dropped to the seated position, fired one shot at 75 yards, reloaded a new magazine or single cartridge and fired again.

Stage Four (3 shots): Precision. Cooper was very clear in his definition of precision; hit the kill zone. Standing 100 yards from the target, on command, the shooter dropped to the prone position and hit the scoring center with one shot.

Stage Five (20 shots): Field Problems. This was a walking course of 10 different positions with targets placed at ranges from 100 to 300 yards. You could shoot from any position, taking two shots at every station, using the surrounding landscape to offer support, allowing the use of “jackass” positions as Cooper called them.
Remember, time was a huge factor in the competition. The longer you took to get on target, the higher your score. It was a difficult course, I didn’t finish last, but I wasn’t in the top 10. I was somewhere in the middle (well, maybe more towards the bottom middle), but when all was said and done, it was one of the most exciting and demanding competitions I’ve ever done.

Throughout my shooting career, I heard shooters speak of Gunsite with such reverence it bordered on worship. I never understood the appeal—until now. Instructor Ed Head explained it perfectly. “We offer life changing experiences. People don’t know what they don’t know. When you come to Gunsite, we show you what you don’t know.”

In the 40 years since it opened it’s doors, the impact the Gunsite Academy has had on the shooting community might be lost on the new crop of shooters and gun owners entering into the shooting sports. The lasting legacy of Jeff Cooper is more than just the Modern Technique of the Pistol, the Scout Rifle and defensive shooting. Gunsite CEO Ken Campbell summed it up, “We teach a way of life, a mindset and we keep good people alive.”

This competition was rough, not the standard competition in the sense we know competition, because it wasn’t about just making the shot. It was about knowing your equipment, being prepared to make the shot, under adverse conditions, both physically and mentally.

Does the Scout Rifle have merit as a gun for competition? In the context of Cooper’s vision, absolutely. This course of fire highlighted the practical application of the Scout Rifle as conceived by Cooper. This was a unique format. A conference/competition to learn and understand Cooper’s principles and then put them into action with the gun he designed.

It was a tough 4 days, but an unforgettable experience and I threw out the idea of an annual Scout Rifle competition. Gunsite is a one-of-a-kind experience, but so was the Scout Rifle competition. Sometimes when you toss out a pebble, it can gather speed and turn into a rock. We can only hope. We can always use another competitive game.

GUNSITE SCOUT
Maker: Sturm, Ruger & Co.
411 Sunapee Street
Newport, NH 03773
(336) 949-5200

Action type: Bolt action
Caliber: .308 Win (tested), 5.56/.223
Capacity: 10
Barrel length: 16.10 inches
Overall length: 37 inches, 38.5 (with included buttpad spacers)
Weight: 7.1 pounds
Finish: Matte black
Sights: Fully adjustable rear, protected blade front
Stock: Black laminate
Price: $1,139

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