Steyr Scout Rifle

by Peter G. Kolalis

Jeff Cooper owns the "Scout Rifle" concept, lock, stock and barrel. In 1983, he defined the "general purpose rifle" as "... a conveniently portable, individually operated firearm, capable of striking a single decisive blow, on a live target 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." To Cooper a "scout" was one man moving from cover to cover, operating alone, and highly trained in all the fieldcraft arts.

The envelope was prescribed by Cooper with a maximum length of one meter (39.37 inches) and a total weight, empty, no greater than three kilograms (approximately 6.6 pounds). The rifle resulting from these parameters was to be convenient, powerful (whatever that means), accurate, rugged, versatile and aesthetically pleasing.

Scout History

An early commercial precursor to the modern scout rifle was the Mannlicher Schoenauer Model 1903 Carbine chambered for the 6.5x54mm cartridge. There have also been numerous short, lightweight military bolt-action rifles chambered for full-size cartridges. The British No. 5 MkI "Jungle Carbine" is an example. There were an almost infinite number of carbines based upon the '98 Mauser action and even earlier Mauser designs. Examples include the Spanish and Argentine M91 Carbine, Belgian M89 Lightened Carbine, Spanish M95 Carbine, Swedish M94/14 Carbine, Argentine Model 1909 Cavalry Carbine, FN Dutch Police Carbine, Iranian Models 98/29 and 49 Short Rifles, German Model 33/40 and so on. Most of them exhibited an unacceptable flash signature and increased recoil.

Furthermore, the turn-bolt, except in the hands of a dedicated and highly trained sniper, is an anachronism on today's battlefield. Today's military scout would be far better equipped to meet with, and destroy, the enemy in "shoot and scoot" scenarios armed with an M4, Steyr AUG or Kalashnikov than a short-barreled bolt-action. The scout rifle is a superb instrument for the game field, but not combat. I have personally hunted in Africa using a Scout Rifle with great success on impala at ranges out to 300 yards.

Until now all scout rifles have been custom-made from a variety of tum-bolt short actions, such as the Remington Model 600, Czech Brno ZKK and the superb Sako L-579 medium-length action. Most have been chambered for the .308 Winchester cartridge. Some "pseudo" scouts have been chambered for the .30-06 round using standard-length actions like the pre-64 Winchester Model 70. Other cartridges presumably compatible with the scout rifle concept include the 7mm-08, .350 Remington Magnum, .35 Whelen and 6.5min Remington Magnum.

Over seven years in development and designed using specifications provided by none other than Jeff Cooper himself, Steyr-Mannlicher AG (Dept. SOF, Postfach 1000, Steyr, Austria) has just introduced a production series scout rifle with several dramatic innovations. Distributed by GSI, Inc. (Dept. SOF, P.O. Box 129, Trussville, AL 35173-0129; phone: 205-655-8299, fax: 205-655-7078), the new Steyr Scout Rifle falls clearly within the envelope configuration originally mandated by Cooper.

With two buttstock spacers, the overall length of the Steyr Scout Rifle is 39.57 inches. The weight, empty, with two five-round magazines and the scope with its mounts is 6.93 pounds. Initially chambered for the .308 Winchester (7.62x51mm NATO) cartridge, other rounds such as the 7mm-08 Remington and .243 Winchester are possible sometime in the future. Barrel length is only 19 inches with four grooves of rifling and a right-hand twist of one turn in 12 inches. Although thin-walled, the hammer-forged barrel has been fluted to cut weight and add rigidity.

The barrel's method of attachment to the receiver is unique. First, there is an integral cone machined into the chamber-end of the barrel. In front of this is an aluminum ring (longitudinally slotted for tightening) with an opposing interior cone on each end. Another counteracting ring with a cone goes in front of the aluminum ring. This is followed by a locking nut. Using a special wrench, the locking nut must be torqued to Steyr specifications by a trained armorer only. A rectangular steel locking wedge on an aluminum block attached to the underside of the receiver further secures the barrel. The barrel is completely free-floating and the barreled-action is held to, and bedded in the stock by means of two aluminum pillars in the stock.

A steel lock bushing (or barrel extension) at the chamber end of the barrel permits the use of an aluminum receiver, an important factor in keeping the complete package under 7 pounds. Made from a 6061 T6 aluminum alloy extrusion, the receiver has been black hard-anodized. With the bolt locked in battery into the lock bushing at the end of the barrel, the receiver, in essence, serves only as a framework for the barrel and bolt in a manner reminis cent of the World War II German MG42 General Purpose Machine Gun.

Scopes, Sights and the SBS

To accomodate mounting of the long-eye-relief Leupold Scout Scope and the emergency "iron" sights, the receiver extrusion is unusually long: 15.67 inches (398 mm). Installed in a recess at the rear end of the receiver is a spring-loaded flip-up, ghost-ring-type polymer rear sight which is adjustable for elevation zero only. The spring-loaded, front-sight post, with a vertical white bar, has been installed in a polymer receiver front cap and can be adjusted for windage zero. Just slide a serrated polymer bar forward slightly and the front sight post will pop up. The integral scope rail on top of the receiver has twelve mounting points and is configured to MIL-STD-1913. In other words, it is a so-called "Picatinny Rail."

The new Steyr Scout Rifle uses the SBS (Safe Bolt System) action introduced in 1996. With four front locking lugs (the Steyr SSG featured rear locking lugs), an important feature of the SBS is a safety ring that is an integral part of the lock bushing. This safety ring rotates with the bolt and shields the extractor, so that escaping gases can only go down the barrel, instead of pushing outward against the extractor. There are also two standard gas ports on the bolt body to accommodate the safe escape of gas from a pierced primer. A cut-out on the bolt body at the ejection port (when the bolt is closed) and six grooves around the body were designed to reduce weight.

However, a groove around the ejection port area of the body is present for anti-debris and anti-icing purposes. The bolt body has been nickel-plated because this finish is tough and corrosion-resistant and it also reduces the coefficient of friction. The two rear locking lugs are smaller than the front lugs. To enhance the bolt lift motion, there are dual opposed cocking cams within the bolt body. The classic Mannlicher-Schoenauer butterknife bolt handle's lift is 70 degrees. An additional 20 degrees is utilized for the downward locking motion described below. An indicator pin protrudes from the rear of the bolt shroud when the firing pin is cocked.

The SBS bolt assembly is much easier to disassemble than that of the Steyr SSG. Just depress the disassembly button on the left side of the shroud and then rotate the shroud approximately 1/4-inch clockwise. The shroud, firing pin assembly and cocking cam ring can then be withdrawn from the rear of the bolt body. Reassemble in the reverse order.

The ambidextrous roller-type tang safety on the trigger mechanism has three positions: Fire, Loading and Safe. When the roller is rotated all the way forward a red dot becomes visible and the rifle is ready to fire. The adjustable (by trained armorers only) trigger has been set at the factory to provide a trigger pull weight of 3.5 to 4.0 pounds. All SBS rifles use the same triggers. As a consequence, the nickel-plated trigger on the Steyr Scout Rifle is smooth on the front edge and serrated at the rear so it can be more easily pressed forward when it is installed in a single-set mechanism available only in Europe. The trigger mechanism itself is, in principle, similar to that of the Steyr SSG. However, the method by which the bolt is removed from the receiver required changes to the mechanism.

When the roller-type tang safety is rotated rearward to the middle position, a white dot is exposed and the trigger is blocked. However, the bolt can be manipulated and thus the rifle loaded or unloaded with the trigger and sear blocked. In conjunction with this, it should also be noted that if the magazine is lowered approximately a 1/4-inch to a drop-lock position, the bolt can be cycled and a single round inserted and chambered by hand.

When the safety is rotated all the way rearward, a white dot becomes visible and spring-loaded gray safety catch pops upward. In this position, the trigger remains blocked and the bolt cannot be rotated. Furthermore, the bolt handle can now be rotated downward another 20 degrees to remain locked in that position and block the firing pin. The gray safety catch must be depressed downward to rotate the tang safety forward.

To remove the bolt from the receiver, unlock it while it is in the loading position with the trigger blocked. Then rotate the safety all the way rearward and the bolt can be withdrawn. During re-installation, the trigger and firing pin remain blocked until the roller-type tang safety is rotated forward.

Function Dictates Form

The gray synthetic Zytel (an ABS glass reinforced polymer) stock, with a non-skid texture, has an integral lightweight folding bipod and a rail on the underside of the forearm to attach accessories. The rifle comes equipped with two spacers which provide a length-of-pull of 13.58 inches. Removal, or installation of additional spacers, offers a length-of-pull ranging from 12.68 to 16 inches. Extra 0.45-inch spacers are available as an optional accessory. The heel of the buttstock is rounded to prevent snagging. The stock has been molded with filler material in back of the trigger guard to prevent slamming against the finger during recoil.

The underside of the stock's butt end is noticeably undercut and in this area is a compartment for storage of the spare magazine. In front of this is a storage area for a cleaning kit. Both 10-round magazines and an adaptor kit with a shroud to protect them are available options. The double-detent, detachable, staggered-column, box-type magazines, whether of 5- or 10-round capacity, are injection-molded from a tough, black synthetic called "Grivory." The magazine catch-release system is similar to that found on the Steyr SSG. There are black removable panels on each side of the butt end of the stock and on the bipod legs. They can be replaced with inserts of other material for cosmetic reasons, or the one on the right side of the buttstock can be substituted for a sidesaddle-type spare cartridge carrier.

To deploy the integral bipod, depress the polymer lever to the rear of the accessory rail on the underside of the stock's forearm area and then pivot the legs to their locked and completely extended position. The command height (the distance from the ground to the center line of the barrel's axis) is approximately 11 inches. With the bipod deployed, the rifle can be rotated 15 degrees in either direction. Bipods on hunting rifles are useful to a) check zero in the field, b) shoot game from an ambush position, and c) a convenient rest for the rifle during break periods.

A so-called "CW" or three-point sling is another important ingredient in Jeff Cooper's Scout Rifle concept and three-point, flush-mounted sling sockets on the stock are provided for this purpose. The CW sling is named after Cooper's Guatemalan friend, Carlos Widmann. Widmann showed Cooper an old military rifle with a sling loop attached to the front of the trigger guard. This permits a sling to be secured forward of the base of support without resorting to the more complex U.S. military-type target sling. The rifle was most probably a Lee Metford or SMLE as the British have employed this sling position since 1895. Eventually the concept was improved by Cooper and his associates by adding an additional sling segment between the looped firing position and the rear sling swivel. In this latter configuration, a leather sling manufactured by Turner Saddlery (Dept. SOF, P.O. Box 120, Clay, AL 35048-0120; phone: 205-680-9377, fax: 205-680-4250) is supplied with the Steyr Scout Rifle.

Jeff Cooper has quite justifiably criticized "the benchrest mentality" with its obsession for accuracy, stating emphatically that it has set practical field shooting backwards. He has gone so far to state that group size can be a fallacious measurement. And yet, the Steyr engineers have provided us with a Scout Rifle that clearly has the potenfial for sub-MOA accuracy with match-grade ammunition. My personal results with the Steyr Scout Rifle in a benchrest environment produced 3/4-MOA groups.

Many believe that barrel lengths under 20 inches will significantly reduce the muzzle velocity. Although the propellant used is an important factor in this equation, short barrels do not necessarily mean lower velocities. Chronograph results obtained during a recent Steyr Scout Rifle writers' seminar held at the NRA Whittington Center in Raton, New Mexico were as follows: Federal 168-grain BTHP 308M, 2,600 fps; Homady 165-grain Lite Mag, 2,785 fps; Homady 150-grain Lite Mag, 2,834 fps; and American Eagle 150-grain FMJ, 2,855. While fired at an elevation of approximately 6,500 feet asl, nevertheless, these muzzle velocities are very close, and in some instances slightly higher than results expected of longer barrels, albeit in denser air at lower elevations.

Others are even more convinced that thin-walled barrels will invariably overheat during long firing sequences with a consequent change of impact downrange, or at least noticeable "vertical stringing" of shot groups. Our tests at Whittington Center indicate that this is not the case.

Jeff Cooper has stated that an essential element of the scout rifle is handiness. And, Steyr's new Scout Rifle is certainly that and much more. Cooper believes that the scout rifle is not just a short range rifle, but can also be deployed in three different hunting scenarios: very quick target acquisition, i.e. snap shooting; reasonably quick target acquisition in the normal game hunting environment; and slow, or firing from ambush as at water holes or tree stands. Made to his standards, the Steyr Scout Rifle meets all of Jeff Cooper's specifications. I personally have only one criticism of the pre-production series samples I have fired. The action is a bit too stiff for my tastes.

The Steyr Scout Rifles carries a suggested retail price of $2,595, complete with Leupold Scout Scope, two five-round magazines, leather three-point scout sling and a carrying case. Production series specimens should be available by March, 1998.

First published in the February 1998 edition of Soldier of Fortune magazine