Scout Rifles

The old Lee-Enfield No. 5 Mk. I, a.k.a., “Jungle Carbine,” was a decent “scout rifle” exactly as it was issued to British troops in Burma and Malaya in 1945. Other good factory scout rifles include the Savage 99 and the Mannlicher-Schönauer Model 1903.

WHILE I ADMIRE JEFF COOPER’S INTENTION OF CREATING THE IDEAL RIFLE, experience tells me it’s almost a forlorn hope. If there were, say, 10 individual increments required for perfection, even someone having a rifle made to order would be lucky to get 8 out of the 10. And, as Cooper pointed out, getting even one increment wrong can sabotage the whole thing.

Having read and thought about this, off and on, for 35 years, I’ve come to the conclusion that the central problem lies with a couple of almostcontradictions in the specifications he laid out. One is the sighting system, and it’s nearly impossible to grapple with. He wanted the scope forward of the action, partly to accommodate stripper clips. Right there, he is demanding the use of a military action such as the Mauser 98, since no commercial action uses them. Then there is the problem of a highquality, low-power scope with sufficient eye relief, and after that, a mount to put it up on the barrel.

Choosing a hunting rifle is about as personal as choosing the right girl (or boy, as the case may be), and, like meeting the girl for you, it can happen anywhere from an online dating site to a chance encounter in a 7-Eleven. I have found more “ideal, perfect for me” hunting rifles on dusty gun racks than ever emerged from a custom-rifle shop.

To get back to Colonel Cooper, what are some existing rifles that almost fit the bill, since we can all agree right now that everything will fall a bit short in some way?

All right, imagine I’m in St. Joe, Missouri, with the unexplored plains stretching to the west. My horse is saddled, and the saddle scabbard, empty, awaits. Since this is a fantasy, everything made between 1870 and 2018 is available. The envelope, please.

One, a Savage 99 Model E, made in the 1920s for the .250-3000. It has a 22-inch barrel, a straight, slim stock, and a good Lyman receiver sight.

Or, two, a Mannlicher-Schönauer Model 1903, in 6.5 x 54 M-S. Three? A Lee-Enfield No. 5, the famous “jungle carbine.”

All three rifles have more than proved themselves, in hunting or in battle, yet you’ll notice that all three fall short of the scout-rifle ideal in some way. The Savage won’t use stripper clips, the Mannlicher has no receiver sight, and the Lee-Enfield has an extended magazine that interferes with carrying it. In the end, I would take the Savage because, if I were prowling an enemy-infested jungle, parting the branches with one hand and holding my rifle in the other, that’s the one that would work best. If I can’t get myself out of difficulty with 5 shots, then 10 more probably won’t do it either.

Jeff Cooper’s scout-rifle idea obviously struck a chord with a lot of people, because he drew dozens into an ongoing debate that was played out in the pages of magazines for more than 10 years. It continues today with different companies purporting to offer a “scout rifle.” Whether they really do is largely a matter of opinion—but in a way, that’s exactly the point: Cooper himself accepted that what’s right for one is not necessarily right for another. What was lacking at that time was anything that fit the bill for anybody. That’s not true today, so in the end, he really accomplished something.

Although he never called it a scout rifle, Wieland’s lifelong search for the perfect hunting rifle took him down many of the same paths, and into many of the same dead ends. But what the hell? It gave his life meaning. Wieland’s newest book, Great Hunting Rifles—Victorian to the Present, is available from Skyhorse Publishing.