There are a few true gun heroes in the pantheon of greats, and Colonel Jeff Cooper, the founder of Gunsite Academy certainly earned his place among them. Often outspoken, the former Marine made a worthy name for himself writing, teaching, and innovating for decades.
It’s difficult to even speak intelligently about combat with a handgun at any length without using either the terminology or techniques promulgated by Col. Cooper. One of his great innovations, made with the help and inclusion of many of the greats of his day, was the “Scout Rifle.”
With modern materials (those that were available in 1980) Cooper envisioned “a general-purpose rifle…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.”
There are several companies that have produced some version of the Scout Rifle, with Steyr making the first production version back in 1983. Since then, Ruger has made several versions of the rifle. Their newest variation on the theme is a slightly more modern version of the classic, this one in .450 Bushmaster.
The Ruger Gunsite Scout Rifle has classic, traditional lines going for it, or at least traditional lines for a 1940s-50s battle rifle. Think M14 only smaller, or M1 Carbine, but bigger.
The stock is a simple grade of walnut, attractive and sturdy enough, but without much grain or figuring. The machine checkering is well done and functional.
The free floated barrel is 16.1 inches of black steel and the receiver has the same matte black finish. There’s no high polish, no gleam, but the finish is even and well done throughout the rifle. The overall look of this stout gun is all business. It was made to be carried for miles and for days, in thick brush and in open fields. For that job, it performs admirably.
When it comes to carrying it through the woods, it couldn’t get much easier than the Ruger Gunsite Scout in .450 Bushmaster. Following the basic dimensions laid out by Cooper — a maximum length of 40 inches and no heavier than 6.6 lbs — Ruger’s Scout Rifle fits the bill, but just barely. And only if you leave off the glass.
Cooper’s rifle called for that weight limit with iron sights and glass, but a fixed power long eye relief scope on the supplied rings will likely only add another eight or nine ounces. Iron sighted, as it comes out of the box, I found the rifle fantastically easy to carry while walking through woods and brush.
Slung over a shoulder, it’s likely to be all-day comfortable. Sadly, I do feel it if I am carrying it with one hand. The gun’s point of balance is, as Cooper would have desired, directly under the action. But that’s also where the box magazine is located, sticking out a few inches with its sharp corners.
So the inability to comfortably carry the Scout Rifle one-handed at its natural balance point relegates the light rifle to two-handed carry. A scope on the front rail shifts the weight forward a bit, but not enough to steady to rifle with a hand forward of the magazine.
Ruger boasts that the “non-rotating, Mauser-type controlled round feed extractor is the most positive case extraction system ever invented.” Few would argue with them there. A rearward pull of the stainless steel bolt launched the expended .450 Bushmaster brass a solid 15 feet forward and to the right. If that’s the caliber you’re shooting, though, you’re going to want to find those cases.
The action itself was very functional, but not particularly smooth. There’s a small amount of wobble in the action all the way until the bolt handle is levered down. The lock-up, though, seems to be very tight. I never had extraction problems of any kind, and as long as I got the magazine seated correctly, there were no issues chambering a round either.
With so much extra space in the four-round magazine, which is greatly oversized to accommodate those beefy .450 Bushmaster cartridges, I tried loading the rounds at different positions. As far as feeding the rounds into the chamber, cartridge placement inside the magazine seemed to make no difference at all.
That magazine well, like the trigger guard, isn’t metal, but made of a fiber glass reinforced nylon. Material wise, that’s something of disappointment. But the reality is that the plastic(ish) trigger guard is superior to one made of metal. In a rifle that demands light weight, we need to shave ounces wherever we can, and for pure corrosion resistance, taking metal out of the equation where your hands are most likely to be really helps.
And it’s still plenty sturdy. It’s very doubtful you’d break it by dropping it or banging it on a tree. In short you’d probably have to try to break it.
Nestled inside that trigger guard is a pretty good trigger. I detected only the tiniest bit of grit — just a bit — before the trigger hit a wall at 4 1/2 lbs. At that point I was rewarded with a crisp clean break. I’d like that weight dropped another pound at least, but as it is, it’s perfectly capable of accurately putting a round down range.
Simple supplied spacers allow for length of pull adjustment from 12.75 to 14.25 inches. Nothing increases felt recoil like a stock that’s too long, so the short out-of-the-box length will be appreciated by smaller framed folks.
For those of us with long arms, that short LOP is awkward, putting your face too close to the receiver. That can lead to poor wrist angle and may affect accuracy. (If you’re over six feet and have shot a stock 91/30 Mosin Nagant, you know what I mean.)
As it is, you can use the supplied hex key to easily install the spacers to add some length. For those of you with long arms, but heavy winter coats, you can go back and forth as the seasons change.
The Scout Rifle has three different sight system. First, you can go as the Scout was intended, with a long eye relief scope mounted on the included forward rail, with irons as a backup. The forward “scout style” glass works well, as long as you stay with a relatively low power optic.
One of the big benefits of a forward scope is that it allows you to retain most of your field of view. Of course, that only works if the power is fairly low, rarely over 3X. More than that and your eyes have a hard time reconciling the two different views.
The other benefit is supposedly rapid target acquisition through the scope. Colonel Cooper claimed that most of the people who tried the forward mounted scope set-up preferred it. Unless it’s a simple red dot zero-magnification optic, I’m not one of those people.
I’ve tested it myself before (and again with this rifle) and found that, for me, the forward mounted scope with a 3X optic is slower to shoulder and fire accurately than a traditional rear mounted optic at the same magnification.
Your mileage, of course, may vary. If you decide to go sans optic, a few turns of four screws removes the pre-installed rail, and a little bit of weight.
The rifle also comes with iron sights, and they’re pretty darned good ones. I was very surprised to find that they came from the factory only one inch low and one inch to the right at 100 yards. That’s hunt-ready right out of the box.
The rear sight is an adjustable ghost ring that’s just the right size for the bladed front sight, which is protected by steel “ears.” On black or grey targets, that front sight tended to disappear, making it difficult to shoot accurately in low light. If this were my gun, I’d take some red nail polish to it.
I also appreciated those protective ears. Although they primarily protect the front blade from being broken or bent, there’s another very useful feature there that few people use.
With a consistent cheek-to-stock position and a bit of foresight, a protected front sight makes a handy rangefinder. You can do this one of two ways. The first is simply with math and calculating the relationship between the front sight and a potential target.
A much more fun, practical, and reassuring way is to simply set up a piece of plywood with a marked-off distance on it. I choose 48 inches, which is about the average body length of a white tail deer. I then back up to see at what distance that length fits fully between the sight ears. I then back up a further and see the distance at which the same target fits between the front sight and one of the ears.
You can then back up even more to see at what distance the target is just barely obscured by the top of the front sight. That gives you three solid distances from which to range your prey.
As with most sights, whether “eared” like the Scout Rifle one or a ring, the curve of the protectors give you an additional measurement, as you can judge the distance at the narrowest part (the bottom) or the widest. Then write it all down somewhere for future use.
As they are, as long as I had good lighting and my target wasn’t too dark, I got great accuracy using the Scout’s iron sights and Hornady factory ammunition. In fact, I got better groups that I expected.
Shooting off bags at 100 yards, I got an average of 2.5-inch five-round groups with 20 rounds using the irons. I could have then removed the rear sight with the supplied hex key, then installed the supplied rings into the scope mounts machined directly into the receiver, and then put in “traditional” short eye relief glass.
Instead, I went the easy way and pulled an Atibal Nomad 3-12x scope on a (backwards) Warne cantilever mount off another test gun and mounted it to the forward rail. It may not look attractive, and my eye is a little closer to the receiver than I’d like, but you can’t argue with the results. And no, there are no issues with the movement of the bolt or brass ejection.
This set-up gave me 1.1-inch groups for the four five-round groups I shot off bags from 100 yards using Hornady factory ammunition. Just for fun, I shot a group at 300 yards — about as far as I’d likely hunt with this round — and put up a single 4-inch group.
That surprised me. I have no doubt the results would have been the same or better had I mounted the Atibal Nomad on the supplied rings directly to the receiver, and it certainly would have been more comfortable. As it is, I’ve got good enough groups to hunt with either iron sighted or with rear mounted glass.
One would-be complaint I have with this rifle is the muzzle brake. This isn’t a heavy rifle, but it’s also not a particularly punishing round either. There’s no reason that, even without the brake installed, you won’t be able to hold the gun steady enough in recoil to see your round strike a target at 100 yards. That’s assuming you’re using irons or a fairly low power scope appropriate for a Scout Rifle.
In .450 Bushmaster, this rifle has no need for a brake. It only adds a little more length to the rifle. However, note the I said it’s a “would-be” complaint. Ruger has kindly supplied a thread protector you can put on the end of the barrel once you’ve decided you’ve had enough of the sound and fury of that factory-installed brake. Kudos to Ruger for providing the option.
Notice how many times I’ve said “supplied” in this review. Ruger really went above and beyond here to provide a total package to the user. Shims, tools, brake, washers, rings…everything you need to customize the rifle to fit your body and how you shoot is right there in the box. That’s a huge plus in the value proposition of the Ruger Scout Rifle.
While I’m a fan of many things about this little rifle, the magazine setup isn’t one of them. I’m good with the magazine itself, although with the .450 Bushmaster rounds in a .308 magazine there’s a whole lot of wasted space in there. It’s the insertion of the mages that kills me. It’s not like an AR, with a direct push into the magazine well. It’s also not like an AK, with its hook and rock-back motion.
It’s a worst-of-both-worlds situation. The front edge of the of the magazine must be inserted at a slight angle before pressing the magazine upward. Failure to get that little angle just right will leave you fumbling to get the magazine in. Or, worse, you think it’s wedged in and it’s not quite there yet. There were a couple of times that this led to a jam as the magazine wasn’t fully seated when I sent the bolt forward. That pushed the round at too high an angle, wedging it against the top of the chamber.
I had to forcefully pull the magazine down to get it out and clear the chamber. I practiced pulling down on the magazine to make sure it was seated prior to working the bolt.
The magazine release is also too small for a gloved hand. With bare hands, I had little problem hitting the paddle style release and dropping the mag. But with my working gloves on — let alone heavy winter gloves — the lip of the paddle release was just too small for my thumb to catch. I was, however, able to improvise and use the web of my thumb, even with gloves on.
Ammunition choices are extremely limited. I got 100 rounds of excellent Hornady’s 250gr FTX for the review. There wasn’t much available locally. Looking online, the only round I could find that was ready to ship was this same FTX round or Hornady’s 250gr FTX Black round, which is the same bullet and apparently identical in external dimensions as well as ballistics to the other 250gr FTX round.
So, when I say “extremely limited”, I mean one (though Remington also makes a .450 Bushmaster load, I couldn’t find any in stock). I would highly recommend reloading for this cartridge.
In the Scout Rifle platform, I see no benefit in the .450 Bushmaster over the .308 Winchester (though it’s great for hunting in the couple of states with straight-walled cartridge laws). The .308 Win produces more energy at the muzzle in most bullet weights (all the way up to the 208 gr Hornady A-Max) and, because of much higher ballistic coefficients, delivers more and more energy at the target the farther from the muzzle you get. So the choice to chamber this rifle in .450 Bushmaster is an interesting one.
Cooper’s Scout Rifle concept was a carbine length short-action bolt gun chambered in .308 or (the superior) 7mm-08. Cooper also envisioned something like the .450 Bushmaster, but specifically for a semi-automatic rifle, such as the AR-15. He called it a “Thumper.”
Ruger has used the “Thumper” cartridge but in the Scout Rifle platform. I realize that’s an easy chambering for this rifle, but it just doesn’t make much sense, utility wise. A 7mm-08 version would have been a much more useful chambering and truer to the original concept of the Scout Rifle.
Still, this is very much a Scout Rifle. It may not be the “right” caliber, it can’t be loaded with stripper clips and it might be half a pound too heavy with glass. But it’s a lightweight, handy, fast-to-shoulder rifle that’s capable of taking most game at reasonable distances And that’s the spirit of the thing after all.
Specifications: Ruger Gunsite Scout Rifle in .450 Bushmaster
Stock: American walnut
Front Sight: Protected blade
Rear Sight: Adjustable
Capacity: 4 (+1)
Thread Pattern: 11/16″-24
Barrel Length: 16.10 inches
Overall Length: 37″ – 38.50″
Material: Alloy steel
Finish: Matte black
Length Of Pull: 12.75″ – 14.25″
Twist: 1:16 RH
Weight: 6.6 lbs.
Ratings (out of five stars):
Ergonomics * * * *
The gun carries easily all day, shoulders quickly and points like a stick. Taking away from the that is the difficulty of the magazine angle, and the inability to carry it one-handed at the point of balance.
Accuracy * * * *
Surprisingly good with either iron sights or traditional glass.
Reliability * * * * *
I had no problems with inserting or extracting rounds as long as the magazine was seated fully. Getting it there, though, was frustrating, and that led to a couple of misfeeds.
Overall * * * *
Judged purely on the model of the original Scout Rifle idea, it would be found wanting. But it has much as the spirit of Cooper’s rifle and is a handy, powerful little gun. It’s plenty accurate, has very little recoil and is capable of taking most game at common distances. Ruger did an exceptional job providing options and tools for the rifle. It’s a great total package.