December 04, 2020
A few years ago I had the opportunity to tour the home and office of the late Col. Jeff Cooper. My primary takeaway from the visit was that the colonel was a man who studied his craft. The library in his Arizona home must contain nearly every book on combat published since The Art of War. Cooper’s practical knowledge and in-depth research helped make him one of the world’s leading experts on the topic of personal defense. Not surprisingly, he was very particular in his choice of guns.
Perhaps the best known of Colonel Cooper’s firearms designs is the scout-rifle concept. Built to serve in hunting and personal defense roles, the scout rifle developed a niche following after he introduced it to the world in the early 1980s. In 1983 he held the first Scout Rifle Conference at Gunsite Academy in Arizona, and a year later he held another conference to further refine his rifle design.
Cooper’s devotees almost certainly own a scout rifle, and while these guns have always been popular with a handful of hunters and shooters, scout rifles have never displaced the standard sporter-style bolt action on the game fields of America. By the early 2000s it seemed the scout rifle might become a footnote in firearms history, but that all changed rather suddenly when Savage, Ruger, Steyr and Mossberg all announced the launch of new scout-style rifles about a decade ago.
Mossberg’s gun—the MVP Scout—is the most affordable of the lot and the most likely to appeal to the shooter or hunter who is intrigued by the concept but doesn’t want to dish out almost two grand for a Steyr. With a suggested retail price of $623 and a street price in the $500 range, the Mossberg MVP Scout is certainly a bargain bolt gun and is by far the most affordable scout rifle. But how closely does it align with Cooper’s original concept?
Cooper had a distinct blueprint for his ultimate hunting and battle rifle. He believed the scout rifle should be short—less than one meter (or 39 inches)—and should weigh 6.6 pounds with all accessories. Keeping the weight of a scoped rifle at 6.6 pounds is ambitious, but Cooper placed the absolute maximum weight at 7.7 pounds.
This was, after all, a rifle that the mountain hunter or military scout (hence the name) could carry high into the wilderness for days on end. Cooper thought the concept guns should have a synthetic stock rather than wood to ensure maximum durability and minimal weight, and he also suggested that the stock might hold a spare magazine for emergencies. Ever a fan of functional slings, Cooper suggested his new rifle concept should wear a Ching sling that would help the shooter steady themselves for a shot.
Regarding caliber, the .308 Win. was Cooper’s first choice, but 7mm-08 would work, too. He conceded a scout rifle in .243 would work for new, small or recoil-sensitive shooters. Although Cooper didn’t indicate that his scout concept had to be a bolt gun (he borrowed inspiration from a number of other firearms, including the Winchester ’94) all of his writings on the scout gun clearly indicate he’s referring to a turnbolt rifle.
The trademark feature of a scout rifle has become its forward-mounted optic. Oddly, Cooper didn’t mandate that scout guns wear magnified optics. He suggested aperture sights and, if desired, an extended eye relief optic in 2X or 3X. Cooper’s reasoning behind the forward-mounted scope was clear. By moving the scope farther away from the shooter’s eye, field of view and situational awareness improved, and that’s a good thing when you’re facing armed attackers or a charging bear. If an optic was added, Cooper theorized, it should be easily removable in case it failed and the backup sights need to be called into action.
Mossberg’s MVP Scout closely follows the Cooper design model. The push-feed, dual lug action is mated with a 16.25-inch medium bull barrel topped with an A2 flash hider. As Cooper recommended, the MVP Scout rifle comes with a synthetic stock—a black injection-molded model in this case—and the Mossberg also adds short rails at three and nine o’clock on the fore-end.
The MVP’s bolt is spiral fluted, and the oversized bolt handle makes rapid cycling easy. As with its stock color, there’s just one chambering option—7.62x51/.308 Win.—just what Cooper would have wanted.
Mossberg broadened the MVP’s appeal by making it compatible with M1A and AR-10 mags, courtesy of its “dual-push” bolt design. The ability to utilize the widely available AR-10 magazines is especially useful, and having 10 rounds on tap and the ability to swap for spare mags quickly between your semiauto 7.62—whether AR or M1A—and your scout gun would almost certainly have drawn a nod of approval from Cooper.
Mossberg’s Lightning Bolt Action (LBA) trigger has also found its way into this gun, and the bladed design adds an additional layer of safety. It’s adjustable from three to seven pounds, and the trigger break is relatively crisp and clean.
As prescribed, the MVP Scout has a top rail, but the MVP’s rail measures almost a foot long and runs from the rear of the receiver to about a third of the way down the length of the barrel. That offers plenty of real estate for mounting an extended eye relief scope, a red dot, or a traditional scope. There’s also a bright red fiber-optic front sight and an adjustable aperture rear sight for emergencies.
The compact MVP Scout is 37.5 inches long, so it makes the overall length limit of one meter with an inch to spare. The bare weight of the rifle is 6.75 pounds, so if you mount a lightweight red dot sight on this rifle you’ll be well under the 7.7-pound Cooper threshold. As tested with a Leupold VX-Freedom Scout scope and sling, the rifle weighed eight pounds, three ounces. It’s not as light as Cooper suggested, but it’s still easy enough to carry.
As mentioned, the Mossberg carries a suggested retail price of $623. That’s substantially less than the Savage 110 ($829), Ruger ($1,139) and Steyr ($1,787) scout rifles, and when you combine the MVP with Leupold’s VX-Freedom Scout scope at $455, you can own an authentic scout rifle for around a grand.
My first experience with the Mossberg MVP Scout—or any scout rifle, for that matter—came when I carried one on an elk hunt in Montana. That particular setup featured an EO Tech 512 holographic sight and 3X magnifier, sort of a modern take on the scout optic setup but effective nonetheless. It was late in the season, and cold weather had driven the elk down to lower elevations, where most were sheltering in timbered valleys.
The Scout rifle was ideal for that type of hunting, and on the second morning in camp, a snow squall provided the opportunity I needed to connect with a bull. In the midst of the storm, I saw two large bodies moving through the trees. Once they were within a hundred yards, I could plainly see antlers. They weren’t huge bulls, but I was more concerned with testing the rifle and filling the freezer than inches of antler. I centered the EO Tech’s dot behind the bull’s shoulder and shot. He turned and vanished into the driving snow, but he didn’t travel far. The 165-grain Partition went directly through the heart.
In addition to the elk tag, I also had a mule deer buck tag, and the best way to hunt them was to cruise along the cottonwood drainages where bucks were seeking receptive does. It was all but impossible to move undetected through the mass of close-growing cottonwoods, and a long-barreled rifle would have been an unnecessary burden.
The Mossberg MVP worked well in the thick stuff, and as a mature four-point chased a younger buck out into a clearing, he paused just a moment too long. The MVP rifle cracked and the buck folded where he stood.
It’s always nice to have the opportunity to test a rifle in the field on game. After all, Cooper envisioned the Scout to be an all-purpose hunting weapon, but to really dig into a scout rifle toolbox and appreciate the platform, I later ran it through a series of range tests.
I wanted to shoot the rifle as it was originally conceived—with irons and a low-magnification extended eye-relief scope—so I removed the EO Tech and mounted the Leupold. With the scope turned down, I began shooting paper targets at 15 yards with Winchester 185-grain subsonic ammo, then moved back to 25 yards and 50 yards with the same ammo.
Once I reached 50 yards, I worked in two faster .308 loads—Winchester’s 165-grain Deer Season Copper Impact and Hornady’s 165-grain Outfitter—and shot all three rounds again at 100 yards. When I tested the rifle at 200 yards, I used only the two supersonic rounds.
That’s a lot of shooting, but it’s impossible to appreciate all a scout rifle has to offer by firing three-shot groups at 100 paces. This is a gun that can serve in a variety of roles, and as Cooper suggested, it’s a very good personal defense gun.
Under 100 yards it allows you to get on target quickly and delivers far more threat-stopping energy than a traditional handgun or slug-loaded shotgun. Is it as fast to shoot as an AR? Certainly not. But it is less bulky and more maneuverable than an AR-10, and if you’re a seasoned bolt-gun hand who can cycle the action quickly, the MVP Scout is pretty darn fast.
The forward-mounted optic does offer a very wide field of view, and with the power cranked down, the Leupold scope is almost as fast and versatile as a reflex sight. I could quickly transition among three silhouette targets and deliver shots without having to take my head off the rifle.
The .308 isn’t exactly a hard-kicking round, but in a relatively light rifle with a short barrel, it does produce some setback and plenty of muzzle blast. Subsonic loads really tame the Mossberg and function as low-recoil, low-impact practice ammo.
The Winchester load tested doesn’t carry a lot of energy—making just 461 ft.-lbs. at the muzzle and just under 400 ft.-lbs. at 100 yards—but recoil is mild and noise is reduced. For practice, plinking or personal protection, it’s a great round for this rifle.
I tested both supersonic loads and the subsonic load for accuracy at 100 yards, and it should be noted that the Winchester subsonic load doesn’t shoot to the same point of impact as the other two rounds. Zeroed at 50 yards, the subsonic load has fallen almost seven inches at 100 yards, so don’t think that you can zero your rifle for a supersonic load with the subsonic ammo.
Still, the versatility of having both subsonic and supersonic loads only adds to the MVP Scout’s appeal. At 15, 25 and 50 yards I could deliver fast shots with the Scout, and the subsonic .308 loads offered better accuracy than you’ll achieve from most defensive handguns. At 50 yards it was easy to keep shots in the center of a torso target while shooting offhand, and at that range the .308 subsonic load is carrying 85 more ft.-lbs. of energy than a 185-grain .45 ACP slug.
Both supersonic loads grouped between 1.25 and 1.5 inches at 100 yards. That distance is definitely pushing the practical limits of the subsonic load, which grouped around three inches. Cooper’s standard for acceptable scout rifle accuracy was a two-m.o.a. group at 200 yards, and both supersonic loads would do better than that in the Mossberg.
Having the scope positioned well forward makes the action easy to access, and the MVP’s design allows you to quickly single-load the rifle. The two-position safety is easy to reach and manipulate, and pressing down on the tab at the front of the mag well allows you to quickly release the magazine for reloads. With the scope mounted forward, the balance point of the rifle lies at the front of the receiver, which is ideal for making fast shots at close quarters. What’s more, this gun proved very reliable with no feeding, extraction or ejection issues.
Cooper suggested that scout rifles be equipped with a Ching sling. I used the Peabody sling, which was designed by Gunsite instructor Il Ling New (the name Peabody is borrowed from her pet dachshund) and manufactured by Barranti Leather Co. The split design allows the shooter to slide an elbow between the two halves of the sling, and this allows for better control and stable shooting from field positions. If you do decide to purchase a scout rifle, I think such a sling is more than just an accessory that adds authenticity to the rig. It’s also a practical tool that makes this gun even more versatile.
I don’t believe the scout rifle will take over the world and displace every existing rifle design, but it is, as Colonel Cooper suggested, a versatile platform that is ideal for just about any task out to moderate ranges. And Mossberg has done a good job of blending the authentic scout rifle design with some modern upgrades while still keeping the price affordable for this class of gun.
To really appreciate the scout rifle, you need to handle and shoot one, and the Mossberg has made me a believer. This jack-of-all-trades rifle will always have a place in my gun safe, and it will see a lot of use down the line.
Mossberg MVP Scout Specs
- Type: Bolt-action centerfire
- Caliber: .308 Win.
- Capacity: Accepts AR-10 and M1A magazines
- Barrel: 16.25 in., A2 flash hider
- Overall Length: 37.5 in.
- Weight: 6 lb., 12 oz.
- Stock: Black injection molded
- Finish: Matte blue
- Trigger: Lightning Bolt Action; 4.1 lb. pull (measured)
- Sights: Adjustable peep sight rear; fiber-optic front; 11-inch Picatinny rail.
- Price: $623
- Manufacturer: O.F. Mossberg & Sons, Inc., mossberg.com
Mossberg MVP Scout Accuracy Results