April 23, 2019
By Ed Head
It seems like a long time ago: The year was 2009 and we were meeting to discuss the possibility of making a Gunsite branded Ruger Scout Rifle. Our intent was to make an affordable and versatile general-purpose rifle that would have wide appeal, roughly based upon Jeff Cooper’s scout rifle vision. We were a little restricted in what was possible because Ruger wasn’t making composite stocks at the time and they only had the M77 bolt action. As it was, the rifle Ruger designed and brought to market in less than a year was a huge success and remains a popular product even today. I have three of them and they are terrific rifles.
In 2010 Ruger launched the American Rifle series, an inexpensive, highly accurate bolt-action rifle in a composite stock. I immediately saw the potential for turning one of these into a scout rifle but there were some drawbacks. The initial rotary magazines were a bit troublesome and only held four rounds and the composite stocks, while light in weight had a fair amount of flex to them. I really liked the tang safety and the smooth push feed action but figuring out how to mount a long or intermediate eye relief scout scope was problematic. Still, as I tested and wrote about a number of these rifles I was amazed by their accuracy and always had the idea of making one into a scout in the back of my mind.
The breakthrough came in 2017 when I was shown a prototype of a new model American Rifle in .308 caliber with a redesigned and stiffened stock that accepts the AI style box magazines used in the Ruger Scout and available from Magpul and Ruger in 3, 5 and 10 round sizes. This, I thought, could be the basis for a lightweight, economy scout rifle. In 2018 I received one of these rifles for testing and, as usual, it was extremely accurate right out of the box. Firing five, 3 shot groups at 100 yards with four different kinds of ammunition the overall average was .8” with a best group of .31”. Part of the reasons these rifles are so accurate is due to the very crisp and precise Ruger Marksman trigger and another has to do with the free floated, cold hammer forged barrels.
I knew some folks were working out scout rails for the American Rifles, among them Andy Larsson who owns Skinner Sights. In fact, acting on a suggestion first made by Jeff Cooper, Andy Larsson made a rail with a front sight built in more than 10 years ago. I asked my friend and fellow Gunsite Rangemaster, Freddie Blish at ROBAR in Phoenix to see if he was interested in the project. Fortunately, he was, and in short order Ruger had shipped him a rifle with a threaded 18” barrel to work on. Using Andy Larsson’s rear sight and an idea they figured out for placing an AR-15 sight in the front of the rail the back-up iron sight issue was resolved rather neatly. The rear sight is a ghost ring style with screw-in inserts and is adjustable for windage and elevation; the front sight adjusts for elevation as well. The finished product is very well executed and the rail matches so nicely it looks like it grew out of the barrel.
Scout fans are always interested in weight so I weighed the bare rifle with an empty magazine and came up with 6 pounds, 6 ounces. After mounting an intermediate eye relief Leupold 1.5-5 VX-R Firedot scope in a set of Leupold low 30mm rings the rifle’s weight came in at 7 pounds 7 ounces. I’m getting ahead of myself and need to back up and tell you about preparing the rifle before mounting the scope. I’ve found it pays to go over a rifle and make sure everything is snugged up. Checking the rail I found the four bolts securing it were tight and the rail was rock solid. Next, I confirmed the barrel was free-floated, and lastly, following the instructions in the manual, I torqued the front and rear stock bolts. This is a little tricky as the rear stock bolt is beneath the magazine release. If you follow the directions removing the release to gain access to the bolt is easy and Ruger has thoughtfully provided a jig (that square piece of plastic you find in the box) for re-assembly. After adding a Rhodesian sling from Andy’s Leather, the best and fastest rifle sling you can use in my opinion, I was ready to hit the ranges at Gunsite and do some testing.
Scout rifles aren’t meant for life on the bench rest. They come into their own when afield, where their handling characteristics and ability to quickly deliver a decisive first round hit can be appreciated. In fact, Jeff Cooper so insisted on practical rifle training and shooting from field positions that he refused to allow bench rests at Gunsite during his tenure. Nevertheless, I put in two range sessions on the bench to see what this rifle could do. I tested 7 different .308 loads, ranging from light to heavy hunting and match ammunition. I chronographed some of the loads using a Lab Radar Doppler chronograph and found they averaged 100-150 feet per second slower than published velocities for each load. Next, I fired five 3 shot groups with each load.
After all the shooting was done I got out the calipers and measured group sizes. Rather than give you a lengthy list of data that really doesn’t tell what you might experience I would generalize by saying the rifle, with this low powered scope and my old eyes shot very well. The smallest group I recorded was .47” and the largest was 1.62”. The overall average for all groups measured was 0.995”.
If you’re interested in a scout rail for your Ruger American rifle the rail and rear sight can be ordered direct from Andy Larsson at Skinner Sights. I understand he will also soon have a similar rail and sight setup for Tika rifles. If you would care to send your rifle in to have a scout rail installed – there is some drilling and tapping involved – you can have Robar in Phoenix do the work. I believe they will soon be offering this as a package as well that will include a proper Rhodesian sling from Andy’s Leather.
I’m not an inventor, more like an instigator. I’m happy to have had a hand in getting this project going and think it would be really neat if Ruger jumped on board. My plans for this rifle include running the many field courses at Gunsite and using it to teach. Scout rifles are welcome in the Gunsite 270 Rifle Class so come see us and bring your scout rifle.
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