We were in Soldotna today and I took an opportunity to stop in at a preferred gunshop (the few available locally are already all on my shit-list and I just don't bother any more) to ask how business is, over the last week with all the Sandy Hook-related blood dancing and comitant panic buying. (This dealer seems typical for what I've seen in Alaska, with about 30-40% of rifle stock being Evil Black Rifles, as a norm...and not a one was visible today. "Yup, every one of 'em gone in a couple of days.")
But...in looking at what was available, what should catch my eye but a copy of Ruger's Gunsite Scout Rifle, which I had not met before in person. That problem is now remedied...
...and I, for one, am quite impressed.
The fella behind the counter was affable and nice enough, but he had no clue whatsoever about this gun. He started to spin me a line about how he thought this model was created as a response to fears about semiauto bans (see, it's got this rail...) and I politely stopped him before he could make a proper fool of himself. I didn't even bother going into the history, after he went blank-stare on the mere mention of Jeff Cooper (sigh), but just told him that the concept was meticulously designed, well before even the first "assault weapon" hysteria, and left it at that. After a quick scan of everything I asked if I could try the trigger; he said sure, and so I did a mount-press-snap-press-snap sequence* at full speed. It wasn't really that fast--I'm hardly exceptional--but he was suddenly wide-eyed at a display he pretty clearly had never seen before, and I think he started listening to me more after that. :-)
Anyway, here's what I would consider wrong with the rifle, at least from a design standpoint. First and foremost, there is no middle sling stud for a proper Ching Sling mount. I would wager considerable coin that Col. Cooper would have been forceful on this point; he often stated that he would rather have a Ching Sling on his rifle than a telescopic sight. And nobody that I have met personally, who has worked with the Ching Sling for the duration of a serious rifle class, tolerates anything less on a serious rifle. I can only conjecture that the doctrine at Gunsite, now, is not what it used to be, and this parameter was thus not specified to Ruger as a requirement. Fortunately, adding a third stud in the traditional manner, or something more elegant perhaps attached to the existing forward action screw, should prove to be a minor custom upgrade, well worth the effort.
The rest of the problems are minor. The 10-round magazine seems bulky, given that it is a single-stack design. The magazine release seems just a bit clumsy, but habituation may make that problem go away completely. The stock, of course, is too long, even with all the spacers removed, but most riflemen (sigh) continue to insist on stocks that are "perfectly fitted" while in a warm gunshop with no bulky clothing on, and standing in the single shooting position most tolerant of a too-long stock. (Try that same stock, prone, looped up, with a parka on, and get back to me on that whole "perfect fit" BS.) And again, a too-long stock is a simple problem to fix.
But hell, even as picky as I am about rifles (and I readily admit, I am), that's about all I can think of that's wrong. Okay, the Ruger doesn't have the Steyr Scout's really ingenious integral bipod, magazine cutoff system, nor secondary magazine well in the butt, and since I didn't have a scale I don't know if it properly "makes weight" (as long as we're dishing, the Steyr doesn't technically quite "make weight" either), but seriously, those are minor points, and the Ruger does actually have some design advantages over the Steyr. The Ruger does use true controlled-round feed and inertial ejection as specified by the Scout Conference, whereas the Steyr, as excellent as it is, uses a Sako style extractor for push-feed, and a plunger ejector. The reserve sights on the Steyr are quite serviceable, but the ones on the Ruger will be superior when the scope comes off. The Ruger's flash-hider is not strictly necessary, but it seems well-done and to the extent it works, may prove an advantage in low light. And the Ruger's magazines, if a little bulkier than perhaps they need be, do promise to lay flat and may tolerate field abuse better than the Steyr's, over time.
This rifle is nice. The trigger is far better than I expected, reasonably light and quite crisp. You'll hit out to the limits of your capability with it. The action was typical M77, with the ergonomic and positive three-position safety (I love my Steyr, but I confess I prefer the M77's safety lever, even moreso than the Winchester M70 three-position lever that it was inspired by), and even new-in-box I didn't notice any tendency for bolt binding; after a good break-in it should be as good as anyone shooting it for clean, smooth reliability. And the M77's bolt handle is properly uncheckered, for working at maximum speed.
The detachable metal box magazine is nice, and apparently they come in 5-round (not quite flush-fit) and 10-round (almost but not quite too long for a good low prone position) varieties. I gather they're not based on existing designs, which is almost annoying (I'd have loved it if I could share M14 magazines with a Scout rifle) but for a true Scout rifle, it's probably not that big a deal. The release mechanism seems like a slightly trimmer variation of the M14, but may take a specific technique that I've not trained with yet to make it 100% foolproof. I'd have to see it in action to comment further.
The ghost-ring sights are superb. The rear aperture could be a bit larger with no loss in precision and probably a measurable improvement in speed, but it looks well-thought out otherwise, and both front and rear seem well-protected. I'd love to see a tritium insert for the front post, but that's a personal wish.
Street price was under $800, which given the feature-set and core design, is simply outstanding. You could easily add a Scout Scope with QD rings, a Ching Sling with third stud, and at least a sixpack of magazines (I'd get half 5s and half 10s), and you'd still come in under $1500 for a "true Scout" that would be right at home next to a Steyr. Okay, maybe the barrel won't be the exquisite precision tube that seems to come on most Steyrs, but it will be plenty accurate enough to take advantage of the design.
I know that you can build a Scout-type rifle for less than this, but I don't think you could build a better rifle for that price, all-up, period. And with this rifle design, if you know what you're doing, you can hold your own with any semi-auto out there, plus retain the ability to hit precisely...way out there. As Col. Cooper would have put it, if a skilled rifleman can't solve his immediate problem with six rounds from a Scout rifle, he has a problem that cannot be solved with any rifle, and really needs to move to a new position right freakin' now.
If anyone asks me what one rifle (s)he should buy, to handle anything a rifle might be called upon to do...I can think of only one reason I would not recommend this one, hands down.
It has nothing to do with the rifle itelf, which seems just superb.
In the end, I'd just much rather give my money to Ronnie Barrett, than to Bill Ruger. :-)
* For anyone reading this who can't quite visualize what I'm talking about, this is about the proper technique for running a bolt-action rifle, wherein the rifle does not come off the shoulder between shots. What I was doing here was a snap-shot, immediate reload, and an instant second shot with another immediate reload. From low ready (buttstock on belt), the rifle is mounted to the shoulder for the snap-shot (the safety comes off as the rifle is mounted), in which the shot comes between 1-2 seconds after the signal, and then without moving the head or the left hand at all, the right hand runs the bolt forcefully, ejecting the fired case and reloading the chamber with a fresh cartridge, and returns to the trigger for the immediate second shot. With good technique that second shot can break well within two seconds of the first one, depending on how precise the second shot needs to be. A good bolt rifleman will always reload his chamber instantly after breaking a shot; he will be his own "auto-loader" and his next shot will be ready as soon as his eyes have re-acquired the sights after recoil.
Dave Anderson illustrates the bolt technique pretty well: