Saturday, April 27, 2013

Guns: Ruger Gunsite Scout Rifle review - A 21st Century Jungle Carbine

Introduction: The Scout Rifle Concept

Jeff Cooper was a big proponent of the "general purpose" or "scout rifle," an intermediate caliber rifle that could serve on both the battlefield and the game field. As Cooper wrote in "To Ride, Shoot Straight, and Speak the Truth":

"[A] general purpose rifle is a 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 have been varying attempts to follow the scout rifle template: the well-made but expensive Steyr Scout, the cheaper Savage Scout, and innumerable homebrew versions based on surplus military or commercial hunting rifles. The latest (and probably most realistic) option for those who want a scout rifle is the Ruger Gunsite Scout, approved and designed with the help of Gunsite Academy:

First Impressions

The Ruger Gunsite Scout reminds me a lot of the famous Lee Enfield Jungle Carbine. The two guns are nearly the same weight and length, can hold 10 rounds of ammunition in their magazines, and have about the same power (.308 has very slightly more pop than .303, but the GSR's barrel is only 16"). The GSR's flash suppressor and grey-green laminated stock even look like they belong on a military bolt-action.

Out of the box, the gun comes with a 10-round magazine, a set of conventional Ruger rings (in case you want to mount a regular scope to the gun), spacers for the adjustable stock, and all the tools and such necessary to mess around with all these parts. The instruction manual isn't a generic Ruger M77 rifle manual, but one specifically written to explain the GSR's unique features. All in all, I thought it was a pretty good value for about $750 (this was before the current gun-buying craze began).

The Ruger GSR: Concept vs. Reality

Cooper laid out a few guidelines for a scout rifle - not exactly "requirements," but metrics for evaluation. How does the Gunsite Scout measure up?

"The current guideline [for the scout rifle] is a length limit of one meter and a weight limit of three kilos. (This weight is measured with all accessories in place but with the weapon unloaded.)" Sorta Failed.

Ruger opted for a heavy laminate stock and a medium contour barrel on the Gunsite Scout, which pushes the naked weight to a portly 7 pounds. Add in a scope, rings, sling, and ammo, and you're humping a 9 pound 16" barreled bolt action .308 around. Not too impressive, considering that Ruger sells an M77 Compact that's more than a pound lighter. The length requirement is basically satisfied, though, especially if you ditch the adjustable spacers in the Gunsite Scout's stock.

"The modern scout uses a low-power telescope mounted just forward of the magazine well." Passed.

The Gunsite Scout has a pretty foolproof forward Picatinny rail that'll interface well with a variety of rings and mounts. Pop your intermediate eye relief scope on there, and you're good to go. If you want to get even fancier, you can use the nifty one piece XS Scout Rail, or eschew the scout scope altogether by detaching the rear sight and using conventional rings.

"Reserve iron sights are held to be desirable for a proper scout rifle." Passed.

It's hard to find a new-production bolt-action rifle with iron sights nowadays, and it's even harder to find one with an aperture sight. The scout design calls for irons, though, and the GSR thus wears a bombproof, Mini-14-esque front blade and rear sight. The sights are good, if imprecise - the front blade is a bit too thick and the ghost ring is a bit too big for shots past 200 yards.

"Two-lug, ninety-degree rotation was favored, as was the traditional Mauser claw extractor and positive ejector." Mostly Passed.

I don't go overboard with the Mauser action worship (the term "massive claw extractor" is used so often in the gun community it might as well be a benediction), but I do like them in general, and the Gunsite Scout has a Mauser-type action. The rifle has a three position safety (which can either lock the bolt entirely or allow it to be worked on safe), a fixed ejector, and, yes, a massive claw extractor. It feeds from a detachable magazine (more on that later), so it's not entirely controlled round feed, but it's close enough. One caveat: I find the GSR bolt binds and catches a bit more than a true Mauser.

At the Range: I need more practice.

I have precious little time to shoot compared to when I was in college, so every trip to the range is an exercise in pride-swallowing concentration. When you haven't shot a rifle in four months, 100 yards suddenly looks very, very far away:

Here's what the Gunsite Scout's irons look like at that range. The target is that tiny dot in the middle of the aperture.

The Gunsite Scout feeds from detachable magazines, either fancy Accuracy International 10-shot steel or the Ruger polymer variety (available in 10, 5, and 3 shot versions). I didn't notice any difference in reliability between them, and the polymer ones are (much) cheaper, lighter, and shorter. Advantage - plastic.
My first range session was, well, bad. Using PMC .308 147 gr. FMJ ammo, I could barely cobble together a recognizable group. Recoil was light thanks to the Gunsite Scout's spongelike buttpad and relatively heavy stock/barrel. The trigger was pretty light, too, and broke as cleanly as any other Ruger hunting rifle. The fault, dear Reader, is not in our guns, but in ourselves.
At the Range, Part Two: Let's try the premium stuff. 
I resolved to test the GSR again, this time at a 200 yard range, but with vastly improved ammunition: Federal 168 grain Gold Medal Match. It's not the world's greatest target ammo, but it's a good baseline that's readily available (or at least, it was, before all of the world's .308 ammo was snapped up in the current hysteria).
With better ammo and recent practice, I was a lot better this time, even at 200 yards. From prone, unsupported, the iron sights group measured roughly 7", with all but two shots landing in a 5" circle. I bet that the gun can shoot about 1.5 MOA, but that's about as well as I can shoot it. 


Final Thoughts: The solution in search of a problem?
The biggest knock on the Ruger GSR, and indeed, the whole scout rifle concept, is that it's an answer to a question no one's asked. If viewed simply as a short, handy bolt action .308, though, there's really nothing overly negative to say about the Gunsite Scout. Like the old Jungle Carbine, which was prized for its light weight and ease of use, the Ruger Gunsite Scout is a pleasing combination of power and portability. Snap a compact scope on, loop up a Ching Sling, and you feel like you could be ranging around the Rhodesian underbrush with the Colonel himself.


At 12:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This thing is just too heavy for what a true scout rifle should be. They barrel is too short for the .308 round, they should loose the comical flash hider and make the barrel 18". This would still be the same overall length. Also I've seen and read about the gun's binding bolt. For something that is touted as useful in self defense, this is a HUGE negative considering you're starting off with a bolt action anyway. Also accuracy from all the reviews I've read put this gun in the 1.5-3" MOA category. For a new production bolt gun, this is unacceptable. I wanted to love the Ruger Gunsite Scout when it first came out, but after digging deeper I'm glad I didn't rush out to buy one. It's just poorly executed.

At 5:35 PM, Blogger Mulliga said...

Ruger makes an 18" barreled version of the Gunsite Scout with no flash hider.

The binding bolt is a design flaw with the M77 action, I think, and not specific to the GSR.

The GSR's accuracy is definitely worse than other bolt action guns.

If I were doing it again, I might choose the Ruger Compact American and have a gunsmith add a forward scope mount and iron sights.

At 10:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've owned the Ruger Scout for 2 years now, I've got the 18 inches stainless version. I've only shot it at the range, sans scope ( can't decide how I want it set up) . I've got a Ching sling on it.

I never experienced any bolt binding with it. As a matter of fact, mine works quite smoothly and can cycle rounds at a surprising pace. Boy can it eject with authority!

Took me a while to be consistently precise with it at 100 yards. To remedy this, I've had a gunsmith thin the front blade. I do wish that Ruger would offer a smaller aperture sight. I've improved my aim by including the edges of the front blades ( metal blades that protect the front sight) in my sight picture. Makes aiming a bit more complicated, but ensures a centered shot.

I will be taking it deer hunting next season. Hunting, here, is a brush proposition. Shots are made inside of 200 meters. It'll be my first deer hunt.

At 2:39 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

It feels awe-inspiring to read such informative and distinctive articles on your websites.


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