Jeff Cooper's Commentaries

Previously Gunsite Gossip
Vol. 6, No. 9           supplement, 1998

Update on the SS
Supplement to Comentaries

A meeting was held last Saturday in Phoenix, Arizona, to discuss current thinking on the status of the Steyr Scout rifle. In attendance were John Gannaway, Giles Stock, Heinz Hambrusch, and Jeff Cooper. Our objective was to discuss the reception, most specifically the complaints, thus far noted on the weapon as currently being sold. Some of the complaints so far deserve full consideration. Some are worth considering. And some are perfectly idiotic. However that may be, all objections to the rifle must be placed on the table and talked about.

It is important to remember (especially for me to remember), at this point, that there is a considerable divergence in objectives when one considers the design of a firearm. This is particularly true when the weapon is radical and does not follow the beaten path. The scout rifle as now designed (conceived by me and executed by Steyr Mannlicher) is indeed radical, and that in itself dismays many traditionalists. From the beginning it has been my idea to make the rifle right, and the idea of the manufacturer to make it sell. What is right does not necessarily sell, and what sells is not necessarily right, though your definitive businessman may not agree.

It is obviously desirable from the standpoint of the manufacturer that the Steyr Scout rifle sell widely and immediately. Since I am not involved in the finances of the operation, I want to see the weapon qualify as the standard of the world for the first part of the 21st Century. Whether it sells or not, of course, that is the view of the shooter rather than that of the salesman.

The first major difficulty that I have detected is a quality that I would have thought desirable, and that is universal utility. I discover, somewhat to my surprise, that a great many people do not like the idea of universal utility. They would prefer to have a piece which is perfect for shooting prairie dogs on Monday, and another which is useful for generalized police work on Tuesday. The Steyr Scout has achieved very nearly perfect utility in one piece, but that is not evidently what the arms collector wants to think about. We cannot do much about that because the ideal of the universal rifle is basic to the scout concept. People who want specialty guns are welcome to buy as many different specialties as they wish.

A second major concern which I did not anticipate is this popular rage for cartridge diversification. I have always thought that overwhelming variety in cartridge selection was a drawback when almost any cartridge will do well if it is well used. Thus it was my idea to produce the weapon in the most universally obtainable serious cartridge in the world, which is the 308, or 7.62 NATO. Immediately we heard cries from people who want the piece to be available in some other cartridge, not because the suggested other cartridge is better, but because it is different. As you know, the production of the weapon in 7-08 was contemplated for use in jurisdictions where 30-caliber rifles are forbidden by law. Turns out that demand is pretty small. Many of the Swedes want the piece to be available in 6.5 Swedish, apparently because they have a lot of that ammunition available and nothing to shoot it in. The 6.5 Swede is an adequate cartridge, but inferior in all respects to the 308. As of now the only other cartridge which seems to be forthcoming in the Steyr Scout is the 376 JCS, of which more later.

If we turn to more serious complaints, we hear of people who report inconsistent ignition with the SBS action. This appears to be the result of the use of inferior ammunition, especially military ammunition made in marginal countries. I should think that if one is going to use a gun for any serious purpose he will use the best ammunition available, and test it before putting it to serious use. I see no objection to shooting junk ammunition for play, rock busting, etc., but not as "main battery ammunition." Still, circumstances might arise in which one had no choice, and we attacked that problem by considering alterations on the face of the striker tip, and also its diameter. Those changes may be forthcoming.

We have several opinions that the bolt lift calls for too much force, and slows down the operation of the bolt. I do not find this to be the case, but if some other shooter does we must listen to him. One answer to this was the future construction of a two-piece bolt handle by means of which the individual shooter may fit any sort of bolt handle or bolt knob that pleases him. ("Build your own bolt knob.")

My most serious objection to the piece as it now stands is that it is not available in left-hand version. I do not want to get ahead of myself here, but I detect a willingness on the part of the factory to take this matter seriously. At least the matter of filling in the bolt handle groove on the right-side of the stock was discussed, as a minor aesthetic problem. I suggest you stay tuned on this one.

Stock color is a subject which fills me with exasperation, but there it is. It seems that various prospective customers simply must have stocks of a color different from the standard grey. This is not a manufacturing problem, of course, and the factory seems inclined to give the customer anything he wants, including, I suppose, a lavender version for queers. To show how silly this can get, one commentator from Sweden, where flame orange for hunters is required (as in some of the sillier parts in the United States), requested a snow camouflage stock pattern, presumably so that even if the quarry can see him, it cannot see his rifle. Curiouser and curiouser!

I have had considerable success with color-coding, in various ways, and I strongly suggest to the manufacturer that the composition stock lends itself to this. If the 376 JCS version comes to pass, it should have a stock of a color different from that of the 308. And the magazine, too. It would not do to confuse those.

A further odd problem has arisen in connection with the trigger-action. The trigger on my personal piece, "Galatea," is two-staged and breaks beautifully at 26 ounces. It was set for me at Whittington by Steyr engineer Elmar Bilgeri, and presumably can be set that way by any individual owner, if he knows how, without recourse to gunsmith tools. However, the factory will not supply that trigger over-the-counter for fear of litigation. (In a society where anybody can sue anyone for anything, this terror of the courts strikes me as not only unreasonable but cowardly. I want the gun to be right. The distributor wants the gun to be impervious to product liability action. We can make the gun right, but we cannot do anything about product liability action.)

It seems odd to me that no one so far has made any mention in the press of the night-light rail which comes on the piece over-the-counter. There are a number of places where one cannot hunt legitimately after dark, but this does not take pest control into account. All sorts of pests, four-legged or two-legged, may wander into your compound at 2 o'clock in the morning on a dark night. If you slip the night light on your SS, which rides next to your bed after dark, you can respond to that alert out by the garage in expert fashion. When you have a suspected target you point in from the shoulder, and with your left hand touch the light switch. You do not use the light as an aiming index, since when you glance through the glass you can see your crosswire right there in the middle of the illumination spot. This is a "Good Thing," but while everybody with a typewriter seems to want to discuss group size, no one, so far, seems to have used that night light.

On the subject of group size, I have nothing to say. The SS, as it comes over-the-counter, is a tack driver. Using good ammunition, it will shoot better than any shooter can shoot it.

Hirtenberger of Austria has now completed studies on the 376 JCS, a medium cartridge short enough to fit into a short action and offering a distinct step upwards in power over the 308. This cartridge meets the African bore-diameter floor and should take a 260-grain partition or solid bullet out the 19-inch muzzle at 2500f/s. (I hope the Swift people will build suitable bullets of this weight and diameter, and wash them with molybdenum disulfide for good measure, in factory loadings.)

The 376 JCS rifle will have to be slightly overweight because of its necessarily heavier barrel, but this increase need not be more than half-a-pound. Naturally the cartridge will be a proprietary item and not readily available at the corner hardware store. I think those who feel the need for more muscle can put up with these drawbacks, if that is what they are. The JCS cartridge should be superb for the Alaskan whose targets are moose and big bear, as well as for the lion hunter. You can get more power, but hardly in a scout package.

The sighting system calls for further development in the future. I have been happy up till now with the Burris and Leupold scoutscopes, but there is room for improvement, especially in the direction of the fixed glass with all adjustments in the mount. (We have already heard of people mounting goofy glasses on scouts, just why I cannot say. Parry's rule is, "If I can see it, I can hit it." Gadgeteers should bear that in mind.)

However much I may dislike it, people will immediately start hanging gadgets on their scouts. The idea was to keep the weight down, the length short, and the protuberances minimal. People who do not understand this might do well to go back to their Martian guns.

You may not believe this but one customer actually quarreled with the fluted barrel, crying that the edges of the flutes were so sharp that they cut his tender fingers. Herr Hambrusch suggests that he shoot the gun enough so that the barrel becomes too hot to touch, thus obviating that problem. But, of course, a salesman must not jeer at the customer. That is the reason I have never been able to be a good salesman.

The conclusive criticism is the price. We must be gentle about this because regardless of what you see on the tube, a lot of people seem to be distressingly short of cash. But the price of the scout is not going to come down. Considering what you must pay at a good restaurant for a good dinner, which will be only a memory tomorrow, the Steyr Scout, which will last you the rest of your life, is a conspicuous bargain. If you must make do with a junk gun you can get it for a lot less money than an SS. And it will shoot, and that may be your only overriding consideration. Most, however, do not acquire guns because they absolutely must have them, but rather because the possession of a fine instrument enriches the quality of life. So shoot what you have now until you can afford a scout, and thereafter be happy.

Which leads me to one last point. I have a friend and client who is quite well off and lives elegantly on the elegant coast of California. Among his other possessions he prizes a Ferrari and two Scouts. The question before the house is: Is it "cooler" to have two Scouts and a Ferrari, or to have two Ferrari and one Scout?
Jeff Cooper
August 26, 1998
The foregoing is a supplement to, but not a substitute for, the high summer edition of Jeff Cooper's Commentaries. (Vol. 6, No. 9)

Please Note. These "Commentaries" are for personal use only. Not for publication.