One (Cheap) Guy's Search for a Scout
By Paul Nixon
While I've been a "fan" of Col. Cooper's over the years, since I'd not been doing a lot of rifle shooting lately I tended to gloss over his accounts of the development of the "Scout" rifle.
That changed when I fell in with evil companions who shoot together on a regular basis, several of whom had built various incarnations of this thing. All were reasonably accurate to the concept, at least to the extent of my understanding of it. Over the course of several months I played with several, and being a certified (certifiable?) gun nut, decided that I had to have one.
A number of the aspects of the "Scout" concept are worth commenting on. The length and weight of the piece are such that it is very easy to have immediately available, unlike some of the field pieces we've all likely had occasion to haul about. Combined with the scout scope, it's extremely quick to put on target. The use of the Ching sling adds to this efficiency, being faster than using the military sling.
While there are a number of very good mid-range calibers, the .308 will serve a wide range of jobs the rifle may be called upon to do. With the exception of perhaps longer ranges for either large big game such as elk or moose, or at the other end of the spectrum 400-yard prairie dog targets, the .308 will do the job. As well, ammunition is widely available, often at bargain prices for surplus.
I chose not to concern myself with a bi-pod. While a bi-pod is of some benefit, my experience has been that most field shots were in a position that didn't make one practical. They are real handy if one is in a prepared position, but don't allow for a great range of elevation once in position. And since I don't envision myself defending an emplacement from attacking hordes in the near future, I deleted it as unnecessary.
While for my particular purposes I could have built a "scout" in almost any caliber. After all I'm building it, I have to shoot it, and the good Colonel will never get to chastise me on the liberties I've taken with his concept, nevertheless I chose to go with the "universal caliber" as a requirement.
The other requirement was that it be done at a budget, read "cheap" price. The reasoning was that we were setting out on an experiment, and didn't want to spend a bunch of money on something that we'd decide at a later date was not going to work.
Now to find the starter rifle. As it turned out after only a short bit of looking I found an Ishapore Enfield. Built in India of modern steel and chambered in .308...and cheap on the surplus market.
Keeping with the budget constraint, we chose to utilize the existing wood. That's what rasps are for. The butt was shaped for a used butt pad that was in stock, upper hand guard removed and the forend shortened and shaped. Barrel went out to the machinist for cutting and crowning.
A scope mount was fashioned to attach to the "wings" of the rear sight, as there was some concern as to drilling the (relatively) thin barrel. We could have used a clamping type mount, but the machining would be more costly, so we decided to see if we could make this work. It turned out that in theory the scope mount is "too high." Ideally the closer to the barrel the scope is the better. However, the targets don't seem to mind, so I'm not going to argue with it.
The height of the scope did bring up an issue: the stock wasn't designed for a scope. The work around for this can be seen in a picture of the solution the British found when they fit a scope to the Lee Enfield in order to make a sniper rifle: a piece of wood was fitted to the top of the stock to bring the eye up to a height in line with the scope. Ugly, but it works.
At this point we're ready for a scope. The present scope being used is a pre-owned 1X Burris pistol scope I'd found in a gun store. "Scout scopes" from Burris run in the $340 range at retail. This cost me $70. Remember: budget.
So, after fitting the scope we did some shooting. We didn't do a bunch of bench resting after sight-in, so I can't attest that this thing is hitting X moa, but we're consistently hitting what we're shooting at at ranges out to 300-350 yards or so.
We did decide that we were tired of winning "ugly gun" contests, so the wood was taken off and slathered with the gunsmith's "secret sauce." Any fairly thick epoxy, applied with a 3M Scotch Brite (TM) pad will suffice. Waterproof and slightly textured. Then a coat of matte black -- the spray intended for bbq grills works well. This paint can be applied to the whole gun, as its original finish was black enamel. It's still uglier than a mud fence, but now its ugly in a prettier way...
We'd gone into this as an experiment. We decided that we'd stick to a Spartan budget so that at any time if one of our choices proved ineffective or that the gun wouldn't perform its function or even if we got bored we could abandon the whole thing with minimal loss. Turns out we have a better rifle than we'd thought we were going to create.
But there were some lessons learned. Having it to do over, knowing what we know, we'd opt for a better scope mount. If some additional wood were required to the stock to bring the eye into line, it could be made lower than what we have: more efficient, probably, and more pleasing to the eye definitely. And less potential problem with parallax.
The main deficiency in our mind is the trigger. While I don't think there are any good triggers out there for the Ishapore, even if there were I'd not consider the cost to be in line with the concept of what we were trying to accomplish. I don't mind a military two-stage trigger, but this is the trigger from hell, and to my knowledge there's nobody doing "cheap" trigger jobs to stock Enfield triggers.
Also, experience tells me that a bit more magnification is more efficient for my 50-year-old eyes. The next scout will wear something in the range of 1.5X or 2X.
So we have a very inexpensive fun rifle. It can go in the truck and be knocked around, rained on, dropped...lent out...and should keep on ticking. We've been using it for about six months and have proven the concept, so we'll be building another scout with further refinements and I'll keep the Ishapore as a backup.
And while it's still truly ugly, it does give me braggin' rights for the cheapest gun amongst the misfits I hang out with...and some of 'em are cheaper than I am!
Base gun was $109, machine work and smithing totaled $68, two cans of spray paint from the $1 bin at Ace.
Cheap fun. Not what Col. Cooper would consider a true scout, but reasonably faithful to the concept. A concept I've had enough fun with to recommend to anyone who wants a decent general purpose rifle at a cost that won't require you to take out a second mortgage or sell your first born.
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