Scout Scopes

By Chuck Hawks

Ruger Frontier Rifle w/Leupold IER scope
Ruger Frontier Rifle w/Leupold IER scope. Illustration courtesy of Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc.

I first tried a scope mounted forward of the receiver back in the middle 1960's, when the first IER (intermediate eye relief) Leupold M8 2x scope was introduced. That was long before the late Jeff Cooper coined the term "scout rifle" for such a rig, of course. I still use a pre-'64 Winchester Model 94 carbine with a forward mounted scope. (Another Leupold, but now a FX-II 2.5x28mm IER model.)

That first "scout scope" used a Leupold mount on a Winchester Centennial '66 rifle. I went with the forward mounted scope because it made more sense to me than the other alternative, which was an offset side mount. An offset side mount introduces lateral parallax as well as making a proper cheek to stock weld impossible. The scope had to be either offset to the side or forward of the receiver because the traditional Winchester Model 94 ejected upwards from the top of the action. Later, the advent of "angle eject" made such jury rigs unnecessary.

The forward mounted scope would have died except that Jeff Cooper wrote an article about, if I remember correctly, a Remington Model 600 bolt action carbine with a forward mounted scope. He called it a "scout rifle," and the name stuck. Frankly, I have never understood why such a set-up appealed to Mr. Cooper, or what he was scouting for.

Never the less, Jeff Cooper was a fine and persuasive writer, and the scout rifle idea gained some traction. Some years later Steyr introduced a bolt action Scout rifle for a forward mounted scope, and Ruger recently introduced their M77 Frontier Rifle, another bolt action carbine with an integral scope mount forward of the receiver. (Since neither the M77, the IER scope, nor anything like it was ever used on the western frontier, the inspiration for the name remains a mystery.) The Steyr Scout has not set any sales records and, as far as I can tell, neither has the Ruger Frontier Rifle.

By the time Jeff Cooper started promoting the scout scope idea, I had been hunting with one for years. I had concluded that a conventional scope mounting location, low and overbore, was superior in just about every way. The forward mounted scope is fine on pre-'64 Model 94s and certain other rifles that don't allow a conventional scope mount, but it is a step backward for most modern hunting rifles (including Cooper's Remington Model 600, an example of which I have also owned) and for most hunting purposes.

Nothing that I have seen since has changed my mind, and as I write this article I have some 40 years of experience with so called scout scopes under my belt. And my opinion is grounded in basic optical fact.

The greater the eye relief, the narrower the field of view of the scope, other factors being equal. That's a fact. And a wide field of view is crucial to many big game hunting applications. That is why scout or intermediate eye relief (IER) scopes are always low magnification models. Low power scopes provide an inherently greater field of view than higher power scopes, other factors again being equal. A high power scout scope would have such a small field of view as to be useless in the field.

As it is, a Leupold FX-II 2.5x IER scout scope (the best there is) has a field of view of 22 feet at 100 yards. Compare that with the 42.5 foot field of view of a Leupold VX-II 2-7x scope set a an actual magnification of 2.5x or the 24 foot field of view of a conventional FX-II 4x scope and you begin to understand the price paid in magnification and field of view in the scout scope design.

The main argument usually advanced in favor of the scout scope concept is that you can shoot with both eyes open and see around the scope. Well, the fact is that you can shoot with both eyes open when using any scope of comparable magnification if you choose to do so. If you shoot with a receiver (ghost ring) rear sight you can shoot with both eyes open and also see everything in its proper size perspective (which is not true when using a scout scope). But a scope is a big advantage because of what you can see through it, and receiver sights are not going to replace scopes any time soon. (It is actually the opposite that has happened over the last half century.) So that argument in favor of the scout scope really doesn't hold up very well if examined critically.

The scout scope concept has a rather limited practical application for the hunter and recreational shooter. As mentioned previously, it is probably the best way to scope a pre-'64 Model 94 rifle. Rifles chambered for ultra-hard kicking calibers such as the .378 Wby. Mag., .458 Lott, and .460 Wby. Mag. might be another reasonable application, as the forward mounted scope can't hit the shooter in the eye during recoil. And several surplus military rifles, among them the fine Swedish Mauser Model 1896, are not adaptable to a scope mounted low and overbore in the conventional manner.

For such oddities, a scout scope may be the best way to go. But for the vast majority of hunters and hunting rifles, a conventional scope mounted low and overbore is the best and most practical sighting system yet devised.

Back to the Scopes and Optics Information Page

Copyright 2007, 2013 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.