January 2002

Scouting Out Two Scout Rifles: Steyr, Savage Go Head To Head

Bottom line: Save your money and buy the utilitarian Savage unless you’re bound and determined to own the very nice Steyr.

Tech editor Ray Ordorica was fond of the
Steyr. He ought to have used the Ching Sling,
part of the package, here for more support.

An intelligent evaluation of the scout rifle must begin with its definition, and that has to come from its originator, Col. John Dean “Jeff” Cooper. Nearly two decades ago Cooper specified the “general purpose,” or “scout” rifle to be “.a conveniently portable, individually operated firearm, capable of striking a single decisive blow on a live target of up to 200 kilos [approx. 440 pounds] 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.” The scout himself was generally defined as a highly skilled outdoorsman, operating alone.

Cooper further specified a maximum weight for the rifle of 6.6 pounds with everything attached, minus ammo, and an overall length of 39 inches. Another specification was a scope of 1x to 3x mounted forward of the magazine, a synthetic stock, a two-lug 90-degree bolt with controlled-feed extraction, a smooth and round bolt knob, and a barrel of about 19-inch length. The magazine had to protect the bullet noses, preventing deformation from recoil. He mandated built-in aperture sights, a magazine cutoff to permit shoot-one, load-one operation, and a good three-pound trigger. He wanted flush (Pachmayr style) sling sockets, a rounded buttpad to ease mounting, a second magazine on the rifle somewhere — or a magazine cuff — and a built-in bipod. The caliber was to be easily attainable in one’s backyard, and for most of us that means .308. The Ching sling has become today’s carry-strap of choice in that it permits both easy carry and very fast lock-up for better shooting.

Right off the bat, the Steyr Scout does not have all of these attributes, yet it thoroughly pleases Col. Cooper. Therefore in his eyes it comes as close as anything ever has, at least in a production piece, to his original concept. In the guru’s own words: “Steyr has done a remarkable job of bringing my original concept to reality. The Steyr Jeff Cooper Scout system is everything you could want in a lightweight all-purpose rifle that can perform virtually any task!”

In our limited research we have discovered exactly no complaints about the Steyr Scout except for one massive obstacle, its price. The Steyr Scout will set you back $2,700. Is it worth it? Although its proponents are very vocal and just about unanimous in its endorsement, and claim that “you get what you pay for,” we wonder if you can get nearly the same thing for less money. Perhaps, we thought, you could get a rifle with some of the pure scout features, but compromise enough to get the price down to, say, less than a grand. Enter the Savage Scout.

We obtained a Steyr Scout, which comes with sling, pre-mounted and roughly sighted-in Leupold Scout scope, carry case, and as many bells and whistles as Steyr could pack into it. We also obtained a Savage Scout, which comes with no extras, but which does permit the forward mounting of a “scout”-type scope. We got a Weaver H2 handgun scope and mounted it in Weaver rings onto the Savage. We shot and evaluated these two rifles side by side, and found out some interesting things. Here is our report.

Steyr Scout, Jeff Cooper Package, $2,700
The Steyr came in a nearly tubular carry case made of a rather thin polymer. The outside of the case had provisions for locking, a carry handle, three stout latches, four stout hinges, and was identified only with the name “Mannlicher” embossed on its top, which gave mute testimony to the rifle’s parentage. The little Mannlicher Schönauer carbine of 1903 in 6.5x54 caliber was one of the earliest form of “least” rifle suitable for the lone hunter, or scout.

Click here to view the Steyr Scout, Jeff Cooper Package features guide

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Within the case was the 7.0-pound, 38.5-inch long (as tested) Scout, wrapped in foam rubber and kept in place within the case with Velcro hold-downs. Unwrapping them we found the rifle, and confess it caught our interest very quickly. The stock, of Zytel (a fiberglass-reinforced polymer), was gray except for four black panels, one of which held Jeff Cooper’s personal logo. All the metal work except for the bolt body and trigger were matte-black finished. Those two areas were nickel plated in a not-quite-matte manner.

The spindly barrel was fluted, and a second set of flutes were hidden under the rather lengthy action, which actually extended to the front of the stock. The flutes dissipated heat very well. The hammer-forged barrel had roughly 1-in-12-inch twist rate, not what we’d have specified, for some of us prefer heavy bullets that would work better with a 1:10 twist. We knew the Steyr Scouts had an enviable reputation for accuracy, and there was a sample target with the rifle that looked impressive. Before we shot the rifle we gave it a close inspection.

The butt pad was rounded, and there were two spacers between it and the stock. These added about 0.9 inch to the pull, and we got rid of those spacers right away. They popped off easily. There was a space beneath the buttpad where the owner might store various items of interest, like money or fishhooks, or you-name-it. There was also a storage area within the pistol grip. This was opened by first removing the rear magazine, and then pressing on a tab inside the mag well. That compartment could hold a drop-through-style cleaning kit of some sort. We thought one should have been provided, considering the cost of the rifle.

The two plastic magazines held five rounds each, and they protected the bullet points very well. The mags were retained by two opposing, spring-loaded catches that worked well. The magazines could be partially inserted so the operator could feed single rounds into the chamber and keep the five shots in the magazine in reserve. In practice, we found that the first time we grasped the rifle with one hand at its balance point, which is where the magazine is mounted, we instantly drove the magazine fully home. One would have to handle the rifle with care, in the heat of “battle,” if one wanted to load this rifle singly. We could not just drop a round into the port and slam the bolt home. As often as not, the loose round failed to go into the chamber, which tied up the bolt.

The rifle fed like gangbusters from the magazine. Ejection, via a spring-loaded plunger, was okay. The bolt locked up tightly into an extension of the barrel, a design that permits the main action to be made of aluminum. This has many advantages, not the least of which is light weight. The bolt head was recessed, enveloping the cartridge. Extraction was by a clip on the side of the bolt head.

The left side of the action had the importer’s initials and city, and also “Made in Austria,” the serial number, and “STEYR SCOUT” in bold, silvery letters. The scope adjustment caps were labeled “Steyr Scout,” and the scope rings were serial numbered to the rifle.

There were five flush-mounted (Pachmayr) sling-mounting points, one beneath the forend, two on each side about in line with the front of the bolt, and one on each side of the butt just in front of the pad. A very stiff leather “Ching” sling came with the rifle. It weighed half a pound, and if we included it with the rifle, as Cooper originally specified, we had a 7.5-pound package, which was nearly a pound over his specifications. A lighter sling would be better, and the rifle itself could easily weigh half a pound less without recoil problems. The sling had three attachment points, and except for its weight and the very stiff leather, seemed like a workable, worthy, and very quickly deployed accessory. If you’ve never tried shooting from sitting, kneeling, or prone with a sling, you’re in for a surprise. A sling is NOT used, and provides no advantage to the shooter, from the offhand (standing) position.

The underside of the forend held two neat tricks. One was a four-inch-long rail for mounting things like a flashlight. The other was a button just behind the rail, which released the legs of the almost totally concealed bipod. The legs of the bipod are actually the outer sides of the forend. These swing 90 degrees downward and forward to lock into place. The rifle may be rocked approximately 15 degrees right and left from dead center, permitting a level rifle on uneven ground. The bipod legs were a bit long for some of our shooters, but in tall grass we’re sure they’ll find the extra length in their necks. We liked the bipod on the bench because it saved us setting up our machine rest every time we wanted to take a few shots. The rifle shot as well, and to the same impact point, from the bipod as from our machine rest. Folding the bipod legs required a strong pull, which resulted in a “snap” as though something was breaking. We preferred to push inward on the leg’s locking lugs with a pen or something, but we could detect no play or wear from normally folding the bipod.

There was no checkering, nor did the rifle need any. The stock was very comfortable to all our shooters. It did not slip in the hands, even when wet. Further, the stock shape permitted a good grasp on the rifle even if it were coated with grease. The forend was wide, and its panels had finger grooves that gave excellent control. The buttpad, which appears to slant the wrong way when first seen, was fully functional. It cut recoil and kept the stock in place when working the bolt vigorously with the rifle at the shoulder.

The crosshairs of the forward-mounted Leupold M8 2.5 x 28mm IER “Scout Scope” were quite coarse. Experienced hunters prefer heavy hairs for field use. Thin hairs work best on the target range. It is not as easy to get the most out of a rifle fitted with coarse crosshairs, but with care we have obtained excellent results with heavy crosshairs. We found it was easy and very fast to pick up the hairs on any field target. If you don’t like these, you can have Leupold fit finer hairs, or even a German style reticle with three heavy posts.

We liked the forward-mounted scope very much. We found it to be very quick to locate the target, and it was much easier to carry the rifle without the scope in the way. Loading single rounds was also easy, but we would have preferred a bigger opening for the loading/ejecting port. It was impossible to feel a chambered round with the little finger.

The Steyr Scout was fitted with Steyr’s Safe Bolt System, or SBS, which we could do without. The rolling safety button had three positions. All the way forward was “shoot,” and all the way back was completely locked, so the bolt could not be opened. The locked bolt could, though, be pressed downward further, which moves the bolt handle closer to the stock. None of our test crew carry a hunting rifle with a round in the chamber. Neither do we carry a cocked rifle. The Steyr’s bolt may only be placed into that ultra-slim, tight-to-the-stock position when the rifle is cocked, which we’ve just said we don’t or won’t do. We can’t see the need for it, even though it locks the firing pin.

There is a middle position of the Steyr’s safety, which permits opening the bolt but locks out the trigger mechanism. That position is very hard to achieve quickly, and it’s too easy to roll the safety forward to the firing position from the midway position. Therefore, we don’t think the rifle should be carried with a round in the chamber (if you must have one there) with the safety in that middle position. The fully rearward, all-locked position of the safety button causes a secondary lock to pop up, similar to those seen on some English double rifles with tang safeties. Taking the safety off thus requires a press downward and a push forward, something you’d better practice before you need to do it in a hurry. This is an excellent safety setup once you realize its intent. The safety button also permitted the removal of the bolt from the rifle.

If you have pressed the bolt handle tightly against the stock, releasing the safety causes the bolt handle to pop noisily up to its normal position, not what you want in view of game.

Our test ammunition was Winchester Supreme Competition 168-grain match, Remington 180-grain Premier with Nosler Partition bullets, PMC Eldorado with 150-grain Barnes X-bullets, and Chinese copper-clad military surplus ball. At the range we checked the zero, found it to be very close, and shot three shots from 100 yards with Winchester match ammunition. Those three hit inside of an inch. Then things went to hell. Groups opened up, the point of impact shifted, and over several days’ testing we became increasingly unhappy with the rifle’s accuracy.

Click here to view Accuracy and Chronograh Data

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We replaced the Scout Scope with our 36X Weaver Target scope, which proved the rifle’s accuracy. We printed two three-shot groups that measured 0.7 inch each, and one six-shot group that went into 0.9 inch. Clearly the rifle itself was close to being a tack driver. We then remounted the Leupold scope and fired three shots of the same match ammunition. Two shots were nearly touching, but one of the three hit 3 inches low. We conferred with the importer, GSI Inc., and they want to inspect the whole rifle. To our eyes, it clearly seemed to have a faulty scope.

With the scope off we looked at the polymer sights on the Steyr. The front, hidden partially under the front scope ring, popped up easily and was held up firmly by spring tension. It appeared as a flat-top post, and was adjustable for windage. The rear aperture was big enough, and was adjustable for elevation. The rear looked flimsy, but we haven’t heard of any problems with it.

For what it’s worth, recoil was negligible for most of our testers, even with 180-grain hunting ammo.

We looked into lots of things that might affect accuracy, and in the process got more than a little upset with Steyr. We attempted to remove the action from the stock, following the instructions in the manual. The Allen screws were metric, and Steyr should have supplied the correct wrench with the rifle. They did not. The official response was that Steyr does not want unauthorized shooters to mess with the rifle. Horsefeathers. Any shooter worth his Hoppes No. 9 will want a look inside that odd stock, just to see what’s there. Steyr should know this.

Steyr also failed to give complete instructions how to remove the action from the stock. The manual says to remove the two Allen screws that pass through the aluminum pillar blocks into the action. They failed to mention a pin, located under the bipod legs at the front of the forend, that has to be drifted out.

With the incredibly light guts out of the rifle we found nothing wrong. We noted the complexity of the trigger mechanism and understood why Steyr doesn’t want the home gunsmith to mess with it. In fairness, there’s no need to take the action out of the stock under normal circumstances.

We had several failures to fire military-surplus rounds. Our Scout had an adjustable firing pin, so we increased the spring tension one notch and tried it. It still failed. We adjusted the spring another notch and it worked. The bolt-lift force was noticeably increased as we increased the firing-pin tension. Steyr has had three types of firing pins in these rifles. We see no need for an adjustable (and very complex, delicate-looking) firing pin on a rifle. Our previous experience tells us we can expect to get better accuracy with a good, firm blow from the pin than from the lightest tap imaginable.

There were no instructions on how to adjust the firing pin, but we found tips and tricks concerning the Steyr Scout on various Internet websites. The manual did tell how to take out the firing pin, which was incredibly easy.

The target range is not the best place to evaluate the Steyr Scout. A better measure of the entire scout-rifle concept is in seeing how fast you can make a hit, and nothing we’ve ever tried has been as fast to make a controlled hit as this Steyr. We are talking putting a bullet onto a piece of typing paper at 100 yards from offhand, starting with the rifle held low, with safety on. Our testing has been informal so far, but as time and weather permits, we plan a serious test of this against other rifles, with an electronic timer as the final judge.

We’ve tried aperture sights, and they’re pretty good, but there is time lost identifying the target without any magnification. The little ACOG scope we tested in conjunction with a Bushmaster AR-15 rifle was pretty fast, but in retrospect, it may have had insufficient magnification. The 2.5X Leupold setup of the Scout seems to be ideal. The Savage, tested below, had a scope with about 1.5X true magnification, and it wasn’t enough. The Savage had other problems, as you’ll see.

Savage Model 10 Scout, $500
To start, this gun’s price reflects what it costs without scope, sling, or carry case — items which came standard on the Steyr. We were pleasantly surprised at the Savage, and also somewhat disappointed. The pleasant surprises were the trigger pull, which was exceptionally good; the big bolt handle and its very slick bolt; the good-looking (read conventional) plastic stock with its pillar bedding; and overall light weight. It weighed exactly as much as the Steyr, 7.0 pounds. Savage put decent aperture sights onto the rifle, and while Cooper and others deplore a front sight on the end of the barrel, declaring such an abomination snags all manner of brush and road kill way out there, our experience tells us this isn’t necessarily so. We like a good front sight mounted out on the muzzle, and feel a rifle doesn’t look right without one there. Savage missed the boat by not putting a dust cover over it for protection. The grooves are there on the ramp.

Click here to view the Savage Model 10 Scout features guide

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Savage put a round-profile gold bead up front, as seen through the big “ghost-ring” aperture rear. The front blade was steel, and seemed to be stout. The aluminum Williams rear, mounted on the rear bridge, was fully adjustable.

The bolt of this all-black rifle was very slick, if noisy. Shaking the rifle caused to bolt handle to rattle slightly, no matter the condition of bolt or safety. The tang-mounted safety behind the bolt worked well, but was a bit hard to access. Forward was fire, and that showed a large red area. The detachable magazine held four rounds and the bullet noses were protected by a stop formed into the sides of the magazine. This unit was released by a button on the right side of the stock. All worked very well, and though there was no provision for a second magazine, an after-market cuff on the butt would hold extra ammo. There was no magazine provision for shoot-one, load-one scenarios.

Barrel length was 20 inches. Savage could have cut that barrel an inch shorter. Overall rifle length was just under 40 inches, close enough to the scout concept, but the stock was too doggoned long. Its length of pull was only 13.25 inches, but it should have been an inch shorter. The Steyr’s pull was only 12.5 inches. After mounting the Scout half-a-dozen times and then trying the Savage, the Savage invariably hung up on whoever was trying it. We could see no easy way to shorten the stock, and that was badly needed here. Also, the butt pad needed to be a bit more round at the top, and somewhat less sticky so it wouldn’t be so prone to catch on the clothing.

The Savage trigger pull was pretty good. It was without creep, and broke at just over 4 pounds. Feeding from the magazine was positive and slick. The bolt had a small plunger ejector and a sliding extractor, both long proven on other Savage bolt rifles.

We installed a Weaver H2, 2x28 scope with Dual-X reticle, having a list price of $209. (Street price is $160, and it has a lifetime warranty.) Its crosshairs were nearly invisible, compared with the Steyr-Leupold arrangement. They made accurate shooting easy but were much slower in use.

On the range, the Savage shot like the dickens. Our best group was three shots of the Remington 180-grain into half an inch. Accuracy with Winchester match ammo hovered around the one-inch mark. Overall accuracy was excellent. The twist rate of the Savage was much faster than the Steyr’s 1-in-12, but we didn’t measure it. In our testing of the Steyr we got some very good groups with 180-grain ammo along the way, enough to know that twist rate in these two rifles is probably not all that critical to performance.

The black stock had moulded-in checkering that worked well enough. The trigger guard was of moulded plastic. Two QD sling studs were in the normal places. A third would be needed in front of the mag well to accommodate some version of the Ching sling.

So we had a rifle that shot well, with a good trigger, proper scope setup, and made weight about as well as the Steyr. What were we missing? It didn’t have extra ammo holders, but a cuff would cure that. The stock desperately needed shortening, and that might have made it necessary to move the rear sling swivel forward. The stock needed the central sling mount, and these could have been flush mounts, if desired. We don’t think flush mounts are entirely necessary. If we had opted for the Leupold scope we would have had the same benefits it gave the Steyr, but opted for a low-end (but thoroughly sound and practical) scope. Its finish was glossy, and we’d have preferred matte. That’s available with the silver finish, for a bit more money. Cutting the stock and reattaching the butt pad would not be all that costly, but you would not have those handy compartments of the Steyr.

Our rapid-fire tests on blank paper at 100 yards proved what we suspected. The long stock and thin crosshairs increased our hit time greatly. The Steyr won, hands down. But these things can be fixed.

Gun Tests Recommends
Steyr Scout, Cooper Package, $2,700. Conditional Buy. The Scout’s combination of the very user-friendly and comfortable stock, the scope setup (both eyes are kept open, which gives an excellent view of the terrain surrounding the target) with its heavy crosshairs, the good trigger pull (ours was 3.5 pounds, very clean), the lightning-like mount of the short stock, the absence of concern about getting hit with the scope, all add up to the fastest hits we’ve ever got. The more we use the rifle the faster we get with it. We know that trained shooters have been able to hit clay birds on a trap range with their Steyr Scouts. Several of our testers, who have been jaded over long years from testing all manner of guns, were very surprised by how much they liked this rifle.

In essence, what you’re paying for is speed, comfort, better than normal accuracy (in most cases), and absolutely great utility in a compact package. That pretty well defines the Steyr Scout. If you can appreciate it, buy it. We don’t think you’ll be sorry. You could easily spend close to the cost of the Steyr to have a scout rifle custom made, but it would not have all the bells and whistles. You’d spend more and get less. A custom scout would not bring much on the used-gun market, while the Steyrs tend to hold their own.

The Steyr Scout is available in all-black, and without scope or sling. One version has a large, rounded bolt knob. Other versions are in .243, 7mm-08, .223, and .376 Steyr, but the last round has apparently been dropped from production recently.

Savage Model 10 Scout, $500. Buy It. By the time you get everything you think you want on the Savage, you might double its base price. That would still save about $1,700 over the cost of the Steyr. Most folks except diehards, we believe, will pop for the Savage and will be pretty well served — though a bipod seems out of the question. It’s a good rifle.