Springfield Armory Scout Squad Rifle: Is It Really A Scout?

Today we’re going to take a look at the Springfield Armory Scout Squad Rifle and how it compares to Colonel Jeff Cooper’s criteria for a scout rifle. We’ll also take a brief look at the Scout’s predecessors, as well as the Scout Squad’s performance. 

What is a Scout Rifle, exactly?

Back in the 1970s, Colonel Jeff Cooper (gun guru extraordinaire) had a brainstorm and outlined what he thought was the perfect criteria for his scout rifle concept. Over the years, the good colonel refined his ideas about the scout rifle, and the end result is an interesting (and, I believe, quite useful) concept.

Colonel Cooper with a Scout Rifle.
Colonel Cooper with Steyr’s version of his Scout Rifle. (Photo: American Rifleman)

The Mission

Before we get into the criteria, let’s take a look at what Col. Cooper was trying to accomplish. His idea was to equip a man with a tool with which to scout. Scouting, in the colonel’s parlance, did not involve an infantry team, but rather an individual who was forward of organized elements, most likely performing reconnaissance and gathering intelligence.

The mission was not to engage the enemy, but rather to avoid him. However, if the enemy (whether a soldier or an angry bear) presented himself in a surprise fashion, our hero could quickly dispatch him using his scout rifle. As such, the colonel wanted a rifle that was, first and foremost, handy. It had to facilitate fast snap shots that allowed our hero to do the deed and then quickly vanish to accomplish the rest of his mission. It was not intended to engage in an extended firefight with the enemy.

Criteria

Colonel Cooper was specific in his idea of what the ideal rifle would be:

  • It would weigh between 6.6 and 7.7 pounds with a scope and sling.
  • An overall length of no longer than 40 inches.
  • It should have a low-powered scope mounted forward on the barrel (an extended eye relief telescopic sight).
  • He definitely had the .308 in mind, though if the user desired a more powerful round, his mind was open to it.
  • He preferred ghost ring sights as a backup since scopes could fail.
  • The rifle should shoot into at least four inches or less at 200 yards.
  • A barrel length of approximately 19 inches. This facilitates a fast-handling rifle while allowing good ballistics.
  • A sling that can be expeditiously used as a shooting aid.

The colonel preferred the bolt action rifle for his scout rifle because of the reliability offered by such an action. He wanted, specifically, a short action because this allowed the rifle to remain more compact.

He wanted a long eye relief scope mounted low so the shooter could make the shot while keeping both eyes open. This is important because when presented with a threat, shooting with both eyes open is both faster and safer. Aside from the speed, the shooter can see the surrounding area far better than if he has one eye closed, concentrating only on that target. This facilitates those snap shots, as mentioned before.

Forward Picatinny rail on Springfield Scout Squad rifle
Springfield’s Scout Squad has a forward-mounted Picatinny rail, which makes mounting long eye relief scopes or red dot sights easy.

Over the years, a number of manufacturers, not to mention gunsmiths, have come up with rifles that meet the colonel’s criteria—or at least come close to it.

Is the Scout Rifle still relevant?

Is it plausible that a person could find himself alone in the scouting role in current times? I’d say it is. Beyond scouting, there are other roles that might require a short, powerful, fast-handling rifle, such as ranchers, people who work in the wilderness, rural police officers, and others who generally work in the outdoors.

Consider the rural police officer or sheriff, who often works alone, with the closest backup being miles away, equating to response times that can exceed a half hour. He has to handle many problems right now, not having the luxury of waiting for help to arrive.

In rural, isolated areas, the probability of dealing with a heavily armed perpetrator who knows how to use his weaponry is rather high. Many folks in remote areas own scoped rifles for hunting. When dealing with a hostile subject so armed, the 12-gauge shotgun that so many police officers have traditionally been armed with might not be enough against a rifle capable of long-range fire.

Scout Rifle Predecessors

Back in 1936, the U.S. Army approved the M-1 Garand, and it went into production. None other than General George S. Patton referred to it as the “…greatest battle implement ever devised.” It served admirably throughout every theatre during WWII, Korea, and other wars. The M-1 is a .30-06 Springfield caliber, gas-operated rifle, fed with an eight-round en block clip (yes, a clip, not a magazine).

Though it served well, the military wanted something fed by a larger source. So the M-1 begat the M-14, which is a magazine-fed (standard 20-round box type), gas-operated battle rifle that fires semi or fully automatically. The troops seemed to like the M-14 well enough, but its service life was very short.

The government had other things in mind, namely, the M-16 family of weapons, which spelled the death knell for the M-14. Or did it? Not really, because the M-14 is serving to this day in combat theatres as a designated marksman rifle, in addition to other roles.

At any rate, in 1974, Springfield Armory introduced the M-1A, the civilian, semi-auto version of the M-14. Immediately, it was a hit and has been a much-loved rifle by many people ever since.

M1 Garand Clip and M14 magazine.
To the left is the M-1 Garand’s eight-round clip. On the right is the M-14/M-1A 20-round magazine.

Over the years, a number of M-1A variants have emerged. Back in the 1990s, one such variant was called the “Bush Rifle” which sported a shortened barrel and flash suppressor. It served its intended purpose, which was to be a short, powerful rifle that was handier than the full-sized M-1A. Those who owned this version were happy with the performance, as they were a joy to use, providing all the benefits of the standard M-1A while being easier to handle.

There is a very short version currently, referred to as the SOCOM, which sports a 16-inch barrel with a short compensator. It has a forward-mounted Picatinny rail to mount a scout scope.

Sringfield SOCOM 16.
The SOCOM-16 is a CQB variant of the M-1A. (Photo: Springfield Armory)

Finally, there is the Scout Squad rifle, which is similar to the SOCOM, but it has an 18-inch barrel with a compensator, as well as the forward-mounted Picatinny rail on which an extended eye relief scope can be mounted. 

Scout Squad Rifle.
The M-1A Scout Squad Rifle is a short, powerful variant of the M-1A. Seen here with a bandoleer of ammunition, along with a couple of spare magazines, it makes for a formidable package.

The trigger is a 2-stage, national match type. The front sight is also national match, coming in at .062”, which will provide great accuracy. The rear sight is an aperture, which I consider to be perhaps the best on the market, and it has changed very little since the days of the M-1 Garand. Many people, myself included, refer to this as a “Peep Sight”. The weight of the composite stocked model is eight pounds, eight ounces. With the walnut stock (which looks gorgeous, by the way), the weight is nine pounds, three ounces. The overall length is 40.33 inches.

Since this article is about the Scout Squad rifle, I’m going to rave about it, mostly. By all accounts, it is a beautifully crafted rifle, a real joy to look at. Looks, however, can only get you so far. Performance is what really counts.

How does the Scout Squad perform as a scout rifle?

It comes somewhat close to Colonel Cooper’s vision of a scout rifle, in that it only exceeds his length specifications by .33 inches, which is pretty darn close. That translates into the handiness and maneuverability that he was after. I happen to absolutely love that about rifles of this length; they just feel right!

The Scout Squad deviates from Cooper’s weight requirements by a wide margin; he wanted the entire package to weigh no more than 7.7 pounds with all accessories included. The Scout Squad is almost two pounds heavier and will get even heavier as a sling, scope, and full magazine are installed. Is this a deal-breaker? For me, no. Of course, if I’m going to tote a rifle over hill and dale for miles, lighter is better. It’s a trade-off I’m willing to make.

Follow Up Shots

Colonel Cooper and I differ in our approach to follow-up shots. He preferred the bolt action because he opined that a 1st-round hit was all a rifleman needed, and that a semi-automatic would instill in the shooter an attitude that if he were to miss with his first shot, he would have a follow-up shot. As such, the colonel thought that the rifleman might become careless with the semi-automatic. He believed that instances that require follow-up shots are very rare.

I differ, in that multiple threats demand multiple hits in rapid succession. In my experience, criminals and bad guys typically work in pairs or groups. For the most part, that means I want a semi-auto firearm, despite the fact that bolt actions are historically a bit more reliable. Again, it’s a trade-off I’m willing to make in order to obtain rapid hits, so the Scout Squad gets the nod from me in this department. Additionally, the extra weight and the recoil system also help to dampen the recoil of the .308, which aids even more in obtaining those rapid shots.

Colonel Cooper’s concept focuses on a light, powerful rifle that can be thrown to the shoulder in an instant and deliver one accurate shot. I believe this is a generally admirable strategy. However, in this day and age, we have too many high-quality, accurate semi-auto rifles to ignore that particular action. To do so would be foolhardy.

Capacity

In capacity, semi-autos typically enjoy a higher magazine capacity than most bolt actions (although some of the more recent bolt actions will accept magazines of higher capacity, in some cases using M-1A magazines). Again, the Scout Squad beats the classic scout rifle in this department. Having that extra ammo in my rifle is reassuring because if I’m alone with no backup, accurate firepower means survival.

Stripper clip in guide on Scout Squad Rifle.
Springfield’s Scout Squad accepts stripper clips via the guide at the top of the receiver.

As far as caliber/power, the Scout Squad rifle matches the colonel’s vision perfectly, as he was a fan of the .308. It provides enough power to deal with the vast majority of hostile creatures that most people will encounter, whether they are four-legged or bi-pedal. Bad guys tend to be more affected when hit by the .308 than with lighter calibers.

Legalities

One consideration, however, might depend on the local laws. In general, a bolt action rifle is permitted to be owned in any part of the country, whereas semi-autos are regulated by law in some places. In such a case, the bolt action might come out on top from a standpoint of legalities. This is an unfortunate but all too real consideration these days.

Handling

A light, short rifle can be a joy to throw to the shoulder and touch a round off into the target. I had a Lee-Enfield No. 5 Jungle Carbine once upon a time, and it handled like a marvel! In fact, I’ve never held another bolt action rifle that could rival it in handling; that little carbine was like an extension of the arm. Being so light, however, the little carbine did exhibit some recoil. Some folks might not consider a hard-recoiling rifle to be a joy to shoot, however, so this could be a factor in one’s choice of firearm.

Scout Squad muzzle brake.
The Scout Squad’s muzzle brake is very effective.

The Scout Squad rifle, being heavier, still comes to the shoulder quite rapidly for quick shots, and I don’t believe the few extra pounds hampers it appreciably. Sure, it’s going to be slightly slower than a very light rifle, but again, we consider the trade-offs.

Shooting the Scout Squad Rifle.
The Scout Squad rifle is a real joy to shoot. Recoil is very manageable, allowing fast follow-up shots.

The Scout Squad rifle is short, somewhat light, and powerful. You can engage targets near and far. As a point of fact, I have a friend who owns a Scout Squad and he advises that he can ring steel silhouettes with it at 700 yards (with open sights). Now with many folks, I’d take these bold claims with a grain of salt, but Mike is a rifleman’s rifleman, and if he says he did it, he damn well did. Period.

A 100 yard Scout Squad group.
Accuracy with the Scout Squad rifle is extraordinary! This 1 1/4-inch group was shot with open sights on a bitterly cold, windy day. Given the conditions, there is no way I should have been able to shoot such a tight group.

Such performance is not a fluke, either. I have a few other friends who also report that the Scout Squad is one solid performer on the range. Beyond that, the rifle just balances to perfection, feels great when carried, and shoulders efficiently and quickly. It does all of this while looking beautiful too!

To summarize, no, the Scout Squad does not perfectly match Colonel Cooper’s vision of what the perfect Scout Rifle would be. But when we look at the overall package of what the Scout Squad gives us, including accuracy, a short and handy package, moderate recoil, power, speed, and capacity, I believe it is more than capable. The Scout Squad is built on a platform that is a timeless classic and that is proven in battle. I’d dare go so far as to say that Springfield Armory’s Scout Squad exceeds Colonel Cooper’s original vision of what the Scout Rifle should be.

Jim Davis served in the PA Dept. of Corrections for 16 ½ years as a corrections officer in the State Correctional Institute at Graterford and later at SCI Phoenix. He served on the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT), several of those years as a sniper, and also the Fire Emergency Response Team (FERT). For 25 years, he was a professional instructor, teaching topics including Defensive Tactics, Riot Control and Tactical Operations, Immediate Responder, and cognitive programs as an adjunct instructor at the DOC Training Academy. He was then promoted to the title of corrections counselor, where he ran a caseload and facilitated cognitive therapy classes to inmates. His total service time was close to 29 years. He was involved in many violent encounters on duty, including incidents of fatalities.

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