Growing up, I had always heard, mostly from the older gun guys and gals I’d hang out with, that the Mini-14 was garbage. Can’t hit the broad side of a barn, magazines are too expensive, yadda yadda. They were always very reliable, but I’m a big accuracy guy so it was never really on my radar until a few years ago when I saw one in a pawn shop for $600.
My first thought was “Wow, the Mini-14 sure has fallen off big time”.
And then I started looking into it more, and I found out that the opposite was actually true.
See, the big complaint about the Mini-14 has always been that it’s inaccurate, especially when compared to its nearest competitor, the ever-popular AR-15. But then I started hearing people saying that this little rifle was plenty accurate following some updates from Ruger.
And of course, I had to find out for myself.
The lightweight rifle combined features from several other popular rifles including the bolt from the legendary M1 Garand, the gas system from the M1’s baby brother, the M1 Carbine, and the trigger and magazine system from the relatively new (at the time) M14.
All of this combined to give shooters a fairly lightweight rifle which is easy to store, that on release emulated a lot of the rifles shooters and even law-enforcement, many of whom were former military following Vietnam, were already familiar with.
The original rifle was certainly nothing to sneeze at, and it was rugged as a tank out of the box, so it quickly found a place with those who wanted a “Ranch rifle” style gun that was a little more modern than the leveractions and bolt-actions that filled this niche at the time.
The only reason the Mini-14 never took off as much as it could have is simple: The AR-15.
When the Mini-14 was released, the AR-15 hadn’t quite taken off in civilian OR law-enforcement circles, but that changed rapidly. And the modern design, modularity, available AR-15 accessories and increased precision quickly won over most of the Mini-14’s target audience.
The Mini-14 came out at about half the price of an AR-15 of the day, and that appealed to regular shooters and police departments alike, but eventually the AR-15 superior modularity and adoption by the military in the M16 (and later the M4) would keep the Mini-14 on the back burner in the minds of most shooters. Other guns like the AK-47 also get compared to the Ruger Mini-14 on a regular basis.
Continual accuracy problems virtually relegated the Mini-14 to the “could have been great” category for years, and it went on to win esteem as a police rifle, and as a handy rifle to have around the farm, but it never enjoyed the widespread appeal or support that the AR-15 did.
From there, the Mini-14 languished as something of a niche gun, and though it appeared heavily in 80’s action staples like the A-Team and others, it never really found the widespread success it may have otherwise deserved.
Today, the Mini-14 is still mostly the same as it ever was. It’s still a short, handy, easy-to-shoulder and easier-to-shoot .223 rifle that is perfect for someone looking for a cheap, reliable rifle to keep handy in a tool box, or to slide into a saddle scabbard.
The intermediate caliber and plentiful .223/5.56 ammo at rock-bottom prices means that you can shoot all day for less than almost anything else other than .22LR or maybe 9mm. The .223 is a good caliber for this type of rifle as its good for plinking and target shooting, while still maintaining enough power for self-defense, or even hunting up to medium-sized game.
You can also get several different versions of the Mini-14, from tactical versions that take PMAGS and come with rails and such for mounting all your favorite AR-15-style lights, lasers, and other accessories on, to traditional wood-stocked models that are great for those who want a semi-automatic rifle that’s a little less scary for the gun-phobic types out there (I’m looking at you, California).
The Mini has an inherently ambidextrous design with a mag release that can be operated from either side, and the Garand-style safety is close to the trigger.
The rifle may be light, but .223 recoil is even lighter making it comfortable for almost anyone to shoot.
The rifle shoulders easily, is lightweight without feeling cheap, and will absolutely, positively, 100% go bang every time you squeeze the trigger with a round chambered. I shot one just here recently and out of a few hundred rounds between three shooters, we experienced not one issue other than one failure to eject.
Sure, you can get AR’s that’ll run that well, but good luck getting one that runs better than that for $600.
So we know it’s reliable, we know it’s lightweight, easy to maneuver, and we know that it looks pretty sweet. The big question though, is what about the accuracy?
Well, if you’re almost sold on the idea of a Mini-14 but are still hung up on the accuracy complaints that have long plagued it, I have some good news for you.
Back in 2005, Ruger realized they had a problem with their Mini-14. Namely, it just couldn’t hold a candle to the accuracy and precision of the AR-15. The AR was easier to find parts for, easier to find magazines for, and it could put the exact same rounds on target with twice the accuracy.
So Ruger completely redid their manufacturing lines, including all new tooling and a modified design, all in the aim towards putting a Mini-14 on the market that was far more accurate than its predecessor.
How’d they do?
Well, the old accuracy claims I heard about the Mini-14 pre-2005 were always in the 5 MOA range, so that’s 5 inches at 100 yards. I grabbed a newer version and went out to the 100 yard range by my house to see how it did.
The version I tested had a black synthetic stock, a rail on top of the receiver, and weighed in at about 7lbs. The rifle is short, as you’d expect, at only 37.5”, making it perfect for getting in and out of a truck with while on the hunt, or maneuvering inside a home in a defensive situation
I threw a nice 1-6x Vortex Strike Eagle on top of the newer Mini’s rail, did a quick boresighting, adjusted accordingly, and settled in on the bench to do some accuracy testing.
The best group I got was with some Hornady 68gr match ammo, pictured below.
That’s five rounds in about a 1.1 MOA grouping, with three shots so close they’re touching. With a rifle that’s traditionally thought of as “inaccurate”. For the $600 sticker price, I’d like to see many AR’s do better.
The other groups ranged in the 2” to 3” range, all at 100 yards, which frankly is much better than I was expecting for a used gun that had clearly seen a lot of rounds down the pipe. At the end of the day, unless you’re a bullseye target shooter, 2 or 3 MOA from a 5.56 or .223 is more than accurate enough.
For hunters, plinkers and those looking for a .223 rifle that’ll put a coyote down, or even take whitetail-sized game where legal with a .223, you don’t need anything more than that.
Honestly, after the test firing I did, the only thing that I think is holding the rifle back is the trigger. I think the two-stage, very “mil-spec” trigger on this gun is going to be the chief bottleneck accuracy wise. If you’re looking to accurize this rifle, I’d start there.
That said, if you’re shooting the occasional varmint, you’re probably fine out of the box. Unless you’re trying to bullseye prairie dogs at 500 yards, which is an awfully tall order for any .223 rifle, this gun is going to do just what you need.
Accuracy concerns firmly put to bed, I still had to ask myself a very important question.
Go in any gun store and you’ll see about ten AR-15’s for every one of any other rifle. It’s the most popular rifle in America by a long way, and just about every gun owner has one it seems like.
I personally have built a few hundred AR’s as a gunsmith for others, and almost a dozen for my own personal use. That popularity has given rise to literally thousands of manufacturers that either make AR-15s or make parts for them to feed the demands of the black-rifle-buying public.
You can get bargain basement AR-15’s for less than $500, and you can get high-end ones that’ll clip the wings off a fly at 1000 yards. You can gear one out for hunting, competition, home defense, and you can even rig one up to be belt-fed like a machine gun.
Compared to that, what does the Mini-14 offer?
Well to start with, it’s not an AR-15.
That might seem like an obvious thing, they are after all, two different guns (duh) but think about that. It seems like every other rifle that comes out is an AR-15, and I’m getting a little burnt out, but you may feel differently.
I love the AR-15, I really, really do. But I also love my HK G3s, my AKs, my FALs, my bolt-actions. Sometimes you need something different.
That’s the real joy of the Ruger Mini-14. You have a convenient, plentiful, cheap, but still very useful round in the .223, same as the AR-15, but it’s just not another AR. Sure, you can dress up an AR anyway you like and make it uniquely yours, but that same ability to become anything leaves the AR feeling a bit soulless compared to the Mini.
The Mini has a character and style all its own out of the box, and that’s just something most factory ARs don’t have.
I know, I know. Character? Style? Character and style don’t put meat on the table or defend hearth and home. There’s a lot more to it than just that though.
First of all, you have some frankly stellar reliability. The AR-15 is an incredibly reliable platform, especially modern ones, but the Mini-14 is designed to really be ridden hard and put up wet (maybe not literally).
The stainless models with synthetic stocks in particular will stand up to years and years of rough use, whether rattling around in a toolbox or slung across your back on a sling while trekking over rough terrain.
Finally, the Mini comes in several variants, with the Ranch, Target, and Tactical variants being the most common. This gives you plenty of options depending on what you need from your rifle.
5. Parting Shots
The Ruger Mini-14’s chief selling point, and chief detriment, is that its not an AR-15. It’s a good, maybe even great, rifle that’s found a niche as a handy, ranch-style rifle, as well as a tactical rifle in its own right.
The gun has come an awfully long way from its original roots, and today it makes an excellent hunting and plinking rifle that’s affordable, easy to use, and a whole lot of fun.
Overall, I’d recommend this rifle to anyone that’s looking for a .223 rifle that can shoot cheap, readily-available bullets, but without having to do so with an AR-15.