Ruger Mini-14 Tactical Review (.223 Caliber)
Growing up, every Ruger Mini-14 review I had heard was garbage. It can’t hit the broad side of a barn, magazines are too expensive, yadda yadda yadda. The Ruger Mini-14 was 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.
Every Ruger Mini-14 review seems lukewarm at best. 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 heard people saying that this little rifle was plenty accurate following some updates from Ruger.
And of course, I had to find out for myself.
1. History of the Ruger Mini-14
The Ruger Mini-14 was first introduced back in 1973 and was marketed to both civilians and law enforcement. Ruger has been around a long time, and makes some very well known rifles, like the 10/22.
This lightweight rifle combined features from several other popular rifles, including: the bolt from the legendary M1 Garand, the gas system from the M1 Carbine, and the trigger and magazine system from the relatively new M14.
All of this combined to give shooters a fairly lightweight, easy to store rifle, that on release emulated a lot of the rifles shooters and even law-enforcement were already familiar with.
The original rifle was certainly nothing to sneeze at, and it was as rugged as a tank out of the box, so it quickly found a place with those who wanted a “Ranch rifle” style gun. While it had its perks, the Mini-14 was barely more modern than the lever-actions and bolt-actions that filled the market at the time.
The only reason the Ruger Mini-14 never took off as much as it could have is simple: The AR-15.
When the Ruger 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, increased precision, and available AR-15 accessories quickly won over most of the Mini-14’s target audience. Thus, the Ruger Mini-14 reviewed rather poorly.
The Ruger 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’s 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. The Ruger Mini-14 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.
2. Popularity of the Ruger Mini-14
Today, the Ruger Mini-14 is 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 toolbox.
The intermediate caliber and plentiful .223/5.56 ammo at rock-bottom prices mean 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 it’s good for plinking and target shooting, while still maintaining enough power for self-defense, or even hunting medium-sized game.
You can also get several different versions of the Ruger Mini-14. tactical versions of the Mini-14 use PMAGS and come with rails for mounting all your favorite AR-15-style lights, lasers, and other accessories. Alternately, traditional wood-stocked Mini-14 models are great for those who want a semi-automatic rifle that’s a little less scary for the gun-phobic types out there.
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. I shot one just here recently and, out of a few hundred rounds between three shooters, we experienced not one issue other than a single failure to eject.
Sure, you can get AR’s that’ll run just as well, but good luck getting one that runs better than that for $600.
So we know from both our analysis and most Ruger Mini-14 reviews that the rifle is reliable. We also know it’s lightweight, easy to maneuver, and we know that it looks pretty sweet. The big question, though, is this: what about the accuracy?
3. Accuracy of the Ruger Mini-14
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 modified design, in the aim of 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 from Ruger Mini-14 reviews pre-2005 were always in the 5 MOA range, so that’s five 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, 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 improve the accuracy of 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. Do Ruger Mini-14 reviews compare well to other rifles?
Go inside any gun store and you’ll see ten AR-15’s for every one rifle. It’s the most popular rifle in America, and it seems like just about every gun owner has one.
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 it: it seems like every other rifle that comes out is an AR-15, and I’m getting a little burnt out.
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 on its own, 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 the Ruger Mini-14, 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
Upon review of the Ruger Mini-14, This rifle’s chief selling point, and chief detriment, is that it’s 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.