A modern rifle with a classic flair, the Ruger Mini-14!
Introduced by Ruger in 1973, the Mini-14 might look a bit dated–but it is still packed with modern features and is a formidable rifle in the right hands.
We’re going to take a close look at two Mini-14s for a detailed rundown and review of just how they work and function in the field–for a more general overview of the models on the market today, take a look at the Best Mini-14 and Mini-30 Models.
Introducing: The Mini-14
Many years ago, before the AR/Modern Sporting Rifle craze, I purchased a Mini-14 Ranch Rifle for coyote hunting. I selected a stainless model with a wood stock and the new integral scope mounts machined into the receiver. I promptly ordered three extra 5-round magazines and mounted up a Burris Compact 4 power scope on the rifle.
The local ranch and home-type store had Winchester white-box ammo for about three dollars a box so I bought a bunch to start building up a supply of brass for reloading.
I put everything together and headed to the range for my first session with not only a Ranch Rifle, but also a .223. My first targets were set at 25-yards to get the scope and rifle on paper. Once that was accomplished I moved out to 50-yards for more fine-tuning.
So far, so good. However, when I moved out to 100-yards I was a bit disappointed. The rifle operated fine, but the 100-yard groups were dismal. At 50-yards the gun was spot on. At 100-yards I was getting groups six inches or larger.
As someone accustomed to sub-MOA groups from my other centerfire rifles, this drove me nuts. I also discovered that saving brass from a Mini -14 for reloading was nearly impossible. The thing threw brass 30 feet or more out into the range or brush.
I also learned about tiny bullets flying at high velocity that day. I put a few rounds on a steel silhouette at the 50-yard mark. No indication that I was hitting at all. When I went downrange to check my target I realized that the little FMJ’s were going through the silhouette like a paper punch. Understand–this was way before AR plate was common on ranges. Note to self: .223 rounds will penetrate mild steel with no problem.
Fast forward several months. After a couple of trips to gunsmiths, lots of different loads and lots of range time, the little rifle just would not group as well as I wanted. The immortal words of Col. Townsend Whelen kept coming back to me, “only accurate rifles are interesting.” The Mini-14 was the first rifle I ever sold. I didn’t own another .223 for a dozen years.
The Modern Mini-14
Enter the current generation of Mini-14’s. The guns are just as durable as ever, feature cold hammer-forged barrels, exhibit fine accuracy and, there are a bunch of aftermarket accessories available to help you customize your rifle.
Two weeks ago I headed to the range with two Mini-14’s and an AR for some shooting and evaluation. Both Mini’s were purchased the same day in the same store by my dad and my brother. Both are scoped and both have a couple of other interesting accessories.
All the shooting I did was with hand loaded 55-gr FMJ bullets at about 3100 feet per second. I had no failures to feed, fire, or eject with either rifle. And true to the Mini-14 I once owned they still eject brass very enthusiastically.
My dad’s Mini-14 is a stainless Ranch Rifle with the factory synthetic black stock. He has a Millet Designated Marksman 1-4×24 scope in the factory Ruger 30mm rings.
Prices accurate at time of writing
Prices accurate at time of writing
He also has an interesting accessory that helped to tighten up his groups called the Accu-Strut.
The trigger pull measures 4 pounds, 12.1 ounces, as measured with my Lyman digital trigger pull scale.
My initial impression of the trigger is that it is OK, but not great. A fair amount of take-up, a crisp break and a bit of over travel. Reset is a bit long.
I fired 3 shot groups at 100-yards to verify the rifle was zeroed. Most of the groups I shot average about 2 to 2 ½ inches. I had a few that were smaller, and a couple that was probably operator error. Regardless, the rifle hit pretty well. If I were to spend time tinkering with bullets and charge weights I believe this rifle could easily shoot 1 MOA or less.
I moved out to the 200-yard steel. A center hold resulted in center hits every time.
At 300-yards on a 10” round plate I held about 3” high from the center and made hits every time I tried.
Then on to 440-yards. The target at that range is a round plate that is about 16” in diameter. I was getting some full value wind from the right at this time so I found if I held at the right edge of the target and on the top edge for elevation I could make consistent hits at that range with no scope adjustments.
The 500-yard steel had been taken down so I tried a few shots at the 638-yard plate. Without a spotter, it was hard to tell where I was missing and the wind certainly was a factor with my light bullets. No hits for me on this trip at 638-yards.
Mike’s rifle is exactly the same Ranch Rifle as my dad’s.
This rifle is scoped with a Burris Compact 3-9 in factory Ruger rings.
He has taken the trigger group apart and painstakingly polished up all the parts that matter. As a result, his trigger pull averaged 3 pounds, 9 ounces and was much smoother than the factory trigger in my dad’s gun.
On that note–if you’re interested in some home gunsmithing, Brownells has a very detailed article on what you can do to tweak and upgrade the Mini-14.
The take-up and over travel is about the same, but the break and overall smoothness are much better.
He also has an ATI folding stock with a pistol grip and telescoping buttstock with adjustable cheek piece.
I repeated the exercise of confirming zero at 100-yards and the initial groups landed well inside the 2-inch mark. I had two groups with all three bullet holes touching. So much for the Mini-14 not being accurate.
At 200 yards, the accuracy was excellent. A center hold delivered center of plate hits every time at 200-yards.
On the 300 yard plate, I found I needed to hold at the top edge for consistent hits with this rifle. Regardless, once I had my holdover consistent hits were easy.
At the 440 yard steel, I was holding just over the top edge for elevation and just inside the right edge to account for the wind. Again, consistent hits were the norm for this rifle.
No hits at the 638-yard plate with this gun either.
It should be noted that neither of these scopes is equipped with target or zero-stop turrets so the shooter must hold the correct elevation or windage based on the conditions and range.
I also shot my Rock River Arms Entry Tactical .223 for a comparison. This rifle has a brand new Bushnell AR OPTICS 3-9 scope in a Burris P.E.P.R. mount. After initial zero at 100-yards, the AR shot the longer distance targets just about the same as the Mini-14’s.
The scope reticle has holdover marks calibrated for 55-grain bullets so my holds were pretty straightforward. Hold the third dot center at 300-yards, hit the plate. Hold dot four a bit above center at 440-yards, hit the plate. Again, no hits on the 638-yard target with the AR.
The safety on the Mini-14 is a paddle-like lever that sits in front of the trigger guard. When the safety is engaged, the shooter just pushes it forward to make the rifle ready to fire. Because of its large size, it’s easy to see and verify that the safety is engaged. It is also easy to operate without removing the hand from the rifle.
The supplied iron sights are very good with the rear sight being a heavy-duty aperture-type sight that is protected by wings on both sides and is adjustable for windage and elevation.
As you can see below, the front sight is big and bold and also protected by wings on each side.
Magazines are inserted in the magazine well tipped forward then rocked back to lock in place similar to an AK variant rifle. I used a 5-round Pro-Mag for my range time because it is easier to shoot from the bench with a shorter magazine.
Over the years my dad and brother have pretty much moved to use only Ruger factory magazines. Not all aftermarket mags have functioned reliably. That said, if you have some experience with reliable aftermarket magazines, let us know what is working for you.
The magazine release is easy to manipulate without having to look. Just press the paddle forward and the magazine will fall free or you can grab it, pull it free and insert a fresh magazine.
The bolt will lock back on an empty magazine. Once a fully-loaded magazine is inserted, just give the bolt handle a pull to the rear and release to chamber a live round.
If you need to lock the bolt open manually, just pull the bolt handle back and press the bolt stop button down to lock the action open.
The ATI stock on my brother’s rifle is pretty handy. The telescoping buttstock makes it very easy to adjust for any size shooter and the folding feature allows the rifle to be stowed and carried in a very compact case. The rifle can be fired when the stock is folded.
By The Numbers
The Mini-14 is an easy rifle to shoot and operate right out of the box. The safety is large, simple and rugged and can be used by left- or right-handed shooters. The magazine release is also easy to manipulate. I found the trigger to be a little heavy, but that can be smoothed up easily with some simple and careful polishing.
The Mini-14’s I shot were pretty good. Certainly, the accuracy was good enough for defensive work and the potential for hits beyond the 440-yards I was shooting at is there. With some fine-tuning of handloads and really finding the bullets these rifles like, I believe sub-MOA accuracy is probably achievable.
In my experience with everything Ruger, reliability is not an issue. The Mini-14 is a very robust rifle with a proven track record and a design that has served our armed forces for decades.
The weak point is aftermarket magazines. Be sure to test magazines thoroughly and when in doubt stick with factory magazines.
Anything you can do to your AR, you can do to your Mini-14. While there may not be as many options or choices you can still tune up your trigger, add muzzle devices, choose different stocks, add lights and lasers and optics and even install match-grade barrels. The Mini-14 is not the modular gun the AR is, but it is still a rifle you can add your personal touches to.
If you like classic military rifles, the Mini-14 is right up your alley. Because it can be purchased with blued steel and a wood stock this rifle might be a perfect low-profile defensive gun.
It doesn’t look scary like those awful “assault rifles.” Or you can hang stuff on it to your heart’s content and build the ultimate tactical semi-auto rifle. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Prices accurate at time of writing
Prices accurate at time of writing
Mini-14’s are a bit pricey, especially if you put one side-by-side with an entry-level AR in .223.
Prices range from about $780 to $980. With some careful shopping and parts selection, you can put together a pretty nice AR for $500 or less. I have parts in my safe right that total up to just $330 for a stock M4 build. If the budget is tight, an AR is a more economical choice in today’s market.
Overall Rating: 4/5
In the big scheme of things, the Mini-14 is a solid choice for a semi-automatic .223. You are getting a very robust rifle that will keep sending rounds downrange no matter what.
The Ruger Mini-14 is a classic. It’s reliable, customizable, highly accurate, and has some great features that set it apart from a simple AR-15. While it might not beat the AR on price, it’s a safe staple you should definitely consider owning.
Today’s Mini-14’s are worth a look if you need a dependable rifle for predator hunting, defense or just ringing steel out at the range. The Mini-14 is fun to shoot, accurate enough to hit silhouette size targets at 400-yards and beyond and will be a rifle you can pass down to the next generation of shooters.