Mini-14 Ranch Rifle [Hands-On Review]

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.

Mini-14 in Bermuda
Mini-14 in Bermuda military service

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. 

5.56x45mm
.223 Remington / 5.56x45mm NATO

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.

The ejector in a Mini-14, -probably
The ejector in a Mini-14, probably

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.

ShootSteel (8)
Take a look at our review of Shoot Steel’s targets if you’re looking to set up your own!

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.

Ill be back

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.

Mini-14 (7)
Nice deep markings

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.

Mini-14 (4)
Two Mini-14’s ready to ring some steel!

Dad’s Rifle

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.

980
at Cabelas

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.

Mini-14
Accu-Strut Mounted on my dad’s Mini-14

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.

Mini-14 (1)
400 Yard Target Through the Millet Scope

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

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.

Mad Scientist
Don’t forget to use your Mad Scientist laugh after you finish your upgrades!

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.

130
at Cabelas

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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. 

Mini-14 (9)
440-Yard Target Through the Bushnell Scope

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.

Mini-14 Features

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.

Mini-14 (6)
Mini-14 Safety Lever

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.

Mini-14 (10)
Adjustable Rear Sight

As you can see below, the front sight is big and bold and also protected by wings on each side.

Mini-14 (3)
Front Sight–Painted White for Better Visibility

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.

Mini-14 (8)
5-Round Magazine Inserted. The Magazine Release Lever is at the rear of the magazine well

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.

Mini-14 (2)
Bolt Handle on Right Side of Rifle

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.

Mini-14 (11)
Bolt Stop Button — Press Down to Lock the Bolt 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.

Mini-14 (5)
ATI Stock in the Folded Position

By The Numbers

Ergonomics: 5/5

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.

Accuracy: 4/5

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.

Reliability: 5/5

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.

Customization: 4/5

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.

Looks: 4/5

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. 

Classic Mini-14
770
at Palmetto State Armory

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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.

Mini-14 Modernized
950
at Palmetto State Armory

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Price: 3/5

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.

Pew Pew Upgraded AR-15s
Pew Pew Upgraded AR-15s

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

Tell us about your favorite Mini-14 and how it performs for you! Check out our Best Optics/Scopes article and Best .223 Ammo to fully kit out your Mini.

18 Leave a Reply

  • Joe fasano

    I have a mini 14 S S it is the best gun I have. I never miss the target at 100 yards..I love it..

    3 days ago
  • QuietM4

    Double the price of an entry level AR, takes harder to find magazines, can't hit a pie plate at 200 yards? Where do I sign up?

    4 days ago
  • James

    Mini 14's never shot well for me and I have had several new rifles that were made way back when. I tried a new rifle several years ago when WalMart stores were getting out of the AR and mini 14 business. This one shot no better than the earlier mini 14:s. Will never purchase another. I'm 69 old and have been shooting center fire rifle's since I was 15. Shot a 1/4" group last week with a 22/250 Marlin rifle and have watched several fellows at the range shoot 1/2" groups with there black rifles. No comparison to the mini 14's that are lucky to produce 2" groups at 200 yards. Just my 2 cents worth. Jim Owner Jim's Gun Shop

    4 days ago
    • B

      Exactly, I feel the same. My mini is junk and cousins is not much better. My thoughts were my 1984 mini rifle is junk, my cousins 2016 mini is junk what the heck happened in over thirty years? My 10/22 is junk and mini 30 is not to bad. Over all Ruger semi autos are too loose.

      4 days ago
  • Andrew Baker

    Best feature on Mini-14's: you can chamber a round from a locked bolt by bumping the buttstock against a hard surface (ie, tree, ground, foot) Worst feature: its very front heavy.

    4 days ago
    • Richard

      Shooting 2 1/4 groups from my SS 1984 mini at 100yd. No failure to feed ever. Can’t say the same for my AR. If it doesn’t go bang when you pull the trigger it’s catastrophic failure. I’m good with a little bigger shot group in exchange for reliability.

      1 second ago
  • Stephen Roth

    My experience with the Mini 14 was less than wonderfull! Back in College I liked to shoot Ground Hogs for friends who had farms and they were a pest. Having served in the Vietnam Era of the Army, I carried the M14 with great success best marksman in Basic out to 600 Meters with iron sights. When i purchased my Mini it was a new 181 series. Everything good except once 3-4 shots were fired, all bets are off where the bullets went? Sold it as soon as i could, very dissapointed. However a friend has a SS Ranch that shoots very well out to 400Yds. on steel. I am a M16/AR15 owner now, have one of the original Delta H-Bar kits with the Bayo Lug, unbeleavable accuracy. Happy with my Suppressed M-21 308, but very heavy and not shootable everywhere. Too big for Ground Hogs? LOL!

    4 days ago
    • B

      The h bar ar is nice and my Ruger semi autos are junk. I'd rather shoot my ar build over my h bar and my minis any day.

      4 days ago
  • Michael A Brodine

    Being M-16 qual. for a number of years some may think it’s a natural that I choose AR-15’s or it’s many clones but wrong. My shooting need are different I’ve used 3 different Ruger mini 14’s. Today my needs could be home protection, Cary as a carbine in the field, good range shooter & ammo availability/fun. Sweet for this old shooter & admired Bill Ruger.

    5 days ago
  • Mark Rohfrietsch

    BTW, the investment cast parts on this rifle are way rougher and poorer quality of finish than they were back when this rifle was introduced. For anyone who remembers the millions of rounds that the original "A-Team" put through their Mini-14s; and never hit what they were aiming at; the TV show was on the money.

    5 days ago
    • Barnett Frankel

      Perhaps they never hit anything because it was a "family friendly" show? Never saw any blood in the fist fights either.

      4 days ago
  • Jimmy Williams

    Paid $400 for a mini 30 12 years ago. Takes a mediocre round through an AK and turned it into a tack driver with cheap ammo readily available. I’ll keep this rifle for a long time. An AR? Apples and oranges. I have an AR-15 and AR-10. Totally different platform. My AR’s are heavier and slower to manage. 8 years in the Corps and I would take my mini 30 for 200 yards and under all day long. My opinion. Shoot what you shoot best. Always.

    5 days ago
  • Mark

    I bought a stainless with the wood stock back in the 1980's and thought "what a cool rifle". I bought it for coyote hunting and groundhogs. Regardless of what ammo I put through it the first round would be on point, and each consecutive round flew further from center zero. 10 round groups looked like 40 yard 12 ga. buck-shot. Honestly the worst rifle I ever owned. It has tainted my opinions of Ruger in general, and I will likely never buy an other Ruger produce. BTW, on their Mk III and IV pistols; there have been three that I know of that the cocking knobs have seperated from the bolts requring Tig Welding back on. QC has slipped, and in the case of the mini 14; nice rifle, handled nice, but like the old adage says: "Could not hit a bull in the ass with a scoop-shovel". I bought a cheap unfinished upper and lower; built an AR15 using the cheapest components available; home-load; and shoot sub MOA. With AE bulk ammo; 4" all day. Way better than any Mini 14 I or anyone else ever fired.

    5 days ago
  • Robert Mccallum

    Between the additional cost of the rifle and mags,..add mediocre accuracy . how could anyone pick this over an AR-15 ? I mean the whole point of a firearm is to got the target

    5 days ago
    • Robert Mccallum

      *hit the target

      5 days ago
  • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    Wish I still had my Stainless Mini with an early Choate foling stock. I can't today justify the additional cost over an AR, but I liked the ergonomics and close-in handling.

    5 days ago
  • Monte Walsh

    Good point on the mags, spend the dime and get quality. Also remember you need mini 14 mags, AR won’t work. Many guys and rural departments used the mini 14 as a patrol rifle before the AR became the norm, some still do. It’ll also handle 5.56 if necessary.

    5 days ago
  • Paul Davis

    Do you know of anyone makes a fin or paddle for the pistol grip on a mini 14 Spartan stock?

    5 days ago
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