Ruger Mini-14 - better than an AR? Hands-On Review

Ruger Mini-14 – better than an AR? Hands-On Review

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If you’re in the market for a rifle in .223 / 5.56mm many AR manufacturers will be competing for your attention. The Ruger Mini-14 with its classic looks and wooden stock may not look like a typical tactical weapon.

Don’t let this fool you!

Quick to action, accurate and serviced by a wide range of aftermarket parts. The Mini-14 can give the AR a run for its money.

Let me take you on a tour of this storied rifle. It’s a doozy.

Ruger Mini-14 Models and Variations

Ruger makes the Mini-14 in three models: Mini-14 Ranch, Tactical and Mini-Thirty. Here’s the breakdown:

Ranch

  • 18.5″ barrel
  • .223 / 5.56 NATO
  • Wood, polymer or laminate stock
  • Blued or stainless metal finish
  • $999 to $1139
Ruger Mini-14 off bags

Tactical

  • Shorter 16″ barrel
  • .223 / 5.56 NATO
  • Extended 20-round magazines
  • Wood or polymer stock
  • Variants include a pistol grip, railed handguard and foldable stock
  • Blued or stainless steel finish
  • $1069 to $1169

Mini Thirty

  • 18.5″ or 16″ barrel
  • 7.62×39
  • 5 or 20-round extended magazines
  • Wood, polymer or laminate stock
  • Blued or stainless steel finish
  • $1069 to $1169

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Ruger Mini-14 Ranch

We’re going to look at the regular, blued Ranch rifle.

Even so, the gun is good-looking – the dark blue metal goes well against the lighter wood stock. Here you go…

Ruger Mini-14 with magazine on the right
Ruger Mini-14 with magazine on the right
Ruger Mini-14 on left with magazine
Ruger Mini-14 with magazine on the left

Why a .223 like this?

Shooters, usually younger, tell me they’d never shot a rifle with a wooden stock. They had only shot black AR-style long guns. This is too bad.

I have nothing against the MSR – I own two and shoot them. But before the AR-15, wooden-stock rifles were the norm. There were alternatives but wood was the king of stocks.

So, why a .223 like this? Because this is what rifles used to look like, before the MSR concept took over.

Ruger Mini-14 Handguard
Handguard
Ruger Mini-14 receiver on the right with mags
Ruger Mini-14 receiver on the right with mags
Ruger Mini-14 buttstock
Buttstock
Ruger Mini-14 butt-pad
Mini-14 butt-pad

Why buy the Ruger Mini-14?

Is this rifle useful? Of course – why would I ask that, you might wonder… because some will take the Mini-14 and see a yard-long-plus firestick that belongs in the last century. But, as Bob Hope always said, “I gotta tell ya” that this gun performs a few tasks very well.

For one thing, it IS only a yard-plus in length – it is very handy to wield (especially in tight spaces). This would make a good home-defense gun, coupled with a good flashlight. Keep a couple of magazines loaded and within reach and you should be good to go. 

Another reason for this gun’s existence is summed up in its name – ranch rifle.

Ruger Mini-14 front sight with ears
Ruger Mini-14 front sight with ears
Ruger Mini-14 rear sight
Rear sight close up
Ruger Mini-14 rear sight
Second close up of Ruger Mini-14 rear sight

An excellent ranch rifle

This is one gun that you might take with you as you hop on your four-wheeler to check fencelines, run tree rows, check stock tanks…you get it. It’s small and light enough to throw in that four-wheeler and not get in the way.

You could, of course, always have a pistol or revolver on your belt as you do your same chores. But there is no question that the Ruger Mini-14 is way more powerful than most any handgun you could pack. If you run into several coyotes, say, you are ready.

Also, don’t forget that the gun has built-in scope bases. Ah, I can hear you… this is a Mini-14 and won’t be accurate at 300 yards so a scope isn’t needed… am I right? Well, who says it needs to be accurate at that distance? And, how do you define accuracy? Even if it’s a 3-MOA rifle, that means that it should put its bullets into a 9-inch circle at 300 yards. I do think that a coy-dog’s chest is about that size, right?

Even if the Mini-14 rifle isn’t suitable for shooting golf balls off a table at 500 yards… it should still be plenty accurate enough for casual, unplanned “gun fun”. And sometimes, that’s the best use of all for a gun.

Ruger Mini-14 top of receiver
Ruger Mini-14 receiver on the left
Ruger Mini-14 chamber
Ruger Mini-14 barrel band sling swivel
Ruger Mini-14 barrel band sling swivel
Ruger Mini-14 Scope Rings

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Shooting the Ruger Mini-14

For those of you who shoot AR-style rifles in caliber .223, the Ruger Mini-14 might feel a bit different to you. This rifle has no buffer spring under your cheek slamming back and forth and no rails to attach doo-dads on.

This limits your gripping options to the buttstock and the forearm. That’s it. No pistol grip, no rail up front from which to hang other grip options… only the stock and forearm.

To some shooters, this is not a good thing as they got used to their ARs with all sorts of options hanging off their rails. To others the fact that this gun looks like a traditional, wooden-stocked rifle is a great thing. I like both styles and am Old School enough to appreciate a fine-grained hardwood stock.

The modularity that the “black rifle” offers is also great. I can customize my ARs to my heart’s content and set them up exactly as I want them. But… that pretty hardwood stock… wow. There’s something about a fine-grained hardwood stock and blued metal in a rifle.

So, we shot the gun.

Since the gun belongs to my friend Ed, I encouraged him to shoot it while I shot him – with my Canon. We had fun, setting targets up and seeing how close together we could get the bullet holes. The warmer temperatures help and the melting snow is uncovering my backyard range. Now I can see the brass in the grass!

I didn’t save any targets – we only shot a couple – but the gun put all its shots in a tiny circle, albeit a bit low but centered. This dog will definitely hunt. (Ed had an extended mag from his previous Mini-14 — I’d think that would be the way to go, to avoid loading five at a time).

Ruger Mini-14 with 5-round mag in place
Ruger Mini-14 5-round mags

Mini-14 in Conclusion

I own, and shoot, my ARs. In my collection I have a .223/5.56 Del-Ton upper kit on a local lower and a Diamondback Firearms DB-9R 9mm rifle.

Each gun has a small amount of customization… usually the pistol grip and trigger. I use plain iron sights. No bump-stocks, no fancy lights, lasers or scopes, no sonar or radar, no heat-seeking ammo… they work fine as they are.

So, what about the Ruger Mini-14? Does it do the same job?

You bet.

You may not have a gunshop counter’s worth of equipment hanging off rails, but what you do have is a well-built, solid little gun that packs a pretty big wallop.

If you are in need of an easily-maneuvered rifle in the .223 class, here you go. With its aperture rear and guarded-post front sights, the gun is quick into action.

Or mount a scope on it for a bit of longer-range accuracy. Any way you want to use it should work and give satisfaction.

Not all rifles are black with adjustable buttstocks and rails! There are still a few around that have stocks that might attract termites – and I say “great!”

I implore those of you out there who may have never shot a wooden-stocked rifle to pick up a Mini-14 the next time you see one in your favorite gun shop and heft it. You might be impressed by how easily it comes up, ready for whatever. That says a lot.

If you own a Ruger Mini-14 (or Mini Thirty), comment below. As always, keep ‘em in the black and stay safe!

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34 comments
    1. Lonnie, what stock does yours have? The black glass-filled nylon? Have you tried finding a 3rd-party stock, or one from Ruger? Let us know if you find one and thanks for writing.

  1. Mike,thanks for a great review. I think you left out one great reason to get a Mimi-14. Exactly the same functionality as the scary mil style rifle that the wackos don.t understand, so, mostly the gun grabbers will probably leave you alone

    1. Rob, yeah, that was in the back of my mind. Others have mentioned that, as well. Hopefully, we won’t have to find out. Thanks for writing!

    2. Except in Canada. Trudeau’s unilateral gun ban included the Mini-14 as a now-forbidden weapon.

      1. Richard, too bad. I think those of us below the border might be interested in a quick summation of what you can legally own in Canada. We are constantly vigilant as to our laws and Second Amendment rights. I really appreciate your comment!

  2. I really like this rifle, with its self-cleaning gas cylinder. I’ve tried to find a Mini-30, preferably in SS finish, but there are none to be found…anywhere!

    1. Marc, yeah, I feel your pain! Hopefully that will change. Here’s to your finding one soon. Thanks for writing!

  3. I’ve had a Ranch Rifle with a 1.5 – 5 x 24 scope mounted with quick removal rings for over 30 years and have had a lot of fun with it as my “Truck Gun.” Never had a problem of any kind. Thank you Bill Ruger and crew.

    1. Rusty, glad to hear you’ve had such good luck with yours. They are great guns, for sure. Thanks for writing!

  4. Hello Mike, it’s been awhile. All of your articles are Top Notch. Personally I have been thinking about the Mini 14, and Walla, Mike has an article. I wanted to let your readers know about the SCR Rifle Lower, it can be found at FightLite.com. a very good looking lower, that will pretty much take a plethora of uppers. If you haven’t already Mike, check it out, and I would like your opinion maybe in an article, of the plusses and minuses. Keep those articles coming Sir.. thank you.

    1. Keith, if they can send me one to try. I’d be glad give it a go. I’m always up for new products (new to me) to test. Thanks for writing!

  5. Tks Mike. A Mini what is the first gun I bought as a mature adult 30 years ago. And you’re right about the looks. it is a classic. It is also a workhorse. I’ve never hunted with it, as it’s a little small for deer, but I’m sure looking forward to a chance to go coyote hunting or wild hog hunting with it. Thanks for doing the review.

    1. Buckeye, it would make a nice close-in coyote gun. In some states .223 is deer-legal but I stick with “fatter” bullets. Thanks for writing!

  6. I have a mini 30 and I feel the same as you do about it’s “Wooden” looks. The 7.62×39 shoot just great, even with Wolf ammo. Mine is wood and stainless and it looks just great. I also mounted a 3x12x40 scope on later but the regular sights work just fine, unless you just can’t shoot and want to blame the rifle. It’s also almost tripled in price since I got it! Thanks for letting me respond.
    Jenks

    1. Jenks, talk about a great, handy deer rifle! I always wanted the Mini in 7.62×39 – a good combination. Thanks for writing!

  7. bought a 180 series back in the early ’70’s. would like to put a scout scope(ala jeff cooper) on it, but the front mount cost more than i paid for the gun!

  8. I have a Barska 1.5-6 IR scope on one of my Ruger rifles; I think that might be a good choice for this one. Just enough and not too much.

  9. My experience with the Mini 14 was in the late 70’s. A buddy happened to own one, and I got to handle and shoot the rifle on several occasions. I found it to be fairly accurate and fun to shoot, but at that time of my life, a .223 held no interest for me. When the Mini 30 hit the market, surplus SKS’s were well under $100, and picking one up was easy, as nearly every gun store in the area had a barrel full of them in a corner. I wish I’d had the foresight to have bought more than one, because finding one for under $400 is a rarity in my neck of the woods.
    The Mini 14 has been around now for nearly 50 years and it still has a loyal following. In all that time, I’ve only seen a half dozen or so on the “Used” rack at the LGS’s. That says volumes to me about its longevity and its popularity among its owners.
    Since I own several AR platform rifles, I’ll most likely never buy one, unless a too good to be true deal comes along. But for those worried about the future status of the AR, the Mini 14 is a viable option to consider.
    Good review Mike, I enjoyed reading it and revisiting my memory of getting to shoot a Mini.

    1. Bemused, I agree about the Mini-14 being an alternative to the AR. It’s also interesting that those who one tend to keep it. Thanks for writing again!

  10. Mike I bought a Ruger Mini-14 many years ago . SS with scope base and Rings came with it. It has the 188 Prefix and while I would love to put the new “Military” Type sites on it , They will not fit and I would have to buy a new rifle to have them….or so I was told. Perhaps a Good Gunsmith could work some magic……I dunno.

    I bought a SS M-1A/M-14 type 4 Inch or so Flash Suppressor with the Winged front site and bayonet lug but I have as of yet to knock off the front site and put it on.

    I Love the rifle, it will do most anything ( IF NOT everything) an AR-15 Carbine will do In Fact I will give the Mini-14 A bonus in making it A LOT easier to “Butt Stroke” someone with it’s Solid Woodstock than any AR Platform with it’s collapsible Stock!
    I am NOT saying it cannot be done….I am just saying it is a lot easier. REMEMBER USE OF FORCE means using the MINUMUM AMOUNT Of FORCE Required to stop the threat, IF that means using Deadly/Lethal Force then so be it but only use it as a Last Result.

    There are those out there that believe Would Stocks have Soul! Those same individuals also believe the Black Rifles without Wood have no Soul!

    I firmly believe every firearm has a soul that speaks to you…if you only know how to listen.

    But I do firmly believe that Wood Stocks do offer a warmth and feeling that Plastic just cannot provide.

    I love my Mini-14 enough that I would never trade it in for a new one and the flip up rear site does the job I ask for it or of it to do. Besides adding the 4 inch Flash suppressor will add length and I really don’t trust myself to replace it, since I do not have the proper tools and I don’t care to risk scarring the muzzle in removing the fixed front site and it’s band.

    I will meet a decent Gunsmith that I will trust to do the job eventually.

    I read somewhere that there are plastic/rubber or some such type bushings that can be added to the action and will increase accuracy, reduce recoil, and/or some such…but not seen anything else about them since. Then again I have not looked
    Mike, do you know anything about such ? Anyone?

    I have contemplated on finding a rail that will fit the scope base and placing an ocular or ACOG type site but have not done any serious thought on it. Just something about adding such to the Wood Stock Mini, seems to me to take away something from it, Part of It’s Soul Maybe,…. and it’s clean Beauty Lines.

    1. Bingo, I don’t know much about the upgrades you’re talking about but I’m sure someone out there does. Can anyone help here? Thanks for writing again!

      1. Mike I meant to add Thanks for your kind words and ALSO that the rear site is a fold down site so one can use a scope on the Mini-14 Ranch.

        I put a regular Black Nylon Web/Weave Sling on it. The same Sling used on ARs and M-16s. It works for me and does all I can possibly ask for it to do.

        I know of those that prefer Leather Slings, I have no qualms or issues with them. That is clearly their choice to make and what works for them.

        I cannot recall who made the M1A type Flash-Hider/Suppressor. I bought it Many Years ago before we had Home computers and Laptops and Tablets, and so called “Smart Phones”, Let alone “Dumb Ones”..
        Peruse the links below and you will find at least 6 or maybe more “Upgrades” and even a complete Stock change that seems to turn the Mini-14 into a very compact firearm sort of resembles or is sort of similar to a Bull Pup. There is a 4 point adjustable Gas Block, A Bipod, among other suggestions. for Modifications or Addons, to consider or think about.

        All the best of Good things be with you! (and keep writing!)

        1. Bingo, thanks again for the kind words. Yeah, there seems to be a small cottage industry that has grown up around the Mini-14 and -30…that’s a good thing, as it means these guns are as popular now as ever. Thanks for writing again!

  11. I do own a Mini-14 – I bought it maybe 35 years ago – and the most “use” I’ve given it is to take it out of its box, 35 years ago. I really can’t answer why, and I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve thought to myself why don’t I take it out and put a few rounds downrange through it. But nevertheless there it sits. You have given me motivation, so the next time I go out I’ll take it and shoot it. I’ll even buy a sling for it – that’s the least I can do for it. You’re a matchmaker and you didn’t even know it! Thanks for your articles.

  12. I have a MINI 14 its about 40 years old. I put a lot of rounds down range & other places. The barrel is not so good now. Ruger said they do not have them any more.

    1. Thomas, you mean they don’t have replacement barrels? Did you talk to someone there? You may want to try again, as I’d think they could replace the barrel. Let us know how it goes. Thanks for writing!

  13. Mike– I enjoyed your review on the Mini 14 rifle. It brought back a lot of memories. Mine is of the first generation produced in the early 70’s. Being of a tactical nature even at that time I bought the rifle with modifications in mind. The first thing to go was the standard stock and was replaced with a paratrooper folding stock. You still have a nice hardwood stock surrounding the receiver and barrel section but a tubular metal butt stock which has a spring loaded detente and when pushed in allows the butt stock to fold along the right side the receiver. The butt pad also has a detente which allows it to fold flat against the bottom of the folded butt stock. It makes for a compact unit which can still be fired from the folded position. Folded the rifle is 28 Inches long and extended it is 37 1/2 inches long. The early rifles didn’t have built in scope mounts but there was a removable cover on the left side of the receiver which could be removed and an accessory scope mount plate could be installed for a side mount scope base. As an aside I noticed that plate is still present on the rifle you reviewed. I mounted a 2.5 power Leupold and began to test loads. They wondered around a lot on the target and after inspecting the scope mount and accessory plate I noticed no matter how tight the hex head bolt was tightened on the scope plate it still moved a bit up and down and left and right. It was just a friction fit against the receiver with nothing to hold it in place. I think a shallow dimple on the side of the receiver so the hex bolt would have a place to bottom out on would correct that problem and hold the scope mount more solid. I didn’t think of that until later and removed the scope mount and ordered a Millett target grade adjustable peep sight. Since it was a drop in unit to replace the factory peep I was in business. The early mini 14’s were not none for stellar accuracy and even with the new target grade peep sight groups at 50 yards were still around 2 inches. I figured barrel harmonics may be the issue so I picked up three 2 piece clamping shaft collars and began to experiment with placing them at different areas along the barrel. low and behold with all 3 up tight against stock and gas block they dropped to a small cluster on the target. With groups under an inch at 50 yards with the peep I never seen the need to play with the scope mount. Maybe as the old eyes getting less clear I will check into it. Have a good day Mike and God Bless. Bill

    1. Bill, sounds like you know your Mini-14s! You have some great experiences under your belt-I’m glad you figured things out. Thanks for writing!

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