Are you looking for a .223/5.56mm rifle? Not a fan of the AR-style platform? One more question, ever shoot an M14? If the answer to these questions is “yes”, then read on. (Or, if any of the answers are “no”, read on as well!). The non-AR aspect is obvious, from the photos but what about the M14? Let’s look at the Mini-14’s history as an answer to that question.
The Mini-14’s Backstory
In 1973, Bill Ruger and L. James Sullivan designed a new rifle, chambered for the .223 (5.56mm). The heat-treated receiver is investment-cast and is similar to the M1 rifle. Both guns have a self-cleaning, fixed-piston gas system. Looking at the original Mini-14, we see that it used a rear aperture (peep) sight with big wings in place for protection but no scope bases. Those features changed in 1982, when a new folding rear sight and integral scope bases were added to the receiver. Scope rings came with each rifle after the changeover.
A new variation, the Mini Thirty, was brought out in 1987. The caliber was 7.62×39. This was at a time when that caliber of ammo was available in quantity at really low prices, from importers. Considering that the 7.62×39 is just about ballistically equal to the venerable .30-30, many deer have been laid low with it. Another update in 2003 saw a few changes in the Mini-14’s accuracy, styling and production costs. Actually, the standard Mini-14 was discontinued then. That name, Mini-14, then became the overall group name for all Mini-14 rifles. Starting in 2005, all Mini-14s were based on the Ranch rifle design with integral scope bases, a non-folding rear aperture sight and a winged front sight. Also introduced was a modified gas system that was put in place in order to reduce barrel vibrations – these guns are supposed to shoot a 2 MOA group (2 inches) at 100 yards. The most recent change involves the barrel. Around 2007, a heavier, larger-diameter barrel was installed that tapered from the gas block to the muzzle. Add in changes in tolerances and the newer guns have the propensity to display greater accuracy. (source, Wikipedia)
Models and Variations
As of now, Ruger makes the Mini-14 in three overall models: Mini-14 Ranch, Tactical and Mini-Thirty. Here’s the breakdown:
- Ten variations, including distributor specials. All have an 18.5” barrel and are in caliber 5.56mm. Variations include stock material (wood, polymer, laminate) and metal (blued or stainless). Prices range from $999 to $1139.
- Six variations. These include 16” barrels and 20-round magazines. Finishes include blued and stainless. There is one model with a pistol grip and railed handguard. Prices range from $1069 to $1169.
- There are six models here with capacities ranging from 5 to 20. Blued and stainless finishes are available, and either 16” or 18.5” barrels are listed. Prices range from $1069 to $1169.
So, no matter what you are looking for in a short, handy .223/5.56mm rifle, Ruger probably has you covered. And, if you want it in a slightly-fatter caliber, there’s the 7.62×39.
I ordered the plain-jane, blued Ranch rifle to try. Even so, the gun is good-looking – the dark blue metal goes well against the lighter wood stock. Here you go…
Magazine in place
Top of receiver, above and below
Front sight with wings
Removable handguard – just pull and it pops off
Buttstock with sling swivel
Rubber recoil pad
Barrel band with front sling swivel
Two 5-round magazines
Scope rings, included in the box
|Length of Pull:||13.5”|
Why A .223 Like This?
I’ve had some shooters, mostly younger, tell me they’d never shot a rifle with a wood stock – their exposure to long guns had been limited to the black AR-style pattern. I think this is too bad, a shame really. As I say elsewhere in this piece, I have nothing against the MSR – I own two of them and shoot them. It’s just that, before the AR-15, wooden-stocked rifles were the norm. Sure, there were stocks made out of materials other than wood 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. Is this rifle useful? Of course – why would I even ask that, you might wonder. Because some shooters might look at it and just see a yard-long-plus firestick that looks like it 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. This is one gun that you might take with you as you hop on your four-wheeler (or four-legger) 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 just have a pistol or revolver on your belt as you do your same chores but there is no question that the Mini-14 is way more powerful than most any handgun you could pack. If you run into several coyotes, say, you are ready. This eventuality is getting more and more plausible as coyotes encroach into our living areas. So, you might want to have a gun with you that would solve that problem quickly and humanely. 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? So, even if this rifle may not be 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
Shooting The Mini-14
For those of you who shoot AR-style rifles in caliber .223, the 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 those that rifles have had since the first shoulder-fired weapons were hoisted into action. You have the buttstock and the forearm. That’s it. No pistol grip, no rail up front from which to hang other grip options…just the stock and forearm. To some shooters, this is not a good thing as they have gotten used to their ARs with all sorts of options hanging off their rails, while to others the fact that this gun looks like a traditional, wooden-stocked rifle is a great thing. Personally, I like both styles but am old-school enough (and just plain old enough) to really appreciate a fine-grained hardwood stock. I do like, on the other hand, the modularity that the “black rifle” offers. I can customize my ARs to my heart’s content and set them up exactly as I want them. But… that really pretty hardwood stock… wow. There’s just something about a fine-grained hardwood stock next to nicely-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. At least the warmer temperatures help and the melting snow is slowly 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).
I own, and shoot, my ARs. I have a .223/5.56 Del-Ton upper kit on a local lower and a Diamondback Firearms DB-9R 9mm rifle. I have each of them hosting a very small amount of customization in terms of pistol grip, trigger, etc. Mind you, neither are very far from standard in terms of upgrades – I use plain iron sights, no bump-stocks, no fancy lights, lasers or scopes, no sonar or radar, no heat-seeking ammo…they work just fine as they are. So, what about the 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, as I said above, 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, in their original form, 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. And, that says a lot. If you own a Mini-14 (or -30), comment below. As always, keep ‘em in the black and stay safe!