Letter Re: Mini-14s as Battle Rifles?

Is a Ruger [Mini-14 .223] Ranch Rifle a good low cost battle rifle choice? Apparently they are not for anything past “medium range”. (Honestly I don’t know what that means.) Although the new Mini-14s [with] 580[-prefix] serial numbers are supposedly more accurate at longer ranges than previous Ranch Rifles. I am interested in going to an Appleseed event sometime later this year and was wondering if this might work for their program. Also if it is a good gun I was going to go ahead and buy the 20 round factory Ruger magazines. Thanks, – Clint C.

JWR Replies: In my opinion, even the latest production variants of the Ruger Mini-14 Ranch Rifle are a marginal compromise choice for a .223 battle rifle. But they might be a good choice for folks in California, where many other semi-auto rifles are already banned by state law. But be advised that they won’t be exempt from the proposed Federal ban. (Yes, “Ruger Mini-14” is on the updated ban list. They made it under the radar back in 1994, but they won’t in 2009.)

The drawbacks to Mini-14 Ranch Rifles that I can see are:

1.) The fragile flip-up rear sights on the earlier-production guns. Buy a couple of spares, even if you plan to use the provided scope rings.

2.) Their expensive magazines. (Buy only original Ruger-made 20 or 30 round magazines, and get at least eight of them. (The after-market magazines are most often junk that often do not feed properly.) AR-15s are inherently more accurate than Mini-14s, but they do require more frequent cleaning. It is noteworthy that magazines for AR-15s cost less than half as much as original Mini-14 magazines.

3.) They lack a flash-hider. But this can of course be quickly remedied with an aftermarket flash hider (such as those made by Choate), most of which do not require gunsmithing.

4.) Their marginal accuracy, compared to ARs. From what I’ve heard, with the possible exception of the new 580-series (et sequitur), Mini-14s shoot groups that average nearly twice as large as an AR with the same barrel length. This is a function of the barrel-to-stock contact at the lug at the front of the handguard. (Design demerits to the late Bill Ruger!) Yes, they can be tinkered with, but why pour money into a rifle to make it shoot straight, when you can get the same accuracy “right out of the box” with an AR?

5.) They lack the ubiquity of the AR-15 series. This has implications to everything from availability of magazines, to spare parts, to accessories (you can get anything imaginable for an AR), and to even training. Anyone that is prior US military service from around 1966 onward will likely already know how to handle, shoot, zero, and field strip an AR, because they are mechanically almost identical to M16s and M4s. In contrast, Mini-14 mechanical training is something that is well-known by former prison guards, more than anyone else.

So, all in all, I’d opt for an AR-15 clone or M4gery rather than a Mini-14. The AR’s accuracy, profusion of available spare parts, and readily-available magazines gives them the edge.

But again, for someone living in one of the gun-deprived states, a Mini-14 might make sense. The other notable exception is in tropical climates, where if you buy the all-stainless steel composite-stock Mini-14 variants, they’ll have better long-term resistance to corrosion than ARs.

As preciously discussed in SurvivalBlog, the next step up from an AR or AK would be an HK91 clone, such as those made by PTR91 Inc. (Formerly JLD), and up until some recent legal trouble, by Vector Arms. The 7.62mm NATO cartridge is far more capable than 5.56mm NATO, especially beyond 250 yards. The magazines for HKs are also dirt cheap. (As little as $5 each for German surplus G3 alloy magazines. That might make a big difference in the near future, since another 11+ round magazine production ban looks very likely.) I’d recommend buying an HK91 clone if you can afford it–that is if you can even find one, is today’s frantic market.