Ruger’s First-Class .223: The Mini-14 Rifle

By Bob Campbell published on in Firearms, Reviews

The .223 self-loader does not have to be an AR-15. There are some who like the classic handling of a wooden dog and semi-pistol grip. Do not put down anyone and do not get into a debate, as long as the choice works for them. As for myself, I obtained a Ruger Mini-14 as soon as possible after its introduction. I found the Mini-14 an excellent choice for personal defense, police work, and predator calling.

Light haired young man in gray t-shirt sghts the Mini 14 with a wooded area in the background

Walking and firing shows the Mini-14 has what it takes to get the job done.

The rifle is sometimes called a scaled-down M14. There is nothing wrong with that; the M14 was a great rifle, and the Springfield M1A semi-auto version is great as well. I see the Mini-14 more as a modern .30 carbine updated for the powerful .223 Remington cartridge.

I have owned and used several AR-15 rifles and cannot recall a tie-up with any of them. I have used blue and stainless steel versions. The rifles are friendly in handling, reliable and accurate enough for most chores.

Why the Mini-14 is a Favorite

As for accuracy, most any carbine puts all of its shots into a single, ragged hole at 25 yards and a 2-inch group at 50 yards. I know that some AR-15 rifles cut a 1-inch group at 100 yards, and the Mini-14 gets the job done at moderate range for most.

The New York City Special Services District used the Ruger and enjoyed excellent results. That was before my time, but the special unit’s use of the M1 Carbine may have led to the adoption of the Ruger.

Brown Ruger Mini 14 lying on a wooden background.

The Ruger is inexpensive compared to many centerfire calibers and a ball of fun to fire and use.

The Ruger is also affordable. A well-outfitted Mini-14 sets you back about half as much as the AR-15. Quality is not an issue—this is a Ruger, remember? The rifle always hit where I aimed it, and it popped a few predators and feral dogs along the way. The .223 was an emphatic stopper, and I do not recall needing a single follow-up shot.

My friend, Roger, took 12 deer in a few years with his personal Ruger Mini-14 loaded with the Winchester 69-grain jacketed soft point. One shot each—on the ground and out!

The Ruger handles brilliantly fast. AR ergonomics aside, try the Mini-14 sometimes because it is a revelation. For the chores for which you may really need a rifle, the Ruger shines. However, riflemen appreciate accuracy. When we took the time to bench rest the Ruger, we discovered our handy, light-kicking rifle was not that accurate at a long 100 yards. Even with the better grade of commercial ammunition, a 100-yard group of 3 inches was excellent, but 4 inches was more common.

If you disassembled the rifle and did not properly adjust the gas block, accuracy was worse. Some sought custom-grade barrels, and those did work well. A less expensive trick is simply relieving the stock around the gas block area, and in some cases, relieving the gas block itself, stopping metal-on-metal friction.

The result was often shaving an inch off the total group size, sometimes more. With proper bedding and a bit of judicious gunsmithing, the Ruger became more useful. The point is, however, that straight out of the box, the least accurate rifles were as accurate as the US M1 .30 carbine and far more powerful.

Light haired man in black uniform leans on a silver vehicle, aiming a Ruger Mini 14

Even the older model Ruger Mini-14 was capable of staying on a man-sized target well past 200 yards. That is excellent accuracy for a relatively inexpensive rifle.

I am speaking of previous generations of the Mini-14. The new rifle features a gas block redesign that alleviates much of the concerns with the old rifle. There were no reliability concerns and still are not; however, accuracy is better. That upgrade occurred several years ago, so any Mini-14 over serial number prefix 580 has it.

New is Better When it Comes to Ruger

I am not eager to trade my long-serving Mini-14 while admitting the new product is a better rifle. That is as it should be. Some products are cheapened for ease of manufacture; Ruger has improved machinery. You can count on the current rifle for 3-shot, 100-yard groups of 2 inches with quality ammunition. The present incarnation gives you a good all-around accurate rifle. We tested the Fiocchi 69-grain Sierra Match King loading in the latest rifle.

Results were excellent with a three-shot group just under 2 inches. When you consider how light and handy the rifle is, that is excellent performance. The rifle is 38 inches long and weighs 7 pounds.

Postscript

When all is said and done, the Ruger Mini-14 is a great all-around rifle. If I trust the rifle for police service and the special units of NYPD do the same, it is probably going to do anything you need. My son, Alan, is the best shot I know, and he also likes the Mini-14. However, he prefers to load his own ammunition and the stainless steel rifle. That is fine; either is a great choice.

 

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Do you have a Ruger Mini-14? Which one do you have, and what do you love about it? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

SLRule

Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.

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Comments (91)

  • Rocky

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    The .223 caliber is better suited as a varmint round. If you like the Ruger, better the Mini 30 for use on deer.

    Reply

  • anthony damore

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    I want to buy one , the mini 14 , is it a good deer rifle ?

    Reply

  • J.D. Smith

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    I’ve got a 1991 Mini that my brother gave me, God bless ’em. Everybody, especially my 11 year grandson, loves that little rifle. The author mentioned something about during disassembley to properly adjust the gas block. Maybe that’s part of the reason empty cases get thrown out about 50 feet and get a flat spot on the case mouth on mine. Could someone tell me about a gas block adjustment for a Mini-14?

    Reply

    • wxl

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      The gas block adjustment for accuracy is just torque all 4 screws evenly and don’t over tighten. This could be a little tricky if the screws are staked from the factory. Use threadlocker loctite when putting the screws back. To fix the over gassing problem you have to replace the gas bushing inside the block with a smaller one from Midway or Great Western Gunsmithing. You can purchase an adjustible gas block from Accuracy Systems, but that will run you $140.

      Reply

    • J. D. Smith

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      Thank you wxl, I will check into this.

      Reply

  • Michael

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    I have a stainless Mini 14 that I bought in the early 80’s after reading Mel Tappen’s “Survival Guns.” It is still my favorite gun. I have not noticed any accuracy or reliability problems. I think that the criticisms of the accuracy are irrelevant musings of gun range commandos, wannabes and techno shooters. Even if they only get 4″ groups at 100 yards, so what? If you are in the real world, and can put a bullet into a 4 inch circle at 100 yards, then you are getting the job done. I spent 30 years in the military, and know the AR inside and out. It’s a great rifle, but I think that the Mini 14 is better. More reliable, easier to clean, and easier to clear if you do have a malfunction.

    Reply

  • Michael

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    Well written article. It seems like today everyone has to something they like, and everything else is “garbage” or some other unprintable description. It’s good to see a review that showcases the abilities of the mini without bashing either it or the AR rifles – they are all good (unless they are made in some crappy factory in a third-would country). I wanted an inexpensive .223 and the range rifle was perfect for my needs. The AR variants are nice also, just not the choice for me.

    Reply

  • chris

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    ihave 1986 20gb great rifle good accuracy for a semmi auto assult weapon i wuold say most acuraccy issues are due to the trigger i did a triger job and improved the overall performance an accuracy i would recomend the mini 14 to anyone alonng with a quality trigger jbo

    Reply

  • ned

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    Older gen with accu strut. Swapped stock for an ATI and mounted a red dot scout style. Very easy to shoot with both eyes open and accurate enough for the sights @ 150 yds on ‘yotes, etc. I use a scoped ar for chucks and longer shots. You can never go wrong with a ruger.

    Reply

  • Fj Cirone

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    I was givin a 182 series Mini M14 from a friend. I love it. Wooden stock,exposed slide et al. What a pleasure it is to shoot. Wouldn’t trade it or change it for anything…

    Reply

  • will-i am

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    Mr. Campbell, I’ve been a long-time follower. Good writing, keep it up please. I agree with you 100% on the mini-14. I’m retired from Ga. Dept. of Corrections, with 10+yrs. as a firearms instructor. Being able to purchase your own firearms is conducive to proficiency. Though carry of personal firearms is not recommended, even if allowed in certain depts of law-enforcement, practice with dept.-approved items does establish familiarity ,and therefore, proficiency.
    I have the Ranch model, and the first five rds. were covered by a nickel @ 75 yds., the max range at that particular institution (with factory peeps). I definitely cannot do that now, But with a B-Square mount for the other model -14 -( the shoulders fore/aft under the set -screws needed re-contouring), I can access either the factory peeps or the red-dot or the 3-9×50 Bushnell at will. That very first group was with dept.-issue FEDERAL AMERICAN 55gr. ball. I have 1 box put away somewhere but the only loads I shoot now are Win. 46 gr. varmint (Two-legged species who just happen to ‘accidently’ stumble into my home at most-inopportune times), and a hand-load straight out of the Speer #10 manual. I substituted the 70 gr. bullet with the Sierra 63 gr. at first, and recently with Nosler’s 64 gr. bonded iteration. The Sierras, Speer’s 70gr., Win.’s 64gr p.p. and Hornady’s 60 gr spire point were/are still extremely accurate, but I want to try the Nosler on some the hogs that are invading my deer’s space and they are complaining. Rotator cuff injury makes it extremely painful with the larger calibers-.30s and above after a few rounds of practice and such, but who can shoot just a few rounds and call it quits?
    Regardless of those nay-sayers who dispel the accuracy of the Mini-14s, mine is extremely accurate. So much so in fact, my daughter and the grandkids argue over who gets to use it, and I just sit back, knowing that when they leave, I’ll have all to myself.- After I check the bags and vehicle before they leave; that is. Can’t be too careful, can you?
    Will….I’m gone.

    Reply

  • Willie Smith

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    I have a 1st Gen mini 14… Very heavy but shoots well… I recently cleaned and oiled it. Now it won’t throw the round into the barrel or spit the fired round… The slide doesn’t go back far enough… What is the problem?

    Reply

    • Thomas Monroe

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      Just read about your problem with your mini-14. It`s possible that while cleaning your rifle bore, you may have partially plugged up the orifice to the gas block. There is a small channel drilled into the rifle bore that allows gas from the fired round to pass into the gas block. The gas block, in turn channels gas to the piston and the bolt. Insufficient gas pressure to the bolt and piston can cause the rifle to cycle improperly. This can happen during cleaning since the copper and powder solvent turn the deposits into sludge which we can accidentally force into the orifice with the bore brush or cotton patches. using a lot of gun oil in the bore can make the problem even worse. It may be necessary to remove the gas block from the barrel to clean out the small channel drilled in the bore. to prevent this in the future, you should brush out the bore with a dry brush to remove the excess powder residue, before using the solvent chemicals. this minimizes the sludge that can plug up the gas channel in the bore. if this does not help, check the long floppy spring that returns the bolt to the closed position. Make sure it`s not binding, and that it`s properly seated in the front of the receiver. Hope this does it for you

      Reply

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