Rugerís New Mini-14 Target Rifle

 

by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn

March 28th, 2007

 

 

 

Rugerís wonderful little Mini-14 has been with us for well over thirty years now, and it has endeared itself to thousands of shooters, hunters, and law enforcement officers during that time. It is a relatively simple semi-automatic carbine based on an improved Garand gas system.

The gas operating system on the Mini-14 series of rifles uses a fixed piston that is extremely reliable and durable. It works and works well. Lots of AR-15 shooters are jubilantly peeing their pants over the latest craze of piston-operated AR-15 rifles, as if it was a new idea using as gas piston. The concept is very old, and even older than the AR-15ís direct gas impingement system. Both systems work well when properly executed. I have never heard of a Mini-14 gas system breaking. The Mini is one of the most reliable semi-autos ever built.

The only criticism of the Mini-14 that I ever hear is the complaint of inaccuracy, which is largely unfounded.  The original Mini was never designed as a target rifle, as was neither its inspiration, the M-1 Garand and M-14 rifles. Both of these legendary rifles can be made into very accurate target guns, but the original service grade weapons were built for combat, not accuracy.  It seems that shooters do not mind at all spending a pocketful of cash to make a Garand into a target rifle, but complain when a Mini-14 wonít deliver one-hole performance right out of the box. That ainít right. The Mini was never intended to be a target rifle. It is a hunterís arm, and an excellent fighting weapon, and for both of these purposes, the Mini-14 is every bit as accurate as it needs to be, while maintaining its delightful handling qualities.  Same thing with the AR-15 rifles. In their original form, they are plenty accurate for battle and hunting, but making them into target grade weapons requires adding weight and bulk to the handy little carbine.

Despite claims by some that the Mini-14 is not accurate, that has not been my experience. Using quality ammo produces good accuracy. Many shooters want to buy the cheapest gun show third-world surplus ammo that they can find, and expect target grade performance from their Mini-14, blaming the rifle when it doesnít deliver. Our nation has for the most part turned from a nation of hunters to a nation of paper shooters. There is nothing wrong with shooting paper targets, as it tells us much about a rifleís performance potential.  However, shooting from a machine rest atop a solid bench tells us little about field performance.  Still, shooters demand rifles that shoot tiny groups, and Ruger has responded with the subject of this review; the Mini-14 Target Rifle.

To the basic Mini-14 design, Ruger has added a hammer forged heavy profile barrel and a stock that is well-suited for bench work. The twenty-two inch barrel measures .786 inch diameter forward of the gas block, and .669 inch under the hand guard to the rear of the gas block. It has a one-in-nine-inch rifling twist to accurately stabilize long, heavy bullets, but still works well with short, light bullets also. The heavy barrel profile adds stiffness and a greater ability to absorb heat than does the standard barrel profile used on the original Mini and the Ranch Rifle. The most noticeable feature of the Target Rifle is the harmonic barrel tuner. This device is attached  near the muzzle, and by loosening four Allen screws, a shooter can fine tune the barrel vibrations for the best accuracy with a particular load. The device has a wide latitude of adjustment, and works along the same principle as the Browning BOSS system introduced a few years ago, but the Ruger unit is much more substantial and offers a much wider range of adjustment. The rifle can be fired with the harmonic tuner in any position, or with the unit completely removed from the weapon. In practice, it works just like a handloader fine tuning his load for the best accuracy, but the Ruger device offers the same tuning advantage even when using factory ammunition, with the minute adjustments made to the rifle instead of the ammunition.

The stock of the Target Rifle is a gray/black laminated wood, with a radical thumbhole design that is very comfortable to shoot from a bench or an improvised rested position. The bottom of the fore end is wide and flat, adding to the stability of the weapon from the bench or an improvised field rest. The thumbhole stock is entirely ambidextrous, as is the location of the safety, which is one of the better features of the Mini-14 design and its predecessors, the Garand and M-14 service rifles. I shoot left-handed, and have never had a problem with a Mini-14 shooting from the port side. It is a very user-friendly design, and the new Target Rifle stock makes it even more comfortable to shoot.  The new stock and barrel profile add weight to the Mini, and the sample rifle weighed in at nine pounds and five ounces.  This added weight also lessens the felt recoil of the already mild .223 cartridge. That will be a welcome feature to bench shooters and prairie dog hunters, who sometimes shoot hundreds of rounds in a session.

The metal on the Target Mini is a matte stainless steel, and is an excellent material for such a rifle. It is low maintenance and good looking.

The overall length of the Target Rifle is forty-two and one-half inches, but is adjustable by adding/removing the buttplate spacers between the stock and recoil pad. The Target Mini has no open or aperture sights, but comes supplied with Rugerís integral scope bases and detachable rings.  The rifle is supplied with one five-round magazine, but will use any Ruger or aftermarket Mini-14 magazines as well. The trigger pull on the Target Mini measured just over three and one-half pounds, which is lighter than on any other Mini-14 that I have ever fired. It is a pretty decent trigger feel. I like a bit lighter trigger for precision target work, but  the Mini trigger worked well for me, and is a pretty good compromise between bench and field work.  It can also be improved a bit by some careful stoning of the sear surfaces, but this should be left to a good gunsmith, if you are not experienced in such matters.

While the new Mini-14 Target Rifle offers the features for which shooters have been asking, the proof is in the shooting. For general use, I mounted a Leupold 3.5 to 10 power VX-L scope. This design allows a very large objective scope to be mounted over the Miniís relatively high handguard. It is a great choice for hunting with the new Target Rifle, but for serious bench rest paper punching, I mounted my Leupold 6.5 to 20 power target scope. This scope allows me to fully exploit the rifleís potential accuracy, at least to the best of my ability. The Ruger performed well. Shooters who have been hollering for better accuracy from the Mini-14 can now shut up and shoot. 

I tried the Target Rifle with a variety of factory and handloaded ammunition, and every load tested exhibited less than one minute-of-angle accuracy. Every five-shot group fired went into one inch or less at 100 yards, every time. I tried no steel-cased cheap junk ammo in the Mini, but used quality factory ammunition from Black Hills and Winchester, along with a few of my own handloads. Even the Winchester 62 grain full metal jacket (FMJ) white box ammo performed well, and it is affordable enough for plinking.

The groups pictured were typical of those fired on the day of accuracy testing. Accuracy and velocity testing was done at temperature of around seventy-eight degrees Fahrenheit, with a light wind and sunny conditions.  The velocities were checked on only four different loads, as the sun was quickly setting and I ran out of reliable light for chronograph work. Velocities were recorded using a PACT chronograph, and the results are listed in the chart below. The velocities are listed in feet-per-second (fps), and bullet weights in grains.

Ammunition Bullet Weight Velocity
Winchester  FMJ  62 grains 3062 fps
Black Hills V-Max 55 grains 3191 fps
Handload Softpoint 55 grains 3126 fps
Winchester Silvertip  55 grains 3027 fps

The accuracy of the Black Hills 55 grain V-Max load was especially satisfying, placing five shots into just five-eighths of an inch at 100 yards, and this was repeatable all day long, until the ammo ran out.  As stated above, I was well pleased with the accuracy of every load tested.

For those who have been wanting a target grade heavy-barreled Mini-14 without turning to the aftermarket; it is here. For those who want competitive accuracy from a .223 semi-auto that is not an AR-15, this is your baby. The new Ruger Mini-14 Target Rifle fills the bill, and it is available right now, without a long wait on a custom gun.

Check out the full line of Ruger products here.

For the location of a Ruger dealer near you, click on the DEALER LOCATOR icon at:  www.lipseys.com.

For a look at fine Leupold optics, go to:  www.leupold.com.

Jeff Quinn

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Click pictures for a larger version.

 

Ruger's new Mini-14 target Rifle.

 

 

 

 

The Mini-14 Target features Ruger's integral scope mounting system.

 

 

Gray/black laminated target-style stock adds weight and excellent ergonomics.

 

 

Operating handle is robust.

 

 

Harmonic barrel tuner allows the gun to be tailored to the ammunition for optimum accuracy.

 

 

Safety is perfectly located for right-handed or left-handed shooters.

 

 

Bolt hold-open button.

 

 

Among the accuracy enhancements found on the Mini-14 Target Rifle is a heavy barrel.

 

 

The Mini-14 Target Rifle will accept any factory or aftermarket Mini-14 magazines.

 

 

Leupold's VX-L scope easily clears handguard.

 

 

Some of the factory ammo used in testing.

 

 

The Mini-14 Target Rifle can shoot!