Rugerís Improved Mini-14 .223 Ranch Rifle

 

by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn & Boge Quinn

September 24th, 2006

 

 

 

I last reviewed Rugerís venerable Mini-14 Ranch Rifle back in July of 2004. I reported then that the Ranch Rifle was a handy, reliable, and accurate little carbine. I went into detail describing the rifle in that article, and do not intend to plow the same ground over again here, but instead refer the reader to that earlier article.

In this article, I will expound upon a couple of improvements that Ruger has made to their already fine Ranch Rifle.  Besides the changes to the rifle, two things conspired to renew my interest in the little carbine. First, I had a surgery in August that left me with a breastbone that needs a few months to heal. The surgeon stated specifically "No shooting, you could re-break that bone." Now, I know that "no shooting" donít really mean no shooting, but it does mean no shooting with heavily recoiling rifles. The second event that conspired to renew my interest in the Ranch Rifle was that in late Summer of this year, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, which oversees the local Rabbit Sheriff (Ed. Note: Jeff's affectionate term for "Game Warden"), allowed the use of "any centerfire cartridge" for deer hunting during rifle season.  Suddenly, the .223 cartridge and the Mini-14 became legal for deer hunting in Tennessee.  My body can easily tolerate the recoil of a .223, and with the right bullet, it should cleanly take a whitetail deer.

To me, the right bullet in this case means the Barnes X bullet, in either its original smooth-shank configuration, the blue coated XLC variation, or the newer TSX version. I realize that other .223 caliber bullets exist that can be used for medium game like whitetail, but from past experience with other X bullets, I have complete confidence in the Barnes. It is made of solid copper, and has no jacket and lead core to separate and come apart. In my experience, the X, XLC, and TSX, will hold together and penetrate as well as or better than any expanding game bullet in existence.  The .223 TSX is offered in 53 and 62 grain weights, and the 53 grain version will be my choice this deer season.  Loaded to around 2800 feet-per-second from the Ranch Rifleís eighteen and one-half inch barrel, recoil is light and accuracy is good.

While the Ranch Rifle can be had in various configurations, the one shown here is the stainless steel model with a hardwood stock. It is a handsome little rifle, with an overall length of just thirty-seven and three-quarters inches, and a weight of six pounds and fifteen ounces with the unloaded magazine. The stainless finish is a matte gray, and is pretty much maintenance free, except to lubricate the moving parts occasionally. I use Break Free CLP. It has served me well for many years.

As every hunting rifle should be, the Ranch Rifle comes supplied with good sturdy sling swivels. It also comes supplied with Rugerís built-in scope bases and detachable rings. It is a rugged and reliable scope mount system. Like all Mini-14 rifles, the manual safety is very handily placed, right in front of the trigger guard, just as John Garand and God intended.  Also like all Minis, the new Ranch Rifle strips easily for cleaning. It has a rugged and reliable gas system that needs very little care, especially with the stainless rifle.

Improvements to the Ranch Rifle include a better buttplate. The original Mini-14 and Ranch Rifle had a carbine style smooth buttplate, being made of plastic except for the earliest guns many years ago. That smooth plastic plate would slide easily if the rifle was propped on its buttplate, and would also slide around on the shooterís shoulder, depending upon the clothing worn. The new buttplate is made of a synthetic rubber, like that used on most of Rugerís other sporting rifles. It is a big improvement. The sights have also been upgraded on the Ranch Rifle. I have always been perfectly satisfied with the older sight blade. It was a strong and rugged unit. However, the new front sight wears protective wings on either side of the blade, and should prove to be as tough as an anvil. The rear sight is a great improvement over the flip-up blade on the older Ranch Rifle. It also wears protective wings, and is a sturdy aperture style.

The trigger pull on the test gun is a bit heavier than I like, releasing with about five and one-quarter pounds pressure, but that is easily lightened with a slight stoning of the hammer and sear surfaces. If you arenít experienced with this sort of thing, it is an easy job for a gunsmith to perform. Of course, if you are accustomed to the seven-pound triggers on most AR-15 rifles, and many bolt actions for that matter, the Ranch Rifle trigger will seem like a dream.

Due to the configuration of the Ranch Rifle's hand guard, mounting a scope with a large, light-gathering objective lens has always been a problem, unless the shooter was willing to use extra-high mounts. Leupold solved this problem with their new VXL scope. For more details on that scope, I refer the reader to that earlier article. Anyway, I mounted a 3.5 to 10 power Leupold VXL scope on the new Ranch Rifle, and it proved to work extremely well on this rifle, easily clearing the hand guard using the factory-supplied Ruger rings, and providing Leupoldís famous optical quality and ruggedness. It is a superlative choice of glass for the Ruger Ranch Rifle.

Sometimes the Mini-14 rifles receive a bad rap for being inaccurate. This is mostly not deserved. I have owned several Mini-14 rifles over the years, and with good ammo, they all shot well enough for sporting purposes.  If you buy some Eastern European junk ammo at a gun show and expect match-grade accuracy from the Mini, you will be disappointed.  However, good ammo should provide very good hunting accuracy. The test gun proved capable of shooting groups of under two inches at one hundred yards with all ammo tested, including military full metal jacket, commercial varmint ammo, and my handloads using the Barnes TSX bullets. The handloads grouped into one and one-quarter inches. This was with the first load tested using Hodgdonís Varget powder. I intend to fine tune this load for accuracy, but I am fully satisfied with the accuracy already exhibited. Most of my deer rifles will not do as well. The Winchester Supreme varmint ammo shot into one and one-half inches at one hundred yards.  As expected, the Ranch Rifle functioned flawlessly during all testing.

The only downside that I can see to the Ranch Rifle is the limited availability of good quality high capacity magazines. The best available are the Ruger factory twenty and thirty round magazines. They are becoming hard to find, but they are worth seeking out. The factory five-round magazine works very well, and is adequate for hunting purposes, but I prefer the larger magazines for social work. It has always been Rugerís policy to not sell these to anyone other than law enforcement, which is a shame. A man standing alone defending his homestead needs just as much or more firepower than those paid public servants who come to his aid. I think that Ruger would sell a lot more Minis and Ranch Rifles if they would also sell their high capacity magazines to the good citizens of this country. Anyway, mags are out there if you are willing to search for them, but it is an unnecessary inconvenience and expense. Aftermarket magazines are available from sources such as  Brownellís, but I have not tried any of the ones currently available. However, Brownellís has a reputation for selling quality products, and I would trust them on this as well. They are good people with whom to do business.

For many years the Ruger Ranch Rifle has been a good choice for a light, handy, flat-shooting, low-recoiling dependable carbine for hunting, plinking, or home defense. With the new improvements, it is an even better choice than ever.

Check out the full line of Ruger products here.

For a detailed look at the VXL and other quality Leupold optics, go to:  www.leupold.com.

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

For high capacity magazines for the Mini-14 and Ranch Rifle, check out  www.brownells.com.

Jeff Quinn

 

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Rugerís Improved Mini-14 .223 Ranch Rifle.

 

 

The Mini-14 Ranch Rifle is plenty accurate for hunting, and Jeff would not hesitate to trust it with his life in a Homeland Security situation.

 

 

The Ranch Rifle's handy size and excellent balance, along with Tennessee's recent decision to allow the .223 for deer hunting, will make it a fine companion for the upcoming season.

 

 

Iron sights are an improvement over the original Ranch Rifle's. A protected front sight (top) replaces the unprotected blade of the original (2nd from top), and an improved rear aperture sight (3rd from top) replaces the flip-up sight of the original (bottom).

 

 

The Ranch Rifle also comes with Ruger's integral scope mounts, along with a set of Ruger scope rings.

 

 

Rear sight allows enough clearance for mounting a scope such as Leupold's VXL (top). The VXL's innovative design allows plenty of clearance for use with standard-height rings (center and bottom).

 

 

Author sights in with the Leupold VXL.

 

 

Two good ammo choices: Winchester's 55 grain Ballistic Silvertip ammo for vermin (left) and Barnes' 53 grain TSX handload for deer (right).

 

 

Barnes TSX 53 grain bullet (left) and 62 grain bullet (right) are fine choices for handloading the .223.

 

 

Ruger's issue five-round magazine works well, but lacks in capacity.

 

 

The tried-and-true synthetic handguard has long been an identifying feature of the Mini-14.

 

 

Ruger's Ranch Rifle includes good-quality sling swivels.

 

 

Safety is perfectly located inside the trigger guard for easy use without repositioning the shooting hand, and works equally well for left-handed or right-handed shooters.

 

 

The Mini-14 easily and quickly strips for cleaning.

 

 

Hammer and sear can be easily smoothed by a competent home gunsmith, or is an easy (and inexpensive) job for a pro.

 

 

The Mini-14 features a simple and reliable gas system.

 

 

Ruger's newly-redesigned Mini-14 Ranch Rifle features some real improvements over the already-excellent original. Another winner from the Ruger stable!