Black Rifles & Tactical Guns

Gun Test: Ruger Mini-14 Tactical

By Mike Cumpston, GUNS Magazine

Now approaching its 39th year, the Ruger Mini-14 family has broadened its practical “footprint” from casual recreational shooting and outdoor utility to police and military applications. There is a target version set up to deliver match-grade accuracy and now a civilian-oriented Tactical Model with features the company once reserved for officialdom. Magazines of 20- (supplied) and 30-round capacity are now available to all.

It is still basically, a scaled-down M14 with most features common to the M1 Garand. It now has, in addition to the standard aperture and post sights and receiver-integrated scope base, a full cluster of accessory rails. These include a 7-inch top unit for forward mounting of LER Optics, 2-1/4-inch rails forward on the handguard ideal for a variety of lights and lasers. There is another of the same underneath the end of the stock. This has an indwelling stud for sling or bipod and a fixed sling mount under the gas block.

The Advanced Technology International stock has a fingergrooved pistol grip, bilateral sling studs with a third under the end of the butt. There is an abundance of alternative means for mounting a sling on this arm. The stock has the familiar 6-position feature with a cheekpiece adjustable or removable to allow use of the iron sights. A defining feature is the sturdy spring-loaded locking system that permits the stock to fold forward and lock alongside the action. The Mini-Tactical can be fired from the hip and the overall length of about 28-1/2 inches puts it comfortably over the legal minimum even if the flash-hider should be removed. Even sans-accessories, the Mini-14 balances just ahead of the magazine giving the 7-plus-pound carbine a desirable muzzle heaviness that makes it fast on target and lends steadiness for quick off-hand shots.

The safety mirrors the M1 Garand. It is located in the front of the triggerguard and requires a conscious nudge to move it forward to disengagement. The action is gas operated employing a fixed piston/moving cylinder that operates a modified Garand rotating bolt. The bolt-lock is located on the left side of the action and holds the action open when actuated by the magazine follower. A visible button on top allows the shooter to lock the action open with the magazine removed. The bolt will cycle with the safety engaged—which it should be while inserting the magazine and loading the chamber or while unloading. The charge handle also functions as a forward assist in the very unlikely event that the function would ever be needed.

The magazine must be placed in the well, angled and then rocked back into lock-up more or less like an AK-47. Likewise, removal requires pushing forward on the magazine release and rocking the base of the magazine forward rather than pulling it straight down. The carbine does not have a magazine disconnect and can be used as a single shot with the magazine removed. Ruger warns that, as is the case with any semi-auto firing from a closed bolt, long strings of fire can make the chamber hot enough to cook off rounds. Best practice is to refrain from the mad-minute and routinely remove the chambered round after any prolonged course of fire. Dismounting for routine cleaning requires no tools and is well covered in the owner’s manual.

Our sample Mini-14 is paired with an L3 EOTech holographic sight designed for police and military use. It has a 65mm window and an AR-556/223-specific reticle consisting of a circle and four approximately 1-minute dots arranged vertically extending to the center of the circle with an apparent 4 minutes between each. The reticle array is red with intensity adjustable by side-mounted arrow-marked buttons. Windage and elevation are adjustable by recessed, step-less screws on the opposite (right) side. Powered by one CR123 battery noted for extended shelf life, the unit claims several hundred hours of continuous use. It is set to go into a battery saving “off” mode after 8 hours with user option of 4 hours.

Mounted on the Mini-14 top rail, the sight is at an ideal height with the cheekpiece on the ATI stock. It is very quick on target and easy to pick up at ranges out to 50 yards. It also works very well on black paper targets for precise shooting at 100 yards but not so much so against the lighter-shaded Zombie targets on hand or red-on-white sight-in targets regardless of the selected intensity. It was fine for practical shooting at such targets but I stuck with red-on-black for bench groups.

From The Bench

Ammunition selected ranged from the green-tipped surplus M855 ball round to my standard, accurate handload using a Nosler 55-grain Ballistic Tip. I included the full array of Hornady TAP (Tactical Application Police) loads as they are specifically designed to deliver optimum stopping effect with controlled penetration and should be very well suited for home protection. The lighter bullets are designed to perform well in very short barrels while all of the loads are designed to fragment on impact with expansion media and even the 62-grain Barrier Load is designed to stop after the 16 inches the FBI considers the ideal maximum in ballistic gelatin.

Overall, my bench groups were in the smaller end of the range usually predicted and reported for the Mini-14s. They were fairly consistent and I would not claim my results are predictive of the relative accuracy of the tested loads. They are representative of several groups with each round. Notably, the group with the 5.56 M855, 62-grain ball might overstate the accuracy as I fired a couple of groups that were in the 5-inch range. Conversely, it is quite likely that a shooter equipped with magnifying scope sight might get significantly tighter groups than I did.

Gripping the cultural consciousness at this time is the Zombie Apocalypse. Various cablevision venues encourage the citizenry to prepare for the Zombie A as the scenarios closely resemble a number of real-world major Uh-Oh situations that are likely to happen.

The other things of course, are wild hogs. I laid in a supply some zombified hog targets of the Darkotic Spattering type from Birchwood Casey. The ghost ring/shielded post irons were useful out to 50 yards firing unsupported and easily acquired with the ATI cheekpiece removed from the stock. The Darkotic Splatter Pigs are actually about the size of a small dog but it was easy to keep moderately paced shots on the snout at 15 and 25 yards and tight clusters on the head from various supported field positions at 50 yards.

The Mini-14s are noted for reliable function and the sample Tactical Model lived up to this reputation. My one complaint stems from difficulty in correctly inserting the magazine. This would probably become second nature with practice. Many shooters will find the Ruger carbine an attractive alternative to the AR and AK-based tactical carbines. Depending on the shifting market vectors, the Mini-14 Tactical at less than $1,000 retail could prove the economical option compared to similar arms.

Photos By Robbie Barrkman

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