Ruger introduced its Mini-14 in 1972 and advertised it as “the smallest of powerful small arms.” With its 20-round magazine, it took the shooting world by storm for 32 years before the AR-15 became “America’s rifle.”
The Mini-14 is essentially a scaled-down semi-automatic-only version of the U.S. Military 7.62mm NATO M14. It was a traditional all-American rifle made of wood and steel. Long before “Ranch Rifle” was used simply to separate it from a wide variety of other models, the Mini-14 was advertised as a small, reliable autoloader for ranchers and outdoorsmen.
Today, Ruger offers six models (not including distributor exclusives) of the Mini-14: three wood-stocked models, two blued steel and one stainless. I requested a traditional blued steel, hardwood-stocked Model 5816 for review.
About the Mini-14 Ranch Rifle
The Model 5816, which was shipped with two five-round magazines rather than a 20-round magazine, is very similar to the original Mini-14. Modern updates have improved it over the original.
The Mini-14 action, with the charging handle located on the right side operating a rotating bolt, is based on the M1 Garand, the M1 Carbine and the later M14. The action is cycled via a self-cleaning gas piston. Gas piston actions operate more reliably and are easier to maintain than the direct impingement system of an AR-15.
The safety lever — located inside the trigger guard and totally ambidextrous — is the best manual safety system ever designed. It only operates when the rifle is cocked. To apply it, pull the safety back into the trigger guard with the trigger finger. Then, to take it off, push it forward with the trigger finger. It is extremely positive and quick. The Mini has an easily operated, manual bolt hold-open button mounted atop the receiver.
Over the years, accuracy-enhancing features have been added to the original Mini-14. Ruger added a stouter tapered barrel and improved the gas system to reduce vibration. Along with adding a Picatinny rail to mount a greater variety of optics, they also added front-sight protecting wings and integral scope-mounting bases with rings. All these improvements increase the weight of the Mini-14 from 6.4 pounds to 7 pounds. Nonetheless, the Mini-14 is an excellent-handling, compact rifle.
Weight: 7 pounds
Overall length: 38 inches
Barrel length/twist: 18.5 inches/1×9 RH/Cold-hammer forged
Stock: Hardwood/sling swivels included
Barrel/action construction: Investment-cast blued alloy steel
Length of pull: 13.5 inches
Sights: Blade front with protective ears/Rear aperture fixed/Scope rings and Picatinny rail included
Firing the Ruger Mini
The Ruger Mini-14’s curved magazine (true to form) loads in the same manner as the M1A/M14 and AK-47. So the bottom of the magazine partially inserts with the base facing slightly forward and is then rocked back to the locking position.
With the shorter five-round magazines supplied, there was barely enough room to get my hands on it to rock it back into place. Fortunately, I had purchased a Pro-Mag 20-round magazine before make loading run smoother. Pro-Mag has Ruger Mini-14 magazines available with capacities of 10 to 42 rounds, while Ruger has magazines available with 5 to 30 round capacities. The Pro-Mag 20 rounder loaded easily and functioned flawlessly.
My range test produced no surprises. The Mini-14 Ranch Rifle was as smooth shooting and gentle as ever. When I purchased an original Ruger Mini-14 in 1982 with wooden handguards, expectations for 100-yard accuracy were 4-inch groups. Ruger’s enhancements tightened accuracy to 2 inches at 100 yards.
I fired at approximately 25 yards from standing and kneeling. Based on my grouping, 2-inch groups would be easily attainable if fired from rest at 100 yards. There were no malfunctions, and the action was left clean as a whistle.
Worth Buying the Ruger Mini-14 Ranch Rifle?
Why choose the Ruger Mini-14 Ranch Rifle with an MSRP of $1,299 over a standard Ruger AR-556 with an MSRP of $989? Having observed the operation of both the Mini-14 and AR-15 rifle types as a deputy sheriff/firearms instructor with the Union County Sheriff’s Office, I believe there are several reasons.
- The Ruger Ranch Rifle is reliable. The stainless-steel Ruger Ranch Rifles at Union County never malfunctioned in training and qualification even when they weren’t cleaned or lubricated as called for. The same couldn’t be said of the GI M16s we got from the government or the personal ARs also carried on duty.
- Any of the Mini-14 models are extremely clean-shooting.
- The Mini-14 is more compact and easier to stow and carry than an AR-15 or AK-47.
- It is easier to mount optics within the natural line of sight on the Mini-14 due to the ergonomic curve and drop of the Mini-14 traditional rifle stock.
- The 18.5-inch barrel has more velocity potential than the AR-556 or a 16-inch M4 barrel.
The Ruger Mini-14 represents a solid alternative to the AR-15 for those who aren’t planning on heavily modifying or customizing their rifle. It’s a great multi-purpose shooter ready to go right out of the box.