When the ban on assault weapons sunset in 2004, many companies began offering AR-15 type rifles and M4 carbines. Colt held the patent on the AR-15 platform until 1977, but a popular alternative at the time was the Ruger Mini-14 rifle. How does the Ruger Mini really stack up against an AR-15? To find out, I’ll compare the current wood-stocked Mini-14 Ranch Rifle (most similar to the original) to the Windham Weaponry A1 Government, which is closest to the original AR-15 A1 available at a similar price point.
About the Ruger Mini-14
Sturm, Ruger Company introduced the Ruger Mini-14 in 1973. The scaled-down .223 caliber semi-automatic-only version of the U.S. Military 7.62 NATO M14 became an immediate hit.
The Mini-14 has a well-deserved reputation for reliability. It uses a self-cleaning gas piston assembly to the system used in the M1 Garand. I have never had or seen a Ruger-Mini jam, whether used with .223 ammo or 5.56 ammo. (I have seen plenty of AR-15s/M16s jam.)
Before the U.S. military’s 1033 program distributed surplus M16s to law enforcement, the sheriff’s office I worked for issued stainless steel Ruger Mini-14s for use on patrol. These were less expensive (at the time), more reliable when neglected and easier to use. In fact, when the office took advantage of the 1033 program, three of the four sergeants opted to keep the Ruger Minis.
Ruger Mini-14 Specifications
Operating system: Garand-style, self-cleaning, fixed gas piston/moving gas cylinder
Stock and forend: Hardwood; models also available with black synthetic stocks
Construction: Investment-cast alloy steel
Barrel: Cold-hammer forged; 18.5-inch length; original model had a pencil-thin barrel; 1×9 twist; no flash suppressor
Sights: Ghost ring aperture rear/blade front; integral scope mounts; receiver is drilled and tapped for included optional Picatinny rail segment
Capacity: Proprietary magazines original capacity 20 rounds; 30-round magazines available from Ruger and aftermarket companies
Magazines lock into place in the same manner as M14 and M1A by rocking back after insertion. The magazine is released by thumb lever at rear of the magwell. Two 20-round magazines are included.
Safety: Garand/M1A ambidextrous trigger guard safety
Overall length: 38 inches
Weight: 7 pounds
Caliber: 5.56mm/.223; Different models currently available in .300 Blackout and 7.62×39
About the Windham Weaponry A1 Government
Note: I did not get a chance to physically test the Windham Weapon A1 Government Model. However, I currently have two triangular handguard-style ARs and am thoroughly familiar with the type.
The Windham A1 is similar to A1 Colt AR-15s that have been available on the civilian market since the mid-1960s. The A1 style of AR-15 is considered the original Vietnam-era “jungle rifle.” I prefer the handling and balance of the full-length AR-15 A1 rifle over the M4 carbine or pistol ARs. They shoot more smoothly, have less muzzle blast, are more reliable and wring out the maximum velocity from 55-grain 5.56mm bullets (3,200 feet per second).
I am an AR-15 fan and have owned a fair number of them over the years. However, as much as I like the platform, I know it isn’t without idiosyncrasies, just like the Ruger Mini-14 is not without idiosyncrasies.
Windham Weaponry A1 Government Specifications
Operating System: Standard M16 direct impingement gas operation
Stock and Forend: Solid, synthetic A2 buttstock with trapdoor storage compartment/triangular forend
Construction: A1 Receiver, forged 7075 T6 aircraft aluminum with A1 carry handle
Barrel: 20-inch A2 profile with A1 birdcage flash suppressor; 4150 chrome moly vanadium 11595E steel; 1×7 Twist
Sights: A1 dual-aperture rear/adjustable front post in A2 base
Capacity: 30 rounds (20-round G.I. mags available from Ruger and aftermarket); One 30-round magazine included
Magazines lock by straight insertion — must be “push-pulled” to make sure they are locked in. Magazine release is on the right side of the receiver and operated by the index finger for right-handed shooters.
Safety: Standard AR rotating lever with markings on both sides of receiver
Overall length: 39.5 inches
Weight: 7.45 pounds
Caliber: 5.56mm/.223; multiple other chamberings available in different models
Comparing the Ruger Mini Rifle to the Windham A1 AR-15
Though they don’t look alike, in a number of ways, the Ruger Mini-14 and Windham A1 Government are similar. Both are chambered for the intermediate 5.56mm/.223 intermediate cartridge. These firearms are also lightweight and relatively compact. Additionally, they have low recoil and are proven in law enforcement and/or military service. These incredibly popular sporting, hunting and self-defense arms are priced similarly. But there are plenty of differences to consider when choosing one.
The Ruger Mini-14 is incredibly reliable. In the very rare event that it jams, one can easily clear it due to the open-top action. It is a tough little all-steel gun.
However, there are some peculiarities to understand with the Mini-14.
- Only Ruger makes the Ruger Mini-14. That is why the model selection — which is actually quite good for a company that makes a wide range of firearms — is limited in comparison to the iterations of the AR-15.
- The Mini-14, specifically the original pencil-barrel model, had a reputation for mediocre accuracy. At the time, that was probably true. I had no problem hitting 100-yard targets with it. Today’s models have much-improved accuracy.
- Aftermarket options and accessories are more limited than the AR.
As a predator control, sporting or defensive rifle, there are minimal complaints against the Ruger Mini-14. Some peculiarities of the AR-15 system (in general; not specifically the Windham A1):
- Because of the direct-gas impingement operating system, carbon-fouled hot gases are blown directly into the bolt carrier, and thus, the chamber area of the rifle.
- The safety/fire control selector is not ambidextrous.
- The AR-15’s tower sights are a bit more difficult to work with than the Mini-14’s, which are positioned more directly over the bore.
- To maintain reliable functioning, you must properly lubricate the AR-15.
- Scope-mounting options on an A1-type AR-15 rifle are limited, and the line of sight for the optic is well above the carry handle.
All in all, both firearms make good sport, hunting or defensive guns. Which is better will of course vary by owner. If you have decided you want to own a semi-automatic copy of America’s longest-serving battle rifle and are willing to pay attention to proper maintenance and operation, then an AR-15 is for you. But if your interest is strictly utility, I would recommend the simpler to operate of the two: a Ruger Mini.