Ruger Mini-14 All-Weather Ranch Rifle in 6.8mm SPC
By Chuck Hawks and Rocky Hays
Sturm, Ruger (www.ruger.com) has been building their successful Mini-14, so named because in its original incarnation it resembles a scaled down M-14 service rifle, for many years. The Mini-14 is a gas-operated autoloading rifle chambered for the .223 Remington and 6.8mm SPC cartridges. A nearly identical spin-off named the Mini-30 is chambered for the 7.62x39 Soviet cartridge.
Mini-14 and Mini-30 rifles come in several variations. For the civilian hunter/utility market we have the Mini-30 and Mini-14 Ranch Rifles. For the match shooter we have Target rifles with 22" barrels. The Tactical models are presumably aimed at the police, military and "wanna-be" markets.
Most Mini-14 rifles are actually carbines with 18.5", or shorter, barrels and the All-Weather Ranch Rifle reviewed here is one of these. It comes with an injection molded, black plastic stock and a stainless steel barreled action with a hammer-forged 18.5" barrel. (Can a military-style "black rifle" have a stainless steel barreled action? This one does.)
The stock has molded-in checkering and a black rubber butt pad. Integral sling swivels are provided, a thoughtful touch. The length of pull is only 13", which is at least ½" too short for most adult American males. The Mini-14 stock can be considered about right for women and youths. The best feature of this stock is its gracefully curved pistol grip, the shape of which would not be out of place on a nice sporting rifle. The forend, on the other hand, is square-ish in cross-section and simply stops about halfway down the barrel. It is quite ugly.
The Mini-14 is based on a Garand-style, semi-automatic action using a fixed piston gas system and self-cleaning, moving gas cylinder. There is a recoil buffer to soften the action of the operating mechanism. Ejection of spent cases is to the right and allows the use of centrally mounted optical sights. Cartridges are fed from a detachable box magazine. Five and twenty round magazines are available from Ruger for .223 caliber Mini-14's, but only a five round magazine for the 6.8mm SPC and 7.62x39 calibers. The magazine release is a lever sticking down behind the magazine.
The safety is a blade located at the front of the trigger guard, offset to one side, reminiscent of the style of the M-14 and earlier M-1 service rifle safeties. Push the safety blade rearward for "safe" and forward for "fire."
Inside the stamped, sheet metal trigger guard is a two-stage, military trigger. We measured the trigger pull as requiring a 2.5 pound first stage take-up with about 1/8" of travel followed by a 5.6 pound final release with considerable creep. However, the creep before final let-off is smooth and almost predictable. This trigger is better than we have come to expect from military-style autoloaders, although it would not be acceptable in an ordinary hunting rifle.
Iron sights are standard, consisting of a military-style protected front post and a military-style rear aperture sight that is adjustable for windage and elevation. There are integral scope mount bases for Ruger rings, which are included at no extra charge. The ring spacing measures 4" from the front of the front ring to the back of the back ring. This should allow the use of most compact scopes.
Here are some basic specifications for the Mini-14 All-Weather Ranch Rifle in 6.8mm Rem. SPC caliber:
Like all modern, military-style rifles, it is hard for us to see why this is a $921 firearm. It is clearly designed to be inexpensively mass produced. The receiver and major metal parts are investment cast or stamped from sheet metal, there is little or no internal polishing and the little carbine's external metal "finish" isn't. To top it off, the Mini-14 All-Weather is fitted with the cheapest possible type of stock. Frankly, our first impression was that we were holding about a $250 rifle, because that is what it looks and feels like. Compared to the similarly priced, but far better finished, higher quality and more expensive to manufacture Ruger M77RSI Hawkeye International bolt action carbine, well, there is no comparison. We guess black rifles are expensive because they are supposed to be "bad," an alternative reality where image is more important than quality or workmanship and which we are probably too old to understand. That said, our Mini-14 test rifle is no more overpriced than many other black rifles and less overpriced than some, especially AR-15 rip-offs, so we'll get off our soap box.
We requested the Mini-14 All-Weather for review because we wanted to test a rifle chambered for the 6.8mm Remington SPC and Ruger is the only major manufacturer (so far as we know) producing rifles for this cartridge. If the 6.8mm survives, it will apparently be because of Ruger's Mini-14 and M77 Hawkeye Compact bolt action rifles. We all owe Sturm, Ruger a "Thank You!" for taking a chance on the 6.8mm SPC. We hope that they will see fit to give it a better chance by offering it in all Mini-14 models in the future and in at least one adult size bolt action sporter. (The M77RSI Hawkeye International would be a good choice.) It would also be a nice match for the No. 1A Light Sporter single shot.
Remington, who introduced the 6.8mm SPC, offers no rifles so chambered and has no plans to offer any in the future, or so we were told. They regard their new cartridge as a dead issue and apparently do not intend to support it with new rifles.
The 6.8mm SPC was developed because US Special Forces soldiers needed a more effective carbine cartridge than the woefully inadequate (as a man stopper) 5.56mm NATO. It was designed by the Army Marksmanship Unit in cooperation with the Fifth Special Forces Group for use in the M-16 platform. This was a grass roots effort by enlisted personnel, not initiated or funded by the Pentagon.
The 6.8mm SPC (SPC stands for "Special Purpose Cartridge") is a .270 caliber round based on a shortened, blown-out, .30 Remington case with a sharp shoulder. When the GI's had the caliber and basic case design they wanted, they got in touch with Remington, whose technicians helped in testing and finalizing the design and sought SAAMI standardization. "6.8mm" is Military/Euro speak for ".270" and the cartridge uses the same .277" diameter bullets as the famous .270 Winchester.
THIS is the cartridge that US fighting soldiers want to replace the 5.56mm NATO, but Congress has already denied the military the relatively small amount of money required to convert existing M-16 rifles and M-4 carbines to the new cartridge. There are articles about the 6.8mm SPC on the Rifle Cartridge Page for those who want more information.
Here at Guns and Shooting Online, our interest in the 6.8mm SPC is not for its man-stopping power, but for its potential as a low recoil hunting cartridge. It is a good, medium range coyote, javelina and deer cartridge for women, beginning shooters and anyone who is tired of excessive recoil.
Remington catalogs four 6.8mm factory loads, all with 115 grain bullets (SD .214) at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 2625 fps and muzzle energy of 1759 ft. lbs. when fired from a 24" test barrel. Unfortunately, only two of these factory loads were actually available at the time of this review. These were the Remington Open Tip Match (BC .344) load and the Core-Lokt Ultra Bonded (BC .295) hunting load. Many thanks to our friends at Remington Arms (www.remington.com) for providing the ammunition for this review!
The actual velocity of these Remington factory loads when from our Mini-14 All-Weather's attenuated 18.5" barrel will, of course, be considerably reduced. Remington figures estimate the velocity loss to be about 20 fps per inch of barrel, or a total of about 110 fps. That would mean an actual MV from our Mini-14 of around 2515 fps. Now you can see why we prefer full length rifle barrels to carbines!
At the anticipated 2515 fps MV of the Remington Core-Lokt Ultra factory load from the muzzle of our scoped Mini-14 carbine, the trajectory should look like this: -1.5" at muzzle, +1.5" at 50 yard, +2.9" at 100 yards, +2.5" at 150 yards, +/- 0" at 203 yards, -4.4" at 250 yards. The maximum point blank range (+/- 3") of that load is 239 yards, at which distance the retained energy is 896 ft. lbs. and the optimum game weight (OGW) is 130 pounds; at 100 yards the OGW is 221 pounds.
We had a Sightron (www.sightron.com) SII Compact 4x32mm fixed power riflescope on hand that seemed the perfect size for the Mini-14. Scope mounting and laser bore sighting were straightforward propositions that we accomplished without incident using the supplied Ruger scope rings, although we found that the rifle's integral scope mounting bases were not perfectly aligned with the axis of the bore. Fortunately, the Sightron SII scope had adequate adjustment latitude to compensate. The matte black scope looked good on the matte black and matte silver finished Mini-14 All-Weather rifle and, functionally, a fixed 4x scope allows more aiming precision than this rifle needs.
Naturally, we were anxious to try the 6.8mm SPC at the range, so as soon as our test ammunition arrived we beat feet for the Izaak Walton outdoor shooting range south of Eugene, Oregon. This facility offers covered bench rests and targets at 25, 50, 100 and 200 yards. We fired three shot groups for record at 100 yards using Champion Score Keeper targets. We did our test shooting from a Caldwell sandbag front rest while sitting at a solid shooting bench.
Guns and Shooting Online staff members Chuck Hawks and Rocky Hays did the shooting. Chuck brought along his Mannlicher-Schoenauer Carbine in .308 Winchester caliber, which served as a "control" rifle during our testing.
Here are our 100 yard shooting results with the 6.8mm SPC Ruger Mini-14:
Both shooters felt that they were holding tighter groups than the rifle was delivering. This was verified by shooting groups about 25% to 33% smaller with the more powerful, harder kicking, .308 Mannlicher-Schoenauer than could be achieved with the Mini-14. The little Ruger is not a target rifle and it would be a waste of money to purchase match bullets or ammunition for this carbine.
In fact, Remington's excellent Core-Lokt Ultra Bonded hunting bullet proved more accurate in our test rifle than the Open Tip Match bullet. With this load, the handy Mini-14 All-Weather Ranch Rifle would be a good choice for woods and brush country deer hunting in areas where the range would not exceed about 100 yards. (A range limitation imposed by the accuracy of the rifle, rather than the ballistics of the cartridge.) We shot a few groups at 200 yards with the Ranch Rifle and, while we could keep the rounds on a silhouette target from a bench rest at that distance, the resulting groups were simply too large for humane deer hunting, especially from field positions.
We would very much like to try the 6.8mm SPC cartridge in a lightweight, adult hunting rifle. It would be excellent in the Remington Model Seven CDL or Ruger M77RSI Hawkeye International, for example. The increased inherent accuracy of such rifles would extend the cartridge's practical deer slaying range to about 200 yards.
The recoil from this rifle/cartridge combination was negligible. Literally, as when discussing our range experience with the Mini-14 afterward, neither of us could even remember the recoil to describe it.
Ruger named this model the "All-Weather Ranch Rifle" and it would, indeed, be a worthy companion in the back of the ranch pick-up truck, well suited to blowing away coyotes and bagging the occasional deer in season. It would also be an excellent urban weapon in the event of a social breakdown that resulted in chaotic violence. It is no long range sniper rifle, but it is light, handy, adequately powerful and sufficiently accurate to get the job done at street level. Ruger should make 20 round magazines available for their 6.8mm Ranch Rifle, as they have for their .223 caliber Mini-14's.
We can certainly see why the Army's Special Forces prefer the 6.8mm SPC cartridge to the 5.56mm NATO. The US Congress is in the process of passing a Trillion dollar, pork-barrel spending package as we write these words, yet is too cheap to appropriate the rather modest funds necessary to convert all of our military's M16 and M4 platforms to the superior 6.8mm SPC cartridge. The 6.8mm would save American lives. Our troops fighting the Worldwide War against Terrorists need this cartridge to do their job more efficiently; shame on our Congress for denying them the 6.8mm SPC!
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