Compared: Rock River Arms Coyote Carbine Versus the Ruger Mini-Thirty

By Randy D. Smith

AR style hunting rifles are very popular. AR manufacturers have responded to demand and refined their products to meet special hunting market niches. Many companies market AR style rifles for deer, varmint, predator, and big game. Rounds like the .308 Winchester, .458 SOCOM, .204 Ruger and 6.8 SPC provide flexibility to AR designs. AR�s are offered in special heavy barrel configurations with match grade triggers and more scope friendly options. The AR modular configuration makes it possible for companies to custom outfit their product to a buyer�s unique preferences without dramatic price differences. It is easy, for instance, to order an AR rifle specifically designed for long and short range coyote calling.

If you are a hard core coyote caller, at least one of your rifles should probably be a semi-auto. An accurate bolt action is an excellent choice for most predator calling situations and a good single shot is adequate for most open country hunts. The lever action and semi-auto are credited for being superior for multiple coyote responses and often work very well in thick brush or tall grass where shots are often fleeting.

I was slow getting on the AR bandwagon. Well, really, to be honest, I haven�t made it there yet. My difficulties with semi-autos have involved accuracy and balance. I�m on my third Ruger Ranch rifle. The Mini-14 first appeared in the 1970�s and is designed to resemble the M-14 battle rifle. There are a number of Mini-14 configurations offered by Ruger including the Ranch, Laminate Target, Tactical, All-Weather and an ATI stock model. Ruger Minis are offered in .223, 7.62X39 (Mini-30) and 6.8 Rem SPC.

My first Mini-14 Ranch Rifle was an All-Weather model. It took coyotes very well for a season, but I never warmed up to it. It was accurate enough for most circumstances, but I never considered it a good long range choice. At the time I was hunting a lot of open country and my shots were much longer than they normally are today. I opted for the superior long range accuracy of bolt action rifles. As Conservation Reserve Program acres increased, I found myself calling most often in heavy grass cover and the majority of my coyotes are taken at ranges of 40 to 80 yards. This is bit far for a shotgun and I seldom get a credible backup shot with a bolt action.

I decided to try an AR rifle strictly designed for predator hunting. After some shopping around, I chose the Rock River Arms Coyote Carbine with a 16� heavy barrel, Smith Vortex Flash Hider, two-stage match trigger, winter trigger guard and an Operator A2 stock. One of the market leaders in AR style firearms is Rock River Arms of Colona, Illinois. Rock River Arms produces AR hunting models for several rounds in Varmint, Predator, and Coyote configurations. I had a Bushnell 3200 4-12X waiting for the right rifle. I hoped I would have a handy semi-auto rifle for close range work with superior long range capability and perhaps replace two rifles with one. I remained with the .223 Remington round for economy and practical hunting advantages. I still consider the .223 to be an excellent coyote round. I don�t see any reason to fix what isn�t broken.

RDS with RRA Carbine
RDS with RRA Carbine.

The RRA LAR-15 Coyote Carbine is a very clean design with a flat topped receiver for scope mounting. The fixed length Operator A2 stock is a short 13� LOP. The stock features a comfortable ambidextrous cheek weld, battery storage compartment for electronic calls and multiple sling mounts. The hand guard is a trim Hogue overmolded free float tube. The twenty-round magazine mount is compact, so it is easy to shoot off a variety of platforms. It has a Wylde chamber which is compatible with both .223 civilian and 5.56mm NATO rounds. It is relieved in the case body to improve extraction and features a slightly shorter throat for improved accuracy. The Coyote has a 36� overall length and weighs only seven pounds, the same weight as a Ranch Rifle. The trigger configuration exhibits virtually no creep. The Coyote Carbine handles nicely in a set of cross sticks and delivers outstanding, bench accuracy. Rock River�s claim of �� MOA at 100 yards is right on the mark. This rifle easily rivals my bolt action .22-250 Savage and .223 Ruger 77 MKII on the target range. It shot every bullet weight I cared to load, from 40 to 75 grains, with minimal shift or spread and no misfeeds.

Sounds like a practical rifle, doesn�t it? Should be exactly what an old predator hunter/writer needs to do his articles. Well, my problem is that I was also testing a Ruger All-Weather Mini-Thirty at the same time and I could not afford to buy both. I bought the Mini-Thirty and sent the Coyote Carbine home.

My reasons are probably not representative of many, but I felt the Mini-Thirty better met my needs. My problems with the Coyote Carbine (and all AR style rifles for that matter) were high purchase price, high maintenance and cleaning demands, my general dislike for AR rifle balance--especially the short LOP--and the overall looks of an AR style rifle.

Is one rifle superior to the other for coyote hunting? I guess that answer depends upon what a hunter wants. The RRA Coyote is more accurate than my Mini-Thirty. I think the RRA is smoother cycling, but muzzle jump is greater. Scope eye relief differences may account for this. The RRA is a bit louder than the Ruger, but not unpleasant. I feel that the All-Weather Mini-Thirty with stainless steel finish and composite stock is more compatible for a minimal care truck rifle. The Ruger is conventionally styled with a more conservative stock design and longer LOP that will appeal to the more traditionally minded. The Ruger has conventional sling mounts and is a bit more convenient when carrying decoys and electronic callers to a calling site. A commonly available five round magazine mounts flush with the stock, so the Ranch Rifle can be carried in a saddle scabbard, a feature I still find important. The less expensive Ranch Rifle is exactly what the Ruger team designed it to be. I can throw the Ruger in the truck and forget it until there is a need and it will work very well. The Ruger does not demand as careful a cleaning regiment as an AR. Perhaps most important of all, the vast majority of my called-in coyotes are taken at ranges of 40-90 yards and a Mini-Thirty is perfectly adequate at those ranges.

RDS with Ruger Mini-Thirty
RDS with Ruger Mini-thirty.

Both carbines are extremely dependable. Both can be transported empty and quickly loaded with a magazine insertion. Both work well with cross sticks, but the RRA has a sling stud on the hand guard which works well with Harris bipods. I like my Ruger with a 1.5-6X scope as an economical medium range truck, saddle and brush gun. I can easily pull the scope for open sight use in rough conditions. I greatly prefer the RRA for long range shooting. A 4-12X Bushnell 3200 Elite scope and the RRA match grade trigger heavily influence that opinion. The Mini-Thirty 7.62X39 round is a better hog and deer choice, as well as still being very credible for coyote calling.

On a recent Knight & Hale February promotional coyote hunt, we did most of our calling in heavy snow and near blizzard conditions. I used the Rock River Arms Coyote Carbine. On several occasions I had snow accumulate in the flash hider. I feel that was a safety issue and really see little need or practicality of a flash hider on a hunting rifle. Otherwise, the RRA turned in sterling performance in very cold hunting conditions.

The Ruger Mini-Thirty is a workhorse that will function in just about any environment that someone would want to put a semi-auto. The Rock River Arms Coyote Carbine is nothing less than a state of the art predator calling rifle. It is extremely well engineered.Fit and finish are superb. Accuracy is surprising.

I cruised some sand hills and tried calling my first Saturday morning out with the RRA Coyote Carbine. A big male coyote topped a rise in a harvested milo field, as my electronic call played a dawn jack rabbit scream. He held up at a bit less than 200 yards and acted like he had suspicions. I set the Rock River carbine�s forearm in my cross sticks, dialed my scope to 8X, and adjusted the parallax until he stood out sharply in my crosshairs. I lowered the volume to try coaxing him in. He took a few hesitant steps toward me then turned broadside. I set the crosshairs dead on his front shoulder. I lost view of him in my scope when I fired. When I reoriented, dust rose from the spot where he had stood. My 55-grain soft point ripped through his front shoulder, exactly where I wanted.

I doubt that I would have made that shot with my Mini-Thirty, but I often have made similar shots with my .22-250 Savage Model 10, the rifle I use most often for coyote calling. Planned use was the basis for my final buying decision. I personally prefer the balance of a bolt action rifle for long shots and I wanted a semi-auto as an all purpose medium range rifle. If I only owned one dedicated coyote hunting rifle it would probably be the Rock River Arms Coyote. The Rock River Arms Coyote will match my bolt action rifles at long range and the Ruger Mini-Thirty at all ranges. Considering my needs and rifle inventory, however, I felt the Ruger Mini-Thirty was a better fit.

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Copyright 2011, 2016 by Randy D. Smith and/or All rights reserved.