Ruger Mini-14 Ranch Rifle

By Ryan Feeler

Ruger Mini-14
Illustration courtesy of Sturm Ruger.

I have been intrigued for a while by the Ruger Mini-14 series of rifles for a couple of reasons. My grandfather brought an M1 Carbine back from World War II and they are very similar in design and usefulness to the Mini-14. He also picked up a sporterized M1 Carbine at some point that I carried in the deer woods when I wasn’t big enough to carry much else. In addition, my father is a longtime Ruger fan. As a result, I have spent most of my adult life hunting with one of his extra M77 rifles chambered in .30-06 Springfield.

The only thing that kept me from immediately pulling the trigger on the purchase of a Mini-14 was the rifle’s poor reputation for accuracy. I read several reviews and the consensus was that Mini-14 rifles built from rifle’s introduction in the 1970’s through 2005 typically grouped from 3-6” at 100 yards. Since one of my main purposes for buying this rifle was actually hitting what I was aiming at, that type of accuracy was unacceptable. However, I also read that Ruger had retooled their manufacturing plant in the middle part of the decade and the newer models (with serial numbers starting at 58X-) were much better, reportedly due to improved manufacturing tolerances and a heavier barrel. Those types of claims are common in gun reviews, but I was willing to give Ruger the benefit of the doubt and buy one to see for myself. I settled on a stainless steel ranch rifle with a wooden stock. The rifle specifications are as follows:

    ·        Model:  05802 (stainless steel ranch rifle)

    ·        Catalog #:  KMINI-14/5

    ·        Caliber:  .223 Remington

    ·        Magazine Capacity:  5

    ·        Action:  Garand-style semiautomatic

    ·        Sights:  Ghost ring adjustable rear aperture sight, protected post front sight

    ·        Scope mounts:  Integral to receiver

    ·        Scope rings:  Supplied

    ·        Weight:  7 lbs

    ·        Overall Length:  38”

    ·        Barrel Length:  18.5”

    ·        Barrel Twist:  1:9” (right-hand)

Two things jumped out at me as I removed the rifle from the box. The first was the overall handiness of the firearm. While 7 pounds is not an ultra-light rifle, the short length and the well-balanced feel truly make the rifle easy to carry. People often debate the definition of a carbine, but this rifle should fit whatever definition people arrive at. The second thing that jumped out at me was the trigger. The factory trigger is a two-stage military type design and the second stage was horribly long and creepy. I knew it would pose serious accuracy problems.

I outfitted the rifle with a Leupold VX-1 2-7x33mm scope after swapping the high rings supplied by Ruger for some of medium height. This rekindled my appreciation for Ruger’s standard process of machining scope bases into the receiver of their rifles and including scope rings in the purchase price. It saves time, money and hassle.

I took the rifle to the range for an initial break-in and some preliminary accuracy testing. I did most of the shooting with factory loaded Hornady 55 grain FMJ ammunition. The first range trip was mainly to get a feel for the rifle, so I didn’t spend a lot of time measuring group sizes, but most of the 3-shot groups fell between 2” and 3” at 100 yards with the scope set at 7x. Similar results were received with factory Hornady 55 grain V-Max ammunition, with a similar (though not identical) point of impact. I was confident that the rifle was capable of far better if I could get the trigger fixed, since it was impossible to hold the crosshairs of the scope on the center of the Shoot-N-See target I was using. I happened to be shooting a couple of deer rifles at the same range session (Browning A-bolts with replacement Timney trigger springs) and the difference in trigger performance was dramatic.

After doing some research, I decided to send my trigger to John Baker of Great West Gunsmithing in Salem, OR to see if he could improve the second stage release. At this point I discovered one of the interesting things about the Mini-14 is that it can be separated into its major components without the use of any specialized tools. Simply stick something (punch, screwdriver, etc.) into a hole in the trigger group and lift forward and the stock, trigger group and action/barrel assembly are separated. I mailed-off the trigger group and awaited its return.

About a week and a half later the trigger group duly arrived with a much better second stage and I returned to the range. The reworked trigger made a world of difference. This time I was able to hold the crosshairs where they were supposed to be through the short, crisp second stage. My first three-shot group with the factory Hornady 55-grain V-Max factory load (my intended coyote hunting load) measured 1.44”. I adjusted the scope to correct for point of impact and fired a second three-shot group that measured 0.77”. While I would not claim that this rifle is a "minute of angle" gun, I am fully confident that it can consistently shoot groups in the 1"-1.5” range, which is more than good enough for southern Missouri coyote hunting. I need to do further testing with various types and weights of ammunition, but for now the rifle is ready to hunt.

If you search the internet you will find people who love the Mini-14 as well as those that despise it. One of the stated drawbacks of the gun (attributed to either the gas block or poor bedding, depending on who is writing) is that the rifle strings shots vertically when hot, with subsequent shots going increasingly lower. I saw some signs of this during my preliminary range session. I guess this is an issue for people who like to blast away at targets all day. However, I am particularly interested in this rifle for hunting purposes and the accuracy it has provided to this point is perfectly acceptable.

In conclusion, I have been pleased with my Ruger Mini-14 ranch rifle. It is a handy rifle that I feel will serve me well in my coyote hunting pursuits. Prior to the trigger job the rifle consistently produced three-shot groups in the 2-3” range @ 100 yards. After the trigger job, the first two 100-yard groups were 1.44” and 0.77”, which is fine accuracy for a semi-automatic carbine. If you have been thinking about getting one of these rifles, I think it is worth the $700 or so that you will have to pay for a new one. Just be sure that you have room in your budget for a little trigger work.

Note: Reviews of the Ruger Mini-14 and Mini-Thirty All-Weather can be found on the Product Reviews page.

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Copyright 2010, 2013 by Ryan Feeler and/or All rights reserved.