The weather here in Michigan has been pretty nasty this year. We’ve had absurdly low temperatures, tons of ice and snow, barely any sunlight, and bad outbreaks of cabin fever.
While that seems bad, it is, in fact, the ideal conditions to test the stainless steel Ruger Mini-14 Ranch Rifle. The rifle is built for inclement weather and can blast through winter just like your dad’s old Toro snowblower.
The relatively simple Mini-14 design, one that Ruger’s been selling for more than 45 years, is rather simple and features a Garand-style action (it’s about he size of an M1 carbine). Compared to an AR-15, there are many differences and nuances to address. This rifle is something of an alternative to the AR, but is a stand-alone design that shares many of the same chamberings with Stoner’s semi-auto rifles.
This version is chambered in .223 Remington/5.56 NATO, but Ruger offers versions in 300 Blackout and the Mini Thirty in 7.62x39mm.
The Mini-14 is a fairly light and handy rifle, coming in at just over seven pounds fully loaded. It has great balance and points naturally with its iron sights.
For fans of older style rifles, the jump to the Mini-14 can be a smoother transition compared to the more common and popular AR-15 platform, which has a vastly different type of cheek weld setup and eye over bore height. The rifle’s synthetic stock is slim and trim, which contributes to easy handling.
One gripe I have with that stock is its length of pull. I’m not tall, but I’m taller than most of the general population. This Mini-14 rifle has a stock made for the six-foot-and-over-crowd who spend their time in conditions where they don’t need coats. I would have loved it of this compact rifle had a length of pull to match.
When I tested it in sub-zero conditions, I had to assume a somewhat awkward position in order to shoulder the rifle with my winter coat on. I constantly work outside in sub-zero temperatures. But we’re used to that up here in Michigan and I don’t wear an especially thick coat. Still, the length of pull while fully kitted out was a stretch.
A substantial portion of the population is located in warmer, more humid southern states, and this is a good gun for those conditions as well. The cold had no influence at all on how the Mini-14 performed, but it did give my chronograph problems.
When I was recording the ballistic data for the ammunition tested in this article it was fifteen degrees below zero with a wind chill well south of that. That was too much for my chrony, so I didn’t get to record velocity. But the rifle kept on ticking so I was able to obtain accuracy data without an issue.
I fired several flavors of Hornady and SIG SAUER ammunition through the Mini-14 Ranch Rifle at a distance of 100 yards using only the iron sights and a sling, just as I would an M1 Garand in CMP competition. The length of pull gave me a problem here, as I had to stretch my neck out to get my head in the proper position.
While similar in overall design to a classic military rifle, the ghost ring sights on the Mini-14 Ranch Rifle are just different enough to be noticeable though they’re easy to get used to.
Groups are the average of four five-shot groups.
SIG SAUER 77gr Match—————————-2.5”
SIG SAUER 55gr FMJ——————————2.0”
Hornady Frontier 62gr FMJ————————3.25”
Hornady Frontier 55gr FMJ————————3.0”
Hornady Frontier 75gr BTHP Match —————1.75”
The rifle experienced no issues cycling. It was so cold that you could hear trees cracking due the severe temperatures, but the Mini-14 didn’t seem to care.
I fired about 300 rounds in the test before I had to call it quits and pack up for fear of getting stuck at the range. At no time did the rifle give me the slightest problem, even with ice and snow in the action.
As thousands before me have learned, shooting the Mini-14 is a pleasant experience. The recoil impulse is very different than that of an AR-15 and is downright pleasant. The low cycling mass of the bolt makes it feel like you’re firing a much smaller rifle.
Beside the action, there are a few other differences you’ll notice compared to an AR. Magazines (the rifle ships with 2 20-round magazines) have to be rocked in like an AK or M1A, but you can load them from the top through the action in a pinch.
If you have a scope mounted on the rifle, however, that becomes difficult (the Mini-14 ships with a Picatinny rail and a set of scope rings). If you’re planning on shooting with irons it’s a perfectly useable option. Unfortunately you can’t load it with stripper clips.
The Mini-14’s two-stage factory trigger probably won’t win any awards. There’s more than a fair amount of creep, though it breaks cleanly enough at just over five pounds. This is undoubtedly a contributor to the accuracy results I got. The blade safety (again, similar to the Garand’s or the M14) just forward of the trigger guard is convenient enough to use, if not exactly elegant.
Overall, like the Mini Thirty, I’m a fan of the Mini-14 Ranch Rifle. Despite the temperature, shooting the rifle is tons of fun. While it shoots the same rounds as an AR, it’s far less scary-looking to the un-initiated. While not match accurate, it’s very soft-shooting and easy for a beginner to use.
If you are in the market for a non-AR semiautomatic rifle, the Mini-14 is easily one of the best guns you can get. After my testing in extreme cold and snow, I would trust this gun to work as advertised in almost any conditions.
Specifications: Ruger Mini-14 Ranch Rifle Stainless
Capacity: 20+1 rounds (larger and smaller magazines available)
Barrel Length: 16”
Overall Length: 34.75”
Sights: Fixed post front, adjustable ghost ring rear
MSRP: $1069 (street price about $900)
Ratings (out of five stars):
Accuracy * * * *
While accuracy could have been better, the Mini-14 is certainly no slouch. I’m attributing some of my results to the sub-zero conditions as well as to the average-at-best stock trigger. The gun comes with scope mounts, but wasn’t tested with an optic, which would have tightened groups up a bit. That said, the accuracy with iron sights are fine for most work inside 200 yards which is the kind of job it’s designed for (think varmint control).
Reliability * * * * *
I had no failures to feed or fire at all with this rifle at all. The gun ran everything and ejected several feet away. The rifle was easy to shoot with and did well during rapid fire.
Ergonomics * * *
The major gripe I have with this gun was the longish stock and rubber butt pad. When you are wearing a coat or thick clothing it tends to get hung up on fabric and is also hard to shoulder. The magazines are a change from the AR pattern in that they rock in instead of just inserting straight up.
Customize This * * * *
There is a large aftermarket following for the Mini-14 line, but they generally come in the form of stocks and some accurizing accessories.
Aesthetics * * * *
The Mini-14 is a relatively simple gun designed to be used outdoors. It’s designed to be rugged and looks the part. The plain stock and stainless construction are tough, but won’t win any beauty contests.
Overall * * * * *
The target market for the Mini-14 Ranch Rifle is a person who values dependability under the worst circumstances. I had no issues with it in the deep cold of Michigan’s most recent winter storm and it functioned well even with snow and ice all over it. This isn’t a match-accurate rifle, nor is it a beauty queen, but if you need a lightweight, soft-shooting rifle with all the essentials, this is a great choice.