As some of you may already be aware, I recently purchased a Mini-14 to fulfill the role of a CQB FIGHTING CARBINE for all those pesky home invasions. Because this rifle would be used in highly THE TACTICAL situations, it was a natural choice to purchase one of Ruger's Mini-14 THE TACTICAL models. Note that this is not the THE TACTICAL version with the horrific ATI stock--I'm far too high-drag and low-speed to make good use of such a THE TACTICAL stock. Rather, I went with the version that included a flash suppressor so that I wouldn't be blinded by muzzle flash while waddling down the hallway in my tac vest and underwear, dropping tangos. (Also, flash suppressors come with free crown protection, so that the ability to make long range overwatch shots isn't impaired after performing cardio-thoracic muzzle strikes.)
But enough talk about THE TACTICAL; we're all operators here and understand how firearms are strictly serious business. Let's take a look at the CQB implement in question.
Ruger investement-casts their receivers and, judging by the casting seam, obviously doesn't put a great deal of finishing work into them. But if you want a pretty rifle, get a bolt-action.
The Mini-14 is a sort of fusion between an M14 and an M1 Carbine, although it tends more in the direction of the M14 due to the power of the .223 cartridge, which has almost a third again more pressure than .30 Carbine. Here are a few shots comparing a Mini-14 oprod to an M1 Carbine oprod to show the size difference. The Mini-14 oprod is on the top.
An interesting thing I noticed is that the Mini-14 oprod is welded from two pieces. This is ostensibly a no-no when dealing with M1 Garand or M14 oprods, so it's interesting to see that Ruger has chosen to go that route with the Mini-14. This may not be a fair comparison, though, as most M1/M14 oprod welds repair a cross-sectional cut, whereas the Mini-14 weld is longitudinal and occurs at the joint of the rod and slide.
There are also some some entirely unrelated alterations thrown in; you can see some of these in the sights, the scope mount, the handguard, and the gas block.
The heart of the gun doesn't deviate much from the design principles of its military predecessors, though. The bolt is almost pure M14, except for the use of a clever fixed ejecter that doubles as the bolt lock.
The firing pin retracting bridge, one of the smartest features of Garand's design, is present.
So is the camming surface on the back of the bolt, albeit in a simplified form in the Mini. The camming surface is designed to intercept a nose on the hammer if it tries to fall on an out-of-battery bolt. This turns the hammer's impact into rotational motion, either forcing the bolt into battery or preventing the firing pin from being hit hard enough to fire the round. This brilliant and simple design prevented an out-of-battery explosion in my M1A, so I'm understandably fond of it.
The trigger pack is another area that's almost pure M14, but with some changes. The unlatching trigger guard, safety mechanism, and hammer strut are all familiar, but the interface between the hammer, trigger, and disconnecter has been replaced with a mechanism that separates the disconnector and trigger into two separate parts.
The trigger in this Mini-14 is relatively light, but has an unfortunate amount of creep and not enough takeup. I'll have to see if I can scrape up some parts and do a trigger job. The trigger doesn't appear to impair accuracy (see below), but I'd prefer more of a two-stage feel with a crisp release, and there's no reason this design can't provide that. One last gripe is that the safety could be a little more positive--but then I like very heavy safeties.
The op-rod handle uses the square M14-style camming hump, but there's no bolt roller, which makes bolt camming more like what's found in the M1 Garand or Carbine.
The magazine system is pretty much straight M14, except that the front of the mag latches directly into the receiver instead of the recoil spring guide, but that's because the gas system is dramatically different than the M14's.
The Mini-14 uses a slide under the barrel like the M1 Carbine, but instead of a trough-like slide with an off-center recoil spring, the Mini has a two-sided slide. (Note the lightening cuts.)
One side of the slide holds the spring that latches into the recoil buffer in the receiver; the other admits the gas nozzle which directs gas siphoned through the gas block into direct impingement with the slide.
It gets pretty messy after a few rounds, but at least the fouling is limited to large parts with lots of clearance. The bottom of the stock contains a liner to contain fouling and prevent the slide from gouging the stock.
Looking over this rifle leaves the impression of a scaled-down, economized M14. Any relationship to the M1 Carbine, I think, comes about solely due to Mini and M1 Carbine's shared design principles of simplification and minimizing cost. None of the best parts of the Garand mechanism are left out, though: The firing pin retraction mechanism, bolt/hammer camming interface, ludicrously large locking lugs with the rear backup lug, and the discrete trigger pack are all present.
Inclement weather and a busy schedule conspired to prevent a trip to the range before this weekend, so it was with no small amount of pent-up enthusiasm that I set up on the line to see what the rifle could do. After setting up a scaled NRA High Power Rifle target at 100 yards, I took aim off a rest and carefully put ten rounds of PMC 55-grain FMJ into the target. At least, that was the theory. Examination of the target through a spotting scope revealed a pristine expanse of black paper. Were the rumors true?
Further examination established that no, the rumors weren't true. All the rounds formed a group in the cardboard off to one side--not even on the paper. The sights were off.
I'd had the presence of mind to tote along a set of allen wrenches (named after their inventor, James Parker Wrench). What I'd forgotten was the instruction manual, which details the arcane and counterintuitive rituals required to adjust the sights. Ruger should have omitted the warning label from the receiver and just engraved rear sight instructions. After several minutes of wrangling with the sights, I managed to get them so far out of adjustment that I couldn't even locate new bullet holes on the target backing and was forced to bring it in to 25 yards to continue.
Once sighted in, the Mini-14 demonstrated impressive accuracy by the standards of any autoloading rifle. The original ten rounds off the rest went into a group less than two inches in diameter at 100 yards, and further shooting showed that this was no fluke. In fact, I managed an offhand 3 MOA group at 100 yards, which is unusually good for me and demonstrated that any weak link where accuracy was concerned would be provided by me. Shooting used exclusively PMC and Prvi Partisan 55-grain FMJ, so I'm eager to see what kind of groups handloads will yield.
There is one issue with the Mini and accuracy, though: The front sling swivel is mounted on the gas block. Slinging up too tightly drops the point of impact noticeably. I didn't have enough ammo on hand to play around with sling tension to try to find the magic threshold, so that will require another range trip. (Oh darn.) If it turns out that using a shooting sling at all is infeasible, it won't bother me much: 5.56 works best at distances that don't require a sling.
Mini-14s have a reputation for chucking the brass out with gleeful abandon and the occasional curse from shooters to your right, behind you, in the neighboring county, etc. I was interested to see if the reduced dwell time of the 16.25" barrel would reduce the force of extraction. It turned out to make little difference. The fixed ejector violently pivots cases around the extractor, bouncing them off the op-rod hump and denting their mouths.
I prefer this to denting the side of the case because the sizing ball will iron out case mouth dents when reloading, but I'll still look into a reduced-diameter gas bushing to slow the cycle speed. If Ruger offered bolts with internal ejectors, that would be even better.
Speaking of ejectors, the one on my Mini-14 caused it to malfunction. It looked like the bolt was locking back prematurely, but it was too far forward for that to be the case. The rear of the ejector was a little long and consequently got peened by the bolt until enough metal moved around to bind against the bolt's ejector channel, bringing it to a grinding halt.
Yes, that's right: My Mini-14 jammed on its first range trip.
The ejector peening was a factory fitting issue that just needed a couple minutes with a file to fix forever--but I didn't have a file at the range. However, I did have a Mini-14: One solid smack to the rear of the op-rod sent the bolt into battery, shaving off the peened metal. No further problems were had. Still, while the gun was disassembled for cleaning, I dressed the rear of the ejector and touched it up with cold blue.
This Mini-14 represents one of those delightful occasions where you figure you'll be happy with a gun, but are still pleasantly surprised by how much it exceeds expectations. It's not wise to extrapolate from a sample size of one, but if this Mini-14 is representative of the new 580 series, then they're worth a look for those who are interested in a .223 carbine but don't want to go the AR route.