Hating on the Ruger Mini-14

Written by Greg Ellifritz

Topics: Firearm Reviews

  • SumoMe

Written by Greg Ellifritz



Last week, I read this article in the American Rifleman asking folks to “Reconsider the Mini-14.”



Please don’t.



The Ruger Mini-14 is a poor substitute for a good AR-15.



Some back story is necessary.  In 1999, my police department was fearful of Y2K and societal collapse.  Our chief at the time directed me to form a patrol rifle program, arming  and training as many officers as possible with .223 rifles.  No other suburban police department in my county had a rifle program for anyone except SWAT officers.  It seems strange now that almost every officer in America has a rifle in his cruiser. but back then, no one carried rifles.



I did all my research and prepared a report for the chief.  He approved the program, but only gave me $2500 to get it started.  He allowed me to make the choice of buying and equipping four Ruger Mini-14 rifles or two AR-15s for essentially the same price.  Wanting more officers to be armed with rifles, I chose to purchase the Mini-14.



Y2K came and went without incident.  We had our Mini-14 rifles for almost five years before dumping them for government surplus M-16 A1s.  During that five year period, I trained up around 20 officers.  They each got four full days of rifle training every year and fired about 2,000 rifle rounds annually.  Doing the rough math, you’ll figure out that I personally supervised approximately 200,000 rounds fired through Mini-14 rifles during the period we issued them.  I think that makes enough of of an authority to make the following statements…



1) Mini-14 Accuracy sucks.  The rifles we had were 5-6 MOA guns AT BEST.  From a prone and rested position, my officers could rarely keep all their rounds in the chest of a silhouette at 75 yards.  Even the newer “more accurate” guns that I’ve seen in my classes haven’t been better than 3 MOA.  This is inexcusable when most well-made AR-15 rifles are 1-2 MOA guns.



2) Mini-14s are not as reliable as good AR-15s.  The guns aren’t horribly unreliable as far as feeding goes, but they don’t work as well as most of the AR-15s I’ve seen on the range.  The real problem isn’t feeding reliability, it’s parts breakage.  Our department guns broke extractors and firing pins with incredible frequency.



3) You can’t buy factory parts or repair the Mini-14 yourself.  Speaking of broken parts, every time you break something on your Mini-14, you will have to send the entire gun back to the factory.  The factory won’t sell most critical repair parts, even to certified armorers.  With an AR-15, you can buy any part you want and learn how to install it after watching a 10-minute YouTube video.  That can’t happen with the Ruger.



4) No cheap aftermarket magazines will function properly.  No company makes a reliable aftermarket magazine.  I tried them all.  You are stuck with expensive steel factory magazines if you want your gun to work.



5) The safety is unsafe.  The Mini-14 safety is actually disengaged from inside the trigger guard.  That requires users to keep their fingers inside the trigger guard to quickly disengage it.  No one thinks that keeping fingers in trigger guards is a good practice.



6) Availability of Mini-14 aftermarket accessories is a fraction of what is available for the AR-15.  Every accessory under the sun is available for the AR-15.  Only a fraction of such items are available for the Ruger.  If you would like to customize your gun, you’ll have a problem doing it with your Mini-14.



I’ll leave you with an anecdote about the first qualification course I shot with my personally owned Mini-14 as soon as the rifle was approved for patrol use by our police chief….



Besides myself, there was only one other instructor in the county who was certified to sign off on police semi-auto rifle qualifications.  Before I could use my gun for patrol, I had to shoot the state qualification course with him.  I called up this officer (an experienced Columbus Police SWAT firearms instructor) and he met me at my range to watch me shoot.



He didn’t say anything when I pulled the Mini-14 from its case.  Using after market 30 round magazines, I had a hell of a time passing the course because the frequent malfunctions made me late on the time limits.  When I finally passed, the CPD SWAT guy looked at me and said:


“You know, that Mini-14 is completely unsuitable for law enforcement.  That’s a nutjob militia survivalist’s gun.  It’s not anything you should actually carry to protect yourself.”



I was offended at the time, but I soon realized my SWAT friend was right.  The Mini-14 shouldn’t be relied upon for any serious social work.





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15 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Chuck Haggard says:

    I have some fairly significant experience with the Mini 14, and mine observations echo yours.

    Nowadays, with pricing on the Mini being at or above the level of some AR15s, and magazines for the Mini being so expensive, there is zero reason for anyone to buy that gun.

  2. Tom says:

    I had a Mini-14 and that was exactly my experience – One additional problem. The gas piston rusts shut making the gun inoperable if stored for a period of time.

    This means you cant work the operating handle to open the bolt and chamber a cartridge. If you put the stock on the ground and slam the operating handle with the heel of your boot that will break it free.

    I used and empty cartridge case to hold the action open during storage, which cured the problem.

    Too bad – it was a cute little gun that felt good to hold!

  3. Tierlieb says:

    I agree with this. The only two positive aspects of the rifle that I see are
    a) it looks a lot less threatening than an AR-15.
    b) it does have the better charging handle.

    Foot note:
    The accuracy issue for older rifles can be fixed with a simple barrel sleeve. That might be a solution for people stuck with old rifles and no way to get rid of them – be it departments in the US or people in countries where you cannot sell your guns that easily due to gun registration laws.

  4. The Duck says:

    I always liked the look of the Mini 14, but that was as far as it went.

  5. Shooter1911 says:

    When I read this article in the American Rifleman I had the same thoughts as to why would anyone consider a Mini 14 compared to an AR. I owned a Mini 14 back in the day, and can not argue with your evaluation. At $700-$800 why in the world would anyone choose the Mini these days?

  6. Dan says:

    I agree with most of what you have written. For the LE Armorer, Ruger was a champ, we never paid for any parts. Of course, we hosted Ruger Armorer schools on a regular basis.

    In the 1980’s- early 2000’s, the Mini-14 was very popular with many Departments of Correction throughout the nation, I think largely due to availability and simplicity of operation.

    The M1 and the M14 had their safeties in the same location, while in toto your statement:

    5) The safety is unsafe. The Mini-14 safety is actually disengaged from inside the trigger guard. That requires users to keep their fingers inside the trigger guard to quickly disengage it. No one thinks that keeping fingers in trigger guards is a good practice.

    is an accurate one, current teaching, for us anyways, is to disengage the safety as the weapon is brought onto target, AFTER a decision to fire has been made. This of, course is when everyone thinks the trigger finger should be going to the trigger anyways, so maybe not so major. We teach that with shotgun and patrol rifle.

    I would have probably had a Mini long ago if it wasn’t for the ridiculous curved buttstock Ruger put on it.

    And yes, the sights are atrocious, to me that has always been a downfall of Rugers.

  7. C.W. Sayre says:

    Wow, glad I read this article. I’ve wanted a Mini-14 since they came out, even though I knew they were inaccurate. Didn’t know just HOW insanely inaccurate they were until now though! (And Reason 3, “You can’t buy factory parts or repair the Mini-14 yourself” is inexcusable.)

  8. Snarky357 says:

    I just bought a stainless Ranch Rifle vintage 1991 for $300. The only AR I can buy here is a pre-94 ban, which will cost me at least $1k more. That’s a lot of mags, ammo, and training. I live in a 2400 square foot cape in a neighborhood of 1/4 to 1/3 acre lots. Previous HD gun was always a shotgun. I’m OK with the shortcomings until I retire and move to a better state. Just my two cents.

  9. Richard says:

    I have had both and generally agree though with a few differences. If I were buying today, it would definitely be an AR. Back in the day though, Minis were available and ARs hard to come by and more expensive. Plus they still had the reliability reputational hangover from Vietnam. Also back in the day accessories were a lot easier to come by for the Mini. All of these AR problems have been fixed.

    As to specifics, my Mini was never as inaccurate as their reputation. 2MOA. AR is better. Definitely so on reliability and the cause being breakage. Mini fed junk ammo better but stuff broke. Definitely so on aftermarket mags. Don’t do that. The safety, of course, copies the Garand and M-14. I don’t ever remember this being talked about with those guns. Doctrine changes, I suppose.

  10. Monty says:

    I read the American Rifleman article on the Mini 14 and I get some of the arguments the author was making as far as a less tacticool look, a stainless steel option and various caliber options.

    I bought a mini 14 in 1990 before the AR really took off. At the time, it was about half what a AR -15 sporter cost. Now, I have a couple/ few AR platform rifles so, the poor little mini 14 has been semi retired to an occasional range toy. I never experienced the accuracy issues people are reporting. I had no problems keeping my shots in the 4/5 scoring area of a standard B27 silhouette target at 100 yards. The standard iron sights were almost the same as on a Garand and once zeroed,were functional. Was it a tack driver? Hell no. But it could put rounds on a human sized target at reasonable ranges if the shooter followed good ol fashioned rifle marksman 101. I don’t think the safety being at the front of the trigger guard is a big issue. It copied the safety on the M1 Garand and the M-14 and it’s hard to push it forward while keeping your finger on the trigger.

    The rest of Mr Ellifritz’s article made some good points especially the lack of repair parts, decent aftermarket magazines and accessories. If I had to choose between an AR and a Mini 14 I’d go AR every time but I would have no problem getting the Mini 14 out if that was all I had available. I would recommend the Ranch model over the standard model just for easier scope mounting and slap an optic on it.

    I thought it was interesting Mr. Ellifritz mentioned the Y2K panic as the impetus for his department to get a patrol rifle. On Dec 31 1999, I had my unauthorized Mini 14 with three 30 round magazines in my patrol car for my 11pm-7am shift. Although in all honesty, I don’t know what I was expecting that would require 90 rounds of .223, 25 rounds of 00 buck, 46 rounds of 9mm, a PR-24 and a well used K-Bar, but I guess I thought better too much than not enough.

  11. Eric says:

    I feel your pain. In 2002, the department I used to work for (also in Ohio) issued Hi-Point carbines, mostly because we got them for free.
    The first time I shot the OPOTA qual, parts fell off. (Cue Ron White). The bolt retracting handle was an actual 1/2″ hex-head bolt, and it fell the F off.
    They were worth every penny we paid for them.

  12. wst says:

    Every one of the items you outlined is about the pre-2005 Mini’s. In 2005 the Mini was redesigned and the factory completely retooled. The article you are trashing is about the new Mini and why it is different than the pre-2005 models. The article is about the new redesigned Mini 14 which addressed all the issues. Why do haters continue to regurgitate these 10-20 year old problems about the old Mini’s like they have any relevance to today’s design.

    • Chuck Haggard says:

      While the accuracy of the Mini system has been improved, all of the mechanical and functional/reliability issues are still exactly the same.

  13. Wodat says:

    Having 3 combat tours in the ME………..you can have your AR. I’ll take a full size M14 or an old M1 or an AK any day over the AR.

  14. JRT6 says:

    The same time you went with the mini-14 we went with the Ruger carbine and they were nothing but under powered jam o matics. Took over ten years to get rid of them