Mini-14 Target Rifle

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SPECIFICATIONS Manufacturer: Sturm, Ruger & Co., 1 Lacey Place, Southport, CT 06890; (203) 259-7843; www.ruger.com Model: Mini-14 Target Rifle Type: Semi-automatic Finish: Matte stainless Caliber: .223 Remington Capacity: Five Stock: Gray laminate Barrel Length: 22 inches Rifling: 1:9 RH Overall Length: 42 12 inches Weight: 9 pounds, 8 ounces Sights: None; scope bases integral with receiver, scope rings included Trigger Pull: 5 pounds, 8 ounces MSRP: $995 The Ruger Mini-14 has proven its ruggedness since it started riding around in pickups in 1974, but getting it to consistently shoot neat little groups at 100 yards has often been an exercise in frustration. Accuracy—frankly not the Mini- 14’s strongpoint—has generally taken a backseat to its simple and reliable o peration. With competitive action-shooting events on the rise, Ruger decided to address this issue, introducing the Mini-14 Target Rifle accompanied by claims of minute-of-angle performance. Appropriate for a Mini-14 derivative, the Target Rifle keeps the fixed-piston gas system and rotary bolt with dual locking lugs borrowed from the M1 Garand and the line’s military inspiration, the M14. The investment-cast receiver and L-shaped charging handle have a matte-stainless finish. Scope bases integral to the receiver, a feature that debuted on the Mini-14 Ranch Rifle during the early 1980s, also fittingly appear on the Target Rifle. Ruger includes high, 1-inch rings for mounting an optic, which is mandatory since the receiver and barrel are devoid of iron sights. Other features manifest in the Mini-14 family and carried on with the Target Rifle are a Garand-style safety, stout magazine release lever and ventilated, fiberglass handguard that covers the barrel from receiver to gas block. The similarities end there. Ruger started its Mini-14 makeover by going straight for what most often is the deciding factor in a rifle’s accuracy—the barrel. Though the lightweight, 18 12-inch barrel of the standard Ranch Rifle makes for quick and easy handling, it has many times bore the brunt of the criticism stemming from inaccuracy. The Target Rifle, in contrast, has a heavy, hammer-forged, stainless steel barrel that is .78 inch in diameter where it emerges from the gas block, with an additional 3 12 inches o f length. Its six-groove rifling has a 1:9 RH twist to stabilize all but the heaviest .224-caliber match bullets. Prominent on the barrel is a 412-inch-long, harmonic-dampening weight. The 316-inch-thick sleeve slips over the barrel, and four Allen- head screws keep it in place. A series of helical grooves on the barrel’s surface allow the position of the harmonic dampener to be changed by turning it after loosening the attachment screws. Rotating the harmonic dampener clockwise moves it toward the receiver, while turning it counterclockwise shifts it toward the muzzle. The harmonic dampener on the Target Rifle helps control the adverse effects of barrel vibration on accuracy. Its position is adjustable by rotating it along a set of grooves, allowing the rifle to be fine-tuned for a particular load.

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SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer:Sturm, Ruger & Co.,1 Lacey Place, Southport, CT06890; (203) 259-7843;www.ruger.comModel: Mini-14 Target Rifle

Type: Semi-automaticFinish: Matte stainlessCaliber: .223 RemingtonCapacity: FiveStock: Gray laminateBarrel Length: 22 inchesRifling: 1:9 RHOverall Length: 42 1⁄2 inchesWeight: 9 pounds, 8 ouncesSights: None; scope basesintegral with receiver, scope ringsincludedTrigger Pull: 5 pounds, 8 ouncesMSRP: $995

The Ruger Mini-14 has proven its ruggedness since it started riding around in pickups in 1974, but getting it toconsistently shoot neat little groups at 100 yards has often been an exercise in frustration. Accuracy—frankly not the Mini-14’s strongpoint—has generally taken a backseat to its simple and reliable operation. With competitive action-shootingevents on the rise, Ruger decided to address this issue, introducing theMini-14 Target Rifle accompanied by claims of minute-of-angle performance.

Appropriate for a Mini-14 derivative, the Target Rifle keeps the fixed-piston gas system and rotary bolt with dual lockinglugs borrowed from the M1 Garand and the line’s military inspiration, the M14. The investment-cast receiver and L-shapedcharging handle have a matte-stainless finish. Scope bases integral to the receiver, a feature that debuted on the Mini-14Ranch Rifle during the early 1980s, also fittingly appear on the Target Rifle. Ruger includes high, 1-inch rings for mountingan optic, which is mandatory since the receiver and barrel are devoid of iron sights. Other features manifest in the Mini-14family and carried on with the Target Rifle are a Garand-style safety, stout magazine release lever and ventilated,fiberglass handguard that covers the barrel from receiver to gas block.

The similarities end there.Ruger started its Mini-14 makeover by going straight for what most

often is the deciding factor in a rifle’s accuracy—the barrel. Though thelightweight, 18 1⁄2-inch barrel of the standard Ranch Rifle makes for quick and easy handling, it has many times bore the brunt of thecriticism stemming from inaccuracy. The Target Rifle, in contrast, has aheavy, hammer-forged, stainless steel barrel that is .78 inch in diameter where it emerges from the gas block, with an additional 3 1⁄2 inches of length. Its six-groove rifling has a 1:9 RH twist to stabilize all but theheaviest .224-caliber match bullets.

Prominent on the barrel is a 41⁄2-inch-long, harmonic-dampeningweight. The 3⁄16-inch-thick sleeve slips over the barrel, and four Allen-head screws keep it in place. A series of helical grooves on the barrel’ssurface allow the position of the harmonic dampener to be changed byturning it after loosening the attachment screws. Rotating the harmonicdampener clockwise moves it toward the receiver, while turning itcounterclockwise shifts it toward the muzzle.

The harmonic dampener on the Target Rifle

helps control the adverse effects of barrelvibration on accuracy. Its position isadjustable by rotating it along a set of grooves, allowing the rifle to be fine-tuned for a particular load.

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Though it is not as compact as its Ranch Rifle predecessor, the Ruger Mini-14 Target Rifle is designed to offer greater accuracy. A thumbhole stock and heavy barrel with harmonic dampener put the Target Rifle into thesub-minute-of-angle class.

Barrel harmonics, or the vibration of the barrel during firing, can greatly affect point of impact and group size. Functionsthat occur within a rifle such as the firing pin striking the primer, the ignition of the propellant, the expansion of thepropellant gases and the bullet’s contact with the rifling as it travels through the bore all produce a number of vibrationsthat are ultimately transmitted to the barrel. These vibrations cause the barrel to move in an arc, even before the bullethas exited the bore. If these vibrations were absolutely consistent, there would be a lot of rifles shooting one-hole groups.However, their magnitude and duration vary from shot to shot, and five bullets may leave the bore when the muzzle is atfive different points on the vibration-induced arc. In part, this is why even a very tight group will still somewhat resemble atriangle.

One way to control vibration is to add weight to the barrel, which soaks up the impulses. The heavy barrel on the TargetRifle works together with the harmonic dampener to reduce the amplitude of the arc, making bullet exit, and thereforepoint of impact downrange, more consistent. Different loads, of course, can produce different amounts of vibration, andthe ability to adjust the harmonic dampener allows the shooter to tune the barrel to obtain the best accuracy with anygiven ammunition.

A beefy barrel does not a target rifle make, so Ruger continued overhauling the Mini-14 by giving it a stock eminentlysuited for shooting from the bench. The thumbhole buttstock has a large, triangular-shaped cutout just behind the pistolgrip that not only lets the thumb encircle the pistol grip, but also provides a stable shelf on which its fleshy base can rest.Along with the slight swell to the pistol grip, the design promotes a steady, repeatable hold. The stock’s high, slim combrises slightly at the heel and digs into the cheek for a tight weld. So it will nestle solidly into a sandbag, the toe is rather thin and parallels the comb for 3 inches. The stock’s lower line then curves dramatically upward before running forward tothe pistol grip, forming a hook for the non-shooting hand to press against and keep the rifle firmly settled on the bench.Three removable, black plastic spacers just forward of the rubber buttpad let shooters adjust the stock’s length of pull from14 to 15 1⁄2 inches in 1⁄2-inch increments. In keeping with the theme of the Target Rifle, Ruger gave the fore-end a 2-inch-wide flat spot to make it easy to rest the gun on sandbags or hold in an offhand position. The stock is constructed of a gray laminate that complements both the stainless finish of the rifle’s metal and the black handguard.

A Mini-14 that will shoot minute of angle? I, too, was skeptical. But to give the Target Rifle a fair chance, I topped it witha Sightron SII Big Sky 4.5-14x42 mm scope and waited for a calm day to test Ruger’s claim. I picked the 55-grain soft-point load from Black Hills to start. The first several groups from the 100-yard line were around 2 1⁄2 inches—pretty muchwhat I expected from a Mini-14 and certainly nothing to write home about. Then I began playing with the position of theharmonic dampener and shot as many holes in the criticisms of this autoloader’s accuracy as I did targets. With thisparticular load, the rifle liked the forward end of the harmonic dampener to be positioned about 3⁄4 inch behind themuzzle. Thusly tuned, it produced five, five-shot groups that averaged 1.03 inches. Pretty dang close, and two of those

groups measured inside the minute-of-angle standard. I tried several other loads, including some with match bulletsweighing between 69 and 75 grains, but none of them delivered the accuracy of my first pick. The runner-up was the 50-grain Winchester Supreme Ballistic Silvertip load, which averaged 1.10 inches after 25 shots. Perhaps with a little moretweaking I could find the harmonic dampener’s sweet spot with these other loads and shave a little from their group sizes.

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Ruger casts scope bases into the M14-inspiredreceiver of the Target Rifle that accept thecompany’s rings, which are included. Shootersneed to top the Target Rifle with some sort of optic, as open sights are absent.

The Target Rifle’s length of pull is adjustable from 14 to1 5 1⁄2 inches by adding or removing plastic spacers.Two long, Allen-head screws hold the rubber buttpad inplace and run through the spacers to attach the worksto the gray laminate stock.

True to the nature of the Mini-14, I experienced no failures to feed or fire during testing, and that was duringapproximately 400 rounds of 12 ammunition types over three days. No complaints there, but I did have an issue with theTarget Rifle’s trigger. At 5 1⁄2 pounds of pull weight, it’s quite heavy for a rifle intended for target work, and I had tosqueeze through a lengthy amount of creep. Nonetheless, I learned to live with it, and from the factory the Target Rifleperformed as advertised.

The Mini-14 is rarely described as being pinpoint accurate, and in fact, until now it was never made to be. With somemodifications, Ruger has turned this ubiquitous truck gun into a rifle ideally suited for chewing out bullseyes. I’d call theMini-14 Target Rifle accurate any day.

—Adam Heggenstaller

Accuracy Tests Ruger Mini-14 Target Rifle

Five, five-shot groups fired from a sandbag rest at 100 yards, measuredin inches.

Group 11-1/16

Group 215/18

Group 37/8

Group 41-1/8

Average1.03

Load: Black Hills 55-grain soft point