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Rifles

The Mini Grows Up–Again

by J. Guthrie   |  September 23rd, 2010 1

Now chambered to the 6.8mm SPC, this All-American classic packs more punch.


The right cartridge can make or break a gun design. Peacemakers are chambered in .45 Colt and the Winchester Model 94 in .30-30 Winchester, and those gun/cartridge combinations are the stuff of legend. Firearms history is also sprinkled with combinations that did not quite make the grade. Some suffered engineering problems that couldn’t be solved; some were overpowered, some underpowered. Ruger’s neat little Mini-14 was a great gun when it came out, but many shooters always thought it could be better, and maybe this newest chambering–the 6.8mm SPC–is the answer.

Introduced in 1974, the Mini-14’s name left no doubts as to its inspiration in terms of design, and its military heritage called for a military cartridge. The .223 was an obvious choice and one that, later with improved and diversified bullet designs, could be applied to myriad shooting applications from hunting to law enforcement.

Roy Melcher, who started with Ruger in 1968, saw the Mini evolve from an idea and rough drawings to a finished product.

“The design goals were to scale an M1 or M14 system to .223 dimensions,” Melcher says. “That’s the caliber that was in vogue at the time–it was the end-all, be-all. We’ve learned different since.”

The .223 is a versatile cartridge, but many Mini-14 shooters applying that round in real-world shooting situations found it lacking. While ideal for varmints, the .223 is a bit light for medium-size game animals such as hogs or whitetails.

In law enforcement circles, bigger is almost always better if the price of increased recoil and wear and tear on the firearm is not too steep. A gradual shift toward heavier .223 caliber bullets increased certain performance aspects such as barrier penetration and long-range lethality, but it made sense to simply re-chamber the rifle for a bigger cartridge instead of pushing the .223 beyond its design parameters.


In its lengthy history, the Mini has been chambered to only three cartridges. In order of appearance: .223 (center), 7.62×39 (right) and 6.8mm SPC.

In 1986, Ruger did just that and brought out the Mini-Thirty. The 7.62×39 cartridge was the right length, operated at the right pressure and, with bullets nearly twice the weight of the average .223 loading, easily handled jobs for which the .223 was marginal at best. Despite plenty of cheap ammunition on gun store shelves, though, the round lacks appeal for American riflemen. The Mini-Thirty never took off.

A little less than a decade after the Mini-Thirty’s introduction, U.S. Special Forces operatives were having trouble with their rifle’s performance on Taliban who carried their spare AK magazines in chest pouches and seldom could be caught inside of 300 meters. The 5.56 mm out of an M4-length barrel was just was not getting the job done; the military wanted something bigger.

The 7.62×51-chambered M14 is a fine rifle but is heavy and lacks many of the advantages engineered into the M16/M4 platform over a couple of decades and millions of dollars in development work.

In 2002, Remington’s engineers went to work on the problem and in short order created a new cartridge–the 6.8mm SPC–that worked in an M4 after swapping the bolt and magazines. The round offered better penetration and energy at long ranges than the 5.56×45 and 7.62×39 and, unlike the 7.62×51/.308 variants, did not require a bigger, heavier or brand-new gun.

It was a compromise that actually worked, and the 6.8mm SPC has since become a regular in police and military armories and has a following among civilian shooters as well. Devotees of the Mini-14 would stand to benefit the most as Ruger rolled out a Ranch Rifle in 6.8mm SPC early this year.

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<td colspan="1" class="noborder" STOCK:<td colspan="1" class="noborder" MANUFACTURER:

RUGER MINI-14 ALL WEATHER RANCH 6.8

ACTION TYPE: semiauto centerfire
CALIBER: 6.8 mm SPC
MAGAZINE: removable box, 5-round capacity
BARREL: 18 1/2 inches, 1:10 RH twist
OVERALL LENGTH: 37 1/4 inches
WEIGHT: 7 pounds
black synthetic with non-slip butt pad
FINISH: matte stainless
SIGHTS: adjustable ghost ring rear; non-glare post front; integral scope bases (rings included)
PRICE: $835
Ruger,Ruger.com 203-259-7843

All new Minis are Ranch Rifles, which were first introduced in 1982 and allowed the easy mounting of an optic via Ruger’s rings that attached directly to slots cast into the receiver. Extraction and ejection were tuned to toss cases away from scopes. The stainless-steel All Weather rifle has a matte finish, wears a black synthetic stock and comes with adjustable, aperture and post iron sights, both of which are protected by stout metal wings and finished in matte black.

The rifle’s controls are simple and, no surprise here, mirror the M14. Magazines are rocked into place by inserting the bullet-end first and pivoting the magazine up and in. They are released by pushing a tab ahead of the trigger guard forward. A charging handle is located on the right-hand side of the receiver, and a small button on the left-hand side of the ejection port acts as a bolt stop if no magazine is in place.

The ambidextrous, two-position Garand-style safety is quite positive and disengaged by pushing it forward through a slot in the trigger guard. Field stripping is easy and again mirrors the M1 or M14.

The bolt has twin opposing locking lugs, massive extractor and fixed ejector. The one big departure from the M14 is the gas system, which has a fixed piston and moving gas cylinder.

“The big advantage with a moving gas cylinder is that the system is self-cleaning,” Melcher says. “A system with a moving piston, like the M1 or M14, requires more maintenance.”

Early Mini-14s were renowned for their reliability but never accuracy, and in 2003 Ruger completely shut down the Mini production line to start from scratch. Melcher oversaw the project.


The rifle comes with a ghost-ring rear aperture sight and also has slots cast into the receiver for mounting an optical sight with the supplied rings.

“We retooled the line and tightened the tolerances to make the Mini better,” he says. “The guns should shoot and inch or an inch and a half out of the box, mostly as a result of the tightened tolerances.”

Some subtle design changes were also instituted, namely moving the point where the gas cylinder impacts the gas block from below to above the gas pipe.

“That keeps the things closer to the center line of the barrel, both horizontally and vertically,” Melcher says. “This improves the harmonics when the gun is functioning, and that is one of the keys to semiauto accuracy.”

Building a 6.8mm SPC rifle was pretty simple. The bolt head diameter was enlarged to accept a bigger case head, and the extractor and ejector were reworked to accommodate the new cartridge–but timed so they still ejected spent cases out and not up.

The 6.8mm SPC operates at similar pressures to the 5.56×45, but since the bolt face is larger, there is an increase in bolt thrust. Melcher says the rifle was overdesigned for strength from the start, so the increased bolt thrust was of little concern. New magazine followers and springs were the only other change.

So what does a guy do with a Mini-14 chambered in 6.8mm SPC? I secured a rifle for testing and experimented with several different commercial loads and optics, applying each combination to situations where they seemed most appropriate.

A Bushnell Elite 3200 3-9X was mounted for accuracy testing and worked just fine, though a Leupold 2.5-8X Compact seemed a more natural fit for hunting because of its reduced weight and size.

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ACCURACY RESULTS: RUGER MINI-14 6.8

6.8mm SPC Ammo Type Bullet Weight (gr.) Muzzle Velocity (fps) Extreme Spread (fps) Standard Deviation Group Size (in.)
Remington MatchKing BTHP 115 2,402 99 23 2.14
Remington Open Tip Match 115 2,512 53 12 1.87
RemingtonCore-Lokt Ultra 115 2,420 48 14 1.65
Hornady VMax 110 2,550* NA NA 1.80
* factory ballistics, recorded through 24-inch test barrel

All testing was done from a bench with a Caldwell Lead Sled at 100 yards. Groups were
three shots. Velocities were calculated from 10 shots and captured with a Competitive Edge Dynamics M2 Chronograph placed 14 feet from the muzzle.


With a new chambering and improved accuracy, the Mini-14 Ranch Rifle is now a more potent and more versatile semiauto that’s able to handle more hunting and law-enforcement tasks.

With a magazine full of Remington’s Premier 115-grain Core-Lokt Ultra Bonded pointed softpoints, I tried in vain to shoot deer, hogs or any legal critter. Not even an armadillo appeared on the warm, muggy, full-moon afternoons on which I was able to take the Mini hunting.

A couple of years ago, though, I did have the chance to shoot quite a lot of 6.8mm SPC with the same bullet at similar velocities out of a bolt rifle and found expansion and penetration excellent on both whitetails and hogs.

The 1,700 ft.-lbs. of muzzle energy should be plenty for medium-size big game, so both round and rifle are up to the task. If hunting big hogs or whitetails north of the Mason-Dixon line, I would stick with bonded, pointed softpoint bullets and use the polymer-tipped bullets on smaller-bodied, big-game critters or varmints.

At just seven pounds, sans scope, the rifle is light and handy. A short overall length of just over 37 inches makes it an ideal truck or horse gun, which is probably why Ruger called it the Ranch Rifle in the first place. Varmints are no match for any of the hollowpoint match bullets available–especially Hornady’s 110-grain VMAX load. That load was one of the more accurate tested, with three-shot groups averaging 1.8 inches. Unfortunately, my chronograph quit working so I couldn’t gather ballistics data on it.

The higher-magnification variable scopes worked just fine on the bench and in the tree stand, but a 1X red-dot optic would be ideal for fleeting targets moving rapidly away from the shooter.

I was able to borrow an Aimpoint CompM2 in a 30mm Ruger ring, and while it looked a little odd, it worked pretty well ahead of the ejection port. If a small section of M1913 Picatinny rail could be attached to a Ruger ring or, even better, cast and machined from one piece, it would greatly expand the optic options.

There were no failures to feed or function, and ejection was brisk, tossing cases two or three positions down the firing line. If you’re reloading the 6.8 mm SPC cases, be prepared to lose some brass at the range due to this vigorous ejection.

Ruger’s efforts to improve accuracy proved fruitful. Five different factory loads averaged minute-of-coyote, with one catch: The first round out of the magazine seldom landed inside the center of three- or five-shot groups, usually striking over an inch away. The trigger, which has always been a constant source of consternation with Ruger rifles, was excellent. A two-stage unit, it broke at five pounds, eight ounces, was very consistent from shot to shot and had very little overtravel.

It Really ShinesThe Mini really shined at patrol-rifle distances of 100 yards or less. Speed shooting silhouette targets at various ranges from 50 yards to powder burn produced excellent results, and the rifle is as instinctive and easy to shoot as any AR variant.

The Mini-14 was inspired by two of the most reliable and functional service rifles of the last century and has lived up to that legacy, proving an effective arm. The past three decades saw some design changes and a new caliber, but still left shooters wanting something more. An obvious evolution, Ruger got it right by chambering the Mini in 6.8 mm SPC, giving Mini lovers a caliber that hits harder and reaches further.

The new All Weather Ranch Rifle rides well in both pickups and patrol cars and with the right ammunition easily handles home-defense or varmint and big-game hunting scenarios. A great rifle has finally found the perfect cartridge.

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