September 23, 2010
The latest version of the Mini-14, the 20CF, makes a bold statement.
When the Ruger Mini-14 was first offered, the Sturm, Ruger advertising campaign touted it as "the world's most expensive plinker." That was pretty cheeky, and the rifle had everyone excited. Basically, to steal market share from Colt, Ruger had built a rifle that wasn't an AR but was instead the rifle the Colt-haters loved: a Garand/M14, but one in .223 Remington.
The Mini-14 of then was durable, reliable, reasonably accurate and inexpensive--or at least close enough in all those areas. In 1974, a Colt AR-15 (there were no others) listed at $234 compared to the Ruger's $199 price tag. Back then, $35 was a bunch of ammo.
I can tell you from fixing a bunch Mini-14s that when one was dropped from a guard tower the only things that broke were the stocks and rear sights. And as long as you stayed away from corrosively primed ammo, the Mini chugged right along. However, if you got cheap and bought corrosive, you'd have the devil's own time getting the gas system apart and scrubbing the rust off.
Despite all it had going for it, within a decade the Mini had fallen way behind. The AR was much more accurate. As we were teasing out the details of making ARs into minute-of-angle rifles, the Mini was still delivering only three to four m.o.a.
In the 1980s I had a customer who so loved his Mini that he paid me to do the full U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit accurizing process to his Mini. Done to a Garand or M1A, the results were sub-m.o.a. with match ammo. His Ruger? No change.
The stock not only folds, it extends as well, and it comes with a bolt-on cheekpiece to raise the eye for use with optics.
Rumors on why the Minis failed to achieve high levels of accuracy were legion. Some shooters thought barrel quality was to blame. Others pointed to the gas system: It was too heavy, too light, dampened the barrel harmonics too much, or not enough. The bedding was blamed as well--not tight enough, too tight, binding, whatever.
While the Mini was often touted as more reliable, AR-15s started to catch up in that department, and the AR platform was much quicker to embrace "bells and whistles." Until relatively recently, civilians had their choice of wood or wood stocks for the Mini. You could get telescoping stocks for an AR but not the Ruger, although the company did offer a law-enforcement-only telescoping stock and an LE-only folder as well. Pistol grip? Forget it.
Rails began to appear on ARs more than a decade ago. If you wanted rails on the Mini, you had to bolt them onto the fore-end yourself. On top of all that, getting magazines was not easy. Five-shot mags, yes. But 20- and 30-rounders? Ruger sold those only to police departments, which caused resentment among a lot of shooters.
Well, let go of your resentments and your low expectations because Ruger is back at it. Its new Mini, with a model designation Mini-14/20CF, is what the company could have done to the Mini 20 years ago but didn't.
First off is the barrel. Ruger makes its own barrels, and the company has become more attentive to complaints that Minis don't shoot well (and, in fact, it brought out an accurized Mini-14 called the Target Rifle just a few years ago). The improvement is partly due to a heavier barrel but mostly due to Ruger making an accurate, hammer-forged 16-inch barrel.
The 20CF retains the ghost-ring aperture rear sight, which got a much-needed improvement with the debut of the Ranch Rifle version years ago.
This one shoots quite nicely. However, you probably won't notice that right away because of all the other changes Ruger has made. For starters, the new stock is a folder with a pistol grip. It also telescopes, with six positions for length of pull.
Now, the stock--while a great step forward--is not without faults. The hinge, and the fact that it folds, makes the folded rifle thick. It isn't any thicker than other folded-stock rifles, but just be aware that this is not going to be a skinny package when folded. To fold or unfold, you simply press down on the big button on the hinge. That lowers the stock from the locking ledge and allows you to swing it in or out.
Also, when folded the rifle comes in at only 26 inches and change. That's not a problem under federal law because the feds measure rifles with the stock extended, but if you live in a state where they measure a rifle with the stock folded, check your laws to be sure 26 inches plus is enough.
The stock has slings swivel studs already installed. You can even use them with the stock folded. What's more, the stock has a multiplicity of rails on it. The side and bottom rails are relatively short, with only five slots as locking locations. No biggie; they are plenty long enough to mount a light or laser. The top one is longer and is a suitable location for your optics.
The receiver is the current iteration of the Ruger Ranch Rifle receiver, with integral scope bases and an aperture rear sight. The original rear sight on the Mini was a low-cost affair, and at least part of the three- to four-m.o.a. accuracy of the originals could be laid at the feet of the wobbly, chintzy, rear sight. Well, not so with the Ranch Rifle sights, which are sturdy and strong.
The rest of the new Mini is just like the old Mini. The magazines lock in the same way an M1A or AK magazine does: catch the front and rock it back to lock it in. The Mini locks open when you fire the last round. The gas system is still the same (more on that later).
The front sight is a casting and is pinned to the barrel. The 20CF front sight does not at the moment have a flash hider, although its stablemate--the 20GBCPC--does. But that may change, given how customer-responsive Ruger has become.
The 20CF comes with a 20-round magazine, and 30-round magazines are available for those who live in free states. When we could not get high-cap mags from Ruger, other companies stepped into the breech. However, those other magazines did not always earn a sterling reputation. It was not uncommon for Mini owners to have several hand-tun
ed and tested magazines and, no, you couldn't borrow them. Now, you can go right to the Ruger web page and order 20- and 30-round magazines.
To test the Mini, I took a Trijicon Reflex sight and clamped it on the top rail. It took me less than a minute, most of that time being spent wrestling the Reflex out of the packaging. The red-dot sight's built-in throw lever mounts make the installation a snap. The adjustment screws are on the right side and top, and it was a cinch to crank the sight over to point of impact.
The rails at three, six and nine o'clock are short, five-slot affairs, but the top rail has plenty of room to mount optics such as this Trijicon Reflex.
The Trijicon Reflex rides a bit high. Combined with the rail being on top of the handguard, the line of sight is high enough to pull your face off the stock. No problem there, as the Mini comes with a bolt-on cheekpiece to raise the stock up to your face.
Once sighted in, I amused myself by hammering the gongs on our range with a variety of .223 and 5.56 loads. Since the 20CF came with only one magazine, I brought my own mags along--a miscellaneous collection of no-name and off-brand mags, plus one Ruger 30-round magazine. They have all been tuned to work in my own Mini, and they all worked in this new one. A couple of them were a bit of a tight fit, but for all I know they were hand-hammered over forms when they were crafted back in the late 1980s.
For accuracy, I stuck with the Trijicon and tried my hand on paper at 100 yards. The trigger mechanism of the Mini is lifted directly, and without apologies, from the Garand. And why not, since John Cantius Garand took it from Browning? You take up the slack, press, and the trigger breaks and the rifle fires. No mystery, no muss, no fuss.
At first the Mini trigger was a bit gritty, but dry-firing and whacking gongs took care of that. From the bench it was easy to get a clean break and, thus, consistent shots.
The premium ammo I had enough of to wring things out, and be sure of what I was seeing, was Hornady 60-grain TAP and Black Hills red 52-grain JHP match. With either of those, the new Mini shot under two m.o.a. Remember, this is with a non-magnifying red dot sight. If I took the Reflex off and clamped a 3-9X scope in the Ruger-provided rings, I would not be the least bit surprised to see a number of groups under 1.5 m.o.a.
Once I'd done some shooting, I took the stock off to look at the gas system. To do that, you need to lever the trigger guard down on the unloaded rifle. With the pistol grip on the folding stock, that is easier said than done. However, if you put an Allen wrench or section of cleaning rod into the hole in the trigger guard, it levers right down.
The handguard is held to the stock with a pair of screws, so you'll have to undo those to get to the gas system. There, things are the same as before: Basically, the op rod is launched by being blown off the spigot of the exposed gas tube. When you go to clean, you simply scrub the gas tube and the op rod clean.
The big update with the 20CF is the pistol-grip folding stock, which is folded by pressing down on the large button on the hinge.
Do not entertain the notion of taking off the gas ring collar. Those four screws are tightened at the factory with a nuclear-powered airgun. When in the past I did have to take the collar off because a customer had been shooting corrosive ammo through a Mini, I reassembled the Mini with new screws. Invariably, one or more would have the heads so chewed by the removal process that they were not good to reuse. Save yourself the hassle of all that and use good ammo.
That said, the Mini has the same virtues and maintenance needs as the rifles it was derived from, the Garand and M-14. Use a good, modern lube on the bearing surfaces, except for the cam slot in the op rod. There, use a good gun grease. Unless you are going to be in the Arctic, you want a heavy, durable, persistent lubricant in that groove.
The Mini-14/20CF has a 16-inch barrel, so you aren't going to get max velocity. No big deal; the shorter length is handier, and the velocity loss is an issue only at longer range.
The barrel has a twist of 1:9, so you are not going to have much fun with heavier bullets. My experience with 1:9 twists is that they are hit and miss with anything heavier than 68-grain bullets. When you go to shoot the 75- and 77-grain bullets, it is a matter of what that particular rifle will and won't stand for. But unless you're sitting on a basement full of Mk 262 Mod 1 ammo, I don't see the twist rate as being a problem.
So if you've wanted a Mini, or you just want a reliable, accurate .223 rifle that won't bust the bank, take a look. The Ruger Mini-14 has entered the 21st century.