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Ruger Mini-14 Target

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The Shooting Game's equivalent of making a silk purse from a sow's ear is refining military-type weaponry to competition-level accuracy, particularly with autoloading pistols and rifles, whose primary design criteria are functional reliability and sturdy construction, with innate accuracy a casual afterthought.

Even so, some of the least likely candidates for target range honors have been honed, boned and tinkered to tournament-winning performance. So now comes Ruger's Mini-14 in target dress. Though not a battle-proven veteran in the strictest military sense, the Mini-14 has been around since 1974 and earned its stripes in worldwide police applications along with a reputation for such chores as hosing down skedaddling coyotes. It is an enduring favorite.

This new "Target" version is the Mini's most radical alteration yet, and no doubt has presented Ruger with the classic sow's ear dilemma: add a few frills and a new title and claim improved performance, or create a genuine silk purse?

NEW STOCK GEOMETRY

The Buck Rogers—style stock takes some getting used to, but after a few shots even critics brought up in the classical school of stock design are likely to admit that the multi-toned laminated wood stock with an ambidextrous thumbhole feels pretty good, and that the high comb, which is actually higher at heel than the bore line, aligns your eye with a scope nicely.

Standard procedure for boosting the accuracy of virtually any rifle is fitting a heavier barrel, which has the effect of adding both stiffness and aiming steadiness. So the Mini-Target comes with a thicker and longer barrel, adding 3½ inches to the standard Mini-14 Ranch Rifle's 18½ inches and nearly 3 pounds in weight, with the heavier stock accounting for part of that.

Also, the barrel's rate of rifling has been increased, from the standard 1-in-10 inches to 1-in-9 inches. Presumably this is a compromise for shooters who want heavier bullets, but it isn't likely to appeal to legions of prairie-dog shooters who prefer the quick little 40-grainers that do best in a slower twist.

THE WRONG CROWN

Advance publicity for the Mini-Target proclaims a "target crown" at the muzzle, apparently referring to the inward-angled facing generally known as the "Air Force Crown." While this is fine for most accuracy-specific rifles, it's a mistake for rifles that must be cleaned from the muzzle, as does the Mini-14, because the sharp, unprotected edges of the rifling can be damaged by careless cleaning, greatly reducing accuracy. A safe alternative to a cleaning rod is a pull-through, such as a BoreSnake.

A vital link in a rifle's performance chain is a trigger pull that is crisp and reasonably light; the Mini-Target's pull is neither. The reason this important element of good shooting was ignored by Ruger may be in-house paranoia, but it needn't spell doom because a savvy gunsmith who has mastered smoothing out a Garand's fire-control system can do the same for the Mini-14.

The bottom line for any rifle that bears the name "Target" is its accuracy. The sample gun we tested tended to be especially particular about ammo, and to give it a fair chance to do its best, seven makes and bullet combos were tested. All groups were fired from a filled magazine.

Group-size averages varying an inch or more between different brands and bullet weight combos were recorded. Also, to prove or disprove the worth of the Mini-Target's modifications, parallel testing was done with a standard Mini-14 Ranch Rifle using identical ammo and scope. And yes, Alice, the changes make a difference—a big one (see below).

PROS: Redesigned stock, improved accuracy, flawless functioning.

CONS: Poor trigger pull; sharp-edged "target" crown, a no-no for rifles that must be cleaned from the muzzle.

FINAL WORD: Earns the name "Target."

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

BRAND AND BULLET TYPE AVERAGE OF 5-SHOT GROUPS AT 100 YARDS
Federal 55-gr. BTHP* vs. regular Mini-14 Range Rifle 1.304 in. 3.449 in.
Federal 55-gr. Nos Ballistic Tip 1.705 in.
Federal 62-gr. FMJ 1.836 in.
Winchester 40-gr. Nos Ballistic Tip 1.223 in.
Winchester 50-gr. Nos Ballistic Tip 2.564 in.
Winchester 53-gr. HP vs. regular Mini-14 Range Rifle 2.529 in. 3.027 in.
Winchester 64-gr. Power Point 2.261 in.

* smallest group recorded .780 in.

BY THE NUMBERS

MANUFACTURER: Sturm-Ruger MODEL: Mini-14 Target TYPE: Autoloading rifle CALIBER: .223 Rem. MAGAZINE CAPACITY: 5+1 WEIGHT: 9 lb. 7 oz. FINISH: Gray stainless STOCK: Laminated wood BARREL LENGTH: 22 in. OVERALL LENGTH: 42½ in. LENGTH OF PULL: 14 5/8 in. DROP AT HEEL: ¼ in. DROP AT COMB: ¼ in. TRIGGER PULL: 6 lb. 11 oz. (varied by up to 1½ lb.) PRICE: $914

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