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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Ruger's Mini 14 '580 Series' Ranch Rifle


The last month has brought about significant changes. After almost 12 years as the investigator for a prosecuting attorney, I accepted a staff position with the PD in a military town. Thankfully, the new outfit is small enough that 'the brass' still run some calls and do real police work on a pretty regular basis. I also inherited the firearms training program, which means time more time spent in an aspect of law enforcement I have always loved.


A nearby national security asset underscores the value of stand-off weaponry- which to me means 'minute of noggin' at 200 yards. With that in mind, I recently swapped into a like-new 2007-production Mini 14. It's .223 Remington cartridge and 'Ranch Rifle' designation fit my secondary intentions for it quite well . Now, I don't have any heartburn for the AR15, but I definitely prefer the handling and two-stage trigger of the M14 platform and the Mini follows that basic layout.

My blue '07 Mini is in the 580-38xxx serial range and for those unfamiliar with the '580', it is the end product of a complete re-tooling aimed at enhancing the accuracy of this popular firearm. The last Mini 14 I owned was an old '78 model and while it was no slouch in the accuracy department, it was apparently an exception to the rule. Mini 14's have established a poor reputation for accuracy in the 30 years that have passed, between these rifles.


My current Mini was obtained in 'used- like new' condition and the bluing on the bolt was pristine until the first two magazines went down range. It wears the fiberglass handguard and hardwood stock common to the newer Mini's, and is equipped with a nice rubber pad where the slick, plastic buttplate used to be. This rifle has the 'straight' barrel profile which mics at 0.575 just ahead of the gas block and reduces to 0.565 about 3 5/8 inches ahead of that fixture.


The trigger is typical Mini meaning it is two-stage, like bolt-action military rifles of the 19th and 20th centuries. My RCBS Premium Trigger Pull Scale indicates that three pounds of force is required to overcome the first stage; five and one half pounds gets you through the second stage and fires the rifle.


As is common with these rifles, that second stage has some creep. This is due to hammer/sear engagement angles which actually cam the hammer backward a few thousandths, during the final press. If you pull the slack out of a stock Mini's trigger and then release it, the hammer will snap right back into full sear engagement. Leave it to Bill Ruger to design a lawyer-proof trigger. Of course there's a trade-off for everything and until you master it, the Mini's trigger can make precision shooting a real challenge.


A breezy fall day provided the opportunity to get acquainted with my 580 Mini. One of 'Sarge's Rules' is that the very first thing you do with any rifle, is to precisely zero its iron sights. They are on there for a reason and if all else fails- having a perfectly zeroed firearm can make the difference in who goes home to the Missus, and who goes home to their reward. A measured 210 yards separates my shooting table from the target frame and to my thinking, a 200 yard zero is just about right for most centerfire rifle cartridges.


Adjusting the 580's rear sight for windage involves loosening/tightening the opposing windage screws, and moving the aperture in the direction you want your group to go. Loosening the windage screws also frees the aperture to rotate up or down, to facilitate elevation adjustment. While the lack of click detents is something of a nuisance, it does provide a very fine degree of windage adjustment. I was also pleased to find the sight picture in sharp focus, even with with my prescription glasses in place.



6o rounds of Remington/UMC 55 grain FMJ was used for the initial shooting. Starting at 25 yards, I rough-zeroed the sights. I was soon back at 210 yards, firing three-shot groups and adjusting as I went. Usually I would get off 2 good shots of the three, and it soon became apparent that the Mini 14 was keeping its shots within a couple of inches each other- when I held my end up. Four inches at 200 yards seemed to be about the best I could manage with the aperture sights .


Once the irons were 'on' I installed an old Bushnell 4X on the Mini, and repeated the process. It's crosshairs are so coarse that they blank out a 3" orange dot at 200 yards, but once I went to a bullseye target things got better.


I shot a while longer and noticed the groups were starting to scatter. A quick check of the mounts revealed that one of the receiver mount screws had worked itself loose on the rear ring. Since I was about done shooting for the day, I decided to just pull the scope off and reinstall it to determine how much the zero changed. I was happy to discover that the rifle still shot within three inches of its 210-yard zero. There were no malfunctions with the factory magazine and Remington's 55 grain, full metal jacket UMC load.


Next, I set about finding a reload that would shoot to the same 200 yard POA and the Rem/UMC 55 FMJ load; I had some Sierra 55 BTHP's on hand, with the ever present H4895- my standby rifle powder. Since I was using Lake City cases, I backed off the max a tad and started at 25.7 grains. To tell the truth, this batch of cases has been sitting around primed for so long that I can't recall what primer I used in them.


Luckily, the first load out of the chute was good and it shot exactly to the UMC load's point of impact, with either the scope or iron sights. It also grouped just as well and typical three shot, 210 yard groups looked like the pair pictured below. The group highlighted in red has two shots in just under 2 inches, with a third straggler opening it up to 3 ¾ inches. The dropped shot below the bull was simply operator error.



The best 3-shot group of the day was 1 3/4" using the aforementioned UMC load. I think the rifle is actually shooting this well, as long as the barrel stays relatively cool. Once the targeting was done, I splattered several 100 oz. detergent jugs at 125-210 yards from rested field positions, using the irons. The initial shooting session laid any accuracy concerns to rest and convinced me that my rifle possesses satisfactory accuracy for 200 yard varmint shooting- regardless of the number of legs those varmints might have.


With the accuracy & reliability issues resolved, it was time to order some magazines. I contacted Ruger Law Enforcement Sales division and attempted to obtain a half-dozen of the factory 20-round component. I was promptly informed that Ruger does not sell directly to LE Agencies. I would have to go through one of two LE distributors to obtain the mags.


So I called the first (closest) one and learned that they were out of stock, but 'hoped' to have some 20 round Ruger magazines, 'soon'. I also learned that the Dept. price for these was over $41.00 each. Oddly, Ruger has a 'promo' going for new rifle buyers that gets them a free 20 round mag, and two more for $29.95 each. I guess that's my punishment for not paying $600+ for a new Mini 14. I finally just said 'To hell with it' and ordered some 20 round ProMags from Brownells.


When the ProMags arrived I gave them an 'acid test'- 50 rounds of over-length, lousy reloads I've been needing to shoot up for awhile. I knew the powder charge was safe but the primed LC brass was a freebie. I later learned that many had only been neck sized- if they were sized at all. To make it usable I pulled the decapper from a sizing die, and just ran the brass through primed. The end product was still pretty sorry with most over SAAMI overall length for the cartridge. The ProMags never missed a beat even with this junk ammo. I am really happy with these magazines, especially considering their price.


It is my opinion that these new Ranch Rifles are the best Mini's we've ever seen. Their non-slip buttpad and improved sights make them easy to mount quickly and shoot well from field positions. This particular specimen shoots better at over 200 yards, than many earlier Mini's would shoot at half that distance. While testing the ProMags, I managed to warm the barrel up pretty good while emptying of a couple of them. Even with a hot barrel, the last three-shot group of the day was 3 7/8 inches at 210 yards. In my experience, your average AR/M4 will not beat that significantly.


The accuracy improvements in these new Mini's, is a landmark accomplishment.; Ruger seems to have finally resolved the single weakness of the Mini 14. Now all they need to do is make it easier/cheaper to obtain factory, 20 round magazines.


Then- we'd be good to go!



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1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very informative post, Sarge. Very decent accuracy from a light carbine with a short barrel, and semi auto to boot. 'Course, the guy behind the trigger might have had somethin' to do with it. Now I have to save up......

j

Saturday, July 04, 2009 8:00:00 PM  

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