In Thinking Through Bug Out Firearms, I suggested criteria for choosing weapons you might want to have if bugging out. My personal choice was for a carbine in 5.56mm or 7.62x39mm rather than a battle rifle. At the time I was leaning toward the (still) yet to be released to the public SIG516, and decided against the AK platform.
The SIG516, an improved AR clone, was featured in American Rifleman and was pretty impressive. I’m not a fan of gas-impingement systems and the SIG516 is a gas piston operated AR, so all the better. I’ve fired the M-16 and like the design well enough, but am not a dedicated fan. Reliability, accuracy, durability, and feel are all important to me, and let’s not forget price.
The AR of course has a well established reputation for reliability problems. Rabid AR fans will argue about the reliability issue, saying the weapon is reliable if properly cleaned, or if regularly lubricated. To me those are loser arguments; give me AK reliability with no caveats. From what I’ve read, the relatively dirty gas impingement ARs just cannot deliver that level of reliability, but cleaner gas piston operated systems like the SIG516 seem to be able to.
While waiting around for the SIG516 to come out (read someplace that might be December 2010, but might be later), I rediscovered the Ruger Mini-14. I say rediscovered since of course I’ve been aware of it for years, but never took it seriously due to its notorious accuracy problems and very expensive magazines (over $100 for a 30-round, at one time). It did have a tough-as-nails durability/AK-like reliability reputation (gas piston based on the M-14, bolt system based on the Garand), but why pay twice as much as an AK for the same accuracy?
But something changed around 2005-2006 – Ruger finally upgraded the pencil thin barrel and now has a thicker, tapered barrel that, by most accounts, has eliminated the accuracy problems. This improved the well known Ranch model, and a Tactical model with slightly shorter barrel and flash suppressor was added to the line-up. The newer models have serial numbers beginning with 580 and 581.
Nutnfancy has an excellent review where he puts up a Mini-14 Tactical against an AR-15 and an AK-74. The Mini-14 more than holds its own (first part in a series);
Having found the Mini-14 option right under my nose, I took a second look at another rifle I hadn’t paid much attention to, the Kel-Tec SU-16 series, specifically the SU-16C. This rifle is also in 5.56mm, but has a polymer frame, is gas-piston operated, an under-folding stock (can be fired in this configuration), and uses standard AR magazines.
This rifle has real appeal as a Bug out Bag (BoB) weapon that can fit right into the bag. Using AR magazines is a real bonus, since those magazines are plentiful and cheap. From all I’ve read, it’s very ergonomic and accurate. While it is gas piston operated, it hasn’t been around for long enough to judge overall relatively.
Again, Nutnfacny has an excellent review of the SU-16C (and, again, is a series, so watch them all);
If you do a few searches, you’ll find a lot of opinions out there about the Mini-14 and the SU-16C. Unfortunately, a lot of those opinions are grossly uninformed. Some are have never fired a Mini-14 or are completely unaware of the improved versions, but will still talk trash. Some will do the same about the SU-16C because it has a polymer frame and is so inexpensive (relatively).
In both cases they may be talked poorly about because they aren’t ARs. The AR is a fine weapon, but AR snobs have issues admitting any other rifle compares. You’ll have to sift through reviews and message threads to find input from those who’ve actually fired the weapons or who are judging fairly based on all information available.
As mentioned at the beginning of this post, I have a few criteria for judging between platforms, based on many hours of sifting through comments, reports, and reviews from those who’ve used one or more of these rifles;
- Reliability: Mini-14 comes out on top, AR gas piston models next, and not enough information to rate the SU-16C yet.
- Durability: Mini-14 again, followed by the AR. The SU-16C is polymer so probably won’t hold up as well over time.
- Accuracy: More expensive ARs have the edge here, while the newer Mini-14s will be on par or better to the lower end ARs. The SU-16C likely is at least equal to the Mini-14 in this category (better than the older Minis though).
- Price: The SU-16C can be had in the $550-600 range, the Mini-14 for $600-800, and AR gas piston operated models for $800+. ARs generally also require additional sights.
- Feel/Style: This is completely subjective. I like them all, but prefer the “real rifle” feel of the Mini-14.
- Magazines: AR magazines (aluminum) are cheaper and lighter, and go for $10 and up. On the other hand, Mini-14 magazines (steel) are heavier but stronger and go for $20 and up. Advantage AR.
- Parts: AR hands down. There is a nascent Mini-14 parts/upgrade market, but the AR market is very well established.
- Field Stripping: There are all reported to be easy, with the SU-16C perhaps to a slight disadvantage.
I think the SU-16C is a good choice, especially if you need or really want a rifle that will fit into a backpack or other small space. And for those most comfortable with the AR platform, no reason not to go that way.
But after going through all of this over the past several months, my group is planning standardizing on the Mini-14. We were going to wait on the $1,300 MSRP SIG516, but with the Mini-14s improved accuracy and decades proven relativity and durability – at half the price of the SIG516 – the decision practically made itself.