Over Christmas vacation I was able to put my recently purchased Mini-14 Tactical through its paces, overall with very good results. Tested with iron sights, red-dot, and scoped (out to 300 yards); and using a wide variety of ammunition. Review to follow, this post is about the process used to select the Mini-14.
The criteria my brothers and I started with in selection a group standard carbine; reliability, accuracy, durability, high capacity magazines, can use a wide variety of ammunition, weight, able to reach out to 300 yards (scoped), and price. Not necessarily in that order, we were looking at the whole rifle capability. We have Mosin Nagants for longer-ranges (review to follow).
We did a lot of research before settling on the Mini-14. While I’ve owned AK-47s and have experience with the M-16 in the military, I had not fired a Mini-14. We all read a lot of online reviews and all the “AR vs. AK vs. Mini” forum threads we could find.
While there are high capacity magazines for the SKS (7.62x39mm, like the AK-47), they are awkward and the rifle itself is larger and heavier than the other carbines being considered. We still own a few SKSs and will keep them as backups. Also looked at the KelTec SU-16C, but eliminated it early on due to concerns about long-term use of the polymer parts that are probably more apt to be bumped around than a Glock.
Something you’ll come across fairly often in forums discussing AR vs. AK is that 5.56mm ammunition will be more accessible in a TEOTWAWKI situation. While we selected a rifle in 5.56mm, I think that notion is a myth; the military and maybe police would have some but it’s not like they’re going to sell it or share it. 5.56mm might be available for a little longer, but the vast majority of ammo would become scarce at any price.
Early on in we research we eliminated the AK-47 and AK-74. They’re fun to shoot and have an undeniable track record for rugged combat reliability and durability, but the AK-47 isn’t generally considered very accurate past 100-200 yards and is a hassle to scope. The AK-74 and its 5.45x39mm ammo aren’t very prevalent in the U.S. yet, so that was also ruled out.
A few years ago I never would have considered a Mini-14 due to its notorious accuracy problems and very expensive magazines. The problem with that view is that Ruger improved the Mini-14 several years ago, adding thicker barrels, tighter tolerances, and a few different versions. Magazine prices are now also sane, at about $30 for factory 30-round steel magazines.
There are a lot of Mini-haters out there, which made forum threads painful at times. Those with no trigger time on the new Minis continued to berate their accuracy. That’s like comparing the reliability of the original M-16 to a modern M-4; apples and oranges. Nutnfancy has a thorough and bias-free review of the Mini-14 Tactical.
Having narrowed things down to an AR or a Mini-14, my brothers and I were leaning towards the AR, specifically the SIG516. Truth be told I’d like to be able to outfit all of us with these, but at about $1,350 before shipping, taxes, and FFL fees, it’s a bit too much. Additionally, there are also still valid concerns about feeding ARs cheap ammo since some ARs are finicky. Training with the steel-cased ammo is a lot cheaper, and what if the steel-cased was all that was available after TSHTF?
Sifting through the forums where people with actual trigger time on the newer Mini-14s showed the new and old to be like two different weapons as far as accuracy. Still with AK-like reliability and durability, but now with accuracy nearing the AR.
Some arguing against the Mini-14 and for the AR-15 claimed Mini-14 parts aren’t nearly as widely available as AR parts. Looking at Cheaper Than Dirt, Centerfire, CDNN, etc., that claim is absolutely true, lots more AR parts (and more accessories) out there. Why? Reading forums it seems Mini-14s almost never break (firing pin a noted issue in some Minis after high round counts).
This reminds me of another often quoted Mini-14 myth: it’s a good varmint rifle – coyotes and jackrabbits are in danger – but not a combat rifle. Right, because the 5.56mm round is lethal to varmints but won’t kill people when fired out of a Mini. These are the sorts of illogical arguments you need to sift through to find the information you’re looking for.
All our research led us to believe that the AR is more accurate than the newer Mini-14s, but we’re talking 1-1.5 MOA for most ARs vs. 2-3 MOA for non-target model Minis, at 100 yards, out of the box. And that the Mini-14 won’t normally do better than that. Accuracy was one of our critical criteria, but we felt 2-3 MOA was fine – we’re not snipers taking head shots.
We had two major concerns about the AR platform. First the repeated use of caveats when describing the reliability of the system, for example it’s reliable when properly lubricated or when properly cleaned. Some claimed to have fired a million rounds though their AR with no cleaning/lubrication (yes, I’m exaggerating), but those claims didn’t mesh well with the vast majority of credible information we read. Mini-14 users never used those caveats, just reported that it always goes bang.
Second was that ARs can be choosy about the type of ammo it cycles well, specifically some problems with cheap steel-cased ammo. This is a problem because it could potentially increase the cost of training with the AR, and in the perhaps unlikely but still possible event that it’s TEOTWAWKI and all you can get your hands on is some Wolf ammo.
However, unlike the Mini-14, ARs have much cheaper magazines (good ones for $10) and can be scoped with a variety of optics very easily. The Mini-14 has $30 magazines and using the provided scope rings (which are not quick detach, or QD) blocks iron sights. Overall, we considered these annoyances rather than deal breakers, and a B-Square mount for the Mini-14 worked out very well (w/o rings for ~$50, review to follow).
Considering our criteria and planned use as a TEOTWAWKI weapon, we settled on the Mini-14. If we never expected a SHTF situation, could afford to stock up on tens of thousands of brass-cased rounds, and price was not a concern, might’ve gone with an AR. The Mini-14 accuracy is now very good, reliability/durability excellent, can reach out to 300 yards easily, not picky about ammo, and the price is right – under $600 at CDNN.
In the end, it all comes down to your personal (or group) criteria and preferences. If you like or dislike the ergos, etc. on one or the other, go with what you like. IMO the AR, AK, and Mini can all good choices, depending on your specific needs.