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Ruger's Autoloading Rifles And Pistols
By Dick Metcalf, Technical Editor, Shooting Times.

Page Two

The Mini-14 Centerfire Family
Bill Ruger has always sought to combine the best of traditional and modern elements in his firearms designs, and for his Mini-14 semiautomatic rifle he combined the modern military’s .223 Remington cartridge with the traditional appeal of the Garand-type US military rifles of World War II and the Korean War era. The idea obviously worked because the Mini-14 has been one of the most popular multipurpose police/military/sporter firearms in the world since its first production in 1974. Further testimony to that fact is embodied in a list of aftermarket accessories and add-on features that is nearly as extensive as those available for the rimfire 10/22. The Mini-14 is an exceptionally practical firearm and is also one of the most plain fun semiautomatics ever made.

Ruger emphasizes that the Mini-14 is not a copy of the Garand mechanisms, but it does intentionally resemble (scaled-down) the Garand-type M14 7.62mm (.308 Winchester) rifle that was the US Army’s basic soldier’s rifle until replaced by the .223 M16 in 1969. And like the M14 Garand, the Mini-14 is a gas-operated autoloader. As a round is fired, a small amount of gas is diverted from behind the bullet through a hole on the barrel; this gas exerts sufficient force to drive back the slide, eject the fired case, and chamber a fresh cartridge as the spring-driven bolt returns forward.

For sportsmen, the .223 Mini-14 is an ideal predator and varmint gun that stands between the .22 LR/.22 WMR rifles and full-size .224-caliber centerfire bolt-action heavy-barrel guns. For farmers, ranchers, and working outdoorsmen who want a rugged, virtually indestructible rifle, or for coyote hunters operating in terrain where 100- to 150-yard shots are the norm, the Mini-14 has proven to be nearly perfect. In Midwestern states bordering the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, where coyote infestation is reaching epidemic proportions, the Mini-14 has in fact become one of the most popular of all “varmint guns.”

One of the main reasons for this popularity is the Mini-14’s surprising accuracy. Even with the coarse-adjustment, military-peep-style rear sights of the standard Mini-14, most shooters produce groups of about 3.5 inches at 100 yards, which is certainly functional considering one click of adjustment on the sights moves the point of impact about 1.5 inches at that range. And, considering the flat trajectory of the .223 cartridge, a 200-yard zero with those standard sights will give you an eight-inch impact circle at anywhere from 50 to 300 yards.


The eight present variants of the Mini-14 family are divided into three basic model sets: the Mini-14, the Ranch Rifle, and the Mini Thirty. Prices range from $600 to $710. The Mini-14 and Ranch Rifle are designed specifically for maximum benefit from the popular .223 cartridge in situations were a quick few shots are needed, and, as Ruger puts it, have had their mettle tested on ranches and farms across America and have not been found wanting. Mini-14 and Ranch Rifle hardwood stocks are reinforced with steel liners in stressed and high-temperature areas. The All-weather Mini-14 and Ranch Rifle models feature synthetic stocks and stainless-steel construction for use in environments of high humidity, rain, snow, or salt water. The Ranch Rifle is basically the same rifle as the standard Mini-14 but is designed for use with telescopic sights and provides for low mounting of a scope using the one-inch Ruger rings provided with each gun, mounted on the integral bases, with a folding peep sight for backup. The Mini-14 Ranch model also has side ejection and a patented recoil buffer to further protect the scope.

The Ruger Mini Thirty rifle is about the same size as the Mini-14 Ranch Rifle, slightly beefier, but is chambered for the 7.62x39mm cartridge. The heavier weight .308 bullet compared to the .223 makes the Mini Thirty a fine short-range whitetail rifle, providing mid-bore performance in a compact, lightweight, semiautomatic sporter. Like the Ranch Rifle, the Mini Thirty is specifically designed for use with scopes (Ruger rings are included) and features side ejection and a recoil buffer. In a world where compact autoloading firearms of all kinds have become whipping boys for the radical antigunners, the Ruger Mini-14 family is one of the best illustrations imaginable of the true sporting identity of this form of gun.

P-Series Centerfire Pistols
With Bill Ruger’s very first gun being a rimfire autoloading pistol, many people long expected Ruger would be early in line with a centerfire semiautomatic pistol as well. But it was 36 years before the first of the Ruger P-Series autos appeared. It was worth the wait. The double-action P85 9mm, with its investment-cast aluminum frame, was definitely innovative and a market trendsetter. At present the Ruger P-Series pistols overall have become the largest selling autoloader design in the world.

As with Ruger’s .22 pistol line, the P-Series centerfire pistols have undergone continuing refinement, redevelopment, and evolution during the years since the introduction of the original version. Much more evolution, in fact, in much less time. So much more that the original P85 has actually evolved out of existence and is no longer made. Instead, the current 25 different individual
P-Series centerfire model variations listed in the Ruger 2000 catalog are separable into six subgroups based on chamberings, size, and fabrication materials. Prices range from $388 to $520.

The P89 group consists of five full-size, large-frame 9mm pistols; they are the direct developmental descendants of the original P85 and follow-up P85 MK II guns, both of which designations were discontinued upon the P89 introduction three years after the parent. P89s are currently offered in blued or stainless steel with choices of manual-safety, decock-only, or double-action-only (DAO) operating systems.

The P90 group consists of three full-size .45 ACP guns, including a blued manual safety version and manual-safety or decock-only stainless models. The P90 is interesting in that its frame is the same dimension as the 9mm pistols with a beefier slide to accommodate the larger .45-caliber cartridge.

The P93 group comprises three 9mm pistols, all featuring a down-scaled compact design, including a blued decock-only model, a stainless decock-only model, and a stainless DAO model.

The P94 group fits midway in size between the full-size P89/90s and the P93s and includes four 9mm and three .40 S&W models. The P94 9mm guns are available in blued manual-safety configuration or stainless models in either manual-safety, decock-only, or DAO iterations. The three .40-caliber P94s are all stainless with a choice of manual-safety, decock-only, or DAO operation.

The most recent introductions in the Ruger centerfire auto line are in the P95 and P97 groups, currently consisting of four polymer-frame 9mm pistols scaled the same as the compact P93 guns and two .45 ACP Models. All other members of the P-Series family are made with investment-cast aluminum frames, same as the original P85. The P95 guns are offered in choices of decock-only and DAO versions in blued finish or decock-only and DAO versions in stainless. The P97 guns are offered in either decock-only or DAO versions—both in stainless. All in all, it’s quite a list.

Current-generation Ruger P-Series pistols include several improvements and refinements that distinguish them from the original versions of the gun. Externally, the most noticeable operating-feature difference between a current “P” gun and the original P85 is the design of the slide stop: The current slide stop sits notably higher on the gun with its thumb-engagement surface well above the top of the frame and angled inward over the frame’s beefy top shoulder. The reason for the design change was to streamline the gun’s profile and to reduce the amount of the slide stop’s outward protrusion, which was found to cause a bit of drag and resistance to a rapid draw with some holster designs. And original P85 barrels were of two-piece construction with the barrel and the square breechblock pressed together and then welded. Current barrels are cast as one piece with broached bores.

Also notably better than the original is current P-Series trigger pull quality, due to internal changes in the sear/trigger engagement linkages and parts configuration. The sear pivot pin has been reduced in size from original models, the trigger bar has been thickened, and the hammer-spring seat pin has been enlarged. The new mechanism also involves a bearing and slave pin to hold the sear blocker lever spring assembly together as a coherent unit. The overall result is a distinct smoothing and lightening of the trigger pull because the bearing considerably reduces friction in the sear assembly’s operation without weakening the mechanism or reducing the mass of the working parts. I have done three separate 10,000-round endurance runs with three separate examples of Ruger P-Series centerfire autos, and all were completed without failure, stoppage-free. In my opinion they definitely deserve serious consideration for Ruger’s claim of producing the world’s most rugged conventional semiautomatic pistols.

Indeed, there’s no doubt that Ruger’s semiautomatic handguns and rifles fully deserve to be ranked as great guns of the century. Now, if the company would just bring back that great little .44 Carbine.

Ruger Autoloader Chronology
Model
Introduced
Discontinued
Rimfire Pistols
Standard Automatic Pistol
1949
1981
Mark I Automatic Pistol
1951
1981
Signature Series Standard
Model Stainless
1982
1982
Mark II Standard Pistol
1982
Mark II Target Pistol
1982
Mark II Government Pistol
1986
Government Competition
Pistol Stainless
1992
Mark II 22/45 Pistol
1993
Mark II 22/45 Pistol
Bull Barrel
1995
Mark II MK 4B Bull Barrel
1996
Mark II, 50th Anniversary
1999
1999
Rimfire Rifles
10/22 Carbine
1964
10/22 Carbine Stainless
With Laminated Stock
1986
10/22 International
1994
10/22T Target
1996
10/22 Stainless
All-weather
1997
10/22 Magnum
1999
Centerfire Rifles
.44 Carbine
1959
1985
Mini-14
1975
Mini-14 (AC-556)
1976
Mini-14 (AC-556 GB)
1976
Mini-14 Stainless
1978
Mini-14 Ranch
1982
.44 Carbine,
25th Anniversary
1985
1985
Mini-14 Ranch Stainless
1986
Mini-14 With
Laminated Stock
1986
1988
Mini-14 Stainless With
Laminated Stock
1986
1991
Mini Thirty
1986
Ruger Carbine 9mm
& .40 Auto
1997
Ruger Carbine With
Ghost Ring Sight
1998
Mini-14 Stainless With
Synthetic Stock
1999
Centerfire Pistols
9mm P85
1987
1991
P85 Decocker
1990
1990
9mm P85 Stainless
1990
1990
9mm P85 Decocker
Stainless
1990
1990
9mm P85 MKII
1991
1992
9mm P89 Decocker
1991
P89DAO Stainless
1992
.45 ACP P90 Stainless
1992
.40 S&W P91 Stainless
1992
1994
P93DAO Stainless
1994
9mm P93 Decocker
Stainless
1994
9mm, .30 Luger
P88X Stainless
1994
1995
9mm P94
1994
.40 S&W P94
1994
P95
1996
.45 ACP P90 Blued
1998
9mm P93 Decocker
Blued
1998
9mm, .40 S&W
P94 Blued
1998
.45 ACP P97
1998

Page One - .22 Rimfire Pistols, 10/22 Rimfire Rifles
Page Two - Mini-14 Centerfire Family, P-Series Centerfire Pistols, Auto Chronology

This article was originally published in Shooting Times magazine in June, 2000.

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