Ruger’s new Tactical Mini-30 offers upgrades for hunting and personal defense
Story by Dr. Martin D. Topper
Ruger introduced the Mini-30 rifle in 1987 for shooters who liked the Mini-14, but wanted a gun that fired a larger-caliber cartridge. Simply put: Some shooters are not fond of the 5.56 NATO because of its lack of tactical penetration. Others live in states where rifle calibers under 6mm aren’t allowed for deer hunting. The Mini-30’s 7.62x39mm cartridge has neither problem.
Military 123-grain ball 7.62x39mm ball ammo penetrates light cover much better than most loads for the 5.56, and commercial versions of the 7.62×39, such as Federal’s 123-grain soft point load and COR-BON’s DPX, expand well. These hunting loads develop between 1,300 and 1,500 ft/lbs of energy at the muzzle. That’s less energy than a .30-30, but it’s still powerful enough to cleanly take whitetails out to about 125 yards. For the person who wants only one rifle for defense and close-range deer hunting, the 7.62×39 makes quite a bit of sense.
In theory, the 7.62×39 has quite a bit going for it, but until recently, guns in this caliber were designed for either military or sporting purposes. Until 2005, the Mini-30 was primarily a five-shot Ranch Rifle with a blue steel finish and a wooden stock. The front sight was an unprotected post and the rear sight was a light-duty flip-up design that was intended to be used as a back-up in an emergency.
In 2005, Ruger upgraded both the Mini-30 and the Mini-14. The iron sights were given military-style protective ears and the rear sight was changed to a ghost ring design. The Mini-30 was also made available in a stainless steel model with a black synthetic stock. The newer iron sights were more suited to tactical use, but Minis were still only sold with five-round magazines to civilian customers.
Aftermarket high-capacity magazines were available from other companies, but most of them weren’t as reliable as the high-capacity magazines that Ruger sold to law enforcement agencies. So until recently, both the Mini-14 and the Mini-30 were better suited to being sports-utility rifles than guns designed for both personal defense and hunting.
All of this changed when Ruger introduced tactical versions of the Mini-14 and 10-22 for civilians within the last two years. Now it’s the Mini-30’s turn to undergo a tactical upgrade. For example, the barrel of the Mini-30 Tactical has a 16.1-inch medium contour barrel instead of the light contour 18.5-inch barrel of the original Ranch Rifle.
With a 1×4-power Leupold Mark AR scope, a sling and a fully-loaded 20-round magazine, the overall weight of the gun is a very portable 8 pounds. The Mini-30 Tactical also has a flash hider which extends the barrel length to just about 17.5 inches. This keeps the overall length of the rifle to a very handy 37.5 inches. The rifle comes with one 20- round magazine, and additional 5 and 20-round magazines are available from the Ruger website.
In addition to these features, the rifle has a non-reflective finish. Exposed steel parts on the Tactical are a dark matte blue and the synthetic stock is matte black. There is no silver metal on this rifle to reflect light, and the reduced muzzle signature of its flash hider makes this rifle well-suited for use at night.
The only tactical feature that the Mini-30 Tactical does not have is a rail for mounting a tactical light or light/laser combination. Even so, today’s Mini-30 Tactical truly is a dual-purpose firearm that can be converted from a hunting rifle to a personal defense gun by simply changing magazines and selecting an appropriate load.
When my Mini-30 Tactical arrived at the Florida Gun Exchange, I removed the rifle from the shipping box and checked the function of its trigger and safeties. I also checked the fit of the 20-round magazine. Like the AK-47, the magazines of Ruger’s Minis are inserted with a rock and lock motion. Unlike aftermarket magazines from some companies, the Ruger magazine inserted cleanly and fit firmly once it locked in place.
When I returned home, I field-stripped the rifle for cleaning and examined it for obvious defects in manufacturing. There were no burrs or toolmarks. The trigger pull had some creep and overtravel and broke at an average of 7 pounds. I mounted a black synthetic sling and the Leupold Mark AR scope and headed for the Flagler Gun and Archery Club to run tactical drills, chronograph ammo and shoot the rifle for accuracy at 100 and 200 yards.
I began the range sessions by sighting in at 100 yards. During this process I noticed that the Mini-30 had problems with extraction and did not display consistent accuracy. I called Ruger and the factory asked me to send the gun back for evaluation. Ruger has a good quality assurance system, but even with the best QA an occasional off-spec part can get through. Ruger has excellent customer service. The factory installed a new bolt and slide, and returned the gun to me in short order.
SCORE TO SETTLE
When the rifle came back, I resumed my tests at the Flagler Club. This time the Mini-30 functioned flawlessly, but it still had problems with accuracy. Several of the loads I tested shot groups that displayed vertical stringing. I double checked the scope mounts to be sure they weren’t loose and then continued the accuracy test.
A number of the 100-yard groups fired with different brands of ammo displayed between 6 and 7 inches of vertical dispersion. The load that performed best was the Federal 123-grain JSP. It fired three very consistent five-shot 100-yard groups that were between 3.4 and 3.45 inches.
At 200 yards, I placed the cross-hairs on the base of the neck and the federal load put all five shots on a full-size silhouette target. The center of the group was about 10 inches below the point of aim. Four of the five 200-yard shots hit near the center line in the lower chest and upper abdomen. One shot was in the right hip.
The average velocity of the Federal load was 2,204 fps, which is about 200 fps slower than the military loading, and the average muzzle energy was 1,327 ft/lbs, which is a bit more powerful than the 5.56 NATO. The 123-grain loads I tested from other manufacturers had higher average velocities, but they were less accurate, and the groups they produced were much less consistent.
The particular rifle I tested was accurate enough to be used for personal defense or hunting out to 50-75 yards with most ammunition. This distance could be extended to about 125 yards if the Federal 123-grain soft point were used.
The Mini-30 Tactical tested for this article is just one rifle out of a production run, so I can’t say that its general lack of accuracy indicates anything about other Tactical Mini-30s. It’s unfortunate that this particular rifle would not shoot 100-yard groups averaging less than 4 inches with less expensive military ball ammunition or with hunting loads other than the one from Federal.
On the other hand, the Tactical Mini-30 has some good self-defense features and the 7.62×39 cartridge has some advantages over most loads for the 5.56 NATO. The fact that the factory quickly diagnosed and fixed the reliability problem is also a plus. As for accuracy, I’m not going to draw any final conclusions about the accuracy of this version of the Mini-30 until others have had a chance to publish their evaluations.
Florida Gun Exchange
Sturm, Ruger & Co.