By Dario Although there are a number of popular tactical rifles available to Americans today, I want to discuss the two most popular that use the .223 (5.56X45mm) caliber. These are of course the AR family (AR15, M16, M4 and others), and the Ruger Mini-14. I know that much has already been written about these so I'm going to do this a little different. I may write about AK's and SKS's and other such tactical firearms later. The AR family is very popular because it is based on the current military weapon, which has been in use in various versions for aproximately 50 years. This has allowed time for much developmental modifications on this design. It is also in use in other countries besides the U.S. The Mini-14 is also popular with survivalists and a number of government agencies both in the U.S. and foreign countries use it. So, let's do some comparing: The AR family has been manufactured by many companies. There have been probably thousands of modifications to it. Today it is a VERY accurate and dependable firearm. No one can deny that. It is available in other calibers as well. If you already possess one of these, you can purchase uppers in other calibers. I have seen these chambered for the Russian 5.45X39mm, 6.8mm, several handgun calibers, and .22 long rifle as well as the 7.62X39mm. I even saw one manufacturer that offered an "UPPER" that was chambered for the .50 BAR round! This makes this rifle an extremely versatile weapon! When it comes to target shooting the AR is very accurate as millions of current and ex GI's will tell you. Most AR's are more accurate than the majority of shooters. For survivalists, a major plus for this rifle is the availability of spare parts. Reading Shotgun News you will see huge amounts of spare parts for the AR. As any mechanical device can break down at any time, this makes this rifle a great survival arm. A lot of parts can be replaced in the field. There is also a huge after-market of accesories for the AR's.
Further proof of the desireability of the AR family is the fact that it has been adopted by Israel. Israel has developed some fine weapons of their own such as the Uzi, and the Galil (which they did use as a main battle rifle for awhile), but at this time the Galil has been retired. Israel is a tiny country about the size of the state of New Jersey. They are surrounded by more than 1 billion enemies who want to exterminate them. They don't have a lot of soldiers to throw away. Therefore they want the finest tools available. Their current choice of a battle rifle is the M4. All in all, it would be hard to argue against the use of the AR for survival use.
The Ruger Mini-14 is also extremely popular. It is available in.223, 6.8 and 7.62X39mm. At this time it is available in several configurations including target and tactical models. With the exception of the target models, the Mini-14 is not as accurate as the AR. However, it is accurate enough for police and miltary work. The design of this rifle is loosely based on the M-1 Garand, which was called by General George Patton: "The greatest battle rifle ever implemented" (I am paraphrasing here)! The Mini-14 looks more like a regular rifle instead of a futuristic space age weapon. Some people like this look better. It handles nicely and, like the AR, is fun to shoot. It is in use by a number of police and military units around the world. However the main problem I see with the Mini-14 is the availability of spare parts. As it is manufactured only by Ruger, there is not a large after market of parts. And, some of the most important parts - say the firing pin - must be purchased from Ruger. It is also necessary to return the rifle to Ruger to have parts such as the firing pin fitted. In a TEOTWAKI situation this may not be feasible. I communicated with Ruger to inquire about the possibilty of having my Mini fitted with an extra firing pin. They were underwhelming in their desire to help me. They brushed me off as though they just didn't want to be bothered. Why they have this attitude when the Mini has so many possibilities is difficult to understand. You would think that they would push this rifle for survivalists.
There is an after market company that makes a firing pin for the Mini-14 but I have heard that these parts are not heat treated very well and may not last very long. Although there are after market magazines available for the Mini-14, there have been lots of feeding problems with them. This was another of Ruger's customer no-service actions. For years they refused to make factory magazines available to the public. They finally saw the light, but Ruger magazines are quite expensive compared to AR mags. I don't understand why Ruger wasn't, and isn't, interested in pushing the Mini for survival or other use by the gun-buying public. I suspect that they have been sucking up to the government hoping for some large contracts. Although I own several Ruger products and have had good luck with them, I have to say that the AR is the better survival rifle.
DARIO'S SURVIVAL ASSESSMENT: AR-15 slight edge.