Over a decade after Ruger brought out their classic Mini-14 rifle in .223, the company decided to update the design to a completely new hybrid chambered in a very Russian caliber. The rest, as they say...
(Current 'New' model Mini-30 note the PC-9 style rear sights)
Why was it invented?
Taking a trip back to the mid-1980s, the Reagan-era had a lot of neat things about it. Besides allowing private ownership of new full-auto firearms, the feds also had very relaxed import regulations with Communist China as a counterbalance to the Cold War with the Soviet Russians. This open border trading policy with Beijing allowed thousands of Chinese made Norinco Type 53 carbines to flood the country from sea to shining sea. These East Asian versions of the Soviet Semenov SKS-45 rifle were sold for as little as $79 brand new in the box.
It was estimated that during that decade nearly a million SKS's and almost as many Polytech, Maddi, MAK, and Norinco AK-pattern semi-autos arrived on our shores. This propelled the humble 7.62x39mm round, made military standard behind the Iron Curtain before Winston Churchill even coined the term, to instant popularity in the U.S.
The cartridge, ballistically similar to the .30-.30 Winchester, was effective out to 200 meters or more and was insanely cheap with 1300 round cases of brass Chinese milsurp going for under a $100 bill. Soon domestic production by Remington and Winchester started, meaning that the loading was available in your local Wal-Mart and gun shop.
That's when Ruger decided to answer the Chinese invasion with a carbine of their own.
Ruger's Mini-14 rifle was introduced in 1974 and the handy 6.75-pound carbine, styled on the M14 battle rifle as well as the M1 Garand that preceded it, had been a commercial success for the company. Using a fixed piston/moving cylinder gas system in conjunction with a simplified Garand-type rotating bolt, the gun was reliable, accurate enough for casual plinking, and short-ranged hunting.
The combination of an 18.5-inch barrel gave the rifle a short overall length that could be further augmented with either factory or aftermarket folding stocks. While the '14 used the same round as the AR-15 and was popular with law enforcement, paramilitary units, and as a varmint rifle around the ranch, serious deer and hog hunters wanted something more.
By stretching the receiver to accommodate the 7.62x39mm, adding a thicker .311 caliber barrel, and reworking the magwell to fit a likewise larger detachable box mag, the Mini-30 was born. Slightly heavier due to the extra beef, the rifle tipped the scales at 7.25-pounds but this helped offset the increase in recoil. The gun hit the market in 1986 with the first serial number being #186-00501.
A sweet disassembly vid from the Aftermath Gun Club on the Mini series
Ruger kept the basic "Pre-Ranch" style Mini-30 in production until 2000, introducing a stainless model in 1990. In 2001, starting with serial number #196-06325, the company updated the line somewhat to include ring bases and rings as standard. Then, as with the Mini-14s, ended production of these old-school guns in 2004.
(Thin barreled early Mini-14 with aftermarket 30-round mag. Ruger typically just markets 5 and 20s)
(An early '30 that has been outfitted with a Butler Creek folding stock, muzzle brake, and aftermarket 30 round bananas. Note the early flip sights on the rear)
(Stainless early model-- again note the sights. This variant was made 1990-2004 in either a walnut, laminated 'green' stock, or composite offerings)
While the new and improved Mini-14 Ranch Rifle emerged with the "580" series serialed guns in 2005, taking advantage of new tooling, a redesign that included a thicker barrel profile to improve accuracy, PC-9 style rear sights, and other internal modifications, the new Mini-30 was still a year off. In 2006, starting with number 581-01002, the new and improved '30 hit the shelves.
This version has remained in production for the past decade and now includes three variants all with a 13-inch length of pull fixed stock, 6.75-pound weight, and an MSRP around $1K. Two of these models are stainless with 18-5-inch barrels while the third, a tac version, has a 16.15-inch alloy barrel set up.
A fourth version not listed on Ruger's site comes standard with an ATI Collapsible/Folding 6-Position Stock and has been running wholesale closer to the $750 mark.
While used pre-581 models will run you $500-$700 judging from research of the past 90 days online gun classifieds sales, these rifles are typically seen as less desirable than the improved post-2006 versions. However, either way you have an American-made 7.62x39mm that can run the gamit from tin can killer to medium game taker to home defense/zombie slayer.
These guns are harder to find than the Mini-14s, and magazines are among some of the most expensive for a semi-auto rifle (why didn't Ruger just make them capable of taking AK mags anyway?!), but they get the job done while still keeping a PC look that is important to some lawmakers.
In the end, the M30 is a true classic.