Budget Friendly 5.56 NATO Carbines

Here’s a look at two truck guns that are built to take a licking and keep on ticking.

Budget Friendly 5.56 NATO Carbines

The Mossberg MVP Patrol rifle chambered in 5.56 NATO measures 36.5 inches in length and weighs 6.75 pounds.

In a market flush with exotic rifles and prices to match, so-called truck guns are not an endangered species. Farmers and ranchers know well the wisdom of having something at hand to take out that rogue daytime coyote or rabid raccoon from modest distance. Hunters, on the other hand, haul themselves into conditions they’d never wish upon their worst enemy, and there’s always some risk when exposing a significant investment in gear to Mother Nature’s wrath. 

Ruger and Mossberg, two of the best in the firearm industry, offer budget-friendly firearms ideal for surviving that hurricane or months on a mud-covered floorboard. Both companies deliver reliability in everything they make and stand behind their products with enviable customer service. You can’t go wrong by adding any of their models to your gun safe, but how well do their entry-level, bare-bones models chambered in 5.56 NATO stack up?

For this Predator Xtreme review, I ordered a couple in for testing and found the features they pack into their “beaters” a refreshing change in these challenging economic times. MSRP on both rifles is less than $660, but with some patient research and shopping around you won’t pay that much. There’s no need to lurk on an auction website, either. The savings are available at a nearby brick-and-mortar retailer. 

Remaining true to a budget-conscious theme, I selected the 5.56 NATO chambering. The cartridge performs admirably on predators — even at moderately long distance — and is certainly effective when weather closes in.

There’s also plenty of bulk-packaged practice/plinking ammunition on the market, making it one of the least expensive centerfires to shoot. The fact that manufacturers made 5.56 NATO a high priority during the height of the ammunition shortage also increases the odds of finding some on the shelves, even in tough times. There’s also no shortage of predator and match loads available for the cartridge.

Ruger’s Ranch rifle in 5.56 NATO measures 36 inches overall and tips the scales at 6.1 pounds .
Ruger’s Ranch rifle in 5.56 NATO measures 36 inches overall and tips the scales at 6.1 pounds .

Ruger American Ranch Rifle

Ruger’s first American Rifles hit dealer shelves in 2012. These bolt actions were a huge success and models continue to sell extremely well. There’s good reason for the popularity. Enthusiasts get Ruger quality in a businesslike, no-nonsense gun that carries all the performance they’ve come to expect from the company. 

American Rifle models are available in both long- and short-action chamberings. They wear synthetic stocks that have the company’s innovative and patented Power Bedding system. Throughout the line, except for Hunter models, each has twin stainless-steel blocks that locate the receiver and allow the cold-hammer-forged barrel to free float. The setup maximizes shot-to-shot consistency, regardless of environmental conditions. The Ruger Marksman adjustable trigger allows owners to fine tune let-off weight to their personal preference. It can be set to anywhere between 3 and 5 pounds with ease. 

Other features include a three-lug bolt with 70-degree throw for faster cycling and added scope clearance. The latter, by the way, is fast to mount, thanks to the factory installed Picatinny rail atop the receiver. The American Ranch model chambered in 5.56 NATO has a nimble 16.12-inch threaded barrel with 1:8-inch rifling. Overall length of the gun is 36 inches, and it tips the scales at 6.1 pounds. The tang-mounted safety is easy to reach as is the magazine-release button on the bottom right of the stock. The 10-round GEN3 PMAG shipped with the gun and inserted effortless and dropped with ease. The stock wears a pair of sling swivels in the traditional locations and the rubbery recoil pad does a great job.


Mossberg MVP Patrol Rifle

Mossberg debuted the MVP Patrol Rifle lineup in 2013, a year after Ruger’s American Ranch launch. There are similarities other than just the 5.56 NATO chambering and they have nearly identical MSRPs. 

The Mossberg also has a user-adjustable trigger. The firm’s famed LBA version comes on the rifle and operates very smoothly at settings anywhere from 3 to 7 pounds. The tested version, in 5.56 NATO, also ships with a 10-round GEN3 PMAG, although its release is just in front of the mag well. It, like the Ruger, ran flawlessly at the firing line. 

The stock is also synthetic, although it wears a black finish instead of flat dark earth. The cushiony recoil pad is a generous one for the chambering, sling studs are pre-attached, and it also has a receiver mounted Picatinny rail begging for an optic. It is, however, one groove shorter than that on the Ruger. 

Significant differences are there, though. The MVP Patrol’s barrel is threaded, but it comes wearing an A2-style flash hider. It’s also longer by a hardly noticeable .13 inch, but there’s no ignoring its beefier medium-bull profile when comparing it to the Ruger. The Mossberg also ships with iron sights. Up front is a red fiber-optic sight that’s nicely visible in low light and the U-notch at the rear is windage and elevation adjustable with the turn of a screw.

An oversized and textured bolt handle on the Mossberg ensures a solid grip in nasty conditions. The bolt itself is a spiral-fluted two-lug version, the stock is pillar bedded and the safety is located on the right side of the receiver, not tang mounted.


Critical Differences

Cosmetics are 100 percent personal preference, but if the rifles were side by side on a retailer’s shelf odds are good, you’d ask to see the Ruger first. The Mossberg stock has texturing that proved itself on the firing line, but it blends into the gun’s flat-black finish — almost vanishing at a distance. The stock isn’t completely smooth by any means, but if sweaty palms and gloves are routine during your hunts it’s a consideration. 

The Ruger Ranch has a lip and grooves on each side of the fore-end to provide better grip in the wet and cold that arrive with many opening days of hunting season. And there’s also more generous texturing at the wrist. A Ruger logo below adds to the cosmetics. The Ruger fore-end is more rounded, ergonomic, so to speak. Mossberg’s is flatter at the bottom, lending itself to better stability from sandbags or a flat rest. Your shooting style and preference determines which you prefer, so we’ll chalk this one up to a tie. 

Advantage Mossberg when it comes to the iron sights, though. They are quickly vanishing on most of today’s guns, but on this style of rifle a wise addition — an adjustable one, too. The company’s choice in barrel profile and going with a flash hider instead of a flat protector are also nice touches. 

Spiral fluting is popular on today’s bolts, but it blends in, almost disappears in Mossberg’s dark finish. When you’re out in the blind, though, looks don’t make much of a difference. The bigger, gripped bolt handle on the MVP Patrol does, however, give it the advantage. Both bolts ran smoothly without any problems at the firing line, with cartridges feeding and extracting without fail — even from standard-capacity, 30-round AR-15 magazines. Reduced bolt throw on the Ruger gives it an advantage in scope clearance and theoretical follow-up shot speed. There were no problems encountered during testing with the mounted Redfield 4-12x40mm scope with either gun, however. I don’t hold the qualifications to join the high-speed club, so I didn’t detect a difference even when turning bolts furiously. Ruger’s advantage, however, is a mathematical reality. 

Mossberg’s safety is in a position most veteran bolt-rifle owners will consider intuitive, although Ruger’s is right next door. Regardless which model you go with it won’t take much time to hit that mag release with efficiency. Both are clever locations, letting you release and grab the magazine in a single motion. On the Ruger depress the button with the thumb while grasping the magazine. Use your index finger on the bar in front of the magazine on the Mossberg. Nice.

The Mossberg Patrol’s 16.5-inch barrel is threaded and comes with an A2-style flash hider.
The Mossberg Patrol’s 16.5-inch barrel is threaded and comes with an A2-style flash hider.

Which Rifle’s Best?

Precision isn’t the mission of either rifle. In more capable hands, however, after break-in and taking the time to find a pet load, there’s no doubt both rifles would print significantly smaller groups. Will they shrink to MOA? Perhaps, but there’s no denying the fact both guns remain true to their mission. The goal isn’t about tiny groups as much as it is surviving years of abuse and neglect and still connecting at moderate distance without hiccup or undue maintenance. Inexpensive ammo is a bonus. You can’t go wrong with either one if you’re looking for a truck gun or budget platform that will survive brutal conditions. Which one’s better for you depends on your shooting style, and not pocketbook depth.


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.