The A-Team ran on NBC from 1983 to 1987, and was a show that everyone watched. It was also the only time most of us ever even saw a Ruger AC-556, as Google and the consumer internet did not exist. This rifle was always at the ready and done in stainless steel with side-folding stocks. It was incredible! I always wanted to handle an AC-556, but the chance never came my way … until now 20, years after the A-Team went off the air.
History of the AC-556
The AC556 was based off the Mini-14. Ruger, Sturm& Co. began manufacturing the Mini-14 in 1974, borrowing many of its design elements from both the M1 and the M14. Bill Ruger was interested in law enforcement and military sales, and to that end he released the GB (government bayonet) model. The GB offered a plethora of unique options. It had a pistol grip, side folding stock, a 30-round magazine, bayonet lug, threaded barrel and a flash suppressor.
In addition to the features of the GB, the AC-556 incorporated a selector on the right/rear of the receiver to select either semiautomatic, three-round burst or automatic fire. The barrel is capped by a flash suppressor. The manual safety remained in the front of the trigger guard. There were several models offered, and came equipped with either an 18½-inch or 13-inch barrel.
Neither the AC-556 nor the Mini-14 GB ever saw major success in their intended markets. As a matter of fact, they frustrated the loyal owners of the Mini-14, with features like 30-round magazines, flash suppressors, bayonet lugs and folding stocks denied to most civilians by Ruger. The largest adoption of these guns was by the American corrections market, with prisons and jails putting them into service. There were some law enforcement agencies in Florida, Ohio and Oklahoma that gave the AC a whirl, but never to the level of the AR-15 platform. Internationally, the French used the rifle in select units, as did some South American elements. However, the gun never broke into the front lines of military service, as it failed the testing. The platform was simply not accurate and could not stand up to the high round counts expected of a main battle rifle.
The AC-556 was doomed, as it had found no military success and the passage of the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 and the Hughes Amendment forbade private ownership of new machineguns. To make matters worse, the government was allowing law enforcement to obtain used M16s for practically no cost. The AC-556’s customer pool, already quite shallow, had dried up. Sadly, the AC-556 was dropped from production in 1999, and Ruger stopped offering service for the rifle in 2009.
A Rare Opportunity
I had the chance to shoot and handle a vintage KAC-556 F, with the 18½-inch barreled machinegun. To decode the model for you, K stands for stainless-steel and F indicates that it had a folding stock. The rifle had been in public service its entire life and spent the last 20-plus years on a helicopter. This old rifle showed its age through a patchwork of scratches and dings on its stock and finish. Internally, things were in much better shape. There was only one 20-round blued magazine around when I got to fire it. As I looked the rifle over, I was impressed by the innovative the fire control system and folding stock especially for the late 1970s.
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One reason that there aren’t Mini-14 conversion kits is due to the fact that the receiver is longer in the AC-556 to accommodate the fire control system. The folding stock is also a rare find in the wild. I have seen these, with complete folder stock and gas systems going for almost $1,000. There are also some aftermarket offerings, which can be identified as not original by the location of the sling swivel. Most fakes will have the sling swivel mounted on the bottom of the gas block rather than the left side.
The three-round burst is accomplished through a mechanical counting system. There is a spur on the hammer that contacts a gear with six cogs. This gear is mounted to a pin that has a wheel on the other side with two notches. When the selector is moved to the three-round burst position, a finger pushes against the wheel as the trigger is depressed and the rifle fires, causing the assembly to rotate. As the finger contacts either of the two notches it disengages the sear. When automatic is selected, the finger is pushed down and away from the wheel, allowing the gun to cycle until the trigger is released.
On the range
Getting the opportunity to shoot the KAC-556 F was like becoming a member of the A-Team. I was downright giddy. As I loaded up the 20-round metal magazine and rocked it into place in the magazine well, I was ready for an adventure.
Once the gun was loaded, I dropped the bolt to chamber a round and pushed the safety forward at the front of the trigger guard. I began by squeezing off one shot at a time to get a feel for the gun. Once I was comfortable, I selected the three-round burst and away we went. The only problem was that a few pulls of the trigger emptied the 20-round magazine quite quickly. I loaded the magazine and resumed dumping three-round burst. It seemed controllable, but the recoil impulse and climb were noticeably greater than an M16. My plan for the third magazine was a good, old-fashioned 20-round automatic magazine dump. Moving the selector to the A position, I grabbed hold tightly and depressed the trigger. The rifle was controllable … but just barely. This rifle is fun to shoot, but it does certainly make you appreciate buffers in a modern-day semiautomatic rifles. Of course, no trip to the range on an KAC-556 F would be complete without folding the stock and shooting it A-Team style. I shot some three-round burst and then the obligatory mag dump. Although the rifle did not get away from me, the only thing I was sure that I could hit was the berm. Unless in extremely close quarters, this is definitely just a Hollywood technique.
The Bottom Line
There are some transferable AC-556’s available; the last one I knew of went for about $6,500, and that was well over 12 years ago. I suspect that these run $10,000 plus. I understand why it lost out to the M16; the AC-556 is not a bad gun. Unlike the design process for most military arms, the civilian version was built first and then adapted to the military market. This is a shining example of why typically military to civilian adaptations produce the better firearms.
To learn more about the history of the Ruger Mini-14, click http://www.ruger-firearms.com/products/mini14RanchRifle/models.html.
To purchase a Ruger Mini-14 on GunsAmerica.com, click https://www.gunsamerica.com/Search.aspx?Keyword=Mini%2014 .