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The M14/M1A - Four Decades of Service
By Wiley Clapp.

Page Two

SPECS
Springfield M1A .308 Semiauto Rifle

Manufacturer...Springfield Inc. 420 W. Main St. Geneseo, IL 61254

Model.............................National Match M1A

Operation...............................Gas operated

Caliber.................................................. .308

Barrel length..................22 inches (25 1/16 inches with flash suppressor)

Overall length.........................44 1/2 inches

Stock................................Oil-finished walnut

Weight, empty.......................8 3/4 pounds

Safety......Manual, mounted in front of trigger guard

Sights...........Click-adjustable rear; post front

Rifling......................................1:11-inch twist

Magazine capacity....5-,10-, and 20-round box magazines available

Finish...................................Flat black oxide

Price..................................................$1729

Today's M1A

Right out of the shipping carton from Geneseo, Illinois, the M1A is a superior rifle over the 1960s M14. One of the major differences between the two is the necessary cuts made in the right rear corner of the receiver.

On the military M14 there's a provision for the installation of a selector lever that gives full-auto capability. In point of fact, the essentially uncontrollable nature of a full-auto shoulder-fired 7.62mm rifle with a conventionally shaped stock is questionable. The civilian-legal M1A does not have the contours necessary to install this lever, and the rifle may thus be sold without the payment of the transfer tax, registration, etc. Furthermore, it is impossible to modify an M1A in such a way that it becomes a de facto M14 rifle. For rifle shooters with a few years on the range, there are immediately noticeable similarities between the World War II M1 and the M1A in the shape of the receiver, controls, and sights. The receiver is almost the same, and the most immediately noticeable difference is the exposed forward barrel section of the M1A contrasted with the wood front handguard of the M1. While the M1 rifle used an eight-round clip, the M1A I used in this report came with a preban 20-shot magazine that protrudes from the bottom of the stock, just forward of the trigger guard.

"From my point of view--a Vietnam-era Marine who saw the M14 used hard--the M1A is the M14 perfected."

My sample M1A rifle has plenty of evidence of great care taken in its manufacture. The heart of the rifle is the receiver, which is a casting. It appears to have been precisely machined to shape. It also looks to me like there are some considerably thicker contours on this rifle, as opposed to an original M14. The barrel is a blued steel National Match variety with a rifling twist of 1:11 inches. This has proven to be a preferred twist rate for shooters using the slightly heavier bullets associated with long-range matches. The sights are fully adjustable National Match front and rear. The gun also came with a proprietary telescopic sight from Springfield that is sufficiently different as to warrant special attention (see the adjacent sidebar).

Springfield offers a number of options in stocks for the M1A, but my sample came with a new GI type. It's a dark, oil-finished walnut with brown fiberglass upper handguard. The rifle is finished in a military-style black oxide; it's very functional and durable. I also have a very high regard for the National Match trigger system. Springfield prudently retained the military two-stage trigger, but after you take up the initial slack, there's no trigger movement whatsoever! It's clean, crisp, and very easy to shoot with. The iron sights on the sample M1A are clear and sharp in definition. Sight adjustment clicks are easy to feel and hear. Having had no end of grief in the mid-'60s over the flash suppressor, it was the first thing I looked at when I opened the case that held this new M1A. Springfield has made a change on this critical part. For one thing the inside diameter of this unit is larger than the old ones. Also, the lock ring that holds the unit in place has been redesigned to ensure that the suppressor is firmly anchored to the barrel. I didn't have any problem with it.

A Superior Shooting Machine

After my range session with this scoped M1A, my opinion of the rifle has changed considerably. Not only does an M1A purchaser get a large chunk of '60s-era nostalgia in a rifle improved over the M14s of that day, he also gets a superior shooting machine. And does it ever shoot! Military-type gas-operated rifles are not renowned for gilt-edged accuracy. They have to overcome a gas cylinder hung off the barrel and rough service stocks and furniture, not to mention an operating system with a lot of unavoidable slamming and banging back and forth. I was hoping to get some pretty presentable groups to photograph for this story, but I was flabbergasted at what happened. After shooting for zero (it shot about 1/2 inch to the right at 100 yards), I settled down with four different .308 Winchester Match loads; they're listed in the accompanying chart. All of them grouped under an inch at 100 yards (three-shot groups). The best group turned in was with Black Hills' 168-grain Match HP; it measured an incredible .414 inch. And Federal's 168-grain match loading produced an equally impressive .487-inch three-shot cluster, proving that sub-half-MOA accuracy with this rifle is no fluke. This is accuracy on par with the best bolt guns and way in excess of anything you might reasonably expect.

With an appropriate short five-round magazine, the M1A would be a decent hunting rifle. It's also a natural for defense of an isolated cabin or camp. At $1729 the National Match M1A is not cheap, but one who goes for it gets a top competitive rifle for service matches and a rifle with a distinguished lineage. The M1A, a true and improved M14, is the lineal successor to the great .30-caliber service rifles--the Krags of the Spanish American War, the Springfields and Enfields of World War I, and the Garands of World War II and Korea. The M1A lives on a hunk of U.S. history that's alive and well after four decades of service. From my point of view--a Vietnam-era Marine who saw the M14 used hard--the M1A is the M14 perfected.

Scoping Out The M1A

My sample M1A rifle came with Springfield's proprietary scope called the Second Generation 7.62 Government Model Scope already installed. It's a high-quality piece of glass specifically designed for 7.62 ammunition and military sniper use. The 4-14X scope has a large 44mm objective lens and some very special and unusual features. One of them is a spirit level just visible in the lower portion of the reticle. A careful rifleman will make sure his rifle is not canted when he prepares to fire, and the spirit level makes the leveling process rather easy. The scope also has an unusual rangefinder reticle. The crosshairs--top, right, and left--are typical tapered post type, but the lower wire is thin all the way and there's an array of "staples" across the bottom of the field of view. For each range there's a small upper staple and a wider lower one. They correspond to the width of the head and the width of the body of an enemy soldier. A shooter can literally measure the distance to his target and refer that data to the zero he has already established on his rifle. It is an ingenious solution to the rangefinding problem.

The scope itself has clear, sharp optics that I found very easy to use. But this is a lot of scope, and the Springfield mount places it way above the bore line. That mount is called the Third Generation M1A Scope Mount, and it is built like the bridge of a battleship. It's high enough that you can use the iron sights under the L-shaped mount that fastens to the left side of the receiver with a pair of knurled and slotted screws. Unfortunately, though, the stock of the M1A is correctly shaped for use with the iron sights, so looking through the scope elevates your cheek completely off the comb of the stock. That's a no-no, and the gun didn't come with the company's own removable nylon cheekpiece. But I was able to find a slick little cheekpiece from Beartooth Products (Dept. ST, Box, 6447, Bozeman, MT 59771) for $8.95 that got my cheek up to the point where I could aim the rifle correctly and shoot carefully.

 

Shooting Springfield's .308 M1A
Factory Load
Velocity
(fps)
Standard
Deviation
(fps)
100-Yard
Accuracy
(fps)
Black Hills 168-gr. Match HP
2637
20
.414
Federal 168-gr. BTHP
2621
23
.487
PMC 168-gr. BTHP
2655
31
.787
Winchester 168-gr. Ballistic Silvertip
2626
21
.555
NOTES: Accuracy is for one three-shot group fired from a sandbag benchrest at 100 yards. Velocity is the average of three rounds measured 12 feet from the gun's muzzle.

 Page One - History, 7.62 NATO Background, M14s at War

This article was originally published in Shooting Times magazine.

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