Springfield M1A Rifle

By R.K. Campbell

Some time ago Springfield Armory (now known as Springfield, Incorporated) introduced a civilian legal version of the M14 rifle. At the time, about 1974, many of us wondered if the rifle would be successful. After all, the new black rifle was America’s service rifle. While originally intended as a jungle fighter, the M16 was on the fast track from 1970 to being the standard service rifle for the armed forces. On the other hand, as many of you may recall, the M16’s early years were not encouraging. There were many problems related to the rifle’s reliability and accuracy. Most were traced to the ammunition and powder type used. Colt made many fixes and the ammunition situation was resolved but the M16 had a spotty reputation at best for many years. There were some that stated that they would prefer the M1 Garand or even the .30 caliber carbine to the M16. Today the situation is different but in 1974 many authorities felt that the M16 was a mistake.

The M1A was not only successful it became a strong seller for Springfield. Springfield had a foot in the door as the military had previously produced a semiautomatic rifle version of the M14, specifically for matches, and the new M1A was approved for National Matches largely based upon its resemblance to the M14. Some preferred the pride of ownership that came with a blue steel or Parkerized and walnut rifle. Others preferred the 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge, known commercially as the .308 Winchester. The .308 is powerful enough to take deer sized game cleanly and feasible for use against even the largest North American game. The M1A is also a great tactical team rifle. Offering a hard hitting cartridge, good accuracy and a rapid follow up shot, the M1A and its tactical sniper version, the M21, are superior in many ways to a bolt action rifle. The drawbacks of the M14 in service did not apply to civilian sales of the M1A. The rifle is heavy but we do not have to carry the rifle for hours on end in the jungle. You cannot carry as much .308 as .223, but that doesn’t matter in a rifle match. The M1A is very feed reliable and is generally accurate with practically any type of commercial ammunition. The only caveat with the M1A is proper maintenance and lubrication and the use of good quality magazines. The only magazines that function reliably are Springfield Armory magazines. The author recently ordered a ten-round and a twenty-round magazine from Brownells, Incorporated for the rifle illustrated. These Springfield products function perfectly, while aftermarket and surplus magazines have been problematical at best. As long as these magazines are used and the bolt and bolt carrier are properly lubricated the rifle will function well.

Springfield Armory did not have to invest heavily in tool up for the first production run of the M1A as they had acquired a considerable amount of surplus M14 parts. They had only to manufacture receivers. Today the situation is different and these parts are long gone and Springfield produces their own parts. The rifles have been proven to be reliable, accurate, and well made of good material. Springfield has introduced various models over the years including the short barrel SOCOM model and Loaded Model and Match rifles. Versions with synthetic stocks have also been introduced. My experience indicates that while the Match rifles are accurate, the difference may or may not be worth the added tariff. In my experience the difference in accuracy in the Match rifles, when noticeable, is about 1/2 MOA although results may differ. A good tight standard model and Black Hills Match ammunition is more than accurate enough for most chores.

As for basics, the M1A is a gas-operated .308 caliber rifle that uses a 20-round box magazine. The rifle weighs just at ten pounds. This weight helps contain recoil but remains a chore to carry over the shoulder for any length of time. The controls are familiar to anyone that has used the M1 Garand as the M1A or M14 is in many ways a modernized Garand. The charging handle is located on the right side of the action. Unlike the Garand it is possible to carry the rifle with a loaded magazine inserted and the chamber empty. The magazine is loaded, nosed in, and rocked to make certain the magazine locks into place. Then the charging handle is racked to the rear to load the first cartridge. Never load a cartridge into the chamber and allow the bolt to slam forward. The firing pin is a floating design and if the bolt flies forward without being slowed by the act of chambering a cartridge, the firing pin may take a forward run and fire the cartridge. This is known as a slam fire. The magazine release is at the rear of the magazine well. The safety is the typical Garand type, located in the front of the trigger guard. The safety is pressed to the rear to lock on safe and pressed forward for off safe. The safety is located inside of the trigger guard and as a result trigger discipline is demanded at all times. The safety is sometimes stiff and requires effort to master. The trigger action is a typical two stage military affair requiring some take up before you feel compression build. On the rifle illustrated, trigger compression was a smooth and controllable four and one half pounds. New rifles that are not broken in will usually exhibit a five pound trigger compression.

The sights are similar to the original Garand sights and this means that these are among the best battle sights ever designed. The rear aperture sight seems to draw the eye to the center of the sight and the front post is easily acquired. With the standard sights, one MOA adjustments are possible; with the MATCH sights one half MOA adjustments are possible. The bolt lock or catch isn’t used often but it is located on the left side of the receiver and a little difficult to reach and manipulate, but acceptable when the overall ergonomics of the piece are considered. The rifle is deemed suitable for long range use and is seen in many rifle matches. However, the good handling of the rifle at modest range isn’t often discussed. The M1A is a rifle that handles well at close quarters and gets on target quickly. In the unlikely event the target requires more than one shot to stop, the M1A offers a rapid, controllable second shot with attention to detail. Control in rapid fire is excellent considering the power of the cartridge. Plus, the rifle always works given good lubrication and maintenance. Keep the rifle clean and the bolt and bolt carrier lubricated and you will keep the rifle running.

While the rifle is often used in rifle matches, pride of ownership is enough reason to own any firearm. The Springfield M1A is clearly an investment in pride of ownership. As for accuracy, the rifle is often more accurate than all but the best riflemen may hold. It isn’t unusual for a factory rifle to produce accuracy of two MOA from a solid bench rest. With a bit of tweaking and the addition of an optical sight the rifle may produce even greater practical accuracy. The advantage of the rifle in part is that it holds it accuracy well over long range. A five hundred yard shot at a man sized target isn’t difficult with the M1A rifle. The best results the author has had with the rifle came from Black Hills Ammunition. Black Hills offers a number of options in the Black Hills Gold line that have a well earned reputation for accuracy. These include a number of loads using premium bullets.

Black Hills Ammunition Specifications
168 Gr. Barnes TSX: Velocity 2,650 fps
168 Gr. Hornady A-MAX: Velocity 2,650 fps
155 Gr. Hornady A-MAX: Velocity 2,750 fps
180 Gr. Nosler AccuBond: Velocity 2,550 fps

All of these loads produce over 2,500 pounds of energy. The .308 Winchester is a powerful cartridge with sufficient energy to engage human adversaries well past 300 yards and to take medium sized game in most of North America. Coupled with an accurate and capable rifle, the .308 Winchester cartridge is a fine choice for those favoring something larger and more decisive than the 5.56mm service cartridge. The authors personal Springfield M1A will produce a group for three shots of two inches on demand with any of these loads at 100 yards. This is good enough for who it is for.

This article first appeared in SmallArmsReview.com on January 31, 2014


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