Springfield M1A SOCOM 16 Carbine: Gun Review

This nimble semi-auto is a lot of fun to shoot and can serve as a practical tool for a number of applications, or it can just be a really cool range gun.

SOMETIMES YOU WANT a gun because of what it will allow you to do—take an elk at 500 yards, tag a whitetail in dense brush, or a rimfire that shoots a dime-sized group on paper at 400 yards. And sometimes, you want a gun just for what it is, and where it came from.

I have lusted after a Springfield SOCOM 16 carbine since it was introduced in 2004. It has an impressive lineage—a descendant of the M14 and the M1A, which in turn owes much of its design to the M1 Garand.

Springfield cut down their semi-auto M1A rifle as much as possible to achieve a lighter, shorter semi-auto .308 Win. rifle without heading into SBR territory—the “16” comes from the gun’s 16-inch barrel. That barrel is mated to the gun’s gas system with a proprietary muzzle brake that helps tame the .308 in this small and relatively light gun.

The M1A SOCOM 16 from Springfield Armory
The M1A SOCOM 16 from Springfield Armory. • .308 Win/7.62NATO • MSRP: $1,987Springfield Armory

The looks, furniture, and controls all scream M1A, just more compact. It feels handy, the way a scout rifle does or the way a lever-action carbine does—it comes to the shoulder and the rear peep sight to the eye with almost no effort at all, like it belongs there.

Could you hunt with this gun? Absolutely. It would make a terrific brush gun and with its forward mounted picatinny optics rail and .308 chambering, it can be used as a scout rifle quite easily, though it is a tiny bit heavy at just under 9 pounds without optics or ammo.

springfield m1a rifles
The M1A rifles, from the compact to the full sized. From the top: M1A SOCOM 16, SOCOM 16 CQB, M1A Tanker, M1A Scout Squad, M1A National Match.Springfield Armory

The M1A SOCOM 16 was not, however, designed for the woods, but for more tactical situations. Living in a restricted state, I opted for the original SOCOM 16 design with a black composite straight stock, but the carbine is also available in a CQB stock with a five-position adjustable buttstock and adjustable cheek piece, pistol grip, and M-LOK rails at the front of the gun for accessories.

If you want to add AR-style accessories to the SOCOM 16, the CQB stock is the way to go. If you want to keep it simple with just maybe a long-eye relief scope or a red dot optic, the classic SOCOM 16 is still full of features.

If you want that M14 look, Springfield also makes the M1A Tanker, which is the same length as the SOCOM 16 but with an American Walnut stock and matching brown polymer barrel shroud to complete the look.

SOCOM 16 at the range
The SOCOM 16 at the range with the bolt locked open.Jeff Rife

OPERATION AND FEATURES

The rotating bolt functions much like that of the M14 and it has the same familiar charging handle.

On the left side of the receiver is a bolt lock that will engage if you pull back on the bolt on an empty magazine. You can also manually engage it with the magazine ejected, but you have to pull the bolt back to release it and put it into battery. That means you can’t close the bolt on an empty magazine. Why does this matter? It really doesn’t. Just something quirky about the design to note, especially if you're used to ARs.

Also worth noting, like the M14, the bolt carrier mechanism includes a reciprocating bit that runs along the right side of the receiver. It can interact with your fingers. It’s beveled in such a way that’s it’s not going to slam or pinch the fingers of your support hand, but they can get in each others way if you aren’t aware of it and that could prevent the rifle from cycling.

When I tried to use the gun with a Precision Turret from Caldwell, I had to move it all the way to the front of the stock to keep it from interfering with the bolt, which made that particular clamp style rest not really usable with this gun.

Like the M14 and many other pre AR semi-auto rifles, the magazine release is a lever behind the magwell, which means the magazine sort of has to be rocked into the magwell from the front when loading. This can be a little stiff when the rifle is new too, but loosens up and becomes smoother as the magazine release breaks in.

The manual safety is a stiff metal tab that lives in a notch cut in the front of the trigger guard, just like the safety on an M14 and the M1 Garand—back is safe, forward and clear of the trigger guard is hot. It can also use some breaking in when new out of the box.

The SOCOM 16 comes with integral sling loops at front and back and a good, modern adjustable two-point sling would pair great with this gun.

Another quirky little holdover from the M14 is the buttplate.

It’s a steel hinged plate that can be lifted to reveal a sort of double-tubed compartment meant to house the military issued cleaning kit for the M14—which you can totally buy online and put in there if you want to. But it would probably be better to save the on-board weight and cover that steel buttplate with some kind of recoil pad.

Also note there is a guide at the top of action behind the ejection port which actually allows the magazine to be loaded with stripper clips. I don't know how well it works, I didn't get to try that feature out, but with the price of magazines for this gun and the fact that it only comes with one, it might be a viable option at the range.

That is to say, the mags made by Springfield are pricey with MSRPs of $54.95 for the 20 rounders, $49.95 for 15-rounders, and $39 for 10- or 5-round mags. You can typically get them for a little less in real world prices, but not much.

ProMag does make a cheaper alternative, and while I haven't tested their M1A mags, reviews online suggest you get what you pay for.

AT THE RANGE

I was going for an endurance test, so there was only one type of cartridge in the ammo box for the SOCOM 16 range test, and as it turns out, the gun loved it.

The economical Speer Gold Dot LE Duty 168 grain soft points ran wonderfully without a single hang-up or feeding issue over 400 rounds.

The centers of silhouettes at 30, 40, and 50 yards were confetti after some mag dumps and semi-rapid fire drills and the rifle is balanced and shoots nicely off-hand.

SOCOM 16 and ammo at the gun range
The SOCOM 16 could only be used if this Precision Turret from Caldwell was moved all the way to the front of the stock. If used in the position shown, it would interfere with the bolt and prevent the gun from cycling.Jeff Rife

The best group I could get out of it with my eyes and the not very precise iron sights off a rest with no rear bag was a hair over 2 inches at 50 yards. For a “battle rifle,” with a 16.25” non-free-float barrel, LE ammo, and a pretty large ghost ring peep sight (which is adjustable), that’s acceptable. With some slight magnification, better irons, or a better shooter, I’m sure that would tighten up quite a bit.

Premium ammo can also help. I recently ran a couple dozen of SIG's brand new Elite Hunter Tipped 165-grain rounds through the SOCOM 16 and my groups shrank to about 1.75" at the same range and with the same eyes—or maybe I was just more on that day.

THE TAKEAWAY

I really dig this rifle.

Sure, it’s a little heavy, it’s optics options are pretty limited, a few of its features are outdated, and some are even relics of old rifle designs. Are there “better” semi-auto .308s you could get for similar money? Yes. But there’s something special about this gun.

It handles great, it shoots and cycles wonderfully, its kick gets a little sharp after a few hundred rounds, but then again, that’s how it is with most .308s. And I just like it. I like how it operates, I like the way it feels in the hand and the blend of polymer and old fashioned steel and the solid thud of a .308.

It’s a cool gun and one that can certainly serve many practical roles for which nimble, moderate to long-range rifles in .308 are suited. And it’s a lot of fun to take out to the range for no particular reason at all and it feels like one of those guns that if you practice with it a fair amount, you could get really good with it. Would I take it deer hunting? Absolutely. Did I spend a lot of time with it at the range—more than was required—yes...yes I did.

I will also say this: if this rifle could be chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor like Springfield's M1A Loaded model and a reasonable optics base solution could be provided from the factory, it's usefulness might increase depending on performance of the 6.5 ammo in the 16.25-inch barrel.

Springfield M1A SOCOM SPECS

CALIBER: 7.62X51MM NATO (.308WIN)
LENGTH: 37.25"
FRONT SIGHT: XS Post w/ Tritium Insert, .125 Blade
BARREL: 16.25" long; Twist 1:11"; RH; 6-Groove Carbon Steel
WEIGHT: 8.8 lbs.
REAR SIGHT: ghost ring aperture .135" w/MOA adjustment for both windage and elevation
MAGAZINES: one 10-round, Parkerized steel mag
STOCK: black composite
MSRP: $1,987

video by Jeff Rife