There’s nothing like holding a piece of history in your hands that’s made of wood and steel. The M1A is the closest thing most people can own to a genuine M14, the last battle rifle of the U.S. military.
In 1974, Springfield Armory began offering a semi-auto version of the select fire M14, which has been in service in one role or another since the late 1950s. Today, Springfield offers the legendary .308 in a number of configurations, including the cut-down M1A SOCOM 16, like this one in Kryptek Highlander camo, and the tricked out National Match and Loaded versions. (Check out our review and range test of the SOCOM 16 model here.)
What makes the M1A a remarkable rifle?
- Durability – the thing is built like a tank and will take any and all abuse you can put it through. If you need a rugged semi-auto .308 that will put up with serious punishment on the range or on the hunt, you can’t do much better.
- Versatility – being chambered in .308 makes the platform inherently versatile, but the various stock and barrel options from Springfield today allow shooters and hunters to find a version that fits their needs best. While the design of the action precludes a typical top optics rail, Springfield offers a great optics mount that is easy to install and some models come with a forward-positioned Picatinny rail for scout-style optics and red dots.
- Simplicity – the M14 was designed to be taken down in the field with no tools, and the M1A is no different. Maintenance is simple and straight forward—the stock even has a place for you to store a cleaning kit, a holdover from the military design.
- Stability – in the age of polymer and carbon fiber, light rifles are more common than they ever were, but there are advantages to the heft of wood and steel—that extra weight makes the rifle extremely stable when shooting from a rest or sticks, and with the accuracy enhancements on some models, the rifle becomes an incredibly stable tack driver. There’s a reason it has been used for competition shooting in the civilian world and as a sniper and marksman rifle in the military since the 1960s.
Now, in this modern modular age of firearms, if you want to start some comment section friction online, just post a photo of a Springfield M1A rifle on a gun sub on Reddit or any gun forum and you’ll get a few normal comments before it begins. The hate.
Haters will say it’s an overpriced rifle that isn’t as accurate as cheaper rifles in the same caliber and that any AR-10 in .308 Win. has several advantages over the M1A, with a design that’s over a half century old (and here, you could bring up that the M14 and AR-15 date to the exact same time even though the M16 was adopted later, but the trolls will feed on this—beware). Then they’ll drop some history bombs on you about the M14 and ask, if it was such a good rifle, why was it replaced by the M16 inside of a decade.
Are they right? Well, technically, sure. But their argument comes from a flawed stance. M1A haters will say that there are “better” rifles that are cheaper, so why would anyone want an M1A?
If the only reason people bought and owned guns was to have the single best design for a given purpose, every gun owner would own, what, maybe two or three rifles: a medium range gun, a long range gun, and maybe a defensive carbine or AR “pistol.” Pop open any gun safe in the country and that is likely not what you will find, and there’s a good reason for that.
People don’t want certain firearms simply because they are the “best” at something. It’s a lot more complicated than that.
Sometimes you want a gun because of what it will allow you to do: take an elk at 500 yards, tag a whitetail buck in dense brush on the run, or a rimfire that will shoot dime-sized groups at 400 yards. But sometimes, you want a gun just for what it is and where it came from.
Are there better compact semi-auto pistols chambered in more powerful calibers than the Walther PPK in .380 ACP? Absolutely, more than ever, but who doesn’t want James Bond’s gun? Are there better designed, more reliable .45 ACP pistols than the 1911? Certainly—there are many—but a 1911 is a 1911.
Could you get an AR-10 in .308 that can do everything the M1A can, but better, in a lighter, more easily customizable package? Well, yeah, but they’d we’d be talking about AR-10s. Just because you can buy an S&W M&P45 2.0 doesn’t mean there’s no reason to own a 1911.
And just a word about accuracy. The M1A does not have a free floating barrel. Again, it was originally designed as a battle rifle, but that doesn’t mean it shoots all over the place. I shot a full sized M1A National Match rifle a few years ago and that thing couldn’t miss at 100 yards with iron sights and felt like it had plenty farther to go, but that was the limit of our berm and my eyes without magnification.
In my own range tests, my Springfield M1A SOCOM 16 rifle, with is abbreviated barrel and shorter overall length, will put rounds inside a six-inch plate off-hand at 100 yards with irons all day. That’s a solid deer gun to me.
So, in short, don’t let anyone tell you that lusting after, or owning an M1A is old fashioned, or a waste of money, or something infinitely worse generated by the cacophony of Internet gun forums. If you like the history of the rifle, the mechanics, the looks, or you just plain dig it, that’s more than enough justification. But this isn’t just a display gun or a safe queen.
Many variants have lots of modern features that make them more than capable hunting rifles or defensive firearms, and others are optimized for accuracy from the bench, where the platform has always excelled. A modernized piece of gun history that’s also a capable firearm? Seems cool to me. It’s not building your own custom AR-10, but then again, it’s not supposed to be.
The M1A Rifles Available Today
Currently, Springfield offers a wide array of options for the M1A rifle platform with eight different models in the line and a number of choices for stocks and barrels in each. Some are shortened versions of the original for enhanced maneuverability and lighter weight, others are accessorized and tweaked for supreme accuracy. Here’s a breakdown of their features.
- M1A Tanker Model – inspired by the shortened “Tanker” Garands of WWII. The Tanker combines the handiness and maneuverability of a shorter rifle with full-size power with a walnut stock.
- M1A SOCOM 16 – Introduced in 2004, this compact rifle in 7.63 NATO/ .308 Win packs a big punch while fighting felt recoil and muzzle rise by design. It’s built around a 16-inch barrel that is mated to the gas system with a proprietary muzzle brake. And the forward Picatinny optics rail lets you mount scout-rifle style optics without worrying about special mounts. All this is wrapped in a polymer stock that is impervious to the elements. Check out our review and range test of the SOCOM 16 here.
- M1A SOCOM 16 CQB – This rifle is identical to the SOCOM 16 other than the stock. Instead of the standard polymer stock, this model features a pistol grip, an adjustable stock with an adjustable cheek plate, and Picatinny accessory rail segments at the front for lights and lasers.
- M1A Scout Squad Model – This rifle falls between the SOCOM 16 and the full-size M1A with an 18-inch barrel to make the rifle a bit lighter and easierto maneuver. It includes the forward position scope mount from the SOCOM 16 and its own proprietary muzzle brake. This is a solid hunting or range rifle right out of the box.
- M1A Standard Issue Model – This is the definitive M1A that has been available to the public since 1974. It is a faithful semi-auto recreation of the original M14, including all the design features that were on the Armed Services version of the rifle. It can be had with a walnut stock or with a black or FDE synthetic stock for superior weather resistance.
- M1A Loaded Model – As the M14 fell into its new role as sniper/marksman rifle and as a competitive shooting rifle, several popular upgrades became common. This model reflecst those upgrades by including a medium-weight premium air-gauged National Match barrel for great accuracy along with a 4.5 lbs. 2-stage trigger, a National Match front sight blae, a non-hooded National Match rear aperture, and a number of stock and barrel combinations to fit your needs. Additionally, this rifle is available in 7.62 NATO / .308 Win. and 6.5 Creedmoor.
- M1A National Match – This rifle is built for competition with the medium-weight Natioanl Match barrel, the 4.5 – 5 lbs. National Match turned 2-stage trigger and a .0595” hooded rear aperture sight with precise ½ MOA adjustments for both windage and elevation. A National match recoil spring guide and match-tuned gas cylinder top off the package.
- M1A Super Match – This model is an upgrade from the National Match model that includes the best competition-legal features Springfield could pack into the platform. The rear-lugged action is glass bedded into an oversized stock and connected to a heavy match Douglas barrel—the heaviest possible match-legal barrels that can fit in the M1A platform with a 1:10 twist providing optimal performance for .308 match ammo. Also included is the National Match recoil spring guide and a match-tuned gas cylinder along with a 4.5 – 5 lbs 2-stage trigger and the same adjustable rear aperture sight found on the National Match.
Gun History: How the Springfield M1A Came To Be
To fully understand what’s interesting and important about the M1A, you have to know where it comes from.
The M1 Garand was designed by Canadian-American John Garand and was the first semi-auto rifle that was standard issue for the U.S. military. And here’s the obligatory quote from Gen. George S. Patton who said it was “the greatest battle implement ever devised.”
The Garand, chambered in .30-06 Springfield, was selected to replace the M1903 Springfield in 1936 and that replacement continued through WWII. It was a gas-operated semi-auto that fed from an 8-round en-bloc clip. It was not a lightweight or nimble firearm, measuring 43.6 inches overall and weighing in at about 9.5 lbs.
The manual safety is part of the front of the trigger guard and is engaged when pressed rearward and disengage when pressed forward. The rifle was designed to be disassembled without tools in a just a few seconds.
It wasn’t light, but it was accurate and durable. Looking back, the gun wasn’t perfect, but at the time, as far as semi-autos in such a hefty caliber went, you couldn’t find a more rock solid option.
Enter the M14 Battle Rifle
More than a decade after WWII and after the Garand served well in the Korean War, the military was looking for an update that could also fire in full auto—something that could act as a rifle and could also perform the function of a submachine gun when necessary. In 1958, the Garand was replaced by the select fire M14.
The introduction of the M14 was something of a failure, but that had less to do with the design and more to do with the fact that it was simply the wrong rifle for the kinds of wars the country was about to fight.
The M14 is very similar to the M1 Garand with some major differences:
- Chambering – the M14 is chambered in 7.62 NATO / .308 Win. instead of .30-06
- Magazine – the M14 feeds from a detachable box magazine holding 10 or 20 rounds whereas the Garand used 8-round en-bloc clips that were ejected after the last round was fired
- Select Fire – the M14 could fire in semi-auto or full auto; the Garand was semi-auto only. It also had a slightly different gas system.
- Muzzle – the M14 featured a flash suppressor and a slightly shorter sight radius
It was the last of the widely issued battle rifles before assault rifles became the standard long arm of most militaries the world over.
And after being released more than 60 years ago, the M14 is still in limited service in every branch of the U.S. military, with some variants still serving as sniper and designated marksman rifles. Are they on their way out? Sure. But after 60 years, most firearms designs are in need of upgrades or replacement.
And that’s not to say the M14s in service now are the same rifles that were introduced in the late 50s. Modern M14s sports all kinds of upgrades and are accurized, but again, it was first issued as a battle rifle, not a marksman’s rifle.
The M14 wasn’t in service even a decade. The U.S. Army began replacing it with the new M16 in 1964 as the Vietnam War ramped up, but many soldiers in the early years of the war carried M14s and Marines were issued the battle rifle until 1968. In 1969, the M16A1 officially became the standard service rifle, but, as I mentioned before, M14s remained in service as designated marksman rifles and sniper rifles with scope mounts added, taking advantage of the .308 chambering and longer barrels.
As such, the M14 has been in various theaters of war around the world and has also been used in military ceremonies for well over a half century. That’s a nice piece of firearms history.
Springfield Introduces the M1A for Civilians
Nobody would deny that owning an M1 Garand, which you can pretty much only find through the CMP these days, is one of almost every gun collector’s goals. I feel the M14 is no less storied, but the fact that its select fire means tax stamps and NFA paperwork, and a hefty price tag at that.
But, since 1974, Springfield Armory has been making the semi-automatic M1A line of rifles, which are direct copies of the M14, minus the fun switch. Over the years, several models of the M1A have been released with various options that deviate from the M14’s specs.
The stock even features a metal buttplate that folds up on a hinge and was meant to be placed on top of the shoulder to help with muzzle climb during full auto fire. If the M14 had any glaring fault, it’s that it was nearly useless in full auto with its high muzzle velocity and the the powerful .308 cartridge. It was extremely difficult to control, plus the rifle was only issued with 20-round magazines.
The M1A also has the same compartment in the stock for the military issued cleaning kit for the rifle. The top of the receiver even has a guide so you can use stripper clips to reload the box magazine, just like the M14.
One of the coolest innovations in the M1A line, in my opinion, is the SOCOM 16 variant, which uses a 16-inch barrel and cuts down the overall length of the rifle from 44.33 inches to a much more manageable 37.25 inches. The SOCOM 16 is always available with a black composite stock, but it has been released over the years in various colors, including a Kryptek Highlander camo version.
The SOCOM 16 feels nimble and purposeful, light enough to maneuver but heavy enough to soak up enough of that felt recoil from the .308 to keep it on target. If you’re going to be shooting a couple hundred rounds in an afternoon, you might want to consider a Limbsaver or some other recoil pad, because the steel buttplate will start to get tiresome after that many shots. Though I haven’t had the opportunity yet, I would love to take a deer with it some day.
From the first time I shot a full sized M1A with a wooden stock from a bench, I knew I had to have one. No, it’s nothing like an AR, and that’s the point. It’s all steel and walnut and just old school badassery. You have a bit of the M1 Garand and the M14 in your hands along with a whole era of firearms history.