Review: Springfield M1A — When a .223 Just Won’t Do

By Wilburn Roberts published on in Firearms, Reviews

Some time ago, I began upgrading my on duty gear by a great degree. During the war on terror, and the war on drugs, peace officers often faced heavily-armed felons willing to shoot it out with peace officers. Working in a rural environment, where every household it seemed had a scope-mounted rifle, also colored my choices. The primary focus was people passing through, and I worked a pipeline of drug smuggling.

Springfield M1A rifle with Hornady ammunition

Springfield and Hornady make a great combination.

The dynamics of the incidents I survived were little different than those faced by urban officers, and the rifle never came into play. Just the same, it would not have been wise to not be prepared on a level playing field. In common with Washington State Police at the time, and the LAPD a little earlier, I began with a Winchester .30-30 WCF rifle in the trunk. Later, I tried the SKS rifle and then the Colt HBAR. Each had its points.

While I subscribe to the one-shot one-hit paradigm sometimes one doesn’t do it and sometimes the shot misses. Having to work a bolt or lever is ridiculous when quality self-loading rifles are available. The availability of a hard hitting .308 caliber self-loader made for the ideal patrol rifle.

Although I have long been retired, if I were back in the saddle today and working the same area, I would deploy the Springfield M1A .308 rifle. This hard hitting rifle is hell on barricades and would be a good roadblock gun. The .223 rifle’s frangible bullets make it a good urban choice but not so good for rural use. If humanely putting down large domestic and wild animals that have ran afoul of trucks and cars are a duty—common in rural areas—the .308 looks even better.

The SOCOM is a fast handling and effective .308.

The SOCOM is a fast handling and effective .308.

The 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge will successfully engage subjects behind cover or while wearing heavy body armor. The .308 will cut through two vehicle doors, and still exhibit excellent wound potential. I once personally experienced a .45 ACP bullet bouncing off tempered door glass when it hit the glass at a severe angle. On another occasion, a .41 Magnum 210-grain load penetrated a door, struck the heavy metal backing of a 1970s Chrysler front seat, and bounced upward and through the roof.

This should not occur with the .308 Winchester. The .308 beats all handguns, .223 rifles, and shotgun slugs for penetration and accuracy. Pistol caliber carbines are a poor choice for police work, but I suppose they are a useful expedient for half-trained individuals.

The history of the M1A is interesting. The U.S. Army adopted the M14 rifle after the Korean War with the rifle officially adopted in the later 1950s. It was in some ways an historic upgrade of the successful M1 Garand rifle but with a 20-round box magazine. The M14 is chambered for the .308 Winchester. The .308 Winchester 7.62x51mm NATO is a rimless .300 Savage or a short .30-06 Springfield depending on your source.

The M1A is enjoyable for shooters of all ages.

A young shooter enjoying the M1A.

This was a rifle that was termed a battle rifle in the day. Heavy but powerful, the M14 was designed for European warfare, and to handle human wave attacks as we faced in Korea. The AR-15 rifle replaced the M14, but that is another story. In the early 1960s, Springfield Armory—the military branch not the modern company that bears the name—produced a number of match grade M14 rifles. These rifles were match-type rifles without the selector switch or the possibility of being converted to fully automatic fire. They used Garand internal parts hence the M1A designation.

This is the rifle the Springfield Armory M1A1 rifle is based on. With good accuracy, real power, and a 20-round magazine, the rifle gives a trained shooter many options. Lets face it, when intervening cover of even moderate resistance is present, the .223 simply doesn’t cut it. Structural members, or even heavy glass, will defeat the .223 but not the .308.

Tactical Matters

If you love the AR-15’s ergonomics, the M1A may not endear itself to you at first. The safety is located in the front of the trigger guard and must be pressed forward with the firing finger, and while it works fine with practice it requires acclimation. The magazine change is also different. The rearward rocking motion, after insertion, locks the magazine in place. To remove the mag, the magazine release is actuated, and the magazine rocked forward.

Springfield M1A
Manufacturer Springfield, Inc.
Caliber 7.62 NATO (.308)
Overall Length 38 to 41 inches, Scout and SOCOM rifles
Weight 9.2 pounds
Sights Military post and aperture
Capacity 10- or 20-round box mag
Trigger 5- to 6-pound, two-stage military

Optics

One of my M1A rifles is fitted with the EOTech HWS. This red dot is among the finest and most proven ever fielded. It makes for fast hits and excellent accuracy. I have learned to use the chin weld versus the cheek weld and visibility is excellent. The other rifle is fitted with a Leatherwood Hi-Lux riflescope. This scope features a long eye relief, as the scope must be mounted ahead of the receiver. For precision shooting, this is the ticket. Then again, the EOTech also is very accurate. The rifle has many choices, but be certain to get the mission down pat before you purchase expensive optics.

Ammunition Choices

When I have the time to load, the Hornady 155-grain A Max and 40.5 grains of H4895 for 2,400 fps is a great overall loading. Accurate, and with a bullet well suited to taking medium game, I like this combination. For serious deployments, the Hornady Black is a good choice. This loading uses the 168-grain A Max. This has been an accurate combination that I find ideally suited to many tasks. Remember, garbage in garbage out. Feed your rifle good stuff.

What is your favorite load for the M1A? Do you use it for hunting, self-defense, or target shooting? Submit your answers in the comment section.

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Comments (36)

  • OldGringo

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    I think the topic of the value of the M1A has gone awry. Its original advantage was the ability to penetrate objects and make effective hits at ranges far beyond the 460 meters of the M16. Now for fun, just google the max effective (point target) range of the M16, M4, M14, and Socom M1a. You get differing and goofy numbers…M16–500 yards, M4—-400 yards, Socom Mia (16,25 barrel)—300 meters. Says who? A whole bunch of experts. The author said he worked rural where drug runners often travelled. Been there done that, highway patrol backup running 100 mph could still be 15 minutes and they had to find you, I was a park ranger, and trying to find some of those boonies places in the dark could take 1/2 hour. The .308 goes thru a car door or brush pile or even trees whereas the 5.56.223 may stop way too early. Point is the authors use is far more relevant that range issues. And, I can tell you 100% for a fact, that there is no such thing as a self defense shooting at 800 yards while you and the other guy lob well controlled rounds thought your $2,800 ninja rifle with its $2,200 nuclear powered digicon VIII optic. If you are shooting very far with any weapon, it legally gets to a point that it is not defense and your attorney cannot make it one. Just saying, there is so much hype and BS on these blogs. One last example. I have killed in excess of 100 deer over 44 years of hunting, and yes we ate them all. Because I read lots of material I would never have hunted deer with the 30 cal carbine, because all the experts said it was worthless. Now, for about 8-9 years now, I keep seeing pictures of all these massive B and C deer killed with a 300 BLK at ranges beyond 200 yards. That is nuts because the 30 cal carbine had about the same energy with the same 110 grain bullet at 150 yards…..also, we know some states and areas are shotgun and archery only and that is the trend. Most deer are killed at 150 yards or less, so with that in mind, are all the ninjas wrong? If you can shoot well at all, do you really need anything more than 30cal carbine or 300 BLK for deer? Probably not. But that is not the question here, the question is posed for what we use the M1a for. I would not use one for hunting, but if I were a park ranger in the boonies again, absolutely. ARs are fine but the M1A is a piece of art firing a round that is far superior.

    Reply

  • Brad A Steffler

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    I first learned the M-14 at Ft. Benning, summer of 1969 at Harmony Church are.I have never fired a better weapon ( I have a Garand) . My Windham Weaponry AR 7.62 X 51 mm is an excellent weapon as well but aI just love the M1A for its ergonomics. Shot high Sharpshooter first time out with M-14, hitting pop up targets at 400 Meters within my first week with the weapon. And that was with a weapon that had been used and abused by multitudes of Basic Trainees before me. With a little more practice and a better (less used) set up M-14, I beleive I coudl have shot Expert. I just have a love affair with it. My M1A always goes to the range with me – no matter what ever else I may be using that day.

    Reply

  • Brad Allen

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    I bought the M1a Socom a few years back and worked hard to get a long eye relief scope that fit, then had to build up a pad on the stock to get a proper line up on the scope. Once I had it all dialed in, accuracy was still avg at best. So I sold it and bought a good quality AR10. Accuracy is much much better,. And it has a better muzzle brake and softer cycling in the action, the recoil is lighter. So I just don’t understand the sentimentalism for the M1. Get a nice AR10 ….

    Reply

  • Oldringo

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    Having carried both the 1911 and M 14 myself as a young MP, I can never fault anyone for that group. I once put 7 magazines thru one full auto as fast as I could reload….. tip…. do not do that.. the barrel will turn red. As far as carry, I do not have one but decided to try and carry my Garand on a deer hunt once. Gosh those things are heavy now. I see all these mall ninja buying $2,500 bolts with $200 scopes so they can claim they kill a deer or antelope at 500 yards and beyond. Heck, back in the day, I shot an antelope at 600 yards with a $200 Winchester 70 and a $100 weaver. If they are such good hunters today, why not just hunt with the M1A or Garand and use the little peep sights. or how about all those predator hunters—why not try shooting those yotes with an open sight revolver? We all know why, they cannot do it. Duh.

    Reply

    • OldGringo

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      I meant $2,000 scopes not $200;

      Reply

    • Waterhammer

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      Cheers! I’m not sure what a mall ninja is but I’ve been cayote hunting with a 1938 model K98 8mm Mauser I picked up for $500 12years ago. I don’t hunt for pelts, I just want them gone. Hit one with hard sights at 300yards couple months ago. Definitely agree that those rich kids can’t shoot even with $3000 gear

      Reply

    • Sam

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      I agree. Apparently, markmanship is a dying art. All those pricey scopes may be useful under certain circumstances, but what’s the matter with learning to shoot and hunt with plain old open sights. No matter which firearm, the great Garand, the equally great M1A, or my trusty .30-30 Winchester, I’ve always hit what I aimed at, even at 500 yards – with open sights. Heck, I once hit a little Sparrow (that was sitting on a fence post) dead-center at 80 yards off-hand with an open-sighted single-six revolver – with a .22 short (remember those?). The bullet had such little energy left it didn’t even exit. Great equipment might be nice, but when it comes to shooting well, it’s good old-fashion marksmanship that counts the most.

      Reply

  • CHRIS BATES

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    M1a is a fine rifle, but the ar10 is a better more accurate choice.

    Reply

    • Brad Allen

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      Chris, you’re absolutely right

      Reply

  • Irish-7

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    I concur. During a 30 year career in the US Army, I fired multiple REAL Assault Rifles: German G3, Belgian FN, Russian & Chinese AK-47 and our own M16A1, A2, A4 & M4 Rifles. I truly believe that the Springfield M14/M1A is the greatest rifle ever made.

    Reply

  • Rick Percy

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    I still carry what Uncle Sam issued me in 1967: A 1911 & my M1A/M-14.

    Reply

  • Dennis Latham

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    I carried the M-14 in Vietnam. It fired when dirty, which was something the M-16 wouldn’t do at the time. I now have an M-1A. I think it is the best combat rifle ever made. I have the Loaded version stainless barrel. I prefer open sights. My Marine buddy has the National Match with a scope. He covers the long shots, and I cover the shorter range shots. I wouldn’t trade mine for anything else.

    Reply

  • Docduracoat

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    I agree with HW Stone that an AR 10 is preferable to an M 14 type
    I have a Federal Ordnance M 14 and it is a fine rifle
    All steel and wood, I have a Zeus’s Conquest scope mounted on a Sadlak mount
    Great gun but heavy and long
    Also, don’t buy from Springfield as they supported anti gun laws and politicians in Illinois
    If you want an old style rifle of this type, buy one from Fulton Armory

    Reply

  • Pete in Alaska

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    I have had a number of occasion to deploy outside the country on various projects over the years.. Have in the earlier years went thru several platform, calibers, an optics.
    A platform, any platform, must be able to be easily brought into action within any engagement envelope without a loss of it given specifications or performance.
    Simply defined one must be able to as quickly engage from the inside of a vehical, within a structure, urban street to open engagement distances out to 600 to 800 meters, in the case of a long gun.
    I have come to a personal and very effective solution for this across the board requirement of long barreled, stocked shotgun and rifle platforms.
    I have carried the BullPup configured Remington 870 12ga and Springfield SOCOM now for a number of years. This is from my POV the most effective weapon configuration for any deployment envelope.
    On the 870 a RedDot with mid-profile 45° canted iron sights serves as its everyday setup. It’s leant shortened by nearly 11 inches makes it easily deployed from a seated position inside a vehical, to any man position in a tactical or breaching stack. It’s shortened leant allows for faster threat response while keeping a 16 to 18 inch barrel leant uneffected. If one considers the increased response time, from tighter positions, for either counter fire or offensive deployment in urban confines. The BullPup configuration of an old standard expands its envelope by a great degree.
    This same configuration when applied to the Springfield SOCOM or the Scout effectively expands its engagement envelops in the same manner as the 870. The shorter overall leant without shortening the action or barrel allow for greater positive deployment opportunities. I use and carry several optics depending on expected use or mission requirement. Long Distance falls to a 5.5×50 ACOG, Red Chevron reticle, on a QD Mount zeroed at 250 meters with a lowprofile reddot sidemounted to the scope zeroed at 125 meters with fold down 45° ghost ring iron sites.
    For short, urban and tight deployment ranges a standard AR ACOG on a QD Mount is most effective. With the 45° ghost iron sights as backup.
    In addition the BullPup is easily carried on a single point harness in the same manner as an M4, is quickly shouldered, and as quickly engaged but with a great deal of more effective firepower.
    As a side note I started this journey to being a BullPup convert with a bowrrowed Steyr AUG some years ago. My EDC today is and has been the MSAR STG556. Modified to use AR as well as platform specific magazines and topped with an ECON RedDot an 45° ghost sights.
    All three platforms fit into one Pelican Case for transport.
    My 870 is stocked in a Bullpup Unlimited aftermarket product. Made in the USA. They also make a product for a Mossberg 500 too.
    The SOCOM is housed in a Rouge Chassis.
    Both are very durable and I have found no complaints with either product over the time I have used them
    One now has M4 size and deployability with a significant increase in power.
    As to munitions. I have found the military 7.62×51 Match in 168gr are quite sufficient out to 600 meters. For greater distance I carry hand loads made up of the Barns 168gr TAC-X bullet using 42.5gr of IMR 4320. This load in the shorter barrel
    Is accurate out to 800 meters when on a bipod or rest.
    Yes…. it’s a heavier platform than an M4 and one carries somewhat less of an ammo load out.
    However … the pro’s of deploying this kind of significant firepower in the engagement envelopes encountered today regardless of that being military, LEO, contract or privet sector out weighs the few Cons when the expanded capabilities of such a simple modification is considered and understood.
    I can attest to this expanded capability of the bullpup platform as I’m currently able to write of it here. It is my own point of view that is founded on real world expierance and I expect no epiphanies here. I wish only to offer a lesser know but very effective modification to the M1A.
    We seem to forget these days that Old Tech that is still in use today, still in production and nearly unchanged in design and operation from it introduction finds itself still serving on the front line for proven performance in nearly every condition, environment, and situation that could ever be considered.
    I would go so far as to suggest that one will always find an M1A or variant, the pump shotgun in 12ga, and some form of pistol chambered in .45APC, well after I have gone an likely into the 22nd century in the better armories of the world and on an active status. Some things just can’t get better just modified to preform at their designed best!

    Reply

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