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)

  • Robert Pagano

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    Full power rifle cartridges are not appropriate for police work. Back in the day LE guys used Remington 600 carbines and found the operation of the bolt was not a draw back because they hit on the first shot. The M1A used only the rear sight, a couple of trigger group components and the rear sling swivel from the M1. Iron sights are used out to 600, 800 and 1000 yards in Service Rifle Competition. But then, that’s by real riflemen.

    Reply

  • Rick

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    Bought a SA M1A in circa 2001. before the Gulf War, and the ensuing price increases. Got a walnut stocked loaded standard blued. Put a 4×16 scope on it. Interestingly, at 100 ydsat 16pwr, one could see the bullets break paper before the action would cycle! It shot MOA groups w/factory ammo, no problems. Got a coupon w/ the gun, allowed me to but a SA Rifle case and a NOS GI bbl at a discount. Paid 70-80 $$ for a NOS GI contour chrome-lined 4 groove TRW bbl. Acquired other parts as spare. Before the last Presidential election, sent the bbl to LRB Arms. Had it mounted on an LRB (the only producer of mil-spec forged receivers I,m aware of) M25 receiver. Have it setting on a GI walnut stock w/all hardware I got for $15. Great rifle & a pleasure to shoot!

    Reply

  • jeffrey

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    I use the AR-15, M1A, and Garand for target shooting. The M1A is an ideal in between gun. If I had to make a choice I would choose the M1A.

    Reply

  • Phantom 30

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    Love my standard M1A with bird cage flash hider and bayonet lug (Cultural Essential). Know how to use it, got the basic training trophy to prove it. This M1A configuration is basically an M-14 Battle Rifle. The M-14E2 version has the automatic sear attachment and selector. Fairly worthless unless pray and spray is your objective. Iron sights are enough out to 400 yards, the handguard rail and the single screw side mount rail are only good for less than you would desire in terms of accuracy. Assault Rifles like M4, AK47 are less useful beyond 200 yards than the M1A. When you get older the 7.62×51 has too much recoil. I have gone to 6mm Creedmoor (6CM), tremendous accuracy and recoil is low enough to spot your our own rounds head down in the glass and dynamically reengage as required. Supersonic past 1300 yards, the recoil factor makes it better than 6.5CM. I asked Springfield if they have any plans to add off caliber barrel options to their system. They said NO. Too bad an M1A format in 6CM with a solid two point rail attachment would be awesome. 6CM is good for large deer out to 450 yards, with a 105gr bullet, better than a 243W.

    Reply

    • Sam

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      Saw a video report were a muzzle brake that replaces the flash hider on the M1A significantly helps tame the recoil of the 7.62×51 round. I got one from Springfield for my M1A but haven’t installed it yet.

      Reply

  • Marty

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    Just got first semi auto rifle, the Socom16. I love it! I did buy a eotech but on the scout rail the donut of death is to big. Paid $ for that so i was kinda pissed, put it on the Mossberg500 and up closer to eye is alot better. I just bought a burris 2-7scout scope and installed a cheek riser that i hope works out better for me. Its kinda hard to have both eyes open because im used to the hunting bolts…

    Reply

    • Damian

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      @Marty i have the SOCOM CQB in the archangel stock and i have a Leatherwood HI-LUX LER scope that works perfectly and fits my socom 16 perfectly to scope these the Leatherwood or the leupold LER are the two best LER scopes to use .Expensive scopes but so is the rifle .100.00 opics do not work well with 1800.00 rifles .Ijust use QD rings and switch out from the LER scope to mt EOTECH halo sight depending on how far i plan to shoot that day .The farthest i have done with this rifle is 500 meters and with the leatherwood scope was hitting the steel sil o’s easily once sighted in for that range .The rifle will do it if the shooter sets it up right and has a little skill i also switch it from the polymer stock to a NM walnut at times and it really shoots well in the wood stock .

      Reply

  • Pandaz3

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    I first fired a M-14 in ’64 at Fort Ord, Claifornia for Army basic training. The maximum effective range was being reduced from 500 yards to 460 meters as we were going metric at the time. The M-16 which followed had to have the same effective range or their may have been political fallout preventing the new M-16 from being adopted. The M-14 I had was magic, it hit all the long range targets, but somehow missed a few up close. It inspired a lot of confidence. Later in ’66 at Fort Benning I fired the M-14A1, a full automatic with a pistol grip stock a fold down foregrip, bipod, muzzle brake. It had a effective range of 700 Meters (Might have been yards, Mr. Memory is AWOL) All done with open sights (Hard to see a man standing still at 500 yards) anyway the qualification was touchy as you had to make magazine changes under time pressure, that was hard.

    I love the M-14 and would likely love a M1A. I do have AR-10’s though.

    Reply

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