Two Letters from D.B. Re: M1A Rifles, Modifications and Scout/SOCOM Variants

Sunday, Dec 4, 2005

A couple of tidbits regarding the king of the battle rifles:

M14 magazines are now just $10 each at Midway - they have secured a lot of Taiwan mags - these are made on USGI machinery that we sold to the Taiwanese. Yes, I feel stupid for having bought my supply @ $35 each! 
[JWR's Comment: If they are blued, then they are Taiwanese. If they are gray phosphated (Parkerized), then odds are 90% that they are mainland Chinese.]

The "chopping" of the barrel from regular length to scout length is a very complicated operation requiring the re-milling of the spline [cut] on the barrel, etc.. Fulton Armory has the gear/expertise to do it, but not sure of anyone else. They are a bit slow due to their backlog of work.

USGI parts have become scarce so newly manufactured Scout & SOCOM [variant]s should be checked out for having "real" parts and newly manufactured ones swapped out accordingly. 
[JWR's Comment: Nearly all Springfield Armory M1As made since the early 1980s have less than half original USGI parts.  Up until about 1985 you could special order one with Springfield Armory's "All GI Parts" option.  IIRC, that cost an extra $200+.  I bought my first M1A in 1981--a special-ordered heavy barrel Super Match in an E2 stock with the "All GI Parts" option. That rifle cost $880, which was a fortune in those days. But these days just an E2 stock with all of the metal parts costs around $600.  That is one of the reasons that I switched to L1A1s.  But I still miss that Super Match. Sniff!] 

If it would help, I could share some modifications that were passed on to me by Clint Smith at Thunder Ranch/learned from use - let me know if you want them. - D.B.

In a follow-up e-mail, D.B. added:

These are what I have done to prep my M1A for Schumeresque use:
1. On the advice of Clint Smith at Thunder Ranch, I filed the front sight blade down the point where the rifle is zeroed at 100 yards with the rear aperture bottomed out. This way you don’t have to worry about the peep getting bumped down/off your zero when you are carrying/using your rifle. You need to determine what the best round for your use is – Talon demilled USGI ball, Hirtenberger, Winchester 150 soft point, etc.. Depending on your anticipated engagement parameters, maybe it should be set for 275/50/300 yards.
2. Again, per Clint, I put grab loops on the bottom of the USGI M14 mags [to facilitate getting them out of magazine pouches quickly.] Clint originally recommended the 100 MPH tape loops. However, knowing the life expectancy of 100 MPH tape under heavy use/heat/sweat/rain is 6-12 months, I went a step better. Bought 1/8” stainless steel cable from the hardware store and drilled a hole thru both sides of the magazine and created a loop of wire with a ferrule. Then put JB weld over the ends of the clipped wire to prevent the painful little poking that occurs from a frayed wire. Size them large enough to fit gloved fingers. These are the “sack of hammers” approach – yes, there are commercially made Mag-Pulls, but if my life is on the line, I want it Russian/11B grunt/Jarhead/sack of hammers tough. Clint was OK with the arrangement on my next trip. Also, can them clip empty mags to a carabiner after a magazine swap--as opposed to using a dump pouch – just my way of skinning this cat – YMMV.
3. Skateboard tape on the USGI metal butt plate so it doesn’t slip off during MOUT ops/movement. The recoil pad that Springfield Armory put on doesn’t help me use the rifle for it’s secondary purpose (a pugil stick – WARNING – those who insist on using the varmint round .223 platform, you can only use that miserable excuse for a rifle to butt stroke the bad guy one time – better make it count!)
4. Krylon wasn’t around when I did it to mine, but that is what I would use now to stripe/disrupt [camouflage] the solid black of the rifle. Paint the metal too – keeps it from rusting – the Brits are famous/infamous for it.
5. Take a Dremel tool and put air holes in the top hand guard to ease cooling. I don’t have any empirical data showing “X%” cooling rate improvement, but it makes me feel better that I am caring for the rifle as best I can. Recommend removing it B4 drilling so you don’t go too far/into the barrel.
6. The insides of the ears protecting the front sight blade are painted gloss white to reflect as much light as possible onto the blade as long/as soon as possible during reduced visibility.
7. I drilled holes in the side of the foreend and using 1” rings mounted a 6P Surefire to the stock. According to Surefire, they won’t withstand the recoil, but I have only replaced one bulb over the course of Urban Rifle, a symposium at Gunsite, and lots of training. I use the G2 [light] now, it is cheaper by 1⁄2 - I used Brownell's bedding compound to epoxy in the nuts on the inside of the stock so they meet the 11B level of reliability – while mine is on the correct side of the stock (right hand side since I shoot the weapon the best way/as a southpaw) it works just fine for the wrong sided use (right handed) as well – guess you could try on the bottom, but could affect your prone/barricade shooting/get in the way more
8. I don’t hang an extra mag on the butt – you need to be able to “switch hit” from right to left shoulder to properly operate in MOUT scenarios and one of those is prohibited by having a mag on the butt stock
9. Consider heavily training opposite handed – the rifle “sings” when you run it left-handed – you can see the breech without removing the weapon from your shoulder – you can run the bolt from a better mechanical advantage/keeping your left hand on the pistol grip – I am left eye dominant and fairly ambidextrous, so this rifle rocks for me - YMMV
10. I have an M60 sling on it to hang the rifle from my neck/be able to drop it in case of malfunction to transition to sidearm – need a one point hook system, but haven’t been able to develop that yet
11. Use the cleaning kit area in the buttstock for it’s intended purpose
12. Have a ruptured case extractor on your line one level of gear – if you have any reloads in your BOB replace them with factory, and better yet, USGI rounds to preclude ever using the tool
13. Learn to use a spoon [stripper clip guide] and stripper clips so you don’t have to carry so many mags
14. Only use USGI mags on this weapon!
15. I drilled out my aperture to make it into a true ghost ring after shooting my first scout rifle – you can still be precise, but it really speeds up your ability to hit closer targets quickly
16. The second M1A (remember the motto: Two is one, one is none) is set up with a Leupold M3 scope on SWAN/ARMS QD levers. (Sorry, but SA’s mount is not stable.) Unitized gas system, stainless match barrel and trigger, bedded stock – I made out of leather with USGI sleeping pad padding, a cheekiest to get my eye socket aligned with the scope – there is no such thing as a “chin” weld – you must have a secure place to lay your face behind the scope to get accurate shooting. At Precision Rifle, I ran the tower drill getting 2 hits out of 20 rounds trying to use the chin weld – after 2” of sleeping pad and athletic tape were added, the group shrank to .75 MOA out to 600 yards. This rifle has a M1907 leather sling and skateboard tape on the buttpad for slippage prevention. I have not drilled the handguard on this one as it would contribute to mirage problems.
17. Remember – you sweated and cussed humping the ammo for this 9-to-10 pound pig – it turns cover into concealment, so make every one of them count--get a hit! Hope these help our patriots out there! - D.B.

JWR Adds: The only other modification that I recommend for an M1A is painting the handguard FLAT black. The original brown finish on USGI .fiberglass handguards tends to reflect as they get older and worn. OBTW, speaking of handguards, you mentioned: "Take a Dremel tool and put air holes in the top hand guard to ease cooling"  Personally, I don't recommend that. Ventilation holes or slots will put "mirage" heat distortion lines up into your sighting plane. (This is primarily an issue for long range match shooting with iron sights.) Also, avoid the early USGI ventilated handguards (the ones with the parallel rows of slots)--they were discontinued because they tend to be fragile.

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