Pat's Product Review: Springfield Armory M1A

Monday, Jul 18, 2011

I hear from quite a few SurvivalBlog readers about my articles. Most of you are pretty knowledgeable, polite and have questions. There's a few SurvivalBlog readers who are rude, it's okay, we're all entitled to our opinions. When you're reading a review of any product, be it a gun, knife, camping gear, or whatever, you must remember, you are reading the opinion of the writer. Although I've been writing about firearms and knives for almost 20-years now, and I've been a shooter for more than 40 years, I don't consider myself an "expert" of any sort. Instead, I call myself a serious student. When you read my reviews, you are reading what I have learned from testing a particular product. My opinion is based on many years experience, and based on my evaluation of the products being tested.

I certainly don't expect everyone to agree with my findings, especially when it comes to guns and knives. While I might think that a particular gun I tested is right for me, it may not be right for someone else. The sample gun I tested might have operated without any malfunctions, and your same model of the same gun might have problems. Bad guns slip through the QC at the best firearms factories - it's just a fact of life. However, I believe most gun companies are quick to resolve any problems you might have with their firearms - at least based on my own experiences over many years dealing with gun companies.

Okay, up for review today is the Springfield Armory M1A "Loaded" 7.62x51 NATO battle rifle. I cut my teeth on the old military M14 in basic training at Ft. Ord, California back in 1969. About the only complaint I had at that time was the weight of the M14, which was close to 10 pounds. I went into BCT at Ft. Ord weighing in at a whopping 130 pounds. I came out of my infantry school at Ft. Lewis, Washington at 165 pounds. The M14 was heavy, at least for me, and some other soldiers who were small-framed and who didn't weigh a lot. Then again, a lot of the bigger guys also complained about the weight of the M14. The Springfield Armory M1A is a semiauto only version of the venerable M14 - for the most part.

I was also a member of the Illinois State Rifle and Pistol Team, when I worked full-time for the Illinois National Guard. We were issued match-grade M14s and M1911s for competition. We were also supplied with all the ammo we wanted - how I wish I had taken advantage of that - I'd probably still have match ammo to this day - hindsight is wonderful! Our match-grade M14s could easily shoot 1 MOA if we did our part. I competed in quite a few high-powered rifle matches while on the team, and usually won in my division - I was (and still am) into guns and do a lot of shooting. The Springfield Armory M1A Loaded rifle offers exceptional value and performance with it's American walnut stock, air gauged medium weight national match barrel in either stainless steel or chrome poly. There is also a national match trigger assembly, although not as nicely done as the one I had on my M14 competition rifle. The front sight and non-hooded rear sight assemblies are also national match, along with the flash suppressor.

With a 22" barrel, the M1A seems like it's actually longer than it actually is. However, when you compare it to most standard high-powered hunting rifles, the barrel is actually shorter, and when you compare it to most magnum caliber high-powered hunting rifles, the barrel is actually shorter on the M1A. The trigger is a military two-stage, that is matched tuned to 4.5-5 lbs - and I've actually found on most M1A models that I've examined (and owned) the trigger pull as lighter. Overall length of the Springfield Armory M1A is 44.3" which isn't too bad for a battle rifle.

I'm totally ashamed to say, I don't currently owned a Springfield Armory M1A - I know, I know - 50-lashes with a wet noodle. However, the last M1A I owned was a Loaded model, and it wasn't that long ago that I owned this rifle. It was one of those "why did I trade that gun?" deals that haunts a man for many years. My last sample M1A had the chrome moly barrel, which I prefer, as I think chrome moly barrels offer a little better accuracy of stainless barrels. I have no scientific proof of this, only my own experience.

I can honestly say that, I've probably fired tens of thousands of rounds through various M1A rifles over the years, and through my military issued match M14, so I have formed some opinions based on my experience with these types of rifles. I believe the M1A is a very reliable rifle, and I don't ever recall one having any sort of malfunction - period! And, I have fed all manner of 7.62x51 NATO ammo through these rifles. We're talking reloaded ammo, Russian-made steel-cased ammo, match-grade military ammo, military surplus ammo and commercial .308 ammo with a 150 grain bullet weight- and the M1A just keeps on perking along, so long as you clean 'em once in a while and give 'em a little bit of lube.

The M1A is a very rugged rifle, to be sure. It's basically a clone of the M14, withonly semiauto fire possible. The M14 was a work horse, and so is the Springfield Armory M1A - they are meant for serious use, in all manner of weather - be it rain, snow, mud or whatever you might throw at it - the M1A can handle it. I always liked the looks of the American walnut stock. However, my next M1A will have a polymer fiberglass stock on it. I live in the western part of Oregon, and we get a lot of rain here. So, I worry about a stock warping under those conditions if I'm forced to live out in the boonies due to an end of the world scenario. You can teach an old dog new tricks!

The M1A is gas operated, with a short-stroke piston. I've never seen a short-stroke piston go "bad" but I imagine it can happen. Just wipe the piston down every now and then and they are good to go. I've also found that the flash suppressor on the M1A and M14 to be pretty effective, considering that you're shooting a high-powered round. I absolutely love the sights on the M1A as well, they are fast to pick-up, and easy to adjust. Once your front sight is centered properly, you should never had to touch it again. The front sight on an M1A need no adjustment. All adjustments are through the rear sight, that is windage and elevation adjustable with only your fingers.

The Springfield Armory M1A only comes with one 10-rd magazine, and I've yet to figure out why this is. I understand during the magazine ban, that Springfield was supplying 10-rd mags, but I don't know why they are still doing so. In any case, quality 20-rd M14 mags are easy enough to find. Just steer clear of cheap M14 magazines that Sportsman's Guide, a large mail-order company sells. They claim to be military surplus M14 mags - they aren't! Some of the best M14/M1A 20-rd mags being produced today are from Checkmate Industries. You can still find genuine military surplus M14 mags, but they cost more than the brand-new Checkmate magazines - get Checkmate, and you won't be sorry. Checkmate is currently a contract maker for M14 magazines to the US military. So you will be getting mil-spec M14 mags. They run around $25 each and they are well worth it. With a little care, they will last a lifetime.

My late friend, Chuck Karwan, who was a well-known knife and gun writer, did an article for me, when I was publishing and editing a little newsletter called "Police Hot Sheet ." Chuck's article was on the police using the M1A as a sniper's rifle on a SWAT team. Chuck made an excellent argument in favor of the M1A over a bolt action rifle. One of the points Chuck brought up was that a second and third shot was fast to get off than you could from a bolt action rifle - I concur with Chuck on this. And, the M1A is very accurate at least in my testing - you can get 1 MOA if you do your part and you have ammo your rifle likes.

The M1A would be an outstanding addition to any survival battery. The gun can be used as a battle rifle, or as a sniper's rifle if the need arises. When I shot high-powered rifle competition with my old M14 we shot out to 600-yards with open sights - no scopes - and our team would routinely beat civilian shooters with bolt action rifles with scopes on 'em. Go figure? If you do you part, you can hit a man out in the open at 600-yards with your M1A, if you do your part. You can also lay down a lot of fire-power with the M1A in a CQB situation and there's not many places you can hide from a .308 round. When I lived in Colorado, my late friend, Tim Caruso, and I used to regularly go up in the mountains and do a lot of shooting, or on his small tract of land, and we could "cut down" some pretty big pine trees with a full 20 round magazine of .308 ammo. Unless it is huge, you can't hide behind a tree and escape a 7.62mm NATO ball round.

There aren't many spare parts you need to keep on-hand to keep an M1A going. Perhaps a recoil spring, and maybe a spare firing pin and extractor for your bolt. However, don't attempt to replace the firing pin or extractor without the proper bolt disassembly tool and the training to do so. The M1A isn't all that hard to work on for the most part. And, I've never had one break on me - although I have worked on broken ones when I was being training as a military armorer. Anything mechanical can break, but I think the M1A would serve you well, and with a little bit of maintenance and cleaning, the gun won't break down on you when you need it the most.

As I've said many times, quality doesn't come cheap, and you can expect to pay around $1,800 for a Loaded M1A, and a little bit less for a Standard version M1A from Springfield Armory. There are other models of the M1A available, and be sure to check them out on the Springfield Armory web site. You can usually find some M1As at most gun shows, too. Be advised, the M1A is always in short supply, and don't expect to walk into most smaller gun shops and find one on the rack. You can find Chinese clones of the M1A at gun shows, and most are pretty decent rifles, but only after some expensive work. However, if you want the real deal, then you have to get your hands on an M1A, you won't be sorry, trust me on this.

I wish I could report something negative about the Springfield Armory M1A, but on the samples I've owned over the years, I never had any problems. And, my next battle rifle purchase will be an M1A of some sort! And, it won't be sold or traded later on! - SurvivalBlog Field Gear Editor Pat Cascio


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