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Rifles

The Rise, Fall and Rise of the M14

by Rick Hacker   |  October 30th, 2012 37
M14_001

Dropping a Springfield Armory M1A into a JAE-100 G3 stock doesn’t just change the look; it can also increase accuracy.

Practically all of our greatest 20th century military rifles have not only been known for their long-term success on the battlefield but have gone on to achieve further fame in the hands of civilians. Witness the 1903 and 1903A3 Springfields, the M1 Garand, the M1 carbine and the M16. Not so much with the M14. In spite of the fact that it was actually an improved version of the M1 Garand—the World War II rifle that Gen. George S. Patton, Jr. called “The greatest battle implement ever devised”—it served our armed forced the shortest time of any of our battle rifles.

Its tenure as an issued military weapon lasted only from 1957 until 1964, when production was halted with just 1,380,874 rifles made. This modest record is even more astonishing when one realizes it was John Garand, the father of the M1, who actually improved his original M1 design. His changes evolved into the T-20 experimental rifle, and subsequently the T-44 and finally the M14—or “United States Rifle, 7.62 mm, M14,” as it was ultimately christened.

M14_002

The yin and yang of the M14 is embodied in two Springfield Armory rifles: the M21 Tactical with adjustable cheekpiece (the civilian version of the Marine Corps M21 Sniper Rifle) and the popular, short-barreled SOCOM.

And even though fully loaded it was two pounds heavier than the Garand, in many ways the M14 was vastly superior. For one thing, it was chambered for the 7.62×51 NATO cartridge (which became the civilian .308 Winchester), making it compatible with rifles of other NATO signatories.

It also bested the older M1’s eight-round clip capacity by utilizing a 20-round detachable magazine. This increased firepower could be further enhanced by semiautomatic or full-auto capability via a selector switch on the right side of the receiver.

In addition, a modified gas expansion cut-off system utilized a shorter operating rod and modified upper handguard and fore-end, thus making for a more compact weapon in spite of its increased weight. But perhaps the most notable asset was the accuracy and range of the M14—with verified kills common out to 500 yards and often well beyond.

Once Springfield Armory started production, some of the first M14s were sent to the celebrated 101st Airborne Division, the Screaming Eagles. But until the Vietnam war heated up, deployment of the new rifle was relatively slow, and I can remember going through Advanced Infantry Training and Officer’s Candidate School back in the ’60s and training with M1s, while only getting a one-day familiarization course with the M14.

Still, any soldier familiar with the Garand felt pretty much at home once he got an M14 in his hands because the buttstock and rear sights were practically clones of the M1, and the rifle broke down into its three main components the same way.

Originally the stocks were made of walnut but were soon changed to birch, which was not only less expensive to manufacture but more durable. The fiberglass upper handguard, however, caused some of us a bit of consternation, as we likened them to “toys.” It should be noted that initially these upper handguards were made of wood, but the heat generated by the NATO round during rapid fire actually caused some of these guards to char. Ventilated fiberglass upper handguards were also tried but proved too brittle in battle, their macho appearance notwithstanding.

The M14 also had another flaw that, like the early rapid-fire campfire smell, was also due to its hard-hitting cartridge. Because of its full-auto capability, it was assumed the M14 would eventually replace not just the M1 Garand but the M2 Carbine, the M3 “grease gun” and the Browning Automatic Rifle as well. But it was soon discovered that firing the M14 in its fully automatic mode of 750 rounds per minute shook both shooter and weapon to the point of ineffectiveness.

Sustained recoil wasn’t the only culprit; in full auto, the M14 had a nasty tendency to climb right off the target. In fact, firing even as few as three quick bursts would result in a dramatically (and sometimes dangerously) elevated muzzle, lobbing rounds where they weren’t supposed to go. Thus, a small cylindrical selector switch lock was eventually used to permanently disable the full-auto capability on the majority of M14s issued to troops.

But rapid-fire recoil wasn’t what led to the M14’s short initial military career. If anything, the gun was highly revered for its long-range accuracy and its reliable, jam-resistant action. Rather, it was the fact that then-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara considered the wood-and-steel rifle ill-suited for the close-in, humidity-soaked rigors of the Vietnam war.

M14_003

Like the originals that came before it, Hacker found this Fulton Armory M14 functioned flawlessly. The rifle is quite behaved in semiauto (note the shell in the air) but in sustained rapid fire the muzzle rises dramatically.

Concurrent with this was the Small Caliber High Velocity program, which resulted in Eugene Stoner developing a light 5.56 NATO-firing rifle with selective-fire capability. As a result, by 1964 all further purchases of the M14 were halted, and while it was still retained in South Korea and for some European NATO operations, it was replaced with the then-untried M16 (although it is interesting to note that some Marine units continued to hang on to their M14s in Vietnam right through the Tet Offensive).

Nonetheless, by the 1990s, literally hundreds of thousands of M14s—rifles previously made not only by Springfield Armory but also by Winchester, Harrington & Richardson, and Thompson-Ramo-Wooldridge—had been demilled. Others were shipped to our allies overseas, or sold to appreciative law enforcement organizations on the home front. Within our armed forces, the M14 continued in limited designated marksman roles and as a sniper weapon. Its accuracy was also useful on board naval vessels, where it excelled at detonating floating mines.

In addition, Army shooting team gunsmiths, as part of the Army Marksmanship Unit, started to rebuild and fine-tune the M14s capabilities even further, making it a rifle that was “much more refined than that used by the average soldier,” to quote from the government’s M14 Rifle Accurization manual.

As a result, between Springfield Armory, TRW and Rock Island Arsenal, almost 20,000 National Match versions (upgraded from the standard service rifle and capable of semiautomatic fire only) were produced between 1962 and 1967. Thus, even though it was no longer our official battle rifle, dramatic improvements in the M14’s range and accuracy had a trickle-down effect with civilian shooters as well, as more gunsmith-enhanced National Match rifles began showing up in service rifle competitions. Not surprisingly, the subsequent appearance in 1974 of the Illinois-based Springfield Armory’s National Match M1A—a semi-automatic only version of the M14—enjoyed overwhelming success.

And then a funny thing happened on the way to the sandbox. With the escalation of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it was discovered that the M16 wasn’t all that adept at long-range shots and functioning during sandstorms. On the other hand, even with dirt and dust, the M14 excelled in hits out to 750 yards, especially with its magazine stoked with 175-grain M118 Long Range sniper cartridges.

As a result, practically all of the rifles that still remained in storage were called back to duty, where they have been serving with distinction ever since. Today, of course, the evolving tactics of modern warfare have resulted in previously unknown M14 accessories, such as lasers, night vision optics, telescoping stocks and Picatinny rails.

In its civilian guise as the semiautomatic M1A (distinctive from the military M14, which has both full- and semi-auto capabilities) this rifle exists in almost as many versions as its military counterpart.

It’s important to note that the term “M1A” has been trademarked by Springfield Armory. Thus, only rifles made by Springfield Armory or utilizing their receivers can legally be called “M1As.”

Plus, firms such as James River Armory and Fulton Armory build M1As with receivers that are stamped M14—a designation that prohibits their importation in certain states like New Jersey. In other states, it is the bayonet lug or flash suppressor that restricts them (the flash hider is often substituted with a muzzle brake to make them compliant in states such as California).

Obviously, 10-round magazines are substituted for the 20-round version in states with mag-cap limits. On the flip side, it should be noted that Check Mate Industries currently makes a 25-round magazine, which is issued to the Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Given all these parameters, today there is virtually a plethora of M1A variants—with firms such as LRB Arms, James River Armory and Smith Enterprise Inc. offering forged receivers, while others, including Springfield Armory and Fulton Armory, producing M1As with cast receivers.

There is an ongoing controversy as to which type of receiver is best. Forged receivers cost more, and the fact is few of us will ever fire enough rounds in our M1As to notice the difference between cast or forged. On the other hand, if you want a top-of-the-line, custom-built ultimate M1A, and plan to do a decent amount of competition shooting with it, I’d recommend going the forged receiver route.

That said, I have test fired hundreds of rounds through a variety of M14/M1A rifles from numerous manufacturers, using both forged and cast receivers, and have never noticed a difference in how the guns handled. Quality internal parts and a top-of-the-line barrel (those made by Krieger, Criterion and Smith Enterprise are two that immediately come to mind) are of far more importance.

Today one of the most popular one-stop shops for an M1A is Springfield Armory, which offers the standard issue-type rifle with 22-inch barrel, walnut, black synthetic or Mossy Oak stocks, as well as an adjustable-cheekpiece M21 civilian version of the Army’s sniper rifle.

There’s also the hugely popular SOCOM, a close-quarters version with 16.25-inch barrel. It’s available in a variety of stock options. The company’s SOCOM II comes with the firm’s proprietary Cluster Rail System—top and bottom Picatinny rails for mounting optics and accessories—and Springfield also makes an optional quad rail for those who simply can’t put enough stuff on their rifles.

On the other end of the spectrum, Fulton Armory’s Mk14 Mod 0 EBR (Enhanced Battle Rifle) comes with a Sage Industries aluminum telescoping Designated Marksman stock with adjustable cheekpad and a Picatinny rail. It’s a ready-to-go semiauto-only version of the highly modified M14 that was designed for Navy SEALs.

Customizing Your M1A/M14
For those who already have an M1A and want to enhance it further, J. Allen Enterprises makes a JAE-100 G3 drop-in aluminum-framed fiberglass stock that will noticeably change the look of your M1A while adding three recoil-reducing pounds to your rifle. But it will also increase its accuracy dramatically while completely eliminating the need for glass bedding.

Along more traditional lines, for those with M1A rifles using G.I. stocks with the original selector switch cutout, Fulton Army offers a realistic-looking, non-functioning dummy selector switch.

The effectiveness of the M1A—specifically in the accuracy department—has been further enhanced with improvements in ammunition, with Hornady’s .308 Superformance 150-grain GMX and Winchester’s 120-grain .308 PDX1 being two of the newest examples.

M14_004

The M14/M1A (bottom) was a direct descendant of the M1 (top). Both rifles were developed by John Garand, but it’s the M1 that gets all the glory.

Plus there are countless aftermarket accessories, including optical mounting platforms by Atlantic Research Marketing Systems (A.R.M.S.), modstocks and Picatinny rail systems by VLTOR, National Match springs from Sadlak, muzzle brakes from Surefire and Young Manufacturing, and tactical sights by firms such as Trijicon, Aimpoint and Leupold.

Indeed, as it continues marching steadily into the 21st century, the M14/M1A has gradually been transformed into a state-of-the-art battle rifle that, in many cases, even John Garand might no longer recognize. And although the Army is now searching for a replacement for its current Stoner-based M4 carbine, it looks like the M14/M1A rifle is going to be around for a long, long time.

  • DetroitMan

    "…the M14/M1A has gradually been transformed into a state-of-the-art battle rifle that, in many cases, even John Garand might no longer recognize."

    John Garand was an advocate of continuous improvement in military small arms, and very forward thinking. He was also a great patriot. If he were alive today, I think he would be fascinated by the modern improvements to the M14, and he would certainly approve of them. He would undoubtedly be proud that his rifle was still serving the country he loved.

    • edwin

      John Garand was Canadian.

      • DetroitMan

        He was born in Canada, but he immigrated to the US and became a citizen.

        • http://www.facebook.com/jerry.poparad Jerry Poparad

          The U.S. Army gun was and is the best battle rifle ever made. True it was useless in full auto fire and it could not replace the BAR as was hoped. The M14 was just to light a weapon to be used as a Squad Auto Rifle. The civilian versions although very accurate were for the most part made of junk castings. I bought a 1980 Springfield Armory gun and had nothing but trouble with it. Bad head-space after only 200 rounds and a soft junk cast receiver that quickly work out its rear sight detentes. Smith Enterprises did make an outstanding forged receiver for awhile but they were scarce and expensive and the owner then had to have a gunsmith build him up a rifle. I wish I had one as it was one of the few quality civilian forged receivers that was ever made. Before the Stalinist Clinton gun ban a few forged guns were also imported from China which had mixed reviews and supposedly metric parts.

          • H2O_MAN

            Jerry, Smith Enterprise has a new barstock receiver that you may wish to consider owning. Make contact and speak with Ron, Andy or John.

          • H2O_MAN

            Also, controllable full auto fire is easily achieved with the simple addition of a Good Iron M14 USCG/USN muzzle brake.

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_qv1O9VOpjQ

          • pslim

            many, many shooters are very, very happy with the Springfield M1As they are shooting today

  • ptt

    What is the opinion of the Chinese versions of the M1A?

    • Travis

      We have them in large numbers in Canada because we have no import restrictions on Chinese firearms, we pay about $450 for a forged receiver and chrome lined barrel, tear it down and rebuild it with US and domestic manufactured internal parts, springs, sights and flash hider etc etc. Excellent rifles with a bit of tweaking. All things being equal I would prefer an LRB out of the box but at this price there is simply no competition. The Chinese seem to have sorted out their metallurgy during the first part of the last decade, so the softer bolts and walking headspace issues are sorted.

      • Dennis

        Hi Travis:

        Being an old Squid, Marine Corps name for their Navy counterparts-affectionately of course, I am very interested in acquiring an M14. Your mention of being able to acquire a good forged receiver-even Chinese-is very interesting. I am wondering if you might send along a dealer or a source. I live in Alaska and it is fairly easy tp move about with firearms. I am not suggesting anything illegal either in Canada or the US, but I may be able to work out something if I just had a resource to connect with.

        Thanks,

        Dennis
        Wakianoyate@hotmail.com

        • Donald Duck

          Dennis, I'm not sure if you got a response from Travis. If you go to http://www.CanadiangunNutz.com, you will find all kinds of information on the Norinco M305, which is the Chinese version of the M1A.

    • will perez

      the norincos were not bad at all

    • H2O_MAN

      All of my modernized M14s have been built up for me by Smith Enterprise on forged Norinco and Poly Tech receivers… they run like sewing machines.

  • Steve Erickson

    In 1970 i first qualified with the M-14 at MCAS Cherry Point. I shot a max possible score at 500 yards with open sights a fell in love with it. the I was give a M-16 with only a 200 yard range and had to us an M-16 in Vietnam in 71-72. What a letdown. I am glade to see the continued use and improvements for a vary fine rife. Go Navy.

  • KC SAGE

    I don't know much about your opinions but I have had my M1A going on 40 years and regret not buying a few more when I had the money.
    This is in my opinion the best rifle I ever owned. KC

    • Jeff

      I've had mine for 25 years. Built from a SARCO parts kit on a Springfield Receiver. I think I have $410 invested and the matching Winchester components all seem very happy in this rifle. It will drop anything I can see thru the iron sites!

  • m. sharpe

    M14, M1A, M21, is a g r e a t rifle.

  • jimt57

    There are several pictures and articles on the web of SFC Dillard Johnson and his profiency with the M14 in Iraq. Many of his kills on the battlefield came with this weapon system in a sniper configuration. I'm not sure which rifle he was using at the time but he received a bronze star for an 852 yd kill of an enemy sniper in Iraq if memory serves.

  • Raul Serrano

    I was a helicopter gunner in Vietnam 1964 to 1965. I'sure you know that we uses the fully auto M60, The M60 would miss fire at any giving time, So I would go too my M14 over and over again. Thank you Springfeild for bring me HOME. I have and own M14, and SCOM. Raul, Loma Linda, Calif.

  • Marc

    The 7.62×51 mm cartridge was designed with and for the M14. It was only compatible with NATO ammo because the US insisted on NATO standardizing the M14's cartridge, despite the Brits having proposed more well-balanced cartridges which were favored by the majority of NATO. There were also attempts to find a compromise with the "7mm homologous", the original 7mm-08, but Army brass morons apparently thought that anything under .30 inch caliber isn't effective enough.

  • anthony

    the first picture is a modern military m14

  • votan

    the M14 never took off in civillian circles cos it is select fire. once a machine gun always a machine gun.

    • kgkeefer

      Popularity among US civilian shooters was thin during the in-service period because almost none were available and would have required a $200 tax stamp ($200 was still real money in 1962!) for a select-fire "real" M-14. Few GI's (historically) were trained with or used the M-14, resulting in fewer who were familiar with the weapon system when they got out of service and wanted to buy a few capable rifles for their own possession/use. The big troop build-up for VietNam was during the M-16 era, thus most of them are immediately functional with an AR-15/M-Forgery when they get back home, same with GulfWarI, GulfWarII, Afghanistan, other-'Stans.

      If the FAL had the fully-adjustable peep of the M-14, it would be equal. FAL has/had same trouble with FA fire being somewhat useless and either locked-out or ordered not used. Perversely, FAL's in semi-auto are more commonly in civilian hands in the USA than M-14/M1A (pre-ban complete imported rifles and US made from imported parts kits).

      My experience with good FAL, good G3, good M-14 is that none of them are "machine guns", and have good accuracy that is worthy of their cartridge capability. In a machine-rest, these weapons are each capable of sub-2" at 300M with good factory ammo or tuned reload. My results prone over a bag are not quite this nice, and under time/physical stress, much worse. The weapon can certainly make 500M hits, but can I?

      If we want machine guns, they need to be belt-fed, firing from open-bolt, with quick-swap barrels. I didn't want or know about MG's before 1986, thus OOL as a US person unwilling to become a holder of a "sales sample" and deal with the cost/paperwork of being a Licensed Dealer.

      Cheers.

    • Lee Emerson

      There are several hundred select fire USGI and commercial manufacture M14 type rifles owned by civilians in the United States. That's not many out of the 300,000 plus commercial semi-automatic M14 type rifles that have been made since 1971. The select fire M14 type rifles were registered with the BATF NFA Branch before the May 1986 ban on new manufacture of transferable machine guns.

  • Mark

    I fell in love with the M-14 during qualification in 1967 at Fort Gorden, GA.

    • pslim

      same here…1967…Camp Pendleton…have a Springfield loaded M1A on order….can’t wait to get it!

  • http://www.facebook.com/glenn.smith.31586 Glenn Smith

    I was issued one of these with the A-2 switch when I got to Nam. Carried it for 14 of my 17-1/2 months in country. Great weapon.

  • https://www.facebook.com/john.lieske.14 John Lieske

    M1A / M14 IS JUST LIKE APPLE PIE , YUMMY !

  • John

    It is a fairly new M14 rifle stock, but the article does not mention the M14.ca Blackfeather. It is likely the best M14 variant rifle stock platform made to date.

    • http://www.facebook.com/rex.kramer.73 Rex Kramer

      The Blackfeather RS is an excellent chassis. The attached image is my CQB-16 type SEI in a BFRS. It’s lighter than most and well balanced.

      • H2O_MAN

        The new SHG is a welcome addition to the Blackfeather

  • Billy Mixon

    Thanks for such a good article. I transferred to MCAS, Beaufort, SC, in 1962. I was in aviation crash crew and was issued, for some unknown reason, an M14. In slightly over 2 years I fired for qualification only once. That was at the range at Parris Island.

    You can imagine what kind of shooting went on with the entire group being in Marine aviation. People fired at the water spigots at the 200 yard range, and the tops of the berms, trying to knock dirt on the Marines pulling the targets.

    No longer than I had the rifle and no more than I fired it, I didn't have an opportunity to form an opinion about it. At Camp Lejeune I carried an M1, but if I had my choice of either, it would be the M14.

    For what it's worth.

  • patrick

    can anybody please tell me what handgard that is from the first picture?

    • H2O_MAN

      It looks like a Vltor product.

  • Charles_Texas

    When I decided on the rifle I wanted it turned out to be the M-14. Then I researched the best M-14 and decided on LRB. I won’t say that I was right, but I am very please with the weapon. Two things about it. Lead time from order to receipt was 11 months, and it was very, very, very, expensive. But it will probably be the last, really expensive rifle I ever buy, and my wife said it was okay. (You do still have to live with them after you spend all that money.)

  • https://www.facebook.com/M14EBR.US H2O_MAN

    Crazy Horse M21A5 EBR type SEI

  • Gordon Johnson

    I was signed for four “M-14′s” in the mid 1990s.

    Two of them were old M-21′s that had had the scope rails removed.
    Two were originally M-14s.

    Everyone then pretty much had M16A2′s. We had NADICK come out with M4s for testing a few times, and found them shorter than the A2s, identical in action, and the same weight. (most people think they are lighter…but than an A2, but the difference is mostly psychological due to length).

    MacNamara needed a but-stroke to the head to knock out silly thoughts. In a humid environment there is a lot of vegetation. That means lots of ROTTING vegetation, and lots of debris that gets EVERYWHERE.

    The AR series today works better than when I learned on M16′s and M16A1′s. But ARs have THREE SERIOUS vices for a soldier:
    1) The bolt locking mechanism doesn’t work well with debris, and OFTEN even jams from too much carbon.
    2) The gas system inconveniently delivers said carbon to the worst possible place, resulting in locking failures, double feeds, and jams.
    3) 5.56 mm currently in use is not highly lethal, and becomes less lethal with ANY obstruction such as bags, coats, equipment, leaves, branches, debris…. You know, the stuff you have in tropical environments.

    The longer range is NICE. But the EFFECTS of the .308 caliber projectile on target are what make it a necessity.

    I grew to prefer the M14 because it worked reliably with vastly less maintenance than the M16 variants. I grew to love it when I knew that one hit usually was enough to give me one less to worry about.

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