June 22, 2018
By J. Scott Rupp
The first time I ever saw an M1A/M14, my sergeant was thrusting one at me, saying, "All right, Rupp, it's time to learn to shoot a real gun." At the time I was a smallbore rifle shooter for the Army, but I was about to be loaned out to my unit's service rifle section. It wasn't my marksmanship they wanted; it was manual labor. My job was to stay at the National Matches at Camp Perry after the smallbore championships ended and "pull pits" for our service rifle squad during the highpower team matches- working in the target pits so our real highpower shooters could focus on their shooting.
The side benefit for me was I got to shoot the individual highpower matches, and from my first rounds downrange with the M1A I was hooked. That summer of highpower proved to be the most enjoyable shooting experience I'd ever had, and I've been a fan of the rifle ever since.
Despite its relatively brief stint as our primary service rifle- less than 10 years, from the late 1950s to the early 1960s- the M14 and its semiauto M1A brother have continued to play one role or another for the military and civilians to this day.
The experience I just described occurred in the early 1980s, long after the M16 had supplanted the M14 on the battlefield. But the M1A was still used in service rifle competitions because, back then, it was more capable at long range than the M16/AR-15. And when our frontline troops in Afghanistan and other recent battlegrounds encountered stopping-power issues with the 5.56 NATO rounds in their M4s, it was often the M14 and its 7.62 NATO/.308 Win. cartridge they turned to for greater effectiveness.
But about that cartridge. Aside from the rifle's hefty weight, one of the things that doomed the M14 as America's service rifle is its hefty recoil. It was so difficult to control in full auto that select-fire M14s were doled out sparingly to troops in order not to waste ammo unduly. This level of recoil doesn't do highpower competitors any favors, either, especially in rapid-fire sitting and prone.
And here is where Springfield Armory- leading purveyors of the M1A platform- stepped to the fore, capitalizing not only on the rise of long-range shooting but also the stunningly popular 6.5 Creedmoor. Chambering the Loaded M1A in this cartridge is a match made in heaven, creating a rifle that's accurate, dependable and fun to shoot.
"The ballistic performance of the 6.5 Creedmoor is so impressive that it made sense to incorporate it into the .308 M1A rifle platform," said Springfield's Stefany Reese. "The benefits of the flat-shooting 6.5 Creedmoor cartridge compared to the .308 are extremely impressive, and we felt it was a natural extension to our M1A rifle offerings."
Springfield's intent here is a rifle that can be used for PRS-type competition (see the related article elsewhere in this issue) as well as casual long-range shooting. And to that end, the Loaded M1A I tested comes with an adjustable stock from Archangel. Aside from the chambering, this is what sets the rifle apart from other M1As you're likely to see.
"We have been working with Archangel for several years, and we have done some design improvements to the stock to further enhance its performance as a precision rifle stock," Reese said. "The stock is very ergonomic and highly adjustable to a shooter's needs."
That's not just marketing speak. It's a terrific stock. Adjustments to comb height and length of pull are easily accomplished by turning their respective thumbwheels. Length of pull can be changed from 135/8 to 1413/16 inches, and the comb height adjusts in 0.05-inch increments per thumbwheel click. The comb height clicks are positive and easy to turn. The length of pull thumbwheel took a little more effort to rotate, at least for me.
The comb itself is comfy- not too wide, not too narrow- and the contour is identical on both sides to accommodate lefties and righties alike. The butt is hard rubber at its base with pliable ridges at the rear outside edges for comfort and to help keep the rifle in your shoulder. There are QD pockets complete with steel inserts on port and starboard sides as well as a standard sling swivel stud at the toe.
The slim pistol grip feels great. It's almost but not quite vertical and has an ambidextrous palm swell and a shelf at the bottom. The base of the pistol grip is flat, almost as big as the palm of my hand- making it useful as a rest in conjunction with a rear bag or potentially some devious shooting platform you might find at a long-range match. The base also features a hinged lid that opens to reveal a small compartment for, well, stuff.
The fore-end portion of the stock sports left and right QD pockets with steel inserts. There's a sling swivel at the fore-end tip, and there's a section of Picatinny rail on the bottom. The stock comes with a slide-on cover if you don't plan to use the rail slots for anything.
The stock's magazine well has a generous maw and is slightly extended. This should make for faster reloads, although I found that at first I had to search to find the right position to "rock in" the magazine- an issue I don't recall having with other M1As. I got much better with practice, to the point I could hit the sweet spot the first time almost every time. The magazine release is a paddle directly behind the mag. It's easy and instinctive to operate.
Along with the rifle, Springfield let me borrow its fourth-generation M1A steel scope mount, which is available for an additional $299. This stout base is secured at three points: A rotating cam bolts into an eccentric hole on the left side of the receiver, and two large set screws fasten it to the top.
The rear set screw threads diagonally into a dovetail in the rear sight. The front set screw acts as a simple support, resting on the front of the receiver. A small set screw in the side provides added security, preventing the larger one from loosening or backing out due to recoil.
While it's a one-piece mount, the slotted rail isn't continuous. The front and rear rail sections- both just over two inches in length with five slots each- are connected via a cutaway, leaving the top of the receiver unobstructed for sure ejection. In the hundreds of rounds I put through the rifle, only once did a piece of brass bounce back into the ejection port and cause a malfunction.
No M1A would be complete without its M1-style adjustable rear sight and wing-protected front sight. In the case of the Loaded M1A, the rear is a non-hooded National Match sight featuring a 0.052-inch aperture. Elevation adjustments are one m.o.a. per click while windage is 1/2 m.o.a. per click. At the front is a National Match 0.062-inch post.
The medium-weight National Match barrel is air-gauged stainless steel. It's 22 inches long and is rifled with four grooves in a 1:8 right-hand twist. It's capped off with Springfield's proprietary muzzle brake, which further tames what little recoil the 6.5 Creedmoor generates out of such a heavy rifle. I will say it's mighty loud when firing under cover but not abnormally so out in the open.
I just love two-stage triggers, and this one is excellent. Springfield calls it "National Match tuned," and the company literature says it's set between 4.5 and five pounds. The pull on my sample averaged four pounds even, and you'll never hear me complain about a trigger pull that's lighter than advertised. The first stage takes up about three pounds of the total pull, producing a nice clean break when you supply an additional pound or so of pressure.
To get 'er ready, open the action and press the bolt holdback on the left side of the receiver. Insert the magazine- tipping the leading edge up into the mag well and then rocking it back until it clicks into place. Then pull back on the humped operating rod and let it fly, allowing the bolt to strip a cartridge from the steel magazine and slam home with a solid, satisfying "clack!"
I mentioned this is a heavy rifle, and I wasn't kidding. With the Nikon Black X1000 4-16x50mm installed on the steel Springfield base with Nikon A series aluminum rings, overall weight was 13.5 pounds with an empty magazine. With no scope but the mount on board, weight was 12 pounds. Book weight for the rifle is 11.4 pounds.
Obviously, for this type of rig and the kind of shooting it's primarily intended for, a hefty rifle isn't a handicap but rather an advantage. For my accuracy testing, I fired it from a rest at the bench because that's our procedure. The rifle was as solid as a rock, and accuracy was good.
I ran out of time to do a full test at 200 yards in addition to our 100-yard standard, but I did shoot a number of groups with several types of ammo at 200 yards. Groups there were just as good in m.o.a. terms, and the 200-yard results with Hornady American Gunner and Nosler Custom Competition were actually better than they were at 100 yards, besting the one m.o.a. mark.
But the real test, one I can't really quantify for you, came when I attached a bipod to the front of the Loaded M1A and tackled steel plates. I discovered I don't own a bipod that fits a Picatinny rail, so instead I mounted my good ol' generic bipod to the front swivel stud. At first I was skeptical of how this would work since the position of the stud at the very tip of the fore-end meant the bipod base attached to the rifle at an angle. I need not have worried because it was perfectly stable. It just looked a little odd.
My range has plates ranging in size from eight to 20 inches at 100-yard intervals from 400 to 1,000 yards. The night before I used Nikon's Spot On app to generate a dope card for the Black X1000 scope and Hornady's American Gunner load, making my best guess at what the atmospherics would be. At the range the next day I updated the temperature, a balmy 18 degrees, and commenced firing. (Note: Spot On can automatically set atmospherics for you, but you need cell service, which I don't often have at my range. And, of course, I didn't actually need to make a physical dope card because you can read dope right off the app. I'm just old-fashioned.)
I had no problem ringing every plate at 400 yards and all but the smallest two at 500 yards. It was a foggy morning, so beyond 500 yards I could see only the two largest plates at each yard line. Six hundred yards was no sweat, and once I fixed my windage, I smacked the plates at 700 yards. It also took me a couple of shots to figure out the wind at 800 yards, but I nailed the largest target there.
Beyond that, I ran out of luck. The rifle did exactly what it was supposed to do- recoiling so lightly I was always back on the plates to see them move when hit- but if you have an unproven dope card, at some point you need someone to tell you where you're missing. I was alone, and with six inches of fresh snow on the ground, I couldn't pick up where my shots were going.
I'm really having a hard time finding any faults with this rig. It was such a sensible route for Springfield to go, and taking things a step further, I think the company's popular SOCOM lineup would benefit from the Creedmoor chambering as well. I'd long considered buying a SOCOM as a defensive "head for the hills" rifle, but I always found it too "blasty" in .308. It certainly wouldn't be in 6.5 Creedmoor.
In fact, I asked Reese whether Springfield was considering expanding its Creedmoor offerings. (And here I should note there is a version of the M1A Loaded with a standard-configuration black synthetic stock that drops the weight two pounds and would make a more practical all-around rifle.) She said the firm is certainly open to the idea and will wait to see how demand for this rifle shapes up.
If you're a fan of the M1A and/or a fan of the 6.5 Creedmoor and are thinking of playing the long-range game, this rifle would be a solid option to consider.