Springfield Armory M1A Loaded Review
January 04, 2016
I bought my first Springfield Armory M1A when I was 15. At the time I had a job working after school at the local general store in Union, Maine. Gordon's Market was its name, and I earned a whopping $3.35 an hour doing whatever needed to be done.
Every week I deposited every dime I made into a savings account at the small bank on Union Common. When I had finally earned enough, I made a beeline to a local FFL with cash, a Shotgun News ad and a parent in tow. A few weeks later the most beautiful rifle a boy could ever imagine arrived, and so started a love affair with the Springfield Armory M1A.
Thirty-three years later, my eyes are not what they used to be, and, well, neither is my hair. I've learned a lot about the M14, M21 and the Springfield Armory M1A over the years. I've prowled the backwoods of Maine after big game with an M1A, hunted "leg" points with an M14 National Match in competition, listened to cavalry troopers bitch about them in Iraq and shot countless rounds through them on semi and full automatic recreationally. I've learned the system's strengths and weaknesses, and while hardly perfect, the Springfield Armory M1A is like a fiery woman you love despite her flaws.
Two weak points in the design become apparent when you try to mount a scope onto a Springfield Armory M1A. The most obvious is fitting an optic to the rifle and having it stay solidly locked into place without losing zero. The next is overcoming the 1950s-vintage infantry rifle stock, which was designed with iron sights in mind. Both the U.S. Army and Marine Corps spent considerable time, money and resources trying to address both questions over the years. In hindsight their solutions were not always the best.
Springfield Armory recently introduced a new M1A for the commercial market that addresses some of the optics-mounting problems. Called the MP9226 Loaded M1A, it comes fitted to an Archangel precision adjustable stock. Manufactured by ProMag Industries, the Archangel is a robust, carbon-fiber-reinforced polymer stock with a number of useful features. The most obvious is it's not wood. While I love the look and feel of walnut, it's just not the right material for a precision rifle stock. Wood warps, swells, and compresses and will break your heart on the 600-yard line.
Keep in mind, this isn't a Remington Model 700 or Winchester Model 70 we're talking about. Those designs are free-floated and fitted with bottom metal bolted solidly in place. No, this is a gas gun with roots stretching back to the 1920s, and the barreled action is retained in the stock by camming the trigger guard into place. Stock fit is critical on a Springfield Armory M1A; it needs to be tight. If there is not enough tension in the right spots, accuracy will suffer. And you need a stiff stock as well — one that won't flex under sling pressure or when firing off a rest. The Archangel stock provides both a nice tight fit for the receiver lugs and a fairly stiff fore-end.
More importantly, it should prove to be more durable internally than a glass-bedded stock. Repeatedly taking the action out of a traditional glass-bedded Springfield Armory M1A wood stock can damage the bedding and hurt accuracy. That's why military and civilian competitive shooters are loath to remove the action from the stock unless absolutely necessary. Because the Archangel is polymer, the all-important bedding area shouldn't wear like a traditional wood stock.
Externally, the Archangel's profile will remind you of a much more expensive J. Allen Enterprises' JAE-100 G3 stock. The Archangel features a nicely contoured pistol grip, adjustable cheek rest, 1913 rail accessory rail and multiple sling mounting points.
The adjustable cheek rest is the most important feature. Optics usually end up very high on a Springfield Armory M1A, resulting in a chin weld instead of a proper cheek weld. To remedy this, the Archangel features an easily adjustable cheek rest with more than two inches of travel. A rotating thumbwheel with positive detents is easy to reach yet out of the way on the bottom of the stock. Once you set the cheek rest height, it will not move accidentally.
The length of pull can be adjusted as well on the Springfield Armory M1A. Turning a thumbwheel will adjust the butt in or out up to 1.25 inches. This allows a rifleman to easily fit the rifle to him or her whether wearing a heavy winter coat or just a T-shirt — as well as using it to fine-tune eye relief. It's capped off with a rubber buttpad that keeps the rifle from sliding around and mitigates recoil.
No rifle is complete without a sling, and the Archangel provides plenty of mounting options. A conventional sling stud is mounted on the butt and fore-end. In addition to these, a QD sling cup is fitted on the left and right side of the butt and on the left and right side of the fore-end. It's also possible to fit a sling mount onto the 1913 rail located at six o'clock. This rail is ideal for mounting a quick detachable bipod.
Springfield Armory drops one of its well-respected M1A actions into the stock. As one of the company's Loaded models, the action is mated to a 22-inch carbon steel National Match barrel. It's a medium-weight barrel with a profile that adds mass beneath the handguards compared to a standard infantry barrel.
Each Springfield Armory M1A barrel is air gauged to ensure accuracy and features six-groove rifling with a 1:11 twist. This twist rate makes it suitable for use with a wide range of projectile lengths and weights. A traditional M14 birdcage flash suppressor is fitted to the front of the barrel, and it is reamed to National Match specifications.
Another upgrade on this Springfield Armory M1A is the trigger. Springfield Armory scrapped the standard trigger mechanism and replaced it with one built to National Match specifications. This is tuned to provide a two-stage pull with a release weight of between 4.5 and five pounds.
Springfield Armory also upgraded the sights on this M1A. In place of the wide, .084-inch standard infantry front sight is a narrower National Match blade. This measures .062 inch in width and is a bit more precise than the standard unit. The rear sight has also been changed to National Match specifications, minus the hooded rear sight. While the hood is not present, the rear sight aperture is a finer .052 inch. Windage adjustments are 1/2 m.o.a. per click. Elevation adjustments are in one m.o.a. increments per click due to the lack of the rotating hood (it's the hood that provides the 1/2 m.o.a. adjustment increments on the National Match sights).
As the Gen 4 name implies, Springfield Armory has refined and improved its scope mounting systems over the decades. The Gen 4 is machined from steel and features multiple locking/contact points. To install, you must first remove the action from the stock and pop off the stripper clip guide. This requires driving out one pin and then tapping the guide out of its dovetail. A mounting block for the scope takes its place, and then the mount can be installed and adjusted. It features a contact point at the front and is bolted into place on the side and rear.
Installing the mount is not hard. However, it needs to be done properly to ensure you can zero your optic. If it's not aligned correctly, you will run into difficulties with windage, elevation or both. So if you find yourself having to dial in excessive amounts of windage or elevation, your mount is not properly aligned. Springfield Armory M1A scope mounts have black hearts, and I highly recommend using blue Loctite and properly tightening your fasteners. You can mark the locking screws with a paint marker so you can see if they begin to loosen. Then just check them often.
This Springfield Armory M1A is intended for optics, and I wanted something with a bit of magnification but not overly long. I found a good match in Hi-Lux Optics 4-20x50mm PentaLux TAC-V. It features a five-fold magnification increase, finger-adjustable turrets with audible and tactile 0.1 mil adjustments and a 30mm tube. Overall length is just 14.5 inches.
Zeroing took a bit of time to ensure the mount was properly adjusted. Once this was completed, Springfield Armory's MP9226 Loaded M1A went on to perform very well. To check its performance, I gathered together seven different loads running in bullet weight from 120 to 175 grains. Results are shown in the accompanying chart.
One interesting aside regarding the chart. Velocity was measured using a LabRadar unit, which is a Doppler radar unit rather than a conventional chronograph. It was my first time using it. Setup is easy. Turn it on, place it on the bench next to the rifle and aim it at your target. Hit a button and start shooting. No skyscreens, no hole to shoot through, no need for certain lighting conditions. The LabRadar not only measures the bullet's velocity at the muzzle, but also reads it as it travels downrange, and as you shoot, your data are displayed on a large, easy-to-read screen. When you're done, take it home and plug it into your computer, and, presto, it provides the detailed info you're looking for. I like it.
Off the bench, this Springfield Armory M1A proved very pleasant and comfortable to shoot, largely due to the adjustable stock. The rifle's bolt operates smoothly, and rounds chambered without issue. Magazines load easily in the standard Springfield Armory M1A fashion, snapping into place with a push and roll. The trigger is fairly light, crisp and an aid to accuracy.
Best group of the day was five rounds into 1.0 inch posted with Hornady's 168-grain Open Tip Match. The only load that gave me any problems was American Tactical's 150-grain full metal jacket. This Turkish load was simply not to this Springfield Armory M1A's liking and short-stroked frequently.
With bench testing out of the way, I switched to shooting steel from field positions. This is where a semiautomatic rifle like the Springfield Armory M1A really shines. Keep in mind this isn't an excessively heavy gun limited to firing from the prone position. Empty weight without optics is only 11.2 pounds, so it can easily be fired offhand or from various field positions. I shot steel out to 710 yards, and the rifle provided rapid hits as I worked my way out. At 710 yards, the rifle easily stayed on an Action Target silhouette using Hornady's 168-grain Match load. I had delightful weather conditions for Kansas, and a no-value wind, which provided the rare opportunity to hold center and fire.
If you're not familiar with the platform, I should note here the Springfield Armory M1A is more difficult to shoot to its potential than, say, an AR-15. With an AR you can get sloppy regarding proper position and technique and get away with it because of its light recoil. The M1A is a different animal. It will gleefully pound a shoddy position apart during a rapid-fire string. You really have to master and apply the fundamentals with a Springfield Armory M1A.
Further, you're not going to kick sand in the face of a tuned bolt gun or AR on paper. Springfield Armory M1A rifles usually shoot well out of the box, but a good 'smith who really knows the design can improve accuracy with some basic modifications. These include ensuring both the stock and handguard fit the barreled action properly and unitizing the gas system. The problem is finding someone who really knows these rifles, and for this I usually turn to Gus Norcross — a former National Guard Marksmanship Training Unit armorer who specializes in the Springfield Armory M1A — at Angus Arms.
And there's a lot going on with the scope mounting system. Physically screwing a mount to the side of the receiver isn't difficult, but having it steadfastly retain zero through hard use and abuse is a bit more challenging. If it's solid, you're good. If it starts to move, woe is you.
Having said that, I think Springfield Armory's new MP9226 M1A Loaded is a nicely made traditional .308 with a few twists. The Archangel stock is comfortable and changes the whole look and feel of the rifle. It may not be the most expensive stock in the world, but it does wonders for the Springfield Armory M1A. It provides a good, repeatable cheek weld even with an optic jacked to the heavens, and the adjustable length of pull is helpful in fitting the rifle to the shooter.
Practical field accuracy is quite acceptable, it proved a lot of fun shooting steel, and shooting with its refined National Match iron sights is entertaining in its own right. Basically, you're getting a rugged, accurate and reliable rifle with an interesting history and modern upgrades.