Springfield M1A: The M14’s Successful Sibling

When commercial gunmaker Springfield Armory decided to begin making and selling a civilian version of the M14 rifle, it didn’t seem a plan long for this world.


Originally published in the August 2002 issue of American Rifleman.

When commercial gunmaker Springfield Armory decided to begin making and selling a civilian version of the M14 rifle, it didn’t seem a plan long for this world. The M14 had been a qualified failure as a military arm and had been replaced years earlier. Why would civilians buy it?

In truth, even Springfield was not sure if the public would go for it and, if it did, for how long. But the company, then based in Texas, had acquired a large stock of military surplus M14 parts (from canceled government orders and guns returned from foreign militaries) and by making its own mil-spec or better receivers, it figured it could turn a fast buck. That was more than 25 years ago.

The Background
In 1962, the government’s Springfield Armory—the U.S. arsenal in Massachusetts that is linked by name only to the current Illinois-based company—was instructed to create some modified M14-based rifles for competition use. The guns were to have a number of modifications which basically worked toward the same end: The new rifles would have no full-automatic fire selector nor any means for accommodating one. Where practical, semi-auto M1 parts were installed to replace selective fire components. (See “The First M1As,” American Rifleman, August, 1990). Despite complying with BATF guidelines for a rifle readily suitable for sale to civilians, the gun ran afoul of DCM’s Maj. Gen. Nelson M. Lynde. Gen. Lynde felt the new rifles were not DCM-compliant as they could not be converted back to military issue configuration in the event of a national emergency.

However, in 1974 the then-newly formed Springfield Armory (now Springfield, Inc.) resurrected the design and petitioned for its approval for competition use. This time DCM relented with the stipulation that the company maintain the outward appearance of the M14 (except for the selector switch). Springfield Armory agreed. It dubbed the rifle the M1A and apprehensively brought it to market.

The Civilian Perspective
A closer examination of the situation revealed a product not nearly so lacking in appeal as a casual observer might have thought. The military had been trying to find a rifle that was all things to all people. The M14 wasn’t it; no gun is. It was considered too big and bulky for jungle combat and was practically impossible to control in full-auto mode. Well, American civilians weren’t engaging in jungle combat. For plinking or match shooting in the temperate plains and rolling hills of North America, the .308 Win.-cal. M1A proved just fine, thank you. And control during automatic fire wasn’t an issue for civilians since the M1A isn’t a selective-fire gun. So much for the “problems.”

It wasn’t just that the M14’s flaws weren’t of consequence to civilian shooters purchasing the M1A; the gun offered numerous virtues as well. It was a direct descendant of the M1 Garand. Some people will say to a young man, “If you’re half the man your father was … ,” meaning that you’re OK because your father was OK. Nowhere in firearms was that attitude better made manifest than in the public response to the M1A. Older shooters were often former soldiers who fondly remembered their legendary M1 Garands. Many younger shooters were the sons of those soldiers and had grown up hearing the reverence with which their fathers spoke of the big, semi-automatic battle rifle. When an opportunity presented itself to obtain one of the new “updated” Garand-type semi-automatics, such shooters couldn’t resist.

Still other shooting enthusiasts from the military had firsthand experience with the M14, having served when it was the issue arm. It may not have done everything the military brass had wanted it to, but many soldiers had liked the way it handled basic rifleman’s duties, and the gun was all right by them. It was an established performer, accurate and reliable. It was also quick to load, simple to operate and had excellent range. And—no small thing—it was chambered in the beloved .30 caliber—America’s caliber.

At the same time, it must be remembered, the service rifle then in use, the M16A1, had developed a bad reputation as unreliable, inaccurate at long range and underpowered. To many shooters, despite its short span as the standard military rifle, the M14/M1A was a known, proven quantity while the M16A1 was proving a mistake.

The Variations
With input from armorers for the Army and Marine Marksmanship units, a series of tuning procedures and mechanical features quickly developed for the M14/M1A. Springfield Armory, ever sensitive to the desires of its customers, incorporated the procedures and features into the production of a line of premium M1As designed specifically for service rifle matches. However, at the same time, it was careful not to alter the outward appearance of the gun and thereby kept it DCM-compliant.

In 1974, the company introduced the National Match M1A rifle. This rifle is built to do one thing—win service rifle matches. It comes equipped with a high-grade National Match walnut stock; 22" stainless steel, air-gauged, National Match, medium weight barrel with a 1:11" right-hand twist; National Match trigger group with 4 1⁄2-lb. two-stage trigger; National Match blade front sight; match-grade hooded aperture rear sight with one-half m.o.a. windage and elevation adjustments, a National Match gas cylinder, National Match recoil spring guide and a glass-bedded action.

The National Match was without peer among factory production DCM-legal .30-cal. service rifles—until the company unveiled the Super Match in 1975. Added to the already impressive National Match features were a choice of an oversized walnut, black or Marine camo McMillan fiberglass stock; 22" Douglas Premium, stainless steel, air-gauged, custom heavy match barrel with a 1:10" twist; and—since 1993—a rear-lugged receiver.

However, with the introduction of heavier .223 Rem.-cal. bullets for AR-15-style rifles in recent years, the M1A has lost its dominance in highpower matches. The heavier bullets—some weighing as much as 80 grs. and so long that cartridges have to be loaded singly into the gun—keep AR-15-style guns competitive with the M1A at the 600-yd. stage of highpower competition. Such was not always the case with earlier, lighter .223 bullets.

Despite AR-15-type/.223 Rem. advances, the M1A continues to thrive. It’s not finicky about ammunition, is available with wood furniture, hits hard, is rock solid and just looks the way some people believe a rifle should.

No, Springfield and the M1A are not done. With the development of its match rifles, the company found itself with a commercial version of a military rifle with all of the finest military rifle attributes—ruggedness, reliability, simplicity, power, magazine capacity—but this one was now also a long-range tackdriver. Mount a scope on a such a gun and you have a tactical or police marksman’s rifle. So, in 1985, that’s just what Springfield did.

In creating the M21 Tactical Rifle, Springfield took the Super Match and added the option of a stainless steel Kreiger barrel, detachable third generation scope mount (match-grade iron sights come standard) and walnut stock with adjustable comb to aid scope use. With the optional bipod mounted, it is a very serious piece of law enforcement/counter-terrorist equipment.

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11 Responses to Springfield M1A: The M14’s Successful Sibling

Dave B. wrote:
October 23, 2013

I have an M1A built by Scott Medesha nearly 20 years ago......the accuracy of this weapon with match ammo is as good if not better than ANY bolt gun you'd care to put up against it, barring a benchrest rifle. The gun has a few medals from the police olympics to its name as well. Too bad Medesha won't work on them anymore. Now if I could find the time and money to compete again........

Frank Smith wrote:
July 18, 2013

I have shot both weapons, USMC M-14 on rifle team. M1A as well. Both are consistent and smooth. Balanced and capable of excellent accuracy. Shot it across course and iron sights at a 1000 yards. The civilian guys always were amazed we shot iron sights at 1000 yards. Use a good sling, keep it clean and us a coal lantern to blacken the sights. That target will pop out its fine. I own a few ! Wood and metal they don't make em any more like this out of the box. Any serious shooter should have one for all occasions.

Ken wrote:
December 27, 2012

This is truly an awesome weapon, i obtained mine in 1991, wooden stock TRW receiver use 20 round mags, the 7.62X51 ammo a bit more expensive today and seems more challenging to obtain. The m1a is what a rifle should be, incredible accuracy, absolutely free of mechanical issues just keep it clean.

VibeGuy wrote:
December 22, 2012

Just purchased an all new SuperMatch M1A with Leupold Mark 4 tactical scope (waiting on scope mount and laser OTAL). Haven't fired it yet - have been to busy just admiring it (and it's cold outside).

VENOM wrote:
May 01, 2012

m-14 civi M1A .308

jim callan wrote:
March 27, 2012

the united states military never gave us a chance to use the m-14 in combat in vietnam instead they gave us a mattel toy,they didn't want us to hurt the enemy.

David M. Gross wrote:
March 01, 2012

I "legged out" in 1994 with one of Springfield's early M1As, serial# 015650, which we modified and re-bedded with a single lug after shooting out the barrel it came with, a heavy Winchester 6-groove with a 1-in-10 twist. It had a heavy Walnut stock and as well as a Walnut hand guard from the factory. It was an early "Ultra-Match," I guess, and I got it used, in 1986, from a Vietnam Vet (Marine Corps) who wasn't using it. It was at the end of the 2nd replacement barrel's (3rd barrel) life that I legged out. It's now on its 4th barrel, a stainless Obermeyer 5R, 1-in-10. The only part to have failed was the firing pin, which was easily replaced. The action, after over 17,000 rounds is as smooth as silk; it has always been 100% reliable; and it is an "X-Ring" rifle across the course, if the shooter does his part. I can't think of a better rifle; but, there is one drawback: It only has about 83,000 rounds of life left in it, before a good mechanic will have to tune it up. :-)

Marvin wrote:
February 02, 2012

I own an M1A Scout and I think it is a great rifle for everyday shooting except for the price of ammo. It's the rifle I used in Basic Training in 1967, After Basic I went to Recon and was issued the M16. Both fun to shoot.

Jack wrote:
June 21, 2011

In the late '50's, the USAF trained us on the M1 carbine. I know exactly how you feel about the M1 Garand/M14! I recently bought an M1 carbine made by Standard for much the same reasons you bought an M14/M1A1.

Roy Leighton wrote:
April 06, 2011

I went through Marine boot camp at San Diego Ca. in 1968 and got very familiar with the m-14 rifle in 7.62 military issue. All through the Range and infantry training this was the weapon we used. When we got to Vietnam they issued m-16s but the grunts from the DMZ had much bad problems with them, so we snagged as many m-14s as we could, and managed a few selectors from Army friends. It may have been hard to handle on full auto, but in 3 to 4 round bursts it proved great. It was the master at pure knockdown power. If I could find a good deal on one today, I would buy one right now. Just keep it clean whenever you could, and it got the job done. I would be very interested in the latest versions in .030 cal. Great weapon!

Cooleemee Edd wrote:
February 28, 2011

I was one of those young men who loved the M14 in Vietnam. I was given an M16 in country and "traded it in" for an M14, along with several others in my unit. We carried them faithfully for the entire year there. My father had an M1 Garand in WWII and loved it. You are correct...we are a ".30 caliber people." I love my M1A from Springfield Armory so much that I set aside the nice fiberglass (or whatever) stock with its pretty camo colors and bought myself a "Fred's Big Red Birch" stock for it, circa 1950's or 1960s. With a little elbow grease and Tung Oil, it looks just like the weapon that I carried in Vietnam. Shoots like a dream with, or without its really excellent "Vietnam-style" scope on it.