Enduring Freedom


The qualities that make the M14 so desired on the battlefield, still, are alive and well in several semi-automatic versions for civilian shooters.

By Rick Hacker (RSS)
December 15, 2011

An old adage states, “You never know what you have until you lose it.” That certainly was the case in 1963, when the Department of Defense, under Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, began pulling the M14 from the hands of our armed forces. In 1964 all further procurement of the M14 was curtailed, and by 1968 the U.S. Army had demoted the rifle from “Standard A” classification to “Limited Standard.” To meet the specter of Vietnam, McNamara replaced the M14—which was considered too big and bulky for jungle warfare—with the new but untested M16.

In spite of the fact the M14 weighed nearly as much as the M1 Garand it replaced, many soldiers were reluctant to give up the hard-hitting rifle. Some Marine units continued using it right up through the Tet Offensive. But basically, the M14 was only retained in South Korea and for European NATO operations, as well as by stateside troops such as the National Guard and recruits in basic training. Finally, in 1970, the rifle was retired from active duty.


Gone But Not Forgotten

The M14 was our last official 7.62 NATO battle rifle capable of firing in either full- or semi-automatic modes. It was famed for its jam-resistant action and superb accuracy. By contrast, the M16 fired the light, easily deflected 5.56 NATO cartridge that, due to its reliance on multiple hits, was predisposed to ammunition-wasting fully automatic fire.

“With the M16, if you shot three or four magazines, you had nothing to show for it,” says Charlie McNeese, a Vietnam veteran who retired as a sergeant after four years in the Marine Corps. “Round count to body count went extremely high during the Vietnam War because we were shooting a lighter, less-lethal round and were taught to shoot fully automatic. But even then, the special units, the snipers, had M14s and M21s.”

This M14 EBR may sport Picatinny rails, a bipod, telescoping buttstock and riflescope, but it’s functionally the same rifle that was taken out of service more than four decades ago.

McNeese went on to spend the next 33 years in law enforcement with the Arizona Department of Public Safety, serving on its SWAT team, in criminal investigation and as the department’s master firearms instructor and senior armorer. His love of the M14 never waned. Today McNeese is a rangemaster at Gunsite, where, along with pistol, carbine
and shotgun techniques, he teaches battle-rifle classes with the M14-style rifle. Although he carried an M16 in combat, he went through Marine Corps boot camp with an M14.

“It was an absolute work of art,” McNeese recalls about his first issued M14. “I know that literally thousands of rounds had been fired through the rifle before I got it, and yet it was still highly accurate. We were putting rounds in the bullseye at 500 yards.

McNeese fondly remembers dry-firing his M14 from various field positions during “snapping in” week. Then it was on to live fire, where, after 300 to 400 rounds a day, he quickly came to appreciate the rifle’s recoil-deadening weight. Perhaps above all, McNeese praises the M14’s reliability.

The M14/M1A has always been known for its accuracy. This group was shot by the author with a Fulton Armory M14 from a benchrest at 100 yards.

“If properly lubricated, it would continue to function, even if it was dirty,” he says. “There was not a time that I can remember that the weapon I used ever malfunctioned.”

Rebuilt and Resurrected

Indeed, accuracy, reliability and perhaps a realization of “you never know what you have…” remorse are the elements that have brought the M14—and its civilian counterpart,
the M1A—back, 47 years after it was drummed out of service. Part of this renewed focus on the M14 has been due to the war in Afghanistan, where long-range target acquisition well beyond the practical reach of the M16’s 5.56 NATO round has become the norm. Those 500-yard targets are well within the M14’s capabilities.

“At the platoon level, this weapon can dramatically increase the platoon’s effective firing range,” said SFC Michael Conner of the 101st Airborne Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team, from a forward operating base in Afghanistan’s Khost Province in September 2008. Conner’s unit was the first in Afghanistan to issue an updated version of the M14 known as the EBRMTT. Others have since followed.

Fulton Armory Mk14 Mod 0 Enhanced Battle Rifle

Although hundreds of thousands of M14s were demilled during the 1990s, enough of the 1,380,874 rifles originally produced between 1957 and 1964 remained to be pressed back into service, often after being outfitted with scopes for U.S. Army and Marine designated marksmen. However, the demands of modern warfare, including the development of body armor and the need for accessories such as lights, lasers and night-vision optics, have morphed the M14 into a rifle that often encompasses telescoping stocks and Picatinny rails. The trickle-down effect of this has produced a whole new generation of civilian-legal versions of the M14.

M14 or M1A?

Before reviewing some of the latest selections, it’s important to differentiate between the military M14 and the civilian M1A. At first glance, both rifles appear similar. However, the M14 has both fully automatic and semi-automatic fire capability. The M1A is semi-automatic only. Springfield Armory has trademarked the M1A name, which technically prevents others from using it unless they are building rifles with Springfield Armory’s barreled actions.

Part of the confusion that sometimes exists between these two variations is because the M14 is rarely used in the full-auto mode, and its selector switch—located on the right side, next to the rearward portion of the receiver—is often permanently disabled by a selector switch lock, a small cylindrical cap that prevents the shaft from rotating and tripping the sear for fully automatic fire.

James River Manufacturing LRB M14

With the M14’s fully automatic cyclical rate of fire of 750 rounds per minute, the powerful 7.62 NATO cartridge causes the rifle’s muzzle to rise dramatically within the first three bursts and makes the gun virtually uncontrollable. Even with a bipod, controlling the muzzle becomes a juggling match.

“When we fired the M14 on full-auto, the muzzle rise was just unbelievable,” recalls McNeese. “They would get out of control. You had to be really close to the target and really careful or it would just climb right out of the backstop.”

Obviously, only semi-automatic M1A and similar rifles are available to the vast majority of civilians. However, semi-auto M14-type rifles that use G.I. stocks, such as those built by James River Manufacturing, have a selector switch cutout. Re-enactors, collectors and others bent on an authentic look can obtain a non-functioning selector switch or a selector switch lock from Sparrow Hawk. Fulton Armory also makes an excellent, Parkerized, non-functioning selector switch.

Speaking of Fulton Army, it should be noted the company classifies its semi-automatic rifles as M14s and marks receivers exactly like original G.I. versions, which only adds to the M14/M1A confusion. The reason for this, as company owner Clint McKee states, is “To keep the legend and spirit alive. It is an M14, after all.” Of course, the M14 designation makes the rifle illegal in some states such as California.

McMillan M1A

To further complicate matters, James River Manufacturing sells both reconditioned Springfield M1As as well as rebuilt rifles using its own receivers and lists them on its website as M14s, even though they are semi-automatic rifles.

Tough Choices

Another controversy anyone considering the purchase of an M14/M1A is going to encounter regards cast versus forged receivers. The common dictum is forged receivers are better, but this is debatable and has nothing to do with the practicality of shooting the rifle. Most of us will never fire enough rounds to tell the difference. The quality and condition of the barrel and inner parts are much more important factors.

On the other hand, it can’t be denied there is a certain cachet to owning an M14/M1A with a forged receiver, but you have to pay for those bragging rights, since forged receivers are more expensive. If you plan on doing a fair amount of competitive shooting or are thinking of building your own top-of-the-line custom M1A, you may want to shell out for a forged receiver. By far the best choice are the hammer-forged, made-in-America receivers produced by LRB Arms.

LRB also offers complete rifles, including a standard government-issue M14 with a 22-inch barrel and an optional G.I. walnut stock, as well as a Tanker model with an 18.5-inch barrel and a fiberglass stock. Naturally, these rifles are built on LRB receivers, which are heat treated and hammer-forged from SAE 8620 steel bar stock and then CNC-machined to within .001 inch of mil-spec tolerances. In addition, the company sells an M14 Parts Kit for the do-it-yourselfer. This kit includes everything needed except the receiver, bolt and barrel, and is composed of both military surplus and newly made commercial parts.

Springfield Armory M21

Another source for a custom-built M14/M1A with an LRB receiver is James River Manufacturing. Former Marine 2nd/Lt. and owner Mark Hartman was one of the range officers in charge at Camp Lejeune, NC, where he shot Master Class High Power with the M14.

“The M14 had a good feel and pointed well,” he recalled. “In 15 years of competition shooting, I never had an alibi. You just didn’t have a problem with that rifle.”

As a result of his admiration for the M14, Hartman now produces custom-built versions of the standard-issue rifle. It is a smooth-shooting rifle with an LRB receiver, TRW bolt, Krieger Criterion chrome-lined barrel and G.I. parts, including a refurbished original walnut stock complete with selector switch cutout and stamped with the correct Department of Defense acceptance cartouche.

Moving beyond the basic-issue rifle, the M14/M1A is now available in a plethora of variations, all based on the battlefield demands of this warhorse and its ability to meet those challenges in the civilian world as well. This age of specialization is perhaps best epitomized by Springfield Armory, which offers a wide selection of M1A variants. Its synthetic-stocked SOCOM 16 comes with a 10-round Parkerized magazine, sports a handy 16.25-inch barrel topped off with a proprietary muzzle brake, an XS Sight Systems tritium-insert front sight and a forward-mounted scope base.

The SOCOM II is a close-quarters battle rifle equipped with Springfield’s exclusive Cluster Rail System for optics and accessories. It is available with either a matte-black or urban-camo stock, and is also offered with an extended top rail.

Springfield Armory’s M21 is the civilian counterpart of the Army’s M21 Sniper Rifle. It is the ultimate National Match shooting machine for longer ranges, with superior accuracy out to 750 yards. The rifle is equipped with an adjustable cheekpiece, a folding bipod and is available with either a Douglas Premium Air Gauged Custom Heavy Barrel or a stainless steel Krieger barrel.

With a small workforce of six people, Fulton Armory is perhaps one of the least known, but most highly respected, M14-style rifle builders. Its Mk14 Mod 0 Enhanced Battle Rifle (EBR) is a semi-automatic version of the highly modified M14 requested by U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command in 2004, primarily for use by Navy SEALs. With a Sage Industries aluminum, telescoping designated marksman stock and Picatinny rail, it is safe to assume John Garand never envisioned anything like this for his M14. Like all of Fulton Armory’s M14 variants, the EBR utilizes parts from U.S. G.I. suppliers and features a mil-spec “lost wax” investment-cast receiver made of 8620 steel, precision machined and heat treated per military specs.

LRB Arms M14

McMillan has also embraced the M14/M1A market by coming out with two new variants, both featuring fiberglass stocks and Springfield M1A barreled actions. Its M3A has a full-length upper handguard tactical rail and an adjustable saddle-type cheekpiece. McMillan’s own M1A has the company’s SOCOM adjustable folding stock. Both are available in an optional package that includes scope, bipod, leather sling and drag bag.

“There’s a legacy with the M1A,” says the company’s vice president Ryan McMillan. “It’s a historic battle rifle and some people want the high-end version of it, so that’s what we decided to build.”

High-end performance is why the J. Allen Enterprises JAE-100 G3 composite stock is so popular. It can be installed in less than 15 minutes, and the full-length aluminum skeleton eliminates the need for glass bedding. Yet, with its system of anchoring the barreled action with just two locking lugs and a barrel-tension screw, accuracy is dramatically enhanced.

There is a raft of aftermarket accessories—like Vltor Picatinny rails and stocks, Trijicon sights, optics from companies such as Aimpoint and Leupold, and muzzle brakes from suppliers like SureFire and Young Manufacturing, as well as internal parts by firms such as Smith Enterprise—that can enhance the M14/M1A. On my Springfield Armory M1A Scout Squad, I installed Sadlak Industries’ National Match solid spring guide for smoother operation, and I replaced the factory gas cylinder with the Sadlak titanium-nitride coated piston to guard against corrosion.

Whether through new design enhancements or the installation of aftermarket parts, the M14/M1A—in both its military and civilian guises—has been brought back to life. The rifle has also been improved beyond anything in the past, enabling it to continue preserving our freedoms well into the 21st century.

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18 Responses to M14

  1. Semperflyboy says:

    I remember putting holes in the bullseye at 500 yds back in ’64 during boot camp training. This rifle helped me earn my first “Expert” badge. It was still the primary weapon for the ground pounders during my government paid vacation to exotic Southeast Asia. They were still the sniper’s favorites when I left. They were reliable and accurate albeit a bit on the heavy side back then and how I would love to have one now.

  2. TJ Carrell says:

    I remember when I went into Marine Corps boot camp, we had to qualify with the M14. It was an extremely accurate rifle. We had to be able to take one down and put it back together blindfolded. I did pretty well with mine, just one missed shot at 500 yards was all that kept me from shooting expert. Damn wind!

  3. Pingback: SayUncle » The M14

  4. Sid says:

    The weapon never left the service. It was moved to sniper and designated markmen roles. I know we had them from 1987-1997.

  5. Dan D. says:

    “Of course, the M14 designation makes the rifle illegal in some states such as California.” The model name has nothing to do with it’s legality in California. Simplest answer with regards to a standard m14 clone without a pistol grip, a flash suppressor combined with the detachable magazine would be illegal in CA. Muzzle brake instead of flash suppressor, legal.

    • Lee Emerson says:

      The model M14 is banned by name in New Jersey. Agreed, specific features on semi-automatic magazine fed centerfire rifles are banned in California.

  6. Pingback: Shooting Illustrated Article - M14 Forum

  7. H2O MAN says:

    Smith Enterprise, Inc. Has custom built several M14s for me on forged Norinco and Poly Tech receivers. Barrel lengths: 16.26′, 18.0′ and 22.0′. All are in SAGE EBR stocks and the results have been outstanding.

  8. John Krats says:

    I carried the M14 EBR with a standard barrel in Afghanistan with a Leupold variable. It’s very accurate out to 600 meters. I fired a couple of thousand rounds through it on operations and during training.

    It did not have a single malfunction. I’ve carried the M16A1 through the M4. They are junk compared to the M14.

  9. firemoon says:

    It would be nice to own one of these in my collection. someday I will be able to say I do have one I would love to shoot one again. I really enjoyed this gun. http://executivegunrunners.com

  10. Pingback: Springfield M1903A3 | Shooting Illustrated

  11. Pingback: Remembering the M14 | Shooting Illustrated

  12. Dan Duffy says:

    I learned to shoot with an MI and now our esteemed leader and the ATF refuse to let American Made arms come back to the US.

    I would love to have an ole Garande to take out to the range and make noise.

    I have a 308 and plan to improve my shooting when the weather warms up “5 in 5 at 500 before my birthday”

  13. Pingback: The Ultimate M1A | Shooting Illustrated

  14. Jim Johnson says:

    Since this article was written, the Blackfeather RS is out. It is a completely different stock for the M1A.

  15. R Shackleford says:

    ““With the M16, if you shot three or four magazines, you had nothing to show for it,” says Charlie McNeese, a Vietnam veteran who retired as a sergeant after four years in the Marine Corps. “Round count to body count went extremely high during the Vietnam War because we were shooting a lighter, less-lethal round and were taught to shoot fully automatic.”

    It doesn’t matter how powerful a round is if you fail to connect it with the target.

  16. H2O MAN says:

    With the lone exception of the Springfield M1903 rifle, the M14 rifle remains the longest serving rifle used by units of the U.S. Armed forces.

  17. H2O MAN says:

    Jim Johnson, not only is the Blackfeather out, it is now importable without BATF paperwork. … #BlackfeatherRS

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