Fans of the M14 and its civilian-friendly M1A versions have long appreciated the stability and accuracy of this rifle. In military guise, the M14 had a short (11-year) span as the main American battle rifle until it was replaced by the M16. However, it remains in service as a medium-range DMR, forming the basis of the M21 and M25 platforms. The .308 Win. cartridge is accurate and powerful at ranges beyond that of the .223 Rem., and is offered in myriad bullet weights and configurations from standard lightweight ball to heavy, match-grade fodder.
The Springfield Armory M1A Loaded model sits squarely in the middle of the line, with upgraded trigger and barrels like the National Match line, but without the other custom touches. For the vast majority of shooters, the Loaded models will perform far better than those shooting them—and that’s no slight at the shooter, mind you; these rifles are handily sub-MOA precision machines.
The Precision Adjustable stock variant emerged in 2015 and allows the shooter to fit the rifle exactly as he or she desires for cheek weld and length-of-pull. Toolless adjustments can be made by turning a polymer adjustment knob integral to the stock for either the cheekpiece or the buttpad. A significant pistol grip completes the ergonomic treatment, allowing those more acquainted with AR-15- or AK-47-pattern rifles a familiar handhold on the M1A.
Even for someone unfamiliar with the general M1A layout, the Springfield Armory Loaded M1A is pretty simple to run. Charge the magazine (a 10-round magazine is included, but 20-round magazines are plentiful), then load it into the rifle. Pull back on the operating-rod handle and release to load, push the safety lever to fire and the rifle is ready. In the Loaded M1A, the trigger is a two-stage, National Match variant with a light takeup and a stiff, but not unduly heavy break. It’s different than a good AR-15 trigger—not bad, just different. Once you become attuned to the M1A’s trigger, it functions quite well and assists in achieving superlative accuracy.
For the uninitiated, the safety on the Springfield Armory M1A Loaded follows that of the M1 Garand. It is pushed toward the trigger to engage and away to disengage, and physically blocks the trigger from movement when activated. It’s quite a different manual of arms compared with the AR-15, and that difference extends to the magazine release, too.
Rather than a button on the receiver that one depresses to drop the magazine, the M1A has a lever under the rifle that is pushed toward the magazine so the magazine can be removed manually. It’s similar to the magazine release on AK-47-style rifles, only without the need to maneuver around a lip on the magazine’s top edge. When you are used to a light, handy carbine with ergonomic controls, finding your way around a purpose-built battle rifle is slow going at first, but it’s not a sharp learning curve—I picked it up pretty quickly.
Where the Springfield Armory M1A Loaded really shines is on the range. While the rifle is somewhat heavy, that’s a feature rather than a bug when it comes to shooting the .308 Win. The weight of the rifle, combined with the robust gas piston and muzzle brake, makes shooting the full-power round painless. Extended sessions might have left the rifle a little dirtier than purists would care for, but the toll on the shoulder is minimal and you’ll leave the range not feeling like you’ve been tenderized. It’s not ideal for lugging long distances, but once you’re set up and ready to shoot, those extra pounds translate directly into less felt recoil.
The Springfield Armory M1A Loaded is a positive treat to shoot. The robust report of the .308 Win. round is matched with MOA (or better) accuracy on target, and function was simply flawless. No failures to feed, fire or eject spent brass were experienced throughout testing, from the velocity measurements to accuracy shooting—even to informal plinking sessions at close (25 yards) range. Watching the .308 Win. tear through a plastic jug and launch it skyward was almost as rewarding as pulling down a sub-MOA five-shot group. While most won’t plink with an 11-pound, full-power battle rifle, it’s good to know that it will function just as well with inexpensive fodder as it will using match ammunition.
Recognizing it as a precision instrument designed for long-range accuracy—and using it accordingly—the M1A will serve such purposes admirably. It is not a CQB carbine, but it does not purport to be. I do wish it came standard with a scope mount, though (one is available as an accessory from Springfield Armory).
If you’re looking for a long-range, semi-automatic .308 Win. rifle capable of tight groups at distance, the M1A line is a good place to start. The Springfield Armory M1A Loaded also offers the ability to custom fit the rifle to the individual shooter, further enhancing an already-excellent shooting experience.