Not that long ago I had a friend ask me about the M1A, to which I replied, “Don’t tell anyone because I have a reputation to uphold, but I actually like the M14.” It was right at that moment that I was finally able to piece together my thoughts on the strengths and weakness of the M14 style rifle. Now I am going to use the terms M14 and M1A interchangeably to refer to both the military weapon and the semi auto copies of it.
I love the M1Garand, and I see people buy them and love them too. Someone gets a Garand and they know they are getting a piece of history, and a good rifle for shooting with iron sights. They know they can use it in field positions and off the bench. A person buying a Garand is not expecting to get the ultimate CQB Sniper Rifle for shooting sub-MOA 1000 yards.
We Americans often take great pride in our gall to push things past practicality and the M14 is the perfect example. Historically American’s have always loved accurate combat rifles, and the M14 is no exception. But there is a big difference between a combat rifle and a precision rifle. The M14/M1A has great iron sights and is a fun gun to shoot. But when you start try to turn it into a scoped precision rifle it just doesn’t make the grade. Simply put the handling and practicality of the M14 dies when we try to modernize it.
Optics on the M14 end up at awkward heights. The various ways to improve accuracy are significantly more expensive and harder to maintain than on more modern rifles. If you have a match M1A with a bedded stock each time you remove the action from the bedding you wear and risk damaging the bedding. I saw a great quote some years back from an Army Solider issued a M14 EBR. He explained that with that weapon system being used in the desert he was suppose to properly clean it after every time he fired it. Cleaning it properly would involve removing it from the chassis, which would then require re-zeroing. Re-zeroing it would then necessitate cleaning.
That is a pretty extreme over the top example. M1A are rather accurate rifles, and can be made more so. But to get modern semi-auto sniper type precision out of a M1A is going to cost you a good deal of money and time and will require more maintenance than other alternatives. You generally don’t see people try to turn FN FALs or rack grade G3s into precision rifles, same applies for the M14.
But, if you are looking for a good rifle to shoot with iron sights on the known distance rifle range off the bench and in field position the M14 is great at that. I just don’t recommend buying a M1A thinking you can build the ultimate sniper by slapping a scope on it, or expecting to use it as the as the perfect CQB weapon with a red dot9. Don’t forget the M14 is longer than a Garand.
Just like the Garand, the M14 is a piece of Americana. A fun piece of equipment from it’s time, but that time has passed.