Putting the M1A in perspective.


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.


  1. I always feel like the M14 should have been in korea. That if they had they would have been able to stand out like the M1 had stood out in WWII. But they’re kind of stuck in the middle. Too late to be a stand out and around longer than they should have been.

    I think classic car analogies work in these cases. Is a 1965 whatever a cool car? Absolutely, would I commute in one day in day out? Nope.

    • I have always felt the same way. The M14 would have done better in Korea. though even by then it was already way behind the trends. The SKS was already out, the AK47. etc etc. But I guess if you think of it in terms of what the Army thought was the best rifle no matter what the rest of the world was doing, the M14 in Korea would have shined. It would have been great in WW2. Now that would have really been something. This is the sort of topic I wish Kirk would come here and ramble on about for 5 legal pads worth of writing. wonder what became of him

  2. A few thoughts on the M14/M1A.

    First, I like the rifle. I’m able to shoot mine with good ammo to groups of five rounds of less than 1.5 MOA out of the box. I’ve cleaned up the trigger to a 4.6 pound bread, installed the NM rotating peep rear, and the narrow front sight for my work. With a 1907 sling, it’s one of my more favorite rifles to have use competition.

    That said:

    The M14/M1A should not be removed from its stock any more than absolutely necessary. It’s certainly easy to remove from the stock, but every time you do this, you cause wear in the action/stock fitting, and over time, this means you will need to bed it (or re-bed it if already done so).

    Bedding can be done quite successfully, with good effect. Somewhere on the ‘net are the AMU’s instructions for bedding these rifles.

    Second, like the Garand, it wasn’t meant for optical sights. This was a iron-sight rifle, and that’s pretty much that.

    Third, people need to learn how to clean this rifle from the chamber forward if they’re going to make the barrel/crown last as long as possible. I use a one-piece rod, put the rod (and guide) in through the muzzle without a brush or jag on it. When the rod appears in the action, then I screw on the brush/jag and pull it out of the barrel. This is a pain in the chops, but it’s less work than putting a new barrel on it.

    Whatever you do, don’t use those jointed military-issue cleaning rods. They’re fine and well if Uncle Sugar is buying you a new barrel or paying for the gunsmithing – if you’re paying, I’d recommend sticking with a one-piece cleaning rod.

    The trigger mating areas are hardened well and deep enough, so you can stone the trigger to achieve a very nice sliding surface engagement. If you want to leave it at more than 5#, you can just stone it, minding the angles, and that’s that. If you want to reduce the overall trigger pull, you need to reduce engagement, and that will require a little bit of TIG welding and filing to create a bearing area that will reduce the engagement. This sort of operation is best left to skilled, classic gunsmiths. Most home gunsmiths will see “TIG welding” and think they can do this with MIG or gas welding. Please don’t. Neither one offers the precision of TIG welding.

    If you want to compete in military rifle matches, make sure your resulting trigger pull won’ t break at less than or equal to 4.5 pounds. If it does, in some matches you’re DQ’ed before you fire a round.

    The M14 was a classic case of management stupidity. John Garand himself told the USA Ordnance higher-ups that a full-auto Garand design at 9.5 pounds overall weight would not be possible (this was the compromise weight – they originally wanted full-auto, .30-cal at 7 pounds(!)).

    Garand knew his stuff – it really wasn’t possible. There are very good reasons why a BAR weighs what it does – the weight is necessary to build it tough enough to handle sustained full-auto operation, and the mass is necessary to allow one man to control it.

    The result of the punishment that the bolt & receiver take in the M14 is that the heat-treating specs for the parts in the M14 are some of the most intricate and detailed of any gun I’ve seen anywhere. I have them in my collection of electronic docs – I can send them to you if you want to wait for me to dig them up. The nut of this is that you cannot just buy any gomer’s M14 bolt and expect it to hold headspace. The ChiCom clone bolts get bashed into non-spec very quickly with only semi-auto fire. If you need to buy a M14/M1A bolt, insist on one made by TRW.

    Then too, there was the USA Ordnance’s refusal to consider any cartridge with a bullet of less than .30 caliber and 145 grains weight. Colonel Renée Studler wanted a cartridge that would “substantially” match the performance of the .30-06 at 600, 1000 and even 2000(!) yards., and refused (outright) to consider any bullet diameter under 0.30″

    The Brits had done their homework, and were proposing a .280 cartridge, originally with a rim diameter of 0.458 (if my memory serves), and bullet weights of 130 to 140 grains. The OAL was almost as long as a .308 Winchester, but the case length was substantially shorter than the .308’s. It had significantly better ballistic performance out to about 800 yards, with much less recoil, less ammo weight, etc. With modern bullets, it could be a real winner even today. The Americans made a big deal of the rim diameter, so the Brits re-submitted it with a 0.473″ head diameter to appease the USA.

    Nope. Studler was having none of this sub-.30 stuff. After being rejected in the original NATO cartridge competition, the Brits fools around with a 6.45mm version of the .280 – all they did was neck it down and use lighter bullets.

    Sadly, by this time, the US had crammed the 7.62×51 down NATO’s throat(s), and then in a fit of even greater stupidity, settled on a varmint cartridge for their new rifle from the private sector, the AR-15/M-16.

    To this day, I think the M1A or M14 could be a contender if it were rechambered into something like 6.5×47, or .260 Rem. Make the default ammo carry a 115 to 120gr pill, make some 140’s for long-range work, and you’d be golden. Less recoil would mean the full auto capability could be realized, and the higher-Bc pills would give better long range performance. Win-win.

    All you have to do is give up on the requirement that “real men shoot .30 cal bullets…”

    • I don’t think I need to go over my personal opinion on the M14 here again. Its funny you mention the cleaning and sectioned rod, why just a few days ago some worthy commented on my rifle barrel cleaning thread about how I dont know anything nad sectioned rods are fine because ” a lot of people ” use them and have never had their barrels hurt. I take issue with the idea that the 556mm was a stupid move. The 556 is a very capable round

  3. The Italians took the Garand, tweaked the design and built the BM59. Maybe not wholly ideal but it worked and had options. We did the same thing in more time and came up with exactly as you said, a rifle longer than the Garand and with a very complicated to machine receiver. And at a time when the assumption was we’d be fighting a mostly mechanized war in Europe with soldiers piling into cramped APCs.

    They’re still good rifles though and easy to shoot with the nice long sight radius.

    • I have one in the shop now. That BM-59 is turning into a personal nightmare – mostly because while it was based on a Garand, enough parts are incompatible so as to make it a wholly incompatible affair. It also isn’t a M14/M1A…

      So when someone puts an op-rod that wasn’t genuine BM-59 onto a BM-59… odd things happen.

  4. I once saw an M-14 EBR in that horrendous battle stock developed at who knows how much tax payer expense turn into a straight pull bolt action rifle one night in Afghanistan.

    This is the same rifle that was fed from Springfield magazines my sister bought at the Savannah bass pro shop for us.

    So, my view on the M-14 is a little jaded.

    But I still like the rifle. If I was shooting at Camp Perry, that’s what I would want.

    If I was keeping hippies off the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that’s what I would want.

    If for some reason I was limited to an iron sighted .308 platform, that’s what I would take.

    But it isn’t an old warhorse called out from retirement to save us all in Afghanistan.

    And I might punch the next old fat guy who never deploys that tells me that.

    • In my opinion the only thing it is truly good for now a days is for those fancy demonstrations and parades the Army has with those guys that can twirl them around like magic and for firing off during funerals. All those things you said above, I would rather have a M1 Garand for if I couldnt have an AR15


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