Gun Review: Springfield Armory, Inc. M1A Super Match Rifle

My Rifle
 
M1A SM
 
This is my rifle. There are many like it (there are an estimated 2,000,000 M1A/M14 rifles in existence), but this one is mine. It is a Springfield Armory, Inc. Super Match M1A, model SA 9102, chambered for the 7.62×51 mm NATO cartridge. I can’t say how much I paid for this rifle, because my wife might read this. Suffice it to say, I paid “somewhere near $400”. At least in the cosmic sense. (Hey, when Carl Sagan is talking “billions and billions”, the difference between a few hundred and a few thousand can be rounded to zero.) For the reader’s reference, most sellers want around $3700 today for a shiny new Super Match model, less for a Standard model (Standards were a little over $1200 before The Great Gun Shortage Of 2013, around $1700 as of this writing).
 
I have to admit, buying a Super Match is like putting a Rogue Acoustics sound system in a Yugo, because the M1A serves best as a working gun–reliable as a Kalashnikov and accurate out-of-the-box to a couple minutes-of-angle (MOA), which is good enough for a body shot at ranges up to 500 yards. The Super Match can shoot one MOA or better (good for a body shot out to 700 or 800 yards). But you pay mucho dinero for that marginal increase in accuracy. I only bought the Super Match because the dealer who sold it to me advertised it (and priced it) as a National Match (which lacks improvements like the lugged receiver and heavy Douglas barrel). Otherwise, I would have bought a Standard model, which is what I suggest you buy. Today. Now.
 
Look and Feel
 
The M1A is a clone of the military’s old school battle rifle, the M14, which went into service in 1957 and was supplanted by 1970 by the M16. The M14 is still in service (usually carried by a squad’s designated marksman), partly because its heavier cartridge has greater effective range (useful in the mountains of Afghanistan, for example), partly because they are reliable in adverse environments (they just frickin’ work), and partly because we had so damn many of them in storage.
 
The main difference between the military’s M14 and the civilian M1A (aside from the fact the M14 has full auto mode, and the M1A is a semi-auto) is the receiver, which in the M1A is cast, not forged. (The M14 is a machine gun, where a forged receiver is not overkill.)
 
The M1A has the look of a “normal” rifle, which means it doesn’t have a pistol grip, and most have wooden stocks (as opposed to adjustable stocks, technically referred to as “a shoulder thing that goes up“–or is that a barrel shroud?). This has the advantage of making foolish politicians believe (incorrectly) that it is somehow less deadly than the AR15 platform.
 
The gun is heavier than it looks, especially the SM model, because of the oversized stock and heavy barrel. It’s just a big gun, over 44″ long and weighing over 11 lbs., and that’s with an empty magazine. (A Remington 700 bolt gun, by comparison, weighs only 8 lbs.) The extra weight is good for accuracy, bad for carry convenience.
 
The gun shoulders comfortably, and the comb is well positioned for a proper cheek weld when shooting with the iron sights. If you add a scope, you’ll need some sort of riser to get a proper cheek weld.
 
The Cartridge
 
The M1A fires the 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge, which is nearly identical to the civilian-made .308 Winchester cartridge. I say nearly identical because they are not, in fact, identical. The 7.62×51 cartridge has slightly different headspace tolerance than the .308 Win, as well as a stiffer primer. (Careful dropping the bolt of your M1A on any chambered cartridge, as slamfires can occur, especially with the .308 Win.) The good folks at Springfield Armory told me I should not shoot .308 Win cartridges greater than 180 grains. Which is fine, since the rifle is said to be most accurate with 168 grain hollow-point boat tail cartridges. (Good luck finding them, or ammo of any type.)
 
223_Remington
 
(Image Courtesy Wikipedia.  The .223 Remington vs. the .308 Winchester. When the jackboots are kicking in your door for writing incendiary blog-posts, which cartridge do you want?)
 
Compared to the .223 Remington cartridge (preferred food of the AR15), the .308 suffers more drop but less wind deflection, and has a notably greater effective range. And by effective, I mean it will still punch through a car door or cinder block at several hundred yards, barriers that could stop the .223 Rem. What is cover to an AR15 is mere concealment to the M1A.
 
Range Report
 
Shooting the M1A is a pleasure. As long as you have ear protection. Its weight tames recoil, and the rifle has not had any type of failure or malfunction in the few hundred rounds I’ve put through it. (Not exactly a torture test, but hey, ammo is harder to find these days than Waldo hiding on an old-timey chain gang.)
 
chain gang
 
There are two knobs on the rear peep-sight of the M1A. On the right side, you find the windage adjustment. On a Standard model M1A, the windage knob adjusts the point of aim left or right by one MOA per click. On National Match sights, the windage knob adjusts the point of aim by one half MOA per click.
 
rear sights
 
The left-side knob adjusts for elevation. Turning the knob one click moves the point of aim up or down one MOA. On National Match sights, the aperture in the peep-sight is slightly offset, so you can turn the aperture to the up or down position, thereby adding or subtracting a half MOA. The National Match aperture is also smaller than the Standard aperture–better for long range accuracy, but worse for quick target acquisition. Finally, the National Match front sight blade is slightly thinner than the Standard front sight blade (better for fine targeting, but less robust and more likely to bend or break if abused). The front blade is protected by two flanges.
 
Barleycorn Sight
 
The M1A has a two-stage trigger, meaning there is a short amount of slack before you reach the second stage. Breaking the second stage causes the weapon to fire. The second stage on my rifle is about 4 lbs.
 
As I mentioned, this rifle is single MOA accurate, which is more accurate than I am. Though I’m not a great rifle shot and was unfamiliar with the sights, I was able to shoot five-shot groups in a little over 2 MOA on my first outing. Here are my three best five-shot groups.
 
target 1  target 2  target 3
 
These targets were shot on the 50-yard range at Elm Fork, using match grade ammo (hollow-point boat tail, 168 grain). Each square is one inch, or two MOA at 50 yards. I’d be a blackguard and a knave to blame the rifle for not shooting one MOA (like Wayne and Garth, I’m not worthy). Since the kill zone on your average feral hog is about five inches across, my two-plus MOA shooting is good enough for a clean kill at over 200 yards–plenty of range for the shots I’m likely to see in the Hill Country.
 
In my opinion, this is not a rifle for home defense. The .308 Win cartridge will blow through interior walls as if they weren’t there, and the report would literally be deafening. It’s long (which makes room clearing harder) and heavy (which means you can’t operate it with only one hand). But for hunting (or battle out-of-doors) the M1A is hard to beat.
 
Why You Want One
 
It’s a full-sized battle rifle. It converts cover into mere concealment. It doesn’t shoot varmint cartridges. It doesn’t have a frightening (yet largely cosmetic) pistol grip. Because cinderblocks shouldn’t be able to protect your enemy. Because a .223 might not stop a charging feral hog, and it sure as hell won’t down that drone spying on your compound.
 
Ratings (out of 5 stars)
 
Form (5 stars because I like old school): This depends on your own subjective preference. Mine is toward hunting rifles and things built before the microchip (not that I have anything against microchips). The walnut stock with the box magazine and flash suppressor give it a WWII vintage look merged with more modern accouterments. It is, in fact, an upgraded Garand, and that’s exactly what it looks like.
 
Function (5 stars for all the reasons given above): I prefer the heavier caliber since the main use I have is hunting, usually from a blind. You could hunt 300 lbs. feral hogs with a .223, but I wouldn’t (unless I’m in a tree stand). And anyone who’s seen Hickock45 demolish a cinderblock wall with an M1A has to agree, this rifle has all the power you need (short of knocking out an armored vehicle). It also has a reputation for rock-solid reliability. Nuff said.
 
Value (4 stars because it’s pretty damn pricey): You can get a Remington 700 bolt gun that is just as accurate if not moreso, and AR15s are cheaper to accurize than the M1A. It’s not a cheapie plinker.
 
Overall (5 stars because I rounded up): 4.6 rounds up to 5 in my book. In this case.
 
Post Script Random Factoid: The M14 in Games and Movies
 
Here’s a a non-exhaustive list of M14 (and variants including the M1A, M21, and M25) rifles appearing in video games, movies, and TV, in no particular order.
 
Games
Jurassic Park: Trespasser
Rainbow Six
Fallout Tactics
Battlefield: Vietnam
Hitman: Blood Money
Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2
The various Call of Duty games
Silent Hill: Homecoming
Payday: The Heist
Delta Force: Black Hawk Down
Project Reality: Falklands; Vietnam
7.62 High Caliber
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
Arctic Combat
Insurgency
Operation Flashpoint: Red River
ArmA II
Killing Floor
Medal of Honor
Breach
Jagged Alliance: Back in Action
Counter-Strike Online
SOCOM: US Navy Seals Fireteam Bravo 3
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare
Dark Sector
Far Cry 3
 
Movies & TV
Black Hawk Down
The Keeper
Far Cry
X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Thirteen Days
The General’s Daughter
The Negotiator
The Postman
Revolution
Mars Attacks!
Congo
On Deadly Ground
Hot Shots Part Deux
Forest Gump
Shawshank Redemption
Clear and Present Danger
The Hunt for Red October
Born on the Fourth of July
Full Metal Jacket
Lethal Weapon
Gardens of Stone
Raw Deal
The Green Berets
Goldfinger
Burn Notice
CSI: Miami
Hawaii Five-O
The A-Team
Top Shot: Season 4
Mr. and Mrs. Smith
The Last Stand
Abduction
Fast Five
Bullet in the Head
Tears of the Sun
28 Weeks Later
The Objective
Lebanon
Cherry Bomb
Falling Skies
Resident Evil: Apocalypse
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8 comments to Gun Review: Springfield Armory, Inc. M1A Super Match Rifle

  • Dennis Coplin  says:

    I own a M1A SM and it is a delight to shot. I carried an M14 in Vietnam and when and if SHTF this is the weapon you want if you need to reach out and say hello. Great article

  • Yoda  says:

    I own an M1 A NM, with Shepherd scope. Shooting Federal match 168 grain BTHP, this rifle will drive tacks. If the rifle was good enough for our 9th Infantry Division Snipers in Vietnam, it’s still good enough for me today.

  • ARTHUR CUELLAR  says:

    AC says:
    The M1a Super Match will out perform any person who shoots it, I don’t consider my self an expert shooter by any bodes standard , on my first day at the 100 yard range I placed a dozen shoots in quarter size hole in the bulls eye with open sights, sense then I have had a high dollar scope installed with Spring fields mount system by Spring field and haven’t matched the open sighs yet.

  • Charles  says:

    My uncle carried a M-14 in Vietnam and I carried one in Afghanistan. This rifle will never let you down. I Agree the M-4 has its place but in a place where shots start at 400 meters a M-4 is a good paper weight. Excellent narrative, I was simply looking for the MOA on a super match.

    CHIDGEY..

    • Chingachgook  says:

      Thanks Charles! I appreciate the comment from someone who’s carried the M-14 in real life.

  • LJpress  says:

    Enjoyed the write up. That classic weapon look and feel is really appealing to me.

  • ninjabee  says:

    Free I and I. No more downpresser man. I love me some guns. They should add them to FIFA. Me and Peter tosh agree. Tippa irie

  • chief on one {tony}  says:

    stop mentioning about what the BAN. all references give the a-holes more info than they need.

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