If you haven’t figured it out yet, I have a strong distaste for internet and gun store lore. That’s especially true if that lore isn’t much good for anything other than burning a hole in your pocket.
Like cars, there’s a tendency for gun people to look fondly on old designs with appreciation and nostalgia. We look at something like the M14 and think, “now that’s a rifle.” We tell others how we feel about it, and they buy into it as well.
Like I said in my case against Glock hype, we end up in a situation where fanboys gush over their preferred brand and convince others to participate as well. As the group grows, so does the social pressure to stick to the party line.
The M14/M1A is a similar story.
My very first firearm purchase was a Springfield M1A Loaded Black Stainless. Shortly after, I picked up a Springfield Loaded Black Stainless 1911. At the time, I really liked the “theme” of black and stainless went together.
Form over function. Ugh.
Prior to picking up the M1A, I’d been on a six-month long quest to figure out what my first gun should be. An AR-15 was probably the most logical, but I bought into the hype surrounding 308 being so much more of a manly cartridge. Maybe it had to do with Jeff Cooper’s infamous “poodle shooter” remarks.
I poured over the various DPMS 308 rifles, which was all that was commonly available on the market at the time. At one point, I was very close to a Steyr Scout, which I “knew” from playing copious amounts of Counterstrike back in the day.
But eventually the internet lore won me over. The M14 was the classic American manly rifle. The combat rifle that should have been, right? So I grabbed it and as many battle packs of South African 7.62 as I could afford.
Off I went, blasting cheap ammo through a national match stainless barrel to my heart’s content. I can’t say how much money I turned into noise in those early days, but it was a lot.
The Quest for Accuracy
Eventually, inspired by the Mk 14 DMR rifles I saw on the internet, I wanted to turn my M1A into my own version of a DMR. I picked up a stock from the newly-formed J. Allen Enterprises, some Sadlak parts, and the quest began.
That’s when the trouble started.
It turns out that scope mounts don’t actually fit all that well on the M1A. The rail had a healthy leftward cant, making it difficult to zero. So I spent more money on a m14.ca mount that replaced the rear sight. Well, that one had a healthy amount of built in elevation. Too much for the scope I was using, which meant I needed a new scope.
Long story short, I had a 15 lb rifle that was difficult to make and keep as accurate as I wanted.
I pivoted to AR-15s shortly after.
The M14 Takedown
My story with the M14 is familiar to anyone who has spent time with it. It’s a maintenance-intensive weapon that’s difficult to make and keep very accurate. The M21 sniper rifles were notoriously difficult to maintain, and users weren’t even allowed to field strip them for fear of ruining the accuracy modifications.
In reality, the M14 is a product-improved M1 Garand, with all that it entails. Like the famed 1911, it’s clearly an older design that’s going to lose out to more modern materials and engineering.
Yet people hold onto its nostalgia.
Back in 2014, Shawn at Loose Rounds wrote a very thorough takedown on the M14. The late Hognose of Weapons Man followed suit shortly after. I don’t want to go point by point, so I suggest you go ahead and read those articles as well.
The key takeaway is that the famed M14 was plagued with production issues, cost overruns, and maintenance troubles. When you really dig into the military studies, it’s no wonder that the rifle was so short lived as a combat rifle.
Yet, people still have this sense of nostalgia over it. Maybe it’s because they carried one in basic training. Perhaps it’s because they perceived the M16 as a toy and wanted a “real rifle” made of wood and steel. I couldn’t tell you.
What I can tell you, and what the data shows, is that it just wasn’t that good of a rifle compared to modern offerings.
Should You Get an M1A?
You might read this as me trying to sway you away from the M1A, but I’m not.
I don’t think it’s a bad rifle.
What I’m saying is that for the amount of money I spent getting the M1A to where I wanted, I could have picked up an LMT 308 or SCAR 17.
I still enjoy my M1A and get it out to the range every once and awhile. But, like my 1911, I accept that it’s just an older design that includes a lot of limitations. It’s fun to shoot, no doubt, but so would be any other semi-auto 308.
So should you ever get your own copy of the M14? I simply say wait until you’ve got a solid foundation in other areas. Once you’ve got a couple reliable modern rifles to work and practice with, and you’ve gotten training on how to use them effectively, then consider picking something up for fun.
“Not Much for Fighting” on Loose Rounds should be required reading. I have never been a fan of the M1A but even I found it to be eye-opening.
Agree completely. I always felt there was something “off” about it and I ultimately didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I was supposed to. Of course, I kept quiet about that. That’s the power of social pressure, I suppose.
Shawn’s article was almost a relief to see that those feelings weren’t just mine.
Counter Strike… The firearm gateway drug.
LOL, so true. I was an OG Counter Strike player, started with Beta 2 back in 1999. I did it competitively through college until my falling grades made me reprioritize.
CS was the reason I convinced my father to pick up a HK USPc. It was certainly my gateway.
Anyway, thanks for reading and commenting, Brian!
Heheh. Can’t argue with the above, but I always loved the M1A. It just “feels right” in standard trim, but then I’m a Garand fancier too, and generally an old-school Jeff Cooper type. Best highpower score I ever shot was with a friend’s match M1A.
Hey Pete! I know you’re a Garand fan, so it makes sense that the M14 would “feel right” as a wood and steel rifle. I can’t disagree with you there, really. Oddly enough, I had my Garand out of the safe the other day for an inspection, and it really does just feel…right.
I think it’s due for a trip to the range.
A Garand is ALWAYS due for a trip to the range. Except, mine are OVERdue. The M14 in original form is a formidable weapon. Too bad its problems seemed to stem from poor manufacture and a couple of design flaws. Its size and weight were mostly unavoidable for a semi-auto 7.62x51mm (the AR10 platform is hardly svelte and dainty either, but at least you can get a better trigger and a flat-top rail for optics). People sometimes forget that during the 14’s adaption, modern designs which we now take for granted (FNFAL) were just then appearing as fairly new ideas.… Read more »
You know, I sometimes wonder what would have happened if we chose the FAL over the M14 back then. Would we have ever gone towards the M16?
I think we would have. The small-caliber high-cap carbine idea was an idea whose time had come, and it was the Air Force after all that originally was interested in it for base defense, not the Army for general infantry work. It just would have taken longer for the Army/Marines to gravitate that way, especially since the FAL is such a good rifle.
Remember too, it took Beretta ~18 months to design the BM59 rifle; originally converting their M1s to ’59s.
It took Springfield 12 YEARS to “design” the M14 !
Great point! I suppose that’s a great illustration of the hazards that come with “design by committee”
Worth noting is that the M14/M1A is gorgeous! I have a bone stock version which isn’t exactly a tack driver but feels nice and is fun to shoot. I’ve dated a few girls just because they were pretty, and spent a lot of money on them, too.
There’s no denying that! Despite any of my misgivings about its legendary status, I agree that the M14 is a good looking classic rifle. Then again, I had to go and tart mine up with a composite and aluminum chassis, lol.
Oh well, I still have a nicely finished walnut stock on my M1 Garand to compliment it.
This article has persuaded me not to buy a M14 or M25 as my primary 7.62 NATO range rifle. I still love the M14 stlye and its heroics in Vietnam as a sniper rifle.
Hi Jonathan, thanks for reading and commenting. I do still love the classic lines of the M14, but if there are definitely better options today for a primary 7.62 rifle.
To what extent might your optics problems have been alleviated by using not an M1A specifically but rather a modern civilian reproduction M25, e.g. from https://www.lrbarms.com/m14-rifles.html? Those can attach scopes to the top of the receiver where they belong.
Hey Milo, I’m sure using something like an LRB M25 would certainly have alleviated my optics mounting woes. But when it comes down to value per dollar, especially for the price of an LRB, I really don’t think you’re getting anything that can be done better and more cheaply by a 308 AR. At the equivalent price range, you’re looking at LMT MWS rifles, which I think are superior platforms. For a lot less money, you can get into standard 308 AR platforms that still have a huge value for dollar proposition. The M1A/M14 is a fine rifle, but I… Read more »