John C. Garand’s legendary “U.S. Rifle, caliber .30 M1” (the M1) was a mainstay in World War II, and Gen. George S. Patton called it “the best implement of battle ever devised.” While the M1 fired the powerful .30-06 Springfield cartridge, the rifle was heavy (9.5 pounds), didn’t offer full-automatic fire, and was subject to various other criticisms (e.g., the en bloc clip’s ejection noise). So after World War II, the U.S. government began designing a replacement for the M1 at the government’s arsenal in Springfield, Massachusetts. The result was the M14, which was adopted in 1954.
The M14 was similar to the M1, in that it offered rugged reliability, but it fired a then-new .30-caliber cartridge called the 7.62×51 NATO; this was the military version of the .308 Winchester, which had been introduced in 1952. The M14 was gas-operated, had a rotating bolt, and was capable of full-automatic fire. However, it was almost impossible to control in full auto, and it weighed almost as much as the M1.
In addition, the M14 had a tough row to hoe. It was developed to replace seven different weapon systems: the Enfield M1917, the Thompson submachine gun, the Springfield M1903, the M1 Carbine, the M3 “Grease Gun,” the M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle, and the M1. This was supposed to simplify logistics by limiting the types of ammo and parts. But it was an impossible task, and in 1970, the M14 was replaced by the military adaptation of the ArmaLite AR-15, designated “Rifle, caliber 5.56mm, M16,” which had entered service in 1964.
The private firm of Springfield Armory Inc. was founded by Elmer C. Ballance in San Antonio, Texas, in 1968, and it produced a civilian version of the M14 named the M1A. In 1974 Ballance sold the company to Robert Reese, who had a thriving firearms business in Illinois, and Springfield Armory continued to manufacture and diversify the M1A platform. Early M1As were made from government-surplus M14 receiver blanks, but current M1A receivers are precision investment castings of AISI 8620 alloy steel. Additionally, Springfield M1As manufactured after 1991 do not have the cutout on the right rear of the stock for the full-auto selector switch found on M14 stocks.
It is important to note that “M1A” is a proprietary name of Springfield Armory Inc. and is not in any way affiliated with the defunct government arsenal.
Springfield Armory’s line of M1As has grown to include eight distinct models, from short-barreled Scout Squad and CQB versions to full-house Match and Super Match rifles. Heretofore, all M1As have been chambered for the .308 Winchester. A delightful recent addition to the M1A line is the Loaded M1A version chambered for the super-popular 6.5 Creedmoor cartridge. Before I delve into a new version of the M1A, let’s briefly review the 6.5 Creedmoor and the reasons for its popularity.
6.5 Creedmoor Review
The round was developed by Dave Emary of Hornady and Dennis DeMille in 2007. Offered by Hornady as a SAAMI-approved factory round in 2008, it has become one of the most popular cartridges available today. It is super-accurate and shoots long-for-caliber 0.264-inch bullets that produce great downrange ballistics. Bullets weighing from 120 to 147 grains are best suited for the round. It has plenty of power for medium-sized big game, yet the recoil doesn’t rattle your fillings, and it is very efficient. Handloading the round is a delight, as inaccurate loads are just about non-existent.
Many manufacturers offer rifles chambered for the 6.5 Creedmoor, both semiautos and bolt guns, so it is not surprising that Springfield brought it out in the highly specialized Loaded M1A. “Loaded” is the appropriate term, as this rifle is indeed packed with accuracy-enhancing refinements and shooter enhancements.
The New M1A
The Loaded M1A comes with a sturdy synthetic stock; one version is pretty much a standard configuration, the other is an AAM1A Precision Adjustable synthetic stock that is adjustable for length of pull and cheekpiece height. The fore-end has an 8-inch molded-in rail for the attachment of lights, bipods, or whatnot and comes with a removable cover to protect your hands. There are flush QD sling-swivel mounts on both sides of the buttstock and on the fore-end. There are also regular sling-swivel studs fore and aft. And a trapdoor grip cap covers a cavity that is actually big enough to stow important items, like a few extra rounds, cleaning gear, or a snack bar. There is a 1-inch-thick recoil pad, but don’t count on any recoil reduction, as it’s hard as a rock. However, with the weight of the M1A and the mild-mannered 6.5 Creedmoor cartridge, recoil is not a problem.
Loaded M1A models are not glass-bedded as in National Match models, but they do include several National Match features that enhance accuracy.
The action is a gas-operated semiautomatic with a rotating bolt. The medium-weight barrel is 22 inches long, air-gauged, and available in either stainless steel or Parkerized chrome-moly steel. The four-groove, cut rifling has a right-hand twist of one turn in 11 inches. The muzzle is fitted with an M14-style 3-inch birdcage flash suppressor.
The front sight is a National Match 0.062-inch military post, and the rear is a non-hooded GI Match grade with a 0.052-inch aperture. It is adjustable for windage and elevation.
A rifle of this class needs an optical sight for long-range work, and the folks at Springfield have thought of that, too. The sturdy 4th generation scope mount for the M1A (S-A #MA5028) has five Picatinny rail slots on the front and rear bases for the attachment of Weaver-style scope rings. Interestingly, a groove down the center of the rail allows the shooter to see the iron sights when the scope is removed.
The M1A’s trigger has a smooth face and is a two-stage military type, with a rated pull of 4.5 to 5.0 pounds. The trigger guard has the familiar safety in front, like the M1 Garand.
The M1A comes with one 10-round magazine. The magazine interior length is 2.855 inches, so it easily accepts 6.5 Creedmoor rounds with their maximum length of 2.825 inches.
Okay, so the specs look fine, but how does it shoot? I had two opportunities to find out. In early November of 2017, Springfield invited a gaggle of gun writers to Las Vegas to check out a bevy of exciting new products. One of them was the latest Loaded M1A in 6.5 Creedmoor.
The venue was the Clark County Shooting Complex a few miles north of Las Vegas. This premier location has ranges for rifle, pistol, skeet, trap, sporting clays, and archery. It is impeccably groomed and efficiently and safely operated. And get this: It’s run by the county government.
On the Nevada range, I fired an M1A in 6.5 Creedmoor from a solid rest at half-size steel silhouettes and 3-inch steel plates at 100 yards. It was almost impossible to miss the silhouettes and the steel plates! And that was with a 1X red-dot sight.
Later, Springfield sent me a new Loaded M1A in 6.5 Creedmoor for further testing. The Archangel Adjustable stock is synthetic flat black. It is also available in Flat Dark Earth.
The test rifle came with the Springfield scope mount already attached, so I installed a new Bushnell AR/6.5 Creedmoor 4.5-18X 40mm scope with the Drop Zone reticle. This scope is specifically designed for the long-range capabilities of this round. The power range is an impressive 4.5 to 18, and the scope has a reticle developed especially for the trajectory of the 6.5 Creedmoor cartridge. Along the vertical crosshair are four dots below the intersection. These dots and the “top” of the thick part of the crosshair below the dots give five calibrated aiming points. To use it, first sight-in at 100 yards. Then the dots, going down from the intersection, are aiming points for 200, 300, 400, and 500 yards respectively. The top of the thick part is for 600 yards.
The rifle’s trigger pull measured 5 pounds, 5.5 ounces on my Lyman trigger pull gauge, and while it had some creep, it was smooth and easy to use. Perhaps the most unique feature of the rifle was that, scoped, it weighed only an ounce less than 14 pounds.
Thanks to the popularity of the 6.5 Creedmoor, a great assortment of factory loads is available. Since I have considerable experience handloading the round, I also made up some of my favorite loads and then headed to the range. Over the course of shooting many rounds, there were no malfunctions of any kind. I fired three, five-shot groups at 100 yards. All rounds were fired from the 10-round magazine that is supplied with the rifle.
I tested 15 factory loads and 15 handloads, and the M1A definitely lived up to its match-grade billing. The overall average of all groups was 1.25 inches. The factory loads averaged 1.32 inches, and the handloads were 1.22 inches. Six handloads averaged under an inch, and seven factory loads averaged only slightly more at 1.11 inches. I should point out that most of the test shooting was done under very cold and windy conditions, and considering the circumstances, I consider this excellent performance.
At 0.98 inch, the accuracy winner from factory loads was the Nosler Match Grade with the new 140-grain Reduced Drag Factor hollowpoint bullet. The velocity was 2,572 fps. It was almost matched by two loads from Winchester: a 142-grain Match load (1.04 inches, 2,627 fps) and the Expedition load with a Nosler 142-grain AccuBond Long Range bullet (1.02 inches, 2,578 fps). In fact, the best seven factory loads averaged a tidy 1.11 inches.
Many of the better group averages were produced with hunting loads. For example, the Hornady 120-grain GMX load registered 2,943 fps and averaged 1.22 inches. The Hornady Precision Hunter load with the 143-grain ELD-X bullet reached 2,559 fps and averaged 1.18 inches. The Federal 140-grain Fusion deer load shot well at 1.22 inches at 2,623 fps.
My fastest handload was with the lightest bullet in the test: the Sierra 85-grain hollowpoint. With 41.0 grains of IMR 8208XBR, velocity was a sizzling 3,197 fps. With bullets weighing 120 grains, velocities reached over 2,800 fps with a couple of loads.
My M1A in 6.5 Creedmoor was well made, accurate, and reliable. A match-grade rifle like it firing the 6.5 Creedmoor is a tackdriver, and there’s a purpose-built factory load for just about any shooting need. Plus, for handloaders, there are new powders that fight copper-fouling as well as match and big-game hunting bullets. The accuracy-minded rifleman can tackle about any shooting task with this rifle-cartridge combo.