For once in my life, I got to take the easy way. Oh, I'm not complaining about the other times, because I am fully to blame for them, but I seem to have a real knack for picking the hardest way of doing something. That usually means doing the task--and then redoing it. Well, not this time. When it came to mounting a scope on an M1A as part of this comprehensive Shooting Times report, I was lucky enough to get the assignment of working with the "Loaded" M1A version that comes from Springfield Armory with an extended cluster rail mount system already installed. Slapping a riflescope on it was literally easier than 1, 2, 3.
The "Loaded" rifle features a black fiberglass stock; an air gauged, medium-weight, national match, 22-inch, stainless-steel barrel (1:11 RH twist); a national match, two-stage trigger assembly (trigger pull measured 5…ž pounds on my Lyman trigger pull gauge); a national match, .062-inch military post front sight; a national match, non-hooded, adjustable rear sight assembly (with 1/2 MOA adjustment for windage and 1 MOA for elevation); and a national match flash suppressor. The rifle weighs in at 11 pounds without a scope and measures 44.3 inches long overall. It comes with one 10-round magazine.
As for the extended cluster rail system, it is made exclusively for Springfield by VLTOR and features Picatinny-style rails on top, on each side, and underneath the fore-end. The top rail extends from just in front of the rear sight all the way out to the front end of the stock and is attached to a ventilated metal handguard. It measures a full 17 inches long. The two side rails are also fixed to the handguard, but the underneath rail is user removable and can be hinged down and detached easily by just depressing the two releases located on the sides. It reattaches just as easily.
The cluster rail is made of aluminum, carbon steel, and blackened stainless steel and wears a matte black finish. The rifle's sights can be used with the rail system in place, although, with the low scope rings I installed, the sights were blocked. The unit is not currently available as a stand-alone accessory item from Springfield because it can be problematic for the average shooter to install. If the stirrup screws that attach the stirrup around the barrel are not tightened equally, they can torque the gas tube. The cluster rail appears to be semi-permanently attached to the rifle. In other words, according to Eric Poole, InterMedia Outdoors's resident armorer, you probably don't want to take it off the rifle and try to reattach it later because the accuracy may be adversely affected.
Using Black Hills Gold 155-grain A-Max match ammo, I performed a function test very similar to the one Joseph von Benedikt conducted on the aftermarket mounting systems, except I fired the first five shots slow fire and then fired the next five rounds with the rifle off the shoulder and the ejection port up. I then fired the second full 10-round magazine conventionally as fast as I could squeeze the trigger. Feeding and ejection were flawless, and all empty cases were thrown out within three paces of where I was standing.
Just for fun, I fired the rifle with the same ammo from a benchrest at 100 yards to see what kind of accuracy I could get. Now I admit that I'm not the greatest shooter in the world, so I was extremely pleased to average 1.08 inches for five, five-shot groups. In the hands of a better shooter, this rifle will do better. In fact, in past Shooting Times reviews, the "Loaded" M1A has been a 1/2-MOA rifle.
One more thing: I want to say a few words about the comb-raising kit from Beartooth Products that I used during my accuracy shooting. When I mounted the Leupold 3.5-10X scope on my M1A, even using the lowest rings I could, I needed a higher comb on the buttstock to make my eye alignment correct and my cheekweld consistent. So, taking the easy way out, I picked up the neoprene and high-density foam kit and had it installed in just minutes. The kit includes a neoprene stock guard sleeve and five foam inserts. Each insert is a different thickness, and you very simply slide the stock guard over the buttstock, place whatever combination of inserts raises the comb the right height, and roll the stock guard down over the inserts to hold them in place. It's a quick and easy fix.