How to Customize Your Springfield Armory M1A
September 24, 2013
"Have your way with it," said Officer Avery. This local police officer had just stopped by my shop and dropped off his new-in-the-box Springfield Armory M1A with no budget restrictions. "Build it as if it were yours."
This former Marine Corps scout/sniper had once trained on the military's select-fire version, the M14. It served him well then and, until recently, was his agency's standard-issue long gun.
Law-abiding citizens have even more options when it comes to giving their semi-auto M1A a makeover, and as a factory-certified armorer I just love working on and building up these rifles. So now what? If you are one of the thousands who bought an M1A from Springfield Armory in the last few years, you might be considering this very question. If you did buy an M1A, sales figures indicate that you probably picked up either a no-frills standard model with 22-inch barrel and composite stock, SOCOM 16 or a more radical SOCOM II with 16-inch barrel and a VLTOR quad-rail fore-end. Maybe you bought one to get ahead of possible gun restrictions, or maybe you just wanted the proven performance of America's timeless autoloading .308. Whatever the reason, if you've got a collection of MSRs, it's incomplete without at least one M1A.
When comparing the M1A with the typical .308 AR-type rifle, you have to agree that it's a great buy. A standard model goes for $1,600 at retail, and the SOCOM 16 starts at $1,900. For a little less money than your average .308-based AR, you get all the battle-proven reputation of the M14 and an aftermarket ready to personalize your M1A at affordable increments.
Before working on any project, I take an accuracy test as a baseline for performance improvements. Since I would end up comparing this rifle's performance with a scope in the end, I fitted the standard configuration with Springfield Armory's 4th Gen M1A scope mount with front and rear Picatinny rail sections. Two large thumbscrews attach this mount to the left side of the receiver.
For consistency, Hornady ammo was selected to print five five-shot groups at 100 yards. Average sizes measured roughly 1¼ inches for each 150- and 168-grain load. Not bad for a "standard" M1A.
In taking Avery's rifle to the next level, I would give it an FDE-colored Troy BattleRail and a new tan-colored McMillan adjustable M3A stock. As some say, tan is the new black.
The Troy BattleRail for the M14/M1A is the ultimate optic-mounting solution for the person who doesn't want an aluminum chassis for a stock. This rail also works with both traditional wood and fiberglass stocks. In my experience, simply adding a BattleRail to an M1A will usually produce improved accuracy because the user benefits from a more solid optics-mounting platform and one that's inline with the barrel. If you decide to perform regular preventative maintenance to your rifle, it can be field-stripped without having to compromise the optic's zero. Once mounted, the BattleRail stays with the barreled action.
But this isn't the case with Avery's build. In the spirit of the Marine Corps' DMR, I would turn to McMillan for a new adjustable M3A stock that would have to be fitted and glass bedded. Given time, I could have done this all myself, but few gunsmiths can glass-bed an M1A better than the Springfield Armory Custom Shop. I also asked the Custom Shop to install its National Match barrel, give the trigger an NM tuning, then put it all together.
McMillan stocks are not drop-in pieces of colored fiberglass, and they come available in three options at different price points: flattop with no inlet ($338), basic inlet with the action outlined and the barrel channeled ($390) and full inlet with action and barrel inlet and molded-in color ($548).
For this build, I went with the full-inlet selection to minimize shop labor and waited a few weeks for the stock to arrive. Once McMillan delivered the goods, I handed over the rifle and all my procured accessories to Springfield Armory in Geneseo, Illinois. Providing them with both the McMillan stock and rail system was especially important because the stock had to be relieved to accept Troy's BattleRail. It's hard to beat the Custom Shop's prices: glass bedding, $175; NM-tuned trigger, $35; NM/SM barrel installation, depending on barrel, $230 to $575.
Weeks later, the rifle arrived. On inspection, I couldn't help but marvel at the cleanliness and fit of the glass-bedding job. And then there was the improved trigger. At four pounds, pulling it becomes addictive. The finished product loosely resembled the M1A it once was.
Avery spec'd this rifle to be used with a Harris bipod, Flat Dark Earth-colored Leupold Mark 4 LR/T 3.5-10x40 and an EOTech EXPS3 holosight with 3X magnifier also finished in FDE. Before sending this rifle into service, I needed to perform one last test fire with the new Mark 4.
Group sizes were cut in half or better on a few occasions with an overall average of .73 inch at 100 yards. A reader recently asked if I had ever shot an honest half-MOA M14 or M1A. Today I can say I have. When the fundamentals of marksmanship are applied, this setup is certainly capable. Better barrel, better stock fit, solid optic-mounting platform, improved trigger. I printed just one .48-inch group with the 168-grain Hornady A-MAX, but it was enough to illustrate potential.
Here's the complete price breakdown of this M1A project: Springfield Armory M1A, $1,640; Troy BattleRail M14, $279; McMillan Adjustable M3A, $548; SA Custom Shop glass-bedding service, $175; SA Custom Shop NM tuning, $35; SA Custom Shop NM barrel installation, $230; Leupold Mark 4 LR/T, $1,874; EOTech HHS II, $1,002.
Officer Avery's project represents the extreme to which you can take an M1A. Before adding optics, Avery has $2,907 tied up into this rifle and its custom work. However, this figure put his M1A in sub-MOA territory and into the realm of owning a .308 like the FN SCAR 17S and KAC SR-25. Unlike these other rifle systems that require an all-in, up-front investment, you can still enjoy an M1A as you improve it incrementally. If you already have an M14 or M1A, consider seeking the mastery of men whose jobs are to work on these rifles every day.
For additional information, contact Springfield Armory Custom Shop, 800-617-6751, firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to the current backlog, expect to exercise months of patience. The wait is worth it.