May 12, 2022
By James Tarr, Handguns Editor
Officially, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the definition of “Cult” is 1. A system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object, 2. A relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister, or 3. A misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person of thing.
It is definition number three that concerns us today, because we’re going to be talking about the M14, or rather the commercial version of the M14 that is the M1A. And the people who love the M14/M1A really truly love it with a cult-like devotion. Badmouth it in front of them at your peril. It only saw service with our military as a standard issue rifle for a short time (1959-1968), and perhaps it is because of that short service that the design has claimed almost mythical status with its devotees.
While it is supposed to be a modernized M1 Garand, when it was introduced the M14 was far from modern or cutting edge, which is why it was replaced in service so quickly. The M14 is the very definition of the old-school big bore battle rifle, with iron sights, wooden stock, and oddly placed and configured controls, chambered in a powerful thirty-caliber cartridge when militaries were starting the move toward intermediate cartridges. Compared to the modern service rifles of today it is a dinosaur.
Which brings us to the subject of this article—the Springfield Armory SOCOM 16 CQB W/Vortex Venom. Introduced about four years ago, I believe this version of the M1A is the ultimate modernization of the design—it brings the M1A as far into the 21st century as is possible. It is barely recognizable as an M1A. And here we have to circle back around the purists (cough*cultists*) devoted to the M1A in its traditional guise—almost to a man they seem to hate and despise the looks of the SOCOM 16 CQB. So, it would seem that, with this rifle, Springfield has either done something right or something terribly, horribly, unforgivably wrong.
This should be fun. Let’s dig in, shall we?
A very quick primer on the M1A—it is the semi-auto commercial version of the select-fire gas piston-operated M14, which saw service with our armed forces after the Korean War and into the early days of the Vietnam War. The M14 was ultimately replaced by the M16 during that war as a standard issue rifle. However, it has seen continued military use in niche roles—currently as a scoped DMR (designated marksman rifle) in the form of the M21 or Mk 14 EBR (Enhanced Battle Rifle). Keep that Mk 14 EBR in mind, because we’ll be circling back to it. Consider it an older brother to the SOCOM 16 CQB.
Unlike the M1 Garand, which was its progenitor, the M14 is fed by detachable box magazines, standard capacity being twenty. The Garand was chambered in .30-06 and the M14 is chambered in .308 Win/7.62x51mm (7.62 NATO), which with modern powders and ammunition technology is just as capable as the World War II-era .30-06.
Springfield Armory introduced the semi-auto version of the M14, the M1A, in 1974, and is currently producing dozens of variations of the design. The original/standard M1A sports a 22-inch barrel with a flash hider, a one-piece walnut stock with a wood or plastic handguard, is 44.3 inches long, and weighs over nine pounds. It is one long boomstick, just like its spiritual father, the M1 Garand. That length includes a very long and very distinctive flash hider.
Compared to America’s current standard issue military rifle, the M4, the M14/M1A is ten inches longer, nearly three pounds heavier, and holds only twenty rounds in a standard magazine instead of thirty. The .308/7.62x51mm cartridge also has significantly more recoil than a .223/5.56, but fans of the .308 will argue that you get what you pay for, the .308 provides two to three times as much punch as the M4’s 5.56 round. And they’re not wrong, which is why you see the M14 still serving with our military in the role of a DMR.
The standard M1A comes with great iron sights, but even the doctrinally entrenched Marine Corps has moved to optics. The only way to mount an optic (red dot or otherwise) on a standard M14/M1A is via a complicated receiver scope mount. I think the current iteration is Gen 4, and it also connects to the stripper clip guide mounted directly in front of the rear sight. M14/M1A scope mounts have historically been known to be problematic due to working themselves lose, resulting in wandering zeros (hence the reason they’re on Gen 4).
If you want a good explanation of how the M14 was out of date when it was introduced, look at HK’s G3 (or the semi-auto variant, the HK91). It went in service the same year as the M14, 1959. Whereas the M14 has a walnut stock and is basically a box magazine-fed M1 Garand (introduced in 1936), the G3 is a quickly disassembled modern modular rifle with stamped, pressed, and/or polymer components that are cheaper and easier to make. It has a separate pistol grip and a stock/handguard that can be swapped out in seconds. The MP5 9mm submachine gun is considered by many to be the best SMG ever made, even by modern standards, and it basically is just a baby version of the G3.
Sooo…how to modernize the M1A?
In 2004, Springfield Armory introduced the SOCOM 16 version of the M1A. This rifle shortens that 22-inch barrel to 16.25 inches, adds a polymer stock, and tips the barrel with a stubby muzzle brake. As a result, when compared to the original M1A the SOCOM 16 model is just a hair over seven inches shorter and ten ounces lighter, all of that weight coming off the muzzle end. Not quite the length and weight of an M4/AR-15, but much closer. There are now four different versions of the SOCOM 16, with the SOCOM 16 CQB W/Vortex Venom being the top of the line.
Unlike the traditional M1A, or even the original SOCOM 16, this version has a black polymer stock with both a pistol grip and a six-position collapsible stock with a removable rubber buttpad and cheekpiece. The stock is manufactured by Archangel, and takes standard AR-pattern pistol grips and buttstocks if you don’t like the look of the provided one. With the stock fully extended the rifle is 38.75 inches long, that’s an inch and a half longer than the standard wood stock model. Collapsing the stock takes three inches off that length.
The handguard of the rifle has M-LOK accessory slots at 3-, 6-, and 9 o’clock. It comes with two 1.5-inch and one three-inch polymer rail sections for mounting appropriate accessories—lights, grips, etc.
With an empty 20-round magazine in place the rifle weighs 9 lbs. 5 oz. Notice that I didn’t write 10-round magazine, even though that is what’s supplied with the rifle. Twenty rounds is, and always has been, the standard magazine capacity for this rifle, and shame on Springfield Armory for not offering 20-round magazines to those of us not burdened with fascist state governments.
While it sits in a fancy modern stock, the base rifle remains the same, which means it has controls which may be unfamiliar to you if you’ve only handled an AR. The charging handle is a small curved piece of steel on the right side of the receiver and reciprocates when firing. The bolt does lock back on an empty magazine, and you can lock the bolt back yourself by pressing down on the bolt stop, but to release the bolt you have to pull back on the charging handle and let it fly.
The magazine rocks in from the front. This is actually quite hard to do with the provided short 10-round magazine, and you’ll find the standard 20-round magazines much more user-friendly. The magazine release is a paddle style just forward of the trigger guard.
As for the trigger guard, just like with the M1 Garand the safety is a big steel tab. Pull it back, into the trigger guard, for Safe. For Fire, you have to insert your finger into the trigger guard and push the safety forward.
The SOCOM 16 CQB is supplied with Springfield’s standard two-stage “tuned National Match trigger”, which usually provides a crisp 5-6-pound pull. The trigger in my sample provided a 5.75-pound trigger pull, which is better than it sounds. The first stage (takeup) was 3.5 pounds, and the second stage, a crisp break, was just 2.25 pounds (for a total pull weight of 5.75 pounds). This light, crisp break allows you to shoot up to the capabilities of the dot.
The 16.25-inch carbon steel barrel has a 1:11” twist and six-groove rifling. Springfield is known for uber-accurate NM (National Match) versions of the long-barrel M1A, and those rifles are often equipped with fine front sight posts and pinhole rear aperture sights for banging steel and Communist insurgents out to 300 yards and beyond, but that’s not what this rifle is meant for. So Springfield installed a .125 of an inch blade front sight from XS Sights that sports a vertical white stripe with a tritium insert. This front sight is paired with a rear sight that has a larger .135 of an inch aperture to allow for quick sight acquisition at what I’ll call urban distances, especially when paired with an excellent trigger.
The rear sight is click adjustable by hand for windage and elevation using large knobs, and the front sight is adjustable for windage. The front sight is held in place by a 7/64 Allen set screw, and just the tiniest adjustment will change your point of impact a whole lot—according to the data I was given, moving the front sight .006 of an inch will move the point of impact one inch at 100 yards, so I’d only touch it if you can’t get your rifle zeroed using just the rear sight.
The rear sight aperture is so large that through it I could see the entire front sight tower, including the wings around the post. This actually worked very well in close range rapid fire (I put the front sight “wings” inside the aperture like a circle inside a circle). However, you can’t see or use the sights with the Vortex red dot installed, it sits just a bit too high.
A .125 of an inch front sight is as wide as what you find on most pistols, and makes it a bit challenging to acquire a fine sight picture. You’ll want a red dot on this gun. Remember, a .125 front sight is roughly 15-20 MOA (depending on its distance from your eye), making it as wide as a person 100 yards distant.
Back in 2004 when the SOCOM 16 was introduced, red dots on rifles were becoming a big deal, and our troops were using them in Iraq and Afghanistan, shutting down everyone who said optics weren’t durable enough for general use in combat. While some elite troops had been running red dot-equipped M14s in combat for a while (one of the Delta Force operators during the 1993 “Black Hawk Down” mission had one so equipped) they were limited to sticking them atop the receiver scope mounts, which isn’t ideal. So for the SOCOM 16 Springfield added a forward-mounted MIL STD 1913 rail, attached to the barrel. It is aluminum and four inches long. Whether you’re running a red dot or an extended eye relief “Scout” scope you don’t need a riser, you can attach them directly to the rail.
Springfield sells two versions of the SOCOM 16 CQB—the standard model, and the one you see here, the SOCOM 15 CQB W/Vortex Venom, which (as you might suspect) comes from the factory with a Vortex Venom mounted to the gun. But that mini red dot is not mounted to the forward rail—instead it is mounted to a proprietary plate that has taken the place of the stripper clip guide just in front of the rear sight.
That optic mount is rather low over the bolt, so to keep ejection smooth they have beveled the bottom right of the mount, as well as the front. I had one person who saw this gun wondering if the low-mounted optic would interfere with ejection, but remember, this version of the M1A has been out for years already—if there were problems, you’d have heard about them.
The Vortex Venom is a “mini red dot”. It is available with a 3- or 6-MOA red dot reticle, and it is the 3 MOA version supplied on this rifle. The Venom has an aluminum housing and a glass lens, and is powered by one (supplied) CR1632 battery. It has ten brightness settings and up to 30,000 hours of run time on the lowest setting (150 hours on the brightest). You do not have to remove the sight from the mount to change the battery.
FYI: the Venom uses a Docter-pattern base. Springfield does not offer any replacement optic bases to accept Trijicon RMR-pattern optics. Sold separately the Vortex Venom retails for $350.
At the range I put a lot of rounds downrange through the M1A, and experienced no malfunctions whether I was feeding it match-grade ammo or lacquered steel-cased crap (that’s a technical gunwriter term). At the end of my range time I examined the underside of the optic mount, and saw that ejecting cases only seemed to be touching the front right corner of the mount, and then only enough to leave trace smudges.
I perhaps could have shot tighter groups if I slapped a magnified optic on the SOCOM 16 CQB, but I wanted to see how well I could do with the provided optic. Most ammo provided groups roughly the size of the dot, which is more than acceptable for a “short barrel” .308.
The compensator on the end of the barrel is very efficient. It reduces recoil a significant amount, which also means it is loud. The M1A was nicely accurate, but it is not built for extreme range. It has CQB—Close Quarter Battle—right in the name of the rifle, and I wanted to test how controllable this rifle with pistol grip and muzzle brake truly was at close range, so I came up with a rapid-fire drill.
I put up a USPSA silhouette at 20 yards and, shooting offhand, I wanted to see how quickly I could put all the rounds from a 20-round magazine into the target. Initial experiments showed me that between the weight of the gun and the muzzle brake there is virtually zero muzzle rise during shooting. What I found was the recoil pivoting me sideways, so the dot would move to the right with every shot before swinging back. I squared up to the target as well as I could, to reduce the side-to-side movement as much as possible, and went to work.
The M1A SOCOM 16 CQB is not an AR-15, and never will be. But it is very controllable for a .308. I found with a little practice I was able to do full 20-round magazine dumps into the center of the target twenty yards away under seven seconds consistently, and occasionally under six seconds. Most of my 20-shot groups hovered about eight inches in diameter. This is using full-power ammo, in this case Hornady’s (discontinued) Steel Match .308 Win which features a 155-grain BTHP bullet. When I was using the Hornady Custom Lite 125-grain reduced recoil load I could put 20 rounds on target in close to five seconds.
If you’re outraged at the idea of shooting a rifle at such close distances, remember what CQB stands for. This gun is deliberately short and handy so it can be used in enclosed spaces and at short ranges.
In addition to heavier ammo loads, and lower capacity magazines, one of the traditional complaints about the .308 when compared to .223/5.56 is the increased recoil. This means slower follow-up shots. Fans of 30 caliber rifles would argue that you don't need to shoot bad guys eight times when you're using a proper adult cartridge, but the fact is sometimes you might find yourself in a situation where multiple follow up shots are required, either on the same bad guy or if confronted by multiple bad guys. This is why everyone likes to do everything they can to reduce recoil, even in soft recoiling rifles like the M4/AR-15. The M1A SOCOM 16 CQB isn’t as soft-shooting as a .22-caliber AR, but you can definitely run it hard and fast.
I compared (unfavorably) the M14/M1A to the G3 above, specifically talking about modern features. However, where the M14/M1A has the G3/HK 91 clones beat, no matter the configuration, is in recoil. The roller lock operating system of the HK is, shall we say, quite robust. It tends to beat you up. And trigger pulls are heavy. Shooting HKs both fast and accurately isn’t something that happens. The M14/M1A, on the other hand, has a much softer recoil cycle, and that’s even before we add the SOCOM compensator.
Springfield also offers a version of this rifle without the Vortex optic or stripper clip optic mount. It is $279 cheaper. Why would you want to spend the extra money for this version? I can tell you that ten minutes after I stopped shooting the forward barrel-mounted aluminum rail was still too hot to touch. I know of numerous people who have killed their red dots—literally baked them to death—by forward mounting them on rails. Most of those were on AKs, so the optic was directly above the gas piston, but seeing as the forward rail on the SOCOM 16 is directly attached to the barrel near the chamber you will have the same heat issue.
Let’s circle back to the U.S. military’s Mk 14 EBR. The Enhanced Battle Rifle is meant to be a modernized version of the M14 suitable for designated marksmen. Some elite forces use them as primary sniping rifles as their semi-auto capability allows for rapid fire engagement of multiple enemy combatants. The Mk 14 can be had with either the original 22-inch barrel, or a shorter 18-inch model. What is unique about the Mk 14 is the stock—the EBR stock is a chassis design made by Sage International, with a pistol grip and collapsible buttstock. That Sage International chassis stock for the M14/M1A adds a lot of weight, and while functional and cool, it retails for $840.
The M1A SOCOM 16 CQB seems to be the short-range civilian version of the Mk 14 EBR. It shares the look and many of the same features (pistol grip collapsible stock, specialized optics mounting platform) while being shorter and over two pounds lighter.
As I write this, deep into 2020 riot season, nobody has M1A magazines in stock. At least, none that you’d want to buy—I can recommend only Springfield Armory and Check-Mate magazines. As for the other brands, they may work, they may not. But, provided a hot civil war doesn’t pop off, eventually supply will catch up to demand. At that point, you’ll want to purchase some additional magazines.
A quick note here—Springfield Armory sells “Springfield Armory” M1A magazines, but they don’t make them, and never have. Check-Mate makes those M1A magazines for Springfield and for the U.S. Military as the official OEM magazine supplier for those in-service M21 and Mk 14 EBRs. You can find Check-Mate M1A magazines for sale from a number of places, and for less than what Springfield Armory is charging. In fact, you can go straight to CheckMateMagazines.com and buy them in 5, 10, 15, 20, and/or 25-round capacity, individually or in bulk packs of 10.
When I picked up this rifle from my FFL, Double Action Gun Shop & Indoor Range in Madison Heights, MI, their fabulous in-house gunsmith Pat Morris stared at it in horror. “Mo” is a Marine Corps veteran, and spent serious time (I mean that in every way) behind an M14.
I’m not sure which word he used to describe it—atrocity, travesty, tragedy, something that ended with an E sound. Actually, he used a lot of words, but most of them are not printable in a PG-rated publication. But he of course was unhappy with how this rifle looked. Internally, it functions the same as an old school M1A.
I love the old-school looks of the M1A National Match rifle, perhaps more so than the modernized SOCOM 16 CQB. But I appreciate the increased functionality of this gun and how the folks at Springfield Armory did everything they could to bring the M1A rifle into the 21st century.
Springfield Armory’s M1A SOCOM 16 CQB Specifications
Action: semi auto
Barrel Length: 16.25”
Stock: polymer w/ M-LOK handguard slots
Muzzle device: SA SOCOM muzzle brake
Overall Length: 38.75” (stock extended), 35.75” (stock collapsed)
Weight: 9 lbs. 5 oz. (with magazine)
Twist rate: 1/11
Sights: ghost ring adj. rear, XS tritium .125” front Vortex Venom 3 MOA red dot
Magazine: 10 rounds (5- and 20-rounders available from Springfield Armory)
Trigger: 5.75 lbs (as tested)
Accessories: soft case, 1 10-round magazine
Manufacturer: Springfield Armory
If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at FirearmsNews@Outdoorsg.com.
About the Author:
James Tarr is a longtime contributor to Firearms News and other firearms publications. He is also the author of several books, including CARNIVORE, which was featured on The O’Reilly Factor. His current best-selling novel, Dogsoldiers, is available now through Amazon.