The 2012 NRA Springfield Match had a good turnout with 171 shooters in attendance. What the Springfield Match did not have was me in attendance. I’ve been anticipating the match for weeks and was fairly well trained up. I left on Saturday morning for Camp Perry and only made it 35 miles before the transmission in my van gave up the ghost. It could have been worse, I could have been 535 miles up the road, in which case, I’d probably still be stuck waiting on a van repair.
Besides me, there was something else the Springfield Match didn’t have this year: good weather. The first relay barely got through the first string of slow fire when a horrendous thunder storm struck. The range was closed down and opened up at about noon. Many competitors never came back on the line and the match was completed with relays shuffled to cover the targets with enough shooters and pullers to make things work.
A lot’s been said about the M14/M1A rifle concerning its inherent accuracy and effectiveness and there’s a renewed interest in the platform since the Marines and Army are bringing them back into service in desert duty. The number of shooters participating in the match attests to its renewed, or perhaps more correctly, enduring popularity.
While the M14 had a fairly short stint as the U.S. service rifle, it’s had a long career as a match rifle (exceeded perhaps only by another Springfield, the 1903). The M14 is thought by many to be the most effective battle rifle of its day; many think it still is. The 7.62 NATO cartridge is powerful and accurate at long range, hence the recent resurgence of the M14 in military service. As a military cartridge, the 7.62 round was only slightly less powerful than the .30-06 round it replaced. Due to its more compact case, it utilized all its case capacity, making it easier to produce truly accurate ammunition.
Competitive shooters are slow to change, but the accuracy potential of the M14 as a match rifle was quickly recognized. Well-tuned M14s, the basis for the civilian M1A, were almost as accurate as NRA match rifles and much less fussy than the M1 match rifle. M14s and M1As dominated rapid fire stage records in the National Matches for years. One year, an Army Reserve Shooter, Billy Atkins, even shot a higher score in the Leech Cup with an M14 than any of the magnum match rifles.
Realistically, a good M1A/M14 is capable of less than a minute of angle, ten shot groups with good ammunition. The rifles used for competition are much more sophisticated than a standard rack grade M14. Competition rifles are generally fitted with a heavy stock and glass bedded to enhance stability. Some guns have lugs added to allow the guns to be bolted into the stock instead of the simple cammed trigger group arrangement, though I never felt this gave those guns a substantial advantage. In effect, match M14/M1A rifles have a floating stock with only the retention at the stock ferrule to stabilize the action.
Match rifles also have a unitized gas cylinder for more uniform operation. The barrels are generally almost twice as heavy as a service rifle and the operating rod guide is changed to facilitate the heavy barrel. Service rifle triggers must lift 4.5 pounds, but a good armorer can make that feel quite light and crisp. Sight rails are peened to allow super precise elevation adjustments and all back-lash is taken out of windage adjustments. Service M14/M1As have one minute windage and elevation adjustments; match rifles have half-minute windage and a half-minute hood added to the rear sight aperture to allow half-minute adjustments.
These competition rifles shoot the 168 grain bullets best and a 175 to 180 grain bullet is the heaviest that should be used. 175 and 180 grain bullets are normally used for shooting 1,000 stages like the Porter and Farr matches and other service rifle 1,000 yard matches. Heavier bullets generate higher port pressures and can damage the operating rod. The best ammunition I ever used was the special target load the Army developed especially for High Power competition, M852. This loading came in familiar white and brown Lake City boxes and was loaded with the 168 grain Sierra Matchking bullet. I had a test cradle for accuracy testing of M14/M1As when I ran the North Carolina Program and, of all the rifles I tested, none shot any ammunition better than they did with M852.
Since they are semi-automatic rifles, M14/M1As can be problematic for reloaders. Powders in the 4895 burning rate range must be used to obtain proper port pressures and you must properly size cases or you’ll have functioning problems. Contrary to some, small base dies should not be used or brass life will be very short.
While other companies make limited runs of complete rifles and receivers, the primary source of the M1A is Springfield Armory. They originally brought out the M1A in 1974 and it’s been in continuous production since that time. Service grade guns sell for about $1,500 and the Super Match with all the modifications mentioned above sells for about $3,000.
Like the M1A Springfield, dedicated M1A shooters are tough and the inclement conditions only assured that the cream would rise to the top. When the scores were tallied, Edwin Agle from Beaver Creek, Ohio, took the win and $2,000 purse with a 477-13x. Second place went to Nick Till with a 475-8x and third went to William B. Walter from Fort Walton Beach, Florida with a 474-6x. The rest of the $27,000 purse went to Lewis Class awards being awarded every ten places.
This is a great match that celebrates one of the most successful service/matches in the NRA’s High Power Rifle history. Much thanks to Springfield Armory for bringing the M1A back to Camp Perry in full force. Perhaps that bad weather was just another tribute to an almost unstoppable service and match rifle system.