The M1A is often mistaken for the venerable M1 Garand. Springfield Armory designed and began production of the M1A in 1974 as a civilian version of the military M14 rifle.
While the M1A does resemble the M1 Garand superficially, some differences exist. In large part, these differences result from the Federal Assault Weapons Ban that occurred in 1994.
The M1A and M14 rifles have been manufactured mostly as civilian rifles since 1971.
These rifles lack the selector mechanism for full auto fire. Some M1As were later converted to M14-type rifles with the full-auto selector. However, these M1A and M14-style rifles are subject to the National Fire Arms Act and are rather rare.
For all practical purposes, fitting a scope to an M1A and M14 is an identical process. The rifles, except for the selector mechanism, are identical, shoot the same round, and have the same characteristics that drive scope selection. For the rest of this article, I will refer to the M1A rather than consider the M14 as a separate platform.
What You Should Know Before Choosing a Rifle Scope
You should consider two categories of information when choosing a rifle scope for any rifle, not just an M1A and M14.
First, you should understand the rifle’s mechanics, shooting characteristics, and ballistics.
Second, a thorough understanding of your expectations and uses of the rifle and rifle scope is necessary to ensure you get the right set of features to suit your needs and requirements.
The Springfield Armory M1A and its Variants
Springfield Armory makes several variants of the standard M1A platform. Among the most popular variations available for this popular rifle platform are models designed for competition, hunting, and defensive purposes.
Because the barrel lengths can differ on these models, it is important to consider which model of M1A you intend to scope.
M1A STANDARD-ISSUE Rifle
The standard-issue M1A is the basis for every other variant in the M1A line of rifles.
Standard features include windage and elevation adjustable rear sights, a two-stage military trigger, a detachable box magazine, and a reliable and proven roller cam bolt system.
M1A “Scout Squad” Rifles
Springfield Armory took the basic M1A rifle and adapted it to a scout-style rifle design that gives added performance and maneuverability.
The barrel is shortened to eighteen inches, and a new style flash hider and muzzle break are added. A Picatinny rail is attached ahead of the receiver to make mounting a scout-style long eye relief scope easy.
M1A SOCOM 16 Rifles
If you want a tactical rifle, the M1A SOCOM version is a great choice. You can enjoy less felt recoil with a 16.25-inch barrel and a proprietary muzzle brake.
A Picatinny-style rail is available from the factory mounted in the forward position. The standard iron sights have been upgraded with a larger ghost ring rear sight and a tritium insert in the front sight post.
M1A Loaded Rifles
Take the standard M1A platform and add the features and upgrades you need to turn this rifle platform into an extreme performer. In addition to the standard .308 Winchester cartridge, you can elect to have your M1A Loaded version chambered for 6.5 Creedmore.
A National Match air-gauged barrel and a National Match-tuned trigger make this a proven long-range shooting machine.
Calibers and Ballistics
Springfield Armory M1A and M14 rifles are generally chambered for the .308 Winchester or the 7.62×51 NATO round. These two cartridges are interchangeable for all practical purposes and have basically the same ballistic characteristics.
The most easily obtainable cartridges in the civilian market are .308 Winchester loads; this is the cartridge I have used for my ballistics data.
The loaded version of the M1A can be found chambered for the 6.5 Creedmore cartridge, which has distinct ballistic characteristics.
A 6.5 Creedmore may be better if your shooting distances go to extremes. If you make this choice, you should choose your rifle scope accordingly.
Typical .308 Ballistic Characteristics
The .308 Winchester cartridge is an impressive round with a long history. Originally developed by the U.S. Military as a replacement for the .30-06 cartridge that had been the standard issue for many years, Winchester saw the advantages and introduced the .308 Winchester cartridge in 1952.
This cartridge rapidly gained a following and became a popular hunting cartridge among civilian shooters.
Ballistically, the .308 Winchester offers some impressive numbers. This data is based on a commercial load with a 150-grain full metal jacket boat tail bullet.
The .308 Winchester cartridge is usually considered a 1000-yard bullet. My data only ranges to 500 yards, but you can easily interpolate out to 100 yards using this data. You should consider that at 500 yards, the .308 Winchester is still delivering 1093-foot pounds of energy. From the standpoint of velocity, at 1000 yards, the .308 bullet travels faster than a .223 or 7.62×39 bullet at 500 yards.
The TAKEAWAYS About the Springfield Armory M1A and M14
With choosing a scope as the goal, some important lessons can be learned from the basic data available about the M1A rifle.
The .308 Winchester cartridge makes the M1A a 1,000-yard rifle, which should factor into your rifle scope selection. You must also consider the variant on which you are mounting a scope. The barrel length and the style of mount all make a difference in your scope selection.
What Do You Expect From Your Scope?
Next, you must consider how you intend to use your M1A rifle. Along with the ballistic characteristics, your expectations should take center stage in this part of the process.
Several important factors enter the equation when making a scope selection for your rifle.
Your rifle and where you will mount a scope are critical factors in scope selection. If you choose a scout-style rifle, you will need a scout scope with a longer eye relief since the scope will be mounted further forward on the rifle.
Your choice of loads for the cartridge you shoot can also have a minor impact on scope. selection.
Your Shooting Style
Competition shooting calls for an entirely different set of scope characteristics and features than a rifle used for hunting.
If your rifle is intended for self-defense or combat purposes, some special considerations go into a scope selection. A thorough understanding of how you intend to use your rifle is necessary to ensure that you get the proper features in a rifle scope.
Let’s Talk Rifle Scopes
When we get to the nuts and bolts of selecting a rifle scope for your M1A, you will find that the market is almost overwhelming with selections and varieties.
Choosing the best scope can be challenging. Even the most experienced shooters often get frustrated when trying to sort through the different makers, models, and variations of rifle scopes on the market. Finding the best scopes for M1A rifles takes some time and diligence.
When I start shopping for a new rifle scope, and I have fixed the rifle specifications and expected uses in my mind, I move on to the things that I believe to be most important in choosing a scope for any rifle.
I always consider how much magnification I may need.
In the case of the M1A, I wouldn’t consider any scope that won’t let me go out to at least 1000 yards with good clarity and image quality. This means quality optics are essential since most lower-cost scopes have optical problems at a higher magnification range.
In my opinion, anyone expecting to use their M1A as a long-range rifle with acceptable long-range accuracy must consider a rifle scope that provides at least a 24X magnification range on the high end.
Serious long-range shooters may opt to go to a higher magnification range. Competitive long-distance shooters who are interested in pinpoint accuracy will also appreciate the higher magnification levels.
Mid-Range and CLOSE-RANGE Shooting
If you are configuring a scout style rifle where rapid target acquisition and mid-range accuracy are important, different specifications are usually needed.
Scout rifles have unique scope mounting challenges. For the close-range shots typically expected with scout rifles, you need less magnification with excellent image quality. Your scout style rifle requires a scope designed to accommodate the forward scope mount.
Most scout rifle shooters don’t expect long-range precision, so the best scope choice for these installations is usually a scope specifically designed for scout style rifle mounts.
Objective Lens Sizes
I typically stick by my belief that long-range shooting and high magnification demand a larger objective lens.
Even high-quality scopes can have problems with optical clarity and color at high magnification. Larger objective lens sizes help gather more light for better light transmission.
If you are a hunter who may be tracking moving targets over long distances, you will appreciate the larger field of view afforded by a larger objective lens.
Long-distance shooting on moving targets calls for selecting a scope with at least a 50mm objective lens. A larger objective lens can make finding and tracking long-distance targets a much easier task.
Construction, Materials, and Quality Control
I always counsel anyone shopping for a scope of any type to buy the best quality and materials they can source.
I also look for scopes from known manufacturers with a solid reputation for quality control and customer service.
There are a lot of less expensive rifle scopes on the market that come from unknown and often questionable sources. You may save a bit of money, but in the long run, my experience has been negative with these scopes.
Quality control and construction are important factors when considering mounting a scope on a high-power rifle like an M1A. The recoil shock can be deadly for many scopes that aren’t built for that kind of abuse.
You may find other scopes that seem to offer a better price point, but I question the capability of these budget scopes to withstand the rigors of the .308 cartridge and field use.
When you consider the best scopes for M1A rifles, the manufacturer’s reputation is often your best guide to quality and durability. It is hard to judge the internal quality of a rifle scope. A manufacturer’s history and reputation among comparable shooters are my usual guide.
First or Second Focal Plane?
There is always a great debate about which style of scope is best, the first or second focal plane. My preference, especially on scopes with high magnification, is a first focal plane scope.
Keeping the graduations on the reticle proportional to the target as magnification changes is a great advantage at long range.
On scopes meant for short-range applications, a second focal plane scope may make sense, especially since second focal plane scopes tend to be less expensive overall.
One factor to consider is the adjustment range of the parallax setting in relation to the scope’s magnification range.
Optical Glass Quality
The optical glass used to make the lens assemblies is at the core of your rifle scope. The quality of the optical glass determines the quality of the images you see in your scope. The optical glass can determine how well the scope will perform in low light conditions and at high magnification.
The highest quality construction and design will not make poor optical glass perform better. The best scopes for M1A rifles will have top-quality optical glass that will perform equally well for long-range shooting and short-range needs. A good scope will provide you with clear and crisp images, even in low light conditions.
Eye relief in your scope can be a major factor, particularly if you consider scout scopes for M1A rifles.
Scout scopes typically are mounted well forward of the traditional scope mounting position. A scout scope usually is not a high-magnification scope. The basic design of a scout rifle makes a scout scope a bit of a specialty item.
Even a traditional scope mount requires attention to eye relief length. Your head placement when shooting is critical to accuracy, and the length of the eye relief on your scope is a part of attaining a consistent cheek weld and eye location when shooting.
Other Features To Consider
There are so many bells and whistles available from different manufacturers that it is hard to determine which may be the ones that make the best scopes for M1A rifles.
Many of these options and features come down to personal preference. These are the features and options that I consider most important:
Reticle selection is critical in a long-range scope.
Professional shooters look for many more options than long-distance hunters. One of the most popular reticle options is a bullet drop compensation reticle. Professional shooters, competitive shooters, and long-range hunters all benefit from bullet drop compensated reticle in a scope for M1A rifles.
Long-range shooters tend to favor scopes graduated in mil-dot, while most hunters choose MOA graduations. At long range, mil-dot graduations can afford more accuracy in the eyes of many competitive and precision shooters.
MOA graduations are easier for some shooters to manage since an MOA graduated scope will produce approximately one inch of change at 100 yards.
2. Parallax Adjustments
At higher magnification, you may notice that it is difficult to keep the reticle and target in focus simultaneously.
This is due to the parallax difference when the target image is on a different focal plane that the reticle image. A parallax adjustable scope allows you to solve this issue by bringing the reticle image onto the same plane as the target image.
A parallax adjustable scope is almost a must if you plan to take advantage of the distance your M1A rifle can deliver. Target shooters and anyone who hunts long-range targets understand the problems that can come from parallax errors.
The best scope for an M1A used for long extreme distances should include a parallax adjustment feature.
3. Magnification Rings
Variable magnification scopes usually have an adjustment ring near the ocular end of the scope. Better scopes will have an integrated throw lever on the adjustment ring to allow you to quickly and accurately adjust the magnification on your scope.
This small feature will become increasingly important if you hunt in extreme weather where gloves are necessary.
4. Lens Protection and Coatings
If you pay to get high-quality glass in your scope, you want to ensure that the glass is protected and delivers the best performance you can expect. Any scope for M1A rifles should have fully multi-coated lenses.
The best scopes will coat all the glass surfaces, not just those exposed to air.
5. Ocular Assemblies
The end of your rifle scope closes to your eye and contains the ocular assemblies and lenses. Several options may be important to you when you choose a scope for target shooting or hunting.
If you are like me with older eyes dependent on glasses, a fast-focus eyepiece with diopter adjustments may be high on your priority list. Ensure the diopter adjustment range is adequate for your eyesight needs.
6. Illuminated Reticle
One of the best new technologies in scope design is illuminated reticles. I highly recommend that you choose a rifle scope with an illuminated reticle. For older shooters, like me, the illumination can make a world of difference.
Most scope manufacturers now offer illuminated reticles on most of their scope models. Technology has matured, and the illumination systems are as tough as the scopes, so you needn’t worry about durability or reliability.
An illuminated reticle can give you a huge advantage, especially when you can adjust the brightness settings to match the light conditions.
7. Scope Mount
Don’t forget your scope mount.
Many shooters go to great lengths to find the perfect rifle scope only to grab the first set of scope rings they find on the store shelf.
You should consider the quality and reliability of the rings you use to mount your scope almost as closely as you consider the scope. The scope mounts ensure that your rifle and scope work together as a single unit. Poor scope rings and mounts can lead to very disappointing results from the most expensive rifle scope.
What Do I Recommend?
This really isn’t a best-of or a product review article, but most readers will wonder what I would recommend as a good scope for M1A rifles.
Without going into a lot of detail, I will give a quick rundown of the scopes that I would choose if I were shopping for a scope for M1A rifles.
Standard Issue M1A and M14 Scope
For a standard issue Springfield Armory M1A, the best general-use scope, in my opinion, is the Vortex Optics Crossfire II 3-12X56 AO SFP rifle scope.
For the money, I don’t think you can do better than these Vortex Optics scopes. These scopes are loaded with features and have the power and clarity to allow you to take your M1A rifle out to its full capabilities.
Vortex Optics scopes are fog proof, water proof and come with one of the best warranties on the market
If you are on a budget and need a scope that doesn’t wreck your wallet, consider the UTG 6-24X50 Hunter Scope AO SFP Rifle Scope.
UTG has come a long way with its rifle scope designs and quality. The glass is Chinese, but UTG sources some of the better optical glass from China. For a scope in this price range, you get features that normally are only found on scopes costing 4 or 5 times the money.
UTG warranties their scopes to be fogproof, waterproof and shockproof.
At the top of the line for your standard issue M1A rifle, I almost always recommend the Nightforce SHV 5-20X56 SFP AO rifle scope.
These are professional quality rifle scopes designed for extreme conditions that hunters may encounter in the field. The large objective lens and easy-to-adjust turrets are perfect for those long-range shoots that demand the best optical images you can get.
Nightforce is a premier scope manufacturer that goes the extra mile to ensure fogproof, waterproof, and shock-resistant operation.
Scout Rifle Scope
The Springfield M1A Scout Squad rifles demand a different type and style of a rifle scope. You need a much longer eye relief on a more compact package than most traditional scopes offer.
Most better scope manufacturers now offer scout scope models specifically for these applications.
My recommendation for most shooters using the M1A Scout Squad rifle is the Burris Scout Scope 2-7X32 rifle scope. The Burris scout scope offers great optics for short to medium range shooting.
These scopes are rugged, provide clear and sharp images, and are designed specifically as scout rifle scopes. With these scopes, you can expect eye relief up to 12 inches, giving you plenty of mounting options.
I suggest looking at the UTG 2-7X44 Scout Scope for the cost-conscious shooter. I have mentioned UTG before, and they again get my nod as the budget choice of scout scopes.
For the money, you get rugged reliability, good glass, and parallax adjustment in a scope with up to 11 inches of eye relief.
If you want to go with the best glass and top-line optical glass, you can’t do much better than the Leupold VX-Freedom 1.5-4X28 IER Scout rifle scope.
Leupold is a premier optics manufacturer. This scope is designed to meet Jeff Cooper’s ideal for a scout rifle and scope combination.
Make the Right Choice For Your Needs and Expectations
Funding the best scopes for M1A rifles can be a challenge. Finding that reliable scope for your M1A is the goal.
You may be looking for the best budget scope at an affordable price or opting to purchase the best scope for your M1A money can buy.
Whatever the case, finding the best features and options to fit your needs and expectations should be the ultimate goal.