Was The M14 A Lousy Service Rifle? 3 Reasons It Was...And Some It Wasn't

Ah yes, the M14. Fans say it never got the chance it deserved. Critics say it was a disaster to begin with.

The fact is that it was already out of date by the time it was adopted. It has issues that other rifles of its type...just don't have. It had issues in the field and it was kept long after its sell-by date for a host of bad reasons.

However...it also has some redeeming qualities. While the world did move on from them, a battle rifle is a fearsome weapon to be on the wrong end of. If made and used properly, the M14 can be a very capable and formidable service rifle in ways an M4 just can't.

So is the M14 a lousy service rifle? By extension, is buying a Springfield M1A just stupid? Let's talk about that.

People's Exhibit A: The M14 Was Out Of Date By The Time It Hit Production

The first reason why the M14 was a lousy service rifle is because it was basically obsolete upon arrival. It relied on an archaic operating mechanism that was only utilized because of Defense Department shenanigans.

The M14 is a magazine-fed M1 Garand, with the same gas tappet long-stroke piston system, rotating bolt and (most) controls though there are some other alterations. In 1939, that was advanced; 20 years later, when the M14 was adopted, it was behind the times.

Long-stroke systems are inherently less efficient than short-stroke or other systems, such as blowback. That's why other contemporary battle rifles of the day such as the FN FAL (short stroke) or the HK G36/G3/CETME rifle, a roller-delayed blowback system, used them.

Unless meticulously maintained, they are also less reliable.

And then there's the AR-10, which, like the G3, is far simpler and more robust than the M14's design.

Manufacturing is more complex and expensive. The M14 requires forging and milling of more components, so more tooling and expense in manufacturing than other battle rifles.

Point being, the rifle was out of date by the time it was conceived and adopted.

People's Exhibit Zero, Because The M14 Can't Hold One

An inherent issue with the M14 is that it is hot garbage when it comes to use of optics.

Most likely, someone's going to whine about "something something iron sights" and the era. Yes, that's correct; it was created in a time when iron sights were used. Except, and here's the point, optics were being added to the M14 even during the Vietnam war.

Today's rifle shooter...generally uses optics, whether that's a scope or a red dot. The M4/AR-15 platform in its modern railed receiver iteration is very accommodating of them. The M14...is not.

The first problem is that the only practical location to mount an optic is basically over the receiver. Since the M14 is self-loading, the op rod and bolt are constantly in motion in the receiver. The vibration jostles the scope mount, which causes the scope to lose zero.

Then there's the issue of bedding.

The M14 is fully set into the stock unlike commercial bolt-actions (with bedded actions) like the Remington 700 or Winchester Model 70 rifles, which have free-floating barrels.

Why does that matter? If the stock is bumped or jostled too hard...the rifle loses zero...including the handguard, which is very easily disturbed.

Granted, an M14 CAN be accurized. However, it is a painstaking and expensive process and not always successful. The complaints of needing to baby the rifle and its propensity to lose zero have continued to dog it into the present.

Oh, and wood stocks? They shrink and swell with ambient temperature and humidity, meaning you can lose zero by being outside for a while.

The Battle Rifle Concept Was Obsolete By 1947

In 1939, the "battle rifle" concept was very, very valid. In less than a decade, it wasn't anymore. In fact, it's easily arguable that by 1947, the battle rifle concept was out of date.

Typical combat engagement took place at 300 meters or less in World War II. That hasn't changed, except for certain circumstances such as combat in the mountain regions of Afghanistan.

The Germans knew that, and developed a select-fire capable carbine - the SturmGewehr 44 - chambering the 7.92x39mm Kurz ("short"), an intermediate cartridge that was effective out to that distance but had drastically less recoil than 7.92mm Mauser.

The StG 44 inspired the Russians to create the 7.62x39mm cartridge and Mikhail Kalashnikov to create the Avtomat Kalashnikova and the famous model of 1947...the AK-47.

Brilliant thing about the AK is it's effective out to about 300 meters. Recoil is light enough to fire on full-auto without too much issue, magazines hold 30 rounds instead of a measly 20, and you can carry a whole lot more ammunition.

The intermediate and/or assault rifle takes the place of the battle rifle AND the submachine gun, and will do as a LMG in a pinch. In general, it makes the individual soldier more capable.

The M14 was known for being capable in semi-auto, but all but unmanageable in full-auto; by contrast the M60 and Stoner 63 LMGs were broadly praised for their shootability. Therefore, it's less capable than an intermediate rifle.

Point being, even by that point in time, the world's militaries were catching on to the merit of intermediate cartridges and lighter, handier rifles. What the Russians caught onto very early took the United States almost 20 years to accede to.

Less recoil also typically means faster splits (follow up shots) and more accurate placement. The 7.62mm NATO produces about 17 ft-lbs of recoil energy. 7.62x39mm produces less than 10 ft-lbs. 5.56mm? About 5 ft-lbs of recoil energy.

Granted, placement matters most...but it's easier to place shots when you don't flinch.

The gun as a concept was obsolete upon adoption. The gun itself was obsolete upon adoption as a practical matter.

Let's face it. The M14 is a lousy service rifle. The prosecution...rests.

The Defense Calls The M14 Is Not As Bad As People Say

However, let's also call out the M14's virtues, as it wasn't without them. As much fun as it is to make jokes about some guns, the reality is that many have virtues worth exploring.

Except for a Taurus Judge. That does not.

What virtues DOES the M14 and by extension the M1A have?

It is, at its core, an "improved" M1 Garand. The action is rugged, so it has the potential for a long life...so long as it's well-maintained.

Guns of that era could run reliably with a boatload of grease (NOT OIL) and good care. Granted, modern gun owners seem to have this perverse joy about not maintaining their weapons, which is just stupid, but the point is that it can be reliable if you do your part.

Accuracy-wise, they're more than accurate enough for government work; 2 MOA or better with decent ammo and a good shooter is attainable.

It's true that they don't take to optics incredibly well without extensive modifications, but the problem there is that the rifle was pressed into a role - a DMR - that it wasn't suited for to begin with.

The drop at the comb of the standard rifle isn't conducive to use with an optic. However, it gives you the perfect cheek weld for using the iron sights, which - again - is what it's designed for.

The standard rifle, understood as a semi-auto rifle with iron sights, is pretty decent. The standard iron sights are good, and if properly zeroed with the right load, gives the rifle a generous effective range in good hands.

Maximum point blank range of .308/7.62mm NATO is close to 300 yards; that's a long way to not worry about holdover.

That's also about standard engagement distance in the era it was designed, meaning the typical soldier just had to zero the rifle thusly and almost never have to worry about holdover. Align sights, squeeze, repeat, find new target; that's a darn logical way to run a rifle.

And let's also acknowledge the looks. The M14 has what you might call "classical beauty." Walnut furniture, clean and pleasant lines; it's a good-looking rifle.

So really, the M14 - and therefore the M1A - is a decent rifle IF you appreciate them and if used correctly. The problem is that it was pressed into roles it could never fill, and has been roundly booed for it ever since.

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