Gun Review: Springfield Armory M1A Scout Squad

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FwI67wYVhQY

Che Guevara wore a Rolex GMT Master. He also drove a Norton motorcycle. He would have loved the Springfield Armory M1A Scout Squad rifle. Like the watch and the bike, it’s a high-quality heavyweight; a well-crafted precision instrument whose durability inspires confidence. OK, maybe not so much the Norton. And on second thought, maybe it’s a good thing that the Cuban revolutionary didn’t have 7.62 caliber Springfield Armory M1A Scout Squad. Meanwhile, lucky you.

The M1A Scout Squad is a gas-operated, magazine fed rifle built out of nearly 10 pounds of parkerized steel and walnut. With its 18-inch barrel and scout optics mount forward of the action, it’s a slightly handier version of the full size M1A: the darling of competitive shooters for generations.

The M1A’s controls are simple and robust. The charging handle’s located on the right side of the action is easy to reach, especially for left-handed shooters. The magazine release is centrally located at the rear of the magazine well. Mag changes are a simple matter of nose-in-rock-back until you feel the magazine locking into place.

The M1A’s bolt catch/release sits on the left side of the receiver. It’s the rifle’s first major ergonomic faux pas; good luck finding and operating the small release under stress. The rifle’s trigger is a breeze: a classic military two-stage affair. There’s just the right amount of take-up before you slam into a crisp, predictable five-pound break. A rifleman can use the combination to press out a shot with minimal effort.

Problem two: like its predecessor, the legendary M1 Garand, the M1A Scout Squad’s safety positioned in the front of the trigger guard. The shooter’s trigger finger has to be inside the trigger guard and in front of the trigger to take the rifle off of safety. During cold weather or (again) stress, this design requires rigorous trigger discipline. I highly advise M1A owners to install a winter trigger guard.

Our test rifle’s safety lever was also extremely stiff. Manipulating a four-year-old into eating her vegetables would have been easier. I solved the [rifle's] problem by disassembling the M1A’s trigger assembly and lightly polishing the safety’s contact surfaces. That was after a four-day practical rifle class. Without that correction, the gun’s ultra-stiff safety made for an extremely tender trigger finger.

The M1A Scout Squad’s sights rock. A fully adjustable rear military aperture teams up with a crisp front sight post. Acquiring a clear, accurate sight picture is fast and easy. Props to the generous sight radius and the .062” national match front sight post. With a bit of practice, novice shooters can hit 20” steel plates out to 500 yards with ho-hum regularity.

The Scout Squad solidly mounted optics rail sits forward of the action. High tech sight lovers can mount their choice of a Long Eye Relief (LER) or a red dot scope. Saying that, the M1A’s mount sits high. Even on the lowest rings, a red dot optic still requires a cheekpiece to maintain a proper cheek weld. To achieve the lowest possible mounting solution, it’s best to combine the M1A’s factory mount and hand guard with a full length Ultimak rail.

Though a scoped battle rifle will piss-off the purists, the Scout Squad is more accommodating to LER scopes. That’s as long as they’re forward mounted in low profile rings, allowing the scope bell to clear the hand guard. A good quality, compact scout scope on the M1A Scout’s factory mount will provide a clear sight picture—that doesn’t require a chin weld to see the crosshairs.

If you go the scope route, don’t scrimp on your glass. That $50 Leapers pistol scope will not hold its zero. Nor will you realize the M1A Scout’s true potential. A good quality LER scope will enable confident precision and snap shots. Might as well have the best of both worlds.

The Springfield’s 18” barrel is an excellent combination of barrel length and handiness. It’s good to go for both long distance accuracy and quick combat-style deployment. It’s easy to mistake the M1A’s proprietary muzzle brake for a flash suppressor—until you fire the weapon. The brake does little to reduce the flash signature of the .308 round in low light conditions.

It does, however, reduce muzzle jump. If reacquiring your target quickly for follow-up shots is a priority, the M1A’s got you (or someone else) covered. Unfortunately, for shooters either side of you, the muzzle brake also acts as a mild blast-enhancer. It’s not a pleasant experience for compatriots who find themselves in the rifle’s sonic sweet spot. [Ed: unless it is.] For the M1A shooter, the .30 caliber BOOM is immensely satisfying.

Over the course of the class, the M1A Scout Squad digested nearly 600 rounds of military ammo. That included Israeli, British,and Chilean surplus, as well as a couple of boxes of Federal Golden Eagle 150 grain hunting soft points.

The rifle fed and fired all its ammo without complaint. Well, almost. Late on day three, the dirtier Chilean surplus brass began to stick in the chamber. It failed to extract. I broke out the chamber brush and solvent and scrubbed my little heart out. Problem solved.

The M1A’s accuracy was excellent. Shooting under time pressure out to 200 yards, the Scout Squad was quick, precise and powerful. Even at extended distances of 400 yards and more, the rifle was more than capable of easily making the hits.

The Springfield Armory M1A Scout Squad gas-operated rifle tames the recoil of the 7.62 cartridge to a positively manageable level. There are no ergonomic after-effects. Just the satisfaction of working with a highly-evolved tool that does its job with deadly accuracy and dependable reliability. The M1A’s a revelation, not a revolution.

Statistics

Caliber: 7.62x51mm NATO (.308 WIN)
Barrel: 18”, 6-Groove, 1:11 Right Hand Twist, Parkerized
Front Sight: National Match .062” Military Post
Rear Sight: Military Aperture, Adjustable for Windage and Elevation
Trigger: 2 Stage Military Trigger, 5-6 lbs.
Magazines: 1-10 Round, Parkerized
Weight w/Empty Magazine: 9.3 lbs.
Length: 40.3”

Ratings (out of five)

Style * * * * *
With the combination of walnut and steel it has all the classic looks of a “rifleman’s rifle.”

Ergonomics * * * *
It shoulders, points, and handles like a dream. Loved the trigger.

Reliability * * * *
It ate everything it was fed but gets finicky about extraction if the chamber is dirty.

Customize This * * * *
It doesn’t need much, maybe a tritium front sight post and a proper flash suppressor. A good scout scope would be a worthwhile indulgence. But there’s a lot of stuff out there to choose from.

Overall Rating * * * *
Captain John will review the $1800 ArmaLite AR-10 next week. For now, if you’ve got the $1500 to spend on a bad-ass rifle, and can afford to keep her fed and happy, the M1A Scout Squad is a do-it-all kind of gun.