(This is a reader-submitted review as part of our gun review contest. See details here.)
The M14 rifle is a paradox in American service rifles. It was the last wood and steel service rifle adopted by US forces, born as the jet age gave way to the space age. Some have said it was obsolete before it was adopted in 1957. It earned a reputation as a rugged and reliable warrior in the early days of the Vietnam War.
When the army began field trials of the M16 in Vietnam, many soldiers were reluctant to trade their M14’s for the new fangled “Mattel Toy.” The M14 was officially replaced by the M16 in 1967. Since then, it has clung tenaciously to a place in the American arsenal. It has continued to serve as a sniper rifle, designated marksman’s rifle, watchman’s rifle for US Navy ships in port, and with Special Forces.
In conflict after conflict, the M14 has been dusted off and put into service to do jobs that the M16/M4 cannot do. It has served American soldiers from Vietnam to the War on Terror. It was the rifle used by Sergeant Randall Shughart in the Battle of Mogadishu when he jumped from a helicopter to defend downed comrades, for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor. Despite having the second shortest career as the general issue rifle, the M14 holds the record for the longest time in service of any American military rifle.
The M14 is an evolution of legendary M1 Garand. It features a shortened Garand receiver and bolt with a simplified operating rod. The gas system was moved rearward and changed to a short stroke format. The Garand’s eight-round enbloc clip was replaced with a detachable 20-round box magazine because human wave attacks seldom come in groups of eight.
A rather complicated linkage was added to allow for select fire. Wisely the designers retained the M1’s iron sights, which are arguably the best iron sights ever installed on a military rifle. There are rails on the receiver for attaching an optics mount. Original stocks were walnut, though the army later developed a fiberglass composite stock.
It was rechambered from the venerable .30-06 to the new 7.62mm NATO round. The redesign has numerous advantages. First, an M14 with 20 rounds onboard weighs nearly the same as an M1 with eight rounds; roughly 11 pounds. Second, the box magazine and shortened gas system have moved the weight balance rearward. The M1 is a rather front-heavy rifle, while the M14 balances more naturally and handles better. Third was its select fire capability, though the M14 proved difficult to control with fully automatic fire. Finally, the M14 is a more accurate rifle, courtesy of the redesigned gas system.
Because they are select fire weapons, real M14’s are not generally available for mere mortals to own. Today a handful of companies manufacture high quality semi-automatic clones, including James River Armory (JRA) with their M14F. They begin with a new forged receiver and bolt made by Bula Forge and Machine, as well as a new barrel made by the same. All components are made using the original military specifications for steel type and hardness. The receiver is semi-automatic only and lacks the rear lug where the connector for the select fire hardware attaches. The rest of the rifle is assembled from surplus M14 parts, so you can own at least part of an authentic military weapon.
You can order the standard 22-inch barrel, or a shortened 19.25-inch barrel. Either barrel can be had with chrome lining, as is the standard military issue, or unlined for those who feel this provides better accuracy. Every rifle ships with a new canvas sling, one magazine, and a manual. The model reviewed here is a standard M14F with a 22-inch chrome lined barrel and a walnut stock.
Fit and finish on the M14F are top notch. The workmanship is equal to my original Springfield Armory M1, which is a high quality postwar example. A few tooling marks are visible on the receiver, but no more and no worse than those seen on the M1.
The Parkerizing is even on the new parts and the shade is indistinguishable from the surplus parts. The stock appears to be lightly refinished. All the original proof marks are still legible and the stock is beautiful overall. The M14F is a rifle that you can be proud to display, even though your gun buddies won’t know what it is. “Nice hunting rifle! Is that a Browning?”
The M14 is a surprisingly modular platform. A number of stock and chassis options are available that modify the ergonomics. Different chassis systems can adapt the rifle for long range or for a more tactical role. There is even a bullpup chassis available for those who feel the M14F is too American and want to give it a European flare.
Most chassis systems will accept standard AR grips and buttstocks, and also add Picatinny rails to the fore end. A number of optics mounts for the receiver are available, including fixed mounts and quick-detachable models. Replacement upper handguards that add full length rails are available. With the available accessories, you can adapt the M14F to just about any role that you would want a battle rifle to fulfill.
The field strip procedures are similar to other Garand-type rifles. The rear of the trigger guard is pulled backward to unlock it, and the entire fire control group is lifted out. The stock is lifted off the rifle, exposing the internals. The action spring and its guide rod are held in place by a captive pin. Once they are removed, the operating rod and bolt can be removed from the receiver.
The manual contains detailed disassembly, cleaning, and lubrication instructions. Because the M14F is a piston operated rifle, the major working surfaces stay fairly clean during firing. The rifle can be cleaned after a day at the range by simply opening the action and cleaning the barrel and working surfaces. Most M14 type owners only strip the rifle once per year for a detailed cleaning and lubrication, unless they shoot an excessive number of rounds or drop the rifle in a muddy bog.
The battery of arms will seem odd to someone acquainted only with modern sporting rifles, though it is simple enough.
To load, the bolt is retracted fully to the rear and the bolt hold-open catch is engaged on the left side of the receiver by pressing down on the latch. Magazines must be rocked in from front to rear. They lock in with a solid, audible click. Once the magazine is seated and the rifle is pointed in a safe direction, tug the charging handle backwards to unlatch the bolt and allow it to fly home with full force. Never ride the bolt gently forward when loading. The rifle may not go fully into battery. Besides, you look like a Boss Operator when you slingshot your bolt.
The safety is a small lever at the front of the trigger guard that is operated with the trigger finger. Moving the lever into the trigger guard engages the safety, and moving it out disengages it. Some dislike this arrangement, but I find it is intuitive and it forces you to take your finger off the trigger when manipulating the safety. The trigger is a two stage military trigger. The bolt catch engages automatically when the magazine is empty. A paddle at the rear of the magazine well releases the magazine, which is then rocked forward for removal.
Ergonomics are surprisingly good for a 60-year-old design. The safety and magazine release work equally well for left- or right-handed shooters. The charging handle favors right handers, but lefties can adapt with some practice. The rifle shoulders well and handles quickly despite its weight. You won’t mistake it for a tactical carbine, but it points and maneuvers well enough.
The iron sights are easy to align and provide a good view of the target. They are adjustable for elevation and windage, and the elevation dial is marked in hundred meter increments. The two stage trigger breaks crisply after the initial slack is taken up. It is light compared to the standard triggers in many modern sporting rifles. Reset is short and consistent, which allows fast follow-up shots. The rifle’s weight and gas system help to tame the recoil of the 7.62mm NATO cartridge.
Accuracy is excellent. I tested the rifle on the 50 yard range, rested on the bench but supported at the rear by the shooter, using iron sights. The test ammunition was surplus XM80 ball from Lake City Army Ammunition Plant. My best five-shot group was one single, cloverleaf hole with a maximum spread of 0.442 inches, which can be covered by a dime.
Based on my overall experience with the M14F, I would rate it as a 1 to 1.5 MOA rifle. This is excellent considering that I have always used XM80 ball and never match grade ammunition. The rifle is likely capable of better accuracy with better ammo, but I can only report my experience. The M14F is my rifle for club High Power matches, and it always turns in a good score if I do my part.
Reliability has been impeccable. I have shot it in the hottest and the coldest weather that Michigan can offer, ranging from the high 90s to just above zero. It has always maintained accuracy and functioned flawlessly. I keep it lubricated and clean the action, but I don’t baby it. In two years, the only malfunction I have experienced was due to my own failure to seat the magazine properly. A misaligned round jammed the bolt open. A quick pull of the charging handle ejected the round and the unlatched magazine fell free, much to my embarrassment. The rifle operated normally after the magazine was properly inserted. According to my logbook I have 450 rounds through the rifle at the time of this writing, so this should be a good indication of the reliability.
The two downsides to M14F are the price and the weight. It currently lists for $2,195.00 on JRA’s website. The M14 and its clones have always been expensive to manufacture due to the intricate machining required on the receiver and several other parts. The M14F is made completely in America, which adds to the cost over some competitors. Accessories for the M14 platform are more expensive than AR-15 parts. In fact, many chassis systems for it will set you back the price of a new AR-15. The M14F is also a heavy rifle. It handles well, but you may notice the weight if you carry it for a long distance.
Overall, the James River Armory M14F is an excellent addition to any military rifle collection. Its authentic forged construction and high quality workmanship are as close as most of us will ever get to owning a real M14. It can fill many roles, from Cold War battle rifle to a modern designated marksman’s rifle to semi-automatic sniper. In standard configuration, the M14F is legal for High Power matches. The 7.62mm NATO round qualifies it for the Heavy Metal division of 3 Gun competitions.
With optional five-round magazines it is legal for hunting in most states. Its traditional stock makes it less scary to your hoplophobic neighbors. The M14 type has escaped the ban list in some states that are cracking down on “evil assault rifles.” Forged steel parts are extremely durable, so the receiver should last through many barrels, which equates to tens of thousands of rounds. The price of entry is steep, but the value is there.
Specifications: James River Armory M14F
Chambering: 7.62mm NATO / .308 Winchester
Capacity: 20 rounds standard capacity. Other magazine sizes available
Weight: 11 lbs. with loaded 20-round magazine
Action: semi-automatic, Garand type rotating bolt
Barrel: 22 inch, 4 groove, 1-10” rifling
Sights: Post front, peep rear. Rear sight is adjustable for elevation and windage.
Quality, Fit, and Finish: * * * * *
The rifle is well constructed and solid. The working parts fit tightly and the action beds snugly into the stock. Finish on both wood and metal are well done and even.
Accuracy: * * * * *
The M14F shoots dime-sized groups at 50 yards, which is more than enough to live out your Cold War Zombie Apocalypse fantasies (on a safe range, of course).
Reliability: * * * * *
The only malfunction in two years and 450 rounds was due to my own incompetence in seating the magazine.
Ergonomics: * * * *
The rifle is well balanced. Sights are excellent. Controls are somewhat unique, but intuitive and mostly ambidextrous. The trigger breaks cleanly. If you can’t stand traditional stocks, then you will have to invest more money in a new stock. It loses half a star for that reason, and another half star for weight.
Utility and Practicality: * * * *
The M14F will do anything you want semi-automatic 7.62mm NATO rifle to do. It is well suited for mid-range shooting, and can be tuned for long range shooting with an aftermarket chassis. You probably won’t win any “Tacti-Cool Rifle of the Month” contests with it though.
Value: * * * *
The M14F is expensive as fighting rifles go. There are cheaper M14 clones, and AR-10 clones tend to be cheaper still. That said, the M14F is a fine work of American craftsmanship in steel. It carries forward the US Rifle M14’s six decade heritage of accuracy and reliability, and makes it available to civilian shooters. You get what you pay for with this rifle, but other rifles will fill the 7.62mm NATO battle rifle role for less money.
Overall: * * * *
The JRA M14F is a solid reproduction of America’s Cold War battle rifle. Its construction is authentic and as “mil spec” as you can get with an M14 clone. It is accurate, reliable, and well made. It can adapt to a variety of roles. It loses one star for being expensive and heavy, but it is worth the price of entry.