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Loading for the M1 & M14/M1A rifles
By Tim Siewert
I recently received a phone call from an acquaintance about loading for the M1 Garand rifle.
I have been loading ammo and shooting both M1s and M1As for well over 30 years. That phone call and a recent Facebook post on a good friend’s page have prompted me to write this. Before I go any further I need to point out that “M1A” is a registered trademark name for a Springfield Armory® made M14 clone. Springfield Armory® is a civilian, commercial manufacturer based in Geneseo Illinois. There are other civilian, commercial manufacturers of M14 clone rifles. They have even been made by Norinco in China.
Let me start with the M1. The basics: the M1 was made from 1936-1954. Over 6M were made. Except for a handful made for the Navy and the government trails to replace the M1, all rifles were chambered for the .30 caliber government cartridge of 1906 commonly referred to as the 30-06. That handful of Navy and other rifles were chambered for the 7.62 NATO cartridge.
First, never shoot commercial 30-06 sporting ammunition in an M1; this practice could result in bending the rifle’s op-rod. Commercial 30-06 sporting ammo is loaded to different specs compared to military ammo. Only shoot military surplus ball or match ammo in an M1; or commercial ball or match ammo that is marked specifically for use in the M1 rifle.
Next, the M1 is a little finicky when it comes to handloads and what powders are suitable. Again, the reason for this is the op-rod. Only certain powders with a specific burning pressure curve can be used when loading ammo for the M1. I would like to point out here that Dupont IMR 4895 is not identical to mil-spec 4895; which was the powder used in U.S. government ammo during WWII and the Korean conflict. The IMR powder that most closely duplicates mil-spec 4895’s pressure curve is IMR 4064. IMR 4895 can be used as well as H4895 but I advise reducing the powder charge by 5% for safety. AA2520, Win760, and VV N140 can also be used but I have had the best results overall with IMR 4064 and consequently use 4064 exclusively for M1 ammo. 49.0 grains of IMR 4064 with the 175 gr. Sierra MK will duplicate M72 match ballistics. 50.0 gr. of IMR 4064 and any 150 gr. FMJ bullet will give you M2 ball ballistics. Use match primers for match ammo and standard primers for ball. Do not use any bullets heavier than 180 gr. in the M1. As far as brass is concerned, after extensive research I have determined that Remington brass is the same as military brass. Other makes of commercial brass are different though; usually on the light side. Mil-spec 30-06 cases are to weigh 180gr.-200gr (and usually closer to 200 than 180) each and so do Remington cases. Use this weight to check your brass. Finally, overall cartridge length can not exceed 3.34” for proper functioning in the M1 rifle. O.C.L. will affect accuracy in the M1 along with barrel erosion, gas port erosion, and excess muzzle wear (use a bore guide when cleaning the barrel). Another thing that will affect accuracy in the M1 is the cleanliness of the gas system; including the end of the op-rod. Carbon fouling will accumulate on the end of the op-rod.
Everybody should understand that when it comes to accuracy, M1s vary considerably. A standard issue M1 was only required to shoot to 4 M.O.A. with ball ammo for it to pass inspection. M72 match ammo specs were 2 M.O.A. in the M1. Granted, the M1 can be accurized. Usually this entails a match grade barrel, sights, match tuned trigger, and glass bedding the action. The government did have NM (national match) marked op-rods but these are very hard to find and installing one in a rifle does not guarantee that it will improve a specific rifle’s accuracy. There are after-market adjustable gas plugs for the gas system. These are intended to be used to tune the gas system to a particular load in the rifle it is installed.
This concludes the M1; now the M1A/M14; my favorite rifle.
I have loaded and shot 10s of thousands of rounds of ammo through M1As. The M1A/M14 is more flexible when it comes to handloads as opposed to the M1. I believe that the M14 is the finest battle rifle ever designed. It is rugged, dependable, and can be tuned to be very accurate. I own a match grade M1A that will shoot sub M.O.A. all day long at 600 yards and beyond.
Accurizing an M14 entails a little more than an M1. To go all out would include: match grade S.S. oversized barrel; NM sights; double lugging and glass bedding the action in an oversized stock; tuning the trigger; TiN coated, adjustable gas piston; boring the flash-suppressor, and finally using only GI-spec internal parts. There are a lot of commercial made M14 clones that do not have GI-spec bolts, firing pins, extractors, trigger groups, op-rods, op-rod springs, etc.; this is important. Also, the receivers are not GI-spec. Many commercial made M14 clones are built with cast receivers and cast internal parts, this practice may be safe for a new rifle and the occasional shooter may not realize any difference. But cast receivers do not last as long as forged ones and cast internal parts do last as long as machined and hardened parts. The original GI specification for the M14 receiver was an 8640 steel forging; the same as the M1 Garand. Springfield Armory used 8620 forgings for many years and these were great. There is very little difference between the two steels; my M1A was made in 1987 and is on its’ third barrel. About the mid 1990s Springfield changed to a cast receiver. Some other manufacturers also use cast receivers. I strongly advise anyone in the market for an M14 clone rifle to buy one with a forged receiver; also if you can find GI surplus internal parts use them as well.
As I wrote previously, the M14 is more flexible when loading ammo for it. You can use commercial sporting ammo as well but I don’t recommend it. There are a number of medium burn rate powders that work well in the M14. IMR 4895 and 4064; H4895, BL-C(2), and Varget; RL-15; VV N140 and N540; all of these powders I have tried with varied results. I have realized good results with military surplus WC846; 46.0 gr. WC846 and any 150 gr. FMJ will duplicate M80 ball performance. M852 match can be duplicated with 168 gr. Sierra MKs and 42.5 gr. of IMR 4895 or H 4895 and Federal 210M primers. I have also loaded the 175 gr. Sierra MK with the same powder charge with good results. I have used up to 190 gr. bullets in my M1A; the 190 gr. Sierra MK and 41.0 gr. of RL-15 was my 600 yard load for a while; 190 gr. bullets are the max with only 22 inches of barrel on the gun. I do have a .308 bolt gun with a 28” barrel and have used 200 gr. bullets in that rifle with good results. O.C.L. for ammo loaded for the M14 can not exceed 2.80”.
Before the government/army developed M852 match ammo, they were loading M118 “special ball” with a 174 gr. FMJ boat-tail bullet for use in the M14. They have since resurrected M118 but now load a 175 gr. Sierra MK instead and have dubbed this “OTM” ammo for “open-tipped-match”. Many are of the misconception that the original M118 along with the 174 gr. bullet was developed for the M14. M118 was developed for the M14 but the main reason why the 174 gr. bullet was originally used in M118 was the government had literally tons of the 174 gr. FMJs left over from M72 supplies. The government being the cheap-ass organization that it is sometimes used up the surplus 174 gr. bullets and then developed M852 with the 168 gr. HPBT match bullet. The performance of the 168 gr. bullet exceeds that of any 174/175 gr. bullet; 168 gr. is the optimum bullet weight for the M14 in 7.62/.308 caliber. The optimum twist for the M14 is 1 turn in 10”. GI barrels are 1 in 12”. I have known a few shooters that had 1 in 11” barrels in their rifles and they reported very good performance with that twist rate.
I know many shooters that swear by Federal match 308 ammo for their M14s. Personally, I think Federal’s product is over-priced and over-rated. Especially considering that their brass doesn’t last very long; maybe one or two reloads at the most. I have also had poor success with Hornady brass; I think it is made in the same factory as Federal. I always use Federal match 210M primers though for match ammo regardless of caliber. As far as bullets in general are concerned, I do not always use Sierra unlike many of my fellow high-power shooters. I have also had good success with Nosler match bullets. As far as FMJs to duplicate ball ammo I like Hornadys. Regardless of what rifle I am loading for, I always use Moly-coated bullets. I perform this operation myself and have a chapter dedicated to covering this in detail in my second book. Moly-coating of bullets has three benefits: increased barrel life, efficiency (increased velocity without increased pressure and powder usage), and ease of cleaning; and no down-side other than cost as accuracy is unaffected.
These are my thoughts about loading ammo for the M1 and M14/M1A rifles. Any loading manual has a plethora of info about the 30-06 and 7.62/.308 cartridges as well and some recent editions now have specific sections just for these rifles. F.Y.I. some recent editions of loading manuals also have specific sections for loading 5.56/.223 ammo for use in the M16/AR15 rifles.