The M14 and the semi automatic variant currently sold by Springfield Armory under the name M1A have long had a popular following in the United States. Because of the long range, hard hitting potential of this rifle, there has also been a fifty plus year quest to find the best scope for the M1A rifle. Of course, the answer ranges from mild to wild, and practical to tactical. While the M14 rifle was initially designed as an infantry rifle, and as an upgrade to the venerable M1 Garand, it didn’t take long for a sniper variant to be developed.
Famous Marine sniper Carlos Hathcock carried a scoped M14 in Vietnam, and special designated marksman rifles have been built on the M14 platform for the current war on terror. It is clear that the combination of a 7.62 NATO/.308 semi auto rifle, with a scope is a winning combination, but how do you choose what scope to put on your M1A or M14 rifle? For that matter, what is t he practical difference between the two guns, and does it affect your choice of optics. The short answer to the first question is that it is complicated, and to the second is that we’ll answer that at the end of the article. But in the meantime, here are our scope recommendations.
The .308 has some serious reach out and touch something ability, so if you are looking to scope your M1A rifle, you need a scope that can also reach out. The Vortex Viper is just such a scope. With a huge, light gathering 50mm objective lens, the impressive variable 6.5-20 power magnification, and bullet proof construction, this is a long range optic for a long range rifle. There are of course downsides to such an optic. At the extreme end of magnification, the sight picture can grow fuzzy and unstable, while the 50mm objective lens requires extra tall mounting rings. It’s a bit of an ungainly optic to carry in the woods hunting, so it’s most suitable for benchrest shooting and such. But within that realm, it is pretty hard to beat without spending two times the price. Which brings us to the other fine point about the Vortex Viper- it’s affordable. At a bit under $500, it isn’t cheap, but it is a great way to get into the long distance shooting game without spending as much or more as your rifle.
- Excellent long range optic
- Reasonably priced
- High quality, use it nearly anywhere construction
- Not ideal for casual shooting or common hunting tasks
- Large size could be awkward out in the field
- 50mm objective lens requires special rings
Now here is a slick scope for your M14 or M1A. The Nikon P-308 is built around a special ballistic drop compensation reticle that is calibrated for a 168 grain .308 or 7.62 NATO bullet moving at a bit over 2600 feet per second. This BDC reticle allows you to quickly adjust your aim for known distances. While BDC reticles work best with the ammo and barrel length they were calibrated for, they can be made to work with most any rifle as long as you take the time to figure out where your shots land. One might say a BDC scope is as much an art as a science… At any rate, BDC reticle aside, this is a great M1A scope, simply because it is a Nikon product. Built to be water, fog and shock proof, the P-308 features high quality glass treated with a unique optical coating which allows for increased light transmission and greater image clarity. The 4-12 power magnification is ideal for anything other than the longest range target shooting, while the 40mm objective lens is a standard size that again, works for most anything outside of extreme distances. This is a scope built for the most common shooting tasks a person might use their M14/M1A for, and it does a marvelous job at it.
- Reasonably priced- usually well under $250
- BDC reticle allows for rapid target acquisition and range compensation
- Built for nearly all common shooting tasks
- BDC reticle works best with rifles and ammo similar to that which it was calibrated for
- May not be suitable for very long range shooting
- Not built for extreme duty/tactical environments
“Cheap” and “M14/M1A” are not two concepts that should ever go together. When looking for a scope for your $1000 plus rifle, you really don’t want to cheap out- nor should you. However, there is always somebody who thinks the best M1A scope is also the one that they can cheap out on. Heck, I’ve been there, sometimes after buying a nice rifle, you can’t wait to save for good glass, and run with something that will basically do the job. Whatever your reasons, the Bushnell Banner is about as cheap as I’d go on an M14/M1A and still expect it to do the job. Now that job won’t be long range sub MOA shooting, but it will work just fine for minute of game animal, which is about all this thing is built for. It’s a basic 3-9×40 scope. There are ten zillion similar scopes on American hunting rifles, and yeah, if you really want to, go ahead and toss it on top of your M14. And really, it isn’t all that bad. Fogproof, 1/4MOA adjustable, has a nice fast focus eyepiece, and will pretty much work. Don’t expect miracles from it, and if you absolutely have to have a sub $100 scope, this is it.
- Less than $100
- Classic 3-9×40 configuration
- Suitable for casual shooting and hunting
- It’s less than $100- at some point you do get what you pay for
- Not suitable for precision shooting
- Not suitable for long range shooting
There are a lot of “best scope for the M14” out there. In fact there are probably hundreds of them. Some are extremely expensive, and some are quietly affordable for what they are. The Leupold VX-3i is one of them. This scope was chosen because it offered the perfect blend of long range potential, American craftsmanship, and affordable price. With 3.5-10 power magnification, you can use this for most any shooting task you might have for your M1A or M14, and the large 50mm objective lens gives you a brilliant, large sight picture. And because it’s a Leupold, you know it is built to hunt or shoot anywhere you might want to go. Unless I was looking for a strictly benchrest optic, this might be the ideal all purpose M1A/M14 optic. It has enough magnification to really work the limits of most .308 rounds, while still being suitable for sub hundred yard deer hunting. Clocking in at under $500, it’s a fairly affordable scope as well. A classic American rifle deserves a classic American scope, and the Leupold VX-3i is just that scope.
- Leupold quality and warranty
- Suitable for all but the most extreme shooting tasks
- Extremely affordable for the type and design
- Large objective lens may not suit all shooters
- May be too expensive for a budget build
- Magnification may be too low for longest distance shots
Since the introduction of the M14 rifle, people have tried to find an ideal solution to mounting a scope on it. Since it is based off the M1 Garand design, it is a fact that scope mounting was an afterthought, and various schemes of differing success have been tried throughout the years. Fortunately, that twin genius of capitalism and American ingenuity have given us several fine scope mounts for the M14/M1A. The Sadlak Industries mount draws inspiration from one of the most successful designs, refines it a bit, and then offers it in lightweight aluminum. By their own admission, this makes it unsuitable for the most demanding combat uses, but the intended market is literally everyone else, so that puts it squarely in the realm of “best M14/M1A scope mount” in my book. If you need a combat capable steel mount, you probably already know where to find one- or the government is going to buy it for you anyway. For everyone else, Sadlak Industries has you covered.
- Probably the best quality M14/M1A mount on the market
- No gunsmithing install
- Lightweight aluminum
- Not intended for combat operations
- Somewhat expensive- there are cheaper, albeit not as advanced mounts out there
- Some rifles may bounce brass off the mount
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M14, M1A, What’s the Difference?
Well, not much. Properly speaking, the M14 is the military issue, select fire 7.62 NATO rifle which was used in the early part of the Vietnam War, and remains in use today as Designated Marksman rifles. Because of the traditional look, and powerful 7.62 NATO round, the M14 has something of a cult following, which has spawned many successful commercial imitators. In some cases, those rifles were also sold or casually referred to as M14’s, but Springfield Armory’s successful semi auto rifles have made a name for themselves under the trade name M1A. So in short- the M14 is either a lazy way of describing a civilian copy of a military rifle, or a real military rifle, while the M1A is Springfield Armory’s line of civilian M14 variants.
Choosing the Best Scope
This is always the fun part. Or the hard part. Regardless of if you are running an old Norinco M14 from the 1980’s, or just picked up a brand new M1A variant, picking the best scope for it can be an art, or a cold, unfeeling science. While the rifles may be mostly the same, the users, and intended uses are not as interchangeable.
If you are feeling cheap, your choices are mostly made for you- you can really cheap out and go with the Bushnell Banner we looked at, and accept that you are relegated to mostly decent weather hunting and shooting within several hundred yards, and you’ll probably never get the most accuracy out of your rifle. Or you can step up and grab a Nikon P-308, which opens you up to entirely new worlds of possibility. There is no magic formula for pricing a scope, but when dealing with a rifle like the M1A, you should probably stick to three figures and better on your glass.
If you want to play the reach out and touch somebody or something game, there are also plenty of scopes to choose from. Here, there is no suitable way to cheap out. You can choose from garbage which we didn’t bother reviewing, or varying degrees of higher cost, all the way up to exceeding the price of your rifle (which we also didn’t look at). Here you can choose between a reasonably priced Leupold VX-3i, or the similarly priced Vortex Viper. Honestly, you could practically flip a coin between those two. One might theorize that the Vortex being imported can pack more bang for the buck into a similar priced optic, and indeed it does offer greater magnification, but unless you are working at ranges testing the practical limits of the .308, do you really need it? Call me old fashioned, but I like American made glass when I can, and in this case, if you don’t need to extra magnification of the Vortex, I’d stick with Leupold.
There are a lot of rifles built around the M14 platform. And a lot of people using them for everything from match target shooting, to casual hunting, or tactical use. Each rifle, and each person using the rifle comes with their own unique set of requirements and desires. Choosing a scope becomes a personalized task, and one that must be done with great deliberation. Maybe the wrong scope only causes you to miss a shot at a paper target, or it may be all that stands between you, and a dangerous criminal in a tense home defense situation- or a predator animal. In each case, you must be certain that you made the correct choice in selecting your rifle scope.
The M14 and various civilian derivatives have been popular with American soldiers, hunters, target shooters, and law enforcement since 1959. In that time, all manner of scoped rifles have been built, experimented with, and refined. Today, the M14 is used in the War on Terror, and M1A rifles take their rightful places in match competition and hunting large North American game. This venerable design will still be going strong in 2059, and you owe it to your rifle, yourself and your children and grandchildren to select a scope that will also be going strong then as well. We’ve shown you some of the absolute best M14 or M1A scopes on the market right now. The only real question is which one will you choose for your rifle?