Springfield Armory M1A Underlever Pellet Rifle: Part 1
by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier
This report covers:
- What is the M14?
- M14 magazine
- The pellet rifle
- Cocking and the safety
- Safety is manual
The Springfield Armory M1A Underlever Pellet Rifle is here! This is the air rifle many of you have been waiting for, and mine just arrived. Let’s take a look.
What is the M14?
The M14 is a U.S. battle rifle that was the primary personal rifle from 1958 until 1968. It was the successor to the M1 Garand (U.S. Rifle caliber .30 M1) that was the U.S. battle rifle from 1936 until being replaced by the M14 in March of 1958. Where the Garand was semiautomatic only, the M14 was made to be a select-fire rifle, though not that many of them were ever set up that way. It took some training and skill to control the rifle in the full-auto mode, because the recoil of the 7.62X51 mm cartridge was substantial. Because of the rifle’s look many assumed it was another BAR, but at only half the weight, it wasn’t.
It just so happens that old B.B. Pelletier qualified expert on the M14, which gave him the opportunity to qualify (expert again, mostly due to luck) on the brand-new M16. Most M16s and their ammo were being sent to Vietnam in 1968 when I qualified in basic training at ROTC summer camp in Fort Lewis, Washington. They had limited rifles and ammo, so only those who qualified expert with the M14 got to qualify with the M16.
From that experience I can tell you this — the M14 was a real battle rifle. The M16 that I shot was an underdeveloped toy — at least at that time! Time and further development have turned the M16 platform into a proven battle rifle, BUT — the M14 lingers on in U.S. military service as a special rifle when certain things are required. Its 7.62X51 mm round (military version of the .308 Winchester) hits harder and more accurately at longer ranges than the 5.56 mm round of the M16.
The biggest difference between the Garand and the M14 was the M14’s 20-round magazine. The Garand has an 8-shot magazine that’s built into the rifle. It is very difficult to add cartridges to that mag while it’s still loaded. When the last round is ejected the en bloc clip — a steel spring that holds the eight .30-06 rounds together, also comes out of the rifle with a distinctive ping. There is a rumor that the enemy would wait to hear the ping and then attack, knowing that the soldier was reloading, but that was just a myth. Nobody could hear that ping in the noise of combat unless there were extraordinary circumstances.
The M14’s 20-round magazine can be removed at any time and topped off. Or leave it in the rifle and load it with stripper clips that connect to the top of the rifle’s receiver, similar to the way the K98 Mauser rifle is loaded. Either way it’s far easier to top off an M14 than reload the Garand. Oldtimers can tell the difference between the Garand and the M14 by the magazine of the latter that hangs down.
So why is there an M1A? It’s because American civilians cannot own fully automatic weapons without going through special legal procedures and I’m not certain that an M14 ever qualified for those. Since any M14 could potentially be converted to full auto, it was a special case that had to be dealt with individually. To satisfy the need for a civilian rifle to compete in military matches, the M1A was born. It’s almost identical to the M14, except it cannot receive the parts to make it full auto without modifications.
The M1A pellet rifle
And that background brings us to today’s topic, the Springfield Armory M1A Underlever Pellet Rifle. It is licensed by Springfield Armory, but it was developed under joint cooperation with the folks at Air Venturi. Springfield Armory is the company that brought the M1A to the world in 1974.
Springfield Armory offers the full-sized M1A firearm with a walnut stock. And that is the first difference knowledgeable shooters will notice about the pellet rifle. The stock on this underlever is made from some kind of Asian hardwood that resembles beech. The finish is a very matte dark brown. The upper handguard is a brown synthetic that resembles the fiberglass handguard on the firearm.
This is an underlever air rifle, and no, it’s not a reskinned Diana 460 Magnum. You would never get it for a retail of $200 if it was. It’s similar to the Diana in several ways because both rifles are underlevers, but it’s also far from a direct copy.
This rifle comes in both .177 and .22 calibers. I asked to test the .22 because of the power output (1,000 f.p.s. in .177 and 800 f.p.s. in .22), as well as for easier loading. More on that in a bit.
I sat in on a design discussion with Air Venturi at the SHOT Show this year. The rifle was almost complete, but I was asked for my input. I have to admit I was blown away by the realism of the rifle! I was told they wanted to keep the retail price at $200, so the folding metal buttplate that is so characteristic of an M14 was not an option. It looks like the buttplate on this rifle folds, but it doesn’t. Shooters unfamiliar with the M14 won’t miss it, and there are more of them around than us old silverbacks. There is a rubber pad on the butt to keep the rifle firmly on your shoulder.
The underlever has an extension rod that pulls out to increase the leverage. And, what is so neat is you can leave it pulled out because the designers made the extension fit into the bottom of the muzzle brake/front sight assembly when the lever is stored.
Cocking and the safety
The M1A cocks with 35 lbs. of effort, according to the description. You know I will check that for you. I do use the extended lever to cock the rifle.
But there is more to cocking. I test-fired the rifle the first time and it shot well. But it wouldn’t cock for me on the next try. I tried it many times. Each time I felt the sear slipping off as I relaxed pressure on the cocking lever. This was confusing until I looked at the safety. It works in the reverse direction of an M1A, M14 or M1 Garand safety. Pull it back into the triggerguard to make the rifle ready to fire and push it forward through the triggerguard to make the rifle safe. I had been working it backwards! And that was apparently what kept the rifle from cocking.
Once I cycled the safety on and off again several times and then pulled it back towards the trigger to make the rifle ready to fire, the cocking problem was gone. I tell you this in case anyone who is familiar with an M1A, Garand or M14 makes the same mistake.
Safety is manual
The safety is manual. It stays where it’s put until you move it. And that’s the way we like it! Let the shooter be responsible for his own safety. With the cocking effort it’s unlikely that a child will cock this rifle. So long as the shooter has been trained in proper gun handling techniques and practices them, everything should be fine.
When the rifle is cocked the upper handguard slides forward to expose the loading port. I have normal-sized hands for an adult and I find this rifle somewhat difficult to load. The trick is to balance it on your knee or on a table with the muzzle pointing straight up. The pellet can then be balanced on your thumb for loading. It isn’t perfect, but you soon grow accustomed to it. I suspect that loading will be more difficult for people with sausage fingers.
I will end this report here but there is much more introduction to come in part 2. At that time I will discuss and show the sights, the scope mount that comes with the rifle, the trigger and more details about this fascinating new spring-piston air rifle. We will start testing velocity in part 3.
The Springfield Armory M1A pellet rifle is many things. It’s a lookalike airgun. It’s a spring-piston rifle that’s hopefully very accurate. It has good power so it can be used for some hunting. It has adjustable sights plus a scope mount. And all of this comes to you at a fantastic price! With the holidays coming I would watch this blog and perhaps put this one on my short list!