Of my Top Ten favorite rifles that I’ve shot and worked on in my life, the M1A has to be at the top of the list. I first used the M1A when I was assigned to the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit #1 in Fort Meade, Maryland. The unit had three sections: a competitive pistol section, of which I was a member; a competitive rifle section; and a countersniper (CS) training section.
Two senior NCOs, who had extensive experience in sniper and countersniper operations in Vietnam and ran a very popular course primarily for local law enforcement, staffed the CS section. Since I was a member of the Unit’s Pistol Team, I was able to attend the course during the off-season.
The course of fire was very well set up and ranges were fairly short, around 175 yards, since this course was primarily for law enforcement. The course lasted a week and included night firing with what was then state of the art in night vision—the AN/PVS-2. The M1As we used were all Match-grade M21s, with Match barrels, excellent triggers and glass-bedded wood stocks. Accuracy of these guns went sub-MOA for five shots at 100 yards with good ammo.
The next time I got the opportunity to see what a great rifle the M1A/M14 is, I was attending the Army National Match Gunsmithing Course at Rock Island Arsenal. Here, we were able to get into the mechanical functioning and design of the gun and how to turn the plain vanilla M14 into an extremely accurate match-grade rifle.
Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to review the Loaded M1A (LOCK & LOAD: Springfield Armory Loaded M1A, February 2016 S.W.A.T.), so I was anxious to see how the SOCOM 16 CQB configuration compared.
When the package arrived, I was pleasantly surprised to see Springfield had sent me the rifle with two stocks. The rifle was shipped wearing the MultiCam ® stock, but another stock in Flat Dark Earth was included in the box. Other stock colors are OD Green and Black.
SOCOM 16 CQB FEATURES
On first glance, the SOCOM 16 CQB’s most noticeable feature is its 16-inch barrel. The shorter barrel causes a slight loss of velocity from the .308 cartridges, but the trade-off to that shorter barrel is a gun that is lighter, more maneuverable and portable, and just as accurate. Chronograph results from my Oehler 35P were that the velocity loss is only about 60 fps from the normal length 22- inch M1A barrel.
Many shooters may think the lighter weight of the SOCOM 16 CQB rifle will cause an increase in recoil, and that would be true if it weren’t for the very effective muzzle brake installed at the factory. Combined with the gentler shooting characteristics of the system’s gas operation, the muzzle brake creates one of the softest-shooting rifles I’ve shot in some time.
The other great effect of the muzzle brake is recoil control. I shot the rifle offhand at 100 yards on a B17 silhouette target, and follow-up shots with the rifle were fast and easy. The muzzle brake does increase the muzzle blast, especially with the shorter barrel, so any shooters standing next to the rifle when it goes off will definitely know it.
The carbon steel barrel has a 1:11 right-hand twist, with the proprietary muzzle brake adding another 1½ inches or so. The overall length is a very compact 37 inches, and the weight of the rifle is 8.8 pounds unloaded.
The muzzle brake is a great addition to the rifle, but the iron sights are enhanced as well. The front sight is a .125-inch wide blade post with tritium insert. The rear sight is an enlarged military aperture sight, with a .135-inch opening that makes target acquisition fast for open-sight matches, where speed is a requirement.
Adjustment graduations on the rear sight drum are 1 MOA for both windage and elevation. The trigger on the rifle is a traditional two-stage, service-grade trigger, but still broke very cleanly at a shade over four pounds.
SOCOM 16 CQB OPTICS
As great and functional as the iron sights are on the rifle, many shooters will want to install some type of optics. The rifle includes a short section of barrel-mounted Picatinny rail.
For testing, I was able to obtain a Leupold VX-III 2.5x8x36mm LER (long eye relief) scope in matte black finish with duplex reticle and an Aimpoint Micro T-2. Mounting the Leupold on the SOCOM 16’s rail was accomplished with the excellent Leupold QR rings. This lets the shooter go from scope to iron sights very quickly if needed.
The Leupold scope features a one-inch tube made from 6061-T6 aluminum, with ¼ MOA finger click adjustments, fast-focus eyepiece, and 15 inches of eye relief. The scope performed flawlessly and would be a great addition for precision long-range operations with the rifle.
The Aimpoint Micro T-2 features front and rear flip-up covers. Multiple intensity settings include off, four night-vision compatible settings and eight daylight settings, one of which is for extra-bright sunlight conditions. The 1X, non-magnifying optic has a dot size at a very useful 2 MOA, and battery life is an incredible 50,000 hours. The optic has a hard anodized finished body and the unit is submersible to 80 feet.
With the iron sights, I can get a very good cheek weld shooting off the bench or offhand, but with either the Aimpoint or the Leupold optic, my head was positioned a little higher in order to see through the optics, so an additional riser on the comb would need to be installed. Since I didn’t have one handy, I shot the rifle as is.
Having a little space between the stock and my cheek didn’t seem to affect accuracy, but if I were entering a Heavy Metal category of a 3-Gun match, for example, it would definitely slow me down. I would have to find the reticle or dot, depending on the optic I was using.
Taking a rifle to the range is always the fun part, and this rifle didn’t disappoint. I ran the SOCOM 16 CQB through its paces with a variety of ammunition, including 155-grain Hornady Steel Match, Black Hills 168-grain, and 175-grain ABM tactical ammunition.
Since this rifle/scope combination is not designed for match shooting, I decided to use a Q target for 100 yards and a B17 silhouette for 300-yard duty. With both the Leupold and the Aimpoint, firing off the bench produced pretty good groups of 3½ to four inches with the Black Hills and Hornady ammo. The ABM came in a little tighter, producing five-shot groups of about 2½ inches at 100 yards.
I didn’t get a chance to shoot the rifle at 300 with the Leupold, but groups at 100 were excellent: under two inches. Not bad for a gas rifle with a service-grade barrel and the Leupold scope set at 2X.
Switching out targets from the Q target to the B17 and moving out to 300 yards was also fun. The Aimpoint was still effective engaging the target at that extended range. The SOCOM 16 put three shots into about two inches, with the other two shots opening the group up to about ten inches using the Hornady Steel Match ammo.
Firing the rifle off the bench was pleasant with all ammo, despite the additional blast of the muzzle brake and not having the assist of a cheek rest. The excellent Nightforce Optics 60x scope spotted all the shots. I’ve been using this spotting scope for some time, and it really helps locate those small holes at extended ranges.
The last items for this range session were a drag bag and carrying case. I secured two units for this evaluation— one from Blackhawk and one from Voodoo Tactical.
The Blackhawk case is a sniper drag bag, long-gun shooting mat, and carrying case all in one. This multi-function case features multiple pouches for range books, ammo, cleaning kits, spotting scope, and other gear. Shoulder straps allow for using the case as a backpack. The bag comes in Black, Tan or OD Green.
Voodoo Tactical makes a variety of outstanding tactical gear, including an excellent backpack/range bag/ drag bag. The case holds two long guns and two handguns, and has two long pockets for shooting sticks, bipods, or a spotting scope. Internal pockets hold ammo, cleaning gear, log books, and more ammo. Shoulder straps and a plethora of handles make this a versatile drag bag capable of carrying factory- length rifles, shotguns or a combination of rifles, shotguns and handguns with ease. It comes in Black, Coyote Tan or Woodland Camo.
The Springfield Armory M1A SOCOM 16 CQB, paired with excellent optics like the Leupold or Aimpoint, some quality ammo and a durable drag bag, makes for a combination that’s hard to beat.