The M1A is the semi-automatic-only civilian variant of the M14 service rifle. Available in a wide variety of barrel lengths, rifling twist rates, and stock configurations, and chambered in the powerful .308 Winchester cartridge, the M1A is one of the most versatile rifles on the market. However, a rifle is only as effective as the ammunition that it fires.
So, I decided to take a closer look at the most accurate, reliable, and efficient loads for this iconic weapon in my in-depth search for the Best Ammunition for M1A Rifle.
M14/M1A — A Brief History
In 1957, the U.S. Army adopted the Springfield Armory T44E4 as the M14, replacing the M1 Garand. The M14 is a gas-operated, semi- and fully automatic infantry rifle chambered in 7.62×51mm NATO and fed from a 20-round detachable box magazine. The action is similar to that of the M1 and consists of a two-lug rotating bolt that locks into a steel receiver, actuated by a gas piston and operating rod.
The United States Army initially intended the M14 to replace several weapons, including the M3A1 submachine gun, M1918A2 Browning Automatic Rifle, M2 carbine, and M1911A1 handgun. Unfortunately, the M14 proved too heavy and difficult to control in fully automatic fire for it to fulfill the role of an all-purpose weapon.
But it was accurate, and a match-grade, telescopically sighted variant of the M14 — the M21 — entered service as a sniper rifle in 1968. This was, coincidentally, the same year that Springfield Armory — the government arsenal — closed.
In the early 1970s, Elmer Balance began building M14-pattern semi-automatic rifles for the civilian market in Texas under the Springfield Armory name, using both military surplus M14 parts and investment-cast steel receivers. In 1974, Robert Reese purchased the company from Balance, relocating the newly formed Springfield Armory, Inc., in Illinois. Springfield Armory has been manufacturing the M1A in several configurations ever since.
.308 or 7.62mm?
As the Springfield Armory M1A is chambered in .308 Winchester, it can safely fire both commercial .308 Win. and 7.62×51mm NATO ammunition.
When selecting ammunition for the M1A, it’s important to determine the appropriate rifling twist rate. Rifle Shooter provides a guide on rifling twist rates according to caliber and bullet weight. In .308-caliber rifles, twist rates of 1:10–1:12 are the most common.
How it works…
M1A Gas System and Cycle of Operation
Different ammunition types generate different pressures and pressure curves, which can affect the cycle of operating in self-loading firearms, so it’s worth understanding how the rifle’s gas system works.
The M14/M1A uses a “cut-off and expansion” gas system, which consists of a short-stroke piston enclosed by a fixed gas cylinder. The gas cylinder is located below, and parallel to, the barrel.
Burning propellant gases enter the gas cylinder and piston through a port in the barrel. These gases expand, forcing the piston to the rear 1½ inches (38.1mm), which causes it to impinge against the front of the operating rod. The operating rod, in turn, actuates the bolt and completes the reloading cycle.
During the first phase of its rearward travel, the piston “cuts off” the gas port, regulating the flow of gas into the cylinder. In the second phase, the piston clears the lower gas port, allowing all remaining gases to escape into the atmosphere.
The best ammunition for the M1A is dependent, first, on the intended use. When properly configured, the M1A is a high-performance rifle suitable for competitive target shooting, and it features prominently in Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) matches.
In Backwoods Home Magazine, Massad Ayoob praised the match-grade variant for its inherent accuracy, writing, “They are used, sometimes with iron sights instead of telescopic sights, at 1,000 yards. That’s right. One thousand yards.”
Versatile and practical…
But the M1A is not limited to national matches — it’s derived from a combat rifle, and it’s an excellent weapon for either law enforcement or private self-defense (under certain circumstances).
Finally, although primarily a tactical rifle, the M1A is well suited to hunting, especially when using 5-round magazines (both for compliance with game laws and increased ground clearance when firing prone). The .308 Winchester cartridge that it fires is one of the most effective calibers available for hunting deer, black bear, and feral pigs.
Best M1A Rifle Ammunition
1 PMC Bronze FMJ-BT 147 Grain — Best M1A Ammo for Range Training
For “breaking in” a new rifle, inexpensive range training, or recreational target shooting, commercial full metal jacket (FMJ) or military ball ammunition is ideal.
The PMC Bronze full metal jacket boat tail (FMJ-BT) load replicates the service ballistics of the 7.62×51mm NATO M80 Ball cartridge, using a 147-grain bullet. In a 24-inch test barrel, the PMC Bronze achieves a muzzle velocity of 2,780 feet per second (ft/s) and a muzzle energy of 2,522 foot-pounds force (ft-lbf).
Allowed on most ranges…
The lead bullet core is safe to fire on ranges that prohibit the use of steel, and PMC is a high-quality source of brass casings for reloading. Located in South Korea, PMC (Precision Made Cartridges) is a household name in ammunition manufacturing. Its ammo is non-corrosive and uses replaceable Boxer primers.
While FMJ ammunition is not generally recommended for civilian self-defense, it can effectively defeat light cover (if that’s a requirement). For example, the M80 Ball can perforate the NATO 3.45mm steel plate to a maximum range of 620 meters.
Using a 200-yard zero, the bullet will strike -1.5 inches at the muzzle, 1.88 above the line of sight at 100 yards, and -8.03 inches at 300 yards. At 400 yards, the drop is -23.29 inches, which increases to -47.11 at 500.
2 Federal Premium Sierra MatchKing Gold Medal 168 Grain — Best M1A Ammo for Match Shooting
The M1A is capable of super accuracy, but an accurate rifle needs accurate ammunition to realize its full potential — military ball won’t cut it. This calls for match-grade loads, optimized for consistent performance.
The Federal Premium Sierra MatchKing Gold Medal is the gold standard for precision .308-caliber ammunition, available using either 168- or 175-grain bullets. I’ve chosen the lighter of the two because of its more widespread use among competitive shooters.
The 168-grain Sierra MatchKing is a jacketed hollow point boat tail (HP-BT) bullet with a G1 ballistic coefficient of .462 (G7: .224). Federal Premium’s uniform, concentric jacket contributes to its aerodynamic efficiency, and the Gold Medal primer ensures reliable ignition.
Very impressive figures…
The advertised muzzle velocity for the 168-grain Sierra MatchKing is 2,650 ft/s, which produces 2,619 ft-lbf of muzzle energy.
When zeroed at 200 yards, the bullet will hit one inch above the line of sight at 50 yards and 2.1 at 100 before dropping to -8.9 inches at 300. Bullet drop is -25.5 inches at 400 yards and -51.5 at 500.
The difference between the 168- and 175-grain loads regarding bullet drop and wind drift is relatively minor, and in the Super Match, sub-MOA group sizes are not only possible but common.
3 Speer Gold Dot JSP 150 Grain — Best M1A Ammo for Self-Defense
A 12-gauge shotgun or .223/5.56mm carbine is generally sufficient for home defense, but for protecting a farmstead, ranch, or retreat, a full-power rifle can be a lifesaver. Although FMJ ammunition can be effective, it doesn’t reliably “upset” — i.e., yaw, expand, or fragment — thus limiting its terminal performance against soft targets. In addition, hunting bullets are not designed to penetrate sheet steel and windshield glass.
Speer developed the Gold Dot 150-grain jacketed soft point to meet the FBI standard regarding penetration when fired in a carbine-length barrel (i.e., one that is 16 inches or shorter). If you own a SOCOM 16, the Gold Dot is optimal; however, it will also cycle in the standard M1A.
Like the similarly constructed Federal Fusion, Speer applies the jacket to the pressure-formed lead core using an electroplating process. This creates a secure, uniform bond between the two components, preventing core–jacket separation. Furthermore, electroplating creates a highly concentric jacket, improving inherent accuracy.
This manufacturing method results in a durable bullet — passing through intermediate barriers has a minimal effect on the bullet’s ability to disrupt tissue. The Gold Dot can, therefore, be considered a multi-role load, suitable for either self-defense or hunting.
The Gold Dot propels its 150-grain bullet to a muzzle energy of 2,820 ft/s, generating 2,650 ft-lbf. As the Gold Dot is intended for relatively close-range engagements, Speer publishes trajectory data using a 25-yard zero. At fifty yards, the bullet will hit 0.6 inches above the line of sight, and 0.9 inches at both 75 and 100 yards.
4 Hornady Black A-MAX 155 Grain — Most Versatile M1A Ammo
Next on my rundown of the Best Ammunition for M1A Rifle, and speaking of multi-role ammunition, the Hornady Black A-MAX is primarily marketed as a target load for match shooting, but it’s also effective for anti-personnel applications. (Note: the Hornady TAP — “Tactical Application Police” — is a distinct load, but it uses the same bullet.)
The 155-grain polymer-tipped projectile reliably expands and fragments in soft tissue, creating high-volume permanent and temporary wound cavities. It also consistently meets the FBI standard for sufficient penetration (12 inches in ordnance gelatin). Furthermore, Hornady Black ammunition is optimized for use in a variety of small arms, including semi-automatic rifles.
In a 24-inch barrel, the Hornady Black A-MAX has an advertised muzzle velocity of 2,850 ft/s, generating 2,795 ft-lbf. In the 22-inch barrel of the M1A, the difference in performance should be minimal. As a match load, the A-MAX has a G1 ballistic coefficient of .435, and it’s precise, easily capable of printing group sizes of less than one inch at 100 yards.
5 Hornady Superperformance SST 150 Grain — Best M1A Ammo for Deer Hunting
The Hornady Superperformance SST (Super Shock Tip) uses Hornady’s red elastomer tip, like the A-MAX, but uses a progressive propellant charge to maximize muzzle velocity without increasing operation pressures.
Hornady notes that its Superperformance ammunition is safe to fire in gas-operated rifles; however, cycling reliability can vary, so it’s important to function-test your rifle before loading it with this ammunition. That being said, there is evidence to suggest that this load is both accurate and reliable in the M1A.
The Superperformance propels the 150-grain SST bullet to a muzzle velocity of 3,000 ft/s in a 24-inch barrel, producing a relatively flat trajectory. For example, using a 200-yard zero, the bullet drop is -6.9 inches at 300 yards, -20 at 400 yards, and -40.7 at 500. It’s also the most energetic load I tested, generating 2,997 ft-lbf at the muzzle. At 500 yards, this declines to 1,282, which is the same as that of a .223 Remington rifle at the muzzle.
Like other Hornady bullet designs, the SST uses the InterLock ring to prevent the core and jacket from separating, which is critical for achieving sufficient penetration. It’s also important for anchoring shots on game animals.
6 Federal Premium Vital Shok Trophy Bonded Tip 165 Grain — Best M1A Ammo for Hunting Bear and Pig
The previous hunting load is fast, but sometimes you need extra mass. The Trophy Bonded Tip uses a polymer insert and skived nose to promote expansion, which are typical for many modern hunting bullets, as they allow for a more aerodynamic profile.
What’s not typical is its construction, consisting of a lead core, a solid copper shank, and a nickel-plated jacket and case for corrosion resistance and increased lubricity when feeding and extracting. The bonded core and copper shank allow for deep penetration, and the 165-grain increases the bullet’s momentum. It also benefits from a high G1 ballistic coefficient — .450.
The Trophy Bonded Tip has an advertised muzzle velocity of 2,700 ft/s, producing 2,671 ft-lbf. Zeroed at 200 yards, the bullet drop is -8.6 inches at 300 yards, -24.7 at 400, and -49.9 at 500.
For more tips on tricks to bagging that hog with an M1A, check out our comprehensive look at Hog Hunting with Your M1A Rifle.
Looking for Quality Accessories or Upgrades for your M1A?
Then, check out our thoughts on the Best Check Rest for M1A, the Best M1A Cleaning Kit, the Best M1A Magazines, the Best Scout Scope for M1A, the Best M1A Bipods, or the Best M1A Stocks you can buy in 2023.
Or, if you’re thinking of adding another firearm to the gun safe, take a look at our comprehensive comparison of the Difference between M1A and M14, the M1A vs AR10, or our thoughts on the Springfield Armory M1A Tanker, the Springfield M1A SOCOM 16 CGQ Rifle, or the Springfield Armory M1A Scout Squad Rifle.
Plus, if you’re considering scope mounts, our Bassett vs Sadlak M1A Scope Mount comparison is well worth a look. Plus, why not find out some fascinating Facts About M1A Rifles to really impress your shooting buddies with?
The M1A is powerful, accurate, and reliable — everything you could ask for in a rifle. It’s also an American icon, developed during the era of steel receivers and walnut stocks. A classic, high-performance rifle requires the best ammunition on the market, and these modern loads are perfect for winning matches, surviving fights, and anchoring bucks.
As always, stay safe and happy hunting.