By Payton Miller, GUNS Magazine
Springfield Armory’s SOCOM 16 is heir to a service rifle platform, a platform which began looking better in retrospect almost as soon as it gave way to “The Next Big Thing.” But before we deal with it, let’s take a brief look back.
A funny thing happened to the M14 on its way to obsolescence following the Stoner-designed M16’s coming-out party back in 1962.
Despite the fact the M16 (and short M4) is still the main service rifle—and has been for longer than any other US service rifle in our history—the M14 never really went away and is still in service today, on the battlefield and at the range.
The rifle—essentially a “re-calibrated” (.30-06 to .308) detachable-box-magazine take on Garand’s legendary M1—has maintained a mystical hold on American shooters, military and civilian.
From Beretta’s BM-59 family and Ruger’s Mini-14 and Mini-30, the basic platform has more than proven its continuing viability in many makes, models and calibers. It’s a great system, with virtues going well beyond a simple “it’s a .30, not a .22” argument (which is, in itself, more than enough for some folks).
No company has done more to keep the flame burning than Springfield Armory. The company’s semi-auto M1A series covers the original military M14 template in many forms—from Standard through National Match to M21 Tactical.
But we’re going to take a look at the SOCOM 16—a lighter, shorter version featuring synthetic furniture and a 16-1/4-inch barrel. The SOCOM namesake acronym, incidentally, comes from “United States Special Operations Command,” a DoD entity charged with anti-terrorist operations.
In several aspects, the SOCOM 16 addresses the late Jeff Cooper’s recipe for the Scout Rifle concept, specifically the provision for a forward-mounted, long-eye relief scope—the .308 chambering, and the fact it’s slightly under a meter in overall length. Cooper, of course, envisioned a bolt-action platform, which ultimately turned out to be what his project remained when it was finally realized commercially by Steyr (and later by facsimiles from Savage and Ruger).
The barrel is 16-1/4 inches—a bit of length to spare above the ATF-minimum requirements. The shorter barrel has, as you might guess, necessitated two features. One addresses functional reliability. The other tackles the issue of shooter comfort. First off, the gas system has been revamped—given a larger gas port—for efficient functioning in a truncated barrel. Secondly, the SOCOM 16 features a flash suppressor/muzzlebrake to deal with the inevitable blast and bright lights resulting from firing a 16-inch barreled .308.
I can’t speak for military/LE users, but most civilian shooters (and their nearest bench neighbors at the range) really aren’t all that concerned about recoil in a close-to-9-pound, gas-operated .308. Noise and muzzle flash, however, are another matter.
Leupold’s VX-R 1.5-5×33 Scout Scope helped get the most out of the SOCOM 16.
You can make those 1/4-minute click adjustments with your fingers—no dimes,
screwdrivers or Swiss Army knives required.
When my shooting buddy, Thomas Mackie and I took the SOCOM 16 to the range we were blessed with an embarrassment of riches in regard to sighting options. Our major player in this regard was slated to be Leupold’s VX-R 1.5-5×33 Scout Scope with Warne QD rings. We also had a Trijicon SRS02 Reflex Sight with an exceptionally nifty integral quick-detach mount. Both items are ridiculously easy to install on the SOCOM’s forward rail. Of course, there were also the issue aperture sights, which although excellent, aren’t ideal for trying to discover the rifle’s full capabilities in regards to trying to shoot groups as small as we (not the rifle) were capable of. The front XS post, which has a tritium insert, is a bit broad-beamed for that sort of thing. Well, at least for aging eyes it is!
Both the Scout Scope and the Trijicon are designed to be situated far ahead of where a conventional scope would sit. Shooting with both eyes open is, of course, the best way to manage a standard 3-9X variable with 3 or 4 inches of eye relief, but it’s really downright mandatory when you double or triple the distance.
To be straight, neither Thomas nor I had much experience with the forward-mounted scope concept. He’s pretty much an iron-sight kind of guy and most of my optical adventures have been with conventional, “up-close” glass.
Once we had the Scout Scope reasonably dialed in, we took it off the rail, then remounted it to see if we could see any appreciable change in point of impact at 100 yards, using the 165-grain Fusion—the load turning in the tightest 3-shot groups. We found the change to be just under 2 inches to the right and about an 1-1/2 inches lower. In other words, in normal field conditions at yardages you’d be using a short-barreled .308, you’d still be good to go. The Scout Scope, incidentally, features the Fire Dot illuminated reticle for low-light conditions. Because it was a bright early spring day, we didn’t use it.
Our test sample SOCOM 16 came with a single 5-round magazine, which performed like a champ, putting to rest our often-well-grounded fears about going to the range with a single magazine. Some folks will, no doubt, want a higher capacity 10- or 20-rounder. But a 5-shot comes about as close as you’re going to get to the rounded, “projection-less” lines of an M1. And it’s a heck of a lot easier to manage when shooting off a bench.
Three of the loads we’d brought shot at—or darn close to—an inch. The heavier 175-grain Gold Medal Match stuff didn’t do as well, but since most guys will probably be using stuff in the 147- to 165-grain weight range for this rifle, I wouldn’t get disappointed there. Besides, a different style of heavier projectile might’ve turned out to be a real winner.
We then tried our hand at things with the Trijicon reflex sight (which operates on AA alkaline or lithium batteries). Although it is really not intended for shooting teeny tiny groups at 100 yards, it proved surprisingly effective once we turned the intensity down far enough on the 1-3/4 MOA red dot to the point where it appeared as more of a pinprick than a bright crimson ball. We tried a couple of 5-shot groups with the American Eagle 150’s and managed to keep them all around 3 inches. The SRS02 is fast, fast, fast when it comes to getting on target—or switching rapidly to a different one. Once we got used to it we were happily smacking silhouettes offhand to the point where we had to stop ourselves from dipping too far into the ammo supply we’d reserved for the chronograph.
Thomas brought along his 22-inch barreled M1A for the express purpose of finding out how the truncated barrel of the SOCOM affected velocity. So we tried two of our faster loads with it as well—American Eagle and Outback 150-grain. The M1A averaged 145 fps higher with the American Eagle and 125 fps faster with the Outback stuff. The extreme spread with the longer barrel was a bit better as well—26 fps vs. 31 fps for the American Eagle and 35 fps vs. 59 fps with the Outback.
The fact that a near 6-inch barrel length difference only cost an average of 135 fps with both loads we tried is, in itself, a tribute to the relative efficiency of the .308 in short-barreled rifles (heck, we’re talking about 22-1/2 fps per inch). If you think that kind of drop-off is totally unthinkable, hack 6 inches off the barrel of your pet .270 and see what happens.
The trigger pull on the SOCOM 16 was a hair under 5 pounds with a bit of take-up, but smooth, clean and consistent with no hitches, glitches or grittiness.
Next, Shooting The SOCOM