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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

M14: The Old Rifle the U.S. Navy SEALs Still Love

M14
120212-N-OY799-776 PACIFIC OCEAN (Feb. 12, 2012) Aviation Ordnanceman Airman Justin Fortuno fires an M-14 rifle during a live-fire exercise aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74). John C. Stennis is operating in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility while on a seven-month deployment. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kenneth Abbate/Released)

I don’t want no teenage queen/ I just want my M14 … ” Military film buffs will instantly recognize those two lines as part of a running cadence from the boot camp sequence of Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 Vietnam War film classic Full Metal Jacket. The cadence is led by the hardcore U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, in turn, portrayed by the late great real-life GySgt R. Lee Ermey. Though R. Lee was actually medically retired as a Staff Sergeant in 1972 but received an honorary promotion to Gunny in 2002. Ironically, by the time the film’s protagonist, J.T. “Joker” Davis (portrayed by Matthew Modine), and his fellow surviving recruits arrive in Vietnam just in time for the 1968 Tet Offensive, their M14 battle rifles have been supplanted by the oh-so-controversial M16. In real life, though the U.S. Army and Marine alike indeed replaced the M14 with the M16 as the standard issue infantry rifle during the course of the Vietnam War, at least one elite U.S. military unit has retained the more powerful M14: the Navy SEALs.

Birth of a Battle Rifle

The M14 battle rifle needs no introduction for hardcore military history buffs and firearms enthusiasts, but for those who are new to the subject, at least a brief rundown is in order. The weapon is a magazine-fed, gas-operated semi-automatic 7.62x51mm NATO (.308 caliber) rifle, capable of both semiautomatic and full-auto fire, with a cyclic rate of fire of 700 – 750 rounds in the latter mode. Muzzle velocity is 2,800 feet per second, while the rifle has a maximum effective range of 500 yards and a maximum overall range of 3,275 yards. The overall length of the rifle is 44.14 inches with a barrel length of 22 inches. The weapon weighs 9.2 pounds empty and 10.7 lb with a fully loaded magazine. 

The weapon was designed in 1954 and officially became the standard-issue rifle for the U.S. Armed Forces from 1959 to 1964, thus replacing the legendary M1 Garand. Over 1 million units were produced during that relatively brief span of time. 

Though General George Patton famously referred to the M1 as “the greatest battle implement ever devised,” it did have one glaring weakness: the “M-1 ping,” i.e. the rifle would eject the empty stripper clip with a loud “ping!” which sent a pretty strong signal to enemy troops that the American GI’s weapon was empty. The M14, with its detachable 20-round box magazine, eliminated that problem. The firearm provided a 150 percent increase in ammunition capacity over the WWII-era weapon. 

The M14 soon established a reputation for ruggedness and superb accuracy. Two perceived problems for infantry usage in the jungles of Vietnam were the heavy weight and lack of controllability during full-auto fire, especially compared to the M16, which could carry more rounds in a more lightweight and lower-recoiling platform. 

Serving the SEALs

However, for elite SpecOps units like the Navy SEALs, those aforementioned concerns aren’t as pressing, especially when you’re talking about specialized roles as opposed to conventional infantry usage. As noted by the NAVYSEALS.COM webpage: 

“Navy SEALs started using modified M14s as sniper rifles as early as Vietnam. They have used them in Afghanistan and Iraq, primarily as designated marksman and sniper rifles. Navy SEALs keep the M14 in inventory due to its excellent accuracy, effectiveness at long range, and strong takedown capabilities of the 7.62mm round.”

However, just like the M16/AR-15/M4 series of rifles, the SEALs’ M14s have not remained frozen in time since 1964. This is most clearly demonstrated by the latest and greatest iteration of the rifle, the Mk 14 Mod 0 Enhanced Battle Rifle (EBR). As the American Special Ops website elaborates: 

“The SEALs had been using the venerable M-14 for many years but needed a more compact and lightweight version. The result was the MK 14 Mod O Enhanced Battle Rifle. The EBR adds the following improvements to its M-14 core:

  • 18-inch barrel (M14 has a 22-inch barrel)
  • a telescopic stock
  • a pistol grip for improved ergonomics
  • new front sights
  • a folding bipod
  • a set of Picatinny rails around the barrel allow for the mounting of various accessories such as scopes, torches, laser pointing systems, etc
  • lighter materials – the EBR is constructed from lightweight aircraft alloy”

As the SEALs themselves would say, “HOOYAH!” 

Christian D. Orr has 33 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011. 

Written By

Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Omega 13

    August 1, 2022 at 11:45 am

    I’ve shot the civilian version (Ruger Mini-14) and also own a Mini-30 (shoots 7.62 x 39). Great rifles.

  2. john c black

    August 1, 2022 at 3:02 pm

    Theres not ONE recorded instance of the garand ping EVER being heard by an enemy. Much less giving away a position. I shoot one a lot. Its an old myth. A loud fart, much less sounds of battle muffle that tiny ping. M14 was select fire and could hold 30 rds as opposed to 8.

  3. cobo

    August 1, 2022 at 3:26 pm

    Not at all the same. I’ve owned the mini-14. As part of our reward for placing well with our battalion rifle team at Ft Stewart, back in the late 70’s, we got to go to the range with the M-14. Yeah, baby

  4. Bill Dalzell

    August 1, 2022 at 6:55 pm

    I used the M14 in basic training at Ft. Dix in 63 – we were told that we were the first basic training company to use the M14. After basic and AIT I was sent to Germany, middle of the Atlantic when Pres. Kennedy was shot. In Germany, both in a mechanized infantry battalion and later in a truck company I was issued an M14. On July, 4, 66 I arrived in Saigon and was again issued an M14 once again both in the transportation company in Saigon and then with the 173 Aviation Co.(Assault Helicopter) in Lai Khe. Although most units in Viet Nam were transitioning to the M16, our helicopter crews kept the M14 as infantry was the priority to get the M16 and the 7.62 X 51 was common to our M60 machine guns on the choppers.

  5. Mike Shepherd

    August 1, 2022 at 7:03 pm

    The M-14 was the first rifle that the Marine Corps put in my hands. It liked to beat me to death during the week leading up to qual day during boot camp. I had sling palsy and bruises all over my right shoulder. But I did qualify, and have developed a fondness for the beast over the years. I’ve also figured out how to shoot it without taking a beating. It goes with me regularly during deer season.

  6. William Craddock

    August 1, 2022 at 7:20 pm

    Navy Seals retention of the M-14 sounds pretty redundant when you consider the MK 12 M-16 type weapon, Seal Snipers effectively use out to 800 meters plus, with an 18″ barrel and bipod, plus an additional Suppressor attached, firing the .556 77gr. MK 262 OTM, in lieu of the normal issue M855 63gr. ammo.

  7. Stephen Mellgard

    August 1, 2022 at 8:16 pm

    The last battle rifle. I qualified marksman badge in 74 with the 16. However always wanted a 14. A few years ago I settled on a Springfield M1-A scout. Went with the traditional walnut. I absolutely love it. Not what I’d call cheap but a beautiful rifle. Still relevant in some tasks and I believe will be for some time to come.

  8. Old Desert Coyote

    August 1, 2022 at 9:42 pm

    I have a Fulton Armory M-1A (the civilian model of the M-14; no auto fire selector switch). I am also a re-loader and with some different powders and bullet combinations I have projos coming out of the Muzzle at 3000 fps.

    My problem with the M-16 has always been the bullet weight that does not allow long range lethal performance. When I converted my AR platform over to 6.8X43mm SPC and loaded it up with 110 grain projectiles ahead of H4198 I get 2700 fps. This combo will make a big Mulely buck drop like a sack of spuds at 500-600 yds. Hell I have even made a clean one shot kill on a Mulely at 800 yds but it was a clean head shot.

    All I know is if the S*it hits the fan, It is my M-1A and AR 6.8 SPC that are going in the gun rack of my Pickum up truck.

  9. Kevin Makel

    August 2, 2022 at 8:34 am

    Please stop repeating the incorrect information that the M1 rifle “ping” was a factor in combat. I’m an Army veteran and served in the Gulf War and the Iraq war. The battlefield is far too noisy for the M1 ping to be noticed. I’ve used the M1 years in competition, and even on the firing line the ping is hardly noticeable, in fact sometimes even the shooter does not hear the ping.

  10. Larry Zakreski

    August 2, 2022 at 10:48 am

    I worked with the team at M14.CA to upgrade the venerable M14 battle rifle. With the alloy M14.CA chassis, the versatility, ergonomics and accuracy were greatly improved. The resulting upgraded M14 is still a viable weapon system even today.

  11. David Wickersham

    August 2, 2022 at 12:32 pm

    In the heat of battle, the M-1 ping is rarely heard by the enemy.

  12. Donald

    August 2, 2022 at 3:45 pm

    The initial fielding of the M16 came with a 20 round magazine. So there was no round advantage. However, it is true that you could carry more rounds for the same weight.

  13. Ron Warninger

    August 2, 2022 at 9:45 pm

    Interesting article. I tried to get a M14 while in Vietnam for a sniper rifle but was denied. We ended up putting a starlight scope on a M16 but it was not accurate at very long distances. I took it on several ambush patrols but always really wanted the M14.

  14. Russ Jacks

    August 2, 2022 at 10:14 pm

    Navy Seals?? Trying to get clicks revenue?

    I Love the M-14, and many branches have used it. I was in the Marines myself.

    Not sure why Navy Seals still using it is a big deal. It’s still a potent caliber and has great accuracy.

    Who wouldn’t like a rifle like that. Navy Seals. LOL.

  15. JD

    August 2, 2022 at 11:09 pm

    Correction: the M14 has 250% increased magazine capacity over the M1 Garand. 1.5 x 8 = 12. 20/8 = 2.5

  16. Dan Brantley

    August 3, 2022 at 4:04 pm

    I just started getting used to my new Springfield Armory M1A. Traditional walnut finish with a 22’ barrel the rifle performs excellent. I’m planning on attaching a scope to use for hunting, should be a solid platform for me for years to come!

  17. Steve

    August 3, 2022 at 4:10 pm

    I’ve known a number of Marines that were in the Corps during the change over from the M-14 to the M-16. They all said they would have preferred to have their M-14 back even if they had to “hump” more weight in the field.

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