Few if any rifles have ever been as versatile on the battlefield as the M1A and that translates to a very versatile rifle for civilian use. Whether you want an amazing scout rifle setup or to step up your long range game with a national match model, you will need the best scope for the M1A model you prefer. From the SOCOM to the Super Match, few rifles will ever beat this .308 powered beast.
Of course, the versatility leads to a conundrum. Do you want an M1A that is set up for close quarters or short range or do you want to get closer to that 800-yard range that the .308 is known for? Each will require a different type of scope to be at its most effective. Its decisions like this that will have to be made before you pick out a scope.
Whatever purpose you choose, there is no doubt that the M1A is a fine rifle, one of the best in fact. If it weren’t for the weight, it would probably be the primary battle rifle of this country. It has been used effectively as a designated marksman rifle and a sniper platform and can handle each with equal ease. Figure out what you want your rifle to do, and we will help you sort out your optics.
- An M1A Scope Buyers Guide
- An M1A Scope Buyers Table
- M1A Scope Tips
An M1A Scope Buyers Guide
Once you know if you want your rifle to be more like a Super Match that gives you a fighting chance at those 1000 yard targets or a SOCOM model that really dishes out the power in close range shooting, then you can start weeding down what you really want using the points below. There is always the middle ground if you are looking for a little bit of everything.
Magnification on a scope is the reason we want one so its likely the foremost decision in your mind. Don’t neglect the other aspects of your optic just for a super-powered optic, you will regret that decision. The key with magnification is moderation. Do just go big right off the bat when you can get an optic that will perform up to your expectation without compromising the other points in this section.
A good starting point for magnification is something in the 3-9x or 4-10x. This gives you a good middle ground that will allow you to shoot close range without much difficulty but get out to ranges in excess of 500 yards. Most military scopes are a max of 10x and regularly shoot out to 800 or more. The number one issue that people run into is too much magnification.
If that is the middle ground, a scout scope would be one end of the spectrum. Something that maxes out around at 4 or 5 power that would do great from very close ranges out to 300+ yards depending on your skill. These are a more affordable option and often work out quite well on a carbine model M1A like the scout.
The other far end of the spectrum are those scopes that aim toward the 1000 yard game. If you are going to make the most of an optic setup for that range, you better opt for a very high-quality M1A like the National Match or Super Match or you won’t have much of a chance. Scopes for that range could go into the 20x magnification and perform well. Just be aware that you will have no short range game with a scope of that power.
You will also need to pick between a fixed power and a zoom. Fixed power optics are often cheaper for the quality that you get and you have fewer concerns about how the zoom affects your accuracy at range. Most military scopes are fixed power for the sake of durability and simplicity.
If you do choose a zoom scope, be aware of the focal plane. If it’s a first focal plane or FFP, the reticle will be magnified as you zoom in but your scope will be accurate at any level of zoom. If you have a second focal plane scope, the reticle will stay the same regardless of zoom but your scope will only be accurate at the range you sighted in at.
The too often neglected aspect of an optic is how good the image really is. Too many people are willing to buy a cheap scope with big magnification that ends up with a shoddy image. Those with some experience with optics will tell you that a clear image on a 10x scope is far better at long range than a crappy image on a 30x scope. The difference in detail will be enough to make up for anything else.
Rather than address everything that goes into the image quality of a scope, we will briefly cover everything starting with the glass its self. Nothing you can do to a scope will ever make bad glass look better. Choosing a scope that has high-quality lenses made with good materials is the first step into getting a good scope. There are a number of brands that have good to great glass but there are also optics companies that sell cheap and use very inferior glass.
The number one thing that will affect the brightness and crispness of an image through a scope is the objective lens. Most major companies have this down to a science that you will often see most of those companies selling the same size objective lenses for the same magnifications. For example, a 3-9x40 is a common scope from a variety of manufacturers. If you see one that deviates from the norm, there is a reason. Stay away from it.
Lens coatings are the final consideration in image quality. Some companies will coat just the objective lens with a single chemical and call it good while others will use a mixture of chemicals on all of the lenses. These are the extremes but the difference between the two is astounding. Getting the most coated lenses with the most chemicals will give you a better image by reducing glare and filtering the light spectrum for contrast and color.
The best coatings, glass, and objective combination will give you a scope that actually sees better than the naked eye. Everything will be clear, bright, high contrast, and crisp. Those are the scopes you really need to aspire to.
Ruggedness and Durability
The M1A platform is really a rifle that lends itself to a more rugged scope. Sure, the recoil isn’t all that bad but the action is quite heavy and there is a lot of movement when firing. This isn’t an AR-15 or a bolt action rifle, it can dish out some abuse to whatever optic you put on your rifle. Combine that with the environments you may drag your rifle through and the toughness of the scope really becomes an issue.
Most scopes are somewhat shock resistant, especially the better brands. Don’t go too cheap. Budget scopes cost less for a reason and, along with optical quality, the primary reason is that they are far less rugged. Having a lens get thrown out of alignment once and you will learn the value of a decent scope. Even a little change can ruin your accuracy.
Additionally, your scope should be water resistant at a minimum. You never know when the rain will hit and getting water inside your lenses will cause you problems. Some scopes are even purged and sealed so there is an inert atmosphere inside this will waterproof as well as prevent fogging and dust intrusion. This is by far the best option and is common on the better scopes.
Instead of the purged option, some decent scopes use a chemical treatment on the lenses to prevent fog. While this is an acceptable choice on a budget, it is far from the quality of a purged and sealed scope. If this is the best option you can afford go with it!
The method you use to mount your optic will depend on the model of M1A that you have. Some, like the SOCOM and Scout, have integral rails that will accept any Picatinny rings or other mounting systems. The match model M1As will accept normal bases that are Weaver or Picatinny and the rings will attach to those. There is little true benefit to one over the other in the end, it's just a matter of which one you have.
The main thing you want to avoid is spending hundreds on an optic and then slapping it in a set of $15.00 rings. Those are not an acceptable choice. The best rings for a long distance rifle are those that are precision machined and lapped to make sure they are perfectly smooth and aligned. They may cost a little more but they are well worth it.
Whatever rings you get, make sure they are as durable as you can possibly get. Cheap rings will only frustrate you and keep your rifle from holding a zero as the scope shifts inside the rings. Remember that the rings and mounts are the interface between the sights and where the bullet leaves the gun. That needs to stay exactly the same if you want consistent accuracy. Don’t skip out on the point of interfacing just to save a few bucks.
Some rings are aluminum but steel has always been king. It really doesn’t matter which material they are made out of as both are strong enough. Just make sure the quality is there, to begin with.
The .308 caliber is by nature a flat shooting cartridge so if you set up a shorter range rifle intended for less than 500 yards, you can get by easily without a BDC reticle and may even be served better by a reticle that has a more prominent crosshair or even a dot reticle. If you want to really reach out there, you may want something that is a little more complex.
For hunting or even a match rifle, having a bullet drop compensating reticle can be a big benefit in ranging your target. Most of the time at those ranges you will have other ways of adjusting your point of aim but being able to get a quick range without using a spotting scope or other method can cut down the time. That is a more important consideration in hunting but it’s a good way of being able to confirm your distance in match shooting.
When it comes to MOA or Mil reticles, choose the one you are most used to. If you are new, you will have to learn your reticle so it isn’t that important which you get. If I were to make a suggestion, it would be to get the one that matches your windage and elevation adjustments. I personally prefer MOA reticles and adjustments.
The last consideration is really only on scopes intended for ranged shooting and that is the style of adjustments you have. Most scopes have the standard adjustments that are under caps and are usually adjusted with a screwdriver or coin. These are fine for short range.
When you begin to step up the distance, having tactical or target turret adjustments becomes more important. The ability to quickly account for bullet drop is vital to consistent accuracy. These are also much more fun to mess with if you are just shooting for fun. It’s a whole other shooting discipline and one that can bring a lot of enjoyment to your shooting.
An M1A Scope Buyers Table
Our Top 6 Scope for M1a Recommendations:
1 Vortex Optics Viper PST
In my opinion, this is the king of long range scopes. Sure, you could argue that but you would have to pay at least twice this price to get a comparable scope. In every way that counts, this scope is a solid performer and will do far more than what most people will ever need a scope to do. If you are looking for an optic to model an M14 sniper scope for your collection, this is it!
To get this kind of quality, Vortex starts with their outstanding extra-low dispersion glass and then adds on a premium multicoat that makes the view through this scope better than HD. Images are crisp, clear, and vibrant to any range you would ever care to shoot. And thanks to the massive 50mm objective lens, even in low-light, you always have plenty of brightness.
Not content on just the view, Vortex also threw in more ruggedness that you would normally see on any scope in this price range. It starts with an argon purged interior that is O-ring sealed to keep out dust, water, and fog so you have a scope that lasts a lifetime and can shoot in any condition. Not done yet, this scope is shockproof and has a scratch-resistant coating so no matter how rough it gets, you have a premium optic.
To help you out at long range, the Viper PST has several options of BDC reticles available to match their tactical style turrets. This first focal plane optic is the perfect scope for M1A Loaded, Match, or Super Match models. If you have the skill to hit it, this scope will get you there.
2 Nikon Black X1000
Though Nikon has always been known for having good, solid optics, the Black series takes it all a step further. Though they were fine optics, this is not a Prostaff or Monarch. This is a serious scope for the serious long-range shooter. If you find yourself chasing those ever-farther targets, this scope is a strong contender to reach out past 800 yards.
This 6-24x optic is plenty powerful and thanks to the quality that Nikon puts into its lenses, you have all the clarity you need to make the most of that magnification. Add in their own multicoat blend that kills glare and cleans up the light spectrum a little and everything will be crystal clear and super bright, especially with a 50mm objective lens!
Like all good Nikon optics, the X1000 is fully waterproof and fog proof for use in any weather at any time. It's also shock resistant and dustproof to preserve your investment. It may not be the tank that some of those super expensive optics are but for the casual shooter or hunter, this scope is tough enough to keep up with anything you want to do.
This is a second focal plane optic for those who care about such things but for the rest of us, it’s a super-powerful scope with a bullet drop reticle and tactical turrets that can be matched to keep everything right where it needs to be. For the price, you will find few optics that can beat the Nikon X1000
3 Leupold VX-2
Leupold is a byword for quality in optics and not so many years ago, having a Leupold was the sign of the serious marksman. They have some stiff competition these days but none have yet to best them. If you want a solid and dependable scope that lacks complications, this is the pick of the litter!
Leupold’s glass is second to none. Even the most expensive optics in the world can’t manage to do any better. Their multicoat process has been tried, tested, and proven time and again over decades of use making this 4-12x optic a great choice and a prime fit if you are looking for a scope for M1A scout rifles.
When it comes to ruggedness, you won’t find much better. A Leupold can take a beating and keep on performing thanks to its shockproof construction and sealed and purged interior. Fully waterproof and fog proof, no environment can touch this scope. If you want an M14 hunting rifle, this is the perfect scope for you.
Why should you choose a Leupold scope for M1A rifles? Well, this is a simpler optic better geared to those midrange targets but if you have the skill, nothing stops this from hitting out to 800 yards or more. There are no target turrets though it does have a solid BDC reticle. When you aren’t after the ultimate in precision, this is an amazing scope and probably my favorite M1A scout scope.
4 Athlon Optics Vargos
Athlon Optics is a highly underappreciated manufacturer who makes consistently great optics at amazing prices but has yet to really take the market by storm. For those on a budget who still want a precise, high-quality M1A scope, Athlon is a great choice. Don’t let their lack of popularity fool you, for the money they are outstanding!
With its fully multicoated optics and large 50mm objective lens, this 6-24x optic is a solid performer. The fact that Athlon built it on quality glass to begin with gives you an amazing optic that is clear and crisp with all of the vibrancy you need to reach out to the farthest targets. Despite the price, this is truly and optically amazing scope that would serve any M1A well.
Like any good scope, it is water and fog proof with no chance at dust or anything else ever getting in to cause any damage. Shock resistance is good with no chance of any loss of accuracy due to recoil or those little bumps and bangs that can happen to any of our gear. While there are more solid scopes, it is doubtful that most people will ever have an issue with the Vargos.
Matched reticle and target turrets provide everything you need for any ranged shots you care to take and the first focal plane gives you the confidence you need at any level of magnification. Fully adjustable for zero parallax at your most comfortable position, you will find that Athlon is a solid scope for the serious ranged shooter. One day, they are likely to be as big as some of the best-known optics companies today.
5 Vortex Optics Diamondback Tactical
Too many times, Vortex seems to steal the stage. They are near impossible to beat for the price and can run with any of the big dogs in the optical world. This time we have something a little more moderate for those who are more interested in an M1A DMR setup rather than the extreme range models. If that’s you, here is your scope!
The more modestly powered 3-12x magnification paired with a sizeable 42mm objective lens is a perfect match for a low profile scope that is still bright enough for shooting in any conditions. Still featuring the same low dispersion glass and top of the line multi-coat, the Diamondback Tactical is a crisp and clear scope that will surprise almost any shooter. It's something you have to see to believe.
Though they may have moderated the power, they did nothing to change the rock-solid toughness. Like all Vortex optics, it is purged and sealed, shockproof, waterproof, fog proof, and tough as nails. No matter where you do your shooting you can do it with a Vortex with the confidence that nothing will get in the way.
Though the Diamondback tactical doesn’t have true target turrets, it does have a hybrid version. It's best to think of them as low-profile tactical turrets that are finger adjustable but not as high as true tactical turrets. They are capped to keep them set but can easily be adjusted in the field if you need. Combine this with a dead-hold BDC reticle for ease of use and plenty of accuracy and you have a superb combination no matter your use.
If you want something a little stronger for a shorter range rifle, this scope would do great as a scope for M1A SOCOM setups or Scout setups. Actually, this optic is versatile enough and affordable enough that it would be perfect for most any setup. You could do a whole lot worse than a Vortex scope for your M1A.
6 Vortex Optics Crossfire II
At this point, it may almost seem that we are on the payroll of Vortex but that is not the case at all. They are tough to beat at any price and have an optic for most every use. In an attempt to provide some SOCOM 16 scope options, we end up here. That is not to say that this is only good for the SOCOM but makes a great long eye relief scope for an M1A Scout.
Optically, you get everything with the Crossfire II that you would get with any of the other Vortex scopes just with a little less power, a lot more eye relief, and more affordable price tag. The glass is the same extra-low dispersion, the multicoat is the same as the higher dollar scopes, and the objective lens is the perfect 32mm for brightness without the bulk.
Durability is the same as the other scopes as well. Its water, fog, and dust proof as well as shock and scratch resistant. Nothing in the normal course of use will be enough to throw off this scope. Wherever you go or whatever you shoot, you can do so anxiety free. Your scope will stand up to the elements and use better than you will.
Because this is more a scope for SOCOM 16 rifles, it lacks a lot of the high-end features you would need for those longer ranges. It's still adequately powered with a solid 2-7x magnification that will get you out as far as your shorter rifle is accurate and the dead-hold reticle will provide you with that extra compensation for bullet drop. The turrets are the same hybrid between a standard and tactical model so you can adjust them by hand in the field or just set them and forget them.
M1A Scope Tips
What range to sight in an M1A?
Like all rifles of high caliber, sighting in should be done at 100 yards for the best effect. Most reticles and turrets are actually tuned close to the ballistics of a .308 since it is such a widely used caliber. Sticking to the specifics of your rifle and scope will put you in a much better spot for long range shooting.
Occasionally for the longest range shots, you will need to get scope mounts that are slightly angled but this is not recommended for most people and definitely not unless you know specifically what you are doing as it will cost you accuracy at closer ranges.
What is the effective range of an M1A?
This depends on the model of M1A that you have. Most models are effective to around 800 yards though some people will say 600 but that is more in the accuracy of the rifle than of the round. For the match and super match models, 800 is well within reason.
The scout and SOCOM models to decrease in range some due to loss of velocity due to a shorter barrel. For these, you are probably closer to the 600-yard mark. I have shot a Scout past 600 yards effectively but it is a very challenging shot and I am not sure of the power at the target.
What are the best M1A Scope mounts?
There are a ton of options for scope mounts depending on your specific scope and rifle model. Too many options to cover any specific ones here. Make sure the rings are appropriately sized for your scope and that the mounts are Weaver or Picatinny depending on what rifle and bases you have.
If you have a rifle with rails like the SOCOM or Scout, a durable, one-piece scope mount would be best.
Look at brands that are well respected like Nikon, Millet, Leupold, Vortex, or Seekins.
What about red dot sights on an M1A?
You are more than welcome to use whatever optic you choose on any rifle and a red dot may actually be a decent choice for a SOCOM. However, since the .308 round is quite powerful and has great range, it would be a waste to do nothing with it. If you are looking at sights like this, I would recommend something with a small amount of magnification at the least.
I would recommend something like the Vortex Optics Spitfire that has 3x magnification.
If you have chosen an M1A as either a long range rifle or a heavy tactical rifle you should be congratulated. With the growth of the AR rifles, this treasure of our past has been almost forgotten. It was and still is one of the best heavy rifles out there and I would take one any day over a .308 AR rifle.
Of course, if you want to really get out there the best scope for an M1A is an important consideration. Each of the scopes above has proven itself to be capable of doing the job and doing it well. Matched with the appropriate rifle, it will quickly convince you of the greatness of the M1A and probably earn you the envy of anyone else on the range.