One of the other hobbies that I enjoy with my friends is collecting firearms, particularly those of military origin. My favorite of these are the Lee-Enfield rifles developed in the late 1800's and used until after WWII. This page is a collection of information about these rifles, as well as pictures of them. So, feel free to send in you pics and whatnot. Check out my Reloading Page as well.
The LE No.1 SMLE is a turn-bolt repeating rifle utilizing a rear locking lug action. The two locking lug bolt sits directly above a removable magazine capable of holding 10 .303 British rounds. Although the rear locking lug action is oft critisized as being weaker than that of a Mauser 98, it is certainly capable of handling the pressures generated by the .303 cartridge it was designed for. As a bonus, the rear locking lugs keep the bolt throw short, making the LE one of the fastest turn bolt action rifles in the world to cycle.
Buying an LE No.1:
Because of their age, most No.1's show a signifigant amount of wear, particularly in the barrel. When buying one, always remove the bolt of the rifle and peer up through the barrel from the breech and inspect the bore. A clean rifle should have crisp, distinct, shiny rifling groves visible, being continuous in pattern (spiral) and in height throughout the length of the barrel. If the rifle is not clean, ask to run an oiled brush down the bore, then reinspect. If this is not practical, try to discern what is just bore fouling and what could be bore wear. Deposits tend to build up in the valleys of the rifling, making it appear shallower. It also helps to look at a friends rifle to get an idea of what good rifling should look like. Check over the action for cracks and imperfections, though these are usually rare. The LE actions never had the heat treating problems associated with certain Springfields and Mausers, and are generally bulletproof.
The LE No. 4 is an improvement upon the original No.1 design. The action was altered to increase both the strength and producability of the action. Numerous changes were made throughout, including the incorporation of a removable bolthead to adjust the headspacing of the rifle. The most obvious visual difference between No. 4 and the No.1 is the placement of the rear sight: The No. 1 sight is in front of the receiver, whereas the No. 4 sight is integrated into the back of the receiver. The No. 4 is considered to be the stronger action of the two, and therefore a better choice for rechambering with higher pressure cartiridges such as the .308 Winchester.
Buying a No. 4:
All of the above notes applying to the purchase of a No.1 also apply to the No.4. Barrels are commonly worn, but goods ones are still out there to be found. Many No.4's however, were made with oversized chambers. In battle, this allowed them to shoot corroded ammunition and fire when extremely dirty. In practical use today, it means that the cartidge cases expand appreciably when fired. When reloaded later, the full length resizing die overworks the brass, and in consequence, the case life is very short (like 2 or 3 reloadings). The simple solution to this is to neck size only, and keep the ammunition with the gun it was fired in.
What's all this No. and Mk. shit?
The LE line is broken up (in typical British fashion) into Numbers and Marks, shortened to No. and Mk. The No. designation changes with major alterations to the rifle, and the Mk. denotes changes within a No., creating a variant. Although there is a long list of the different models available here (----------), the most commonly found ones are the No. 1 Mk.III and the No. 4 Mk. I, I*, and II. Occasionally you will see a No. 5 Jungle carbine.
The .303 British Cartridge:
The .303 British was originally developed around 1889 and saw service in the Mk. 1 Lee-Metford rifle in 1888. The round was loaded with a compressed charge (70gr.) of black powder, and, using a 215gr. round nosed bullet, could push a projectile to 1940 fps. Although smokeless powder had been developed by this time, it was still a closely guarded secret that the British had yet to figure out. Thus, they used the compressed BP propellent charge. By 1892 however, the British had developed their own smokeless propellent, Cordite, and began to incorporate it into their service rounds. This change pushed muzzle velocities up to 2100 fps, but the hotter burning Cordite also caused rapid barrel erosion of the Metford rifling. Thus, a different rifling was used, called Enfield rifling, and after some other modifications, the Lee-Enfield was introduced in 1895.With the barrel erosion problem cured, the road for further improvements to the cartridge was thus paved.
Today, many commercial hunting cartidges are offered in .303 British by major manufacturers, and surplus FMJ military .303 ammunition still remains for target shooting. Ballistically, the .303 stacks up favorably with the other standard .30 cal cartridges. The table below compares nominal velocities and bullet weights of the more common ones.
|Bullet Weight -->||125gr.||150gr||180gr|
|.303 British||2700 fps||2500 fps||2400 fps|
|30-06 Sprngfld||2900 fps||2700 fps||2600 fps|
|.308 Winchester||2850 fps||2700 fps||2400 fps|
|30-40 Krag||2500 fps||2300 fps||2100 fps|
|30-30 Winchester||2200 fps||2100 fps||1900 fps|
To summarize, the .303 British is an
effective cartridge for hunting most North American game, save for the
great bears and long shots on elk or moose. It is almost on par (like the
30-40 Krag) with the 30-06 and .308, both ballistically and in terms of
versitility, and can be used on the same game.
Shooting a Lee-Enfield:
The LE is and has always been a shooters gun. Not particularly handsome to look at, the LE is rarely the centerpiece of a racked, rarely-fired gun collection. Nor does it seek to be. The LE was designed for battle conditions, and as such, it thrives with continual use. Although the earliest LE's are close to one hundred years old now, they were developed for use with smokeless ammunition and handle it quite well. A friend of mine purchased a No.1 Mk III a few years back, and as soon as a crate of surplus ammo came in, he proceeded to the range and put 150 rounds through it. Recoil is generally not too bad, though it is dependent on rifle wieght and cartridge load. Standard military tracers fired from a mil-spec rifle produce very little recoil at all, whereas 180gr. Remington Express Core-Lokt rounds fired from a well lightened sporter provide much more serious kick. In general, recoil energy is about 15-16 ft/lbs, compared to the average 30-06 recoil of 17-18 ft/lbs. Certainly nothing to be worried about.
-Hunting with a Lee-Enfield:
The .303 cartirdge is suitable for a wide range of game animals, particularly if hand loaded ammunition is used. While most factory ammo is loaded with 150 or 180gr. soft points (SP), handloaders can load 125, 150, 180, and 215gr. SP bullets as their needs see fit. 125gr. bullets work well for coyotes and other varmints, 150's are suitable for deer, 180's are good for elk, and 215's work best with moose and small bear. For a more complete discussion about these loads and their uses in hunting, check out my Reloading Page. The rifles themselves are pretty heavy to be lugging around in the woods all day, but the sporters aren't too bad, and since many hunters hunt from a stand, the weight of the LE is usually not an issue. The 10-shot magazine can cause problems in some states that restrict mag size to 5, but the insertion of a wooden plug under the cartridge follower can take care of that.
-Notes on the Lee-Enfield Action:
Although the LE action is dimensionally capable of chambering a vast number of cartridges like the 98 Mauser action, it is not as strong as the Mauser action, and should not be used for big bore rifle conversions (like the Mauser .416 Rigby). Although this limits the LE to firing the more modest (ie non-magnum) .30 caliber loads up to 50,000 cup, as seen in the table, this is certainly not much of a hinderance in North American game hunting.
-Rechambering the Lee-Enfield:
While the .303 British cartridge is still readily available, some shooters have their LEs converted to other cartridges. The LE action is strong enough and dimensionally adequate for a number of different rechambering options. This probably accounts for the number of LE rechamberings performed. Some of the more common conversions involve .223 Rem, 7.62x39, 7.62x54R, and 7.26x51 (.308) NATO. Of these, each have particular strengths and weaknesses. The flat trajectory .223 is a good choice for target and varmint shooting, and has the advantage of being available on the surplus market in FMJ form. However, it is inadequate in size for clean kills on larger game, and thus should not be used as such. This prevents a converted .223 LE from being used in deer hunting. The 7.62x39 (SKS, AK-47, etc.) is also available on the surplus market in FMJ form, as well as commercial hunting rounds. Cartridge cost is very low, but, bullet energy is rather low as well (2300fps, 125gr.), so the 7.62x39 is best used for target and smaller game use, up to small deer. 7.62x54R is a cartridge similar to the .303 British, but is generally less available, and so holds no real advantage. The .308 Winchester does have improved velocity and trajectory over the .303, but not as much as one would think. Nominal loads with 150gr. bullets produce 2700fps, vs. 2500fps with the .303. In general, for hunting, there is no real good reason to rechamber a .303 LE. The .303 cartridge performs as well as any of the other standard .30 caliber cartridges, and the availability of the ammunition is very good. For those who target shoot exclusively, rechambering makes more sense. The lower recoil of the .223 and the 7.62x39 not only improve accuracy, but also the shooters comfort in general, especially after shooting 150 rounds. In addition to this, the cost of the ammunition is far less than the original .303 rounds.
The LE can also be converted to chamber and shoot the .410 shotgun round, both British and standard. It turns out that the case diameter of the .303 British at the rim and the rim itself is the same size as a .410 shotgun shell. The barrel can simply be bored out to this diameter throughout its length, and single loaded with .410 shells. With some extra work, one could probably retain the repeating action and the magazine of the LE, thus having a 10 shot, repeating, bolt action .410. I'll do some more research about and find out more details.
Although I don't like the idea of converting a pristine military LE to sporter, it does happen and certainly the sporters do have advantages over the military versions, at least in the hunting field. That said, rather than convert mil-spec LE, it is many times more practical to find one already done over, thus saving you the time and money of doing the conversion yourself. I was planning on finding an LE with broken furniture to convert when I came across the sporter No.4 I now own. For far less than the cost of a mil-spec rifle and the conversion parts, I got a sporter rifle with a better Monte Carlo stock. Of course, your mileage may vary. In any case, a sporter LE is a fine hunting rifle for most North American game, as stated above. Sporter LE's come in a wide variety of states, from a standard military action in a different stock, complete with 10-shot magazine (like mine), to having a number of machining operations done on the actin to make it more streamlined and fitting a flush mount magazine. Really the difference is in the aesthetics, except for mounting a scope on a No.4 without a sight or charger bridge can be a bitch (depends on the mount).
-Scoping a Lee-Enfield:
The LE is ballistically suitable for telescopic sights, so it only makes sense to mount a scope on you rifle if you use it for target shooting or hunting. There are several mounting systems available today, the best of which is probably the CAD-Technik scope mount. In the middle range are the S&K and Advanced Technology (thats what I have) scope mounts, and at the bottom of the group are the angle iron bolted to the receiver type mounts. When choosing a scope, pick one that fits YOUR hunting needs, not the needs of the saleman trying to get you to buy it. If every kill you've made against a particular game have been inside of a 100 yrds (ie. deer hunting in small cutover), do you really need to get a 15x scope? For my LE, I got a good deal on a 3-9 x 40mm scope, and have been nothing but pleased with it. The zoom range (3-9x) allows me to have the FOV set wide for general hunting, but I can zoom in for longer shots (with something to rest on, of course). The size of the objective (40mm) allows the scope to gather a decent amount of light as well.
:Cool site with info about all types of military rifles
:Site dedicated to the .303 British and the rifles chambered for it.
Phillips, Stib Inc.
Disclaimer: All content
is the opinion of the owner.