By Cameron B.
If I am one thing it is a lover of practical history. If I’m two things I’m a history lover and a hopeless tinker. I’m not sure if growing up in a non-gun family (in Massachusetts!) was cause for my historical justification of firearms, or that my father built heavy timber houses with hand tools that dated back to the turn of the century. But classic guns have always been the staple of my firearms hobby and occasionally the bane of my discussions with friends of ARs vs. M1s. My champagne tastes for classic Mausers and American ’03s were slighted by being 23, married and putting my saintly, patient wife through nursing school. What any sane man would have done was buy a Mosin Nagant and be happy with my C&R purchase. But John Henry Patterson (Lions of Tsavo) and Hesketh-Pricharrd (WW1 British sniping instructor) called to me. Enter the SMLE . . .
Upon development of the Lee-Metford rifle the commonwealth was forever trying to perfect a fantastic design this lead to the Lee-Enfield mk1,2,3,3* then the SMLE No4 Mk1 where my rifle’s life began. The Short Magazine Lee-Enfield or SMLE or “smelly” is a bolt-action rifle chambered in the .303 British caliber feed from a (kind of) detachable 10 round box magazine.
This rifle also utilizes a “push-to-cock” bolt system; meaning that the last half-inch of forward cycling charges the rifle. This atypical action paired with the large capacity lead to the “mad minute”. The mad minute was a practice where British soldiers would be required to fire 30 shots – that’s the magazine plus four stripper clips – and score at least 15 hits on a pie plate at 300 yards. Oh yeah, all under a minute! Imagine a squad of trained soldiers laying down that level of fire when automatic rifles were barely employed.
I would like to say that if you are a purist of classic guns, you might want to read one of the other wonderful reviews on this site, this is not a from the trenches battle rifle. Some would consider this rifle an abomination being “sporterized,” the process of turning a combat rifle like an SMLE into a hunting or target rifle. “Sporters” range from basement hack jobs or “bubba guns” to fine rifles that were produced by companies like Griffin and Howe.
My rifle is somewhere between those areas. Sporterizing was done when these guns were dirt-cheap and folks who couldn’t afford to chase deer and elk with Winchesters or the new bolt guns bought 1903s, Krags, Mausers, and Enfields with the truckloads of milsurp ammo. These rifles did shoot and then men did feast. These bring backs and ugly ducklings were left in closets and backseats until they made their way to gun shows, shops, and auctions. I look at these guns as an opportunity to keep the memory of these guns alive and give them a second life.
While I’d never advocate taking a drill and saw to a “pure” rifle saving one of these odd jobs gives a project that in the long run might be cheaper than buying a new Sako-Rem-chester-magnum. I own a beat up Land Cruiser that’s older than me for this same purpose. How often do you get to use an item that has been around the world and been around for number of decades longer than you? And how cool will it be when you can turn this rusted unloved pile of steel into a fine tuned machine you put your time and effort into?
I fell in love with the look of this rifle when it first sprung up online. When I pleadingly showed my wife her response was “I like that one.” Bonus! Whoever sporterized this rifle took their time and it’s certainly not the Friday afternoon work you can see on some guns. The jeweled bolt is a nice touch. I don’t own many stocks with maple inlays and while the walnut might not be presentation grade, it’s moot when I remember that this rifle has maple inlays and very nice checkering. This rifle turns heads when you step on the range. Frankly stepping onto the range with any Enfield is bound to get a few looks, it’s not every day you see a magazine fed bolt gun than isn’t an M700.
Fit and finish
I’ve yet to find a complaint about the rifle. Perhaps we can whine about the odd two-piece stock that every Enfield employs. More parts mean more possibility for loosening.
Ease of use
The push-to-cock action can be a stumbling block. It does feel a little awkward for the first few shots. That being said, you can pretty quickly see how a mad minute drill could be a lot of fun.
Ease of disassembly
The bolt of this gun is…an absolute bugger to remove. It requires some correct placement then manhandling and possible removal of fingernails. There is no bolt-release button as there would be on a modern hunting rifle. The bolt is removed by bringing the bolt to the rear and pulling up on the bolt head; after the head is upright the bolt slides out the back of the receiver and can be cleaned from there. This gun wasn’t made to be easy to strip and being a bolt gun there shouldn’t be much need after the bolt is out.
This rifle points nimbly and will serve me well out in the field. In its original configuration, the No.4 was a beefy rifle but is still more comfortable (to me) than a Mosin. These rifles have two-stage triggers. I have no idea what mine pulls at but its uptake is smooth with a clean let-off. As I mentioned earlier, the magazine is removable; but it was only intended to be removed for cleaning as it requires more than two hands pry off. The safety is located on the left side of the receiver. Engaging the safety (rearward) locks the bolt in place. For a right handed user this operation shouldn’t be to difficult.
A comparison of the Enfield vs. my Winchester:
Another reason I fell in love with the .303Brit is that it has been to and taken game on every continent. From moose and bear in Canada, to ‘roos in the Outback. It’s probably taken a few elephants though this isn’t my idea of a bright idea. With a variety of ammo ranging from 123-215 grains, it’s more than suited for anything you can find in North America though I’d probably not hunt big bears with it. This rifle will be my main bacon and venison harvesting tool when the season roles around. A synthetic stock might make this gun a little lighter and perhaps would fit the role of a bug out/ survival rifle: the one caveat is that the ammo is at least in my neck of the woods not as common as 30-06 or .270 head north to Canada and it’ll be more common.
Aftermarket parts are an interesting point. Scope mounting is about all that “needs” to be done, and with a non-molested gun there are several “no drill” mounts for the Enfield. Mine requires a side mount due to the charging bridge being ground off for a more pleasing appearance. This leads to a hunt for parts more challenging than my ‘89 Land Cruiser. But hunt forums and eBay long enough and a headlight…I mean scope mount will turn up. Lower capacity magazine can be found with some browsing of larger distributors.
I love the action of this gun. Maybe I’ll have a revelation later in life that I couldn’t be more off but for me it’s the sweetest action I’ve used yet.
Least favorite feature:
Ammunition. As a new husband and sole supporter of my household, there’s not a whole lot of money for reloading. If I was in the game of reloading already then this would be no sweat, but I’m not finding cheap ammo in this…dry spell. It’s a wee bit frustrating. Privi along with Remington make ammo, but the savvy Enfielders got to them before I did. That being said, with its low sale velocity it often sticks on the shelf longer than 30-30 or .270.
Would it be a review without a Zombie?
Testing was done at East Orange Shooting Sports; one of the longest ranges in Orlando (a whopping 25 yards). To be fair it’s a great indoor range that allows rifles and shotguns. All shots were made off hand.
I used Remington “green box” 174gr MC ammo. The 174gr is the classic military load for the Enfield.
I was pretty giddy about this group. It might not be trophy winning, but the outlier was the first/fouling shot and I stacked the next two. Nothing about this gun is meant to be sub MOA. If I can consistently place lead in a few inches its good enough to harvest plenty of dinners.
Caliber: .303 British.
Barrel: 22″ after market four groove
Size: 40″ Weight: 8lbs unloaded
Finish: blued steel and high gloss hardwood
MSRP: $250 (personal transaction) $150-absurd
Ratings (Out of Five Stars):
Accuracy: * * * *
Please bear in mind I’m hardly a decent shot. I’m sure with more practice my groups would improve. This rifle was never intended to be a sub MOA rifle; it puts lead within a fair group for hunting two- and four-legged beasts.
Ergonomics: * * * * *
Santa Fe arms did a fantastic job of making a trim, easy-handling rifle. Ergonomics Firing: Tried and tested smooth fast cycling action. The .303 pushes less than my .270 Win. which makes a very pleasant rifle to shoot for prolonged range sessions.
Reliability: * * * *
My rifle dates from the late forties or early fifties. If something was going to go wrong on this old warhorse it would have. I’m giving it four stars since the Enfield action is not as strong as a Mauser or new commercial Weatherby. Stiff loads may create dangerous pressures in the gun.
Customization: * * *
This gun is the F150 of rifles; suppressed .45s, sniper rifles, and shotguns have been made from this action. The sky and your wallet are the limit. I rated this lower since we’re all tinkerers here and there’s not a whole lot that can be bought at Brownwells or Bass Pro for these guns.
Overall: * * * *
For a budget gun and history piece, or an “Oh holy SH!7, zombies!” this gun has what you need. I would recommend every shooter at least experience one of the greatest battle rifles the world has ever seen.