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(This is a reader gun review contest entry, click here for more details.)

By Broken Eight

I love the gun show. Ever since I’ve gotten into guns I’ve always enjoyed going. Sure, you can get better prices and more availability on the internets, but you don’t get the same experience of actually holding the gun in your hands, or the excitement of never knowing what you might find, what might jump out at you. At a particular gun show in August 2013, what jumped out at me (and followed me home) was none other than a Lee-Enfield SMLE MkIII* chambered in .303 British . . .

Now there are several different variants of Lee-Enfields in .303 British on the US market today, two of which were on a rack at the gun show that day. The first I looked at was a No. 4 Mk I, which many will probably argue is the better rifle to pick due to its apeture sights with a longer sight radius. But that particular rifle was completely outshined by the rifle you see above, which sat next to its younger brother priced fifty bucks cheaper. While I had been looking for a No. 4, the history of SMLE made up the difference in shootability, at least to me.


And man oh man, does it have some history. Introduced in 1907, the Mk III was used by the British as well as pretty much everybody in the Commonwealth during the First World War. It served through two world wars and numerous smaller conflicts. The British eventually upgraded to the No. 4 Mk I, but elsewhere, the Mk III remained around till the 1950s, and can still be found in limited service by a several countries (namely a few Indian police units). Just look at how pleased those doughboys are in the photo above with their country’s choice of rifle!

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My particular rifle was made in England in 1918. That makes this still-functioning rifle nearly four and a half times my age. Durable goods FTW! The asterisk in the name indicates some changes they made in wartime to help speed up mass production. Despite some research on markings, I’ve been unable to determine which factory it was made at. There’s a brass button in the stock with some sort of Arabic-looking markings, but I’ve found that those buttons can be bought online, and it’s likely meaningless.

The MkIII has several features that make it stand out from other milsurp rifles. The first thing you’ll notice when you open the bolt is how buttery smooth it is. When you close it, you’ll push forward some, and then you’ll hit some resistance. It’s not a lot, but it may trip you up at first if you’ve used a lot of Mauser-based rifles. Once used to it, you won’t even notice it as the bolt continues smoothly forward and down. The smoothness and odd resistance can be attributed to its cock-on-closing action, where the bolt is cocked to fire when you push the bolt forward to close it. Nearly all modern bolt actions use a cock-on-opening type action. This alone may make the rifle at least of interest to you bolt-gunners out there, and was one of the features that drew me to it.

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The next thing you’ll notice is a 10-round magazine. Most bolt guns of the era only have a 5- or 6-round magazine. It was indeed the tactical assault clipazine of its day. In service, the magazine was loaded either with loose rounds or with 5-round chargers, but this is 2014! Look down in the triggerguard and you’ll find a small lever (other than the trigger). Push that up and you can pull the mag free. This is my preferred way to load it. A surplus rifle with 10-round detachable mags. Hell yes! The impulse you’ll get next is to go buy a bunch of mags for it, and that impulse may be crushed at their ~$50 price tag.

Now there’s a reason why you don’t see many double stack mag designs for rimmed cartriges like the .303. That’s because they tend to amplify the possibility of rimlock. Rimlock is when the rim of the first round in the mag ends up behind the rim of the next round. Here’s a video of an experienced shooter doing it with a No 4 Mk 1. Look closely when he loads them and you can see the top round is further back in the mag than the one below it.

It’s pretty easy to do with the Lee-Enfield mag, and it makes chambering the next round a pain. When loading the mag with singles, put the round in a bit forward of the others, and then push it to the back of the mag. If you load using stripper clips, make sure your clips look like this, with the rim of the top round over the next. From my reading, this isn’t the sanctioned British method, but I’ve found it’s the best way to avoid a jam with clips.

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The bolt’s smoothness and the magazine’s capacity add up to a much faster rate of fire than other bolt guns. Back in the day, the British Army actually had a drill called the Mad Minute, which required a soldier to make 15 hits on a 12-inch target at 300 yards in sixty seconds. This would include reloading with clips (not mags, you cheater). Many soldiers could beat this score. The world record was set in 1914 by a Sergeant Alfred Snoxall with 38 rounds. Personally, I’d pay money to see Jerry Miculek beat that score.

On the battlefield, this rate of fire had devastating effects on enemy combatants. In the trenches, you might think a bolt gun would leave you at a disadvantage compared to, say, a machinegunner. But run back to the barracks, grab 20 of your best friends, and ask them to do a mad minute with you, and there’ll be a good wall of lead and copper between you and anything downrange. At the Battle of Mons in August 1914, British riflemen put up such intense fire that the Germans advancing on them thought they were facing machine gun batteries.

These days, the term “Mad Minute” is generally used to describe putting as many rounds on a target with the Enfield as you can in a minute. It’s also a term used when talking about the technique used to accomplish such a feat. Said technique involves holding the rifle with your off hand and bracing it against the shoulder. Then you’ll take the index finger and thumb of the other hand and use that to work the bolt. You pull the trigger with your middle finger. This will likely elict a WTF response from most people, but I can assure you, it makes it FAST. At 25 yards standing, using this technique, I can fire, work the bolt, and be ready to fire again before I can get my sights back on target.

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While we’re talking about sights, let me tell you something: they’re terrible. The front blade is thinner than an anorexic with bolemic tendencies. The rear is your standard open sight affair of the day, adjustable from 200 to a very hopeful 2000 yards. The opening is cut roughly in a V shape; I say roughly because it doesn’t look like it’s cut strait, and has a really small area to pick up your wafer-thin front blade. Also, be careful when adjusting them, as you can burn your fingers if you’ve been firing the rifle. I’d go so far as to say the sights on my M44 are better than these. Speaking of mosins…

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Here’s a comparison of a 91/30, my SMLE, and an M44. I took this photo mainly to show you the difference in barrel length as compared to rifles you probably have seen or handled. The SMLE sports a 25 incher, putting it squarely between the mosin brothers. However, this pic also points out that the length of pull on the SMLE is as bad if not worse than a mosin’s. Being 6′ 3″, this is a problem for me. If I don’t adjust my grip, my (rather long) nose smacks strait into my thumb on firing. Recoil on the rifle is pretty substantial, and the brass plate on the butt doesn’t do anything to help with that. Both issues could be helped with a good recoil pad, but unfortunately for both my shoulder and my nose, I have yet to invest in such technology.

One advantage the SMLE has over the mosin, though, is actually useful safety. It’s a small lever at the rear of the action set off to the left. Forward is fire, back is safe. The saftey on mine is not very positive though, and I’d go so far as to call it loose. On my last range trip, issues I’d occasionally been having with the bolt locking up, which I had been chalking up to extraction issues when the rifle gets hot, I think I can now blame on the saftey sometimes partially engaging from the recoil when firing. I’ll have to see if I can tighten that up at some point.

However, on trigger pull I’d have to call it a draw for my mosin and enfield. The SMLE’s trigger feels a lot like a 2-stage, you’ll have some take up, then you’ll hit a wall, and then it breaks. It has serrations running the length of the trigger which help you keep your finger on it when the rifle kicks you in the shoulder. The trigger on my mosin is very good too though. How good the trigger is, though, is going to vary from rifle to rifle.

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Disassembly of the rifle is pretty simple. To remove the bolt, simply pull it to the rear, and then flip that small forward piece off of the rail it rides on. The bolt will then slide back out. Clean up the bolt, remove the mag and clean it, clean the bore and you’re good to go. Before you put the bolt back in, make sure to tighten down that front piece, as it’ll want to unscrew itself. Make sure there is NO space between that front piece and the rest of the bolt, i.e. not like the picture below.

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Before we talk about accuracy, we have to discuss probably the biggest shortcoming of the rifle, and that’s ammo availability. You usually won’t find .303 British at most gun shops, and if you do, it’s usually the more expensive stuff. Most of the ammo you’ll find is either soft point or 174gr fmj, which is the bullet weight the British used; there’s not a lot of variety as far as bullet types go. Prices online seem to be coming down though, and you can usually find a good variety there. I buy my ammo at the gun show, and while availability there is hit and miss, I’ve aquired quite the smorgasbord.

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Let me warn you, though. You can still find corrosive ammo floating around the market. Last time I was at the gun show, I came accross some .303 in brown paper packs tied up with tape printed MkVII. That is the British designation for their 174gr loading that they issued to troops. There’s a very good chance that ammo is corrosive, but there’s no way to tell, short of shooting it and seeing if your gun rusts in a month. Here’s some advise: if you come accross some corrosive ammo, don’t bother with it. It’s usually not priced much lower than new manufacture stuff, so why even bother with the hassle of cleaning it special? There is some surplus ammo around that is not corrosive, namely some of Greek manufactue. Just be careful, if a website or dealer can’t tell you where the ammo comes from, move on. It’s not worth rusting your rifle.

If you want to mitigate ammo cost by reloading, you can certainly go that route. However, there are a few quirks about Lee-Enfields that you need to know before moving forward. The first is that the chambers on these guns are notorius for being oversized. This causes the brass to expand and deform more than other guns, which leads to a drastically shortened case life. Also, the bore diameter can vary rifle to rifle, so you’ll need to check that before selecting bullets. Finally, the Lee-Enfield doesn’t have as strong of a lockup as other guns, because locking lugs are located towards the rear of the bolt. Here’s the SMLE bolt:

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And here’s the locking lugs of a mosin bolt:

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You can see which is the stronger action. If you’re the kind of person who likes to load your .30-06 up to +p+p+p+ loadings, I warn you, don’t try that on this rifle.

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Now we finally find ourselves on accuracy. The pic above will tell you everything you need to know, it was my best group of the day. I shot this at 50 yards, and those are 1-inch squares. While the rifle is certainly accurate enough, the poor sights and probably even poorer technique on my part doesn’t add up to much. And believe me, I really tried. I’ve been debating putting a scope on the rifle, but I’m torn between sporterizing it like that and keeping it in its historic condition.

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You have to remember though, with milsurp rifles accuracy is going to vary with the rifle’s condition. Mine has a good bore, and that’s the most important thing as far as accuracy goes. But it has (and had) other things wrong with it. I’ve already mentioned the loose saftey. Also, when the rifle heats up, some sort of orange residue starts building up on the stock, especially around the front sight (pic below, if anyone can tell me what’s causing that I’d appreciate it). And that’s not even the worst thing on this rifle. My friends, let me take you on a short tale of the pitfalls of buying a used rifle.

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Now, the first time I got this beautiful piece of wood and steel out on the range, I absolutely loved it. Put a good 60 rounds through it that weekend. No major issues. A month later, my dad gives me some advice: take the rifle apart and clean up the internals. The morning before I head out to the range, I decide to go ahead and do just that. I finally find a video detailing how to remove the stock, get it off, look at the exposed metal parts and think “I’ve got no business monkeying around in the internals of a damn-near 100 year old rifle,” and set about reassembling it. I notice something odd about the forend of the stock, but since I’m a noob, I figure it’s something that’s supposed to be there, and put it back on the rifle.

Out on the range, I load up the rifle with 10 rounds of .303, and work the bolt. *tic tic* *shuck shook* There’s something extremely satisfying about that sound, like the sound of biting down on a pringle. I line up the sights and start slinging lead downrange. I’m just about to let off my fourth round, when I notice something odd about my sight picture. Where before there were two metal ears sticking up next the sight, now there were none. “That’s weird,” I thought to myself, “They were there a second ago.” I take my eyes off the sight to find that part of the forend on my rifle is gone, along with any metal bits that were attached to it. WTAF? I find them laying in the grass a few feet in front of the shooting bench. Upon closer inspection…

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So yeah. I take it out to my stepdad, who cleans it up and concludes that at some point in the life of the rifle, someone had drilled a hole in the stock and stuck a piece of dowel rod in there, epoxied it up, and then hammered two nails in diagonally. As you can see, this repair job didn’t hold up well over time. No other parts of the gun were damaged, thankfully, so I had a gunsmith take a look at it to see what he could do. He ended up epoxying it back together (my stepdad had already removed the nails and dowel rod). It’s not visible when the rifle is assembled, so alls well that ends well, right? Right. I told this story to my grandpa, and he gave me some better advise: don’t take your guns apart unless you really need to.

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All stock issues aside, the Lee-Enfield SMLE MkIII is a good rifle with a lot of history. It has some quircks, but its detachable mag, capacity, and smooth action still give it relevance today. I’d put this rifle up against any other of it’s era any day of the week, and with a scope on it, it may yet prove to hold its own with modern-day guns. If you can find ammo for it.

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Before letting you move on, I just wanted to take a moment to remind you of something truely magical that happened 100 years ago this year. On Christmas Eve and Day in 1914, what started as joint Christmas carols between Allied and German trenches in France, soon escalated to small exchanges of gifts between individual soldiers. Eventually, they all got up out of the trenches and met in no man’s land, for soccer games and gift exchanges. Joint services were held for the recent dead. What would be known as the Christmas Truce has long been looked back on as a shining example of brotherly love in war.

Within months of this, the German army started shelling Allied positions with chlorine gas, forever changing the face of war. This is the reality of world we live in. No matter what kind of good intentions a person might have, chances are good that some ass is going to come along and try to mess things up for us. But when that happens, we’ll put our faith into solid rifles like the Lee-Enfield SMLE.


Caliber: .303 British
Barrel Length: 25.2″
Overall Length: 44″
Weight: 8.8lbs
Action: Magazine-fed, cock-on-closing bolt action
Capacity: 10 round detachable box magazine
Price: $300, varies with condition, do not pay more than $400 for an SMLE

Ratings (out of five stars):

Style * * * *
The wood stock says old school, and the front bayonet lug gives this rifle a look that you won’t mistake for anything else.

Ergonomics * *
A very small length of pull and a good recoil-reducing (sarc) brass plate on the stock make this rifle a pain to fire. Get a recoil pad before taking it out to the range.

Reliability * * * *
In about 250 rounds, it’s never failed to chamber a round and fire for me. There’s not too much that can go wrong with a bolt gun, but YMMV in that regard. Minus one star for the very real possibility of rimlock.

Customization *
ATI makes a stock and scope mount, but thats about it as far as aftermarket goes. Anything else you’ll have to DIY or get a good gunsmith.

Overall * * *
While it has a smooth bolt design, lots of history, and a good magazine capacity, the sights, ergos, ammo price and the lack of availability and variety of ammo really bring this rifle down. It’s also a milsurp, which means there a lot of things that could potentially be wrong with any given example.

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    • Not better than a mauser..DIFFERENT than a mauser..lets not forget, mauser shooters lost BOTH WARS

      • Well said. The enfield served for many years and two wars. And helped winning both. Mauser great gun but better …ppppllleeeaseee!! Enfield proved itself time and time again

        • The Enfield served in not just two world wars but also the Korean conflict and in the Malaysian insurection in the hands of commonwealth troops for nearly a century before being phased out in favor of the FN FAL. That’s a long service record for any firearm, not to mention that it even continued with the Indian Army and Australia for even longer when modified to the M10 in 7.62 Nato. So it makes even the Moison Nagants a relative youngster as far as service years in comparison, compare that to your yankee service weapons like the Springfield of Garand that were each only around for one or two wars in comparison. Not to mention that when the US entered WWI the Springfields weren’t in full production at the time so they took an Enfield design the P14(Pattern 14) and converted it to your 30 Caliber Ball 1906 and called it the M17 Thus the Enfield weapons were a long lasting design and manufactured by any nation for modern martial arms.

          • I’d feel the same with the MK III.
            With my no.1 mk3 I can shoot the ass off a fly at 100yrds and now that I’ve replaced its extractor and extractor spring the action is triple what it was.
            Great great rifle even if it’s a JJ “Franken-Field” (mostly Aussie Lithgow and substation parts)

    • UMM your rifle says Enfield on the wrist band.That is the factory. Enfield Lock.The gun is an SMLE
      Short Magazine Lee ENfield. They are good guns. Accurate enuf. Rapid bolt fire .They are loosely built because military geology was factored into the design.They were fighting in lots of sandy places. The action is not as strong as a Mauser,but its strong enuf.
      Think of it as the AK47 of bolt action rifles. That is what they are. They fit your body very well.The US 1917 Enfield doesnt. I find a MAuser clunky.
      The early SMLE had a ramp windage rear sight.The 4-2 peep sights are better. It is more accurate model too.

    • The mauser is not all that. Several of the most accurate rifles have rear locking lugs i.e. the remington 788.
      Anyone who has a clue about metallurgy knows a compression versus a shearing force will know compression is stronger

  1. Great review. BTW: For a shooter with the same look/feel – get an Indian post WW2 Ishapore version of the SMLE MkIII in .308 and using better steel.

    • I’ve had 2 of the Ishapores. They threw patterns like a shotgun, not groupings like a rifle.

      Much prefer “real” Lee Enfields.

      • Our experiences differ considerably. It may come down to wear/abuse of the individual rifles while their police used them. My rifle’s wood looked lousy with many dings and a well repaired area at the butt plate, but the bore was like new. It shoots great.

        I used to have a 1949 dated No.4Mk1, but ultimately went post-WW2 Ishapore to reduce the variety of calibers in my collection.

      • Have a 1927 Ishy that i have let children on juvenile hunts use while i am sitting with them and all have been very successful using it.
        It is the best iron site rifle i have ever shot and that includes my Henry rifle.

    • I have a 1967 L2A2 this baby rocks!When i go to the range i put up a B27 target at 100 yards,then put masking tape from the head and run it down the center of the target,same for the horizontal cutting the torso in half.Aim at the center of the cross where the masking tape meet and fire very slowly of course trigger squeeze,sight picture etc.This will tell you if your rifle likes the ammo you are shooting through it by grouping 3-5 rounds.I do this when i change brands of manufactured,surplus,or reloaded ammo.The problem with the rear sights as with Lee Enfields is you have to Kentucky Windage and Tennessee Elevation the thing.I have found a solution with windage adjustable sights from ( have installed it on my Indian L2A2 with excellent results.The elevation you can adjust the drop or high impact on the pineapple looking thing by turning it up or down called the (vernier).Im going to order another one for my Australian Lithgow 1943.Enjoy and good shooting!!

  2. The worst gun I’ve ever owned was a Lithgow No. MkIII*.

    First off it was a John Jovino parts gun. I didn’t realize that until I had done the 4473 (before I had my FFL03) and paid. JJ parts guns may or may not have reinforcing pieces of metal in the stock and the pieces prevent the stock from shattering. That was a niggle until I found them.

    Second, the thing was the biggest pain to completely take down I’ve ever had to deal with.

    Third, the stocks need to be rubbed with BLO which can catch fire if the rags aren’t disposed of properly.

    Finally, it shot 4″ to 6″ groups at 75 yards.

    I hated that rifle so much, I traded it for a Geha shotgun. I got a bad SMLE, but I’m not going back. M14s, please.

    • The terrible groups and parts-kit build would be good reasons to bag on it, but I don’t think you can blame the rifle for the disposal requirements of oily rags. 😉

  3. Great rifle, fun review! I have three Enfields; the first one I acquired was a cut up, shot-out 1916 BSA-built No 1 MkIII* that keyholed all its shots at 50 yards. Someday I may rebarrel the old girl. My second is a Savage-built No 4 Mk I/II FTR. Love that rifle, but like the review said, the chamber is oversized and swells the brass. My third Enfield is a Remington-Eddystone Pattern 14 with the volley sights still intact, and is by far the best shooter of the bunch. Wouldn’t trade any of them for a farm downeast!

  4. Fun review. For what it’s worth, I’d leave that rifle stock.

    That’s a good lesson about not messing with a rifle unless you need to, but it’s hard to resist. I put a Timney trigger in a good-shooting .22 I have that had kind of a heavy trigger. I debated doing it because the rifle already shot well. The new trigger feels great, but I do not shoot the rifle as well as I used to. I can’t help but think it relates to the way the action and barrel sit in the stock.

    Dyspeptic Gunsmith, if you read this, will you repost that torque sequence for three screw stocks you posted a few weeks back?

  5. Awesome Review!! Love the history of these old guns. When i was a kid, one of the guys in our hunting gang used a 303 for deer. Don’t know what the rifle was, but he could whack em just fine with it. Thanks!

  6. I do love enfields. I’m a fan of the no.4 but i wouldn’t pass on a nice no.1.
    Glad you enjoy yours.

  7. Man that thing is really a beautiful classic. Love to have one hanging on my wall. Was eyeing one up at the last gun show. Maybe I’ll bite next time. That’s a piece of history for sure. Thanks for the review. Good info to know if I do decide to ‘pull the trigger’ on one…

  8. Never fear, Internet Nit-Picker Man is here to pick a nit! Doughboys, are American, Tommys are British.

    • Good review and a great rifle though. However I think you should have dinged another .5 star on the reliability grade for the possibility of blasting the foreend off.

  9. A friend of mine had an Enfield and I enjoyed shooting that rifle.

    Speaking of the rapid fire technique, another friend is left handed. With a low recoiling right handed bolt action, he could hold and fire with his strong hand and cycle the bolt with his right hand.

    He was scary, scary fast like that and deadly accurate.

    • Open Office’s spell check couldn’t even tell that I had left an S out of possibility. I read through it several times, but there’s only so much you can catch.

    • As a card-carrying, ‘grammar nazi’, I commiserate … but was so interested in the information, I didn’t notice a thing. I have much embarrassment; you missed a good article.

    • Big fingers frequently cause me to hit wrong keys..its a shame that you cheat yourself from information due to spelling…what if we disregarded code during the war? Would we ignore it because it wasnt in ABCs? You missed quite a bit..great article

  10. Great review. I’d venture to say, one of the best in the current contest, with all the elements that make TTAG such a resource, noob looking for truth, up to experts who share wisdom of experience.

    Humility, and truth of personal experience.
    Respect for the lessons of the past.
    A great stoery that makes it real.
    Doesn’t get too hung up in non-essential details (see how I mispeled, too?)

  11. Great review. I have a No. 4 Mk1 myself from 1943. Honestly my hands down favorite bolt gun. Don’t sporterize it! She’s beautiful the way she is! Oh, and its a great gun for killing feral hogs. .303 British really puts the hurt on them.

  12. Corrosive ammo is not a problem. Simply rinse with an ammonia product like windex and then clean normally. Or do like the Russians with their Mosins. Pour hot tea down the barrel and then clean.

    That orange goo coming out when your rifle heats up is probably cosmoline. Run a hair dryer on your stock and keep rags handy.

    • Yeah, the guy at Empire Arms says to have some diluted ammonia, DAMPEN a cleaning pad with it, run it down the barrel, run a dry pad or pads down the barrel, then you can clean as usual.

    • Yeah it’s really a non-issue. I’ve fired many hundreds of corrosive mil-surp rounds through my excellent Mk4 and it’s rust free and a total tack driver. You just have to clean it within a reasonable amount of time after shooting. In most cases, “corrosive” is sort of a scary misnomer because what’s really happening is the residue attracts moisture, pulls water out of the air humidity, etc, and holds that water against the metal. There are salts and such in the gunpowder and that further leads to the moisture’s ability to rust metal, but primarily it happens because your bore is wet with moisture so it starts rusting from water. It isn’t “corrosive” in that it actually begins eating away at the metal right away or anything. But the ammonia in windex and such neutralizes those salts and washes all of the other components that attract water off so you can be left with clean, dry metal that you can then lube for corrosion protection like you normally would.

      Of course, back when I bought a whole crap ton of mil-surp .303 Brit it was really, really cheap. Like super cheap. The incoming supply seemed to have totally dried up like 5 or more years ago. After that happened and prices went up I haven’t purchased it because, as you stated, you can get modern production, non-corrosive stuff for the same price. But this wasn’t the case 5+ years ago when surplus ammo was really dirt freakin’ cheap. It also happens to be very accurate so no complaints there either.

      BTW — aftermarket magazines for Enfield rifles do exist. Sportsmans Guide used to have two models that would fit any of the available Enfields out there but I only see one version listed now ( At any rate, I got two of them for my Enfield and they function totally flawlessly. They don’t have the nice rounded edges of the factory one so don’t look quite as sleek, but they function 100% and were under $20 each.

  13. What a fun review, thanks! Keep it original. I’ve recently developed a thing for milsurp bolt actions. I have a Lee-Enfield No4 Mk1, 3 Mosin 91/30 rifles and a M44. I also have a Smith-Corona 1903A3. I wouldn’t say I’m proficient with any of them but so much fun to shoot. If you think .303 British is hard to find, try .303 Savage. My buddy inherited a very nice .303 Savage bolt action from his grandfather. Few companies make the ammo and it’s all expensive.

    • I have an old pack of 215gr .303 brit that says “Not to be confused with .303 Savage” on the box. I guess that was an issue back in the day.

      • Interesting that the .303 British cartridge box was the one with the “not to be confused with .303 Savage” label. The .303 British cartridge is much larger than the Savage round and to my knowledge will not chamber in those Savage rifles. It’s the opposite that is overtly dangerous, as the hook type extractor in the British and P-14 rifles can and does hold the much smaller .303 Savage cartridge to the bolt face of the enfield firmly enough to allow it to fire. I’ve seen two rifles over the years damaged by this error, fortunately with no serious injury to the shooters. Typically the Savage case expands enough to fill the chamber, and the case head separates, leaving the rest of the case stuck in the chamber. It’s a good thing that modern cartridge designers try to avoid these kind of scenarios.

  14. Excellent review which makes me yearn for my Enfield MkIII. Wish I’d never sold it. The ex-Aussie I sold it to said it was the most accurate one he’d seen (after 10 years in the Aussie army).
    As Obi-wan says, “An elegant weapon from a more civilized age.”

  15. While I don’t have a Enfield, I have an Eddystone M1917. It is a bit different to get used to the cock on close compared to my 03A3 with cock on open. Unfortunately I bought mine with a bad barrel. I’ve thought about rebarreling it. Good review!

  16. For my money, the SMLE was the best battle rifle of WWI. Mausers and Springfields make better hunting rifles, but SMLEs make better battle rifles.

    My dad says that sporterized SMLEs were ubiquitous as deer rifles in Canada in the ’50s.

  17. Surprised Hickock45 was so non-plussed by the rimlock. Never knew it to be a Lee-Enfield problem, but it isn’t unheard of with .32 acp pistols, with their semi-rimmed cartridges. I had a Zastava .32 that was pretty prone to it with anything other than ball ammo.

  18. I either read somewhere or watched a video about the fact that soldier bring back guns from WWII often have the stock cut under the barrel bands.

    It’s because when the gun is disassembled the stock was still too long to fit in a soldiers gear bag, so they’d saw the stock under a barrel band, so that’s probably the case with yours.

    Does it have any import marks?

    • Now that I think of it, I didn’t see anything that stood out as an import mark. I’ll have to double check that though. If so, that would be a pretty good explanation as to why the stock ended up that way.

  19. Never cared for Enfields, I think they are ugly, especially all that “iron” around the stock, near the trigger area.
    For three or hundred bucks, you can get a half way decent used Mauser.

  20. Lee Enfields were once plentiful here in NZ, where they were main battle rifles for our troops in both the big wars (FN SLRs for Vietnam, Steyrs for Afghanistan). While applying for a Firearms License I had to take Mountain Safety Course. This involved a chap explaining the workings of a Lee Enfield. Then followed a test which had some tricky questions – most answers were right, but some were more right than others. The youngers finished in a hurry and had to come back to resit the questions they had failed. I took my time and aced it.

    What amused me is the example of the Lee Enfield being used as a typical rifle. Our current firearms regulations specify that a centrefire rifle must have a capacity of no more than 5 cartridges. For example, my SKS only has a 5 round magazine. I thought it best not to point out the stupidity of the regulations, against the example of the 10 round Lee Enfield. Perhaps the instructor was being ironic giving us this training. A 5 round SKS is a mockery of a great design.

  21. Friend inherited a Canadian Mark IV made in 1944. Bought some ammo and we took it out for an outing. The rifle is accurate and the recoil is mild. The bolt action was smooth, but the rounds were hard to slide up and out of the magazine. The rounds fed well once the resistance coming up out of the magazine was overcome. The Lee-Enfield is a good rifle, I just think we had a funky magazine.

  22. Lee-Enfield users UNITE!

    I have 2 No4 in .303, 2 in .223, a M10B repro in .308, and a No8 .22 trainer.

    Have you checked the buttstock for any stamped markings near the butt-plate? Such as a S or a B?

    SMLE and No4 stocks were made in a number of lengths, with them being marked L (long), unmarked (medium), S (Short), and the special very short B (bantam). The B coded stocks were for the Welsh and Cornish miners who were very short statured. Between 2/3rds to 3/4 were S stocks in SMLEs. About 80% of No4s used S stocks.

    I am 5’11” and solid build. I need a medium or long length stock. With a S stock, I end up boxing my nose with my thumb when firing.

    And in the mad-minute, my best is 28 rounds away on a target at 200 metres. Starting from a standing position with the rifle at my feet with a loaded 10-round magazine and the bolt closed (uncocked). When the target turns on, we have to sit, pick up the rifle, and start shooting. All reloads are from clips and single-rounds.

    Try that with a Mauser or a Mosin-Nagant. You would be lucky to get 15 away in that time.

  23. Small nitpick with the article.

    Those soldiers are not dough boys. Dough Boys would be United States soldiers. Commonwealth soldiers were known as “Tommies”.

  24. I have a no 4 mark 1 I have a scope on mine and at 600 yards shooting 5″ groups with surplus army ammo 174 grain spitzer rounds just load the magazine carefully and rimlock isn’t an issue mine was made in Canada in 1943 bought it off my brother for $200 with 200 rds then bought 2 boxes with 480 rds in them at $189 a box from cheaper than dirt most rds are from late 60s early 70s looks like they did the day they were made for a bolt action I wouldn’t trade for the world one of the best made war rifles built shy away from India made .303s most built from bad metal and worn out 100 year old machines if one has a backwards n in Enfield those ones are the ones that make a good club been reports of them blowing apart in peoples faces FYI

  25. Picked up an old worn SMLE a few years ago, and after several range sessions I realized the better sights plus better ergonomics were far superior to the Mauser so I ditched all my Mausers and now enjoy my SMLE range time.

  26. “The opening is cut roughly in a V shape….” === It is actually a U-shape.
    “The SMLE’s trigger feels a lot like a 2-stage…” === That is because it IS a 2-stage pull. It takes some getting used to and may need some “adjustment” with a fine file.

    They take some getting used to, but once you are used to it, a Mauser action is SLOW. The Brits made the most of this speed. The ‘Mad Minute’ was part of every soldier’s Annual Personal Weapons Test. The minimum rate was 15 rounds in 60 secs and they had to land in an 18″ group at 200 yds. Most managed between 20 & 25 rounds. The record was 33! (Remember – they only had 10 rounds in the magazine).

    In August 1914, the German Army advanced in its usual close order, singing martial songs, across the battlefield at Mons. The BEF (British Expeditionary Force – all Regular soldiers), outnumbered 3:1, opened deliberate (normal rate) fire at 1000yds. The German lines got progressively thinner. .At 200 yds the order ‘Rapid Fire’ was given and the German lines evaporated! Afterwards, the Germans thought we had lots of machine guns – we only had 2 per 1000 men!

  27. If you have .303 mil ammo and are worried that it is corrosive, pour boiling water down the bore when cleaning the rifle, this will remove any corrosive elements.
    With practice ,rim lock will disappear.I have used an s.m.l.e. since i was 10 and never encountered the problem,however i was taught by an ex Digger.

    • The Small Arms Training Manual dated 1942 states to use 5 – 6 pints of boiling water poured through a funnel into the barrel as a cleaning option. Dry, then examine barrel.

      • If cleaning with boiling water, remember to gun-oil lube after. Otherwise she’ll rust.
        If heavily carbonned, clean with 10W30 and gasoline 50/50, then lube again.

  28. Does anyone have any torque ratings for the screws on the SMLE? I have heaps of other info, but can’t find anything in relation to this. I would like to know the torque for the butt bolt in particular. Thanks

  29. I bought my Enfield No.1 Mk3 SMLE at a Roses in Chesapeake Va. Paid $65.00 with tax and bought a couple hundred rounds of the corrosive cordite loaded L1 ball. The rounds were from the U.K. and chrono’d at 2895fps. I had to clean all the caked and baked cosmoline and re-work the stock using starter fluid to to draw the grease and oil out then some sand paper, a wet sanding, and finally tung oil. I sprayed a beautiful coat of clear coat after making all the brass fixtures, sling mount,but plate, etc., shine like a new penny. Then I took off for the range. I put up targets at 25, 50, 75,and 100m. I put three rounds in each target. Much to my dismay I only found one hole in each target. A WWII vet was sitting there and he had watched me shoot through a very expensive spotting scope, Swarovski. I figured since he was a vet from that era he might know a thing or two about this issue. I explained not knowing he had been watching my shots go down range and seeing the tell tail supersonic rings it leaves behind by focusing the scope and the turning a quarter out of focus. He began to laugh. I thought wth? Why is he laughing at me. So I demanded he stop laughing at me at once. My face was red and I could feel every blood vessel in my head pulsing. He said there was no need to get my panties in a knot and explained what he had been doing and how he did it. He shot his old bolt 30-06 M1903A1 and as I watched through the scope I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was tracking a bullet down range. IT WAS SOOOOO COOL! He said to me the reason I couldn’t find any other holes is because I was shooting off a bag that solidly and uniformly held the weapon. All my shots hit the target but I couldn’t see them as they were passing the same hole. I Thought the small tares were from the first shot. He said nope I watched all of your shots hit the target. It was the first time I ever heard the term sub-MOA. I was eighteen then and am forty-one now. I still have the old gal it has marks that show a armorer refurbishment in 1952. I guess it just need a deep cleaning because all serial #’s are the same. I have sporterized her using a black zytel stock, cut an inch and a half from the barrel and had it milled to accept a KDS muzzle brake/stabilizer, which by the way is far superior to the BOSS Nozzle, had a M1913 rail drilled and tapped so I could use my Leatherwood scope. and the cherry on top was having my gunsmith make the comb and butt adjustable so the cheek weld is perfect. Many people say why fix it if ain’t broke and I always tell the the same thing. A former SAS major fired my rifle and was so impressed he gave me five new in the bag ten round magazines. He said he gave an old friend his SMLE and forgot to give up the new mags. Now I have good friend who has a Remington 700 in .308. He also has his father’s Sako. To give a level playing field we used a very good benchrest. First up, The Sako .308. At 100m after 3shot zeroing it left a tight pattern you could cover with a nickel. Second batter up, Remington 700 .308. At this point I need to point out all rounds for the .308 were 169gr Sierra Match King BTHP Lake city Arsenal. After three round zeroing It left an extremely tight tight group that could be covered by a dime. Well now it’s my turn. Time to nut up or shut up. I had to use 171gr PMC BTFMJ as it was the only thing we could find that was close in velocity and torque. It was no contest. As my friend watched through the spotting scope I bought he simply muttered sob. To prevent tares on the target we used a stick of Elmers glue/paste. Just enough to hold the target taught to the For sale Sign and not able to dry to the plastic. I know I am super lucky to have found this little piece of heaven. I would definitely put it up against any .308/7.62×51 in the world. No wonder the Tommie’s loved these things so much!

  30. Good article. Not 100% accurate but most of the points are heading in the right direction.

    These comments though… Do you guys bashing these rifles look at the guns you buy before you buy them or just take it from the seller that it’s a tack driver? Oh I know you probably buy the crappiest ammo you can find and expect it to drive tacks at 200 yards… if half of you even shoot that far.

  31. Just caught this article. A little known fact about the length of pull issue noted. Because the Enfield’s rear stock is detachable the Brits made several different sizes. I have to hand rear stocks stamped S and L (short and long). At a time when most serving members were about 5′ 7″ (WWI & WWII) the standard stock worked. However my Father served in WWII, and was just over 6′, and he had to have EL (extra long) webbing ordered. Apparently you could get the armorer to order a long stock, but it took a couple of acts of God and a change in world order. If you search you can still get S and L stocks new in the wrap now and then (shows how “willing” the armorers were to change stocks!!).

  32. Just a run of the mill British WW 1 303 Enfield that has come via India, refer to the rear sight, all Indian made, and then been repaired after some muppet has sporterised it, maybe even done in India for the export market, lots were.

    As to accuracy, if you have a decent barrel and some decent 1950’s Brit or Australian ammo, then 2″ at 100 yards is yours all day long, float your barrel and you will do a lot better than that right out to 1000 yards, Aussie Queen’s shooters do it all day long with standard rifles, and knock the 1500 yard Wimbledon shooters with their 30 cals off every time. My Long Lee handles the standard 50′ ammo nicely and is very accurate, the groups show in this skit are terrible..

  33. I have a head spacing issue on my .303. I was told to unscrew the bolt one thread for a better fit. Is this safe or would it damage the rifle? Is there anything else I can do?

  34. 1914 SMLE MKlll – does not seem to have bolt in butt stock – Took ou t a bakelite material that looked like a spoon. looks like flat surface in bottom of hole where bolt should be- possible old fix? Stock is slightly loose. not sure what to do at this point. Rest of gun disassembled. Anyone see anything like this?

    • There is a fiber washer on top of the bolt .I think it is there so the cleaning kit doesnt rattle around.You need a really long screw driver- more than 12 inches as I recall. I bought a huge one at our local junk tool store and reground the tip with a hollow grind. Mine is a 1916 and its a slot head. Some later ones have a bolt head I think. Happy shooting.

  35. Thanks for a great and very fair review of the Lee-Enfield SMLE.

    I’ve owned to Lee-Enfields going back many years ago. (1) a No. 5, Mk 1 “Jungle Carbine” and (2) a No. 4. I don’t know the provenance of my Jungle Carbine, but my No. 4 was manufactured during WWII at the Longbranch arsenal near Toronto, Ontario. These rifles were each purchased in essentially MINT condition: the No.5 Mk 1 about 1964 for around $40, and the No.4 about 1972 for around $100.
    The No.4 differed from the Mk III SMLE By having a different front sight and bayonet attachment configuration and a receiver peep sight that was hugely better than the SMLE’s.
    In those days good, non-corrosive surplus ammo was available for cheap in Canada where I lived then as now.
    Note that the Lee-Enfields were issued with various lengths of pull to suit individual soldiers.
    I absolutely hated the recoil from both the No.5 Mk 1 and the No.4. The cheek piece is far to low making recoil painful not only to your shoulder but also your cheek.

  36. Neat Review,
    Looking at the armory stamp I’d thought it easy to find the rifles ‘birth factory’.
    Trigger pull of 12″ is ridiculous for us now, yet remember the ‘poms’ , English army primarily came from city slums and the lower classes. Men recruited into the army where then stunted in scale with poor nutrition, often squalid living and horrendously dangerous working conditions.
    These ‘Men’ are my own ancestors; grown apart and away from the ‘there and then’, in a far flung corner of the Commonwealth, I stand 6’2″ with nephews even taller.
    I proudly use an SLME 303 (Rifle of the British Empire), previously ‘sporterised’, read as thoroughly molested, in role my ‘Farm Truck Gun’ . She is more than up to the job of knocking down feral pig, goat, deer and dog incursions. All be it with an ‘aftermarket’ , plastic stock set and scope.
    Ammo, parts and accessory are not hard for me to get.
    Suggest that any ‘Mil Surp’ enthusiast in the USA look at (ex) Commonwealth countries if and when chasing stuff for an SLME 303 British.
    If I may also suggest, ask,( not beg ) : Please keep Your ‘old girl’ as is, or even consider restoring her to a former full military glory, again look to the UK or Commonwealth Nations when chasing bits and bobs ‘online’.
    That Rifle has a history, story to tell, which is the extra plus for ‘mil surp’ firearms.
    Thanks again for Your review.

  37. I made a trade for the action and barrel of an Enfield 1918 SMLE MKIII*, Serial Number O 4477.
    According to the markings it was rebarreled in 1921 in England and the barrel serial number forced matched to the receiver.
    It is marked G.R. for George Rex. It was sold out service, unknown year, marked .303 2.22″.
    The barrel was tested to 18+ TONS. QuickLOAD shows SAAMI at 49,000 PSI and a typical load for a 174gr. at 40,207 PSI. Anyway, no ammo to test fire. Although the person I got it from said it does shoot OK.
    I’m working on restoring it to the original configuration. I received the buttstock and 5 piece safety today.
    I cleaned and lightly sanded the stock, then sealed it with MinWax Helmsman Spar Urethane spray.
    Installed the safety and checked the operation, Works fine.
    Money’s tight, so next month I get the rest of the furniture and the hardware, maybe a magazine.

  38. I purchased a SMLE while serving in the army back in 1989 when they were selling them off. Got an unissued 1943 manufactured Lithgow/Orange Arsenal rifle, an unissued ’43 OA sword bayonet and an unissued rifle bag dated 1915 all for $50 to the ‘Reciever of Public Monies’. Still got it. My son wants it now.

    I remember using SMLE’s as a kid in army cadets in the early ’70s. Back then we even took them home with us. Not now.

    The army here used the SMLE’s up to the early ’60s. Used them last in Korean War and Malaysia. Nothing wrong with a SMLE.

    By the way, if you guys load/fill your chargers properly, you’ll never experience rim lock. When filled properly, the chargers get be inserted in the the charging bridge either way. The base of the outside and middle cartridges must be hard against the base of the charger. The second and forth cartridges must have their rims ahead of the other three. Try it and you’ll see. It’s the way cartridges come from the factory in bandoleers.


    Australia ??

  39. Update on my previous post on the Enfield 1918 SMLE MKIII*.
    I have completed it, although it is not 100% authentic WWI parts, The forend is a WWII No.4 MKI. The butt stock is from an Indian Drill Rifle. All the hardware except the butt stock bolt is WWI. The bayonet is a Wilkinson Pall Mall Pattern1907 from 10/1917.
    I am going to strip and stain the butt stock to match the rest of the wood.
    No ammo to shoot, have to wait until next month and I will get all the stuff needed to handload ammo.

  40. Please don’t alter your SMLE rifle by tapping it for a scope, or you will ruin any collector value, as for the Arabic writing that’s quite possible as the Brits supplied arms to some of the Middle East countries.
    These rifles were literally used all over the world.

  41. Are people really expecting 80 and 90 year old militairy surplus rifles, bought at gun shows to shoot well and hold together? LOL. These weapons shot about 2 MOA when new and had a reputation as being very good militairy weapons when built. I have 2 of them, one British built and one Australian built, and shoot them for fun, not expecting anything other than to be in or around the target.

    • 2 Moa is 20″ at 1000 yards. Most of us would be lucky to get anything like that with a Remington 700 in a chassis system and a Nightforce scope at that range.

      I have a Lithgow and over the 35 years I have had it, it does about 4 MOA consistently with my now 70 year old eyeballs. I still do .5-.75 MOA with the aforementioned Remington .308. All my other bolt action WWII rifles do about the same. Some days better but usually not much worse. My all matching pristine 98K is worse due to it atrocious barley corn sights and the deteriorating optical system in my head.

      There is certainly nothing wrong with my No. 1 MKIII*

  42. Great review. I have the ShtLE MK III made in 1917. It’s a bit of a squirrelly shooter but I like the analogy of it fitting the body like “the AK47 of bolt action rifles” It does feel good to hold and shoot. Sort of like the hot girlfriend that’s dumb as lead. Lol I have the Mauser, moisin, m1917eddystone, and lebel but I’ve got a soft spot for my LE. (Even tho I consider the Eddystone a much better shooter than all of them) now I just need to find more ammo for it!!! Good luck y’all

    • I had an eddystone 1917 and hated it. Too long too heavy the action was clunky. I sold it and currently have a 4-2 POf 1963, a Mark 3 1940 Enfield, and a 1967 7.62- 51 Ishy. They all fit better than that Eddystone. Probably because the 2 piece stock fits better. I will look at the stampings for the size. They just feel handy.

      • Haha the Eddystone is a beast! I def would hate to lug that thing around the battelfield. It’s like a tree branch with battle sights lol. I just like the Eddystone’s accuracy and strong action. My Mk3 still has the best weapon to body feel. Nice buys btw. How much did you get for your Eddystone?

        • In my misguided youth I sporterised it. I got about $375. for it. I had it for sale for several years. That was as good as it got. I payed $65.- 72. many years ago. My friend went to a store in the early 60’s. Jungle carbine s were like $8.-12. take your pick from barrell load. Mark 5 Enfiel

  43. Bought my Lithgow (’43) III* for $20 in 1973. It was sporterized, but very nicely done. Good bore, came with a military sling and an extra 10-round mag. Had to choose between that and a 7mm Mauser for the same price. Really like the .303 British round. I seem to recall someone marketing a .303 “Light Magnum” round a number of years back, but never ran across any.

    Nice article.

  44. I have had great success with the 303. I own 2. I inherited one from my dad when he died. he said you’ve carried this old rifle all your life, you might as well own it. it’s a 1943 lithgow smle mK 3, it’s stock has been sporterized and the old wood left sanded and oiled, but left with it’s open sights. It shoots Ok but prints slightly left about .5 in and high about 1 in with the right round, but will open to about 3 inch with mil jacket. my other one is a pawn shop special, a 1918 smle mK3, It is a royal arms factory, England issue and was brought back and refurbished in 1951 at the same factory. It has been sporterized with a blonde wood stock and a 7 round mag. It is an absolute tack driving wonder. I never though that an open sighted 303 ( sand bagged) could be so accurate as to cut the bulls eye at 100yds the first time I fired the weapon. I put a 3×9 Leopold on it and left the iron’s on as backup. it’s my go to hunting rifle. I have other hunting rifles that are fine in their own right, 6.5’s, 8mm’s, ’06’s, ect…however I love it’s amazingly quick bolt for follow up shots and trust the ol 303 to do it’s part if I do mine, even if the elements get nasty.

  45. I’ve never found the sights on the Lee Enfield to be “terrible” as you put it. Much like the stock ergonomics they are very different from a modern firearm. This can be off putting at first, but once you shoot it awhile you find it works just fine. While I wont say that the No1 sights are the easyest sights to line up, they are hard to screw up in that they almost force you to line them up properly. The blade size, notch size, and barrel length all work well together to make a pretty dummy proof sight system.

  46. How do you shoot so poorly? I got bulls (and my British Army Marksman 2nd class) over 150 yds when I was 15 years old in the Army Cadets. That was with the Mk IIIs we used on a regular basis back then. You need some practise!

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