There are a few guns that I think everyone should own at least once. Of them, the British Enfield, or more proper, the “Lee-Enfield,” is one of the most distinctive. I thought that maybe this week dragging out my Enfields would be a great way to start a new regular series on military surplus firearms.
The Enfield is one of only a few bolt rifles I’ve ever owned that cocks on close, not when you open the bolt. It also has a weird wrist hardware contraption that nobody ever copied for anything. Likewise the muzzle hardware. It is just downright different. And compared to most military bolt guns, the Enfield has a good deal of firepower with a 10 round detachable box mag.
The .303 British round is a rimmed case, about the size of the 30 cal Russian Nagant round from the same era. Both push a 150ish grain bullet at just over 2,700 fps, similar to a .308/7.62 NATO. Like the Nagant, the Enfield soldiered right into the 21st Century in a limited capacity. They are still used in India, and a few other nations to this day.
The Wikipedia page for the Enfield mostly references books by an Australian guy named Skennerton, most of which are available on Amazon today. The Aussies made a version of the Enfield, otherwise known as S.M.L.E (Short Magazine Lee Enfield) at their factory in Lithgow, and if you watch my video, I have one of those rifles. Australian firearms law is about as screwy as California, and at first the Enfield was banned as a “military rifle,” then was unbanned, and became prolific because everything else was banned. Skennerton seems to know and share just about everything there is to know about these unique rifles.
You will mostly see Enfields these days that have been sporterized, which means that the wood has been chopped back, and often replaced with an aftermarket stock. The original configuration guns are becoming more and more scarce, and more expensive, so if you happen upon one at a gun show, or here on GunsAmerica, you might want to grab it. If you are a red blooded American firarm enthusiast, there will not be a lot of buyers remorse. I’m a huge fan of the Nagant, and I love my Swiss rifles, but there is just something about an Enfield that smells like a WWI battle trench, and no other rifle has that, for me.
I’ve included pictures of the import marks on my rifles. Very very few Enfields in the US will be absent some kind of import mark, and they usually say CAI, for Century Arms International. Century imported most of the rifles you’ll see in the 80s and 90s, and many of them came from India. For that reason, you’ll see all kinds of stories about them being parts guns, that they don’t work, that the guns were so far out of spec that they couldn’t issue them, etc. I don’t know what of the stories are true, but the three guns I have, two of which have very clear CAI import marks, work fine and always have.
There is no provinence on any of these guns, meaning that there is no back story or ownership record. Besides the date on the wrist, there is no telling which of these guns saw combat in either of the World Wars, or if they sat in arsenals, or if they were issued to other countries at the time. Enfields have turned up by the hundreds of thousands all over the globe for a century. All of these guns are parts guns, re-arsenaled guns, refinished guns, and I would consider all of them, unless you know the specific serial numbered provinence, just shooters. Many of the guns have “matching serial numbers even,” but I still wouldn’t consider them collectible.
To me, that doesn’t detract from the cool factor on an Enfield. All of my guns are a No. 1 MkIII models, usually referred to as just MKIII. I’m not as big a fan of the other models that don’t have the nearly flush muzzle, but they are popular on some collector boards. Check out the linked Wikipedia page to see the different models, and of course you’ll find most examples in the GunsAmerica listings. They come and go on a regular basis, and I’ve seen quite a few in decent condition in the $400 range lately.
As I said in the video, I bought my Enfields years ago, and paid just over $200. I’m sure that you can still find deals like that at gun shows, but they are becoming fewer and fewer. The only guns I’ve seen that cheap since the 2008 gun boom were heavily sporterized.
One of my guns I bought just because it had copper windings around the belly and forend. At the time they were sold as “grenadier” guns, and the copper bands were supposedly added to keep the rifle from flying apart from the torque of the grenade launcher. Over the years I’ve heard that this was a true story and a fake story, and nobody seemed to back it up either way. It’s a nifty example, and as you can see, it works fine.
I’ve never seen anything like great accuracy out of any of my Enfields. My 50 year old eyes are not what they once were shooting with iron sights, but if you check out my first article on the K31 Swiss rifle(and if you missed that btw, Samco is now gone with the rest of those rifles), I can shoot close to MOA when the rifle is within that range. For the video I couldn’t get even the shiny bore Lithgow rifle to shoot better than into about 4 inches at 100 yards, and that was with Hornady Custom ammo. I am not sure if I am going to scope that gun yet. There are better choices, but I’d like to check out the “no gunsmith” mounts.
Midway Sale on Pakistan Surplus
Above I linked to a Midway sale on 250 round cans of surplus Pakistan Ordnance Factory (POF) .303 British. That sale is actually what kicked me in the but to get this Milsurp column started, because as you can see in the video, I’ve paid as much as $40 a box for factory, boxer primed reloadable brass ammo. At as low as 68 cents per round, this ammo should be an inspiration to go out and buy an Enfield, but it is not. As you can see in the video, nearly every shot hang fires, and I got some duds as well. Considering that reloadable boxer primed Prvi Partizan is only 87 cents a round, and you can even get Hornady Custom Match for just over a buck, I don’t think the POF ammo is worth your trouble. It is difficult to fire accurately when ammo hang fires, and I consider it actually fairly dangerous.
(St)Deals on Fugly/Problematic Enfields
Don’t let the discussion board “elite” get you down about buying an Enfield. I’ve seen all manner of parroted nonsense regarding guns from India, and even fakes from the famous “Kyber Pass” region of Pakistan. Almost all of the Enfields in the US market came in through one large import by Century Arms, and the rifles are almost all stamped UK, which means they were not made in Pakistan, India, or anywhere else. Tons of rifles were shipped to India after the UK adopted the L1A1 (FN-FAL) in the late 1950s, and it is kind of a famous story of repression that England armed the Indian military with the old Enfield bolt guns instead of the L1A1 becuase they feared an uprising had they given the Indian soldiers the firepower of a semi-auto battle rifle.
Parts for the Enfield/SMLE are available from Numrich (Gun Parts Corp), and AGI has a great Armorers Course on how to take apart and service these classic rifles. If you like to tinker, there are some great buys on sporterized guns with shiny bores. It doesn’t take a lot of parts to get an Enfield back to original, and
if you find a really rough gun that you can make into a beautiful gun, Boyds has sporter stocks.
There are some steals out there on undesirable examples of the Lee Enfield, and I wouldn’t be too scared to grab one. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder (especially when the gun may have dried blood from a WWI trench), and guns are always a great non-depreciating asset as compared to cash in the bank, and even gold and silver. There is now boxer primed reloadable brass ammo out there for the same 68 cents a round that I paid Midway for the POF crap, so if you get a rifle, get some ammo. I hope to be back with some kind of optics coverage for these guns, and also some reloading of the .303 British, which is not .303 of course. Stay tuned for more Milsurp, and hopefully more nifty Enfields.