The rifle's name is the combination of the names of James Paris Lee (designer of the Bolt) and Enfield, the town in England where the Royal Small Arms Factory was located. In keeping with Lee's original 1879 design, the magazine is removable, but was only removed for cleaning and maintenance.
All in all, something like 19 Million Lee-Enfield rifle variants were made. All used the same bolt action and ten-round internal magazine. The action has the reputation as the fastest bolt action ever made in a battle rifle, and the Tommys all trained for the "Mad Minute" - sixty seconds where the soldier was expected to put a minimum of 15 aimed rounds into a 12 inch target at 200 yards. That was the minimum passing score, and well-trained troops would typically double that. Since the rifle was loaded via 5-round stripper clips, that means that four stripper clips would have to be loaded during that 60 second interval.
That aimed shot every 2 seconds meant that a company of British infantry could put 3000 aimed rounds down range in a minute. German troops in 1914 reported that they ran into machine gun fire; it was actually a regiment of soldiers firing this.
It fired the rimmed .303 British round, shown here next to the .45 ACP for scale. The .303 cartridge is rimmed (like a revolver round), adopted in 1888 for the (Black Powder) Lee-Metford rifle. Later, cordite replaced the black powder, which was ultimately replaced by smokeless propellant. The round was the standard British battle cartridge from 1889 until the 1950s, seeing service under Queen Victoria, Kings Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII, George VI, and Queen Elizabeth II. Quite a run. While still widely available, it's a bit spendy (I paid $18 for a box of 20 and thought it was as good a deal as I'd likely find). You might want to consider reloading these.
It has quite a bit of splat, and I found myself improvising a recoil pad after the first ten rounds or so. It's certainly not impossible to shoot, although it's is said that the Jungle Carbine variant (with a shortened barrel) kicks so hard that it was issued with a rubber butt plate. The M1 Garand has a positively soft recoil in comparison.
The sights are clearly designed for a battle rifle. The older SMLE didn't have the peep sight behind the chamber; rather, it had a U-sight mounted in front of it. You can flip the sight up, and the sight can be adjusted for ranges from 100 yards to way, way out past "Fort Mudge" (1300 yards - at least the scale goes to "13"). You adjust the range by turning the top knob. Each click from turning the knob is a very fine adjustment - it seems like ten yards or so. It takes a lot of clicks to get the sights up to 1000 yards.
The problem, as long time readers have been anticipating, is not with the rifle. It's with my marksmanship.
Eighteen rounds down range at 100 yards. The first 3 were low off the paper because I expected the rifle was zeroed at 100 yards. Walking the impacts upwards got the rest on the paper, although I can't say that I'm very pleased at my groupings. The red circles are each 3 inches in diameter, and were quite difficult to see with my (mumble-something aged) eyes. There's a decent chance that most would go into a 12 inch black target (the "Mad Minute" target), although then you'd need to put it at 200 yards.
The trigger is outstanding - an eighth inch of take up, but then with a crisp break after a heavy pull. My marksmanship was in no way hampered by the trigger.
The bolt works very smoothly. It is based on Lee's locking design patented in 1879. The design is "cock on close", where pulling the bolt back ejects the spent case, and then closing the bolt both chambers the round and cocks the weapon. There is a cocked indicator, sticking out from the back of the bolt below here. You can also see the safety lever sticking straight back towards the butt stock (in safe position). Rotating it upwards and forwards will ready the rifle to fire.
This is great fun to shoot, and attracted a small crowd at the range. While it would do fine on deer (or larger game, like Kudu), you need younger eyes than I have if you're going after anything further than 100 yards or so. Or a scope, but bubba-ing a great old piece of history like this would be a shame. It was the rifle of Empire, from the days when the sun literally never set on the British Empire. The Empire's day has passed, and this rifle has passed with it, but for those who appreciate the poetry of rifles (as opposed to the stark utilitarian prose of modern designs), this rifle brings it in imperial gallons.
The standard disclaimer:
I'm not any kind of gun or shooting expert. I like shooting, and shoot a fair number of different guns, but I'm really a dilettante. Your mileage may vary, void where prohibited, do not remove tag under penalty of law.
I don't do scientific, repeatable tests. There's no checklist, although that's not a bad idea. I write about what I like and don't like, but it's pretty much stream of consciousness. Opinion, we got opinion here. Step right up.
I'm not a shooting teacher, although I do like to introduce people to shooting. Maybe some day I'll take the NRA teaching class, but until then, you get a dilettante's view. You'll get opinion here, but if you get serious about shooting, you'll want to get someone who knows what he's doing to give you some pointers. It can help.
And oh yeah, shooting things is fun.