Monday, September 19, 2011

Range Report - Lee Enfield No. 4 Mk. 1

The Lee Enfield No. 4 was a variant of the Short, Magazine, Lee-Enfield (SMLE) of World War I fame.  Most of the modifications were to make it easier to manufacture - a critical advantage in 1939 when it was adopted.  His Majesty's forces carried this as they first stared Hitler's Wehrmacht down, and then took the battle to the Continent.

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.

The bayonet is the "pig sticker" spike, which replaced the traditional sword type.  I didn't shoot with the bayonet on, as my marksmanship can't take any more challenges.  Still, this is likely lighter than the sword type, and you'd still get your stabby-stabby with this in place.

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.


Paladin said...

I want one of these soooooo bad.

Roger said...

I also have aged eyes and enjoy shooting old military rifles without optical sights. I use one of these, which really help.
The top one is inexpensive and effective, if not "tacticool"


Duke said...

I like the old Enfields. I did a build on one of the Ishapore rifles and posted about it a while back (low budget scout rifle) I also have one of the Gibbs jungle carbine's, neat rifle. I had a 303 years ago and hunted with it. My experience was it shot lousy groups with old military ammo but very well with commercial hunting rounds, you might try that.

Dave H said...

Thanks for the range report. I've been wondering what gun to get with my shiny new C&R license. This sounds like a contender.

Captain Wheelgun said...

I love my No4Mk1. Like yours, mine has the Mk1 micrometer sight. You should get approximately 1 MOA per click on the elevation adjustment (1" @ 100 yds, etc...). I also strongly recommend reloading, since there is no good milsurp ammo left, and, as you found, commercial ammo is expensive.

WV diments - A girl's best friend?

45er said...

I was given an old Enfield that was intended to be a project. I still have never gotten around to it, though I really know I should.

Peter said...

Enfields can be addicting; you've been warned!

If you want to mount a scope, about the best one that does not involve modifying the rifle is the Cad-Technik (sp?). It's mounted to the side of the receiver using a longer ejector and safety screw.

Huber makes a single stage trigger which I think is worth the $80.

Ammo: Enfields headspace on the rim, and the Brits tended to make the chambers long. The shoulder of a fired case can be as much as a sixteenth of an inch longer than a new one. If you look, you'll probably notice a ring about a quarter inch above the rim: that's where the stretching takes place. Unless you enjoy using a broken shell extracor, neck size only. Or at least set the full-length die so it bumps the shoulder back a few thousandths but doesn't fully resize the case. Prvi Partizan (of all people) makes very good brass. It's thicker down at the base so it doesn't get that 'ring', and you can reload the case a few more times. Getting five or six reloads before the case gives up the ghost means you're doing it right. Fully resizing the brass will get you two or three reloads before the case separates, hence the neck sizing only.

Load: 42 grains of ReLoder 15 and a 174 grain bullet is a pretty good imitation of the MkVII round. The bore can be anything between the issue .311 and .314(!). Also, some barrels, especially well used 2 groove ones, do not like boattail bullets. Hornady makes .312 diameter bullets, which might help. NB: the Hornady 174gr BTHP can be either .3105 or .312, so look at the box before you plunk your money down.

Mad Minute: you grasp the bolt with your thumb and index finger and pull the trigger with the middle one. You can easily hit the gong 25-30 times in sixty seconds that way.

Mr Evilwrench said...

I have one of those Ishi's in the jungle carbine model, chambered for 7.62x51. I can't recall the brand, but found a side mount for the scope that I could mount without modification, and it doesn't even interfere with the action. They are out there if you look.

Knitebane said...

I have a No. 4 too. It has a Bushnell 4-9x30 mounted on it and performs very well. Before I get screamed at: I bought it like that.

But I ran into the same problems with ammo. Quite pricey when you can find it.

So I picked up an Ishapore at a recent fun show. 7.62x51 is MUCH cheaper to shoot and other than the caliber it's basically a No.1. Mine showed evidence of the stock being reused from an old No. 1 with a patch on the toe but other than that it's nearly pristine.

The Ishy is a shooter but my old eyes would really prefer using the scope. I plan to move the scope onto it and restore the No. 4 to original.

Anonymous said...

I have a No. 1 Mk 3 and a No. 4 Mk 1, but have only shot about 10 rounds with the No. 4 to try it out.

Thanks for this review. It makes me want to pull it out of the gun closet and try it out at Vintage match. It's in great shape and even the bore is pristine.

What I really want is a Ishy for the same reason Knitebane cites. Cheaper, more available, and easier to reload ammo. From what I've heard, the rimmed brass tends to split easier and you don't get as many reloads per cartridge.

But the No. 4 is a beaut.

That Guy said...

I had my Ishapore Enfeild on the range this past weekend. I as hitting clays on the 100 yard berm just fine.

So I decided I am going to get a deer with it this year.

Anonymous said...

I would love to get one of those, or at least get a chance to shoot one for an afternoon. I always prefer military issue anything. This post has got me itching to go burn through whatever is left of the 500 rounds of Wolf .223 cal. 55 - gr. FMJ I got for Christmas haha!

waepnedmann said...

Cornelius Ryan relates an incident in his book "A BridgeToo Far" where a (I do no remember if it was a Brit or a Canuck) soldier single-handedly stopped a German armored column by shooting each successive tank driver through the head with his Lee-Enfield rifle.

I have craved a No. 4 Mk I for years.
Too bad I did not get one years ago when you could get on for a day's wages.

Unknown said...

Typically military rifles were zeroed in at 100 yards with the bayonet on the rifle while firing. either you can adjust the sights or fire with the bayonet attached.