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The WWII-Tested, Multi-Purpose Antique Rifle That Can Beat An AR-15

The WWII-Tested, Multi-Purpose Antique Rifle That Can Beat An AR-15When you talk about famous firearms of the British Empire, a couple of examples will quickly ring a bell.

One is the respected Brown Bess and its variations, which saw the uniting of the crowns into the United Kingdom and the rise and expansion of the British Empire. Another would doubtlessly be the Enfield Rifled Musket, which saw action in the Crimean War and was used by both sides in the American Civil War. The Snider-Enfield and Martini-Henry Breechloaders followed, and were used throughout the colonial wars of the later 19th century.

But one modern rifle served the British Empire and its commonwealth through the two largest wars in history and is still available on the surplus market: the Lee-Enfield.

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The .303 bore Lee-Enfield was adopted by the British Imperial Forces shortly before 1895. It saw use in the bloody Boer War, where teething issues were experienced, particularly when the rifle went toe to toe with the German Mauser rifles utilized by the Boers. Beginning toward the end of the Boer War, the British started a push to switch from the Enfield to a rifle that incorporated a Mauser action. During this time, a new variant of the Enfield, the “Short Magazine Lee-Enfield” or SMLE for short, entered service with the British Army in 1904, with a further change in 1907. This, consolidated with enhanced .303 cartridges, extraordinarily extended the rifle’s range, and increased its accuracy. With the start of World War I, the effort to replace the rifle with a Mauser-type firearm was ended.

During WWI, the Enfield beat almost every other rifle in the combat zone. With its 10-round magazine, and a one-of-a-kind cock on close action, the Enfield could be discharged by a trained infantryman at a rate of 30 rounds per minute. At the battle of Mons, the Germans reported coming up against machine gun fire, not knowing it was British Infantry discharging volleys during a “Mad Minute,” using the Lee-Enfield.

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When the Canadians entered World War I, they were equipped with the accurate-yet-lethally defective Ross Rifle. After tragic results, the Canadian troops happily turned in their Ross Rifles for Enfields. The Enfield turned into the standard long arm of Canada for the following three decades.

It was later said that the French had the awful rifle (Berther and Lebel), the Germans had the best Hunting Rifle (Mauser G98), the Americans had the finest target rifle (Springfield M1903), and the British had the best military rifle (SMLE).

At the finish of the First World War, the SMLE became the No.1 Mk. III rifle, and the push to modernize the rifle further was started by the Brits. Toward the start of the Second World War, the SMLE equipped the majority of the British Empire, and also Australia, Canada and New Zealand. It was joined and in many ways supplanted by the No. 4 Mk. I rifle, which was a modernized Enfield. The new rifle was intended for large-scale manufacturing and was much less expensive and simpler to build en masse than the SMLE. The No. 4 Mk. I was equipped with a spike bayonet reminiscent of Napoleonic days rather than the sword bayonet utilized by the SMLE, but it kept the dependable Enfield action and 10-round magazine of the prior No 1 Mk. III. The Mk. IV saw wide usage in World War II and Korea, as did the SMLE. In World War II, the SMLE was the most widely used British rifle in the Mediterranean and Indian theater of the war, while the Mk. IV was for the most part utilized in Europe.

The WWII-Tested, Multi-Purpose Antique Rifle That Can Beat An AR-15During the 1950s, the Enfield was supplanted by the L1A1 in both British and Commonwealth service and many surplus rifles flooded the surplus firearms market in the USA and Canada. The Enfield still sees military use with the Canadian Rangers, who are finally in the midst of replacing their aged rifles with modern .308s

The .303 Enfield has been to the Canadians what the .30-06 M1 Garand and M1903 Springfield rifles are to the Americans. It is an excellent hunting rifle, and throughout North America has killed a huge number of deer, elk and moose, and bear.

I personally have enjoyed the Enfield as a range gun. The 10-round magazine is very unique for a bolt gun and provides more “plinking time.” While .303 isn’t sold everywhere, you can find surplus rounds online. The rifle is accurate (not as accurate as an M1903, but more accurate than an AR-15). I have seen it used for deer, and can attest to the lethality of a soft-tipped .303. The occasion it took a large whitetail in my presence, it was a one-shot kill that dropped the deer in its tracks.

An Enfield can be employed in a home defense role, but be careful if you choose milsurp rounds as they will easily puncture walls, bricks, chimneys, etc. Most mil spec rounds on the market are armor-piercing, not unlike much of the .30-06 surplus from the 40s and 50s M1 Garand owners use. Hunting rounds are a better option for home defense for the Enfield. Its fast bolt action will come in handy here.

An Enfield can be a good all-around multi-purpose rifle for hunting, self-defense and scavenging.

Have you use an Enfield? What advice would you add? Share it in the section below:

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  1. Yes, the British .303 is a very good rifle, but one note of caution about the ammunition you might purchase to use with it.
    A lot of still available military surplus ammo is (Berdan) corrosive primed and if you don’t use the right solvent(s) to clean your rifle bore soon after firing, serious damage can be done. Your best bet is to only buy good commercially made, name brand ammo and or reload your own.

  2. I have a No.4 MK I, that I’ve used for hunting for years and serves me well. Mine has the “L” flip rear peep. It shoots 2.5 – 3″ groups at 100 yrd’s with open sights. I like shooting the old school arms.

  3. I have an old Enfield Mk3, which I have used for hunting for years. I bought it in my very early teens (I’m 72 so do the math) from an ad in the old “Sports Afield” magazine (a long gone sister to Field and Stream and Outdoor Life). It cost me $15.00 including freight and came with 100 rounds of old military ammo. I still enjoy that old gun – wouldn’t trade it for nuthin’.

    • Hey Del, good news: Sports Afield is back! They switched to non-hunting sports for a while and then disappeared, but they are now back and as good as ever. I have the Nov/Dec 2015 issue in front of me now: Classic Hunts, Traditional Hunting Gear and Jim Corbett’s .275 Rigby are the cover stories. I’m glad it’s back in business.

  4. Great article. I have a Long Tom Lee Metford & Enfield, various No1 MkIII both Lithgo & Brit manufacture & a No5 Mk1. One thing for prospective buyers/ shooters. Having fractured a cheekbone playing rugby in the day, these ladies kick like a chorus line compared to Garand, a BAR, AR and other US made guns, but they are hellishly reliable.

  5. Comparing the Enfield to the AR-15 is quite a bit of apples and oranges. The bolt action .303 was designed for battlefield combat where accurate fire at long ranges was prized. The AR-15 was designed for combat in urban terrain, where long ranges didn’t exist, and the ability to deliver a high volume of fire was more important. The selection of an intermediate cartridge reflected the doctrine that wounding was preferable to killing because it reduced force effectiveness for the enemy. The round doesn’t have the penetration of a .303, but it does much more damage.

    If we’re talking about home defense here, the Enfield is too unweilding for CQB, and the penetration not only doesn’t help, but it puts your family and neighbors at risk. An M4 variant of the AR-15 is short, and the 5.56 round will typically not penetrate more than one layer of drywall.

    If we’re talking about the homestead, the AR-15 is the ideal gun for defense and varminting, while the Enfield would be better suited for hunting large game. But then, the .303 ammo is expensive and hard to find. I’d rather have a Moisin Nagant chambered in 7.62.

    A fair comparison here would be the Enfield versus the Mauser K98

    • “An M4 variant of the AR-15 is short, and the 5.56 round will typically not penetrate more than one layer of drywall.”

      Good luck with that failed philosophy. The 5.56 will bust cinder blocks, so penetrating several layers of dry wall and insulation aren’t a problem. Over-penetration will be an issue.

    • overPenetration aside, “too unwieldy for CQB”. Ever handled the mk5 No. 1 “Jungle Carbine”. In length and weight, it’s comparable to most modern ar15’s

  6. Reloading can be problematic depending on the idiosyncrasies of your rifle. It headspaces on the rim and often has generous chamber dimensions meaning your cases may stretch too much for good brass life. There are ways around this that can help some including neck resizing only and some other tricks one can pick up from various Lee Enfield and reloading forums. It’s a fun rifle to own and shoot in any case.

  7. I sold my MKIII Enfield. I don’t really regret selling it. If .303 ammo was as plentiful and easy to get as 7.62 x 54r, then I probably would’ve kept it. I also put a scope mount on mine. I bought it in a pawn shop of all places for around $75 in 2002 and the barrel grooves were in good condition and no rust. That particular pawn shop had a few old guns that they desperately wanted to get out of there. Around that time I also bought a 7.5 x 55 Schmidt-Rubin in pristine condition which I also sold a few years later. Again, the ammo availability becomes a factor in rifles like this. Even 10+ yrs ago, getting bulk ammo for those 2 types of calibers was expensive and not always available. THis is just my opinion, but I see the Mosin Nagant as something everyone should have because the ammo is still plentiful. In these current times, I do not see a need to have a rifle that is chambered in a caliber that is either expensive and/or very hard to acquire in bulk quantities. If you already have an Enfield along with a few thousand rds of ammo, then I’d say hold on to it but I would not go out and buy one in these current times.

  8. My Enfield came with the barrel rattling around loose in the front of the stock, which made poor accuracy. I understand this was intentional, so that with poor quality ammunition a lower powered round would allow the barrel to bounce higher before exiting and the bullet would go to roughly the same place at long distance. Since I have good consistent ammunition, I wrapped some cleaning patches around the barrel to hold it in place, and it is more accurate now.

  9. This article is stupid. Good luck finding ANY surplus .303 brit and you will pay MORE for new .303 brit then you will 7.62 NATO/.308. Why would you even write an article about this gun on a survival oriented site for the US market? But a Garan for a hundred bucks more and then a couple crates of surplus ammo or Hornady Garand spec and then you can make the claim that you “have a ww2 rifle that can do everything an AR can”. This whole webring is garbage, I’m done coming here.

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