No.1 MkIII

Copyright (C) 1994 by Ben Sansing

compiled by <> with lotsa help

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Part Three: General Information For Shooters (ENFAQ-03.MSG)


Contents, Table of, MkI

- Handloading the .303 British, by C.E. Harris

- Don't Overlook the Lee-Enfield, by C.E. Harris

* Table One: How The .303s Did

* Table Two: Loads for the .303 British



(excerpted from AR, "From the Loading Bench", Mar93, p16)

Handloading .303 British ammunition can be frustrating because of the wide variations in barrel dimensions and chambering found on Lee-Enfield service rifles. The rear-locking Lee-Enfield action is springier than actions like the Mauser or Springfield that have their locking lugs at the front of the bolt directly behind the chamber.

The Lee-Enfield's rear-locking feature is often blamed for poor case life by handloaders who experience difficulty in trying to reload for the .303. Actually, the Lee-Enfield action is entirely adequate for the usual working pressures of .303 factory loads, generally around 40-45,000 c.u.p., and poor case life is commonly a result of excessive cold-working of the brass in resizing.

The cold working occurs because military .303 chambers feature a clearance of about 1/16" between the cartridge case shoulder and the rifle chamber, put there to ensure the rifles would function with dirty ammunition under harsh combat consitions that could include mud, sand, and dust. Because the .303 British headspaces on the case rim, rather than the shoulder like the .30-06, this shoulder clearance is inconsequential to headspacing.

But this clearance does result in the .303's case shoulder being blown forward upon firing. If fired cases are then full-length resized in the usual way (with the die adjusted so as to contact the shell holder), excessive cold working of the case shoulder eventually weakens the brass, with resulting casehead separations.

Satisfactory case life requires that .303 British cases be *neck-sized only*, or if full-length resizing dies are used, they must be carefully adjusted so as *not* to set back the case shoulder. (This is the same procedure used by knowledgeable handloaders when reloading belted magnum cases).

Nominal barrel dimensions for .303 British rifles are .302" bores and .312" groove diameter, but many wartime rifles have groove diameters as large as .316" [BEN: The biggest I've personally seen was a #4 Fazakerly that slugged out at a whopping .3185" - Yow!]. The flat-based 174-gr. MkVII service bullet has a soft gilding metal jacket and lead core that readily upsets to provide reasonable accuracy, even in worn bores. The stiffer jacketed MkVIIIz boattail bullet upsets less easily and often gives poor accuracy in rifles with barrel throats eroded from excessive use of cordite ammunition.

Because many of the rifles now entering the U.S. have seen long use, it is highly recommended that any Lee-Enfield showing considerable use be examined by a competent gunsmith prior to firing. There have been instances in the United Kingdom of stress sorrosion cracking causing barrel failures in .303 Lee-Enfield rifles having severe bore erosion (November 1988, p65).

New rifles and arsenal reworked ones with unworn bores are generally satisfactory. If the throat and/or rifling origin in a used rifle appear noticeably worn, the bore should be cleaned and the area immediately forward of the chamber carefully examined with an optical bore scope. Any barrel showing significant heat cracking or crazing under close optical inspection should be scrapped. As an alternative, where the service is available, suspect barrels may be examined by magnetic particle inspection using the wet method with full circular continuous magnetization.

Common .30 cal. jacketed bullets of .308-.309" diameter in the .303 British give poor accuracy in worn bores, but satisfactory results can usually be obtained in new barrels with bore diameters close to minimum, particularly with target-grade bullets of 160 grs. or more. I experienced gratifying results in the 1960s using pulled GI 173-gr. .30 cal. Match bullets with 42 grs. of surplus 4895, or with 190-gr. .30 cal. Match bullets with 40 grs. of the same powder. These charges should be reduced a full grain when using a current canister of 4895. Pulled GI match bullets are worth trying in the .303 if you happen to have some going around unused.

[BEN: Harris is real hung-up on this "using .30 cal. bullets in .303 British" stuff. Then he'll turn around and rant about "oversized bores" being inaccurate with .311" bullets. I sure wish he'd make up his mind...]

Successful use of .30 cal. bullets in the .303 requires a tighter neck-sizing die to obtain satisfactory neck tension. I use a Jones-type neck sizer with .332" sizing ring for my rifles.

[BEN: I use Lee's .303 British rifle dies with the .312" expander pin removed and the .308" (.307"?) pin, from a set of .308 Win. dies I wasn't using, substituted. I made this mod when I wanted to use Hornady's .310" 125gr spitzers and found them loose in the neck when the regular expander was used. Now I use the .308" expander exclusively, just as I set my 7.62x39mm Lee dies up with the .308" expander and put the .312" away. Lee will send you a .308" expander for your .303 British dies (for a nominal fee) if you write and ask them. I wish they'd see fit to provide two expanders (.308" and .312") with their .303 dies, the way they do for 7.62x39mm]

Jacketed bullets used in arsenal and factory sporting .303 ammunition are generally .311-.312", and U.S. component bullets for handloading are similarly dimensioned. New barrels with unworn throats will give good accuracy and a flat trajectory with 150-gr. bullets at velocities around 2600 fps with 40 grs. of IMR 3031, 41 grs. of IMR 4895, 42 grs. of IMR 4064, 43 grs. of Win. 748, or 48 grs. of IMR 4350.

If the throat is not noticeably worn, jacketed 123-125gr. bullets intended for the 7.62x39mm will give good accuracy on varmints at up to 100 yards with 23 grs. of Hercules 2400, 30 grs. of IMR 4198, or 31 grs. of Reloder 7 to approximate 7.62x39mm velocities.

[BEN: In my Long Branch #4 MkI*, Hornady's 125-gr. spitzer over 40 grs. IMR 3031 is accurate and effective at longer ranges, and ballistically more impressive than Harris' recommended loads for this class of bullet.]

Worn throats almost always require the heavier 174-180gr bullets for best grouping. With these bullet weights, a charge of 45gr of 4350, 46gr of Win. 760, or 47gr of 4831 will approximate factory ballistics.

I prefer a somewhat lower velocity load of 30gr Reloder 7, which provides 2000 fps with a 180-gr. bullet. This load has lighter recoil than factory loads. It is also accurate and entirely adequate for woods use on deer or similar game.

[BEN: That is, of course, providing the bullet - which was designed to expand at higher velocities - manages to mushroom after hitting at 2/3 relative speed]

Many .303 rifles give better accuracy with cast bullets than with jacketed because this is the only way to provide satisfactory bullet fit in rifles with the larger bores. I recommend the use of cast bullets for the casual shooter who wants to enjoy his piece of history. None of the following cast bullet loads are maximum for the .303 British. These charges can be safely used in other .30 cal rifles of similar case capacity, such as the .30-40 Krag, 7.65 Argentine, 7.7 Jap, and 7.62x54R Russian. For small game and plinking the 162gr NEI No. 52A or any other similar weight bullet of .312" or larger can be cast soft, tumbled in Lee Liquid Alox, and shot unsized without the gas check.

[BEN: I buy commercially-cast bullets designed for .32 H&R magnum, instead of casting my own. These are 100gr SWC style with a good wide forepart (ahead of the bearing surface) of about bore (.302-303") diameter. These puppies shoot GOOD in my .303s!]

Charges for such loads are 6-7gr of Bullseye, Win. 231, Green Dot, Red Dot, or 700-X. You may also use 7-8gr of Unique, PB, Herco, SR-7625, or SR-4756. The 7.62x39mm 123gr, 100gr .32-20 or .32 H&R Mag. jacketed handgun bullets will also work well in new barrels with these charges.

[BEN: Ummm... I've been known to use Speer's 100gr JHP (.312", for .32 Mag) bullet over 40gr of 3031 for a "2-liter load" (2-liter plastic Coke bottles, filled with water). At 50 yards, this load is dead-on with the battle sight of my Long Branch #4 Mk1*, and boy does it make a mess out of those bottles!]

Inert fiber fillers to take up the air space in the case are neither necessary nor recommended.

Rimmed cases like the .303 do not suffer shortening from primer blast shoving the shoulder forward, as often happens when reduced loads are fired in rimless cases like the .30-06. Rimmed cases are a better choice for very light small game loads. The best grouping with light gallery loads and plain-base cast bullets is usually found at velocities approaching that of .22 Long Rifle ammunition, perhaps 1300-1400 fps.

Charges used for light jacketed pistol bullet loads may have to be increased up to a grain from those given earlier for pistol and shotgun powders to give the best accuracy. If economy, low recoil, and low noise are your concerns, you can save the price of gas checks if you keep velocities below 1200 fps and use a soft-cast bullet of standard weight for the calibre.

My favorite load, and the most accurate, is 15-16gr of Hercules 2400 with a 170-200gr cast bullet such as the NEI No. 58 or Lyman 314299. This charge is also suitable for the light 100-125gr jacketed bullets if you want a bit snappier small game or practice load. An advantage here with Hercules 2400 is that it is not particularly position sensitive and requires no fiber fillers to ensure uniform results.

[BEN: I thought he said *none* of the light loads needed fillers?]

If you don't have Hercules 2400, you can use 17-18grs of IMR or H4227, 18-20grs of 4198, or 21-24grs of Reloder 7. These cast bullet loads work better with softer alloys than with harder ones like Taracorp Magnum, Lyman No. 2 or Linotype. This is because these cast loads generally produce less than 30,000 cup, and harder alloys are neither required nor desireable.

[BEN: I don't see how that "because" draws a valid conclusion...???]

With cast bullets, it is crucial in the .303 British that the bullet have a large forepart that will engage the rifling. Most cast bullets designed for U.S. .30 cal. barrels of nominal .300" bore and .308" groove dimensions will give poor accuracy in the .303 British because the forepart ahead of the driving bands is too small to receive any guidance from the lands because most .303 barrels have larger bore diameters [Ben: because, because, because... of the wonderful things he does?]. As an easy way to check proper fit of a cast bullet forepart, insert the nose [BEN: of the bullet?] into the muzzle. If it enters easily up to the front driving band without engraving, accuracy will seldom be satisfactory.

The diameter of the bore-riding portion should be .3035" or larger for most .303 rifles. The best off-the-shelf cast bullet for the .303 British is the Lyman 314299 originally designed for this cartridge. The NEI No. 21A I designed for the 7.62x39mm (January 1992, p51) is also satisfactory for those wanting a lighter bullet (NEI suspended business in 1992. The Eds.).

This design can be obtained from Lead Bullet Technology, HCR62, Box 145, Moyie Springs, Idaho 83845, and from Donald V. Eagan, PO Box 196, Benton, PA 17814.



This dependable piece of history is still a great buy for the practical shooter on a budget.

(excerpted from AR, Jul93, p46)

Surplus Lee-Enfield rifles and ammunition are cheap and plentiful again. For those whose lives and enthusiasm for firearms predate the 1968 Gun Control Act that ended the golden age of surplus rifles, Lee-Enfield rifles offer few surprises. But, for many of today's shooters, this is the first time the "workhorses of the British Empire" have been available in large numbers and, more importantly, at low prices.

Some questions those unfamiliar with these rifles often ask are: Are the .303 Enfields a good choice for a rough-duty hunting or plinking rifle? Are they a decent buy for the money? How do they compare in performance with other surplus rifles on the market, like the Springfield, Mauser, or Garand? What can I expect in terms of accuracy? And how much will handloads or tinkering improve things?

It is interesting to compare the three most common .303 British rifles to their familiar U.S. .30-06 contemporaries, the M1903 and the '03-A3 Springfields or the M1917 U.S. Enfield. This should interest potential users who are not collectors and help them understand why the .303 Enfields are some of history's most-used and significant military rifles.

The first British .303s, the Lee-Metford long rifles and carbines, derived from the American-designed Remington Lee .45-70 repeater, were adopted when "Soldiers of the Queen" still faced superior numbers of opponents in its [sic] far-flung colonies. In changing from a blackpowder single-shot to what was then a "modern" small-bore magazine rifle, British military planners insisted that the service rifle be utterly reliable under harsh service conditions and capable of a high volume of aimed fire.

They wanted all the opening force of the bolt to be used for primary extraction, believing that cock-on-opening would detract from extraction leverage. Lee-Enfield bolt-actions cock in the final closing motion of the bolt *before* its rotation into the locked position.

The intention was to use the inertia imparted by the rifleman's rapid hand movement to aid the process. A Springfield bolt, like some Mausers, cocks on the *raising* motion of the bolt handle.

It is not as easily opened when liberally doused with sand or mud, or when washed clean of lubricant, unless the cocking piece is first cocked. It may be argued that a fouled breech, aggravated by the Lee-Enfield's cock-on-closure, resists bolt closure. But in retrospect, the British solution was both simple and effective.

The Lee-Enfield's rear-locking, two-lug bolt leaves both the cartridge stop surface (rim seat of the barrel) and the receiver locking recesses readily accessible for cleaning. The long right locking lug serves as a bolt guide rib and rides between the two halves of the split rear receiver bridge.

This prevents the cramping tendency familiar in Mauser-type actions. Rear-locking also permits a shorter bolt throw for rapid bolt manipulation from the shoulder without changing head position on the stock.

Experiences in the Boer War (1899-1902) recommended a common-length short rifle for both foot and mounted troops. The Short, Magazine Lee-Enfield (abbreviated SMLE and pronounced "smelly") was first adopted in 1903.

The U.S. used similar logic in adopting the M1903 Springfield. The SMLE MkIII was an improvement made in 1907 and was renamed the No. 1 MkIII in 1926. It is recognized by its strong, solid bridge for the charging guides, contrasted with earlier conversions having one half of the charging guide on the left sidewall of the receiver and the other half on the bolt head.

In 1916, the No. 1 MkIII* rifle, one of the most commonly seen surplus today, eliminated the magazine cutoff and long range, indirect-fire sights (used to direct plunging volley fire at troop formations in defilade) and changed to a stamped cocking piece.

It has been said about the Great War (1914-1918) that the Americans had the best "target" rifle, the Germans the best "hunting" rifle, and the British the best "battle" rifle. This is a fair assessment of the SMLE.

[BEN: Ah, but the French had the best "lampstand" rifle! The Lebel's tube magazine makes it *easy* to conceal the cord from the socket to the base.]

Its fast charger reloading, short bolt throw and 10-shot magazine - twice the capacity of its contemporaries - enabled the Lee-Enfield to deliver an effective volley of fire "accurate enough" for combat.

First experiencing the receiving end of Britain's "contemptible little army" (in which an infantryman was expected to fire 15 aimed shots in one minute, dubbed the "mad minute") in 1914, German Gen. Von Kluck thought his troops were being cut to ribbons by massed machine guns.

[BEN: Recent discussion (1994) on Usenet's 'rec.guns' group has revealed that the "14 shots per minute" figure may be somewhat *low*. Well- trained shooters, according to some of the Brit, Aussie, and Kiwi (NZ) folk thereabouts, insist that firing speeds up to 20 shots per minute (including reloading time) were not unusual. Hmmm...]

The rapidity of fire possible with the Lee-Enfield is more a function of its greater magazine capacity - simply not having to reload as often - than its ease of bolt operation.

The short bolt throw of the Lee-Enfield bolt could be an advantage for hastily-trained troops prone to "short-stroke" the bolt, but with a trained bolt-gunner, the advantage is more theoretical than real. An SMLE is less accurate than an '03 or M1, and maintaining a high rate of fire requires a bit more effort.

However, for around $100 or less you get a reliable, 10-shot repeating rifle as accurate as your average SKS, but firing a much more effective deer load, equal to the .300 Savage or .30-40 Krag.

Enfield sights are adequate for military use but not as precise as the U.S. Springfield's or Garand's. They are, after all, battle sights. The open sights on No. 1 MkIII rifles were adjustable for both windage and elevation, though some Australian imports lack the windage screw and are adjustable for elevation only.

[BEN: Sure enough, the Lithgows (I checked several) tend not to have windage adjustments on the back sight. The front sight *can* be drifted side-to-side for windage adjustments, but since you have to remove the rifle's nosecap assembly to do this, it's not very practical for sighting in on the range. Best solution for Lithgow owners whose windage is "off" might be a replacement (earlier vintage) rear sight, readily available from a variety of surplus suppliers - see "Short Bits" section for addresses.]

The No. 1 MkIII's light barrel heats rapidly in sustained fire, and accuracy suffers. While this is not [an] important concern in a hunting rifle, it may be a problem if you fire more than a magazine-load without letting the barrel cool. The two-stage military trigger pull is a bit heavy, but is easy to get used to. After the initial slack is taken up, the letoff is controlled by applying the last few pounds after reaching the well-defined second stage.

Another common Lee-Enfield is the No. 4 MkI, identified by its receiver sight and protruding, heavier barrel. It was adopted in 1939 to simplify manufacture and provide a more accurate rifle while preserving the SMLE's desireable features. Most No. 4s are not as nicely made as earlier SMLEs, but are rugged, serviceable rifles. They possess better combat sights and are better battle rifles than the SMLE.

[BEN: Look out! The above is fodder for religious wars worse than Glock vs. Sig!]

My biggest criticism of British-made No. 4s is the sloppy manufacture of many wartime barrels, which often have groove diameters over .316". There is little hope of getting any common jacketed bullet to group better than about 4 moa in so large a bore, because the usual .311-.312" jacketed bullets are so greatly undersized.

I have found Canadian Long Branch Arsenal and U.S.-made Savage bores seldom exceed the normal .303"-.304" bore and .313"-.314" groove diameters. The two-groove Long Branch barrels will give normal accuracy with ".30 cal." bullets, but oversized wartime five-groove barrels may just about stay in your hat at 100 yards.

[BEN: Here he goes again with his "shooting .30 cal. bullets in .303" fetish. Has no-one informed Harris of the plethora of .311-.313" bullets available on today's market? Jeez, what a maroon!]

Though not seen as often, the No. 3 Mark I (or Pattern 14 (P14) Enfields are also available and are well worth considering. Early experimental versions were issued for troop trials in 1913 using a .276 rimless cartridge with a 165gr bullet producing a muzzle velocity of 2785 fps.

With the outbreak of World War I, the idea of rearming with a new calibre was abandoned, and orders were placed with Remington and Winchester to produce the new rifle chambered for .303 British. After the U.S. entered the war, the P14 tooling was changed to produce .30-06 rifles. These became the U.S. Rifle Cal. .30 Model 1917, known as the "U.S. Enfield", and were the most widely used U.S. rifles during World War I.

The P14 and M1917 are very similar in exterior appearance and demonstrate the Lee-Enfield's influence in stock design, sight protection, and the cock-on-closing action.

Its additional half-inch bolt throw over the Springfield, together with a longer and heavier mainspring, make it slower and more difficult to operate from the shoulder. The Pattern 14 does not feed rimmed cartridges particularly well, but if you carefully load individual rounds so that the rim of the cartridge on top is always ahead of the round below it, it works like a champ. Doing this rapidly with stripper clips is not a sure thing.

The P14 never saw much action in British hands, but it was extensively used as a sniper rifle in both World Wars. It continued in the sniper role until 1942, when it was replaced by the No. 4 MkI(T), and was then used to arm Home Guard units throughout World War II.

[BEN: There used to be a British TeeVee comedy series, called, "Dad's Army", which focused on a Home Guard unit, and featured P14s being lugged around. I used to watch it on (American) PBS, and was impressed with the technical authenticity as well as the humor].

The P14 also enjoyed an excellent reputation for accuracy among British NRA target shooters. Experienced UK marksmen regard the P14 as "the most accurate British service rifle ever to grace a target range". After World War II, most P14s were unceremoniously dumped and carelessly stored, making it difficult to find a pristine specimen today. Even those that can be found in good condition show considerable use.

The first .303-inch Small Arms Ball MkI cartridge, adopted Feb. 20, 1889, used a 71.5gr compressed blackpowder pellet behind a 215gr cupro-nickel jacketed bullet developing a velocity of 1850 fps. The MkI cordite (smokeless) load, adopted in 1891, proved highly erosive to barrels, prompting a change from the rounded "Metford" rifling back to "Enfield" rifling - with five sharp lands and grooves of equal width - that has been standard in British service rifles since the 1850s. Pressure-wise, the .303 cordite loads the British used probably pushed the design limits of those early actions.

In 1914, the flat-based, spitzer MkVII Ball cartridge was adopted. The most common .303 ammunition, it remained in service until replaced by the 7.62mm NATO in 1957. The MkVII Ball 174gr bullet had a gilding-metal jacket, lead core, and an aluminum nose filler. The lighter point increased the gyrodynamic overturning movement of the bullet so that it tumbled readily upon impact. All pointed FMJ spitzer bullets tumble to some extent in soft-target impacts, but the .303 MkVII cartridge was particularly effective and was noted for its lethality, despite its modest muzzle velocity of 2440 fps.

A rimmed cartridge like the .303 can maintain positive headspace and permit sufficient clearance between the cartridge case shoulder and the rifle chamber even with dirty ammunition. Comparing a fired .303 case to an unfired arsenal round, it will be noticed that the shoulder moves forward noticeably upon firing.

While not desirable from a handloader's standpoint, this shoulder clearance does permit reliable functioning under adverse conditions. Case life for reloading is enhanced when cases are neck-sized only, avoiding excessive cold working from repeatedly blowing the shoulder forward upon firing and sizing it back again. Full-length resizing dies should be backed off about 1/4 to 1/3 of a turn so as *not* to set back the shoulder.

The largest off-the-shelf cast bullet design suitable for the .303 British is the Lyman No. 314299, which drops at a nominal .303" on the bore-riding nose and .314" on the driving bands. It remains one of the best cast bullet designs for this cartridge.

The Lee .312-185R also works well, and on special order Lee can supply molds to produce bullets of my design (formerly available from NEI as the popular No. 52A). Custom molds fitted to your rifle from a chamber cast or upset throat slug are also available from LBT (HCR62, Box 145, Moyie Springs, ID 83845).

Lubricator-sizer dies are not commonly available for sizes above .314" until you get to those intended for the .32-40 and 8mm. These are too large. Best cast bullet accuracy with many .303s requires bullet diameters of .315"=.316". Custom sizer dies for Lyman, RCBS, or Saeco-Redding sizers, honed up from your undersized die, are available from MKL Service Co. (610 S. Troy St., Royal Oak, MI 48068-8904).

Realistically speaking, the common issue-grade No. 4 or SMLE, with ordinary MkVII cordite service ammunition, in my opinion is at best a 3.5 minute grouper. Of several 10-shot groups fired at 300 yds. with the ROF (Royal Ordnance Factory) Fazakerly No. 4, the best was just over 10" and the largest 14". This is about what you can expect with the surplus rifles and ammunition on the market.

[BEN: It must be borne in mind that most, if not all, of this .303 surplus ammunition is *old*. Some of it dates back to WW2, or even earlier. It has been in storage for years, often under adverse conditions. Often, it has passed through the warehouses of three or four nations before falling into the hands of American importers. Resultantly, it's not always the most consistent stuff for shooting. Powder strength, primer strength, and bullet/case neck tightness will vary (You can sometimes tell when it goes off: BOOM! then 'boom' then BOOM! again then 'Pow'... with slightly different felt-recoil sensations). For all that, it shoots surprisingly well. Ten inches at 300 yards = just 3.3" at 100 yards (14" = 4.6"). That's still tolerable "combat" accuracy... but it ain't match-grade stuff! See Table One, where Harris' heavy-barrelled target rifle in .303, wearing a 10x Unertl scope, was unable to outperform the Lee-Enfields when shooting surplus ammo! Harris invalidates his own conslusions all over the place, but he just can't get organized enough to realize it.]

I found the No. 4 to be more accurate "out of the box" with MkVII ball than the No. 1 MkIII, nearly comparable to the front-locking P14 rifle. When the handguards on both rifles were properly relieved of contact with the barrel, and a Parker-Hale 5A receiver sight added. the No. 1 MkIII outshot the No. 4!

At 100 yards, 10-shot groups shot with Greek surplus ball headstamped HXP 69 or UK MkVII cordite ball made by Greenwood and Batley, Ltd., in 1948, were double what we would expect from a Springfield or U.S. M1917 firing .30-06 Ball M2. I attribute this to the two-piece Lee-Enfield stock, but vertical stringing caused by variations in bolt thrust with the rear lockup system it employs may be a contributing factor.

[BEN: I attribute it to Harris' prejudice toward American rifles, as well as the age and decrepitude of the surplus .303 ammo he was using. Yes, a *match-tuned* Springfield with *match* ammo will usually outshoot a surplus Enfield with 40-50 year old surplus ammo. On the other hand, if we take an as-issued, surplus '03-A3 Springfield (one of the recent re-imports from overseas), stoke it with 40-year-old surplus .30-06 ammo that's been laying around the docks of Kafiristan since the end of WW2, and shoot it under conditions identical to those used for Harris' Lee-Enfield tests, how well would *it* do? Probably about 14" at 300 yards, if we're lucky. Meanwhile, my Long Branch #4, with most of my various reload recipes, will consistently shoot 1.5" to 2" groups (5-shot) at 100 meters "if I do my part". Oh, and as for the "rear lockup" stuff - Remington's (discontinued) 788 rifle, considered by many to be a superbly accurate critter, employed a rear-locking bolt action.]

Commonwealth competitors using the SMLE were always careful to dry the rifles' chambers with mineral spirits or acetone after cleaning. Otherwise the cartridge case would not grip the chamber walls upon firing. Additional backthrust against the bolt face caused by a lubed chamber would spring the barrelled action with respect to the vertical backplate, causing vertical stringing on the target.

In my experience, the first group fired after cleaning, wiping out the chamber with only a dry patch or two, may string vertically, often 5-6" and sometimes as much as 8" at 100 yards! The second string will usually settle into a round group, but if you don't let the barrel cool to "blood warm" before continuing, the mirage rising from the hot barrel and wooden handguards makes aiming difficult. Spraying the chamber with Outer's Crud Cutter prior to pushing the last dry patch through produced consistently round groups during my testing.

The Australian No. 1 MkIII* Lithgow I tested was like new, built in 1940, and underwent a Factory-Through-Repair (FTR) in 1950. The No.4 MkI was built in 1943 at Fazakerly in the United Kingdom and reworked in 1974. The No. 1 Lithgow rifle was received from Natchez [Shooter's Supply], the No.4 from Interarms, with new wood simply bolted onto the action and handguards tight against the barrels.

Grouping improved about 30% when the handguards and forestock of the No. 1 MkIII* were relieved so the only barrel contact with wood was under the chamber and at the spring-tensioned V-block behind the nosecap.

After World War II, Bisley and British Commonwealth competitors became adept at bedding the No.4 rifle for target shooting. Best results come when solidly bedded under the chamber, with barrel free of contact except for upward pressure at its midpoint near the lower band, and either completely free floating from the lower band to the muzzle, or with 4-6 lbs. of up-pressure at the nosecap.

After firing the rifles "out of the box", I rebedded them as described and shot them again. It took only about 10 minutes to relieve the handguards with a scraper and to cut linseed oil-saturated, cardboard shims from a cartridge box. While groups shrunk noticeably, I never got the nice 2", 10-shot clusters I am used to with the Springfield.

[BEN: Of course, he never tried .303 match ammo - or even commercial factory loads - either.]

When I was a kid, I owned a Long Branch No.4 MkI* Lee-Enfield that gave good groups with pulled .30-cal. match bullets. Knowing the wide lands of the two-groove barrels support even undersized bullets well, I tested one to see if my high school memories were accurate.

[BEN: Ah, now we see where his ".30-cal. bullets in .303" fetish comes from. A high school memory... traumatic, perhaps? Hmmm...]

The much-used Canadian Long Branch No. 4 MkI* I received from Sarco had been a "Drill-Purpose" rifle, and was restored to shooting condition prior to importation. While beat up on the outside, the stock was sound, and its barrel was like new. After a good scrubbing with Murphy's Oil Soap, steaming out the worst of the dents, scouring with steel wool, and applying a couple coats of boiled linseed oil, the old beast looked downright respectable.

Mercifully, the New Zealanders who deactivated the rifle for cadet use did not drill holes through the chamber, as was the British practice. Installation of a new bolthead and firing pin provided the importer with bargain-priced tightly headspaced rifles with a "good" exterior and bright bores. The Long Branch proved accurate without any tinkering, and my faith in teenage memories was restored.

The Fazakerly No.4 MkI received from Interarms approached 4" groups after adjusting, despite its generous .3166" groove diameter. The open-sighted Lithgow No. 1 MkIII* from Natchez had a pristine barrel with a

.3123" groove diameter and hung around 4.5".

When I used a Parker-Hale 5A receiver sight on the Lithgow, it outshot the British No.4 and rivalled a borrowed No.4 MkI(T) sniper rifle. While not up to Camp Perry standards, the groups we got with the Lee-Enfield are certainly adequate for hunting and casual shooting.

Realize that 10-shot groups run about 1.3 times larger than five-shot groups. A rifle that averages 4" 10-shot groups averages 3" for five-shot groups. That's the .303 Lee-Enfield!

Lee-Enfields share traits with many of the other surplus rifles available today. They are rugged, simple, they work, and they speak to us of history. I guess that's why I like old military rifles. What shiny, new, commercial rifle can top that?


Table One: How The .303s Did


Groups are the average of five consecutive 10-shot groups at 100 yds., bench rest with issue sights.


Eddystone-Remington Armory (ERA) P14, (1915)

Issue receiver peep

Bore .3032"x.3161"

Smallest Largest Average

(inches) (inches) (inches)

Greek MkVII Ball, HXP-69 3.90 4.89 4.40

UK MkVII Ball, GB-7-48 not tested in this rifle

Hansen Yugo. (nny) Ball, MkVIIIz 3.70 5.37 4.56

190 Speer HPBT .308", 42.0 grs. Scot 4351 5.01 7.80 5.68**

205-gr. GC, No. 314299, 18.8gr H4198 3.10 5.0 4.06

166-gr. GC. NEI 52A, 18.8gr H4198 2.60 3.60 2.98


Lithgow (Australia), No. 1 MkIII*, (1940)

U-notch tangent ramp

Bore .3023"x.3127"

Smallest Largest Average

(inches) (inches) (inches)

Greek MkVII Ball, HXP-69 3.94 4.97 4.54

UK MkVII Ball, GB-7-48 4.50 6.0 5.36

Hansen Yugo. (nny) Ball, MkVIIIz 3.36 5.10 3.94

190 Speer HPBT .308", 42.0 grs. Scot 4351 3.70 4.95 4.43**

205-gr. GC, No. 314299, 18.8gr H4198 3.68 5.75 4.45

166-gr. GC. NEI 52A, 18.8gr H4198 2.76 3.39 3.07


ROF Fazakerley (UK) No. 4 MkI .303 (1943)

Issue receiver peep

Bore .3038"x.3166"

Smallest Largest Average

(inches) (inches) (inches)

Greek MkVII Ball, HXP-69 4.50 6.0 5.26

UK MkVII Ball, GB-7-48 3.79 4.55 4.12

Hansen Yugo. (nny) Ball, MkVIIIz 4.40 5.32 4.87

190 Speer HPBT .308", 42.0 grs. Scot 4351 6.1 10.6 8.0 **

205-gr. GC, No. 314299, 18.8gr H4198 3.09 5.40 4.03

166-gr. GC. NEI 52A, 18.8gr H4198 2.73 5.74 4.42


Long Branch Arsenal (Canada) No. 4 MkI* (1942)

Issue receiver peep

Bore .3023"x.3133"

Smallest Largest Average

(inches) (inches) (inches)

Greek MkVII Ball, HXP-69 3.99 4.80 4.33

UK MkVII Ball, GB-7-48 3.80 4.45 4.23

Hansen Yugo. (nny) Ball, MkVIIIz 3.71 4.70 4.02

190 Speer HPBT .308", 42.0 grs. Scot 4351 3.29 3.61 3.40**

205-gr. GC, No. 314299, 18.8gr H4198 3.05 3.80 3.51

166-gr. GC. NEI 52A, 18.8gr H4198 2.20 3.20 2.71


Obermeyer 26" heavy test barrel on Ruger No. 3 Action

10x Unertl scope

(No bore dimensions given)

Smallest Largest Average

(inches) (inches) (inches)

Greek MkVII Ball, HXP-69 2.61 3.76 3.11

UK MkVII Ball, GB-7-48 4.0 5.40 4.58

Hansen Yugo. (nny) Ball, MkVIIIz 2.05 3.29 2.67

190 Speer HPBT .308", 42.0 grs. Scot 4351 1.09 1.69 1.22**

205-gr. GC, No. 314299, 18.8gr H4198 not tested in this rifle

166-gr. GC. NEI 52A, 18.8gr H4198 1.49 2.09 1.45


Series identified with double asterisks (**) use .30-cal. (.308") diameter bullets to show the effect of increasing bore and groove diameters upon accuracy. Typical five-groove .303 cal. bores show no improvement with .30 cal. match bullets, when compared to service ammunition. The largest .303 bores produce groups with .308" bullets that are twice those expected of ordinary ball ammunition. Two-groove barrels provide better guidance to undersized bullets and may provide some accuracy improvement, but this must be determined by testing on a case-by-case basis. To assess the accuracy potential of the .303 ammunition, a heavy Obermeyer test barrel on a single-shot rifle action with target scope was used to provide a comparison. Service ammunition fired in it showed little improvement from results obtained with the SMLEs.

Abbreviations: HPBT - hollow-point boattail

GC - gas check


Table Two: Loads For The .303 British


Bullet Powder Velocity Remarks

Weight Bullet Charge Powder Approx.

(grs.) Type (grs.) Type (f.p.s)


85-100 JHP 10.0 Win. 231 1300 Small game loads with .32

12.0 Unique Approx. H&R Mag. or .32-20 bullets


123-125 SPFB 23.0 Herc 2400 2300 7.62x39mm bullet loads

25.0 H/IMR4227 Approx. Approximates 7.62x39mm

28.0 H/IMR4198 velocities

32.0 ReLoder-7


150 SPFB 40.0 IMR3031 2600 Good open country deer

41.0 H/IMR4895 Approx. loads for new barrels

42.0 IMR4064

43.0 Win. 748

48.0 H/IMR4350


162-180 Cast 7.0 Bullseye 1050 Small game loads with

8.0 SR7625 Approx. plain-base cast bullet

9.0 Unique


162-180 Cast 13.0 Red Dot 1600 These cast bullet loads

16.0 Herc 2400 1600 all require a gas-checked

18.0 H/IMR4227 1450 bullet for best target

18.0 H/IMR4198 accuracy. All are good

24.0 ReLoder-7 1800 target loads, for NEI No.

52A or 58, Lee 312185R, or

180-205 Cast 20.0 H/IMR4198 1700 Lyman No. 314299.

23.0 ReLoder-7 1750

26.0 H/IMR4895 1750


173 FMJBT 42.0 H/IMR4895 2400 Pulled GI Match bullet


174-180 SPFB 30.0 ReLoder-7 2000 Lighter recoil than factory


174-180 SPFB 45.0 H/IMR4350 2400 Approx. MkVII velocity

46.0 Win. 748

47.0 IMR4831


190 HPBT 40.0 H/IMR4895 2300


Standard .308" diameter .30-cal. bullets give normal accuracy in two-groove .303 barrels of .313" maximum groove diameter.


Abbreviations: JHP - jacketed hollow point

SPFB - soft point, flat base

H - Hodgdon

IMR - Improved Military Rifle (DuPont)

FMJBT - full-metal-jacket boattail

HPBT - hollow-point boattail

Herc - Hercules