June 30, 2005

Guns > Range Report: Short Magazine Lee-Enfield (SMLE) No. 1 Mk III


I went shooting Sunday with Rich Hailey, SayUncle, and one of Uncle's friends at the John Sevier Hunter Education Center. This was the first chance I had to shoot the SMLE, let alone on a benchrest.

The Lee-Enfield was the British battle rifle of World Wars I and II. This particular rifle - that I nicknamed Nigel - was made during wartime in 1942 at the arsenal in Lithgow, Australia. The place of origin and the black anti-corrosion paint on the bolt handle suggests that this rifle was used in jungle campaigns in the Pacific theater.

The iron sights are very fine (small), in the tradition of turn of the century designs. At 50 yards the front sight blade was slightly narrower than the three inch bullseye on the target. Setting the rear sight elevation to point blank range put the bullets on the target in a tight group.

The two-stage trigger has a short take-up, followed by a smooth though not especially light pull. I later measured the trigger pull at home on a Lyman digital trigger gauge and it averaged 6 pounds, 12 ounces. The trigger shape is excellent, with a small hook at the end for fine control. The full length wood stock and long barrel put the weight out front where it's easy to keep the barrel aligned, at least from a benchrest. We'll see how well I do shooting offhand some other time.

The bolt action mechanism is a dream. It's smooth and light, with a natural feel to the reloading motion. The Lee-Enfield has the reputation of being the fastest military bolt action ever issued, and I can believe it. The fact that this is a 63 year old rifle, made in the rush of war, and used in the jungle makes the excellence of the bolt even more amazing.

Recoil was surprisingly soft. I had been firing the Yugoslavian SKS just prior. The 7.62x39 mm Russian cartridge generates about 1500 foot pounds of energy. The Winchester .303 British ammo I was shooting from the SMLE breaks 2400 foot pounds. The heavy SMLE was very pleasant to shoot, with no discomfort, and was more pleasant overall than the SKS, which bucks a bit.

All in all, this is a fantastic shooter and a very charismatic piece. Lee-Enfields generally run less than $200, and this one was half that at a gun store that was going out of business. The SKS and the Lee-Enfield have convinced me of the value of military surplus, and I'm looking forward to the next rifle.

Bonus: the Lee-Enfield Pull-through

smle-pullthrough.gifLike other military rifles of its era, the SMLE has a trapdoor in the stock for storing a cleaning kit. The Smelly SMLE Shooters page has a new feature explaining how to pack the pull-through cleaning cord, of which the Hoppes Boresnake is a modern, storebought version. "Lewis 'Vulture' Maynard of Mooloolaba Queensland has taken step by step pictures and explained just how to do the trick. Lewis learned from his grandfather, who was an Australian soldier."


Posted by lesjones

Resistance is futile! linked with Carnival of Cordite #20
Countertop Chronicles linked with Summer Reads


They're fine rifles. I've got one, and it shoots beautifully. Being unable to leave things alone I lightened the trigger a bit, but otherwise it needs nothing.

Oddly, when I got mine it came with a double-edged bayonet, according to a friend a style that ended right after 1900.

Posted by: Mark at July 02, 2005

Cool. Most of the bayonets I've seen are huge, too, like 18 inches.

Posted by: Les Jones at July 02, 2005

According to what I found out, this was the last double-edge bayonet the British issued, going to the longer single-edge after it. And the sheath for this one was leather, no metal throat or toe.

Posted by: Mark at July 08, 2005

do the have made a snipperrifle i have a lee enfield from 1943 with holes for a vizier is this original thanks Sijn from Belgium

Posted by: stijn at September 17, 2005

do the have made a snipperrifle i have a lee enfield from 1943 with holes for a vizier is this original thanks Sijn from Belgium

Posted by: stijn at September 17, 2005

do the have made a snipperrifle i have a lee enfield from 1943 with holes for a vizier is this original thanks Sijn from Belgium

Posted by: stijn at September 17, 2005

do the have made a snipperrifle i have a lee enfield from 1943 with holes for a vizier is this original thanks Sijn from Belgium

Posted by: stijn at September 17, 2005

do the have made a snipperrifle i have a lee enfield from 1943 with holes for a vizier is this original thanks Sijn from Belgium

Posted by: stijn at September 17, 2005

I got a 1917 smle Mk III* with the 18" single edged bayonet at a garage sale for $200. I found a scope mount for it, and it makes a great deer rifle, although a l;ittle heavy if you plan to do a lot of walking. gereat gun, roblems with ejecting spent casings once in a while, but great gun

Posted by: Aaron at November 30, 2005

I just picked one up from a friend of mine the other day.Apparently mine was made for and used in India.It's an excellent rifle and I've always wanted one.A friend of mine and I went out shooting with it and a 30.06.I find that the .303 is way better; powerful, accurate, not so much recoil, and not as bloody loud either.The only problem I've encountered is the odd trouble ejecting a shell, but only that it fell back into the top of the clip when it came out.Another thing is my clip falls out every time I fire it.Apparently it's just the clip though and I've been fiddling with it trying to correct that.I'm looking for a good bayonet and another clip or two, and though I don't intend to do it, I'm curious about scope mounting on it.

Posted by: Timmo at May 29, 2006

Timmo ; The magazine (Not a "clip") is meant to stay in place and be loaded from the top of the rifle. Remove it, replace it carefully in the ri
fle and give it a good smack with your open hand to seat it firmly. Try it for fit-it should stay in place.

ALL: the large screw on the rifle's bottom just ahead of the magazine well is called by the Brits the "King Screw"- get a large screwdriver that fits this and make sure it is TIGHT. This will increase the accuracy of any Lee-Enfield rifle.
They are very simple, reliable, rugged, cheap and accurate. I have had 4, never had one that was a bad shooter, even with a terrible-looking bore.
.303 cartridge is great for hunting, handloading with neck-sizing dies, will kill nearly anything on earth, yet easy to shoot.
BEWARE of cheap scope mounts...B-Square, most "no-drilling" mounts are terrible...most do not hold under recoil...check into the newer types of scout mounts that replace the rear sight.
One of my all time favorite rifles.
Mine is a 1918.
Good luck.


Posted by: mark at July 10, 2006

Never had a SMLE personally but I am looking into purchasing one. It was used as a training rifle in my RCAC Squadron. Good rifle though, solid, tough relialable and durable, 10 out of 10.

Posted by: at November 12, 2006

I inherited a Lee enfield no 4 mk 1, that had been restocked (monte carlo) and had a nice scope mounted with parker hale side bridge. This is now my first choice deer hunting rifle by far. I never thought I would see the day when my 270,30.06,308,7mm mag would take the back seat to a 40 year old British service rifle.

Posted by: michael clark at January 30, 2007

I just had a 1940 action rebarrelled to .45ACP, and fully silenced. Not a replica of the DeLisle, but a functional inspiration of one. Sub-sonic, and fully silenced, this is a knock-down, drag out rifle that cannot be heard discharging. I'm looking for a Monte Carlo stock, as the mil issue profile is not to my taste.

Posted by: henry balfour at March 31, 2007

I recieved a Lee Enfield No 4 Mk1 for a gift and it's a solid and very relialable rifle. I deer hunt with it every year and I've never had a better rifle with which to do so. It owrks well on the range and the hunt and I'm sure, made a very relialable world war 2 main battle rifle for the British, Canadians and other "Commonwealth" Nations.

Posted by: at April 24, 2007

I purchase a No4 Mk1 last fall. It looks as if it was rarely used. The last time to the range I decided to give it a try at 200 yards with a steel target. With another gentleman watching with a scope, I hit 7 out of the ten rounds on target. Not bad standing with no rest and open sights. It was definitely the rifle not me. I would use it deer hunting except that it is in too good a shape to be stomping around the woods.

Posted by: Dan at April 29, 2007

I just bought a No. 1 MkIII* made in Lithgow around 1920 (cant make out the marking exactly). I took it out and shot it at around 55-65yds and did not hit nothing with it. I adjusted the wheel on the right so that it was in the lowest position and I still did not hit a thing. What is wrong with my rifle, or is it just me? I dont know a lot about how these work, this is the first one I've ever shot and i didnt get an instruction manuel.

Posted by: Tom at April 30, 2007

My wifes grandfather has been rebuilding a SMLE built in 1945. I am trying to find where I can get magazines for it and the pull-through cleaning kit. If anyone could let me know I would appriciate it.

Posted by: Thomas at May 21, 2007

I have a 1944 303 N0 4 mk 1 long branch which has had a sport stock installed and been blued. It still just has the open sites but I would like to mount a scope on it. What is the best mounts to install for a scope on this rifle?

Posted by: Joel Henson at September 03, 2007

looking for a scope mount for enfield 2-A where else can i look besides B-square? i would rather have a screw mount but a removable would work for now

Posted by: Ron at September 11, 2007

I am looking for a Lee Enfield SML# III in good condigion. WWI first, then WWII. Any help will be appreciated.

Posted by: Rick at September 14, 2007

I have a 1944 British Enfield rifle, and i would like to know if u can give me an estimate on it, thank you.

Posted by: christine at November 08, 2007

I have a like new (new?) 1942 SMLE Lithgow with matching numbers... I've had it for about 12 yrs. It has new stock, and seems all new, mint throughout. Are these rare?

Posted by: johnc at November 24, 2007

thomas: magazines and cleaning kits are available through numrich gun parts www.gunpartscorp.com i recently aquired a no.4 mk1 and have been searching for info about mech. aspects of this rifle. the bolt seems loose and tends to rotate when firing. any help to fix this problem?

Posted by: sean at December 22, 2007

I have owned a smle No 1 mk 111* for years now, it is my favourite rifle, i use it with original iron sights and it will hit and knock down anything out to 500 meters. It is a beautiful rifle, easy to shoot, making it great to rip out ten shots fast at rapidly retreating wildlife. Stripper clips make it even more fun, but the barrel does tend to get very hot.

Posted by: Walker at October 29, 2008
Post a comment

Remember personal info?