No1 MkIII* SMLE .303 rifle

Lee-Enfield Headspace Problem


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49 shares, 41 points

Different length bolt heads for No 1 rifles (left) and Nos 4&5 rifles(right).
Different length bolt heads for No 1 rifles (left) and Nos 4&5 rifles(right).

Q: Fired cases are difficult to extract from my Lee-Enfield No.1 Mark III. The cases also have a bright ring around the base and a slight bulge at that point. Is this a sign of excessive headspace?I’ve been told that these rifles were purposely made with maximum tolerances for use in muddy and dusty battlefield conditions, Does this situation pose any serious problems?

Sydney Coleman

.303 British headspace gauges measure rim thickness.
.303 British headspace gauges measure rim thickness.

A: The answer to both your questions is, “Yes.” Your cases are showing signs of incipient head separation. Don’t shoot it again in its present condition. It is true that many of the old Lee Enfields were made a little “loose” for battlefield use, but not that loose. The headspace is easily corrected by installing a longer bolt head. A gunsmith with a supply of bolt heads should be able to fix the problem in about 5 minutes.

No1 MkIII* SMLE .303 rifle
No1 MkIII* SMLE .303 rifle
No 4 Lee Enfield .303 Rifle
No 4 Lee Enfield .303 Rifle
No3 Pattern 14 .303 Rifle
No3 Pattern 14 .303 Rifle
for which conventional Mauser-style headspacing methods were used.


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Nick Harvey

Nick Harvey is one of the world's most experienced and knowledgeable gun writers, a true legend of the business. He has been writing about firearms and hunting for more than 65 years, has published many books and uncounted articles, and has travelled the world to hunt and shoot. His reloading manuals are highly sought after, and his knowledge of the subject is unmatched. He has been Sporting Shooter's Gun Editor for longer than anyone can remember. Nick lives in rural NSW, Australia.

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