The mainstay of British Commonwealth Armies for over 50 years, the No1 MkIII .303 S.M.L.E.

Lee Enfields Magnificent Long Range Performers

Amongst modern targetshooters there is a bunch of skeptics who, like holocaust deniers,refute as balderdash the phenomenon of compensation. In the case ofthe SMLE, compensation refers to the way muzzle jump variance causedby ammunition velocity inconsistency causes the elevation group toconverge at longer ranges. In other words, they seem to group tighterat longer ranges than short.


Imagine that your muzzlerises through recoil (jump) and the faster bullets exit at a pointlower in that jump, with slower bullets naturally exiting higher inthe jump cycle. At some point downrange, the faster, flatter shootingbullets will converge with the slower, more trajectory-challengedbullets.

In the British WarOffice Textbook of Small Arms publishedin 1929, this is explained in greater length and that is where thediagram accompanying this story came from. Anybody who shoots oldmilitary rifles seriously should get a copy as it’s still in print.It goes on to explain that at the Bisley meeting in 1920. Standard MkVII ammunition was quite vertically erratic at 200 yards, while at600 yards, the groups were much better in proportion to the distance.

Comparisons by targetshooters through the 20th Century determined that the phenomenon ofcompensation was real, with the SMLE No 1 MkIII and Mk VII ammunitionshooting more tightly between 900 and 1,000 yards. With the Long LeeEnfield (commonly named the Long Tom) and Mk VI ammunition, itcompensated best at about 1500 yards. The later No4 rifles, used bythe British in WW2, compensated between 400 and 500 yards.

Now I have personallyexperienced this when competing in the old McIntosh .303 Matches,which used to be held over two days at ANZAC Rifle Range, Malabar. Astaunch band of 10 or 12 .303 shooters used to try and mix it withstate-of-the-art .308 and .223 target rifles at ranges from 300-800metres. Over the three matches that I shot, my 800 metre scores wereuniformly (much) higher than my shorter range scores and in variablewinds, we seemed not to be disadvantage much, if at all, by shootinmgagainst .308s.

Now I was fortunate enough to attend the Long Range Precision Rifle Shooting course in Canberra a while back and my scoped No4 Savage .303 with handloads was as able to hit stationery clay targets out at 800 yards with as much ease as modern tactical rifles. On another occasion, at Lithgow Rifle Club, I blew a good centre count possible at 800 yards with my No1 .303 on the last shot (an inner just out), probably because I could not believe it was happening. Bernie Doohan is my witness. The elevation group, off the elbows, was about 1.2 MoA for ten shots.

The ironic thing aboutthis from my perspective is that I argue that this phenomenon isreally there with my mate Mark Adamson repeatedly and he staunchlyrefuses to believe in it. Here’s the rub – he exerienced his bestscores at 700 and 800 metres just like Daniel Cotterill and I did,when fighting it out for the medals. Go figure.

Is it any wonder some of us just love these old clunkers?

Marcus O’Dean





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