SMLE 30-30 covnersion
The sporterised Lee Enfield in .30-30 makes a handy pig rifle with plenty of firepower for close- to medium-range work

The best pig gun? Reviewing a .30-30 Lee Enfield carbine conversion


This SMLE shortened to a carbine and converted to .30-30 could be the epitome of the pig gun and is a great alternative to a lever-action.

The terrain where you hunt pigs determines the type of hunting you have to do and what calibre and type of rifle you use. You will have little use in lignum country or bushland for a .270 Winchester rifle with a high-magnification scope. Shots in close cover are rarely more than 50 metres and almost never more than 100 metres.

SMLE 30-30 covnersion
This boar left his run too late. A 150gn Speer from the SMLE .30-30 quickly caught up with him

This means you are not handicapped by having a rifle that will deliver ‘hunting accuracy’ at 100 metres. Any rifle that will land three shots in 8cm at that range is entirely adequate.

To be effective, a rifle to be used in brush should be sighted in to hit no more than 1½” high at 100 metres. In most cases this will permit you to shoot and kill a pig by holding dead-on out to about 150 metres.

lever-actions are justifiably popular for pig hunting like this because they shoot quickly, but there’s one bolt-action that’s renowned for its speed of repetition — the enduring Lee Enfield.

A friend and gunsmith at CD Field Services recently showed me a 1941 Lithgow SMLE that had been converted into a carbine to shoot the .30-30 cartridge, creating a 10-shot bolt-action pig gun.

The action is reliable and strong and the bolt is easy to manipulate off the shoulder; smoother too, than most military turn-bolt actions. 

The safety is handily located and the bolt handle is low and well-positioned. 

Installing a threaded and chambered .30-30 barrel is easy. Once it is screwed into the receiver, it is only a matter of fitting the proper length bolt head to obtain the correct headspace. 

The Lee Enfield action has more than ample strength for the .30-30 cartridge, which is loaded to the low breech pressure of 38,000psi to be safe in lever-action rifles.

Overall barrel length of this particular .30-30 conversion is 520mm; if you exclude the muzzle brake, there’s 480mm of rifling. 

SMLE 30-30 covnersion
Muzzle brake reduces muzzle jump and felt recoil, making the carbine even quicker to use

The rifle doesn’t really need a brake, but a lot of shooters are in the habit of carrying their guns muzzle down on the floor of their 4×4 where dirt and grit damages the crown, which has an adverse effect upon accuracy. The brake may not be needed, but it does protect the crown.

The rifle retains the original military buttstock, but the fore-end and wooden hand-guard are of equal length, which allows the barrel to extend 230mm in front. 

A barrel band with ex-military sling swivel holds the furniture together and the buttstock has the base for a Q/D swivel.

The action doesn’t need any modifications, but the rim diameter of the .30-30 is .506 inches against .540 inches for the .303 British, which meant the extractor had to be extended slightly in order to get a firm grip on the case rim. 

SMLE 30-30 conversion
Showing the difference in cartridge length (left to right): .30-30 Win, .303 sporting and military, and 7.62x54mm (shortened .303)

A number of other detail modifications were needed to make .30-30 cartridges feed smoothly and reliably from the magazine. The follower was shortened and a block installed in the rear of the magazine to make up for the difference in the overall length of the two cartridges.

The magazine lips at the rear are bent inward to prevent rounds from jumping out. The front lips don’t need any work since there’s only .001” difference in diameter of the two cases at the shoulder.

The double-stage military trigger has been altered to a single-stage and consistently breaks at a crisp 1.58kg.

Despite what you may have read to the contrary, the .30-30, although it was introduced in 1895, is as good today as it’s ever been. 

Lee Enfield SMLE 30-30 carbine conversion
Factory loads tried were the 150gn Winchester Power Point and Hornady 160gn FTX. The handload at right has Speer 150gn spitzer at 2390fps

You must remember that about 90 percent of pigs are shot at ranges less than 50 metres, so the .30-30 is plenty adequate. 

The original load was a 165gn bullet at 1870fps; the powder charge was 30gn of the then-new smokeless powder.

Today’s loads are a 150gn bullet at a nominal 2410fps and a 170gn at 2220fps, albeit from a 600mm barrel. There is a loss of velocity of around 100fps in a short carbine barrel, and most users prefer the faster 150-grainer. 

A boar at 50 metres is going to drop just as fast with one as the other. Sighted in for a 150m zero, both loads will shoot to about the same point of impact.

While 150m metres is the practical limit of the .30-30 with most factory ammo, Hornady’s LeverEvolution load driving the 160gn FTX bullet at 2400fps extends the effective range by an extra 25 metres to 175 metres.

The Lee Enfield, however, has an advantage over the lever-gun, which suffers from the restrictions that go with having a tubular magazine. The box-magazine Enfield can be reloaded with pointed spitzer bullets to increase its effective range to 200 metres.

The .30-30 is an easy cartridge to reload and although I recommend that cases be full-length resized, it is not necessary to select bullets having a crimping groove, nor to order a bullet seating die that will crimp case mouths. 

Mean working pressure in the .30-30 has been established as 38,000psi based on its use in lever-action rifles, but no doubt this could be safely raised to 42,000psi in the Lee Enfield. 

Increasing the maximum loads listed for lever-actions by 1.5-2 grains of AR2206H or AR2219 should raise 150gn loads to factory level. Higher than this I would not care to go in the rear-locking 1941 SMLE bolt-action.

SMLE 30-30 covnersion
A low-power scope with illuminated red dot in the reticle is perfect for this kind of rifle and shooting

My testing of the Lee Enfield .30-30 wouldn’t have been complete without taking it afield. It was easy to shoot some goats and I got four working the bolt without lowering the rifle from my shoulder. But finding a hog took some doing.

Eventually, early one morning I walked onto a boar dining on a rotting roo carcass. He spotted me and started trotting away when I mounted the rifle.

As he headed for cover, I swung the crosswires out ahead of his snout and pressed the trigger. There was a solid thump as the bullet hit home and he dropped.

The right scope is invaluable for close-range pig hunting where the majority of shots are taken within 50 metres, often at a moving animal. 

A scope for this kind of hunting should be of low power for a number of reasons: you don’t need magnification; you often have poor light, and the lower the power the more light is transmitted. 

For this kind of fast shooting, a red-dot reticle is a wise choice because it not only lets you see clearly, when the light is poor the single illuminated aiming point is a big advantage.

I exchanged the beaten-up Nikko Stirling 3-9×40 that came with the Lee Enfield for a 4×32 AOL Arctic Fox which had a focusing objective and an illuminated reticle. Something like a 1-4x with a red-dot reticle would probably have been better, but the 4×32 worked just fine.

Shot over a benchrest at 100 metres, the Lee Enfield regularly grouped five shots into 8cm with Sellier & Bellot 150gn soft-point and Hornady LeverEvolution factory ammo. 

My handloads with the 150gn Speer spitzer and 37gn of W-748 clocked 2390fps and cut the groups by one third.

My only criticism concerned the stock’s military buttstock. Its comb is too low for scope use. It really needs replacing with a high-comb buttstock that would give support to the face and raise the eye in line with the scope. 

A low-cost one like those put out years ago by Fajen and Bishop would correct the problem but, alas, they are no longer being made.

The best solution would be to install a false comb similar to one the military used on Lee Enfield sniper rifles. It fits over the original comb and is retained with two pins. This would make the rifle well-suited for scope use.

A Lee Enfield .30-30 is an interesting gun with the potential for getting off 10 shots very quickly. It’s a rough-and-ready outfit that will stand up to the hardest treatment a lot better than a lever-action. 

You could call it a cockie’s gun because it will resist the inevitable mild abuse of riding in a farm vehicle.

These SMLE .30-30 conversions are available to order from Bullet & Bits gun shop in Orange, NSW (02 6360 4884). 

Pricing starts from about $900 with scope base installed, if you supply the donor SMLE and are content to have a second-hand target barrel installed.

 

 

 


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Nick Harvey

The late Nick Harvey (1931-2024) was one of the world's most experienced and knowledgeable gun writers, a true legend of the business. He wrote about firearms and hunting for about 70 years, published many books and uncounted articles, and travelled the world to hunt and shoot. His reloading manuals are highly sought after, and his knowledge of the subject was unmatched. He was Sporting Shooter's Technical Editor for almost 50 years. His work lives on here as part of his legacy to us all.

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