What to look for: SMLE Mk III Enfield's

nosbocaj

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I've got the itch for a WWI/WWII era bolt action rifle. I don't have a bolt action in my collection nor have I ever owned one. Something about the Mk III SMLE has always appealed to me (lots of time spent playing Battlefield games most likely) and I think I'm finally ready to add one to the collection.

Problem is, I know nothing about them. From my research, it looks like you can't go wrong with a BSA or Lithgow. Conditions look to range anywhere from poor to unissued. I'd like to stay around $500, but am willing to go higher for a good condition rifle. What's a reasonable price for an SMLE Mk III in good+ condition these days? Is it worth it to venture into the low four figures or is that absurd for a 100 year old milspec rifle?

I'd appreciate any advice/feedback the community can provide. Thanks!
 
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Reality just caught up with me. I was going to say that you should be able to get something REALLY nice for $500, but out of curiosity I did a quick completed auction search on Gunbroker. Wow, crazy prices.

Back in the '90s when I was really into mil-surp rifles, you could buy No.1 Mk.III Enfields all day long for $100, nice ones for double that. Clearly I'm way out of date on the market. I do still think that if you look around at gun shops and gun shows, you should be able to find something pretty good for $500.

My first Enfield was a No4 MkI, purchased in the late '80s for $65, and it came with a bandoleer of ammo. I still have it. Yes, I realize what I paid 30 years ago is no more relevant to value today than the price of tea in China. :)
 

XoXSciFiGuy

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You could go Japanese. The Arisaka Type 99's can be had from 150 on up. You gotta love those 2,000 meter (or maybe it's 1,000) flip up sights. I asked a gun dealer why a rifle would have a sight that went that high. He told me it was to take pot shots at a group of soldiers marching down a road, if you were positioned above them.

Oh....okay. ;)
Don't know if he was right or not, but it sort of made sense I guess. I had one of these 99's for a very short time long ago. I was younger and poorer back then and the ammo was expensive. (7.7x58) So I sold it.
 
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ma96782

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When I consider a military surplus purchase.....I also consider the availably of ammo supplies. LOL. Yes, if the ammo ain't cheap.....well, it's something that will get a lot of thought before the purchase is made.

Aloha, Mark
 

Flymph

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A good rifle In original configuration will be about $500, collector grade rifles will be closer to $1K. You can get sporters for about $350.
You could go Japanese. The Arisaka Type 99's can be had from 150 on up. You gotta love those 2,000 meter (or maybe it's 1,000) flip up sights. I asked a gun dealer why a rifle would have a sight that went that high. He told me it was to take pot shots at a group of soldiers marching down a road, if you were positioned above them.

Oh....okay. ;)
Don't know if he was right or not, but it sort of made sense I guess. I had one of these 99's for a very short time long ago. I was younger and poorer back then and the ammo was expensive. (7.7x58) So I sold it.
They are called volley sights, and the idea was that a group of soldiers would fire in sync much like an artillery barrage. Supposedly over hills or into trenches. The idea comes from napoleonic warfare, which we all know ended about 1915-1916...
 

tac

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Any WW1-era Lee-Enfield in a half-way decent condition, from present-reading, is going to be at least $800 and up. Many will have been re-barrelled post-war, too. The later version are marked with an asterisk - the so-called MkIII* [star] and will have had the volley sights removed, the magazine cut-off removed, and so many other things done to it that the mind boggles.

L-Es are a genre all of their own, and have had more books published about them and their vagaries than just about any other battle rifle ever made. You REALLY need to be well-up on what it is that you are looking at, else you are likely to get misled, at the very least.

I agree that BSA probably made the best in WW1, and that's a starting point. Do NOT believe the 'unissued' claim for a WW1-era rifle. Those that are wrapped - are WW2 examples.

If and when you find one, and discover that it shots well for what it is with the usual ammunition, which is PPU 174gr [a duplicate of the real thing and pretty good], PLEASE do not be tempted to take it to pieces to 'improve it'. Three inches for five shots at 100 yards is average, anything less and you have a jewel indeed. But dismantling an SMLE without having had a LOT of experience in knowing just what you are looking at is a minefield. Here in UK a fellow club member was disappointed with his beautiful LACo-made MkIII, and took it down to 'improve the bedding'. What he surmised were 'contact points' were in fact pressure bedding points, and he took them all away with a rasp. Putting it back together resulted in groups of between 18 and 24 inches. The trip to Fultons of Bisley, to get it rectified by people who know what they are doing, was the same price as he had paid for the rifle in the first place. Be warned.
 
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The price range is pretty big. The commercial BSA rifles are probably the best quality, but you can find nearly unissued late WWII production Lithgows. And the odder variations get expensive, a Sparkbrook SMLE ConD II went for about 2100 US recently and that was with the wrong forend, handguards and rear sight ears.

What specific configuration are you looking for? An early/pre WWI MkIII will have a cutoff, volley sights, adjustable rear sight, and unit disc in original configuration. They were oil blacked in finish and had high quality walnut furniture. Those cost quite a bit. On the other hand you can get a MkIII* that has none of those features, and if it's a WWII Lithgow a Parkerized finish and coachwood furniture, for quite a bit less.

The first two books I'd recommend getting before you purchase anything are The Lee-Enfield Story by Ian Skennerton, and For Collectors Only: British Enfield Rifles Volume 1 by Charles Stratton. These will help guide you through the hundreds of part variations.

For a shootable rifle, the two most important things are the draws and the bolt lug engagement. Both are fit to the action. If the bolt is matching numbers to the action, it is most likely fine as importers and shade tree gunsmiths generally don't take the time to strike and renumber replacement bolts. If it is not matching, you need to inspect or have it inspected to verify that both bolt lugs are bearing evenly on the recesses in the action. If they bear unevenly, damage up to and including shearing the bolt lugs can ensue. The draws should be a tight fit - you should need to tap the forend straight down to remove. If the forend shifts back and forth, or comes off easily, the draws need to be looked over and likely repaired. Poorly fit draws lead to bad accuracy and eventually a shattered forend.
 
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OP
nosbocaj

nosbocaj

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Thanks for the responses everybody.

Reality just caught up with me. I was going to say that you should be able to get something REALLY nice for $500, but out of curiosity I did a quick completed auction search on Gunbroker. Wow, crazy prices.
I agree that the current market is pretty crazy. I was watching a video from a few years ago saying a nice SMLE would run $300-500. Oh well I guess. My fault for not considering these earlier.

When I consider a military surplus purchase.....I also consider the availably of ammo supplies. LOL. Yes, if the ammo ain't cheap.....well, it's something that will get a lot of thought before the purchase is made.
Good point on the ammo availability. I have done some research on .303 British and while available, it'll be at least $.80 per round. It's not really the end of the world as I wouldn't be putting more than a mag or two through it each range trip, but it's definitely something to note.

You could go Japanese. The Arisaka Type 99's can be had from 150 on up. You gotta love those 2,000 meter (or maybe it's 1,000) flip up sights. I asked a gun dealer why a rifle would have a sight that went that high. He told me it was to take pot shots at a group of soldiers marching down a road, if you were positioned above them.
I have a feeling this won't be my last bolt action milsurp. I could see myself adding an Arisaka to the collection as well as a Kar 98, M1903, Mas, K31, etc. For now though, I'm really set on an SMLE. For me, it's an icon and was always a favorite to use in whatever WWI/II video game I was playing.

Would a 2A1 be in contention? Then you would have more readily available ammo.
Honestly, I don't know much about them. At first glance I'd say yes. They have that SMLE profile that I love and .308 would be WAY better than .303 British. How are they reliability wise?

@tac Thanks for the super informative post!
 

Aero Denezol

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I think $5-$700 for an Enfield in good (not perfect) condition is reasonable. Soviet milsurp WWI-WWII rifles will be a little bit less than that, Germans and Americans a little bit more.

With the Enfield I would work the bolt a few times, and remove the bolt, and then re-insert - make sure everything fits and works as it should. Some are smoother and some more rough than others. Most were rebuilt after the war(s), so there is a great deal of variation.

I just added another Enfield to my stable yesterday. I absolutely love this cartridge. Of all the bolt-action milsurps from this era Enfields are the most pleasant to shoot, IMO.
 
OP
nosbocaj

nosbocaj

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The price range is pretty big. The commercial BSA rifles are probably the best quality, but you can find nearly unissued late WWII production Lithgows. And the odder variations get expensive, a Sparkbrook SMLE ConD II went for about 2100 US recently and that was with the wrong forend, handguards and rear sight ears.

What specific configuration are you looking for? An early/pre WWI MkIII will have a cutoff, volley sights, adjustable rear sight, and unit disc in original configuration. They were oil blacked in finish and had high quality walnut furniture. Those cost quite a bit. On the other hand you can get a MkIII* that has none of those features, and if it's a WWII Lithgow a Parkerized finish and coachwood furniture, for quite a bit less.

The first two books I'd recommend getting before you purchase anything are The Lee-Enfield Story by Ian Skennerton, and For Collectors Only: British Enfield Rifles Volume 1 by Charles Stratton. These will help guide you through the hundreds of part variations.

For a shootable rifle, the two most important things are the draws and the bolt lug engagement. Both are fit to the action. If the bolt is matching numbers to the action, it is most likely fine as importers and shade tree gunsmiths generally don't take the time to strike and renumber replacement bolts. If it is not matching, you need to inspect or have it inspected to verify that both bolt lugs are bearing evenly on the recesses in the action. If they bear unevenly, damage up to and including shearing the bolt lugs can ensue. The draws should be a tight fit - you should need to tap the forend straight down to remove. If the forend shifts back and forth, or comes off easily, the draws need to be looked over and likely repaired. Poorly fit draws lead to bad accuracy and eventually a shattered forend.
No specific configuration really, but from what I've seen probably a Mk III*. A WWII Lithgow would be just fine. I'm not concerned as much with when it was made, I just want to nice condition model that's in good working order. Thanks for the insight into what I should look out for. Unfortunately, unless I can find one locally, this will probably be a GB purchase, which means sight unseen...

I think $5-$700 for an Enfield in good (not perfect) condition is reasonable. Soviet milsurp WWI-WWII rifles will be a little bit less than that, Germans and Americans a little bit more.

With the Enfield I would work the bolt a few times, and remove the bolt, and then re-insert - make sure everything fits and works as it should. Some are smoother and some more rough than others. Most were rebuilt after the war(s), so there is a great deal of variation.

I just added another Enfield to my stable yesterday. I absolutely love this cartridge. Of all the bolt-action milsurps from this era Enfields are the most pleasant to shoot, IMO.
I'm hoping to find a nice one in that price range. I'm watching a few on GB that look pretty nice. Not sure where the bidding will end up though. I've heard it's a pleasant shooter, hence my wanting one, so thanks for reinforcing that!
 
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Back in the '80s and '90s when I was much more into surplus, it seemed to me that Enfields were generally looked down on as inferior. Mausers and '03 Springfields were desirable. Bear in mind though, that I was an amateur and not a serious collector, and I didn't have the money to buy anything nice. Enfields were cheap back then. I wish I had bought more of them, or at least a nice one.

Over the years I've really come to appreciate them for what they are- a darn good battle rifle.
 
OP
nosbocaj

nosbocaj

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A MkIII SMLE is definitely what I'm looking for. I'd consider an Ishapore as well. For context, here are the auctions I'm watching on GB:

Ishapore
1. Ishapore RFI 2A1 Rifle, 7.62mm, Enfield, Absolutely Beautiful! - Bolt Action Rifles at GunBroker.com : 879747288

SMLE MkIII
1. .303 Enfield No.1 Mk III BSA - Bolt Action Rifles at GunBroker.com : 879972868
2. 1944 Lithgow No.1 MK III Enfield .303 British Penny Auction NR 0.01 C&R - Curios & Relics at GunBroker.com : 877516563
3. 1941 Lithgow S.M.L.E Mk III* - Butt Marked HV III* 1942 Lithgow - Bolt Action Rifles at GunBroker.com : 879721852

I'm not necessarily going to buy any of these, I've just been tracking them to get an idea. I'm personally leaning towards the second MkIII, but I also think it could go for a bit. Hopefully I'm not too far off with my selections...
 
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As others said it, you're somewhat all over the place. You started with WW1 criteria and now you're settled on WW2 vintage No1s, and a post war 2A1. OK, cool.

Ishapore also made the No1 in 303 for a very long time, so keep an eye for that as well. I recently sold a restored sporter GRI Ishy No1 to a forum member. Ishy No1s (not 2A1s, as those are a different rifle) will be on the lower end of the SMLE price range, with GRI rifles little more expensive than RFI rifles.

Check out gunboards as well.

FInally:


A MkIII SMLE is definitely what I'm looking for. I'd consider an Ishapore as well. For context, here are the auctions I'm watching on GB:

Ishapore
1. Ishapore RFI 2A1 Rifle, 7.62mm, Enfield, Absolutely Beautiful! - Bolt Action Rifles at GunBroker.com : 879747288

SMLE MkIII
1. .303 Enfield No.1 Mk III BSA - Bolt Action Rifles at GunBroker.com : 879972868
2. 1944 Lithgow No.1 MK III Enfield .303 British Penny Auction NR 0.01 C&R - Curios & Relics at GunBroker.com : 877516563
3. 1941 Lithgow S.M.L.E Mk III* - Butt Marked HV III* 1942 Lithgow - Bolt Action Rifles at GunBroker.com : 879721852

I'm not necessarily going to buy any of these, I've just been tracking them to get an idea. I'm personally leaning towards the second MkIII, but I also think it could go for a bit. Hopefully I'm not too far off with my selections...
 
OP
nosbocaj

nosbocaj

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As others said it, you're somewhat all over the place. You started with WW1 criteria and now you're settled on WW2 vintage No1s, and a post war 2A1. OK, cool.

Ishapore also made the No1 in 303 for a very long time, so keep an eye for that as well. I recently sold a restored sporter GRI Ishy No1 to a forum member. Ishy No1s (not 2A1s, as those are a different rifle) will be on the lower end of the SMLE price range, with GRI rifles little more expensive than RFI rifles.

Check out gunboards as well.

FInally:
It's not as if I'm trying to buy a Glock 17 here. I'm asking questions because I have no clue, so I'm not really sure what you're expecting. My gun collection is composed primarily of "modern" weapons. I'm not ashamed to admit I don't know the first thing about vintage weapons like these.

Thanks for posting the video though, there's some good info in there. Between that and the feedback others have posted on here, I think I have the basics needed to find a good example.
 
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You misunderstood. My comments were meant to educate. There is a plethora of resources online about the SMLE and there is just as big a variety of No1 pattern rifles out there. I was suggesting you clarify your "mission."

From cheapest to more expensive, if "the mission" is to simply get a No1 pattern rifle, with the classic nose cap look, then the 2A1s will fit nicely and will be the cheapest. If you want it in 303 cartrige, then the Ishy No1s will be the next best thing with postwar ones being cheaper and pre RFI rifles being more expensive. If you want more pedigree and think Indian made rifles are not all that good, then you're into Lithgows with price going up and depending on condition and whether it was FTR or not after the war. Finally 1930s made BSA rifles land at the end of that spectrum as they are probably the rarest since No4 was being introduced by beginning of WW2. Now we just covered WW2 vintage, but SMLE was around for many years by then, so around the same time (1930s and early 40s) many early No1 went through FTR both in England and in other domains of the empire. Consequently finding a non FTR non MkIII* early rifle of WW1 vintage will be the hardest and most expensive.

So back to "the misson". If you just want a SMLE then there is one set of choices, but if you want something specific, then the set of choices narrows and so does the price range.



It's not as if I'm trying to buy a Glock 17 here. I'm asking questions because I have no clue, so I'm not really sure what you're expecting. My gun collection is composed primarily of "modern" weapons. I'm not ashamed to admit I don't know the first thing about vintage weapons like these.

Thanks for posting the video though, there's some good info in there. Between that and the feedback others have posted on here, I think I have the basics needed to find a good example.
 
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"Honestly, I don't know much about them. At first glance I'd say yes. They have that SMLE profile that I love and .308 would be WAY better than .303 British. How are they reliability wise?"
They are the same SMLE Mk III* rifle that Ishapore Armory made for 80 or so years with improved vanadium alloy rec'r, so they pretty much had the bugs worked out.
Not sure what aspect of reliability you are asking about. Like most bolt guns, they should work as long as nothing is broken or worn out. They are known to have generous chamber dimensions, which is only a problem if you plan to reload the brass. Then just neck size and save that brass for that rifle.
If I were looking for a SMLE I was planning to shoot that would be my choice. It is the final iteration of one of the most successful main battle rifles of all time.
 

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