When it comes to old battle rifles, the Garand, Mauser and Mosin tend to get all the love, but ever since the day I first saw the movie, "Breaker Morant," I've wanted an Enfield. It was the first bolt-action, multi-round battle rifle the British ever fielded, and they continued to field it in one form or another until well after the Korean War. Think about that for a second. That would be like instead of the M1 Garand going to shore at Inchon in 1950, U.S. Soldiers carrying the same Krag-Jorgensen rifles Teddy Roosevelt carried up San Juan Hill in the Spanish American War. It wasn't until the FN FAL came along that the British switched to a semi-automatic, and even then Enfields were retained as sniper rifles. Until just last year, Enfields were used in the far north by Canadian Rangers because they worked better in the freezing temperatures than the Canadian C7 rifles. It's just, simply put, a great bolt-action rifle, and you can still find them out there.
I had the opportunity to pick up a No. 4 Mk II that had never been issued, and jumped at it, probably paying more than I should have, but I don't care. I always wanted one, and now I have one, and I can say pretty concretely that I have more fun with that rifle than anything else in my battery. The Mk II was the last Enfield to be issued as a battle rifle, correcting some of the issues that cropped up with the Mk I in World War II. Now that I've had a chance to play with it, I'm going to review it.
One of the first things that jumps out about an Enfield is that it has a 10-round, removable magazine. The Garand only held eight rounds and used a clip. So here you have a rifle that had a feature in the 1890s
that U.S. rifles didn't have until the M1 Carbine came out in the 1940s. What's weird is that even though you could easily remove the magazine just like you would with an AR15 or AK-pattern rifle, the British didn't. They loaded the magazine through the top with chargers just like their German and Russian counterparts did. Old habits die hard, perhaps. It wasn't too long before this that Enfields and Krags had cut-off switches in the magazines to keep soldiers from loading more than one round at a time.
The next neat feature is that the Mk II has a flip-up ladder sight along with a combat sight. Turning a knob at the top of the ladder lets you adjust the elevation. What's ironic is that if you're shooting at shorter ranges, say 100 yards, you have to use the ladder sight because the battle sight is set for about 300 meters, meaning you'll shoot high if you're closer than that. The Mk II, unlike the No. 1 Mk III the Australians used, has a ghost-ring sight, making it much easier to use.
One thing that separates Enfields from just about every other battle rifle is the bolt. You see, with a Mauser, the bolt cocks when you pull it back. With an Enfield it cocks when you push it forward. This makes chambering a round very fast. During World War I, a German unit that came under fire from a British Army unit reported to their commander that the British had a machine gun in that position, when they really didn't. The British troops were firing so fast that the Germans honestly believed they were taking machine gun fire. Now, of course, that's because there were a bunch of guys shooting, but compared to the 1903 or the Mauser, the Enfield is still remarkably fast.
Break down and maintenance
Like most bolt rifles, the Enfield is pretty easy to maintain. I had to take apart the whole thing in order to clean the cosmoline out of it, and it wasn't that difficult to do. I wipe down the bolt and run a snake through the bore, and that takes care of about 90 percent of maintenance. To take apart the bolt you need a special tool that you can get from Brownells.
Safety and reliability
The Mk II has a safety lever on the left side of the receiver, easy to find and use. This particular rifle came at the end of the Enfield's career, something that spanned close to 60 years, so there's no concerns with reliability. It was a mature design by the time this version came out.
Comfort and recoil
The .303 round is about on par with the old .30 Government, what became known later in civilian circles as the 30-06, so she's no slouch in the recoil department. Combine that with a brass butt plate on the stock, and you have yourself a kick'n rifle. This is also a heavy beast, so it's not something I'd want to haul around the woods all day to hunt with (although I could and wouldn't feel undergunned if I did).
Accessories and upgrades
Every model of Enfield is a little different, so what works on a No. 1 may not work on a No. 4 and vice versa, so if you do get after-market parts or accessories, make sure it's going to work with your model of Enfield. I've seen after-market stocks and scope mounts as well as peep sights, so there's stuff out there. You can also get original bayonets and chargers ("stripper clips" in American) at prices that aren't that bad. I think I paid $20 for a bayonet from JG Sales. Chargers are a little harder to find, but they're out there. Now, some old rifles out there can be sporterized and come out looking beautiful. My sporterized Mauser, for instance, is a straight up beautiful piece of German engineering. Enfields aren't. I have yet to see a sporterized Enfield that doesn't look like complete and total ass. So I would say if you want to sporterize an Enfield and take some of the weight off, do it by buying a new stock. Don't cut the original. Leave yourself the option of turning it back to its original form. Because you may cut it down and find out how hideous it looks.
Something else to be mindful of is the front sight post. In order to adjust the front sights, you need a drift punch and a ballpeen hammer. When you sight in, tap the sight in the direction of where your shots are landing. So if you're shooting to the left, tap the front sight leftward. Yeah, it's a pain the ass, but it goes back to those old habits dying hard. The British officers didn't want their guys unscrewing the front sight to adjust it and losing the pieces, I guess.
I'm going to talk about ammunition in this section because it's kind of an issue. In the U.S., you can find .303, but you're not going to find it in as many places as .308 or 30-06. It's almost a niche round nowadays, and surplus is hard to come by. Your best bet is to order .303 online. I get Prvi Partizan .303 from Palmetto State Armory at a very fair price, and Prvi I'd say is at the top end of budget ammunition. You can get better hunting rounds from Remington, but you're going to pay a little more.
Another issue with ammunition is that the round predates rimless ammunition. So at the end of the cartridge you have a big rim around it like you see on 30-30 and .357 magnum. This means that when you load chargers, you have to be cognizant to how the rounds stack up on one another. If the rim of one round rests behind the rim of the one below it, you're going to have a jam.
Something else to keep in mind is that structurally, the action on the Enfield is not as strong as that on a Mauser. So if you intend to rechamber it for a different round, consult a gunsmith and make sure the round you want isn't too powerful for the action to take.
When it comes to rifles, I'm a manual transmission kind of guy. I don't like sitting at a table and just pulling a trigger over and over again. I like the act of racking a round manually, and when you have a rifle where you do this ten times with a smooth, fast action, it's a beautiful thing. I love shooting this rifle. It's definitely not the most accurate of the old battle rifles, but I'm hitting paper at 100 yards and grouping well, so it's certainly not the least accurate either.
The Final Word
The Enfield is an effective, enduring design. Why do I say that? This:
This is Ruger's Gunsite Scout rifle, one of Ruger's newest offerings. It features a 10-round, removable magazine and ghost-ring sights. It's based on a concept thought up by the godfather or rifle shooting, Col. Jeff Cooper. His inspiration: The Enfield No. 5 Jungle Carbine. If the Enfield had gone through just one more iteration before being replaced, it probably would have looked a lot like this.