The British Enfield — tried and true

Paul
Paul Smith
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It’s moose hunting time again. The 2012 hunt began a week ago. As Buddy Wasisname sings, “Got to get me moose, b’y.”

I have a licence, and I’m excited — my first moose licence since 1999. I’ve been on a decade-long caribou-hunting hiatus. I’ve been moose hunting plenty with others, including my wife Goldie, but this is my first personal hunt in 12 years.

The last moose I shot was in November of 1999, the day of the first snow. That was the nasty winter of  ’99-2000, and that snow stayed for many months. I’m sure you all recall that fierce, blustery winter. I’m wondering if this coming winter might end up snowy and cold, with me moose hunting again, and the hot summer we’ve all enjoyed.

It seems to me that hot summers and cold winters frequently cosy up next to each other. But I’ll leave these sorts of predictions to the Farmer’s Almanac and professional meteorologists.     

Actually, moose hunting has been open in central Newfoundland, the west coast and Northern Peninsula since Sept. 8,  but here on the Avalon, as well as the Clarenville and Bonavista Peninsula areas, the 2012-2013 moose hunt began last Saturday, Oct. 6.

I’m assuming the season opens later here on the Avalon because the animals in this neck of the woods rut later. Winter sets in earlier in areas off the Avalon. The dividing line between early and late openings is Black River, moose management area 28.

The overall hunting time for all areas is just about equal, approximately four months. In the later opening region, hunting is permitted until Jan. 27, while the season closes on Dec. 30 for the rest of the island.

In Labrador, moose hunting is permitted between Sept. 8 and March 30. Wow, that’s a long season. But there are only 205 licences issued in total. On the island, 32,810 moose permits are distributed, 28,885 for us residents of “The Rock” and 3,925 for visiting sports.

Moose hunting is a long-standing tradition in Newfoundland. Nowadays, most of us hunt for the enjoyment of being outdoors and harvesting our own food. We generally tote around the best gear for the job, modern rifles in hard-hitting calibers like 30-06 Springfield, .300 Winchester Magnum and .308 Winchester. Add to that some fancy optics for both aiming our shots and spotting moose, and you’re good to go.

Many of us spend big bucks on hunting gear, ATVs, camouflage waterproof clothing, etc. It’s frightening to think what that moose meat might be costing per pound. But saving on the grocery bill is generally not really why we hunt. Notwithstanding, wild meat is a helluva lot healthier than store bought protein. Moose is well worth the money in that context.

There was a time when moose hunting was more in line with subsistence living, a hunting-and-gathering essential ritual. Hunters could not afford in excess of $1,000 for a rifle and optics. Thank God for Army Surplus. After the Second World War, the market was flooded with British Enfield military rifles, some battle weary, others that never fired a shot.

The price was right for economical harvesting of wild game. Newfoundlanders bought thousands of them, many of which are still in use today. I bought one in 1975 for $59, a .303 Jungle Carbine.

The Lee Enfield rifle was born in 1895 when James Paris Lee decided to combine the new technologies of bolt action and magazine fed rifles. The Enfield designation came from the novel barrel rifling pattern developed for Lee’s new weapon at the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield, England. Early versions were know as the .303 caliber, Rifle, Magazine, Lee-Enfield. That’s quite a mouthful.

These rifles were carried by the British army throughout the South African Boer War from 1899 to 1902. Based on hard lessons learned on the Dark Continent’s battlefield, the British Armoury modified Lee’s original design and produced the .303 caliber, Rifle, Short, Magazine, Lee-Enfield, Mark 1, or SMLE Mk.1 for short. “Short” referred to the barrel that was shortened from 30 to 25 inches and not the magazine.

Leading up to the First World War, some refinements were made bringing the Lee Enfield nomenclature along to SMLE Mk. III. These reliable, fast and accurate rifles served British troops admirably through all the long, bloody years of the Great War. Well-trained British troops were capable of 30 aimed shots per minute, a bewildering rate of fire for non-automatic weapons. There were times when German troops armed with slower Mausers thought they were under machine gun fire.

In the interwar years, there were numerous minor modifications — and confusing designations — but in 1941, the basic Lee Enfield was overhauled and redesignated as the SMLE No.4 Mk.1. Priority and consideration was given to ease of milling metal parts on modern machinery. The receiver was strengthened, the barrel thickened while making the stock shorter and faster handling.  The barrel mounted open sights were replaced with a fully micrometer adjustable set of receiver mounted peep sights — a huge improvement in my opinion. This is the typical .303 that Newfoundlanders know and love.

The Lee Enfield served British and Commonwealth troops all through the Second World War and wasn’t replaced until the mid-1950s by the self-loading L1 SLR. But even after this, modified Lee Enfields were used as training, target and sniper rifles.

There are thousands of Lee Enfields tucked away in gun cabinets all over Newfoundland and Labrador. Some are retired, while others are still toted over bog and bush each fall in search of wild game.

The Lee Enfield and its .303 chambering may be a bit long in the tooth, but it gets the job done.  Durability and reliability are its virtues; no surprise considering its stellar performance through the mud and grit of two world wars.

The .303 British is just a little sluggish compared to other big game standards such as the 30.06 Springfield and .308 Win, and some consider this a fatal flaw. Personally, I have shot two moose with a Lee Enfield and they ended up just as dead as the ones I shot with modern high-powered magnums. I’m pretty sure of one thing: there have been more moose shot in Newfoundland with .303s than anything else. And if the British started making them again, I’d stand in a long line to buy one.

Foolishly, I sold my Jungle Carbine in the 1980s. It was a silly magnum phase I suffered through.

 

Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay,

fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted

at flyfishtherock@hotmail.com.

Organizations: British army

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, British Enfield, Northern Peninsula Bonavista Peninsula Black River England

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  • Cal
    October 13, 2012 - 14:31

    My Dad who was from St. George's Picked up a Lee Enfield 303 from a mail order catalogue in the early 60's . If i recall correctly , it cost him around 17 bucks plus shipping . It was also commonly known as a Jungle Carbine and was used specifically for night time fighting . The end of the barrel was slightly flared , and this prevented muzzle flash when fired, hence it was an ideal rifle for sniping or night time combat . Also , i believe it only weighed around 5 3/4 lbs which was light for a rifle which usually weighed between 7-8 lbs . It was a great gun for Nfld big game . Someone may still be using it today !!