So, you now have that most precious piece of paper from your local constabulary firmly in you hands, you finally have an FAC.
And now you want to rush out and buy an Enfield.
Don’t do that.
Talk to other shooters that already have one, or two, or better still a whole collection and lots of experience, and decide what it is you want.
History? An old SMLE from 1916 is never going to be as accurate as a No:4 from the 1950’s (with some rare exceptions). It is rather cool to have one that still has it’s original woodwork with stamps all over it and all matching numbers, and you can have hours of fun doing the research to find out what they all mean. But come competition time you will probably be a bit disappointed. They can usually be fixed, but that takes either an awful lot of money or else a level of skill and knowledge that, as a novice, you won’t have yet. Although, if the barrel is relatively new you might be surprised at how accurate it is.
Provenance is almost unheard of in Enfields, they have been around for a long time and a rifle could have been all over the world, but proving it is almost impossible except in very rare and very expensive cases.
Accuracy? Well we all want that. It rather goes without saying that you will want to be able to hit the target with it. But don’t think that just because you have found one that has a posh set of Parker Hale target sights on it, or a pecar scope, that it is going to be accurate. Very often, novice shooters try adding such things to a rifle in the forlorn hope that it will improve its (and their) poor performance.
They don’t, and when they don’t the owner often gives up and trades the rifle in for something else, which is how come it is sitting there in the window of your local gunshop at a very tempting price.
Parker Hale sights and Pecar scopes are very nice, and very effective (usually), but they only work if they are mounted on a rifle that was already accurate in the first place. There are a whole host of things that can be done to improve the accuracy of a rifle, adding fancy sights is the very last thing on the list and is pointless if you haven’t already done everything else (or most of it).
Besides, the vast majority of the competitions that you will want to enter will be for Service Rifle (a), which means “as issued” and without any fancy trimmings.
Cheap? Well compared to a new target rifle they are all pretty cheap, but if you go looking for the cheapest, you will get the cheapest. And there are no prizes given for guessing what that means when you take it on the range. There are of course three primary parameters to consider when buying anything, and rifles are no exception; Price – Quality – Availability. You will not get the best quality, now, and cheaply, you will have to compromise on one or more of those.
Unless you are looking for something specific (an SMLE just like Granddad carried at Ypres, or a No:5 like Dad had in Malaya) then your best bet is going to be a bog standard No:4. Not too cheap, but not too pricey, that hasn’t been messed around with by some amateur armourer, and is available without travelling hundreds of miles or waiting for weeks.
A good question to ask is where did your fellow shooters find their rifles? This is by far the best place to start. The market for live firing Enfields is relatively small and so reputation is everything to a gun dealer. If your fellow shooters can recommend someone then go and see them first, before you start looking at websites and in shop windows.
Ideally, you will be fortunate enough to belong to a club (like LERA) that has RFD’s amongst the membership who will be willing to bring a selection of good quality guns along to the next shoot for you to have a look at, shoot, and ask opinions of other club members.
When you think you have found something you like then there are a few things to look out for.
1. Do we even need to mention rust? No, not really, but if we don’t then some smart-arse will only complain, so here it is, don’t buy a rusty rifle.
2. Is the woodwork sound? Dents and scratches don’t mean a thing, all old rifles have them, they are all part of the rifles story. But if the woodwork is split then walk away.
3. Are there holes drilled in the receiver? This is usually the sign of someone trying to take a shortcut to better accuracy by fitting a scope and failing. Walk away.
4. Do all the numbers match? Not critical, but If they do then that is a real bonus and a good sign, it means that you have all the original parts (probably, no guarantee there). However, if the bolt and receiver numbers don’t match then forget it.
5. What size is the foresight blade? If it is a zero then things are looking really good, but if it is a 0.090 or a -0.030 then maybe not so good. Not critical though.
6. How much movement is there at the muzzle? It should be in the centre of the woodwork with a tiny bit of play left and right and pushing down at the bottom so that it is contact with the wood, but you should be able to lift it upwards a few millimetres with your fingers. If so, good, but if not, then not so good, you may need to do some work on the woodwork (better to get someone else to do it for you really, but you have to learn somehow, and the hard way is often best, shame about the rifle in that case, but you can always buy another).
7. Is it in proof? It had better be, selling a rifle that isn’t is illegal. So how recent is the proof? If it has had a nice new barrel fitted then you will be able to see nice shiny proofmarks on the underneath of the muzzle on a No:4 and on the Knox (the much wider section at the other end of the barrel) on a No:1. Having a reasonably new barrel is obviously a good point. (note: Go Google "proof" if you don't know what I am talking about, I'm not going there on this page)
8. There are other things such as head space which should be checked, but these are beyond the ability of the average shooter, and require specialist tools.