For budget preppers, I think the Enfield bolt action rifle is an excellent choice for a main battle rifle. Most of them are British weapons chambered for .303, which is an obsolete caliber. I don’t recommend a .303 weapon, but it would be perfectly adequate if you could get ammunition. A better choice is the Ishapore 2A1 rifle. It’s a redesigned Lee Enfield SMLE Mk III (one of the best rifles ever issued to an army) but chambered for 7.62×51 (7.62 NATO) and has a 10 or 12 round magazine. (The later production 2A1s have a 12 round magazine. Mine both do). This is a no-nonsense weapon in competent hands and fit for serious business.
A little known feature of the Enfield SMLE family of weapons is the speed sight, which also makes a pretty good night sight. These rifles have a U shaped post or frame around both the rear and front sights. If you paint these posts with white or luminous paint, you can quickly index the rifle in almost complete darkness. The posts are large and easy to see. It works as well as most night sights and it’s free.
Other than painting the night posts to increase visibility, I don’t suggest modifying this rifle in any way. It’s a fine weapon just like it is. One of it’s few faults is that mounting a scope is not very easy or neat because it was not designed for that. Most scopes also interfere with the capability to feed from clips. If you want to modify it much and “trick it out”, you will probably be happier with a modern rifle. Right out of the box, the SMLE is pretty nice, but it’s not easy to improve.
The 2A1 is fairly heavy at roughly 10 pounds loaded with a sling, and it kicks slightly harder than a .303 SMLE (or a M1A for that matter), but it feels and shoots almost the same as the SMLE. Here is why I love it:
- It fires 7.62 NATO rounds. They are standardized and easy to get. Because it has a gentle bolt action, It will also shoot .308 civilian ammunition with no danger of a slam-fire. Some .308 rounds are reportedly a little hot for a 7.62 NATO rifle, but the tolerances of the Ishapores are pretty generous. I have never heard of an actual case of one being damaged in any way by firing .308 rounds. I routinely fire .308 factory loads and reload the brass. I have never noted any signs of too much pressure or deformed brass from the chamber dimensions.
- All SMLE load from stripper clips. This is a very powerful feature that was once considered mandatory for a military rifle, but it’s mostly a forgotten loading method these days. The original SMLE uses 5 round charger clips, but you can get 10 round (M-14) clips for the nato rounds and they fit the Ishapore perfectly. NcStar .308 stripper clips are available on Amazon, cost 13 dollars for 20 clips and work well in the Ishapore. Once you get used to using clips, the 2A1 reloads very fast and the sustained rate of fire using clips and the Enfield action is excellent. While not as fast as an automatic, it is still pretty good. With practice an average shooter can maintain 20 rounds per minute of accurate fire until the rifle catches fire from the heat. You can shoot twice that fast for a short string. BTW, the speed record for a bolt action rifle is held by the SMLE. Check out this article. It’s not made very clear in this article, but the standard was 15 hits in one minute on a 12 inch round target at 200 yards (not 300 yards). Every recruit in 1914 had to be able to do at least that well. The real pros were twice that fast. In competent hands, this is a real killer.
I have trained with these rifles and I am confident in their ability to hold their own in a gunfight. I can sustain well over 20 rounds per minute and hold every one within a E-silhouette target at 200m with absolute surety (I can’t do very much better with an automatic). This may not sound like very good shooting, but you should try it with your choice of weapons. I consider it more than adequate. I carry a 2A1 in preference to my M1A (which is also no slouch). After training with it for a while, the SMLE rifle just feels good to me.
- 3. It is very accurate. If you take your time and really aim, you can hit about anything you can see using only iron sights. Most of the models I have fired are around 1 MOA right from the arsenal, which is better than I can shoot. The sights are excellent and adjustable out to 800 meters (and that’s no lie! It will reach out that far accurately enough to kill someone’ in a few rounds if they don’t take some serious cover.
- 4. It’s super tolerant of dirty or old ammunition. It always shoots. If you reload, you can load light loads for small game. (Warning: Be careful to use a safe load , as very light cast lead loads can leave a bullet lodged in the bore, which might then cause a virtual detonation if followed up by another shot!). I use a 120 grain cast lead bullet and 5 grains of Unique and the report is about the same as an air rifle. If you don’t reload, you can buy a chamber adapter for .32 auto and shoot commercial ammunition with similar results. The 70 grain Speer loads sound like an air rifle and don’t destroy small game too badly.
- 5. It’s cheap to own a complete weapon system. You can still get one for around 200 bucks and since you don’t have to buy scopes and rings to have a good weapon, there are no hidden costs. Clips are dirt-cheap and can be left loaded for eternity without damage. I suggest a shoulder bag to carry clips of ammunition. This is much cheaper than web gear and maybe more convenient and faster. You can use the money you save to buy more ammunition…you will need it.
So, what’s the catch? Here it is, and it’s a big one. You have to train with this rifle. It doesn’t shoot itself. You have to manually chamber each round and then get back on target. You also have to practice reloading from charger clips to develop any kind of speed. Get some dummy rounds (at least 20 if you are serious) and dry fire it until you can do it in your sleep. Load and fire thousands of times from the standing, kneeling and prone positions. Aim your rifle at a distant target each time you dry fire it and concentrate on marksmanship and speed. Then take it to the range and do it with live rounds. This is no M16 that can be trained using only a couple of hundred live rounds. You will need a thousand at least.
I wouldn’t feel under-dressed carrying a 2A1 in a gunfight unless it happens at extreme close range. Even then, it’s hard to feel too outgunned carrying a SMLE. It’s a very solid, reliable shooting platform that will never let you down. Having used a M16 and variants in the Army, I love the solid, feel of the SMLE. If you are on a budget and can’t afford a quality automatic, scope, and lots of magazines, the 2A1 (or even a .303 SMLE or No4 rifle) gives you the ability to buy a complete weapon system for a fifth the price. The 2A1 is (IMHO) a viable choice for a survival MBR. regards, – JIR