Gun show bargain - Doh! Accurate rifles aren't necessarily safe rifles...


October 15, 2004, 03:41 PM
The first Charlotte gun show I attended I bought a SMLE #4Mk1, which had a nice bore and seemed in solid condition. Today I took it to the range, and was delighted whent he first two shots went into the same hole at 50 yards. What happened on the next shot was a first for me - a total case head separation, leaving 2/3-3/4 of the case in the chamber. Looking at the two previousl fired cases, it looks like the shoulders were moving forward at least .080-.090" on firing. Rimmed case or not, that was too much.

The morale of the story is, a mint bore by itself is a mint bore. On older guns, you still better check the headspace before shooting. No harm done, but that's the last time I just grab an old one and shoot it. :eek:

Any SMLE gurus in North Carolina who'd care to try turning the barrel in another turn and re-chambering?

If you enjoyed reading about "Gun show bargain - Doh! Accurate rifles aren't necessarily safe rifles..." here in archive, you'll LOVE our community. Come join today for the full version!
October 15, 2004, 05:03 PM
There shouldn't be any need to move the barrel, just replace the bolt head with a longer one. There should be a number on the bolt head in your rifle. Springfield Sporters carries different sizes.
Check out this forum; For and Enfield guru near you.

Check the headspace first to be sure that's the problem. Also, what kind of ammo were you using? It could have a case failure that could have happened in any rifle.

Southern Raider
October 15, 2004, 05:55 PM
There shouldn't be any need to move the barrel, just replace the bolt head with a longer one.
That's one of the cool features of the SMLE. :cool: It was built to be a true battle rifle that could be easily serviced and adjusted.

October 15, 2004, 06:18 PM
The ammo is new mfg Winchester commercial ammo. I appreciate the info:D

October 16, 2004, 11:38 AM
It's not at all unusual for .303 Lee Enfields to have VERY oversized chambers as you describe. In fact, virtually ALL #4s I've seen (several hundred, probably) exhibit this trait. The chambers were made oversize on purpose, to allow the ammunition from many different countries to function, even when muddy or corroded.

Headspacing on the rim as the .303 does, the actual chamber dimensions are not critical at all, IF we're not planning to reload the cases. If the headspace (which is only determined by the case-rim clearance at the rear of the barrel) is normal, then changing the bolt head will NOT have any effect on the moving-shoulder phenomenon.

Your report of a commercial factory round giving a head separation is a first in my experience. I suspect a faulty case, but...??? Separated cases can usually be removed by pushing a bronze cleaning brush partly trhrough the neck of the broken case, and then pulling it back with the rod, or else by pushing it out from the muzzle.

If reloading for a .303 Lee Enfield, try to not set the shoulder back at all when re-sizing, because doing so will create head separations within two or three rounds. On occasion, using new brass, I even neck the new-unfired stuff up to .35 caliber, and then gradually size the neck back down until the case will just barely chamber with a mild crush-fit. What this does is create a temporary shoulder to support the front of the case, and when fired the shoulder doesn't blow forward, stretching the case ahead of the web. This stretching is the source of the head separations.

Jim K
October 16, 2004, 06:27 PM
Correct in that for a rimmed case, headspace is only the gap occupied by the rim. Headspace may be fine and yet an overlarge chamber (common on L-E type rifles) may allow the case to reform.

But the result of excess headspace will be the same as for any other rifle. When the rifle is fired, the case will try to back up while the pressure holds the forward case walls tightly to the chamber walls. If the case can back up enough (that is, if the headspace is excessive) the result is case separation, and that is what happened.

I suspect that the shoulders did not move forward on those cases as much as the head moved back. There probably is a bright ring around the case just ahead of the solid part of the base. That would indicate incipient case separation, and one case did separate.

A new bolt head might fix the problem, but maybe not. I certainly would not fire the rifle until the problem is corrected.


October 16, 2004, 09:03 PM
Here's a photo of the can see a new unfired case on the left, one of the Win factory rounds, a case that shows signs on pending separation, and the split case in question.

A bore snake run muzzle to breech easily removed the broken case.

October 16, 2004, 09:15 PM
Now for the bolt head, the only number on it that I can see looks like a #4.

When I go to the Springfield Sporters website, they show bolt heads "0" and "1". Which one is longer? by how much?

A really dumb question, if you don't mind...Is there any reason why you can't unscrew the bolt head one turn, and install the bolt? It looks like that would also tighten headspace.

Last but not the bolt supposed to look like this? It almost looks like it's missing a locking lug. I see a recess in the receiver that appears to be cut to fit another lug. (double Doh!) :what:

October 16, 2004, 09:31 PM
:what: I would NOT fire that rifle. Here's a picture of the bolt from my No4 Mk2. (not the best quality but the best I could do right now). It appears you have a lug that is completely sheared off.

October 16, 2004, 09:51 PM
YIKES!! :what:

The lug IS gone! You'd better order a new bolt. In all my Enfield experence, I have NEVER seen that! That certainly could have allowed the bolt to move back enough to throw headspace out the window.

I'm going to post a link to this thread on the British guns forum at

There is an international group of Lee Enfield experts an armourers there.

Again I say YIKES! :what:

Southern Raider
October 17, 2004, 12:56 AM
Holy crap! :eek: I know it is a time honored tradition to unload non-functioning firearms at gunshows, but the idiot who sold that to you deserves to have the whole 6 pack of Ass Whoop opened on him!

October 17, 2004, 01:10 AM
If you can find that SOB that sold you the rifle demand your money back.

October 17, 2004, 11:05 AM
Since I did take the bolt out to look at the bore, I should have caught it, too. Another lesson learned is that if you're thinking of buying a older firearm, get familiar with the design so you can actually spot major flaws when you get a potential buy in hand.

All that said, I don't think I've ever seen a broken bolt, that I can remember, on any rifle. I can think of a P17 Enfield that had excess head space, but it was well worn.

I wonder what did it? material defect in the bolt, or gross overload?

I'm concerned the action may have been tweaked if it was a major overload. .303 Headspace guages are definitely in order.

BY the way, even with all this going on, it still put 3 in one hole at 50 yards

October 17, 2004, 11:59 AM
On older guns, you still better check the headspace before shooting.

Let's repeat that: "On older guns, you still better check the headspace before shooting."

Did you look inside the receiver to see if the missing locking lug is still sitting in there, peened snugly into its recess? I'd kiss that bolt handle for potentially saving your life! :eek:

October 17, 2004, 12:19 PM
Yes I did look, no it wasn't there. I expect whoever broke it had a pretty badly jammed up bolt, and knew something was wrong with it.

The P17 Enfield I mentioned before belonged to my grandad. When my dad and brother realized it had problems, they retired it by driving a wooden dowel pin into the chamber. The previous owner of this SMLE should have done the same, if he wasn't willing to fix it.

October 17, 2004, 09:03 PM
That may be the scariest thing I've seen in many years of cruffling. You came very VERY close to getting a third eye socket.:what: Selling that gun was worse than unethical, it was criminal.

October 17, 2004, 10:15 PM
And the receiver hasn't been battered out of specs, here's your replacement bolt:

Springfield Sporters No4Mk1 parts listing (

Be safe. Headspace gauges are found at Brownell's, etc.

If you enjoyed reading about "Gun show bargain - Doh! Accurate rifles aren't necessarily safe rifles..." here in archive, you'll LOVE our community. Come join today for the full version!