Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Diagnosing bedding issues with the No4 Lee Enfield Rifle

For your Consideration - Your Lee Enfield will NOT shoot well if the bedding is pooched...
There are a lot of opinions on how the No4Mk1 Lee Enfield is properly accurized to maximize performance. My quest to understand this stuff has led me to discover that unless you have a firm understanding of the design mechanics of the Lee Enfield rifle you are not doing yourself any service by attempting to accurize it. The purpose of this blog entry is to give you some tools to diagnose potential bedding problems with your Lee Enfield Rifle. I will write you a bedding guide later as time permits.

Before we get into this further please consider the following:

Shooters Philosophy: “If I’m missing the target it isn’t the rifle’s fault – it’s my fault.” In other words you are the master of the rifle and if things aren’t performing to your expectations then you need to start paying attention to detail. The rifle can’t do this for you. More often than not this is the philosophy for all award winning shooters I have had the good fortune to know in the CF and in civilian shooting. These people have taken the time to educate themselves on the details of their shooting platforms and obtained the experience to spot and correct performance limiting phenomena.

We have all witnessed individuals experiencing significant frustration with their rifle on the firing point (we’ve all been there). It is very annoying when things do not go well. It is especially frustrating when this happens in competition or during snap and rapid fire serials. Failure to feed issues, magazine problems, loss of mental focus, shooting in driving rain, making unexpected sight corrections, etc...
“This %!#* worn out piece of junk”
“Lee Enfields are best suited as a canoe paddle”
“I have jack irons that shoot better”
“Why don’t they issue me with a real rifle”
“The barrel must be bent”

If you continue to blame the rifle for failing to put bullets on target then you’ll experience the same frustration at a later date. You need to assume some personal responsibility, look at the clues the rifle is giving you and then move into action to fix them. If you’ve accepted that your Lee Enfield is a piece of junk and given up on the platform please consider the following advice. In my experience the Lee Enfield, when working properly, is one of the most reliable bolt action battle rifles I have ever had the pleasure of shooting and owning. I am a huge advocate of the Lee Enfield rifle and I encourage people to buy good examples of these rifles whenever I get the opportunity. The .303 British round is capable of excellent accuracy and the IVI Mk8Z 180 grain soft point bullet is capable of taking some of North America’s biggest game species with confidence. You just need to be empowered and educated on how to make them run well. Once your rifle is brought back into running condition you will fall in love with it, hopefully to the point where you can trust your life to it. 

2. Peer Review: If the rifle isn’t meeting your satisfaction have someone well versed with the principles of marksmanship shoot it. Compare notes and determine if you could be doing something different with your shooting methodology. Does the rifle really need accurizing or should you be shooting better? “Shoot better – Suck less” Captain J. Jasper.

3. Know your limitations and that of the rifle: When I’m in “The Zone” I can consistently put 10 rounds inside of three inches at 100 metres with a Lee Enfield in the prone unsupported position (I don’t shoot Hawkins). I have yet to find a Lee Enfield that can provide tighter groups in prone unsupported with my limited shooting skills. My experience tells me that if I can’t get three inches then I need to start paying attention to detail. Your threshold may be different to mine but regardless you have an indicator that further investigation to identify issues may be warranted.

4. Heart & Soul: The heart and soul of the rifle is the bore. If the bore isn’t any good then it makes little sense to bother accurizing it. A rifle with an overly worn, frosty and pitted bore (or damaged crown) will never shoot to match conditions even if the bedding is perfect. For more information on bore condition and cleaning review the following blog entry.


Preliminary Examination (You have performed individual safety precautions (ACTS PROVE safety check) and ensured no ammunition is in the rifle)

1. ACTION SCREW: Ensure the action screw is tight before continuing;

2. MUZZLE PRESSURE: Rest the butt-stock on the floor so that you’re facing the muzzle. Grasping the fore stock and placing your thumb under the front sight protector push up – you should feel 4 to 5 lbs of resistance. Lack or absence of pressure is an indicator of worn draws and a bedding problem;

3. BARREL CENTRED: While you have the rifle in this position (see #2) look to see if the barrel is centred in the fore stock’s barrel channel or if it is angled off to one side. If the latter this is an indication that the rear of the fore stock making hard contact on one side of the receiver ring (aka butt socket) there-by forcing the stock in the direction where there is less , or no contact. When you eventually remove the fore stock from the rifle, look for pressure points in this area. There should be no contact with the receiver ring;

4. LOOSE ACTION: If you can see movement when pressing the action from side to side (or feel slop when shaking the rifle) then you have a serious bedding problem;

5. TRIGGER: You should have a light 2 to 3 lbs +/- first stage and a 5 to 6.6 lbs crisp second stage trigger pull. If you have a long and drawn out single stage trigger then you either have a bedding problem indicating that the rifle is sitting to proud in the stock and the trigger ribs are not properly aligned with the sear OR someone has filed down the top trigger rib.

Detailed Examination

1. ACTION SCREW BUSHING: Remove the barrel bands and hand guards. With tension still on the action screw, try to wiggle the action while it still sits in the fore stock. If there is movement make note of where it is. Chances are you may have an action screw bushing that is too long which is preventing proper wood to metal contact when the action screw is taught. Hopefully you have a few spare bushings of various heights available to swap out with to test this possibility. Otherwise you may need to file the metal bushing down incrementally to fit.  

2. TRIGGER GUARD: With the rifle still in the fore stock and the action screw removed turn the entire assembly upside down and examine the trigger guard. The trigger should be making light contact with the sear but the trigger guard should be sitting flush with the wood. If the trigger guard is under sufficient spring tension from the sear to lift away from the action screw area then there is a problem;

3. REMOVE FORE STOCK (WARNING): Do not pry the rifle from the stock by pulling hard from the muzzle end. You are placing direct crush pressure in the metal / wood fit of the draws (more on this later). Wiggle the rifle up and away from the wood inching it away from the receiver end and the muzzle end (back and forth) until the wood releases from the metal. Careful, the action screw bushing may fall out and disappear (very annoying).

4. THE DRAWS: Examine the draws in the fore stock and look for crush damage, cracks, chips and gouges. More often than not, this is an area that will require attention if the rifle has seen any significant level of use or if the stock is not original or properly fitted to the rifle. To determine if the rifle is making good contact I like to insert a small piece of plasticine in the draws of the fore stock and then re-insert the barrelled action. Tension down the action screw, wait a few seconds and then remove the fore stock to examine the draws. Has the plasticine been squished out or does a healthy amount of it remain in the draws? If the latter then we may need to look at replacing the draws using glued and dowelled wooden inserts or using marine-tex / steel putty epoxy as a bedding material.

This is a quick and dirty look into diagnosing issues that you may be having with your rifle. Rangers must pursue the proper channels to obtain permission to rectify issues with their service rifle. This can be a difficult phenomenon because there are no in-service Weapons Technicians that have the training or experience in restoring Lee Enfields – at least none that I am aware of.

Next article will be a practical demonstration of match bedding and free floating a 1942 Savage No4Mk1 2-Groove in accordance with the 1965 DCRA Lee Enfield Accurizing Convention.