Copyright 2021 – Stephen Redgwell
A dozen times a year, I get questions about building a long range 303 rifle. I try to address their worries, but my information is dated. In other words, I would be the wrong person to ask if you wanted to put together an accurate, LR 303 rifle today. Regardless, there are people who want one.
I have a few concerns.
First, there’s the cartridge. The 303 British is not the best at longer ranges. It’s really in its element as a mid range performer like its offspring, the 308 Winchester. There are modern cartridges better suited to the job. These newer offerings kick less, use superior bullets with higher ballistic coefficients and use less powder.
Along with the cartridge, there is a problem with bullet diameter. For years, competition shooters used Sierra 174 grain MatchKing bullets. So did I. Well, that made Sierra a lot of money, but those bullets didn’t perform well, except in a handful of rifles.
Sierra bullets are .311 diameter, but Lee Enfield and P14 rifles had .314 barrels. That’s right. The original plans called for a groove diameter of .314 of an inch. You can verify that measurement by checking the SAAMI drawings. What you have is a bullet that was 3 thou undersize, and possibly a bit more.
I knew a few shooters who had an aftermarket .311 barrel spun onto their Lee Enfields. It solved the problem of undersized bullets for them, but the rest of us shot bullets that were too small. The majority were competing at a disadvantage.
Others, myself included, decided to use 308 barrels. The slightly smaller diameter tubes were easier to find on this side of the Atlantic. It was done so we could use cheaper, better built 308 bullets. Wow, our barrels and bullets matched! That gave us a fighting chance at the shoots.
The 30-303, as it came to be known, was born in the 1950s, or possibly earlier. This was a boon for North American shooters looking for improved accuracy and improved parts/component availability.
So, if you took a Lee Enfield action and put a new 308 barrel on it, what would you have? You would have a more accurate shooter!
Why more accurate? Your Lee Enfield came with a used barrel and you shot undersized bullets through it. I should have mentioned that commercially loaded cartridges used undersized bullets as well. Fitting a new 308 barrel to the action will shrink your groups considerably.
But I don’t want to forget the story title – A Modern, Long Range 303 Rifle. There are other considerations when transforming a Lee Enfield or P14 into a long range rifle.
I guess how far you want to shoot depends on what it is that you wish to shoot. If paper is the target, 1000 yards is reasonable. Any good ballistics calculator can help you figure out what you need to get the bullet there.
If you want to use your 303 on game, the distance will probably be less. You will need to pick the right bullet for the game. Just for fun, I chose whitetails, using a 180 grain Nosler Ballistic Tip. I also decided to use Speer Bullet Company’s recommendations on how much bullet energy is needed to drop WT deer. Speer says 1000 ft/lb. With those considerations in mind, the Nosler bullet will work to about 600 yards.
What About Optics?
It isn’t 1940 anymore. The three or four power scopes they used on Lee Enfield No 4T rifles in WWII didn’t make them 1000 yard performers. Those low power scopes might have been the norm 80 years ago, but they won’t cut the mustard today.
If you’re hellbent on building a 303 long range rifle, the optic you pick is guaranteed to to start a heated debate. The old timers will insist that they didn’t use fancy, high powered mildot marvels back in the day. You don’t need anything more than four power. The younger crowd, the ones who were born when good optics were built to take some abuse, will probably laugh. But they will probably fight over which brand your rifle should be wearing.
This decision I leave to you. Just remember that if you are using it on paper, the maximum range is 1000 yards. For most game, the distance will be about 600 yards.
I shouldn’t have to say that if you are going to scope your rifle, make it a permanent installation! Forget those no gunsmithing mounts.
What About Stocks?
There aren’t too many Lee Enfield or Enfield stocks around, but they can be had – both original and reproduction. You might have to do the work yourself. There aren’t many shops that will take on a project like this. If you use an original or reproduction stock, you will need a cheek piece to align your eye with the scope.
You can rebarrel your present 303 with the barrel company of your choice, or build a single shot 30-303 using a TC Pro Hunter Frame and MGM barrel.
Pick a couple of bullets, research what powders the dedicated 303 shooters are loading, and start your search for the perfect load.
You Have to Practice!
This last thing compliments reloading. If you want a LR rifle, you have to shoot it…a lot! It doesn’t matter how much you read on the subject. It doesn’t matter if you’ve seen dozens of YouTube videos. Trigger time trumps all.
If you want a modern 303 LR rifle, go for it! Take time to research the barrel makers. In addition to rebarreling, talk to your gunsmith about reworking the trigger. Spend time looking for rifle accessories like cheek pieces. Talk to other long range shooters about your idea. If they give you a rough time about your project, remind them that people have been shooting the 308 Winchester for years. The 308 is just a rimless 303!
For more information on the 30-303, you can purchase The 30-303 Book from amazon.