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An enfield gem: the L39A1.


Some milsurps simply jump off the gun show table at you, shake up your psyche a bit and demand to go home with you. So it was at a recent show. I was strolling the aisles in idle mode, not really looking for anything specifically, when "Wham!"

Now, I've seen a lot of Enfields, but among the rarest of the breed are the very late 7.62 NATO conversions, specifically the L8 series, the L39A1 military target rifle, its civilian counterpart, the Envoy and, with the addition of a No. 32 scope to the L39A1 target model, the L42A1 sniper rifle. The Enfield that jumped off the table at me was a remarkable looking L39A1.

It may be my Camp Perry days as a big-bore competitor, but there is something extraordinary appealing to me about arsenal derived, military target rifles. I've had my runs with star-gauged M1903 Springfields, Springfield M22s, National Match Garands and .45s, Mauser KKWs and Wehrmanns, Venezuelan FN 24/30s and some I don't remember.


Their appeal to me is really two-fold. When it comes to designing a target rifle, it's intriguing to see what a government arsenal can cook up because a military target rifle placed in international competition becomes a symbol of national pride and a measurement of armament quality. The other interesting aspect is the on-range performance. How accurate are military target rifles in comparison to commercial or custom competition rifles?

Standing behind the table at that gun show I was to learn was a fellow enthusiast named Larry Trail. Holding the L39A1 in my sweaty palms, I was curious about its history before discussing its value. Trail, as it turned out, was a long time associate of Val Forgett's at Navy Arms and had recently retired from the company before moving to Tucson. He said Forgett had imported a number of L39A1 target rifles and L42A1 snipers, and the particular L39A1 I was holding came in with a lot of 59 more from Pakistan. The story reminded me how thankful we can be for entrepreneurs like Val Forgett and the folks at Century International Arms for ferreting out precious milsurps in some of the most unlikely locations in the world.


Yes, the L39A1 and an empty wallet went home with me that day.

With the British adoption of the 7.62 NATO round and the FN/FAL, designated the L1A1, you have to ask yourself why Britain went to the effort to convert their WWII No. 4 rifle into an L39A1 and the L42A1? The answer was accuracy. The Brits did not consider the FN/FAL design inherently accurate enough to fulfill a target or sniper role.

What's interesting about the conversion is the surprising strength of the No. 4 action. All that was done to accommodate the higher pressure generated by the 7.62 round was to replace the existing No. 4 bolt head with a bolt head proofed for 19 tons per square inch and featuring a wider extractor. The new bolt head on all converted No. 4s is clearly stamped "19T."


The rest of the conversion process included replacing the barrel with a special chrome-moly one, adapting the charger guide to accept 5-round 7.62 stripper clips, and fitting a new magazine that incorporated an ejector. The L8 (a standard-looking No. 4 military model) conversion was carried out at Fazakerley while the L39A1 and L42A1 models were converted at Enfield. In fact, the conversion process was so straightforward, commercial conversion parts kits were marketed by Sterling.

Examining the L39A1 more closely, Enfield really did a fine job of fielding a full-blown, big-bore target rifle. The heart of the L39A1 is its heavy contoured, 27-1/2" match barrel, measuring .775" at the muzzle. The barrel is hammer forged, and the spiraling forging marks are clearly evident, even through the thick, baked-on, black enamel finish applied to the barrel as well as all other metal parts of the rifle.

With all the voodoo surrounding the proper match bedding of normal Enfield barrels, the armorers of Enfield made a wise decision and decided to completely free float the L39A1 barrel.

None of that "clearance the thickness of a dollar bill" at Enfield! The gap between the barrel and the stock at the front band measures a full, gaping 1/8", and there is more cooling space under the handguard.

With the exception of fitting a "19T" bolt head to the bolt and modifying the magazine well for a 7.62 magazine, the No. 4 Mk2 action on this L39A1 is standard issue. It has been stripped of any earlier identifying marks and has been re-stamped on the left receiver wall with the designation:

"7.62 m/m L39 A.1.

UE.70. A920."

The 2-stage trigger is mounted on the receiver, rather than pinned to the triggerguard, providing a rather crisp and consistent trigger pull of 4 pounds in the second stage.

The L39A1 was supposedly fitted with a standard No. 4 magazine, making it a single shot. That's not true in the case of this L39A1. It's a repeater, and it's fitted with a 10-shot, 7.62 magazine marked "CR141A 65" on the magazine wall and "CR1256 1965" on the top of the follower. The magazine design is ingenuous. Rather than fussing with the fabrication and installation of a new ejector for the 7.62 round, the Brits simply added a small, raised, folded metal tab to the left rear lip of the magazine. That little tab engages the base of the fired case perfectly and flips it out to the right with vigor.

The names "Parker Hale" and "Enfield" are joined at the hip. From the earliest days, England's Parker Hale Company has designed and marketed an extensive line of accessories and parts specifically for the .303 and 7.62 Enfields. It's no surprise this L39A1 sports a complete set of Parker Hale aperture target sights.

The rear receiver sight features an adjustable diopter eyepiece, vernier graduated elevation and windage scales and quarter-minute adjustment knobs. There's also a push release for the rapid adjustment of the elevation staff. What's interesting is the Parker Hale elevation scale is also graduated in 100-meter units for the trajectory of the 7.62 NATO round. The 7.62 meter scale is calibrated from 200 to 1,000 meters.

The Parker Hale front match sight is conventional with a long sunshade and interchangeable apertures for changing conditions or personal sight picture preference. The extra Parker Hale foresight apertures are housed in a small metal container screwed to the base of the pistol grip, an arrangement often seen on Martini .22 match rifles.


Performance? The 7.62 NATO or .308 Win is a classic match cartridge. We've had a lot of experience with it. Loading densities approximate 100 percent and there's a fine selection of .308" match bullets available. It's a flexible and forgiving cartridge to load. The standard mid-range match loads have traditionally been built around a 168-grain match bullet and 40 to 42 grains of a medium burn rate powder like IMR 4895 or IMR 4064, yielding 2,500 to 2,600 fps. The latest Sierra Manual recommends 42 grains of RL-15 and a 168-grain Sierra MatchKing. Using Winchester brass with a standard Winchester large rifle primer, that's exactly the load I cooked up for the L39A1 test.

From either prone or from a rest, the L39A1 consistently turned in 5-shot groups at 100 yards ranging from 1-1/4" to 1-1/2". Juggling powers, primers, powder weights, various match bullets and seating depths to shave those groups a bit, I'm sure the L39A1 could be fine tuned to be a truly competitive across-the-course rifle.

As a milsurp enthusiast, keep your eyes open at the shows. You never know when a gem like this is going to jump across the table at you and beg to be taken home.




 MECHANISM: Bolt action
 SIGHTS: Parker Hale
 7.62 match sights
 WEIGHT: 10 pounds, 1 ounce
 FINISH: Black, baked enamel
 VALUE: $1,100*

* In V.G condition according to the
Standard Catalog of Military Firearms,
4th Edition, by Phillip Peterson, ISBN:
0-89689-477-0, Gun Digest Books, 700
East State Street, Iola, WI 54990, (715)
COPYRIGHT 2009 Publishers' Development Corporation
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:SURPLUS LOCKER[TM]
Author:Bodinson, Holt
Publication:Guns Magazine
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 1, 2009
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