The Lee Enfield Finally Leaves Canadian Ranger Service

As far as I have been able to tell, the Canadian Rangers are the last formal, first-world military organization still using a WWII-era bolt action rifle as a standard-issue weapon (correction – the Danish Slædepatruljen Sirius, a similar type of unit in Greenland, still uses the M1917 Enfield in .30-06). Well, until now anyway.

Who are the Canadian Rangers? They are an element of Canada’s military Reserves, tasked basically with patrolling the uninhabited areas of northern Canada (some 4 million square kilometers), providing eyes and ears to the military. The Rangers number about 5,000 men and women (many of them ethnic aborigines), and while they are not really combat forces, they are working in some extremely harsh environments, often alone, and are issued rifles for self defense while carrying out their duties. Since the force was founded in 1947, those rifles have been No4 MkI Lee Enfields – Canada’s standard service rifle at the time. Well, back in 2011 those Enfields really became a problem as spare parts inventories began to run out.

Ranger Leo McKay with his Lee Enfield (not the non-standard belt with extra mags).
Ranger Leo McKay with his Lee Enfield (not the non-standard belt with extra mags). Photo source: Torstar News Service

You may be thinking to yourself that Enfield parts are not difficult to come by, right? Lots of that stuff still out there. Well, the Rangers were maintaining a stock of 5,000+ of these rifles, and they were not being coddled. These rifles spend a lot of time being dragged around the arctic ice, muddy spring forest bogs, in lakes and rivers and streams in kayaks, canoes, and motor boats, on horseback, surrounded by ocean salt water off the coasts, and contending with the occasional angry polar bear or moose. “Spare parts” for that sort of maintenance job is a very different thing from needing to order a new extractor from Numrich or replace a cracked handguard. It really was only a matter of time before the available NOS parts supply ran out.

Not an environment for sissy people or sissy rifles!
Not an environment for sissy people or sissy rifles! (photo from the 4th Patrol’s Facebook page)

The question then became what would replace the No4 Lee-Enfield. That was a truly excellent rifle which could contend with the abuse it was subjected to by Canadian Ranger activities. After several years of looking, it appears that a tentative replacement has now been chosen: the Sako T3 CTR (Compact Tactical Rifle), with a few custom features.

Sako T3CTR as designed for the Canadian Rangers
Sako T3CTR as designed for the Canadian Rangers

The rifle is a .308 bolt action which uses detachable box magazines – it will be able to deliver basically the same amount of firepower as the Enfields. It differs form the stock Sako T3 CRT in a couple of ways – a bright laminate stock, an enlarged bolt handle and trigger guard (for use with gloves), and robust protected iron sights in addition to a scope rail. I haven’t been able to determine for sure, but it appears that scopes will not be standard issue, just iron sights.

While the design is being licensed from Sako, actual production will be done by Colt Canada. The first 125 prototype rifles have been delivered (they were made by Sako directly), and will undergo field trials with the Rangers. If all goes well, production is scheduled to begin in mid to late 2016, with an expected 6500 rifles to be made. Of course, one does have to wonder what impact Colt’s bankruptcy in the US will have on their ability to fulfill that contract, so I reached out to a spokesman at Colt Canada. They informed me that Colt Canada is wholly owned by Colt Defense, but is a self-sustaining operation in Canada. That may be PR whitewashing (if anyone has firsthand understanding of Colt Canada’s business status, please let us know in the comments below!), but if it’s true then the new owners of Colt (whoever that ends up being) will hopefully allow the Canadian division to remain healthy and produce these rifles for the Canadian Rangers.

Alas, it appears that the Canadian government will be destroying the remaining Enfields when they are replaced. Very unfortunate to lose that group of historically very cool rifles. On the other hand, it does sound like Stoeger Canada (the Canadian importer for Sako) is at least considering offering the T3 CTR with the same custom features (less the Ranger logo and possibly the exact stock color) on the civilian market. That’s not official, and I am waiting to hear back from them on the question – I will post an update when I have a firm answer from them. It would be neat to have an example of the new Rangers’ rifle…

51 Comments

  1. Well it looks like “Old Smelly” has finally reached the end of the road. It was a good run and one to be proud of. Goodbye Mate!

    • Not the “Smelly”; that nickname applies only to the SMLE (Rifle, No.1). People do often confuse the two.

  2. I have never handled a Sako rifle, but I have a Ruger Scout Rifle that seems to fill the same niche. So far I am well satisfied with this rifle.

    • Canada issued FAL’s from the mid 1950’s to the early 1980’s, they called the C1A1’s. The Rangers found that they would lock up in the extreme cold and generally weren’t reliable enough for their uses. When Canada adopted the C7 (M16 derivative) some of the reliability issues were the same, but 5.56mm is not powerful enough to kill polar bears. Seriously.

      • Yeah I knew that the canadian FAL had a different designation than the L1A1, I just couldn’t remember and couldn’t be bothered googling it.
        As it to the C1A1 not being reliable enough, I could see that and maybe less effective range. A bolt action rifle will always be more effective than a semi automatic one(the Ross rifle being an exception).

    • They wouldn’t C1a1 is Prohibited weapon under Canadian law… the Enfield and Sako Fall under NonRestricteds a semi auto C7 Is restricted.

      These are issued to essentually Civilian Volentires who use them for hunting which requires the rifle be a Non-Restricted rifle (hunting with a restricted is illegal).

      The former CPC government passed a law with a provission that the police “Could not write in or amend sections of the criminal code”… Yeah… that got massive criticism for stating in a democracy creation of laws is the per-view of the elected gov’t not the police.

      • I would not wanna know or see the total BS that would be spewed on the house floor that would happen if they tried issuing these units a Semi auto non-restricted…. lil own restricted or prohibited rifle.

  3. It’s pretty stupid to destroy the old rifles, when selling them would partially finance the new ones!

    Also, a note to Colt Canada: time to change your name back to Diemaco, fellas.

    • It’s all about money: if you can buy a perfectly serviceable and well-proven rifle for, say, $100.00US, why would you buy a new, fancied-up rifle for $1,500.00+? This is particularly true if you are going to drag it through blizzards, mud, dog poo and etc every day. And anything the new Sako can kill can be killed equally dead with the Lee-Enfield. That’s why I have killed four deer with my customized and thumb-hole laminated stocked Remington Model 600 carbine in .243 and 103 with my Japanese Arisaka Type 99 in 7.7 mm. that I bought for $5.00 back in 1959. If you had ever hunted in Louisiana’s swamps you would understand.

      • The Tikka T3 CTR isn’t quite that expensive. It is available in Finland (retail) for about 1000 euros and that includes 24% of taxes (VAT). I am sure Colt Canada can deliver such a bulk order at a significantly lower unit price.

      • There is a serious difference in “perfectly serviceable” for personal use versus everyday use in above the arctic circle. Pretty much every part is going to be going bad eventually from the temperature problems – and I suspect a big part of the problem is the bolt lugs. Lee-Enfields are a particular pain in the ass to headspace, and in a lot of ways it makes more sense to start with a newer rifle. It’s sad to see the old girl go, but remember that they’re not being used for fun up there, and they’d probably love to have rifles that aren’t as old as their grandparents.

        • A pain in the ass to headspace? The No 4 is about the easiest rifle in the world to headspace, owing to the fact that it has interchangeable bolt heads, made in several lengths. Adjusting headspace is a simple matter of changing for a shorter or longer bolthead until you get it just right.

  4. Shouldn’t that be a Tikka T3 instead of Sako. I believe they are a fully owned subsidiary and not the same company. At least the name stamped on the barrel is Tikka.

    • I forgot to clarify: Tikka and Sako are both brands of the same company. Sako, on the other hand, has separate engineering teams and production facilities from Beretta, although lately Beretta has been contemplating on moving the military sniper rifle production to Beretta’s factory in Italy.

  5. It’s a shame that these old warhorses are going to the smelter. 70+ years of service in one of the world’s harshest environments is a great testament to the durability of the Lee Enfield. 5000 rifles, even at $100.00 a piece, would be a nice down payment on the next batch of Sakos, but the words “government” and “common sense” don’t belong in the same sentence. That, and willingly destroying historical relics is beyond my comprehension. I guess I am not “enlightened” enough to hold public office.

  6. I wonder if there is not some MAS 36-51 used as grenade launchers in French police…
    While not being truly WWII guns (since they were produced since 1951), the base rifle is a pre-WWII era gun and the grenade launcher version (Which at that time was called “MAS 36 LG” for “Lance Grenade” – “grenade launcher” in english) was designed juste before the break of WWII.
    In the Kamchatka peninsula, some russian forest guards still use 1891-30 Mosin Nagant rifles (seen in a TV document last year).

    It is quite sad to see this excellent rifle come to an end, but the Sako will do the job as well if not better than the Enfield. I wonder what Canadian Rangers thought of this rifle and what they will think of the Sako.

  7. SHAME – SHAME – SHAME .

    JAPAN , CANADA AND THE U.N. ARE IN THE FOREFRONT OF
    WORLD DISARMAMENT . WONDER WHY???

    • The 1990’s called, they want your information back. Canada hasn’t been on the ‘forefront’ of world disarmament for nearly twenty years. Also, if you press the caps lock button again, it will turn back off.

  8. I’d go with a synthetic stock, even though it wasn’t an issue with the Enfields.

    Given their role, environment and manual of arms a bolt gun is appropriate.

    I wonder, what semi auto would be the most viable?

    • Synthetic are too cold. Wood is a much better insulator for arctic weather and to prevent frostbite. Synthetic is really good for jungle

  9. Hold your horses, guys – it’s not the last you have heard of decent rifles in uniformed hands. Now what about the Indian/Pakistani No.1s Old Smellys in 7,62 MM? They’re still going strong. Recently seen in Nepalese police as well after the earthquake.
    And – as Ian remarked – the Icelanders still got M1917s, not to mention K98ks handed out to tourists exploring Greenland like so many tent poles! Plus, anyway, the Canadian Rangers’ replacement rifle isn’t some Mattel pipsqueak, but a decently chambered turn bolt – so don’t you despair, chaps.

    • This is correct. My wife, who lived in India and Bangladesh (East Pakistan) in the 1940s and 1950s, went back for a sentimental visit a few years ago. She told me that there are soldiers all over the place armed with “Those old rifles you like so much that are covered in wood.” In other words, the Indian Army is still patrolling with their SMLE’s made in Ishapore in 7.62×51 Nato.

  10. If the Canadian govt does decide to destroy the receivers, they should at least sell the rest of the parts off to some gun parts company. Many of us south of the border could then put them to use maintaining ones we have already saved.

    • Us Canadians would -LOVE- some extra Enfield parts, we have a huge supply of sporterised Lee Enfields that need restoring!

      We would love more surplus Lee Enfields too, but it doesn’t look like that’s gonna happen. They could at least disable them and give them to military museums.

  11. Even under the harshest of field conditions, I would bet that the Canadian Rangers take better care of their weapons than most civilians state side.

  12. Mr Erenfeicht: Iceland is not Greenland. Both used to be Danish colonies, but Iceland is now a country by itself.

    ***

    Ian: The Canadian Rangers are not equal to the Danish “Sirius patrulje”. They might have similar duties, but Siriuspatruljen is an elite unit.

    ***
    Pattern 1917s kick ass. I have a few stashed away – in Greenland, no less! I grew up there, and have hunted reindeer with P1917s, Mausers and whatnot.

    • Glad to see Ian’s mention of the Sirius Sledge Patrol. Whenever I’m in a Texas beer joint and find myself in the hoary “What is the baddest elite force” discussion (SEALS? SAS? Delta?)with alleged “vets” (who I often suspect of being I-shoulda-coulda Military Channel viewers) I always nominate a certain Danish Navy unit that no one has ever heard of. Not just for the 1917s and sled dogs… the sled troops also carry 10-mm Glocks instead of the issue P210, which is a wise move when operating in polar bear territory.

  13. Well, change is life. Colt Canada will do something different than what they are used to and maybe they will embark on sporting rifles production in the future.

  14. Always (pleasantly) surprised to see Canadian content mentioned here.

    Unfortunately, the impressive longevity of the SMLE has as much to do with the almost comical inefficiency of Canadian defense procurement as it does with resiliency of the Lee-Enfield. After all, we’re talking about 6,500 bolt-action rifles for a third-line outfit. The DND should have just gone out and bought them off the shelf – plenty of options to choose from. Alternatively, it couldn’t have cost too much more just to tool up to produce a run of new Lee-Enfields in 7.62×51. As one observer pointed out “Girls in coveralls cranked out No.4 rifles at Long Branch Arsenal. Surely, Colt Canada could machine a few rifles too.”

    Instead, we’re paying a Finnish company for the production rights, so that a foreign-owned company operating here can license produce a handful of rifles by… 2019 (or as rumored, 2021). Nice rifles, but the process is insanity.

    As for Colt Canada’s status – the company was formerly a Canadian enterprise called Diemaco. It had the plush position of being the domestic manufacturer for the Canadian derivative of the M-16 / M-4 family (older sources will refer the the Diemaco C7 rifle). To the best of my (admittedly limited) knowledge, the company still operates more or less autonomously from the its parent. Even if Colt had gone into liquidation, the most that would likely happen is that the Canadian subsidiary would have been sold off, and continued business under someone else’s aegis. The firm has ‘preferred supplier’ status with our military, more or less ensuring it’s financial stability, since it will have a hand in most small-arms contracts into the foreseeable future.

    • Don’t be so harsh on Canadian decision to produce these Sako rifles. Actually, I think this much more sense than re-tooling to produce a new batch of Lee Enfields. The Sako has a much better trigger, Scope rail, better handling, stainless steel against the tough environment. It was designed to be produced with modern manufacturing methods.

    • The DND can’t “buy” anything. Canadian procurement laws require price quotes for anything over $5000.00, and not far above that (I don’t know the current amount), legally requires a competitive bidding process. All of this is overseen by the “Public Works and Government Services” department.

  15. I’m not sure the Colt’s bankruptcy in the US will have much effect on the operation of Colt in Canada. Colt bought Diemaco a few years ago, which was a stand-alone operating military firearms company (I think they were the subsidiary of an aircraft parts manufacturer who got bought by another company who didn’t want the firearms business).

    Diemaco may have been a private company, but the Canadian government had (and so far as I know still does) a direct interest in the company’s success, feeding them work on a steady basis to sustain their operation. It wasn’t a hands-off relationship. This arms deal is a typical example. The Canadian government shopped around for a rifle from various sources, but specified that it must be made by Colt Canada.

    There’s a similar pistol contract which has been going forward slowly. Apparently, there have been problems with it because Canada doesn’t seem to want a Colt pistol, while other pistol manufacturers don’t want to license their designs to a subsidiary of Colt (I can’t imagine why!).

    If I recall correctly, Diemaco got started in the business by bidding on the contract for the replacement of Canada’s FALs. Those FALs had been made in a government owned rifle arsenal at Long Branch, in Toronto. The Long Branch arsenal however had by then been closed down. The new contract specifications were structured in a way which was intended to produced a desired outcome – the re-creation of a military firearms industry in Canada.

    By the way, remember that the Ross rifle became Canada’s military rifle after Canada couldn’t buy rifles from Britain for use in the Boer War. Ross got the contract because he agreed to set up a company to manufacture them (they were an existing successful sporting rifle) in Montreal. Diemaco was more or less modern equivalent of that situation.

    If the Colt parent company doesn’t recover, Colt Canada will no doubt be guided into the hands of another owner by the Canadian government who will have a direct say in the future of the company.

  16. Diemaco was a subsidiary of a company called Devtek. It received the contract to maintain the CF’s FNs , SMGs , and other small arms after the abrupt closure of Longbranch by the Trudeau Liberals which left the CF with almost no spare parts.
    Diemaco received the C7 rifle contract c1984 at a unit cost of about C$1300.

  17. Ridiculous to destroy these rifles! Also it would seem much more cost effective to contract having the most common parts to fail machined out in sufficient numbers to keep these weapons in service another 50 – 100 years. Nothing against Sako, but these #4 rifles are quite legendary in their reliability in harsh conditions. All politics I’m sure, and I’m glad I don’t know the details.

  18. “Not an environment for sissy people or sissy rifles!”
    Correction: that is THE environment for sissi operatives!

    Quite amazing that Enfields have been in use for this long. Shame to see those go, though.
    Still, if the Canadians have to outsource their rifles, Finland’s an excellent source.

  19. I suspect the reason the Canucks will have to destroy the No.4’s is the same as why the British government will have to destroy the zillions of No.8 rifles which are going out of Cadet service for the same reason – not enough spare parts in inventory any more.

    I suspect it’s some international anti-proliferation thing that’s drafted too broadly.

  20. Didn’t some Steyr Fal used by the Austrians end up with some shady African warlords in a nasty civil war? Not a situation a government wants to end up in. destroying your surplus is understandable with that in mind.

  21. I wonder whether there might be a bit of a blip in the number of Kayaks capsizing, and such like, over the coming months…

  22. Surplus weapons end up in the strangest places arming unexpected people. Reporter Cj Chivers has been reporting for a few years on the variety of light and heavy weapons that end up in Middle Eastern conflicts. You may send 5,000 rifles to one country and find the same guns pointed back at you in a second country.

  23. new updates to this story and the fate of the rifles:
    5,000 Lee Enfield rifles to be gifted to Canadian Rangers, 9,500 to go to cadets

    http://ottawacitizen.com/news/national/defence-watch/5000-lee-enfield-rifles-to-be-gifted-to-canadian-rangers-9500-to-go-to-cadets

    and
    [b]Some Canadian Forces Lee Enfield rifles could be available for sale to the public[/b]

    http://ottawacitizen.com/news/national/defence-watch/some-canadian-forces-lee-enfield-rifles-could-be-available-for-sale-to-the-public

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