Mike Wilson: Happy 100th birthday, Mr. Enfield!

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, June 22, 2023

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Mike WilsonAs I get along in years, I find myself consciously checking items off my “bucket list” like many others, I suppose. Our 40th anniversary trip to Ireland in 2016 allowed me to see the land of my ancestors and visit holy sites such as the Guinness Brewery in Dublin. A short cruise from Tampa in 2017 took us to Cuba, land of her ancestors, for the first time. Hunting-wise, I finally made it down to hunt ducks in Louisiana with a former student and now 30-year friend. I was once a decent pistolero and took part in many International Rapid-Fire Pistol matches at Quantico, so I really wanted to harvest at least one deer with my Redhawk, and I finally did it in 2015. Thanks to many tragic misfires, it took me almost 30 years and a more modern replacement for my temperamental .54 caliber Hawken to finally get a doe with black powder just last year. One of the most satisfying achievements, however, had to be taking a buck with a rifle that was 100 years old.

I grew up with a profound interest in World War II. When I was a little boy in Memphis in the early 60’s, we played at fighting Axis troops of all persuasions with our toy rifles and grenades in the neighborhood. (The ones who drew the short straws had to be the bad guys.) Years later, when I saw a whole rack of surplus No. 1, Mk III Lee-Enfield SMLE’s in a department store for $40 apiece, it was a no-brainer to get two. The armory markings indicated that it was manufactured in 1916, and a little research suggested that it most likely saw action in numerous engagements of the Great War. Surplus ammo was also cheap at the time, and I found that it had a nice, clean bore and would print a very tight group with the iron sights. One reason for this accuracy was the relative fineness of the front sight blade and the narrowness of the corresponding aperture in the rear battle sight. The ladder sight is graduated to over 1000 meters, and I have seen numerous accounts of the deadly and rapid aimed fire laid down at over a half mile by British and colonial troops as enemy battalions advanced across open plains in that conflict. Only last year I also saw several on the news that were part of a cache of arms captured from the Taliban. They have definitely accounted for millions of bad guys and large animals around the world in the past century.

I took it afield occasionally once I had put my first “sausage deer” in the freezer with more conventional arms, but missed out on several chances at nice deer because it was hard to find that fine front sight in low light or shadows. As the years went by and my eyesight got worse, I began to think that my plan of getting a deer with that rifle would not be fulfilled. Then, I realized a couple of years ago that the weapon was turning 100, so I rededicated myself to making it happen somehow.

I broke down and mounted a red-dot sight on it using a very good “no-gunsmithing” mount and sighted it in. I also got some new 150 grain jacketed soft points from Prvi Partisan since I had sometimes experienced feeding issues with an older batch of 180 grain roundnosed soft points from another manufacturer. On the second Saturday of the firearm season, I made my way before dawn to a ladder stand my friend Jon had placed in a hollow on his farm. A small creek flowed through the ravine, and I had taken several deer there in previous seasons. The stand faces west, and the top of the stand is roughly level with the edge on the other side, which is about 75 yards away. At first light I saw the buck ambling slowly through the trees along that edge from my right to my left, but I had to hold my fire since at that level there were also horses feeding in a small pasture directly behind him and even school buses going down the road at that hour. If I was going to shoot, the deer had to be down in the ravine.

Here’s a story familiar to most readers of this account: Then I waited and waited and was just about to pack it in at noon when I caught a movement in my peripheral vision. It was the same buck, who had apparently completed his morning rounds. He very slowly made his way down the creek bed, and he showed no alarm or sense of my presence at all. When he got within about 25 yards of the stand, I aimed between his shoulder blades, and he dropped in his tracks instantly and scarcely moved a muscle. The bullet had entered at the shoulder blade and exited at the scrotum: pretty good penetration! Was there “ground shrinkage”? You bet! What had appeared to be a good 6-pointer now seemed to sport the Theoretically Smallest Possible 6-Point Rack, quite akin to those featured on the legendary “jackalope” mounts of Western souvenir shop fame. However, I didn’t care; I was just happy that Mr. Lee Enfield had a happy birthday! I probably need to expand the “bucket list” now; I’ve never asked what happens when you finish it…

Mike Wilson is a former Hampden-Sydney Spanish professor and 13-year resident of Prince Edward County, who now calls North Carolina home. He can be reached at jmwilson@catawba.edu.