It’s like holding history in your hands.

The .303 British style of military rifle was standard issue for armies of the British Empire and later the British Commonwealth for many decades. As the weapons were replaced and sold as surplus over the years, they were adopted as a standard hunting rifle in many Canadian homes.

The St. Paul Fish and Game Association and St. Paul Branch 100 of the Royal Canadian Legion co-present an annual sport-shooting meet for the .303 British rifles. The 2024 competition was on Saturday.

There is a standard look to the rifles, but there are many differences reflecting advances in action, sighting, and ammunition.

The oldest one to be fired on Saturday was a Lee Metford bolt action from 1887.

“It was one of the very first of the bolt action .303 British calibre firearms,” said its owner (and meet organizer) Russ Whitford. “In those days gunpowder was changing and bolt actions were not even a real big design. 

“They were common, but it was still being refined because only 20 years earlier people were chasing each other around in the American Civil War with muzzle loaders.”

Advances in gunpowder and barrel rifling, among other things, rendered the Lee Metford obsolete.

“It was made for black gunpowder, which was very dirty as it just had lots of charcoal in it,” Whitford said. “It was probably obsolete in 1893.” 

The Lee Enfield succeeded the Lee Metford. It uses the same size cartridge but the better gunpowder required further refinements to the rifle. 

Whitford said Saturday’s shoot was a perfect opportunity to fire the old gun.

“I wanted to take it off the rack and have a reason to make it go bang again,” Whitford said. “The black gunpowder has a different smell and a different sound. And knowing you’re handling a firearm that’s from 1890 or 1880 or thereabouts,  it makes you feel the ghosts. There’s history there.”


1st original issue: Myles Whitford 174/200 with #4mk2

1st any stock Iron Sights: Al Harris, 163/200 with P14 sporter

1st any stock/ any sights: Russell Whitford 184/200 with #4mk1, PH5 aperture sights.

1st Team: Myles and Russell Whitford 358/400

Oldest rifle: Lee Metford, shooting Black Powder cartridges.

Russ Whitford with his historic Lee Metford bolt-action rifle. JEFF GAYE
Adding up the scores after a round of shooting. JEFF GAYE