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No.1 Mk iii extracting Mk 7 round.

303 SMLE bolt stiff on extraction

Getting my own .303 was a dream come true. It’s a cartridge and rifle with a storied history and a pretty good performance, even by modern standards. What I was particularly looking forward to was the “buttery smooth” action I’ve heard so much about. But mine wasn’t. After removing a good deal of rust and gunk from this historic weapon, I headed down to the local service rifle club to have a shoot. The results were less than spectacular.

I didn’t have much ammo on me at the time, and was primarily going to shoot my SKS and M38, but I did want to put at least half a mag through my brand new (to me) No. 1 Mk iii SMLE. The rifle printed high and to the right, but still in a very tight group with the surplus CAC Mk 7 ammo I had on hand. The elevation was due to shooting at 100 yards with the 200 yard (minimum) setting, so I was fine with that, and it appeared the front sights were off a bit to the right. Not a major.

.303 bolt face, extractor claw and screw.
.303 bolt face, extractor claw and screw.

But getting those empty rounds out was difficult. I couldn’t stay in a shooting position and had to use two hands. My thoughts were it needed some cleaning after a long period of disuse. When I got home some quick research on the internet turned up a few that thought it could be due to fouling, so off I went to the garage to get some cleaning done.

One month later with a box of brand new Prvi Partizan .303 I went down to Taupo NZDA range to get the long guns out. After enjoying drilling tight groups with my Husky, it was a bit of a let down to pick up the Enfield and experience the same issues as before. I hadn’t changed the sights, but compensating worked fine. But still, every round was a real hard task to extract. My wife had a few shots and enjoyed the rifle, but didn’t enjoy the experience because of the tough-to-open bolt. I was crestfallen all the way back to Auckland, thinking I had managed to buy a dud surplus rifle.

What the issue actually was

So this time I took to cleaning with fervour. I disassembled the extractor and bolt face, gave everything a thorough degreasing and a light coat of Ballistol. Determined to not have the same issue again, I gave all of the bearing surfaces a generous application of oil and attempted to chamber a round. No problem. Extraction? Problem.


Bolt face with extraction claw slightly pulled out.
Bolt face with extraction claw slightly pulled out.

This was beyond frustrating. I then took a closer look at the extractor claw and saw that it had become quite sharp after (many) years of use. So I undid the extractor screw, pulled the extractor claw out a bit (not all the way – that V-spring is a pain), and gave it a very light rounding off with a fine file. Extraction seemed to improve.

After three more delicate treatments like this, the bolt is now working like a charm. Now I’m actually looking forward to having a shoot with it again!

P.S. If you’ve got the same problem and want to try this fix, remember that you could damage your rifle – which as we all know can have serious consequences. Take it to a professional gunsmith if necessary.

Also, do not try chambering and extracting live rounds unless you are at a range, pointed in a safe direction. At all other times use a dummy round that you have made yourself, or buy a cheap practice round – they’re about $20 for two.



Geoff is a shooting and reloading enthusiast who would rather be at the range, but is content to write about it. He is a member of Waiuku Pistol Club, and shoots rifle, pistol and shotgun in various disciplines, occasionally, managing to get out for a hunt.

7 thoughts to “303 SMLE bolt stiff on extraction”

  1. I have exactly the same problem, but the case seems to be dragging on the left side of the chamber and bolt way. Could the extractor be doing this ?

    1. Hi Bob,

      It sounds like it could be the extractor causing your issue. Basically, the friction between the rim of the cartridge and the left side of the chamber should cause the empty shell to flick out, using the extractor claw like a fulcrum.

      If the extractor is clamping on the rim too hard, it will force it in place against the left side of the chamber, when it really wants to pop out on the right.

      It could be that the extractor has a lot of crud in it, making it stiff against the spring (heavy cleaning needed), or if the extractor claw is too sharp (like mine was) it could be biting into the soft brass and making it harder to eject. If you do decide to try the method in the post above, make sure to do it in small increments so you can see if there is an improvement.

      If there is no change in extraction after 2 or 3 *light* filings of the extractor claw, then this is probably not your issue.

      Let us know how you get on!

      1. Update on my recent post.
        I took your advice and stripped thre extractor, cleaned the gunk off it and dressed it ( using a ladies nail file and some emery paper) . It had a sharp edge with a small chip, I smoothed and rounded it.
        I also polished the left bolt way, not to a bright shiny finish, but to a smooth satin type finish.
        And now…….. It extracts empty brass like a champ 🙂 The real test is obviously on the range, but my initial impressions are good. Thanks for your help.

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