Lee-Speed Sporter

A Jolly Good Choice For A Proper Gentleman

Birmingham Small Arms (B.S.A.) sporter made on the early Lee action
designed by James Paris Lee and Joseph J. Speed. Note the flattened bolt
knob for use in a saddle scabbard.

Two just-commissioned second lieutenants were celebrating their graduation from Sandhurst, 1910, with a pint at the local pub. They were speculating on their future.

“It’s India for me,” said Nigel Bruce St. John-Smythe III. “I’ve asked for service on the Northern Frontier. It’s the only place left where a junior officer can expect real action. There won’t be any more wars in Europe, that’s certain, not in our lifetimes.”

“Afraid you’re right,” said Ludovick “Lucky” George Augustas Hawthorne. “We came along too late for South Africa. Damn shame. The Boers were worthy foemen. What did that Kipling fellow write, ‘With … ’is Mauser for amusement and ’is pony for retreat, I’ve known a lot of fellers shoot a dam’ sight worse than Piet.’ Speaking of amusement what will you do for recreation in India? Barring the obvious of course.”

The Lee Speed action doesn’t have a lug to accept stripper clips. It accepts
both 5- and 10-round magazines that can be quickly replaced for fast reloading.

Hand checkering appears to be 20 lines per inch and is quite well done, especially considering this is a fairly unadorned working rifle.

Sporting Life

“Supposed to be fine shooting in India. Blackbuck, markor, ibex, thar, ghoral, several kinds of deer, even tiger if you can afford it, which I can’t. My guv’nor promised me a sporting rifle as a graduation present. We looked over a few rifles. Magazine rifles of course, can’t afford a double.”

Ludovick nodded his understanding. “So what will you get, a Mannlicher maybe? Or a Mauser? I saw an article in The Field by some character about how the 7mm Mauser was good for all kinds of game, even elephant. Bell, that was the chap’s name.”

Nigel nodded agreement. “Good choices, no doubt. But the guv’nor and I heard a talk by Colonel Patterson. Remember him? Killed those man-eating lions in Africa that were terrorizing the railroad workers. Anyway, Patterson recommended a Lee sporter in .303 British. Good quality ammunition, readily available wherever British soldiers serve. Proven reliability, parts and service available if needed. Operation and maintenance familiar to anyone used to the British service rifle. And supporting British industry, of course.”
“Still, it has to be something you like. Have you tried a Lee Sporter?”

“Yes, we met Patterson after his talk, he was good enough to invite us to tea at his home the next day. Got a close look at his rifle and a sense for how it handled. It’s built on the Lee Speed action, the one used on the Long Lee rifles last century. Still has the magazine cutoff, which seems like a useless feature on a sporting rifle, but what would you do? Oh, and he showed us the skins of the two man-eating lions, The Ghost and the Darkness as the natives called them. He uses them as rugs.”

“Were you able to find a rifle just like Patterson’s?”

“Found one similar, not identical. Made by BSA, nicely stocked and sighted and with a short barrel I like. They left off the magazine cutoff and dust cover, both improvements in my view. Dealer said it has Enfield rifling rather than Metford. Damme if I know the difference but he says it is better suited to use with smokeless powder.”

“Should be a nice rifle, though I do think the Mauser action makes for a better hunting rifle.”

“I’ll not be disagreeing with you.” Nigel said. “I probably would prefer a Mauser but the points about ammunition and parts availability seem important, especially out on the Northern Frontier. But hold on, aren’t all you Scots going for the new .280 Ross rifle?

“Yes, lots of chatter about it — 3,000 feet per second, I don’t believe it. All theoretical to me of course as my old da’ would disinherit me if I ever used anything but a single shot or double. He hates magazine rifles with a passion. Hates the action length and clatter, says they are only good for farmers and foreigners. And the only thing worse than a Ross straight pull would be a semi-automatic. An English gentleman only uses a single or double rifle.”

“Your old da’s not English, he’s a Scot. Some sort of baron?”

The BSA Piled Arms logo is stamped on the barrel above the chamber. The flat segment on the barrel was designed to be used with a barrel wrench and is known as “Nock’s form.”

The light barrel of this BSA Sporter is handsomely tapered.
Note three leaf rear sight with middle (200 yard) leaf raised.


“It goes double for Scots. Yes, he’s a baronet with an estate in Scotland. Which my older brother will inherit one day, along with the title. The only thing worse than being a second son is being the third son. I might inherit the silverware, I suppose. And a bit of reflected glory. You’re supposed to address me as ‘The Honourable Ludovick’ by the way.”

Nigel laughed heartily. “Good one, Lucky. I see where you got your nickname. Seems you may as well get the rifle you like.”
“No need. Da gave me two of his Daniel Fraser doubles. A 12-bore shotgun and a .333 rifle. I’ve been posted to Middlesex. Most of my shooting will be on the estate for red grouse and red stag so I don’t need more.”

“Hard luck, old chap. Not much chance for action and advancement in Europe. Not like on the Northern Frontier of India. Can’t wait to get there!”

“Didn’t Kipling write a poem, something about “Arithmetic on the Frontier?” Ludovick of the sometimes-faulty memory quoted:

“A scrimmage in a Border Station
A canter down some dark defile
Two thousand pounds of education
Drops to a ten-rupee jezail.
Strike hard who cares — shoot straight who can —

The odds are on the cheaper man.”

“Oh enough with your precious Kipling,” Nigel said, a little irritated. “Twenty years from now no one will even remember him.” But he sounded a bit worried.

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