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WHY CONVERT .303 "SMLE" TO 7.62 X 54R
J.B. Hohlfeld

NOTE - it would appear that information referred to below regarding Bill Black and Sante Fe
Gunsmithing is outdated or unavailable. If we find replacement data we will update this page.

Upon hearing about the conversion of the British .303 SMLE rifle to the 7.62x54R Chicom/Russian cartridge, most people have two basic reactions:

    (1) Hey, that sounds interesting. Followed by,

    (2) Why do you want to do that?

We will assume that you already have a .303 SMLE, and that you have been watching the size of your shot groups getting bigger with the passage of time. Is your barrel "shot out"? Highly doubtful, but you are seeing serious indicators of chamber "throat erosion". The greater the throat erosion, the lower your accuracy potential, ergo, your shot groups continue to get bigger, with more "wild" shots. If you decide to rebarrel, you are looking at about $300.00 for a new barrel and installation. However, if you decide to have your existing rifle rechambered to "54R, you are looking at about $160.00.

Since we were discussing accuracy, and the fall-off of accuracy, let's look at a real life example. A few months ago, Aaron Zelman sent us his personal No. 4, MK-1, .303SMLE for rechambering to the "54R" cartridge. During our pre-rechambering bench testing of his .303 SMLE, our best shooter, Lawrence Lucero, was able to produce a 1 1/2 inch group at 100-yards, using an unknown type of .303 FMJ ball ammunition. This test confirmed that the rifle's bore was in good condition, and Aaron had lucked out on his $70.00 surplus rifle. After rechambering Aaron's rifle to the "54R" cartridge, we ran another bench test using surplus Chicom and an unknown european type of 180gr FMJ ball. Again Lawrence was the shooter, and the final test group using the 180gr FMJ ball produced a 3/4-inch group at 100-yards, which is outstanding for a $70.00 surplus rifle! It has been our experience, that you can expect at least a 25% reduction in your shot group size, with a 50% reduction, as seen with Aaron's rifle, not being uncommon.

I should mention that we have executed the "54R" conversion on several SMLE's for ongoing field testing of the concept and of the surplus ammo, available. Example: Our first No.4 MK-1 now has about 500-rounds fired through it, while or "tanker" No. 4, MK-1 only has 200-rounds fired through it. Speaking of our "Tanker", it is a very nice rifle, with excellent balance and carry weight, which should translate well in a field environment.

With regard to surplus ammunition, .303 British ammo is available, but much of it will get you duds and hang-fires. The better quality .303 ammo is about $163.00 per 500-rounds of FMJ ball. Whereas, $100.00 can get you 880-rounds of "54R" FMJ ball ammo.

Thus far, we have tested Russian, Chicom, and Bulgarian 7.62x54R in projectile loadings of 147gr to 180gr. With the exception of any of the lacquered type cartridge cases, we have had few problems with this surplus ammo, and have been surprised by the accuracy of much of it. To date, we have not tested the 7.62x54R, 204gr soft point hunting loads, but we assume they will work well since they are 1997 production. (NOTE: With regard to lacquered cases, and in particular lacquered-steel cases, we discovered the hard way, that they have a tendency to really hang-up in the chamber after firing, due to "lacquer Flow")

For those interested in ballistics, the following will give you a brief overview:

(Cartridges of the World) .303 Chamber Pressures; 45,000-48,000 PSI "54R" Chamber Pressures; 45,000 PSI

(Sieria/Speer Reloading Manuals)


.303: .311Dia, RNSP, 180gr, 2,600FPS


100yd 200yd 300yd 400yd 500yd 600yd

0.0" -4.9" -17.9" -41.0" -77.2" -123.6"


"54R": .311Dia, SPT, 180gr, 2,600FPS


100yd 200yd 300yd 400yd 500yd 600yd

0.0" -4.6" -16.4" -37.0" -68.3" -122.4"


So, after reading all of the above, are you begining to rethink the original question? Good. By the way, did I mention that the Chicom's and Russian's are still using the 7.62x54R cartridge in their belt-fed general purpose machineguns, and their SVD sniper rifles?

If you prefer seeing what I have been discussing, we have made a 58 minute video (VHS), which demonstrates the entire conversion process of a No. 4, MK-1 SMLE to "54R". Send check or money order for $29.95 to Ranger Outreach Center, Box 1164, Pecos, NM 87552.

For those interested in having their .303 SMLE convered to 7.62x54R, Contact Bill Black at: Santa Fe Gunsmithing, Inc., 509 Airport Road, Santa Fe, NM 87505 505.438.4174 The base charge of $160.00 includes the following: Pre/Post conversion test firing; Rechambering; Magazine modification; Muzzle recrowning; Return shipping via UPS standard ground. For an additonal $60.00, Bill will refinish your rifle in a dull bead-blasted gray/black parkerizing, a matte bluing, or moly-resin coating.

Instructor Ranger Outreach Center

Box 1164
Pecos, NM 87552-1164

Ranger Outreach Center is an international school for Police/Security or individuals that require real world firearms training. For information on classes offered at R*O*C you may write to the above address, fax 505.757.8456 e-mail

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