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Rangers to get new rifles
Lee-Enfield rifle, used since 1947, to be replaced by 2014

Casey Lessard
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, September 1, 2011

Each year, every one of the 4,700 Canadian Rangers is issued 200 rounds of ammunition, a safety vest, a red sweatshirt, a ball cap and a .303-calibre Lee-Enfield rifle.

NNSL photo/graphic

Canadian Rangers listen to a firing range safety briefing during Exercise Narwhal in the Cumberland Peninsula area of Baffin Island in 2004. Rangers have been using the Lee-Enfield rifle since Sept. 4, 1947, when the first patrol was formed in Dawson City. - photo courtesy of the Canadian Forces

"This weapon has never failed," said Rankin Inlet Ranger Sgt. Herb Scharer. "It's consistent and durable, takes a lot of abuse and keeps on shooting."

But spare parts for the rifle are becoming increasingly hard to find as no one makes the gun anymore. Parts have to be scavenged from rifles taken out of service.

"A lot of my members don't have a complete rifle," Scharer said. "The stock might be loose, and you can't get a screw for it. Some of the sights don't stay put because the springs are broken. It's quite difficult to have everyone have their rifle up to par with broken parts and missing parts."

That's why in 2014, nearly 70 years after the first Canadian Ranger patrol was formed in Dawson City, the Canadian Forces plans to issue a completely new .308-calibre rifle.

"(The Lee-Enfield .303 is) a very reliable weapon," said Master Warrant Officer Derrick Mann, group sergeant major of the 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group. "I mean, you can drop this thing, bang this thing, freeze this thing. It will still fire. It can handle the extremes of the North. Our new weapon has to be able to do the exact same thing, and has to be as durable, or it's just a waste of money."

The change to a new rifle is part of the government's growing military presence in the North and its national small arms modernization project. In addition to outfitting the Rangers with new rifles, the government is also planning to expand the force, which is part of the Canadian Forces Reserve, to 5,000 members.

Rangers primarily carry a weapon not to protect them from other humans, but to protect them from bears and other predators during patrols, Scharer said. Rangers are encouraged to use the guns for personal hunting purposes.

"The accuracy of the weapon is amazing, especially in the right Ranger's hand," Mann said, noting an experience he had on the land with one Ranger. "I watched this guy bag two caribou in two shots from 350 metres, and there aren't too many people who can do that."

For Mann, that has to do with the person, not the weapon, and despite the nostalgia, the rifles need replacing.

"It's been in service for 60 years. It's time for something new," Mann said. "We're working on getting them a weapon that is as good, if not better."

The required specifications for a new rifle were set after discussions with members of all Ranger patrol groups, and the new weapon will be tested extensively before it is issued.

The new rifles will be a NATO standard .308-calibre. The full cost will be determined after the federal government awards a contract, which will likely be for 10,000 guns.

"There are a number of companies that are bidding for it on a worldwide scale," said Capt. Marc Greatti with Canadian Forces public affairs.

There are Canadian Rangers in every territory and province in Canada, with the exception of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

--with files from Nathalie Heiberg-Harrison

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