FORT SMITH, N.W.T. -- Like any true collector's item, the Cold War-era rifles still used today by the Canadian Rangers come in their original boxes.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was assured in a newly released memo that the Lee Enfield weapons, which were purchased in 1947, are in mint condition.

"While Rangers are given rifles in pristine condition (i.e. new from the box from special storage), Canada's stock is diminishing and a replacement needs to be identified within the next four to five years," says the memo, which was sent to Harper last October.

The Canadian Press obtained the memo under the Access to Information Act.

The prime minister, who is on his annual tour of the North, is no stranger to the rifles. During last year's visit, Harper got down on the ground, sniper-style, and fired off a few shots during target practice with the Rangers.

The Lee Enfield rifles are standard-issue weapons for the roughly 5,000 reservists scattered across 200 communities who comprise the Rangers. The weapons work well in the North because they don't freeze up or jam.

But the military has for years been trying to replace them because there are so few manufacturers left who make spare parts for the rifles, first introduced to the British Army in 1895.

Harper himself has acknowledged the weapons should be replaced.

"I am told there is no difficulty in servicing the weapons at this time, but this is a concern and we believe is it time," he said a year ago in Hay River, N.W.T.

"The Department of National Defence is in the process of scoping out the program for replacement and I expect that to happen over the next few years."

The replacement weapons probably won't be that much different from the 67-year-old Lee Enfields, says the memo to Harper.

"It is important to note that despite the date of manufacture, rifle technology has not changed significantly over the past 60 years and the replacement rifle will likely be very similar to the Lee Enfield."

The Prime Minister's Office has said the government plans to begin replacing the rifles in 2016.

In 2011, Public Works put out a call to companies for specifications for 10,000 replacement rifles, but defence industry sources have said that the program has been held up over concern about who holds the design rights on certain weapons.

The Canadian Forces did not immediately respond to questions about the rifles.