Haenel 303-8 Super - Part 1
by B.B. Pelletier
Haenel's 303-8 Super is a large breakbarrel target rifle from East Germany.
Guest blogger Paul reported on a Haenel 303 last Friday. That bumped my memory of the 303-8 Super I recently acquired.
Now for something completely different. I bought this mystery East German Haenel at the 2009 Little Rock airgun show, and reader Mel identified it for me by watching the video of the show. I showed the gun in the video but never mentioned it, yet he was sharp enough to pick it out. He also sent me a link to a German site where a fellow reported on his, and I was able to make positive identification from the photos he provided. You see, this rifle has no model markings on it anywhere.
According to a British forum, the 303-8 Super is a target version of the 303 that has a target trigger, target sights and target barrel. I can vouch for the sights and trigger, and we'll just go along with the barrel comment, as I have no way of proving or disproving that this is a target barrel. I don't even know what that means.
The sights are obvious. The rear sight is an adjustable peep sight that's identical to the one found on the model 311 bolt-action target rifle I reported on in 2007. The front sight is a globe-type with replaceable inserts. The one that came with the rifle is the aperture or ring type that is very popular.
The front sight sticks out past the muzzle by a quarter-inch.
The rear sight is unusual-looking, to say the least. You can also see the safety button in this view. It's just below center in this photo.
The two-stage trigger is supposed to be a target-type. Well, the pull is light, at just 26 oz., but there's considerable creep in stage two. I couldn't use it in competition the way it is. I'm guessing the East Germans would tune, adjust and lubricate the triggers of rifles used in competition.
I do see a couple screws in the trigger mechanism that invite fiddling, so maybe I'll do some tweaking and give you a report in part two. Perhaps this thing can be made better.
The safety doesn't come on as the rifle is cocked. I think it's supposed to be automatic because I have the same safety on my 311 and it's automatic. Paul's 303 also has an automatic safety. So, I think someone has been inside this rifle. But whoever was, they didn't bother to tune the powerplant, because the rifle buzzes faintly when fired. I lubricated my 311 over a decade ago, and it now fires dead calm. Just because of this rifle's age, I put several drops of silicone oil down the air transfer port and also lubricated the leather breech seal. Paul mentioned that his piston seal is leather, so there's a good chance mine is, as well.
I don't know if East Germany, like West Germany, had a power limit of 7.5 joules for airguns had and now all of Germany has. That power equates to a hair over 5.5 foot-pounds. Using the velocity calculator found in the article "What is muzzle energy?", I discovered that the velocity of a 7.5-grain target (wadcutter) pellet should be in the 550-575 f.p.s. range, if the power is supposed to be 7.5 joules. We'll see what it really is in part two of this report. Paul reported much higher velocities for his rifle, and I'm curious if this one has the same powerplant. It's a good bet that it does.
One feature breakbarrel Haenels often have that I don't always care for is a barrel lock. That's a mechanism that has to be operated before the barrel can be broken open for cocking and loading. Depending on their design, barrel locks can be a minor inconvenience or a major hangup. The one on the test rifle is leaning toward the latter. You have to press the latch straight back at a time when your arms are arranged to do anything but that. For easy barrel latches, I like the one on the Weihrauch HW 35, because you pull it forward to release the barrel. Pressing back seems very inconvenient when your next move is to move forward to break down the barrel.
The barrel lock is on the right side of the baseblock, but the end is accessible from the left side, as well. That's where a right-handed shooter will engage it.
I noticed that Paul's 303 doesn't have a barrel lock, or if it does I missed it in his report. So, that's one big difference between this 303-8 Super and the standard 303.
Several of the remarks I've read about this model indicate the bluing rusts easily. That's certainly the condition I find on my rifle. Fortunately, I know how to deal with it. I'll spray the metal with Ballistol and wipe off the rust freckles as much as possible. The Ballistol will also penetrate the remaining rust and neutralize it, so the problem will cease getting worse.
The only markings visible on the outside of the gun are these, near the rear sight. This picture shows the rust freckling on the surface.
The 303-8 Super is 43.25 inches long from the tip of the front sight globe that sticks out past the muzzle to the center of the black plastic buttplate. The pull is 13-7/8 inches long, which is a long pull for a target rifle, which is held differently than a sporter. The rifle weighs 7.5 lbs.
The stock is very square-ish in cross section. The forearm feels like a 2 by 4. Even the pistol grip has square edges and is stippled on both sides. The wood finish is a very orange shellac that reminds me of Chinese airguns of the 1980s. In fact, clues like the crude stock shape, the wood finish and the ugly black plastic triggerguard all indicate that this rifle was most likely made in the late 1970s or even the '80s, when the GDR was coming to the end of its operating hours. Had it been made earlier, there would have been a slightly more elegant look to the whole package. Or I could be wrong, and the design could have been like that from the beginning--whenever that was.
At any rate, it's a most intriguing air rifle and one that I look forward to examining for you. With the data from Paul's excellent report, I have a basis upon which to build.