by B.B. Pelletier
This is Paul's first guest blog, and he's reviewing one of my favorite airgun brands--Haenel. His review of the 303 model shows it's an accurate gun, as you'll soon see. The gun belongs to his friend, so he's got only temporary ownership.
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The rifle above is a Haenel model 303. Made in East Germany, it looks to be a refinement of the model 284 reviewed by B.B. last year. It was purchased in East Berlin in the early 1980s and is a conventional breakbarrel rifle in .177 caliber, similar in size to an R7 and identical in power. It weighs about 6.5 lbs. and has a pull of 14 inches, so it doesn't feel like a toy. The overall length is 42.75 inches with a 17.5-inch barrel.
The cocking effort starts out very light and builds to 22 lbs. just before the end of the stroke. The gun can be easily cocked with two fingers. The wood stock looks like beech and is not stained; there's no buttplate--just ribs cut into the end of the stock. The stock finish on this particular rifle has a few nicks but is excellent otherwise. Unlike the earlier 284, there are no finger grooves on the forearm.
The stylized Haenel name is stamped at the end of the receiver. The safety button projects from the end of the tube.
The blueing is very good--black and even over the entire gun, even the parts not normally visible. The Haenel logo and country of manufacture (German Democratic Republic) are stamped on the end of the receiver. The safety button projects from the end cap and automatically sets when the gun is cocked; it and the receiver end cap are the only two plastic parts on the gun. The safety is a bit noisy but operates positively and can be reset after being placed on fire. Depressing the safety and pulling the trigger while holding the barrel fully open releases the mainspring without firing.
The model number is stamped midway on the receiver.
The trigger is stamped metal and blued; it has a solid block sear at the top that engages the hook at the rear of the piston to hold the action in the cocked position. The screw at the front of the triggerguard controls the sear engagement; I did not adjust the screw since the second stage was consistent at about 5 lbs. When the second stage is reached and the trigger is pulled a small amount further, the pull becomes slightly lighter and finally breaks. Once a few shots have been fired, the trigger becomes easy to control.
Rear sight is adjustable for elevation and windage.
Unlike the earlier 284, the rear sight on the 303 is adjustable for windage. A spring-loaded ball backs the adjustment knob to produce clicks and to lock the position. The V-groove rear sight works well with the front sight for precise aiming. The comb of the stock is also the perfect height so the sights are in very close alignment when the gun is shouldered. The barrel pivot bolt is locked in place with a small set screw that fits into a notch of the bolt head. No washers are used between the baseblock and the forks of the receiver. Instead of the usual plunger ball or wedge in the baseblock, the wedge is in the front of the receiver. A matching V-notch in the baseblock provides a positive lockup. The cocking link is a two-piece arrangement enabling a very short slot in the forearm. A spring-loaded button that presses the straight part of the link against the bottom of the receiver is in the forearm. This part of the link is an open box stamping with a plastic block inside that contacts the lower part of the receiver to prevent wear.
Front sight is a hooded peppercorn design.
Firing the 303
The Haenel exhibits moderate vibration upon firing. Some pellets caused noticably more vibration and were not tested further. Due to the power level, recoil is minimal and the rifle seems to be fairly hold-insensitive. I was able to get good groups supporting the forearm on a bag rest or using my left hand. The point of impact didn't seem to be affected either way.
Only a few hundred pellets have been put through the rifle; it also hadn't fired for about three years due to a lack of ammo. Because of the age of the rifle and the leather breech seal, I guessed that it had a leather piston seal (it did) so I chronographed it before oiling and after. The results were interesting. Before oiling, velocities would vary as much as 54 feet per second for a 5-shot string. Two shots would be within a couple of fps of each other and the next would drop by 40 fps and then come back up the round after that. After oiling, the average velocity was unchanged but the variation was reduced to as little as 8 fps for five shots.
Suspecting that the original lube had dried and hardened, I disassembled the Haenel for a cleaning and relube. It took about four hours to tear down the gun, clean and lubricate the internals, and put it back together. The spring was under about three-quarters of an inch of preload; it was .75 inches in diameter, 7.25 inches long and perfectly straight. Due to the lack of wear, it's evident that this gun has seen little use the last 25 years. Fortunately, the leather piston seal was in perfect shape. Once the gun was reassembled, it took about 20 shots to get consistent velocities.
For the most part, velocities increased about 21 fps after tuning. Beeman Kodiak pellets were unchanged, but the Beeman Crow Magnums picked up 35 fps and the gun seemed to shoot smoother with those pellets.
Something that struck me was the level of finish inside the gun. It was obviously built with care. The only sharp edge I found was in the slot in the bottom of the piston; it was only rough enough to scratch a finger. The slot in the bottom of the receiver was very smooth. Chamfers were added to the edges of the rear sping guide and the block that retained the trigger for easy insertion into the receiver. All of the other small parts were cleanly finished. This was an inexpensive gun, but it was not cheaply made. A nicer stock would be a fine compliment to the excellent metal work.
Velocity and accuracy
A number of different pellets were tested at 10 meters. Five-shot groups were used due to time constraints. The sights were never adjusted and groups varied from centered to about a half inch to the left.
The 6.5 grain Beeman Lasers were a bust. They averaged 621 fps but ranged from 595 fps to 657 fps and strung out horizontally. No other pellets displayed this behavior.
7.7-grain Beeman Coated Wadcutters
Beeman Coated Wadcutters averaged 609 fps with a high of 615 and a low of 602 fps. They gave a .53-inch group.
Beeman Coated Hollowpoints
7.2-grain Beeman Coated Hollowpoints shot with less vibration than most. They averaged 663 fps, varying from 654 to 677 fps. The group below has four shots in .40 inches with one flyer (my fault), opening it to a full half inch.
Crosman Premier Lights
7.9 grain Crosman Premier Lights fit loosely in the Haenel's breech, dropping about 1/16 inch in. They averaged 627 fps, varied by only 14 fps (620 to 634), didn't want to group any tighter than half an inch and produced wider groups than most.
The 6.9 grain RWS Super-H-Points averaged 652 fps, varying from 643 fps to 669 fps, and produced a .39-inch group.
Beeman Crow Magnums
For a heavier pellet, I tried the 8.8-grain Beeman Crow Magnums. The Haenel seemed to like these. It fired with little vibration, averaging 590 fps and varying from 586 fps to 596 fps. Groups around .37 inches were easy.
The 8.3-grain RWS Superdomes were a standout. They averaged 608 fps with a low of 599 fps and a high of 621 fps. The .29-inch group was a little hard to measure since these pellets do not cut a clean hole at all.
Crosman Premier Hollowpoints
Last up were the 7.9-grain Crosman Premier Hollowpoints; they also gave one-hole groups. Their velocity varied from 620 fps to 654 fps for an average of 633 fps. Groups were .37 inches (below) and .34 inches.
I also shot at some cut pieces of 2x4 blocks at 35 yards. With a little hold over, it was simple to topple them nearly every time. I didn't attempt groups past 10 meters due to my nearsighted, 45-year-old eyes.
I was quite pleased with the accuracy of this gun. For a low-priced rifle it shoots beautifully with the right ammunition. I only wish it were possible to install a scope; a glass sight would be a great help at longer ranges. I did tell my friend if he ever wants to part with the rifle and his son does not want it that I want first dibs! It's an excellent plinker.