by B.B. Pelletier

This strange-looking contraption is a bolt-action single-shot pellet rifle called the Haenel 311. They were sold as surplus when East Germany fell.

After doing the report on the Haenel 310 rifle last week, I decided to dust off my 311 and shoot it to you, as well. You may recall that I told you about the yard sale going on in the former East Germany after the wall fell. Well, besides the 310s, there were a number of 311s and 312s – both pellet rifles – that were sold, as well. I happened to snag a 311, which is a very curious air rifle, plus I have what I believe to be a very rare sporter sight for it. At any rate, I’d like to tell you about this rifle today.

What is a 311?
While the model 310 is a short-range target rifle, the fact that it shoots round 4.4mm lead balls takes it out of serious competition. There are no world-class events for ball shooters, other than Daisy’s International BB Gun Championship, and that’s for children, only. The model 311 is an actual pellet rifle, though unlike one that most shooters have ever seen. It was built for 10-meter competition, but I doubt very much if it ever did well at the national level. In its day, it would have gone head-to-head with Walther 53 breakbarrels and Weihrauch model 55s. The Haenel is in the Daisy 853 class when it comes to accuracy, while the HW55 actually won gold at the world level.

Looking down from the top, you can see the similarity between the bolt on the 311 and 310. The 311 bolt also rocks back to cock the mainspring and is too hard for most younger shooters to operate.

The rifle is a bolt-action single shot that loads through a tap. Since the shooter cannot place the pellet into the rifling, that spoils one of the competitive advantages of the other rifles. No taploader has ever been as accurate as a direct-loading single-shot.

The loading tap is closed, and the hole through it lines up with the air transfer port and the breech.

The loading tap is open. A pellet is dropped nose-first into this hole. When the tap closes, the pellet is in perfect alignment with the breech.

The tap is entirely manual in this rifle. Many taploaders have taps that open automatically when the gun is cocked, but this one doesn’t. It’s simpler because there is no additional mechanism required to open the tap, but the complexity of the trigger totally destroys any bid for simplicity.

The trigger is a two-stage adjustable (first stage travel) that lets off at less than one pound. It’s definitely a target trigger, though not in the same class as the IZH 46M pistol trigger. I do feel travel through stage two, but no creep to speak of.

When the rifle is cocked, the safety goes on automatically. Before shooting, you have to press in the safety at the rear of the receiver. I once had the gun apart to look at the trigger and it took me many hours to get it back together. This is easily the most complex trigger mechanism I’ve ever encountered on an airgun.

The front sight is a raised globe with replaceable inserts and the rear diopter is a fully adjustable match sight with rubber eyecup. I believe the front accepts inserts from a Lyman 12, so they are easy to get. The rear sight adjusts in both directions, but there is no reference scale, so it takes some time to understand what the adjustments do. Very 1950s! However, it also has selectable, graduated apertures to adapt to any range lighting conditions – a feature that even the big boys don’t have today. You have to buy an add-on accessory for that, but this little East German vintage target rifle came standard with it.

I mentioned that I also have a sporter sight for mine. I don’t mount it because it gets in the way of the aperture sight, but I bought it for the rarity. The better zimmerstützens also came with sporting sights that mount midway up the receiver, the same as this one, and I have never discovered what shooters did with those sights, either. This one clamps on to a block behind the loading tap.

All oiled-up, the 311 might hit 500 f.p.s. with a 7.6-grain wadcutter. It’s certainly not a magnum air rifle by any stretch.

When they come up for sale, 311s usually list for $200 these days. If you like quirky airguns, this one is definitely for you!