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Education / Training Haenel 311 target rifle: Part 1

Haenel 311 target rifle: Part 1

by B.B. Pelletier

The Haenel 311 is the world’s only bolt-action spring-piston 10-meter target rifle.

At the Roanoke Airgun Expo several weeks ago, I saw a Haenel 311 target rifle on one of the tables, which it reminded me that I’d promised myself long ago to give you a full report on this curious air rifle. Today, I’ll begin to fulfill that promise.

Back in the days when Edith and I published The Airgun Letter, we were contacted by a pawn shop that was importing target airguns from the former East Germany. We told our readers about them, and thousands of model 310s and 311s and a few 312 sidelevers were sold over the course of a few years. The prices were quite low. As I recall, the 310s went for $49, and the 311s brought $59. I bought several guns to test and as gifts, and the 311 you’ll see here is one of those purchased.

The 311 is unlike any other air rifle in the world. It’s a .177-caliber pellet rifle that uses an articulated bolt action to cock a spring that powers the piston. It appears similar to the Haenel 310 action except the 310 shoots only round lead balls fed from a magazine, while the 311 shoots standard diabolo pellets fed one at a time though a loading tap. The two guns are very different, except for their cocking levers.

Here the cocking bolt/lever has been lifted out of its stored position and is ready to be pulled back to cock the gun.

The rifle is sized for an adult, with an overall length of 43-7/8 inches and a weight of 7 lbs., 14 ozs. These numbers come from my rifle and do not agree with the information in the Blue Book of Airguns.

The stock is blocky and looks like it was fashioned from a two-by-six piece of lumber. The wood is tightly grained and may be beech, though I’m not certain. It’s stained with a thin orange color that does not penetrate the wood to any depth. The finish is a thin shellac that’s very prone to chipping and wear.

The pistol grip is hand-checkered with large diamonds in a very crude pattern. The work looks like it was done by a prisoner wielding a not-too-sharp jackknife. There’s no checkering on the forearm, but both sides have a long European-style finger groove.

The checkering is clearly hand-cut, and a rough job at that. Overruns and missed diamonds abound.

The metal is very well polished and finished with an even hot blue. You must appreciate that Haenel has a reputation as a fine arms maker, and this rifle is so out of line with most of what they made that it looks like a government job for sure. The rifle began production in 1964, which was at the height of the Cold War, so that assessment is probably right on the money. Production ended in the early 1990s.

The 311 is a 10-meter target rifle, but it is so different from any other 10-meter rifle that it’s very difficult to categorize. The cocking effort is very difficult — owing to the short cocking lever — so this is not a three-position rifle in anyone’s book. It’s meant for offhand shooting, alone. Even then, the shooter must take care where he points the muzzle while he struggles with the cocking lever. It takes 33 lbs. of force to cock my 311, and applying it through the 3-inch bolt handle isn’t easy. In the offhand position, I would shoulder the rifle and simply pull the handle back, using my shoulder to hold the rifle in place. It sounds easy, but after a couple shots you start feeling the strain.

The 311’s sights are very interesting. The rear adjustable aperture sight looks very similar to a Walther target sight of the same era. Though it’s designed for inexpensive production, you can see that the designers managed to make it quite precise. It has the swept-back look of the 1930s.

The adjustable rear aperture sight looks like something from a 1930s sci-fi movie. The design is simple but very similar to what Walther was making at the time.

As austere as this sight is, it still contains diopters (peep holes) of different sizes to accommodate different lighting conditions. That’s an advanced feature that you don’t expect to find on such a crudely finished rifle. And it doesn’t end there.

The 311 also has the provision for mounting an intermediate adjustable sporting sight on a base located at the end of the compression tube, just behind the loading tap. Most 311 owners have never seen this sight, but I was able to obtain one with my rifle, so I can show it to you now. This sight must relate to some sporting event the East Germans had for this rifle. The Falke rifle also had provisions for two different types of rear sights, so there must have been a good reason for them. I do know that many zimmerstutzens come with this same provision, and there’s a separate sporting match for the zimmerstutzen. It’s not too difficult to imagine that there was the same kind of match for air rifles that are equipped this way.

This adjustable sporter rear sight is an accessory few 311 owners have ever seen. It mounts behind the loading tap and is undoubtedly used in different matches than the target sight.

The front sight is a globe mounted on a tall stalk. It accepts different sight inserts, which would be necessary if the sporting rear sight were to be used. My rifle came with an aperture in the front sight.

The front sight is a globe with replaceable inserts that sits on a tall stalk.

Loading tap
The 311 loads through a rotating loading tap. That is a strange feature on a target rifle, because the shooter cannot insert the pellet directly into the rifling. The tap is entirely manual and separate from the cocking function, so it can be operated at any time.

The loading tap is manual and not connected to cocking the gun in any way.

One thing about a loading tap is that it requires a different procedure for oiling the piston seal. I put 5-10 drops of silicone chamber oil into the tap, then close it and stand the rifle on its butt for at least an hour. The reason I used 5-10 drops is in case the piston seal is made of leather. I use silicone chamber oil in case it’s synthetic. Talk about covering all the bases!

The trigger is one place where the Haenel pedigree shines through. It’s a multi-lever unit that breaks cleanly if not crisply. It’s every bit as nice as the trigger on the Bronco.

Here’s a warning to all you would-be tuners. Years ago, I wanted to quiet the vibration of my 311 action, so I started what I thought would be a simple disassembly. When I got inside the trigger, however, the job proved to be anything but simple. I assembled the gun with the automatic safety out of whack and have lived with it ever since. The 311 is not the rifle to take apart unless you have a lot of patience and perhaps a spare rifle to look at when it’s time to put it back together.

As for power and accuracy — well, this is only Part 1. I’ll test this rifle completely in the established pattern, so you’ll get answers to both questions.

author avatar
Tom Gaylord (B.B. Pelletier)
Tom Gaylord, also known as B.B. Pelletier, provides expert insights to airgunners all over the world on behalf of Pyramyd AIR. He has earned the title The Godfather of Airguns™ for his contributions to the industry, spending many years with AirForce Airguns and starting magazines dedicated to the sport such as Airgun Illustrated.

62 thoughts on “Haenel 311 target rifle: Part 1”

    • Derrick,

      I really admire Nicks talent and perserverance. I just read his multi part series on the 310/311 and realized that I’ll never be a tinkerer. He seems driven to know what makes these guns tick and the best way to fix them even when he has numb fingers. Thanks for the link.


    • Nick,

      I’m glad you posted that link. It would be enough to keep me from ever looking inside my gun, and I hope the same goes for most people.

      It is nice to know there are those who can figure this stuff out, but for me the 311’s design is too heavy for my head.


  1. Dear Tom and Edith,
    I am a former Animal Control Officer and a state licensed Professional Animal Trapper and Hunter. I am also the President of a well established Animal Damage Control company. I would like to set the record straight in regard to euthanizing rodent categorized animals such as squirrels while contained in a trap which was the hot topic debated in yesterdays blog. A Beeman P1 or an RWS LP8 has sufficient power to euthanize these animals with a point blank range shot to the brain. Any representation that they have insufficient power to penetrate the cranium at these close distances is simply incorrect. Dr. Beeman has in fact published an article to this effect as well. I would be glad to speak with you directly and allow you to verify my credentials if you still feel unconvinced by my posting.

    • Jeffrey,

      It may work for you…a professional who knows how to actually shoot and dispatch an animal humanely, but it doesn’t seem to work for a lot of people. I say that based on the large number of gun reviews from people who injure or maim critters because they brought 1 pellet to knock out the critter, only to discover that it takes a lot more power to accomplish the task. Then, there’s the guy who has a whole bunch of pellets, but he’s now panicking because he’s already shot the critter 15 times and it’s raging mad, bleeding and running around on a megadose of adrenaline.

      Because of stories like these, I was forced to make a rule that no killing will be mentioned on Pyramyd Air’s site unless the gun delivers at least 12 ft-lbs — accurately. If someone invented a BB gun that delivered 12 ft-lbs., you’d have to prove to me that it could reliably, humanely dispatch a critter. Otherwise, I wouldn’t approve reviews that said it was good for animal control.

      The horrifying, graphic stories I’ve read have forced me to make these decisions on behalf of Pyramyd AIR, who supports me 100%. I wish I had an eraser and could wipe these reviews from my brain.

      Thanks for understanding,

      • Agree with you 100%…make it 1000%.
        I was mystified by the posting yesterday seeming to feel that if Mr Beeman (whom I respect, but can be wrong…face it, before Galileo most of the respected ‘authorities’ said the earth was the centre of the solar system) said you can kill a squirrel with 3FPE, than by gosh a gun shooting 3.1 FPE was a great squirrel killer.
        I wonder if these same people would want to go under the knife of a brain surgeon whose equipment just met the minimur requirements?

        • With all due respect,I think the data is being misunderstood. The energy requirement listed is what he felt was needed at the target – not from the muzzle. In-additional , he went to great lengths to explain that it needed to be in a vital area of the vermin.
          Hence the possible use of a target airguns for pest control due to the increased accuracy.

          Once again, shoot a rabbit in the stomach with a .25 caliber Marauder at 20 yards and you will need to add a rock or boot heel to the mix. Shoot him just behind the eye and tad low and he will never know the angels have called him home.

          • Volvo,

            I haven’t wanted to get “into the mix” on dispatching critters with airguns. I’m going to wade in deep enough to say that I agree wholeheartedly with all you said yesterday and today. Especially with regard to people shooting animals that don’t learn enough about their prey’s anatomy and those that take shots that they shouldn’t.


          • i’m still a little iffy on this Volvo.
            Chairgun tell me that a JSB Exact, fired out of a 500fps gun (my Slavia for example) is, at 30 yds travelling at 418fps and has a little over 3FPE.
            I know my gun pretty well…I really don’t think it would drop a squirrel consistently at that range, not unless I could guarantee a hit right down the ear canal.
            I think (again, all due respects to Mr Beeman) that this is one of those cases of ‘just because it is possible, doesn’t mean it would be recommended’.

            • Perhaps Mr. Beeman was thinking the skinny little greys I see in California… Two angry hamsters could probably outclass those…

              Not like the pudgy big reddish ones in Michigan. Two CA greys don’t look as large as one MI red…

  2. Morning B.B.,

    The “checkering” on the the sights sure looks better than that on the stock.

    Re the sporter sight, wasn’t there a competition called the running boar, in which a moving target was shot at?


  3. How interesting that this one ran today! Just yesterday I did some work on my 303 Super.I have also found provision to mount that sporter sight on my barrel breech block.Until this morning I have never seen that sight.I really like the variable aperature feature.I’ll be curious to see how pellets fit your bore.
    Mine is on the large side,at least at the breech.I am quite suprised to see that taploader on a 10M gun.
    Thanks BB,the timing is perfect.

      • It has a very neat look,and appears very solidly made.Almost as neat as the rear sight on the Giffard 8mm taploader.That one drifts from the side to mount though.The Haenel rail mount is very solid when mounted,yet removes quite easily……nice feature for multiple users ie. shooting clubs.

  4. I missed the dust-up on the rodent dispatch yesterday, but will say this as a practicing licensed trapper of more than 35 years, experience does matter, and does not come by watching videos or reading reviews on various tools. Folks who are not experienced, usually have a lot of nothing to say about what is humane or not. In this regard Dr. Beeman , in my opinion , who is not even a hunter ,has provided a lot non-answers with his recommendations and falls into that category. The popular forums are full of such folks who say they do not shoot living things, and then proceed to give advice on what works or not. Euthanizing an animal in a trap is not a pleasant task, and the first consideration should be that it is done quickly and safely in regards to the people and property involved. BTW, I have dispatched trapped animals just this morning, which included opssums and fox, I certainly didn’t use any air pistol, or even a gun of any kind. None suffered either, with the methods employed.
    BB; I wish that some of the air rifles today would come with open sights like the ones on your Haenel.

  5. BB,
    Looking at that 311 pistol grip, I thought the previous owner might have tried to do his own checkering for the first time. However, after reading that you owned several of these, I assume with carved grips also, I realize that is not true and the carving prisoner scenario becomes plausible.

  6. These older 10M rifles amaze me. I wonder, is it possible to look at Olympic 10M over the years and see scores shrinking each year because of improvements in equipment? We can look back and see swimming or running times become faster each Olympic year, can we see that in 10M rifle or pistol?

    • Chuck, from what little reseach I’ve done, going back to the 70’s when I was ‘seriously’ shooting I think the actual top scores haven’t improved all that much.
      What they have done is made the spread much closer in, say in top 10 or so. I think the advances have made it so the ‘2nd tier’ shooters can get scores much closer to the top guys.

      • IIRC,according to the Bluebook I think they modified the target when “recoilless” models became available? It has been quite some time since I read that.I was doing research on a new to me FWB 150
        that I liked enough to invest in several other 10M rifles from that period.One day I would love to write a guest blog contrasting the FWB 150 and the rare FWB 110 (approximately 200 made circa 1962-64).My offhand shooting skills make it unlikely though.The default title would be “Frank’s shooting is hit or miss”LOL

      • Frank B is correct. There have been many dramatic score improvements in 10 meter shooting that were so dramatic that it resulted in rule changes. Outlawing tyrolean stocks for example.

        The most dramatic recent change because of lower scores was caused by the Walther LGR. This first single-stoke pneumatic match rifle–utterly raped, pillaged, and looted all competition in its day.
        Top shooters all put their Diana 75’s, Anschutz 250’s, and FWB 300S’s in the closet after the LGR showed up. Near-perfect scores in competition soon became so common that the ISU actually reduced the size of the 10-meter target.

        The Walther LGR revolutionized 10 meter international shooting buy reducing lock time, reducing recoil and shattering both world records within a few months. It was the first SSP to win Olympic Gold Medal (1984 LA Games – men’s 10 Meter Air Rifle).


        • Yes, the 10m AR target was reduced in size to the current brutal version, but even so perfect 600 scores have become, if not commonplace, at least nothing enormously remarkable. Over on TargetTalk there have even been some floating rumors of yet another reduction in the coming years — which I hope doesn’t happen. There is still one frontier to reach: Nobody has yet shot a perfect 709 including the finals (i.e. a 600 preliminary followed by a string of 10 consecutive perfect 10.9 shots).

          I like to think that the technological limit has been reached in rifle development within the ISSF rules, but you never know what some bright guy sitting in a German or Austrian village might come up with. Then the question will be whether to allow or ban it. If it’s really spectacular, it could be like the “fish suits” in swimming, or alternatively like the flexible pole in pole vaulting. One was stopped; the other is with us.

  7. Yesterday’s “squirrel blog debate” has me thinking i need more energy. I know I’m at a minimum with Crosman premiers in .22 (14.3gr) at 500-550fps are producing 11fp. And my “dispatch zone” for squirrels (western brown ground squirrels, not prairie dogs or large tree squirrels) is 10 – 18yds, as I just measured it yesterday. At 25yds I need any potential overshot to bleed off to around 2fp, or so. So my question is… is there a ballistics chart on pellets available?


  8. Kevin,

    I think you already figured this out, but the Burris Timberline did not work on #1 Beeman HW50S. The mount that Twotalon suggested is not in stock at PA. I did see the adjustable mount you mentioned too, however I already moved the scope to my other HW50. It will be my “everyday” gun.

    On it I used a low Sport Match mount ( they are made in the UK – just fair quality) but gives a perfect height.I sold HW50S number 3 a couple days ago so I will turn that into a new scope and mounts for #1. Rifle number two has a JM kit I installed, cut and shrouded barrel from Rich in Mich, refinished stock from Paul in Texas, and I was able to get the rust off with steel wool and Flitz – but the blue is a little thin. I picked it up for just $130, but have manged to get it up close to a new HW30S – but it beats it hands down.

    Someone just doesn’t want me to shoot the # 1Paul Watts rifle….

    • Volvo,

      You need the BKL 278MB (Medium Black) offset mounts to put a burris timberline on your Paul Watts HW50 when it returns. The extended eye relief of the burris timberline requires that the scope be mounted forward of where the dovetails end and the BKL offsets will do this. You may have to shim the rear of the scope for the droop that is common on the older HW50/R8 since the burris timberline has a limted range of adjustment.


  9. Articulated bolt to cock the spring sounds pretty cool.

    PeteZ, thanks for your remarks. Yes, I must have meant Thomas Kuhn, the guy who wrote the book about paradigm shifts. pcp4me, I see that you have brought to religion the same enthusiasm that you bring to everything else. 🙂 Interesting findings you mentioned.

    BG_Farmer, I’m wondering now about your sight picture for splitting the ball. Generally a good sight picture is necessary for a good shot, but you are aiming at almost nothing at all. You have a certain amount of play with the elevation but none with the windage! 🙂

    Victor, sorry to hear about your back, but you certainly don’t want it to give out on you in the field. And you can always have fun shooting the Savage rifle at home. 🙂 Well, you know what Bruce Lee did when his back gave out and he was bedridden for 6 months…he thought about martial arts. And in a similar vein, here’s a question I’ve been meaning to ask you. What to you defines a successful practice shooting session? The impulse is to tie this to one’s scores or group size. But not necessarily so. All time boxing great Gene Tunney claimed that some defeats in his fighting career were better for him than wins would have been. In the realm of martial arts, I read about a Chinese kung fu master who said that he only started to make progress within a practice session after he had done a move six times. Anything less and he was walking in place. By that criteria, I never learned anything in martial arts. 🙂 As for my shooting, my criteria is that if I can release the Jaws of the Subconscious that’s a success, even if I miss all over the place and the emergence only comes at the end. Alternatively, I’ve completed some practices where the group sizes were okay, but I was flogging the technique and overthinking the shots. I figure if I can just make a connection to the Jaws that breaks down the barriers to them just a little bit and makes it easier for them to come out the next time, then I’ve made substantial progress. No doubt your terms for evaluating your practice will be different. 🙂


    • Matt,
      The sight picture might best be described as “abysmal” :). My front sight is ~3/32 high and ~3/64″ wide, blued steel on the side with a 45d angle on about 1/32″ at the back (roughly a barleycorn style “post”). I try to split that sight with the somewhat bright edge of the ax blade (less than 10 yards away), but keep in mind that it is in the woods, and the sun angle plays hob with both the sight and the axe’s edge, and my particular sight will completely disappear under some condition. You are correct that elevation is not as critical, but it is best to aim just below the center of the axe blade.

      Now, we get to “practice” about 1x every 3 months (course is closed except for walks). I’ve had maybe 6 tries so far, and this is the first time I’ve done it successfully. However, it is common to hit the axe blade, but not evenly, so that you bust one of the clay birds off to the side. On the other hand, there are people who have been shooting the course for 15 years or so as well who have never pulled it off, as there is much luck involved in the environment as well as keeping the ball in the right place. The card on edge actually seems to be somewhat easier, but it is a similar trick. The main thing is to position yourself exactly in line with the blade or card, which you can tell by the fact that they virtually disappear. You could maybe set up something similar with your range for pellets, using a knife blade mounted in a board with balloons on either side and slightly behind the blade, but you would need to be careful about backstop; maybe a card on edge would be safer, since the pellet won’t deflect with the card.

      Anyway, I’m going into detail so you’re ready to go on a walk sometime, and all we’ll have to do is get you used to a frontstuffer :)!

    • Matt61,

      Back in my competition days, I didn’t worry too much about practice scores. Today, like then, I consider a session successful if I’ve solved a particular problem. As it turns out, this typically happens towards the end of a session. I don’t know if it’s because I realize how precious time becomes and I just start focusing better, or if it just takes that long. In truth, in recent years, I never keep score. I no longer compete, so they don’t matter. What I do monitor is general progress. The obvious measure is group size. When going out to shoot with my son, I mostly monitor and advise (sparingly). I was very surprised the last time out when he told me what he was consciously doing to manage his breadth control. It was something that I must have told him 10 or 15 years ago. Parents should take note that their kids really do listen to them, so be careful what you say.

      I haven’t been shooting much for the past several months because of my back. The good news is that it will get better with the surgery. Also, the last time I was out at the range with my son, I mostly had fun plinking. I was surprised to find that my Ruger Mk II is accurate enough to hit a golf ball at 75 yards. I kept knocking it out until I couldn’t see it anymore. My son got a real kick out of that. The next time I go out to shoot my Ruger 10/22 T, I’m using new magazines that I recently bought with 25 and 50 round capacities. Oh, boy! We gone be slinging lead for sure!


      • B.B.

        The price they ask – of course it’s horrid. However that’s an interesting item from one of the most closed countries ever. If a Russian wants to feel the way American tourists felt in USSR – NKorea is a country to go to 🙂
        I’ve seen some TTs customized by army gunsmiths for special purposes. Beavertailed “thick” grip with valnut grip plates, enlarged capacity – I guess 13 or 13+1 rounds in custom two-row magazine, polished and tuned action and chromed barrel. Nice machine, but I’m afraid it’ll never get on the market, the very few of them were made.


  10. B.B.,

    I still want to know why you think that rounded pellets have better penetration than pointed pellets? I’ll buy some pointed ones myself to test, but I thought that pointed were better for penetration?


    • Victor,
      I don’t know why he thinks that, but often the pointed pellets over-penetrate, not dumping their energy in the target. I remember shooting Crosman hunting points from my 36-2 at a target on a piece of 3/8″ OSB (chipboard) that I had put up for other guns, and they were penetrating completely at a good range, 35 or so yards if I remember correctly, and even at 50 yards they were burying themselves solidly. I suspect domes would have penetrated fully at much less distance and started bouncing off at some point before 50. Wadcutters would probably bounce off pretty quickly. Another quick test is steel (e.g. soup) can filled with water: shoot it at a fixed range with each type of pellet, and you will see a big difference. The points will go all the way through both sides, with a little splash of water, while the domes will make a bigger splash and probably only dent the second side. Wadcutters will make the can “explode”, and maybe not even dent the second side of the can. Try it with a springer of decent power; its lots of fun to do science :).

      • BG_Farmer,

        Thanks for the info. That’s what I thought. I asked the question in yesterdays blog because round nose pellets were recommended for their penetration. In truth, no one explicitly said that rounded nose pellets provided better penetration than pointed pellets, however it could have been implied since round nose pellets were what was recommended for penetration.


        • Victor,

          B.B. usually recommends domed pellets for hunting because they generally are the most accurate of the various pellet shapes. My personal experience matches with his recommendations.

    • Victor,

      When do you think I said that? I have actually published tests in which I have shown that pointed pellets penetrate deeper than domed pellets.

      The only thing I ever said about domed versus pointed that weighed in favor of the domes was that the domes are more accurate. And that I will stand by.


  11. BB, I really enjoyed this article! We all have a list of guns we regret selling, and the Haenel 311 is at the very top of mine.

    As you have described so well, the 311 is a most odd design–the strangest mix of fine metal vs. crude wood; internal complexity vs. anvil-like reliability; and beauty of line vs. general weirdness that one can imagine. If you own one of these, you can always be sure you’ll be the first kid on your block with a bolt-action, tap-loading, spring-piston target air rifle.

    As a point of collector interest, it seems that quite a few minor variations of this rifle were made over the years. All retain the basic design but designations, stock features, and other details vary. The 311 also shares some parts with the Haenel model IV/M of the late 1950’s–an even stranger match rifle with a rear-hinged cocking lever on top of its tap-loading action, and (IMHO) one of the postwar collector Holy Grails.

    I await the accuracy tests with great interest. My former 311 was easily the most accurate tap-loader I’ve ever shot, and would give any of my beloved HW 55’s a run for its money.

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