By Warren Ferguson
Packed in its water stained box, one could easily see that the Norinco CQ-311-1 semiautomatic rifle had been stored for a long time. You could easy imagine several pallets of this AR-15A1 clone forgotten in the corner of a distant Asian warehouse. Why were these rifles made in the first place? What political decisions kept them in the warehouse for decades until now? Newly discovered, several hundred have recently materialized in places like Canada, where Small Arms Review was able to examine this rare piece of Black Rifle history and put it to the test at the firing range.
The well-known ban on Chinese arms makes the CQ-311 a rare commodity in North America and so when a CQ became available for a closer look, it was an opportunity not to be missed. In this Norinco 5.56x45mm rifle, you have a close copy of the old Colt rifle, with its milled aluminum lower, fixed carrying handle, and standard diameter barrel.
Detailed information concerning the origin of the CQ-311 was not available at the time of print, so the following is conjecture on the part of this author and others. It can be surmised that the rifle was made with a two-fold purpose in mind. First, it is possible that the Chinese produced these rifles as a means of procuring sanitized weapons for military use and for its state sponsored affiliated Maoist groups.
This notion seems to be supported by a photo recently seen in a publication called Children and Armed Conflict featuring a child soldier holding a CQ-311. Some have even offered the theory that the CQs were made to equip North Korean Special Forces used to infiltrate into South Korea, although this seems highly unlikely given the Daewoo rifle in use.
A second, more plausible, explanation for the birth of the CQ was that Chinese might have considered producing this rifle for American consumption given the success of its AK series of semi-autos. Yet this begs the question of why these rifles were not widespread in America given the approximate sale price of $400. Did Colt and its legal team play a part in preventing the dissemination of this rifle?
The rifle series was produced in the mid-to-late 1980s, and so the ban on Chinese guns was not in effect. Some unconfirmed reports suggest about 500 made it into America before the ban. We know that at least a small number were sold in Texas and Florida. With all these questions, this Chinese-made Stoner is certainly a mystery.
A closer look
The CQs in Canada were imported via Hong Kong by DARK International Trading Co. after being found by accident tucked away in a warehouse. Originally, 150 pieces were sent over in the first shipment and were immediately sold. Then another 350 were ordered, but only 50 arrived. By several accounts, it appears that the Chinese military officials seized the other 300, but why would this be so?
These rifles are semiautomatic and Norinco will normally take anyone’s cash. There seems to be no reason a Norinco product would be confiscated unless, perhaps, the seizure was not sanctioned by Beijing. Meanwhile, another Canadian importer was able to procure some additional CQs from another lot, but these have a different series of serial numbers and some have a grey finish.
In any case, some CQs made it out. Inspecting a CQ-311, it is obvious that there has been no attempt at making these rifles politically correct. A bayonet lug is standard, as is the birdcage flash eliminator and teardrop forward assist button. Mechanically, it is an AR-15A1, with its standard diameter 20-inch barrel and A1 sights, but without refinement in finishing. The fit is good, but the choice of metal finish and plastic furniture can only be called ghastly. The black painted lacquer finish is streaky and unattractive. As close as the CQ is to the original AR pattern, the furniture is completely redesigned. Most would call the furniture ugly, but it is nevertheless very hand filling and does lend itself to comfortable shooting.
What was a surprise was that the test CQ came with no butt stock at all. Evidently, this rifle was part of the second shipment that did not include that stock. As the story goes, the butt stocks were removed so that new buffer parts could be installed, then the stocks were lost. Even the test rifle showed the remnants of the rubber buffer bumper that had turned to powder over the years. A new bumper was provided and a replacement stock was procured from another CQ owner who was eager to cast one off.
The furniture can be exchanged with A2 fittings with minor filing. It takes a tad more work to fit A1 stocks and handguards because certain dimensions have been changed, such as where the sling attachment enters the butt stock. There seems to be no logical reason why the rifle so closely approximates the original, and then its builders worked so ardently to change minor parts such as the buffer tube using metric threads.
As for the buffer itself, it appears to have been reverse engineered from an earlier type. The owner’s manual states the suitable ammunition is CJ 5.56mm standard cartridge, American M193 and Belgian SS92 cartridges. Where the CQ is available in full automatic, over 900 rpm is possible.
The front sight is a somewhat porous casting making the workmanship rather spotty. However, a close examination of the bolt carrier shows poor parkerizing over well-machined parts. Markings located on the left side of the upper receiver are as follows:
MADE IN CHINA
While is it reasonable to assume CQ is an abbreviation for Group Changqing Machine Factory, it is unknown what could be meant by the single marking on the right side of the lower: MINDEN. Who knows what that refers to? Minden, Nevada or Minden, located in Malaysia?
It sounds as if there are more questions than answers for the Type 311-1 rifle, which, according to the manual, is “suitable to civilian use and is a favorite with hunting and sporting enthusiasts and self-defenders, and...enjoys a better killing firepower to an effective target within a range of 460 meters.”
The Norinco was taken out to the range to see how this Chicom knockoff performs. The feel is almost pure Colt AR-15A1 in terms of its seven-pound weight, but the furniture is so radically changed for the better in this writer’s opinion. As unsightly as it is, the furniture is very ergonomic and lends itself to easy snapshooting and comfortable bench work.
Two range assessments were undertaken, one during the heat of the summer and another during a bone chilling minus10 degrees Fahrenheit winter day. Only iron sights were used and American Eagle .223 Remington 55-grain FMJ Boat Tail was fired downrange from different positions to assess handling and accuracy.
The summer test from the bench showed that the CQ was capable of an estimated 1.5-inch group. This figure did not include a lone wandering shot executed when the rifle was first shot out of the box and before point of impact was established. In any case, this is not bad for iron sights and seems to counter the arguments of Norinco’s ardent QC critics.
The winter test gives you an idea about what we sometimes do for our shooting art. As hands numbed and shooting glasses fogged, a 3.25-inch group was presented at 100 yards, which in itself is more than enough to subdue a rushing adversary.
With sight adjustment, the point of impact changed favorably. This time, the group was a tighter 2.5-inches, again not including the dead-on X-ring straggler. Not bad for a freezing winter test! The only complaint this writer had was the lack of a case deflector. For this southpaw, the brass painfully bounced off a tight, frozen cheek over and over.
It appears that with the Norinco CQ we have a rifle capable of groups of 1.5 to 3.25 inches year round with 100 percent reliability. It would be interesting to see what a good scope could do for those figures. Having used the CQ in two rifle competitions among A2s, this writer can affirm that the Chinese rifle can hold its own.
The Norinco CQ-311-1 semiautomatic rifle does not reflect a lot of original thought being a close clone of the Colt. While there is nothing to single out the CQ for special praise, it is nevertheless a respectable addition to the Black Rifle family. Its finish and furniture will not appeal to American tastes, but upgrades can be made.
Mechanically reliable and accurate, the CQ-311-1 provides an inexpensive, lightweight rifle that would be ideally suited to the needs of both military firearms enthusiasts and cost-conscious law enforcement agencies. One wonders why the market has not seen more CQs and the answer - as is typical in most gun matters - is undoubtedly political.
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