by B.B. Pelletier
Today, the Olympics began in Beijing. The Chinese selected this date for its luck. Being fascinated with numerology, the Chinese believe the number 8 to be lucky (sounds similar to the word for wealth, and today is 08/08/08 – a supremely lucky day! The 2008 Olympics will open precisely on 08/08/08 at 08:08:08 pm. That’s what I call planning ahead! The shooting events start tomorrow, with the Women’s Air Rifle going first on Saturday, 8/9. Men’s Air Pistol will also be shot on that day. Women’s Air Pistol happens on Sunday. and Men’s Air Rifle on Monday.
So, today is a fortuitous day to talk about 10-meter air pistols. I promised to review some of the guns for you, and that’s what I’ll do.
Beginning on a budget
My own experience was probably different than that of many others. I bought a 10-meter pistol while on tour in Germany and I started with a pistol near the top of the heap. This was in the 1970s, so the heap wasn’t very high yet, and my Diana model 10 cost just a little over $200. Today, you would have to spend at least $1,400 to start as high as I did. Fortunately, you don’t have to.
You can start at the bottom with either a Daisy 747 or a slightly more expensive Gamo Compact. Both will get you into the game, and since practice makes perfect, it’s better to start somewhere than to save up for the very best. Of the two guns, the Gamo has a far better grip, a slightly better trigger and slightly better sights. The Daisy is probably just as accurate and has more weight, which many shooters need to steady the gun. For the person who already owns a Daisy 717, yes you can use it, but don’t buy it for this purpose if you don’t already own one. Spend a little more and get the 747, because only it has the Lothar Walther barrel.
Now, for those who want to know if a Beeman P17 or even a Beeman P2 is okay for practice, the answer is “no.” Those guns are fine for informal target practice, but their grips are wrong for 10-meter shooting. If you have one and don’t want to spend any more money, nothing prevents you from using it, but there will not be as much transfer of the training benefit if you do. That’s all. Of course, anything is better than nothing.
Stepping up a notch
In the next price tier, we find the IZH 46M and a whole bunch of CO2 guns such as the Tau 7, the Chameleon (which I shoot), the Alfa Proj and different variations of those guns that have been marketed under other names over the years. In this group we find better everything – sights, grips and triggers. But not one gun among them is perfect in all aspects.
Some of the generations-old guns are now affordable as used guns. The FWB 65/80 is an example. It has almost no recoil and a decent trigger. You should be able to find one for $500. A Diana model 10 is another. A good one goes for around $450 and is completely recoilless. Either of these is as good as a second-tier pistol.
There’s a class of sport pistols like the Drulov DU-10 and the B-96 that are .177 caliber 5-shot semiautomatic repeaters. They’re accurate enough to be in the second tier of guns, but their triggers are generally creepier than the single-shots in this group. And, remember that a 10-meter pistol has to have at least a 500-gram (17.67 oz.) trigger-pull to be used in a match.
One pistol that I cannot yet classify may actually belong in the next tier, but if not, it belongs in this one. That’s the Air Arms Alfa Competition PCP pistol. I’ve held the gun, and it feels like it should be in the next tier but I haven’t tried the trigger enough, yet. That’s what it comes down to.
The third tier
These are pistols with new prices under $900, or all used air pistols. Some of the guns you used to find in this price tier have almost all the features of a top-tier gun. The Benelli Kite used to be available in this category. It has no frills, but the grips, trigger and sights are all first-rate. It was selling for $850 two years ago, but now it’s over $1,200 and no bargain at that price. For my money, a used pistol is a better deal.
There are a great number of former top-tier CO2 guns that now sell for $500-700. I would place them in with the third-tier guns. They’re Steyrs, FWBs, Walthers and others. They have great triggers, grips and sights – their use of CO2 is all that holds them back, besides the fact that they haven’t been updated in the past 15-20 years. After dropping 6 points in a match when my CO2 suddenly decided to give out, I no longer feel comfortable with CO2 in a match – even though my competition gun still uses it. That’s why I don’t rate these former winners any higher.
The top tier
When you get into this tier – guns over $1,000 – be prepared to spend a LOT more money. The best world-class pistols now top $2,000, or come close enough that there’s no change. If you’re going to spend this kind of money, be prepared to shop for the latest features. That means two air tanks (CO2 is dead at this level), a super-adjustable grip, fully adjustable sights and a fantastic trigger. Speaking of the trigger, I would avoid the electronic triggers. They feel no better than the best mechanical ones, and they use batteries. Nothing worse than a dead battery or a failed electronic module at a critical time! People may argue that mechanical triggers can fail, too, and perhaps they can (I’ve never seen one). If they do, a human being can fix them.
While there are a great many makers of pistols in this tier, three stand out – Feinwerkbau, Steyr and Anschutz. Feinwerbau’s latest offering is the P44. This pistol excels in every department, and it has anti-recoil technology. While air pistols don’t recoil very much, they do move, so anti-recoil technology is a non-trivial feature. Steyr and Anschutz have the same anti-recoil technology, which they claim stays cleaner longer than Feinwerkbau’s. I count Dieter Anschutz as a friend, but as a competitive air pistol shooter, I have always favored Feinwerkbaus. There’s no good reason for that, and I’ve certainly shot just as good scores with both Anschutz and Steyr guns, but I feel the FWB just fits me better. However, with my 535 average, I’m not a posterboy for anyone, so get what you want.
One last tip
If you do find yourself lusting after a top-tier pistol, those that are a generation old are now incorporating all the latest features. So the FWB P40 is every bit as nice as the P44. And, the P34 isn’t far off the pace, either!