The Russian Version of BBs vs. Pellets
By Dennis Adler
Like the Umarex Colt Peacemakers and the ASG Dan Wesson Model 715 double action revolvers, the Gletcher Model 1895 Nagant double actions are a perfect set for BB and pellet-firing cartridges. The Nagant models are also true to their centerfire predecessors with the exception of a manual safety on some of the newer production guns, but even the Peacemakers and Dan Wesson CO2 models are fitted with these added safety mechanisms. And let me digress on that for a moment because there are several reasons for adding manual safeties to air pistols when their centerfire counterparts, except most semi-autos, were never equipped with them.
First is a pervasive need for manufacturers to explore every option that can prevent them from litigation in the event of an accident, i.e., during a deposition the questions, “Did the airgun have a safety mechanism? Was the safety mechanism properly set prior to the accident?” Yes and yes are the correct answers because we are beyond a time when personal responsibility and common sense are enough. We need backups. In the Old West, a smart cowboy carried his revolver with the hammer resting on an empty chamber. Guns got dropped, they could fall out of a holster unless you had it latched down with a loop around the hammer; your horse might get spooked and you end up getting thrown, and invariably a revolver lands on its hammer; boom. Semi-autos had some form of safety mechanism almost from the onset, or one could do what was in the military manual of operation; not carry the pistol with a round chambered. Personal responsibility was a powerful thing back in the day. Second, while we speak of these air pistols as “adult airguns” there are a lot of younger airgun enthusiasts and with adult supervision a CO2 pistol is a great way to learn gun basics, and the manual safety and observing safety measures should be taught from day one. What better place to begin than learning to set a safety (even if the real guns don’t have them). Safety should always be the first order of training with any gun no matter what it shoots.
Yes, it is an odd thing for a double action revolver like the Nagant but maybe Webley had a good idea back in the war years with the MK IV crossbolt safety. Honestly the best revolver safety I have seen on a CO2 pistol is the one used on S&W revolvers and the early ASG Dan Wesson models with the S&W-style thumb latch cylinder release. They use the thumb latch as a manual safety by pushing it back. But I said there were three reasons why we see manual safeties on revolvers, and this goes back to the second, and this is endemic in our society. No one wants to take responsibility, so manufacturers have to make it more difficult to be irresponsible.
The Nagant air pistol cartridges are of two different designs as I noted in Part 2, so there is no 100 percent comparison because pellet-loading shells that have the pellet at the back, where it has the advantage of receiving the full CO2 charge before it heads through the core of the brass shell and into the barrel, where as the BB shells load the BB in the nose where a bullet should be, but the air has already begun to expand before it gets behind the BB and sends it down the barrel. How much difference does this make? In earlier tests, rear-loading shells (BB and pellet) slightly out perform front loading shells. The more interesting shift in the BB vs. pellet equation is going to be lighter grain weight Dust Devils vs. alloy 4.5mm pellets! We are going to run this test four times, steel BBs vs. lead wadcutters, and Dust Devils vs. alloy wadcutters, so all four types can be cross referenced for performance.
BBs vs. pellets
To test both the BB and pellet models, the target is set at a compromised range of 25 feet, just a bit further than normal for optimum BB accuracy and a little closer for pellets.
Double action trigger pull on the BB Nagant measured a smooth 8 pounds, 5.5 ounces average, and the trigger solidly stages the hammer half way through allowing a very solid hold on target. Single action trigger pull measured a modest 5 pounds, 8 ounces average and again very smooth with no stacking. On the pellet model, double action averaged 9 pounds, 13.5 ounces, solidly staging the hammer half way through, and 5 pounds, 7.5 ounces single action.
The CO2 cartridge loads into the left side of the grip frame by removing the left panel, which has a discrete notch at the lower edge. The lanyard ring at the base of the grip is attached to the retention screw that seats the CO2 cartridge. Turning the lanyard ring raises the cartridge until it is pierced, making the gun ready to load and fire. With the grips mounted and the lanyard ring turned all the way up it looks absolutely authentic! As for loading, the Nagant is as slow in the 21st century as it was in the 20th. Thumb the loading gate down, rotate the cylinder and load each chamber just like a Colt Peacemaker.
Starting with frangible composite Dust Devils, it is important to know that they are less consistent in size compared to steel BBs (also a fraction smaller) and have to be carefully seated into the nose of the BB cartridge using some type of seating tool (you usually find these with some pellet firing pistols but a small wood dowel works just fine) to make certain they do not fall out (and they do). It is a slower loading process but it does pay off in an average velocity of 407 fps with a high of 420 fps for seven rounds. Umarex Precision steel BBs averaged 385 fps, with a high of 396 fps for seven rounds, so both get downrange at a pretty good clip.
Switching to the Nagant pellet model, Meisterkugeln Professional Line 7.0 gr. lead wadcutters from the rifled barrel delivered an average velocity of 396 fps with a high of 403 fps. Loaded with H&N Sport Match Green alloy wadcutters, average velocity clocked a hasty 454 fps with a high of 467 fps. I also ran the pellet cartridges through the smoothbore BB model loaded with the H&N alloy wadcutters and they clocked an average velocity of 453 fps with a high of 462 fps, so there is almost no difference in velocity between the smoothbore and rifled barrel Nagant models using the same cartridges and alloy pellets. The Nagant Model 1895 pistols deliver high velocity no matter what you load. The final cut will be accuracy.
Accuracy at 25 feet with Dust Devils was very satisfactory, despite the issues with loading them into the nose of the BB cartridges. My best 7-shot group had a spread of 1.68 inches with a best five rounds clustered at 0.56 inches left of the bullseye.
Switching to Umarex steel BBs the next seven rounds at 25 feet punched into 1.24 inches with four hits left of the bullseye (cutting the line between the 9 and 10 rings at 10 o’clock) and three strung together in the red. My best five were a little wider at 0.93 inches. One last run at 25 feet with pellet cartridges firing the 453 fps H&N alloy wadcutters delivered seven hard hitting rounds a little wider but center at 1.725 inches with a best five measuring 1.18 inches. I would definitely invest in a couple of packs of pellet cartridges if I already had the BB model and was happy with it, but still wanted to shoot pellets.
The pellet model Nagant is a tack driver, as might be expected sending seven Meisterkugeln wadcutters into 1.125 inches with six out of seven at 0.625 inches, actually 0.06 inches wider than the Dust Devils at the same 25 foot distance from the BB model but with more overlapping hits.
Switching to the higher velocity 5.25 gr. H&N Sport Match Green alloy pellets, the Nagant slammed seven into a dime-sized overlapping spread measuring 0.56 inches, but remember this is at 25 feet not 10 meters. Still, the best group of the day and a final reminder that this is a pair of CO2 models you really want to own.