2020 Replica Air Pistol of the Year Part 1
By Dennis Adler
With revolvers making up a part of the new guns for 2020 I have decided to make a few changes to the comparisons and points system from previous years beginning with last year’s single extra point for field stripping, since revolvers can’t be field stripped like a semi-auto. Secondly, since two guns in this year’s comparisons have adjustable rear sights, in order for the comparison’s to be more equal, adjustable sights will also be an extra point, so if any guns end up in a tie, one may get an extra point or two to decide the winner.
The points system for 2020 is as follows:
Authenticity 1 to 10
Ingenuity of the design 1 to 10
Ease of use 1 to 10
Performance 1 to 10
Accuracy 1 to 10
Field stripping capability bonus 1
Adjustable Sights bonus 1
Possible total 52 points
History rolls up
Much as I have wanted a western gun to win, only one revolver has taken the title, the c.1915 style British Webley MK VI back in 2017. Now another revolver is in the running, a new gun by virtue of barrel length, the Barra Schofield Wells Fargo model with 5-inch barrel.
The groundbreaking S&W topbreak design has its origins in the original .44 S&W model, the No. 3, which had been adopted by the U.S. military in 1870 and was being issued to troops early in 1871. It was a fine handgun for most, but the Cavalry found it problematic to reload on horseback, which I have always found a bit odd since the Cavalry eventually opted for the Colt Single Action Army, a revolver that was slow to reload on or off a horse. S&W’s original design had pre-dated the Colt SAA and had been intended to make reloading faster by breaking open the action, tilting the barrel down, at which point a cam rotated by this movement forced the ejector upward to expel all six spent shell cases at once (unfortunately, any unfired shells were ejected as well). The fully exposed cylinder provided quick reloading of all six chambers before rotating the barrel up and locking it. Army Major George W. Schofield regarded the S&W as an excellent sidearm but believed the latching mechanism could be improved for use by the Cavalry and set about redesigning it. He secured a patent for his improvements, which also made changes to the rear sight by incorporating a sighting notch on the new Schofield latch, easily opened one-handed by pulling the hammer to half cock and using the thumb to pull the latch back and release the barrel. He received his patent on June 20, 1871 but it took until May 1873 before initial tests of his improved design were evaluated by the Ordnance Department. By the time Schofield’s design had been evaluated and approved it was June 1874 and the newer, though not as easily reloaded, .45 Colt Single Action Army was already destined to replace the military’s Smith & Wesson topbreak .44 caliber models. Even so, in July 1874 the U.S. Chief of Ordnance recommended and the Secretary of War approved the purchase of 3,000 Schofield-improved Smith & Wesson Revolvers chambered for the new .45 S&W Schofield cartridge. The first guns were delivered in 1875 (inspectors mark and 1875 could be found on the grips). Between that point and a subsequent order for an additional 3,000 guns, Horace Smith made an improvement to Maj. Schofield’s latch design making it stronger, a little larger with knurled edges and a serrated top to provide a more tactile surface to engage when opening the action. This would be the Second Issue with production beginning in 1877 (the date you find on the grips of later Schofield models, as well as the CO2 models sold today by Barra). In total, it is estimated that 5,018 Schofield-Smith & Wesson models were issued to the U.S. Army between 1876 and 1893 plus another 3,569 issued by the Ordnance Department to State Militias across the country (some of which may have been previously issued to the Army and refurbished).
The Wells Fargo Model
The military was the primary customer for S&W’s large caliber revolvers in the early to mid-1870s and for almost all of the First and Second Issue Schofields. There were also civilian buyers since Smith & Wesson built more guns than the military purchased, and as military guns were refurbished a percentage of those also went to the civilian market (Army surplus) and found their way into retailers like Hartley & Graham in New York, which listed both the standard barrel length and models with 5-1/2 inch barrels (there were also shorter barrels, 5-inch and 4-inch barrel lengths). Wells Fargo & Co. and American Express purchased surplus Schofields to arm their field agents; both companies acquiring sizeable quantities of the guns and most with the shorter barrels. These were all specially marked, with Wells Fargo stamping their Schofields W.F. & CO. EX. on the right side of the barrel.
A percentage of refurbished military guns were also returned to service with shortened 5-inch barrels. Although they were primarily reblued, civilian guns and some for military officers were also nickel plated. The Barra Schofield CO2 models have this covered as well with both a weathered finish and nickel versions in 7-inch and 5-inch models.
Despite comparatively limited manufacturing, the Schofield revolvers remained in use into the early 20th century, and New York City retailers like Hartley & Graham, and Francis Bannerman & Sons, (then the world leader in retailing military surplus) continued to market refurbished military Schofields in various barrel lengths, popularly 5-inch models with nickel plating.
The latest 5-inch Wells Fargo models from Barra will be available in January ether in the aged finish with aged faux wood grips, or nickel with faux wood. Also in early 2021 Barra will add a custom, hand engraved nickel Wells Fargo model (above) done by Adams & Adams. The prototype is pictured in this article, though as of yet, no retail price has been set or the number of engraved guns that will be available, but from the looks of the prototype, it is going to be one fine western air pistol.
For 2020’s Replica Air Pistol of the Year competition I am going to use the aged finish Wells Fargo Model which should be available from Pyramyd Air in January (according to Barra). Currently both finishes are available with the 7-inch barrel.
Like any revolver, especially those with shorter barrels, the 5-inch Schofield clears leather almost effortlessly and is easy to cock for the first shot. The gun balances well in the hand and the trigger pull is a modest 2 pounds, 10.6 ounces. The large rear V notch in the barrel latch easily frames the rounded front sight, and it is effortless to squeeze off an accurate shot at 21 feet. My velocity with the new 5-inch Nickel gun averaged 406 fps with RWS Meisterkugeln 7.0 gr. lead wadcutters. I had an impressive high velocity of 438 fps and a low of 396 fps, so right in the ballpark with the 7-inch model using pellet shells and the Meisterkugeln. I then ran a second test with lightweight H&N Sport Match Green 5.25 gr. alloy wadcutters and velocity jumped to a whopping 482 fps average with a high of 501 fps which almost puts the Schofield in a class of its own as a CO2 revolver. But let’s just be happy with a six-shooter that can keep alloy pellets flying downrange at over 480 fps.
The first accuracy tests from the original nickel model put six Meisterkugeln lead wadcutters into a even 1.0 inches, but a little low and slightly left of the bullseye, and six of the smoken’ hot H&N alloy wadcutters into 0.843 inches. With the aged finish Wells Fargo I shot six H&N into 1.18 inches with three in the red and a best 5-shots measuring 0.93 inches.
Fast action, light trigger, predictable accuracy with pellet shells (even though the gun has a smoothbore barrel), and you have a real contender for Replica Air Pistol of the Year. You won’t be able to order the new model for about another month. The guns are in production and were to be available before the end of 2020 but shipping from overseas has been slow as it has with all airguns. The samples in this article are production guns and Barra expects deliveries in early January. This is one well worth waiting for!
You know the old saying when you don’t think you have done your best, “do better.” Well, I put CO2 into the hand engraved Schofield and shot a better target than I did with the aged finish gun. The POA correction was right 1 inch, and down 1 inch for POI. I shot the first six and they were closely grouped but still a little left. I slightly increased my POA correction right another fraction of an inch and put five of six in the bullseye. The final target for the Barra Schofield at 21 feet has 12 rounds inside 1.70 inches, each group roughly 1.0 inches (one group at 0.875 inches) and a best five shots in the 10 and bullseye measuring 0.56 inches. I did better.
Barra Wells Fargo Schofield
Authenticity 1 to 10 9 (I have to deduct a point for manual safety)
Ingenuity of the design 1 to 10 9 (based on earlier 7-inch Barra model Schofield)
Ease of use 1 to 10 10 (easy to load, easy CO2 loading)
Performance 1 to 10 10 (quick handling, light trigger, good sights)
Accuracy 1 to 10 10 (consistent 1-inch groups, best 5 at 0.56 inches)
Field stripping capability bonus 1
Adjustable Sights bonus 1
Total points 48