A CO2 powered BB air rifle will shoot with reasonable accuracy out to
10 meters, even beyond, but target accuracy is another story. Looking back
at the Umarex Legends Cowboy Lever Action fired with Meisterkugeln lead
wadcutter pellets through the rifle’s smoothbore barrel, my best accuracy at 10
meters was 10 rounds into 1.25 inches with a tight group of 8 rounds in one
large hole measuring 0.5 inches edge to edge. I also shot with the Umarex
Peacemaker BB cartridges and put 10 rounds at 1.625 inches with a best 5-round
group at 0.5 inches. I then pushed the Cowboy Lever Action all the way out to
40 feet with H&N Sport Match Green 5.25 gr. alloy wadcutter pellets and
printed an impressive 10-shot group at 1.125 inches with multiple overlapping
hits and the best five shots at 0.562 inches. Of course, this was shooting
pellets not BBs and the Lever Action is a lighter, longer barrel air rifle then
an M1A1, which only has a 9-inch (internal length .177 caliber) barrel vs. a
19-1/2 inch internal length barrel. Being a lever action it also had no
appreciable movement (no blowback action) and a very light trigger. Results
were as expected. read more
Select fire is a great option on an air rifle like the Thompson M1A1 submachine gun especially since the M1A1 seems capable of maintaining tight groups even on full auto, more about this later. The same can’t be said for the legendary .45 ACP models which are notorious for muzzle rise. Again, never having fired one I can’t speak to that with any personal experience, but those who have fired them say muzzle rise with the big .45 Auto Thompson has to be managed. I have fired other types of smaller caliber weapons on full auto and 9mms have increasing muzzle rise, so a .45 Auto goes without saying. Accuracy with any automatic weapon not only comes down to a proper grip to control recoil but trigger pull and learning to fire short, accurate bursts, which is hard to do. CO2 models like the Thompson allow a level of practice that simply is not available in the centerfire world without owning a real select fire Thompson and going through a lot of .45 ACP ammo. Of course, if you have gone that far the cost of ammo is probably not a big consideration. read more
The idea behind the M1A1 was to take the then current M1928A1 and modify the design to makeit faster and less expensive to manufacture, in order to meet the needs of the U.S. Army, U.S. Army Air Forces (consisting of both Army and Marine Corps pilots), United States Marine Corp, U.S. Navy, and Coast Guard during WWII. The Thompson M1A1 design was adopted in April 1942, so this latest Umarex Legends model is based on a design that is now 78 years old. Compared to the rest of the Umarex Legends, the M1A1 is a youngster, historically. As the most refined (as in easiest to manufacture) of Brigadier General John T. Thompson’s designs, (Thompson passed away at age 79 in 1940, more than a year before the U.S. was drawn into WWII), the various Thompson designs leading up to the M1A1 had all been proven in combat (M1928A1), both by the military and federal agents (FBI and Treasury) during the Prohibition Era, U.S. Postal Inspectors, various state and local law enforcement agencies, and in foreign conflicts. The Savage Arms improvements to the M1A1 made the Thompson more efficient for combat use by simplifying the firing system, and building improved stick magazines that held 30 rounds, that were easy to load, attach and most importantly, remove to clear the action in the event of a jam. (The same design had already been developed for the 20 round stick magazines). read more
WWII-era M1A1 Thompson SMGs are expensive. Auto-Ordnance still makes the .45 ACPmodels as semi-autos for a lot less, and those run $1500 to a little over $2000, depending upon the version; M1 Carbine, M1A1-style SBR, or Tanker Model, but the only way to get a select-fire version today, outside of purchasing an original WWII model or an older Auto-Ordnance model, (they built select-fire versions up until 1986), doing the paperwork, (this applies to the new Auto-Ordnance M1 SBR which approximates the M1A1 with a short 10.5 inch barrel), federal background check and transfer fees ($200), is to opt for air and get the Umarex Legends M1A1, which is to say, at this moment in time, the ultimate CO2 subgun on the market. Sorry MP40, this is a much cooler American subgun. There is literally nothing you can say about the look of this new Umarex model that is not positive. Like I said in Part 1, even the wood finished plastic stock, pistol grip and forearm are the most realistic looking pieces ever. Would I like to see a version with real wood? Absolutely, but that would probably raise the price at least another $100 (like the Springfield Armory M1 Carbine). As it stands, as a new 2020 model, there is nothing missing and I can’t think of a better way to kick off the year than with a model that has been on just about every Airgun Experience reader’s wish list for years.read more
If you go back a couple of years in the Airgun Experience archives and look at reader comments, you will find a lot of people had a wish list for new models, especially after the Umarex Legends German MP40 Submachine Gun was introduced, and at the top of most lists was the legendary WWII M1A1 – the Thompson submachine gun. The M1A1 was the U.S. military’s last version of a design originated back in 1918 by General John T. Thompson, and developed by his company, the Auto-Ordnance Corporation. Originally intended for U.S. and allied troops during WWI, by the time the design was ready the war was over. read more
Multi-functional, the Barra 1866 Lever Action shoots pellet and BBs and gets them roaring downrange at speeds up to 755 fps (as tested with alloy pellets).
Testing the Barra 1866 really comes down to how easy and accurate this air rifle is to load and shoot. Lever action rifles have always been easy to handle, and pretty fast, too, not semi-auto fast, but in the hands of a skilled rifleman fast enough. But, when you take the lever and give it a new function, to extend further with a much longer stroke than a traditional lever action, the dynamics change entirely! This is not a bad thing, it’s just not a lever action thing, and the stroke to chare the air chamber in the 1866 is a fairly long one, 32 inches to be exact, but the resistance is light, even as you increase to the full 10 strokes, less resistance than most pneumatic air pistols especially with the length of the stroke. I remember testing the Air Venturi Seneca Aspen last March and when I was done with every shooting session I felt like had been to the gym. Its basically apples and oranges comparing the Aspen, which is a precharged pneumatic you can fill by working the lever action to power the onboard air pump, to 10 pumps with the Barra to fire a 4.5mm pellet. What they do have in common is varying velocities based on the number of pumps for the Barra and the PSI you can reach with multiple pumps for the Aspen. The total for the 1866 is 10 pumps (and you only get one shot), while the Aspen can take as many as 100 strokes to reach the max 3200 psi to shoot at the highest velocity. It took me 90 strokes to get the pressure up to 2800 psi during my tests last year. The Aspen was sending .22 caliber pellets downrange at over 900 fps and allowing several consecutive shots at around the same velocity before PSI dropped to the point where I had to add more pumps to bring it back up. Today, I am looking to send a .177 caliber pellet downrange with the 1866 at up to 800 fps.
The Aspen is a much more expensive multi-shot or single shot PCP air rifle suited to precisions target shooting and small game hunting in the field (great as a backup survival rifle as it is self contained), while the 1866 is just a solid one-shot plinker with a classic Old West look. Like I said, apples and oranges, but let’s see what we can squeeze out of this brass framed beauty.
Shooting the velocity tests from 21 feet with H&N Sport Match Green alloy wadcutters and Sig Sauer Match Ballistic alloy wadcutters, groups fired from the shoulder measured as close as 0.375 inches for five shots.
Pumps and speed
It takes about 10 seconds to work the lever 10 times and give the 1866 a full charge for maximum velocity. Using 7.0 gr. Meisterkugeln lead wadcutters the Barra clocked an average of 683 fps. I then switched to 10 pumps with 5.25 gr. H&N Sport Match Green alloy wadcutters and ended up with an average downrange speed of 755 fps. One more try, this time with the no longer available Sig Sauer Match Ballistic 5.25 gr. alloy wadcutters which hit 752 fps.
I shot the pellet velocity tests from the shoulder at 21 feet and using a 10 Meter Pistol Target on the pellet trap, my five rounds of H&N Sport Match Green alloy wadcutters had a spread of 0.375 inches, and the Sig Match Ballistic alloy 0.5 inches. That was aiming with the sights centered on the bottom of the 5-ring. This was still a little high and I could have held under at the 4-ring.
At 10 meters shooting from the benchrest with H&N Sport, I had two five shot groups, the best putting together a spread of only 0.44 inches hitting right of the center in the 8 ring.
Before switching to BBs, I ran some 10-meter tests off the rest with the H&N to see how accurate the Barra is at the minimum range for a pellet rifle. I started by bringing the rear sight down 9 steps to the bottom (it was all the way up when I started at 21 feet) and began adjusting from there. The rear is also windage adjustable with a Philips-head screw. I shot 10 of the 5.25 gr. alloy wadcutters into a group measuring 1.0 inches spread across the upper third of the black between 10 o’clock and 3 o’clock with a best 5-shot group in the 8 ring measuring 0.44 inches, and the second group with one cutting the bullseye and four above, measuring 0.68 inches. With a little fine tuning of the elevation and a slight windage adjustment this could be tightened up, or at least more centered with POA corrections.
The real culprit for my accuracy with this rifle is the heavy, short trigger pull, which is controllable but hard on the trigger finger after a few dozen rounds. Average trigger pull on the Barra measured 8 pounds, 9.5 ounces with only 0.312 inches of take up. The trigger shoe also has very heavy, deep serrations which wear on the skin. My only suggestion to Barra, at this price point, for this gun, would be a smoother trigger.
The only problem I have with the Barra is a short, heavy trigger pull and a deeply serrated trigger shoe that wears on the trigger finger after a long shooting session. Average trigger pull measured 8 pounds, 9.5 ounces with only 0.312 inches of take up.
What about BBs?
The Barra 1866 makes a pretty decent single shot pellet rifle, but with BBs on board, it takes on a different life, that of an 1866 Red Ryder with its shiny brass colored receiver, blue steel octagonal barrel and loaded with 50 BBs ready to cock and shoot. Yeah….but Ralphie didn’t have to pump his Red Ryder 10 times between shots. And you don’t either, so long as you’re not going for maximum velocity. The book clearly states from 1 to 10 pumps, but never more than 10. What will 1 pump do with a BB? It will get you a meager 262 fps but at 21 feet that’ll knock a tin can down. (Did it, it does). Double pump it and you get 389 fps. Starting to get the picture with BBs? You don’t need to pump it 10 times for backyard plinking. Five pumps with get you an impressive 572 fps average, and if you double that, the 1866 will send a steel BB downrange at an average of 691 fps and that’s more than enough to shoot BBs at 10 meters with reasonable accuracy. How reasonable? I put 10 Umarex Precision with 10 pumps each into a Shoot-N-C target with a spread of 1.375 inches and a best 5-shot group measuring 0.87 inches.
You can shoot tin cans down with only one pump using steel BBs that will average 262 fps (dings count and will knock ’em on their cans…so to speak) and you can get BBs going downrange at speeds of up to 691 fps with 10 pumps, good enough for this Shoot-N-C target shot from the rest at 10 meters. POA was between the 7 and 8 rings at 6 o’clock with the rear sight adjusted all the way down.
It’s slow, it gets tiring (if you do 10 pumps for each shot) but the Barra 1866 with pellets or BBs can definitely ride your backyard range!
Next week we will have the first Airgun Experience tests of the new Umarex Legends Thompson M1A1 submachine gun, the “Tommy Gun,” the “Chicago typewriter,” right here!
Entry-level pneumatic air rifles are nothing new; take the Crosman 760 Pumpmaster forexample, which has been around since 1997 (and sells for $35), the popular Daisy 880 (which has been in production for 30 years) and newer guns, like the 2014 Umarex NXG APX, a very high-tech design, selling for $69.95, that, like the Barra 1866 is capable of up to 800 fps with 10 pumps, and is a very similar design for operation and loading. I could go on with older and newer models based on similar designs, and more expensive multi-pump pneumatics like the Benjamin 397S at $269.95 (a more upscale model that only shoots pellets in .177 or .22 caliber), but I’ll tell you what you won’t find, anything that looks like an old brass-frame Winchester Carbine.
At a quick glance, the Barra looks a lot like a copy of an 1866, it has the same basic profile and the finger lever is well designed to look like a Winchester. The octagonal barrel was used on Deluxe 1866 models, so that is technically correct as well. Where the design begins to deviate is with the edges of the receiver and the wrist of the wood grained plastic stock, which are too squared off and should have rounded contours.
Why would I want this?
Three words: simple, inexpensive, fun. From the outside, the Barra 1866 is in its own design niche, and is done well enough for the competitive price that even with operating features similar to modern bolt action multi-pump pneumatics like the NXG APX, still looks Old West enough to be used as a cowboy plinker, and 800 fps is not bad if you want to work the pump 10 times.
The internal design the Barra 1866 and this very modern Umarex NXG APX are almost alike. The exterior of the 1866 is a very clever disguise for an otherwise contemporary multi-pump pneumatic air rifle.
OK, it’s interesting looking, but is it any good? Considering what’s inside and how it works, it should be as good as good as the Umarex NXG APX, only with an old style adjustable buckhorn rear sight (found on many Winchester lever action rifles of the period) combined with a clever front sight that simulates the old dovetailed sights on Model 1866 rifles (only it’s not dovetailed). What’s clever is a small peephole through the top of the front blade, allowing light from the target to show though and provide something that approximates a bead front sight, unless, of course, your target has a black center, like most 10-meter targets. A lighter colored target or a tin can gives you useful illumination. It is a little odd, but either way the front sight is easy to get on target.
The Barra uses a traditional buckhorn rear sight which is adjustable for elevation. It is a simple, timeless deign that has been used on rifles since the 19th century.
The front sight is mounted on top of the barrel, rather than dovetailed like an 1866, and has a small peephole in the top that allows light to shine through, and depending upon the target, illuminate like a bead front sight.
The basic shape of the Barra 1866 is Winchester-like, but don’t put it next to an 1866 Winchester because the Barra’s brass colored receiver and the wrist of the wood grained plastic stock are too squared off, as is the forearm, and the butt doesn’t have enough of a crescent shape. The closest thing to a Winchester is the octagon barrel which mimics Deluxe 1866 models; otherwise the Winchesters had round barrels. Nevertheless, the Barra shoulders nicely and feels comfortable in the hands. This is a simple air rifle that would be fun to take along on a weekend camping trip because it doesn’t need anything else but ammo, and with up to 800 fps on tap, it might even come in handy. (And there’s always those empty pork and beans cans!)
Squaring off the receiver, which is brass plated injection molded plastic (just like the grilles on most cars today are chrome plated injection molded plastic), and the narrow wrist of the stock are big departures from 1886 design, but the gun still feels good in the hands and shoulders easily. The small door at the top left of the receiver is to pour in up to 50 BBs.
No crossbolt safety for the 1866, the hammer is the safety, again pretty clever. When it is cocked (as shown) the red dot is exposed and the gun is ready to shoot. The hammer doesn’t drop when the trigger is pulled; it remains cocked until you push it forward to put the gun on SAFE.
For a low price air rifle, Barra has been very thorough with its instructions, both in the well illustrated and comprehensive 5-1/2 x 8-1/2 inch, 12-page full color instruction booklet, as well as having the basic steps of handling and loading the gun cast into the left side barrel flat ahead of the receiver. For an entry-level air rifle, it’s pretty well thought out.
All of the safety warning info and the 6 steps in loading and firing are molded into the polished barrel flat.
The bolt action is very similar in design to the NXG APX and with the handle pulled to the rear a pellet can be inserted and loaded when the bolt is closed. When loading BBs, the bolt must be pulled to the rear and by tilting the barrel up; a single BB will drop from the opening at the left side and be held in place by the magnetic tip of the air nozzle until the bolt is closed.
Saturday, we will chronograph BBs and 7.0 gr. wadcutter pellets, and check out 10- meter accuracy.