56 Years ago, Crosman gave us a sense of reality

56 Years ago, Crosman gave us a sense of reality

Welcome to the “Was” Part 2

By Dennis Adler

A single CO2 powered DA/SA revolver that fires .22 caliber pellets and looks like a classic S&W would seem like a perfect gun for 21st century air pistol enthusiasts, but no such gun exists unless you go back to the mid 20th century. What?

It is mind boggling that with today’s technology airgun manufacturers, who have made stunning advances in the design and manufacturing of blowback action semi-auto CO2 models, have not pursued some equivalency in the design and manufacturing of DA/SA revolvers, with the exception of the most recent offerings from ASG with the Model 715 Dan Wesson lineup. And even still, they are .177 caliber pellet pistols, not .22 caliber. You have to go to an entirely different type of air pistol to get into .22s today.

In the 1960s Crosman ruled the roost when it came to training guns that looked and handled like an S&W .38. The majority of law enforcement, U.S. Air Force personnel carrying sidearms, and federal agents including the FBI were carrying Smith & Wesson revolvers. The 38C Combat model became one of two preferred CO2 training guns in .22 caliber. (Photo courtesy Robert Lutter/Blue Book Publications)

So much of the technology developed for the Crosman “38” models back in the 1960s is still used in some form today, the CO2 system built into the grip frame, and rotary pellet magazines, which are now removable, (but often plastic instead of metal), in high end models like the Umarex S&W 686, but again in .177 caliber only. How could they build a fine .22 back in the 1960s and 1970s and not be able, or willing, to build one today? As some readers have said, an N-Frame (heck, I could live with a L-Frame) using a 12 gr. CO2 in the grip frame, as all CO2 revolvers do, but chambered in .22 caliber and using larger pellet-loading cartridges could do no worse than the old Crosman 38C and 38T models.

The second model was the Crosman 38T with a 6-inch barrel. Both .22 caliber guns had the heft and balance of the .38 S&W and a trigger pull that was pretty close to an S&W. (Photo courtesy Robert Lutter/Blue Book Publications)
This 50 year old Crosman has been well maintained and is in excellent working condition. As for authenticity for training, it fit the majority of leather holsters then in use by law enforcement. This is a fairly old Minute Man leather belt rig that I used in the 1980s for an S&W. The design is still made today by a number of holster makers. The Crosman fits, by the way.

We do have a lot of excellent CO2 pellet cartridge firing models today in .177 caliber, but only the ASG Dan Wesson models (Model 715) score points for overall authenticity. All the rest are variations off the same basic platform giving one a choice between S&W, Colt, or Ruger brand names, plus Crosman’s SR.357B and SRN357 dual ammo models (BB and pellet shells), Umarex UX357, and Gamo PR-776 which uses a rotary magazine loaded into the swig out cylinder like using a full moon clip with an S&W Model 25.

The basic design of the Crosman was copied and improved upon by Umarex for the German-Made Model 586, still one of the best pellet revolvers on the market. The advances in design when this gun was introduced in 1999 added a swing out pellet-loading cylinder in front of the fixed revolver cylinder. Very much like the Crosman 38C but faster to load. Alas, only made as a .177 caliber model. Interestingly, it uses the same hammer release at the back of the triggerguard as the Crosman models in the 1960s.

Longevity of a product

The Crosman models were well built with cast alloy and steel parts, rifled steel barrels and a CO2 system that, if well maintained, can and have survived for 50 years in operational condition. The first series 38C gun for this article is in excellent working condition, and while it shows some wear to the finish from use, its has been well maintained and stored, according to owner Dr. Michael Rosenfeld, with a lubed empty CO2 cartridge in the grip frame. He tested the gun before shipping it to me and said it is ready to go to work. So here we go.

All you needed was pellets, a 12 gr. CO2 and a nickel. The well made plastic grip on the left side was easily removed for loading CO2 and snapped back in place. The spring clip also went around the CO2 cartridge.
About that nickel…that was all you needed to turn the seating screw down for loading and to tighten it up to pierce the CO2; didn’t need any fancy tools, just a nickel.

Loading CO2 and chronographing

Loading CO2 is about the same as most revolvers today, you remove the left grip panel, insert the CO2, tighten the seating screw until the cartridge is pierced, and then replace the grip. The only noteworthy difference is that the seating screw head protrudes slightly below the base of the grip frame rather than being hidden inside, or as with some of the designs that came later in the 1980s, with a seating screw key exposed under the grip frame. This is second only to a hidden screw for ease, except that there is no hex head wrench needed to turn the screw, just a nickel. You might lose a wrench, but odds were pretty good you’d have some pocket change handy.

Loading pellets was a slow but easily performed task. Sliding the Pell Loader back (with the hammer on half cock) exposed the loading channel behind the rotary magazine. Drop a pellet into the channel (as shown at left), slide the Pell Loader closed to seat it in the magazine chamber, rotate to the next chamber and repeat. When you’re done close the Pell Loader (right) and the gun is ready to shoot.

A 12 gr. CO2 pushing a .22 pellet down a 3.5 inch rifled barrel might seem like it is going to have a hard time keeping in the low 300s, but this 50 year old pistol is full of surprises. I started with the lightest .22 pellets I had, Sig Sauer Crux Ballistic Alloy, which is a domed pellet with a weight of 10.3 gr. The average velocity clocked 371 fps with a high of 377 fps and a low of 369 fps for six rounds. At 371 fps the 10.3 gr. pellet is delivering 3.14 ft. lbs. of energy.

If you look closely you can see the nose of a Sig Sauer domed pellet in one of the chambers of the rotary magazine. The .22 caliber muzzle is a lot more ominous than a .177 caliber’s.

What can the old Crosman .22 deliver with a heavier lead pellet? Next up was H&N Sport 13.73 gr. lead wadcutters. With 3.27 ft. lbs. of energy traveling downrange at an average velocity of 328 fps, the Crosman packs a wallop for a CO2 air pistol firing a heavy .22 caliber pellet. More weight and more energy, the third test was shot using RWS Meisterkugeln Professional Line 14.0 gr. lead wadcutters, which cleared the chronograph at an average of 321 fps, with a high of 329 fps and 3.36 ft. lbs. of energy.

For the test of this vintage Crosman .22 caliber pellet model I used Sig Sauer Crux Ballistic Alloy domed pellets with a weight of 10.3 gr., H&N Sport 13.73 gr. lead wadcutters, and RWS Meisterkugeln 14.0 gr. lead wadcutters. Average velocities with the Crosman were 371 fps, 328 fps, and 321 fps, respectively.

I shot the first tests from 21 feet through the chronograph using a Weaver stance and two-handed hold and aiming at a 10 meter pistol target. I shot a short aiming test first to see where Michael’s sight adjustments put me for POA (never adjust another man’s sights!) and I found my POA at 21 feet with the Sig alloy pellets was almost dead center on the bullseye. With the H&N and Meisterkugeln wadcutters, POA was the top of the black for a near bullseye strike. My target total was 18 rounds shot in three strings, and the spread for all 18 measured 1.5 inches with the bullseye completely blown out and 12 of 18 hits measuring 0.875 inches.

I’ve carried several different S&W models in this old Minute Man holster over the years and the Crosman 38C was a perfect fit. Notice how the holster protects the side of the frame and hammer. This design is still used today by DeSantis, among others.
My worst shots were with the domed pellets and one wadcutter that I pulled low. The rest tore the bullseye apart from 21 feet and the area above it again with multiple overlapping hits that had a spread of 0.875 inches for 12 of 18 rounds.

If you’re asking yourself why they can’t make an air pistol like this today, an S&W style six-shooter chambered in .22 caliber with great sights, a light single action trigger pull of 2 pounds, 9.3 ounces, a double action pull of 9 pounds, 13 ounces, and capable of target pistol precision, my answer is that I have no idea. What I do know is that someone like Umarex, which holds the airgun rights to the Smith & Wesson name, sure as heck ought to! If it could be done in a very rudimentary way over 50 years ago, 21st century technology should be able to do it one better with a swing out cylinder and pellet-loading cartridges, or at least a 6-round full moon clip.

That is the “Was.”

In part 3 we will shoot accuracy tests at 21 feet and 10 meters with the Crosman 38C. 

One thought on “56 Years ago, Crosman gave us a sense of reality

  1. Never thought I would consider a 22 a big bore, but in airguns it is. As stated the 22 has almost been abandoned in air handguns . This 22 sends those 22 pellets downrange at close to 400 fps with an authoritative slap. There is no better hard hitting semiauto air pistol to shoot than the old Crosman 600 . A six inch barrel 38 t should throw pellets down range at well over 400 fps, in the same range as 177 pellets out of the dam barrel. With the resurrection of the Colt Python 357, a 22 pellet revolver done as well as the ASG Dan Wesson is a no brainer. Western revolvers have been abandoned, but the old CrosmanPeacemaker was a 22.


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