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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.