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 3

By Dennis Adler

The Crosman design was the first of many similar air pistols to follow over the decades, but it is most interesting to realize that back in the early 1960s, when the first variation was introduced, Crosman used of a lot of S&W features making the air pistol, including a very authentic trigger and hammer, with commensurate feel and weight, and essentially copied the metal sights on S&W models with an adjustable rear.

I learned to shoot with revolvers. That was back in the 1970s. I’d grown up on air pistols, and never shot a cartridge gun until I was in my early 20s, and that first trip to the range with an S&W .38 was an experience. Within a decade I had begun a career as a journalist, and had started collecting Smith & Wesson revolvers. I use this to set the stage for what can describe a great many people my age today that learned to shoot with a revolver back in the 1970s, a time when S&W and Colt were the most commonly carried revolvers in law enforcement and among civilians with carry permits or for use in home protection. Of course, there were a lot of significant semi-autos back then, too, but it was S&W revolvers that I shot and enjoyed most in those days, and because of that I literally skipped over the CO2 models available, like the Crosman 38C and 38T. Their appeal to me now is more than nostalgia, because I never shot one until this week. It is an airgun experience that I am very glad to share with you because these old guns seem even more impressive today in the light of what airgun manufacturers are willing to build and sell. Sure, the Umarex Colt Peacemakers are extraordinary, same for the Bear River Schofields; both groundbreaking CO2 models steeped in the history of the American West, but with few exceptions there is a dearth of equally impressive DA/SA models, and even the best of those, like the ASG Dan Wesson Model 715, are chambered in .177 caliber. What is sorely missing after testing the old Crosman 38C is a good .22 caliber model for more serious wheelgun shooters. In retrospect, back in the 1970s I could have been the beneficiary of what I write about today! This was a great training gun, and shooting .22 caliber pellets as accurately as a centerfire revolver at distances out to 10 yards.

The Crosman metal sights used on the first variation of the 38C and 38T were styled after and adjusted exactly like those on a Smith & Wesson. The metal castings for the frame and fixed portion of the cylinder were ruggedly constructed, and durable enough to last (if properly maintained) for decades. The cast metal .22 caliber pellet cylinder has lasted equally, and the action works (rotates the pellet cylinder and locks up) like new. This is quality American manufacturing from a bygone era.

Today’s tests of a half century old gun

  It is easy to keep this simple; I am approaching it as I would a small to medium caliber centerfire S&W for close range training, 7 and 10 yards using the intermediate weight and velocity H&N Sport, Sport lead wadcutters. The German made H&N Sport pellet has a thinner skirt than the heavier Meisterkugeln (also German made), and while both shot about the same for accuracy, I was most satisfied with the results I got with the H&N during the chronograph tests.

At 21 feet firing off hand my shots were a little high but tightly grouped with the .22 caliber H&N Sport lead wadcutters.

 Thus far, I know there have been about 21 rounds fired on the CO2 (which has been in the gun 24 hours), so I am going to conduct the 21 foot accuracy test with the same CO2 cartridge. I shot four targets, the first for sighting, then two Shoot-N-C targets and one 10-Meter pistol target all from 21 feet, using a two-handed hold, Weaver stance and firing single action. All my groups were 1.037 inches or less with the Shoot-N-C, and 0.875 inches with the 10 meter target. Best five out of six-round groups measured from 1-inch to 0.875 inches.

A slight adjustment of my POA, leaving the sights as they were set, brought me into the zone with six .22 caliber rounds at just a fraction over 1-inch with multiple overlapping hits.
Using a 10 meter pistol target at 21 feet gave me a more focused group without the Shoot-N-C splatter effect and my six rounds of H&N Sport hit at 0.875 inches.

I estimate that I fired a little over 50 rounds before deciding to use a fresh CO2 for the 10 yard tests. I stayed with the H&N and shot off hand. The added distance makes sighting a little harder on the small 10 meter pistol target, since the entire center is covered by the sights, so I switched to an IPSC silhouette, and going for a constant POA for six consecutive shots put six .22 rounds into A-Zone at a spread of 1.125 inches with the closest 5-rounds measuring 1-inch (and four of the five at 0.75 inches).

I wanted to see what the gun could deliver at 10 yards using an IPSC competition silhouette target. Firing off hand using a Weaver stance and two-handed hold I put six rounds into the A-zone (hitting the A almost dead center with one) for a total spread of 1.125 inches.

For an IPSC target at 10 yards, this is comparatively good for a centerfire pistol, and certainly good enough with a 50-year old .22 caliber air pistol. As a training gun for those of us who like revolvers, and want something more than a BB gun or a .177 caliber pellet pistol, there is definitely a market for a gun like this today, built to the same standards.  

In 1964 the 38C retailed for $24.95. This was not an inexpensive airgun for the 1960s, in comparative buying power; $25 in 1964 would be equivalent to $207 in 2020, which would be the high end for most CO2 pistols today. With comparison rates of inflation, by 1973 when the first version of the 38C was replaced, the original $24.95 cost was only equal to $34.95. It took until 1978 for the cost in comparative dollar value to double, a period of 14 years, but over the next 14 years it had better than doubled again. By 1999 $25 in 1964 buying power was equal to $132. In the next 20 years it would reach $207, about $50 shy of the price for a new German made .177 caliber Umarex S&W Model 586 pellet revolver. The logical question is, “why not offer the 586 in .22 caliber?” (Test gun courtesy Dr. Michael Rosenfeld)

Looking back at a gun like the Crosman 38C raises more questions than it answers. If it could be done half a century ago, why it can’t be done today?

2 thoughts on “56 Years ago, Crosman gave us a sense of reality

  1. Airgun manufacturers should be reading columns like this to get a better idea of what customers want. Like you my first handgun was an airgun, the Crosman Peacemaker. My buddy Doug bought the 177 version of the 38C.A few years later we joined his dad’s gun club to take the required pistol license course. First real handgun I fired was his dad’s 2 1/2 S&W 19, with 38 wadcutter, then a High Standard 22. It would make sense to offer a 22 da as well as single action lineup airgun revolvers. The da revolver is experiencing a Renaissance today. Even Colt , reluctant to do anything , has brought back their da revolvers. Why? Several reasons.1 new shooters. It is easier to train them on a revolver, and you can start with low power loads and move up . My first handgun as a 22 year old had to be James Bond’s Walther Ppk , actually an s Version. I fired standard 380 , and that was ok, then bought some of the ultra hot super Vel380. As comfortable as an Ape pulling a file out of your hand after a mule kicked it. Better performance loads today are a lot milder2. The revolver is still popular for sport and hunting3 Semi Auto hicap pistols, like it or not are being mag capacity restricted, so for civilians, a 10 shot semiauto is not as appealing . A revolver , and this is a big point, difficult to demonize , and restrict. 4 revolver shooters are more disciplined and tend to fave a better hit ratio . What works in unarmed fighting works in a gunfight. It is not how many strikes you throw , it is the well placed shot that wins.5 Revolver, both sa and da, for me, are more fun to shoot


  2. I don’t have much faith in Umarex that has the rights to the S&W name, but ASG could certainly scale the DanWesson to 22 caliber . Crosman could bring out something close to the 38 c by modifying the SR 357 , making the S&W style grips and barrel. In SA revolvers the Schofield is big enough to take 22 s. I would buy a rifled barrel 22 Schofield pronto like. Could you picture a Colt Dragoon or LeMat 22?


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