Best blowback action airgun sights Part 1

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Best blowback action airgun sights Part 1

By Dennis Adler

Blowback action CO2 models offer a wide variety of sight designs and action to duplicate cartridge-firing models. This makes a CO2 semi-auto an ideal practice gun, especially to hone trigger and sighing skills. Pictured are the new Sig Sauer Max Michel (top center), Umarex Beretta M92A1 (top right), Tanfoglio 1911 (center right), Umarex S&W M&P40 (bottom right), Tanfoglio Witness 1911A1 (center of group) and Sig Sauer P226 X-Five (far left).

Blowback action CO2 models offer a wide variety of sight designs and actions to duplicate cartridge-firing models. This makes a CO2 semi-auto an ideal practice gun, especially to hone trigger and sighting skills. Pictured are the new Sig Sauer Max Michel (top center), Umarex Beretta M92A1 (top right), Sig Sauer 1911 (center right), Umarex S&W M&P40 (bottom right), Tanfoglio Witness 1911A1 (center of group) and Sig Sauer P226 X-Five (far left).

Target shooting with blowback action semi-autos is as close as you can get to shooting a small caliber handgun. The one thing always absent from CO2 powered air pistols, whether semi-autos or revolvers, is appreciable recoil, even to the level of a .22 caliber pistol. So how is target shooting with an air pistol in any way equivalent to firing a cartridge handgun? With CO2 powered semi-autos it is the blowback action which, regardless of the level of recoil, still puts the slide in motion, and with it, the gun’s front and rear sights. Learning how to reacquire the sights and get back on target is a key training skill that can be learned with CO2 powered, blowback action airguns, but there are differences in guns, designs, and sights.

Focus points

In close quarter combat pistol shooting there is often too little time to get your sights on the target (especially one that may be aiming back at you!) Training for arms length confrontations is more common for law enforcement, and not relevant to this target shooting discussion, (although it does apply to using a CO2 pistol that matches a law enforcement duty or CCW gun for cost efficient skills training). For target shooting practice at distances of from 7 yards (21 feet) out to the 10 meter (33 foot) regimen, a high quality CO2 powered, blowback action semi-auto will demand most of the same skill sets as firing a .22 caliber, .380 ACP, 9mm, or even a .45 ACP semiautomatic. You experience everything but felt recoil and of course, the much higher decibel ratings of a smokeless powder cartridge being fired, compared to the sound of a .177 caliber steel BB leaving the muzzle. With the growing popularity of suppressors, even that aspect is changing.

What makes the difference in many 1911 designs? It is the sights. At left a Tanfoglio Witness 1911 uses the correct original design Government Model sights. Model sights, like those on the Tanfoglio 1911 are higher, wider, and have white dots for quick target acquisition. Is one more accurate than the other? The answer is as much about the person firing the gun as the gun itself. But for those who are learning to handle a 1911, more modern sights are a definite asset. The same goes for training with the airguns.

What makes the difference in many 1911 designs? It is the sights. At left a Tanfoglio Witness 1911 uses the original design Government Model sights. Modern sights, like those on the Sig Sauer 1911 are higher, wider, and have white dots for quick target acquisition. Is one more accurate than the other? The answer is as much about the person firing the gun as the gun itself. For those learning to handle a 1911, more modern sights are a definite asset. The same goes for training with the airguns.

The most important features any CO2 powered blowback action semi-auto can provide are a good trigger, and good front and rear sights. It is surprising how many cartridge-firing handguns costing far more than even the most expensive blowback action CO2 model, often fail to meet those two essential criterions. So how can one expect an airgun to do better? When it comes to sights, you would be surprised how many do.

What to look for in high quality air pistol sights

 The majority of blowback action CO2 semi-autos are nearly identical (in some cases 100 percent identical) to their cartridge-firing counterparts and thus provide equivalent sighting capability. There are, however, a handful of CO2 models that excel in this capacity. And what you want does not always mean white dot sights, though they are hard to fault. What I look for first is the size of the sights.

Everyone loves the historic look of the original Colt Model 1911 (I know I do), it’s an American classic, and those who like original style 1911s are willing to accept the shortcomings it brings with it. The original Model 1911 and 1911A1 had terrible sights. What’s wrong with them? You simply need to compare them with modern 1911 sights, and you can make this comparison with airguns. A low narrow rear notch, combined with a shallow, crescent shaped front sight, typical of the John Browning-designed Model 1911, is hard to acquire. For military use they were more than adequate, but even Colt’s recognized the need for better sights on the 1911 and introduced the National Match version in 1933. As Colt historian, the late  R.L. Wilson, noted in The Book of Colt Firearms, “The National Match 45 [was introduced] to answer the demand for the Colt Government Model Automatic Pistol…equipped for target shooting.”

A traditional 1911 front sight (left) and modern dovetailed white dot sight (right) illustrate the significant differences sight design can make.

A traditional 1911 front sight (left) and modern dovetailed white dot sight (right) illustrate the significant differences sight design can make.

A traditional 1911 rear sight is low to the slide and has a narrow rear notch. A modern 1911 white dot sight is taller and has a wider notch to align with the white dot front sight.

A traditional 1911 rear sight is low to the slide and has a narrow rear notch. A modern 1911 white dot sight is taller and has a wider notch to align with the white dot front sight.

The National Match was equipped with a “Super-smooth, hand-honed target action, selected Match barrel, and two-way adjustable rear target sight.” This became the standard for future 1911 target models and these same features are seen today, even in CO2 powered, blowback action air pistols. At the same time, you also have white dot sights, with dual white dots on the rear and a single dot on the front sight.

A competition based 1911 CO2 model, the new Sig Sauer Max Michel uses a white dot combat-style rear sight and elevated white dot blade front sight.

A competition based 1911 CO2 model, the new Sig Sauer Max Michel uses a white dot combat-style rear sight and elevated white dot blade front sight.

Other variations only use a white dot on the front sight and wide rear notch sight. There are also combat rear sights (angled upward from front to back with rounded contours) to provide a higher sighting position combined with a matching, elevated front sight. The combat sight is faster to acquire for a variety of shooting disciplines from combat to target shooting. They can have white dots or be all black; the overall advantage is in the design. And all of these various sight designs are available on CO2 powered blowback action air pistols.

Will that be one dot or three? Two approaches to white dot sights are shown by the Sig Sauer P226 X-Five which uses a wide notch rear and dovetailed white dot front sight, as opposed to the latest Beretta 92A1 design which uses white dots front and rear. In the author’s opinion, the more important of the two is the white dot front.

Will that be one dot or three? Two approaches to white dot sights are shown by the Sig Sauer P226 X-Five which uses a wide notch rear and dovetailed white dot front sight, as opposed to the latest Beretta 92A1 design which uses white dots front and rear. In the author’s opinion, the more important of the two is the white dot front.

White dots are not the be all and end all of target sights as evidenced by comparing the combat-type white dot sights on the M&P40 to the windage and elevation adjustable target sights on the top of the line Tanfoglio Limited CO2 model (which is based on the CZ75 and EAA Witness design).

White dots are not the be all and end all of target sights as evidenced by comparing the combat-type white dot sights on the M&P40 to the windage and elevation adjustable target sights on the top of the line Tanfoglio Limited CO2 model (which is based on the CZ75/EAA Witness design).

The last consideration is sight radius. This usually implies a longer barrel, but not always. As a case in point, the Smith & Wesson M&P9 and M&P40 are smaller overall than a Beretta Model 92A1, but have a longer sight radius despite having a 0.65 inch shorter barrel length (4.25 inches vs. 4.9 inches for the Beretta). The differences are also duplicated by the CO2 models.

And lest we forget about sight radius; a longer sight radius is an advantage, and it doesn’t always require a longer barrel or larger gun to have it. Case in point the 9mm and .40S&W based Umarex 92A1 (left) and Umarex S&W M&P40 (right) a smaller gun with a shorter barrel and slide, but longer sight radius, due to its striker-fired design vs. the hammer fired design of the Beretta.

And lest we forget about sight radius; a longer sight radius is an advantage, and it doesn’t always require a longer barrel or larger gun to have it. Case in point the 9mm and .40S&W based Umarex Beretta 92A1 (left) and Umarex S&W M&P40 (right) a smaller gun with a shorter barrel and slide, but longer sight radius, due to its striker-fired design vs. the hammer fired design of the Beretta.

Deciding which type of sight is better and may work best for you will be discussed in Part 2.   

5 thoughts on “Best blowback action airgun sights Part 1

  1. I am probably in the minority in not being a fan of white dot rear and front sights. I started out with the bar and dot sights on a PPKs and always liked them. In a larger frame pistol like a 1911 a little red paint on the front ramp does the job and the larger sights on the series 80 and forward Colts works for me. I find the 3 dots more disorienting ,and they take longer to line up . Novak plain rear sights and a white or red front works fine for me. As stated it is the size of the sights for visibility that makes the biggest difference, and practice makes you a better shot.The next step in airgun sights should be dovetail rears that can be drifted for windage. A 1911 Colt Cold Cup with fully adjustable Bomar type sights should be the next step in the evolution of replica air pistols


    • Well, I have always been a fan of white dot sights, particulalrly tritium night sights which are a must for serious 24/7 carry, but if I had to make a choice between three white dots and just a single white dot on the front sight, I would probably go with the white dot front and large notched (adjustable) rear sight. I am also a fan of Novak combat sights, as well. In Part 2, I am going to show why certain sights work better under varying conditions, and which are best for overall reliability, at least for blowback action CO2 models.


  2. I can still remember when , in the pre Novak , 3 dot sight days , S&W revolver sights with the white outline rear were all the rage. I still like those on revolvers, white outline rear and red ramp front. Gives a clear easy to pick up sight picture. Pretty much any hi viz front sight , red ramp, white dot , , gives an improved picture. Must say I never got into night sights, but never had much need for them. Didn’t say I didn’t know how to use them



    • That works. I sometimes put a piece of masking tape cut to fit the front sight for shooting against dark targets like the B-27 silhouette. A lot of people also use white or red nail polish, but you need to be really neat about it. You can also cut a red Shoot-N-C target paster to size and stick it on the back of the front sight. I’ve done that, too. I prefer something I can easily remove.


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