Why tan guns have great appeal

Why tan guns have great appeal

Because guns used to be blue

By Dennis Adler

Fifty shades of tan…the color is not the same on every gun that is listed as FDE, coyote tan, or desert tan, or just tan. Tan often isn’t even the same shade on the same gun. And that is part of what makes them interesting.

If you collect old guns, 19th century guns, most will be blued (or were at one time), others might be nickel plated, but the vast majority, well into the 20th century were blued. It is an old process that Samuel Colt (among others) refined in the early to mid 19th century. Go back another century and you won’t find many blued guns, you will find instead browned guns, an even older process that was so common in the 1700s’s that the famous Revolutionary War British musket, the “Brown Bess,” was named after its finish (or so the story goes). Browned Damascus barrels on shotguns and pistols were revered for their beauty, but bluing became the dominant finish intended to prevent rust. Rust was and will always be the nemesis of gun barrels, frames (except of course, newer polymer frames), and parts made from steel, iron or other metals, except aluminum and aluminum alloys, and thus you will not often encounter rust with a modern air pistol, except those which use steel in their composition. Bluing is, in fact, a controlled rust process that is stopped and treated, creating a protective layer over the metal. But time wears everything down and bluing wears away. That is why old guns that have not been well cared for (or reblued) have faded worn finishes and the worst, have pitting from rust. read more

Pocket Pistol Roundup Part 4

Pocket Pistol Roundup Part 4

What’s in your pocket? Walther and Beretta vs. Sig

By Dennis Adler

What exactly is a pocket pistol? It should be small enough to fit in a pocket and safely inside a pocket holster. The Umarex Beretta 84FS is really a little too large of a gun to be easily carried in a pocket, of course, it depends upon the size of the pocket and style of pocket holster. It would be a push to drop this gun into the front pocket in a pair of Levis. The Umarex Walther PPS, as a training gun will fit in a pocket holster but the longer grip poses some issues for total concealment. The little Sig Sauer P365 in 9mm or .177 caliber fits a variety of pocket holsters like this Galco horsehide PH 460. Why horsehide? A leather holster with a rough finish will stay put in your pocket and not pull out with the gun, as some lighter synthetic or smooth leather pocket holsters can occasionally do. It is also small enough to leave very little outline in the pocket.

I began carrying .380 pocket pistols (as opposed to slightly larger 9mm semi-autos in belt rigs) about 10 yearsago when I got the first of several Ruger LCP models. I reviewed them for Combat Handguns and Pocket Pistols magazines,and over the years ended up with a fully customized LCP and one of the rare Red Trigger Ruger models (which evolved from the custom pistol). The Red Trigger has most often been my companion when I carry concealed. I say most often because sometimes I carry a larger caliber pistol, but only the LCP drops cleanly into the front pocket of a pair of Levis with barely a trace of gun or pocket holster. Larger caliber guns like the 9mm Ruger LC9 come close, but are harder to cover. Sig Sauer did well in the pocket pistol category with their 9mm P938, based on a slightly scaled up .380 ACP Colt Mustang design, as well as their .380 Auto P230, which is a Colt Mustang-sized pistol. But when it comes to packing the most 9mm rounds into the smallest semi-auto, Sig Sauer rewrote the book with the P365; the smallest, high-capacity 9mm semiautomatic pistol on the market. It is that gun, upon which the Sig Sauer P365 CO2 model is based, it too, being the smallest blowback action pistol made with a self-contained CO2 BB magazine. It is the personification of “pocket pistol” in any caliber. read more

Pocket Pistol Roundup Part 3

Pocket Pistol Roundup Part 3

The better of two – 84FS vs. PPS

By Dennis Adler

Big pockets only need apply for these older pocket pistols, especially the much older Beretta 84 series guns that inspired the 84FS CO2 model. An almost 1:1 design, the original Beretta 84 models were regarded as concealed carry .380 autos and even suitable for concealment in a pocket. The newer 21st century Walther PPS is smaller in overall dimensions and packs 9mm rounds. Both CO2 pistols are ideal for basic hands-on familiarization with their centerfire counterparts and well made air pistols for plinking and general target shooting.

This is a paring of pocket pistols which are larger than most but still fall into the subcompact category and will conceal in a large enough pants pocket with just shirt tails for cover. Compared to smaller .380 autos and the 9mm Sig Sauer P365 they are much larger guns, the Walther PPS fairly equivalent to a .380 Glock 42 (also considered a pocket pistol), only the PPS is a little narrower and a 9mm. They are all better suited for close body carry with belt holsters, but when push comes to shove they will fit in a pocket. I didn’t say comfortably, but they will fit. As CO2 models the Umarex Walther PPS/PPS M2 and Beretta 84FS are an interesting match because the centerfire Beretta is a .380 and the PPS is a 9mm, but smaller! read more

Pocket Pistol Roundup Part 1

Pocket Pistol Roundup Part 1

The CO2 subcompacts

By Dennis Adler

“Pocket Pistol” is an incredibly old terminology that dates back to the Old West, actually, even further if you consider Henry Deringer’s small, single shot pocket models which were introduced in the 1830s, and small pistol designs by famous armsmakers like Christian Sharps (of Sharp’s Rifle fame), who managed to put four barrels into a pocket-sized pistol, and of course, Samuel Colt, whose first production revolver, the c.1836 No.1 Paterson, was small enough to fit in the palm of your hand! “Pocket Pistol” is a term that has been liberally thrown around for a very, very long time. read more

Greater Expectations

Greater Expectations

A serious look at air pistols and practicality

By Dennis Adler

Back in 2000 when I was preparing the First Edition Blue Book of Airguns these were the latest designs. They were all pellet-firing pistols that had excellent velocity, authentic styling and fundamental handling, guns that could be used for target shooting and handgun training (like the Walther CP99), but they were not blowback action pistols, and they were not actually semi-autos. Internally they worked like a DA/SA revolver with the cast alloy pellet magazine inside the action, rotating like a cylinder with each pull of the trigger (or by cocking the hammer). Look at the guns pictured in my feature from the 2001 book, and you will see the finest CO2 air pistols on the market at the time.

Rarely do I use this forum to write an editorial opinion, but it seems that the time has come to compare the market, marketing and manufacturing of air pistols to the expectations of consumers, and these are seldom shared objectives. It does happen, but not as often as most of us would like. We expect new guns every year, and that means we are sometimes thrilled, but more often easily disappointed. 

When I came into the airgun/air pistol market as an author almost 20 years ago, most of the airguns I write about today not only didn’t exist, they were not even imagined as being possible (Glocks for example). BB guns were as basic in 2001 as they were a decade or more before. When I looked for superstars that would be the topic for my first book on airguns (published by my late friend Steve Fjestad at Blue Book Publications), the field was small but well focused on two fronts. There was adult sport shooting with BB and pellet guns, and secondly a handful of guns (some the same) aimed at use for fundamental handgun training. This was nothing new, airguns had been implemented in the past for military training in times of war. read more

What makes a winner?

What makes a winner?

Last year’s Top 10 Selling air pistols

By Dennis Adler

Umarex and Glock walked away with 2019’s largest number of sales and guns from Pyramyd Air, with the Third Gen Glock 17 CO2 model (right) taking the number 1 spot in sales, the non-blowback Model 19 (back) taking the number 2 position, and the new Gen4 model placing 7th out of the Top 10 for the year’s sales leaders.

For what it’s worth, I picked and reviewed six of the Top 10 selling air pistols for 2019, and of the six I had written up over the last couple of years (yes, they were not all 2019 models), my top guns reviewed in Airgun Experience were in the first three places as well as 5th, 6th and 7th place as the most purchased air pistols of 2019. What is interesting, and perhaps a bit telling, is that they are all based on semi-auto pistols. I wasn’t so much surprised by that, as I was with the number 1 selling air pistol of the year for Pyramyd Air, the Umarex Glock 17 Third Gen. I would have expected the newer Gen4 to be the best seller, then the Third Gen or the G19X, which didn’t even make the list as a best seller! Instead, the first Umarex Glock Model, the G19 non-blowback slipped into the number 2 position ahead of the Sig Sauer M17, Beretta 92A1, and Sig Sauer P365, which came in an impressive 6th place for sales over the 7th place Umarex Glock 17 Gen4!

The first Umarex Glock model laid the groundwork for the three blowback action pistols that would follow in 2018 and 2019. Glock and Umarex went with an entry-level, non-blowback action model at a retail price point that placed the new CO2 pistol on big box store sales racks as well as at the forefront of internet retailers like Pyramyd Air. The exemplary fit and finish and details of the G19 set the standards for the blowback action models that would follow.

There is an interesting parallel here, which also plays out exactly in the centerfire handgun market with Glock and Sig Sauer being among the top selling handguns globally, and in the U.S. with civilian, law enforcement and military (in other words just about everyone). The Micro Compact 9mm Sig Sauer P365 is a double Gun of the Year award winner for 2018 and 2019, the Sig M17 is the new U.S. military sidearm, while Glock pistols still have a solid role in the U.S. military and law enforcement. Comparatively, Sig and Glock air pistols hold five of the top seven sales positions for 2019. The 8th, 9th, and 10th places are held, respectively, by the Crosman 2240, Crosman Vigilante CO2 revolver, and the old-style ASG Dan Wesson revolver with 6-inch barrel. That last one surprised the heck out of me, too. I would have bet on the correctly designed 2-1/2 inch pellet cartridge ASG Dan Wesson Model 715 to be among the year’s Top 10 sellers. But, sales figures are the real bottom line.

Another older CO2 model that certainly surprised me by being in the Top 10, albeit number 10, is the old-style ASG Dan Wesson. It was an impressive gun when it came out in 2016 as both a pellet loading cartridge model with rifled barrel and a BB cartridge loading version with smoothbore barrel. Nicely done but not authentic to the Dan Wesson design, it has been up against its own stiff competition from the newer ASG Dan Wesson Model 715 pistols with 6-inch and 2-1/2 inch barrels, which are dead ringers for the centerfire revolvers. This is also the most expensive of the Top 10 guns at a discounted price of $139.95.

What we have learned from 2019’s best selling air pistols is that improved design features like interchangeable backstrap panels and field stripping capability (in other words the Umarex Glock 17 Gen4), did not win out over the much higher velocities of the top two Umarex Glock models. Here’s something else, the only semi-auto pellet pistol to make the Top 10 was 2018’s Replica Air Pistol of the Year, the Sig Sauer M17. If you’re counting, Sig Sauer holds only two spots on the list (whither thou WE THE PEOPLE, or any 1911 design for that matter?) while Glock holds three.

The second Glock model was the full size G17, introduced as a Third Gen design (while Glock already had the Gen4 and Gen5 models in production as centerfire pistols), making the first blowback action Glock air pistol released in the U.S. an unusual choice. Nevertheless, the airgun’s design allowed it to achieve an impressive average velocity of over 350 fps and accuracy out to 10 meters and beyond for training use. Selling for around $100 it became a hit despite the older Glock design and not being able to fieldstrip the pistol. (It also became the internal platform for the 2019 Umarex Glock 19X).

One of the most physically impressive CO2 models ever built, the Umarex Glock 17 Gen4 hit the U.S. market with all the right stuff, correct Gen4 features, interchangeable backstraps, and full field stripping capability, but sacrificed the Third Gen’s impressive velocity to do it. Shooting at an average of 317 fps was the gun’s only disappointing feature. Going on sale in the summer of 2019 gave the gun less than six months to compete against the earlier Glock CO2 models that had been out over a year. Still, the Gen4 earned 7th place in sales against guns that had all been on sale for a longer period.

The most noteworthy absence for 2019 is any single action CO2 revolver from the Top 10. Umarex, which, for reasons unknown, has let the Peacemaker stall after an impressive start with 5-1/2 and 7-1/2 inch models in BB and pellet versions; Bear River, under new ownership, is waiting in the wings with new models, and the (Crosman) Remington Model 1875, well, it just failed to challenge the Colt and Schofield (history repeats itself).

In 2020, my hope is for some new Schofields via Bear River, and for Umarex to awake from its Glock euphoria (though with the forthcoming M1A1 “Tommy gun” probably not), and remember how important the Peacemaker is to American firearms history.

Speaking of guns that had been on sale longer, in this instance, much longer, the Umarex Beretta 92A1 has been selling strong since 2016 and managed to hold on to the 5th place in 2019 sales. The newer M9A3, which has proven to be a better gun, wasn’t on sale until spring 2019 and didn’t sell enough guns to earn a spot in 2019’s Top 10 sellers.

There are two other interesting lessons to be learned from 2019’s Top 10. First, is that price matters more than we (hardcore airgun enthusiasts) realize because the number 2 gun of the year, the Glock 19, was also the least expensive CO2 pistol (at $69.95 discounted), and the easiest to handle, because aside from loading CO2 in the grip frame and BBs in the stick magazine, the only other thing on the gun that moves is the trigger (and its crossbolt safety). It hit the market with ease of use, striking authenticity in its attention to details, even if they didn’t have to work, and a quality of fit and finish that excels over any other entry-level BB pistol on the market. It was also the very first ever Glock licensed air pistol, so even as inexpensive as it is, it has a certain panache as the “first” to ever bear the Glock name. Were it not for the blowback action G17 Third Gen’s success, it would have been the best selling air pistol of 2019! One can live with loosing to one’s self.

Sig Sauer grabbed the 3rd place for sales in 2019 with 2018’s Replica Air Pistol of the Year winner, the M17. The solitary blowback action pellet pistol to end up in the Top 10, the Sig remains the only model with a self-contained CO2 pellet magazine, but that may change soon when Umarex introduces its first blowback action pellet models with self-contained CO2 pellet magazines. As they say, fame is fleeting.

The second thing that 2019’s sales figures tell us is that innovation has appeal, not just features like interchangeable backstrap panels and being able to fieldstrip the gun type innovations, but innovation through technology; the Sig Sauer M17 being the first blowback action CO2 pistol with a self-contained CO2 pellet magazine, and the Sig Sauer P365 being the smallest blowback action air pistol ever to have a self-contained 12 gram CO2 BB magazine, as prime examples.

The new Sig Sauer P365, which only came out this past summer, managed to come in right behind the old Beretta 92A1 in 6th place with only six months on sale. The P365 actually blew past the M9A3, which was out at least three months before the new Sig! A 1:1 gun for training with the popular 9mm P365, the CO2 pistol fell short of velocity expectations, but has still managed to attract a lot of sales.

The two oldest designs that made the Top 10 epitomize popular longevity, the Crosman 2240, which has been around since 1999, and the very inexpensive ($30) Beeman P17, which copies the original German-made P3 design ($230) introduced in 1999 (and still in production), and brings it down to a very affordable entry-level price with the famous Beeman name.

Entry level airguns may not be the big topic for Airgun Experience readers, but every airgun enthusiast needs to get experience. The popularity of low-price leaders, like those among 2019’s Top 10 sales list, means that more people are discovering the world of airguns.

Decades of change

Decades of change

What lies behind could be in the future

By Dennis Adler

I had a chance to test the Umarex Colt Commander at the Umarex factory in Germany six months before it was introduced to the U.S. market in 2014, leading a revolution in blowback action air pistols that changed the very face of the CO2 air pistol market in five years.

Here we are at the beginning of a new decade, a very special one to me. When I was young I had remarkable expectations for the far, far distant 21st century and the year 2020, which had seemed to me, would be something momentous, it was so far away in the future. When I was 20, I saw Arthur C. Clarke and Stanly Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey with wide-eyed optimism for a world that was still more than 50 years away from the mesmerizing images on the screen. As far off as 2001 seemed at the time, I believed Arthur C. Clarke’s vision of the future, at least from a standpoint of technology. I shared his vision of incredible possibilities; it was not implausible, we could do this, and a year later Neil Armstrong walked on the moon; it was a beginning, and that was 51 years ago this coming July 20. We have not reached Arthur C. Clarke’s predictions of the 21st century, but in spite of the difficulties, setbacks and politics, we are treading on the periphery of that future, stalled perhaps, by a world that is far different than Clarke envisioned so many decades ago. How does this relate to air pistols?

A little over 50 years ago, the air pistols we have today were just as implausible as Clarke’s space station and spacecraft, and honestly, compared to Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the far distant future in Star Trek, Clarke’s reality wasn’t science fiction so much as was yet un-obtained science fact, and that future is no longer so distant.

Variations of the Umarex Colt Commander design were used over the next five years by Swiss Arms, Air Venturi, Tanfoglio, and most notably by Sig Sauer, which built matching CO2 and .45 ACP models of the Sig Sauer 1911 WE THE PEOPLE model making the Colt Model 1911 still the most revered pistol in any caliber.

In 2001 when I wrote the First Edition Blue Book of Airguns (see, there is an analogy after all), back then we were treading on the periphery of the future of air pistols. I had used two words to describe the new models appearing in this first edition, “Authenticity” and “Performance” and everyone from Anschutz and Beretta to Daisy and Walther had something new for the dawning 21st century. At the top of my list in that book were Umarex models built in cooperation with Beretta and Walther, the 92FS and CP99 pellet pistols, which exuded authenticity and performance for the time, since blowback action models were all but non-existent, except for the then impressive (in concept) Walther PPK/S, an anemic but fun little pistol to shoot, because of the moving slide and some tangible sensation of recoil like a real handgun. But the important guns of that new decade were not blowback actions, they were the Beretta and Walther pellet models, and no other proof need be offered today, than that these guns are still being manufactured 20 years later.

A perspective on two decades of design, an Umarex Beretta 92FS pellet model, one of the earliest and most expensive of Umarex pellet models (and still being manufactured after 20 years) and the 2018 Sig Sauer P320 M17 blowback action pellet-firing model with self-contained CO2 pellet magazine. The groundbreaking Sig design won 2018’s Replica Air Pistol of the Year.

By 2010 (coincidentally, the year of Arthur C. Clarke’s Odyssey Two) the world of air pistols was advancing faster than Star Trek sequels and the very world of air pistols was about to change as new blowback action designs were being developed. I was fortunate to test the first of this new era of authentic blowback action pistols in Germany the summer before the Umarex Colt Commander was introduced. In 2014, the Combat Commander was the most realistic, mainstream brand name CO2 air pistol on the market (and it had coincided with .22 LR versions also manufactured for Colt by Umarex) putting the venerable Model 1911 center stage in two markets, entry-level .22 LR pistols and blowback action CO2 pistols. It was the CO2 pistols, however, that would capture an emerging audience of airgun enthusiasts who had grown up in the era of the 1911’s emergence as the most famous semi-auto pistol of an entire generation – postwar Baby boomers. I would have to say that a majority of Airgun Experience readers fall into that category of kids who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, and by the time the Umarex Colt Commander had been introduced, were well-familiarized with the real thing, either through first hand experience, or through the voyeuristic experiences of television and film. Air pistols built to duplicate their centerfire counterparts would become the touchstones to our youth, whether we had handled the real guns or not. And that is where the past decade of air pistol design and technology has finally taken us; back to our own futures.

In a handful of years over the past decade we saw the development and introduction of such impressive CO2 models as the Umarex Mauser Model 712 select-fire Broomhandle, the remarkably authentic ASG CZ75 SP-01 Shadow (and modified Shadow Blue shown) the Sig WTP and various models of the Colt Peacemaker built by Umarex. Deluxe models like the hand engraved 7-1/2 inch version were a very limited edition aimed at airgun collectors.

The technology confined in the brief period between 2014 (actually 2012 and 2013 in Europe) to 2020 has eclipsed almost all the designs from the previous 50 years. The latest technology for modern air pistol design, particularly as pioneered by Sig Sauer, Umarex, and most recently Air Venturi’s partnership with Springfield Armory, is still breaking new ground as we head into the second decade of the 21st century.

The modern manufacturing of Umarex not only brought us new contemporary models, but impressively built pre- and WWII German handguns, including WWII models with aged finishes, like the Luger P.08 and M712 Broomhandle. The WWII Mauser was a limited edition.

Interestingly, over that same short span of time, this technology has also taken us back in time, through the efforts of Umarex and its deeply rooted history in Germany. The stars of that back story are pre-WWII and WWII-era blowback action models like the 1932 Model 712 Broomhandle Mauser, Luger P.08 and MP40 submachine gun, each a groundbreaking design for CO2 powered airguns. Conversely, pushing the limitations of modern handgun design, as it translates to air pistols, we have seen the evolution of impressively authentic models like the Glock 17 Gen4 and Springfield Armory XDM series. Their success as air pistols, however, is based in the realization that late 20th and early 21st century technology, as applied to cartridge-firing handguns, also moved into the future with the use of plastics (polymers) for frames and other parts. Once, air pistols that used plastics were regarded as mere toys. Today plastics are being used to duplicate centerfire pistols that are themselves made with polymer frames! The only person I can think of from my youth, who would not have found this a strange turn of events, would have been Gene Roddenberry.

This past year was another groundbreaking one for 1:1 authenticity with the Umarex Glock 17 Gen4, a CO2 pistol built to an almost uncompromising standard to match the 9mm model.

Stealing the Glock’s thunder for 2019, the Air Venturi Springfield Armory XDM 3.8 became the most authentic blowback action air pistol ever made and Replica Air Pistol of the Year, raising the bar even higher for any new blowback action models to come in 2020.

And boldly going  

Of all the new models that were introduced in 2019, there is one that stands out in my mind as the air pistol that achieved the most technological breakthrough, and though it did not win 2019’s Replica Air Pistol of the Year title, it opened a door to what is possible when every accepted norm of design limitation is upended and reinvented, when the bottom line is a line that can be crossed, allowing designers to work with a clean sheet of paper. We have seen it in the recent past with the M712 Broomhandle (still a unique design that is unmatched), and we see today with the Micro Compact Sig Sauer P365. What remains now, is to remember where we were 10 years ago, and where designs like the P365 can take us in the new decade. It’s a lot to think about on the subject of air pistols, in a world that is as unpredictable as ours.

Oh, and lest we forget what significant improvements were made in double action revolvers over the last decade. Certainly the best of the best was the ASG Dan Wesson Model 715 snub nose revolver with rifled barrel and pellet loading cartridges.

Innovation and authenticity can take more than one form. The gun that broke the rules by becoming the first Micro Compact to be built as a 1:1 blowback action CO2 pistol with a self-contained CO2 BB magazine came from Sig Sauer’s remarkable Sig Air division. For the 2020s, this one lays the groundwork for smaller air pistols with full operating features and self-conation CO2 BB magazines.

In terms of size, a pistol as small as the CO2 version of the 9mm Sig P365 was not possible until Sig Air designers figured out how to make a self-contained 12 gr. CO2 BB magazine and pistol firing system smaller than ever before. It may not have ended up being the Replica Air Pistol of the Year, but for technology, it is the air pistol of the decade.

If there is a message in my ramblings, it is that we, as air pistol and airgun (air rifle) enthusiasts and collectors, are the benefactors of technology that has not only given us a second chance at our past with CO2 air pistols and rifles that were simply unimaginable in our youth, but a present that is unrivaled in the history of airgun design with true 1:1 models for serious handgun training and the leisure of sports shooting. The subtext may appear to some to be on the wrong side of history at the moment, but history is what we make it.