Revolvers vs. Semi-autos Part 2

Revolvers vs. Semi-autos Part 2 Part 1

The age old debate and 1911 magazine swaps

By Dennis Adler 

There was an overlap between the Peacemaker and the 1911 in the early 20th century, even in the military where the Single Action Colts were still being used, and this combination remained practical for southwest lawmen well into the 1950s. This match up of CO2 models is a factual portrait of a time in the American West when old and new worked hand in hand. (Single Action holster is a copy of Billy the Kid’s handcrafted by Chisholm’s Trail. The military 1911 flap holster is a reproduction of the U.S. Model JT&L 1942 from World War Supply)

It has been said that if you do something right the first time, you never have to do it over. At the turn of the last century there were a lot of armsmakers doing things over, especially for the U.S. military, which was in the rather unique position of having to find a large caliber replacement for the Colt Peacemaker and discovering that nothing was really working. The military began to abandon the .45 Colt Single Action Army in 1889 when the U.S. Navy purchased Colt’s new .38 caliber Model 1889 Navy double action revolver. With a swing out cylinder it was much faster to reload than a Peacemaker. But the 1889 was short-lived. It was replaced within the Colt’s lineup and in the U.S. military by the Models 1892, 1894, 1895, 1896, 1901 and 1903 New Army and Navy Revolvers in calibers ranging from .38 Colt to .41 Long and Short Colt. But none offered the stopping power of a .45 caliber Peacemaker. In 1905 the Marines Corps adopted another Colt revolver chambered in .38 Colt (or .38 S&W) aptly named the Model 1905 Marine Corps Revolver. This one saw only 926 guns produced before it was discontinued. By 1907 most of the earlier double action models were replaced by the Army Special model in either .38 or .41 caliber. read more


Revolvers vs. Semi-autos Part 1

Revolvers vs. Semi-Autos Part 1

Origin of an age old debate

By Dennis Adler

While it might sound far fetched, if these three air pistols were their actual centerfire counterparts, this trio of pistols and the two holsters, copied from originals, could have been photographed more than 100 years ago. By 1914 lawmen working still mostly untamed areas along the Texas-Mexico border were packing Colt Single Action revolvers and Colt Model 1911s. The holsters, hand-crafted in Spain, are copied from originals pictured in the book Packing Iron.

This is a debate that has, believe it or not, been ongoing for more than 100 years! The greatest difference in the 21st century, however, between revolvers and semi-autos is how they work, not what they shoot. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, semi-autos were small caliber pistols, the .25 Auto developed in 1900, .32 Auto developed by John M. Browning in 1897, .380 ACP developed by Browning in 1908, and in Germany, the largest caliber, 9x19mm (9mm Parabellum) developed by Georg Luger in 1903;  were cartridges made specifically for use with a self-loading pistol. Over the next century advances in cartridge design, the development of revolver cylinders built to load semi-auto ammo (Colt and S&W models built during WWI and WWII to chamber .45 ACP) and finally modern alloy and polymer frame revolvers, have given rise to wheelguns that shoot semi-auto cartridges in 9mm, 10mm, .40 S&W and .380 ACP. But, this is 21st century pistol technology, technology that has marginalized many of the distinctions between wheelguns and semiautomatics in respect to caliber options, handgun sizes, and practical carry. read more


Top 5 Wheelguns

Top 5 Wheelguns

Why revolvers endure

By Dennis Adler

Out of the holster and ready for action, the 7-1/2 inch Umarex Colt Peacemaker has the feel of a real .45 Single Action Army and draws the number 1 spot in my Top 5 Wheelguns review.

Back in my youth (that’s like an episode of Happy Days in writer years) there were two kinds of television shows that boys liked, westerns and detective shows, mostly westerns, but detective shows were a lot like westerns (some actually were) and the heroes almost always carried revolvers. Back in the 1950s and 1960s just about all lawmen; U.S. Marshals, uniformed cops, detectives, both police and private, State Troopers and FBI agents, among others, typically carried S&W or Colt revolvers. It wasn’t until years later that semi-autos began to make a dent in the general law enforcement sidearm category, and even after they did, revolvers remained the preferred backup gun. read more


Three guns at 10 paces Part 3

Three guns at 10 paces Part 3 Part 2 Part 1

How important is barrel length?

By Dennis Adler

Three contenders for accuracy, all Umarex models, all with rifled steel barrels and firing the same 7.0 gr. Meisterkugeln Professional Line lead wadcutter pellets from 10 meters. Will barrel lengths of 3-1/2 inches, 5-1/2 inches and 7-1/2 inches, make a significant different at that distance? Shown are the deluxe hand engraved Nimschke models, full nickel 7-1/2 inch holstered, nickel and gold 5-1/2 inch and the Umarex Legends 3-1/2 inch Ace in the Hole. (Hand carved holster and .38 caliber cartridge belt designed by Jim Barnard, TrailRider Products)

And now for the short end of the stick…and I mean that in a nice way, because the Umarex Legends Ace in the Hole is a really nice, short-barreled Single Action Army variant, albeit overdressed for the room. I think we have all slung enough criticism at this gun for its appearances, with apologies to Expendables fans, and this time we’re going for its better self as a close representation of a Colt Shopkeeper model. There is one advantage to this pistol (well two if you count that it even exists in any form), and one disadvantage. Oddly the disadvantage is what was intended to be the gun’s big advantage, the oddly shaped fanning hammer. This is a prop department’s idea of making a Single Action faster to work. Visually it has become one of the gun’s two trademark features, and if you want to fan away at the Ace it will shoot as fast as you can run it, with commensurate accuracy, and that’s pretty much what you get with a real cut down Peacemaker at fighting distances of 10 to 15 feet. I have done it with actual 3-1/2-inch barreled Colt’s. read more


Three guns at 10 paces Part 2

Three guns at 10 paces Part 2 Part 1

How important is barrel length?

By Dennis Adler

Loaded with Colts for every distance, a lawman might have carried both a 7-1/2 inch and a 5-1/2 inch Peacemaker, and even a Sheriff’s Model in a shoulder holster for a backup. With the fine Umarex CO2 models, 7-1/2 inch holstered, 5-1/2 inch deluxe Nimschke hand engraved model tucked in my belt, and the “Almost a Colt” Ace in the Hole in the c.1890s Al. Furstnow-style skeleton shoulder rig, optimum range for accuracy is 10 meters, no matter what the barrel length. The question is how much difference does barrel length make with the CO2 Peacemakers?

Although Colt’s offered many barrel lengths, the company only considered the 1888 Sheriff’s Model with 3-1/2 inch barrel, the 4-3/4 inch, 5-1/2 inch and 7-1/2 inch barrel lengths as “standard” models, everything else was a special order barrel. The 5-1/2 inch and 4-3/4 inch were introduced in 1875, technically, three years after the 7-1/2 inch model designed by William Mason was accepted by the U.S. Ordnance Department as the Army’s new military issue sidearm. That was in 1872 not 1873. While the Peacemaker is regarded as an 1873 model, the first patent was granted on September 19, 1871. A second patent was received on July 2, 1872 and both patent dates were stamped on the left side of Singe Action Army frames produced through 1875. That year Mason and Colt’s were granted a third patent for the design dated January 19, 1875. All three patent dates were stamped on frames beginning early that year. This was known as the three line patent date stamp and 5-1/2 inch models have three patent dates on their frames. read more


Three guns at 10 paces Part 1

Three guns at 10 paces Part 1

How important is barrel length?

By Dennis Adler

“Whenever you get into a row, be sure not to shoot

too quick. Take time. I’ve known many a feller to

slip up for shootin’ in a hurry.”

                                                 – James Butler Hickok

I was just finishing up a 2-day photo shoot for Guns of the Old West, so it seemed like the right time to bring out the Umarex Colt Peacemakers and get in some authentic looking photos for Airgun Experience with these three Umarex models. You have to give a little latitude for the Ace in the Hole in the shoulder rig, which isn’t officially a Colt-licensed model and not entirely authentic looking either. But it gets the job done.

In his famous July 20th, 1865 Springfield, Missouri, gunfight with ex-Confederate David Tutt, Wild Bill Hickok carefully rested his 7-1/2 inch barreled Colt 1851 Navy over his left arm and, after first being fired upon by Tutt, who missed Hickok by several inches, returned fire killing the man where he stood with a single shot through the heart at a distance of 75 paces. Just what exactly is a “pace?” Webster’s defines it as “…any of various standard linear measures, representing the space naturally measured by the movement of the feet in walking: roughly 30 to 40 inches.” Thus 75 paces across the Springfield town square was a distance of anywhere between 175 to 250 feet. Let’s call it an average of 200 feet from the muzzle of Hickok’s Colt Navy, fired from the corner of South Street, to David Tutt taking aim at Wild Bill from in front of the courthouse and the corner of Campbell Street. This was the gunfight that established Hickok’s legend as a shootist, a reputation that served him well as a lawman, giving many a man facing him a moment of clarity before reaching for a gun, but later in life prompted others to try a make a reputation by killing him. Jack McCall took the cowards way out and murdered Wild Bill in Deadwood, North Dakota Territory on August 2, 1876 by shooting him from behind. McCall eventually hung for his deed. read more


A Boring Topic

A Boring Topic

When you can and can’t shoot a .177 caliber lead BB 

By Dennis Adler

The caliber conundrum, when is a .177 caliber not 0.177 inches? When it is a steel BB (far left) which actually has a diameter of 0.173 inches (average) or 4.3mm, compared to a lead round pellet (center) which is just slightly larger at 4.5mm, or a wadcutter pellet (right). The difference in diameter is what keeps you from loading a lead ball into a .177 caliber, magazine-fed blowback action pistol designed for steel BBs. This is the same whether it is a stick magazine or a self-contained CO2 BB magazine; that .2mm difference is a lot with an air pistol.

The operative word in Airgun Experience is experience, and the way you get experience is by doing things and often doing them wrong. Failure is the best teacher, and hopefully it isn’t always costly, just educational. One of the early mistakes I made was trying to shoot .177 caliber lead BBs from a semi-auto pistol chambered for .177 caliber steel BBs. Lead BBs don’t fit. An air pistol that shoots steel BBs and is marked .177 caliber (4.5mm) does not actually shoot a .177 caliber diameter BB. Now, if it is a pellet-firing rifled barrel pistol it can, because the bore on a .177 caliber BB pistol and a 4.5mm pellet pistol are not exactly the same. A steel BB will drop right through the barrel on a smoothbore blowback action BB pistol. A 4.5mm pellet won’t even fit if you try to insert it, whereas with a pellet firing pistol you can actually push the pellet into the barrel. read more