History teaches us that the past is never forgotten

History teaches us that the past is never forgotten

Some modern airguns with their roots in the 19th century

By Dennis Adler

As a handgun owner, long before I began writing about handguns as an occasional columnist for Guns & Ammo over 20 years ago, back when Garry James was editor, my interests were mainly historic firearms, (same as Garry), and that is what I wrote about in G&A, as well as in my first gun book, published in 1998, on the history of Colt’s 2nd and 3rd generation black powder guns. A dozen gun books later, on subjects as varied as Winchester shotguns, guns of the Civil War, guns of the American West, cartridge conversions of Civil War era black powder guns, and the history of the Colt’s Patent Fire-Arms Mfg. Co., my interests have never changed; so in my mind, modern handguns are essential to modern times, but historic guns are quintessential to handgun history, and to a great extent, American history. read more


Revisiting the Python Part 2

Revisiting the Python Part 2

A snakey situation

By Dennis Adler

Dressed up with the black hard rubber grips the Umarex looks very close to the real guns. It also fits well into some leather holsters like this Galco Dual Position Phoenix holster which is compatible with the Python, Dan Wesson 6-inch, and S&W L Frame 586. Loaded with Umarex Peacemaker pellet shells and high quality alloy pellets, the gun can deliver at 21 feet, but is no match for some of the competition.

It seems that as hard as Umarex tried to make an authentic Python, the foundation was a little flawed in its dimensions in order to accommodate the CO2 firing mechanism, but for the time it was quite good. We have come a long way in a very few years with guns like the ASG Dan Wesson Model 715 and the almost flawless Webley & Scott MK VI, along with a few others like the Peacemaker and Schofield, but the Umarex Colt Python is still a very eye catching CO2 revolver, and with the use of Peacemaker pellet cartridges and alloy pellets can deliver impressive velocity. Currently, the Chrome model is selling for $129.99 (MSRP $149.99 and presently the original black finish CO2 model is not available). read more


Revisiting the Python Part 1

Revisiting the Colt Python Part 1

A snakey situation

By Dennis Adler

The legendary Colt Python was revived in 2014 as a .177 caliber CO2 model. The Colt authorized Umarex wheelgun is a “nearly” perfect copy of the fabled .357 magnum revolver introduced in 1955 but as can be seen in this comparison with the new 2020 Colt Python .357 Magnum, the lines of the CO2 model are not quite true to the centerfire pistol. But it is pretty close for an air pistol.

The Colt Python was one of the most celebrated handguns of the 20th century and one of the few hand fitted revolvers ever manufactured. From 1955 until the majority of Python production ended in 1996, it was regarded as one of the finest American handguns in history, and today you can expect to pay thousands of dollars for an original Colt model. Even among the last examples made, and those produced by the Colt Custom Shop as late as 2002 to 2006 under the Python Elite series, the prices remain at close to $4000. Colt itself has been fighting an uphill battle to resurrect its history and, while taking a rather uninspired path with the new Cobra in 2017 and King Cobra in 2019, both of which fell short of the measure for the original models, this year Colt finally began building the revolver that people wanted, a Python. Reviews of the new Snake Gun have been sketchy, from revelry to criticisms in the age of instant media and reviews of guns by internet pundits as well as established publications. Colt simply proclaimed “The Python is back!” The information offered with the announcement in January built on the Colt Python’s heritage with two new stainless steel models, 4.25 inch and 6 inch barrel lengths. The new 2020 Python’s are built using modern stainless steel alloys and a re-designed adjustable target rear sight with 30 percent more steel beneath it for a stronger revolver. A recessed target crown, user-interchangeable front sight, and classic walnut grips with the iconic Colt medallion round out the new .357 Magnum models. And you will pay at least half of what original Pythons bring today with a retail of $1,499. But you’ll be hard pressed to get one soon because after the first couple of thousand were delivered orders skyrocketed to more than 14,000 putting the Python into backorder status and eager owners on a waiting list. Python fever remains. read more


Revolvers vs. Semi-Autos Part 3

Revolvers vs. Semi-Autos Part 3 Part 2 Part 1

A history of arms at your fingertips

By Dennis Adler

History at your fingertips; CO2 powered semi-auto and revolver designs span more than a century of gun making with historic examples such as the Webley MK VI, American classics like the Colt Python, and semi-autos like the Colt 1911 and its U.S. military successor the Beretta M9 (92 FS, 92A1). These and other great CO2 models are all a part of the ongoing debate of revolvers vs. semi-autos in which you can have a voice. Write a comment and vote your preference.

Groundbreaking decisions are hard to make, especially when the subject being discussed has been debated for more than a century and no definitive conclusion has been reached. If revolvers were as antiquated as they should be, given that the fundamental design has barely changed in over 180 years, with the exception of advancing from loose powder cap and ball and percussion cap ignition to self-contained metallic cartridges and double action triggers (which are themselves more than 160 years old), then they would have long been discontinued by armsmakers. But no, revolvers have evolved and some have even reached a form of equivalence to modern semiautomatics by utilizing polymer frames and separate fire control housings. Revolvers have as much of a role in self defense, hunting, sport and competition shooting today as they did in the 19th century. The debate continues.

Revolvers have barely changed in over 180 years, with the exception of advancing from loose powder cap and ball and percussion cap ignition, like the rare 12-inch Colt Paterson at top, to self-contained metallic cartridge models like the Colt Peacemaker. The next big step was double action/single action models. Since then, it has been variations on a theme and more modern designs, but still the same idea Samuel Colt invented in 1835.

Modern airgun manufacturers have played a significant role, more so of late, in perpetuating the balance between revolvers and semi-autos by recreating many of the best examples from both the past and present. Airgun enthusiasts now make the same choices lawmen, military ordnance boards and civilians have been making since the turn of the last century, “Do we carry a revolver or a semi-auto pistol?” Today, semiautomatic pistols certainly command the lion’s share of the world’s military sidearms, and more specifically 9x19mm (9mm) semiautomatic pistols, seconded by .45 ACP and .40 S&W chamberings. Most of those same designs from long-established manufacturers like Colt, Sig Sauer, Smith & Wesson, Heckler & Koch, Beretta, Walther, Steyr, and CZ, among others, are duplicated in CO2 variations, including those with blowback actions and self-contained CO2 BB magazines, as well as pellet-firing versions with independent CO2 and pellet-loading clips. Presently the greater minority in airguns is among authentically styled and operating revolvers, which in order to have a real presence in the market must span almost the entire history of revolvers, not just the late 20th and early 21st centuries like semi-autos. What few there are, however, rate as stellar examples that use some form of BB or pellet-loading brass cartridge, and operate identically to their centerfire counterparts. And this is where revolvers, in my opinion, surpass almost every semi-auto air pistol for authenticity, and in many cases, even accuracy.

Double Action, single action revolvers are a favorite among airgun enthusiasts but still too few in number to equal the variety of semi-autos on the market. Classic Colt “Snake Guns” like the Diamondback are on the airgun want list and the .38 Special Colt revolver could someday make the cut since it is a smaller version of the Python. The model shown is a 2-inch Diamondback with the smaller grip frame and grips. The 4-inch and 6-inch models used larger grips similar to the Python and would leave adequate room for the CO2 channel.

Many of you have voiced opinions about guns you would like to see recreated as CO2 models, especially certain Colt and S&W revolvers. Some of these seem to be essential additions from an historical perspective but might be difficult, if not impossible to build because of their grip design, which would not be spacious enough for a 12 gram CO2 cartridge and the requisite operating mechanisms. Interestingly, one of the most asked for guns is a Colt Diamondback which is essentially a slightly scaled down Python. It has a grip size that would absolutely work (as shown by the photo of an actual Diamondback .38 snub nose model). In Europe, Umarex offers a 4-inch Python, which is hopefully on the waiting list to be imported (remember consumer demand drives the market!) A Colt licensed Diamondback would not be much of a stretch.

And speaking of the CO2 Pythons, in Europe there is a 4-inch model like the example pictured which is yet to be imported and sold in the U.S. Another one to add to your revolver want list.

There is a more than adequate substitute for the Colt models, the ASG Dan Wesson Model 715 with a 2-1/2 inch barrel. This is currently the most authentic snub nose CO2 revolver made and uses pellet loading cartridges.

But for the moment consider one of the available alternatives, the Dan Wesson Model 715 snub nose model with a rifled barrel and pellet-firing brass cartridges. If you don’t already have this revolver in your airgun collection, you are missing a real gem. It is hands down the best of the trio of correctly styled Dan Wesson models from ASG. I would dare to call it the revolver version of the Umarex S&W M&P 40 for accuracy of design and overall realistic handling.

As close to real as it gets in CO2, drop in your six rounds and you are ready to step up to the firing line. The CO2 loads easily through the base of the authentic combat-style hard rubber grips.

For historic double action revolver fans Gletcher has a corner on the market with the 7-shot, pellet cartridge-loading, rifled barrel, Nagant revolver. Another must have for wheelgun fans.

Among the best historic revolvers is the Gletcher Nagant, a 7-shot Belgian-designed wheelgun that served the Russian military for decades. The airgun loads the CO2 in the grip frame (so smaller grips can work!) and feeds its seven rounds of pellet-loading brass cartridges through a hinged loading gate. The airgun is easy to handle, very accurate and well worth adding to the debate and virtues of revolvers vs. semi-autos.

Umarex Colt Peacemakers have already proven their mettle in test after test and with the latest addition of a nickel and gold 7-1/2 inch pellet model, the choices and price ranges are almost across the board. The Bear River Schofield is just as good a gun as the smoothbore Colt BB models (but a hair more accurate with its pellet-loading cartridges).

Yet another reminder of how old revolvers are, the latest models from Umarex and Bear River recreate the Colt Peacemaker and Schofield six-shooters carried by the U.S. Cavalry, frontier lawmen, outlaws, and a lot of everyday folks back in the latter part of the 19th century. These two CO2 models rank among the best and most accurate pellet and BB firing revolvers on the market. Both are available in the hand engraved versions pictured, plain nickel, and the 7-1/2 inch Peacemaker is now offered in a new nickel version with gold tone cylinder, hammer and trigger.

Clearly revolvers have a decisive edge over semi-autos for pellet-firing cartridge models that operate and handle almost exactly like the original guns. And I don’t think the debate over revolvers vs. semi-autos will ever be resolved since new cartridge revolvers keep coming out each year and bumping heads with semi-autos; and many of them are being built by the best known manufacturers of semiautomatic pistols!

When I want to grab an authentic CO2 powered air pistol to practice with, it is probably going to be a pellet cartridge firing revolver. Not because they are necessarily better but rather because they are timeless. If there is one thing I have learned after all these years writing about handguns, it’s that history never gets old, and neither do revolvers.


Colt Python pellet shell swap out

Colt Python pellet shell swap out

Dynamic principles collide

By Dennis Adler

It is one of history’s most desirable .357 magnum revolvers, the Colt Python, and with the Umarex CO2 version this legendary revolver becomes vastly more affordable to own and nearly as much fun to shoot as the .357 magnum model. As designed by Umarex and Colt, the Python CO2 model comes with six front loading BB cartridges and a speed loader.

My recent tests of rear-loading pellet-firing shells in smoothbore barreled revolvers like the Remington Model 1875 and Schofield has raised an interesting question. What prevents you from using pellet firing shells in other smoothbore BB shell revolvers? Firing lead pellets down smoothbore steel barrels only leaves behind a little leading that is easily cleaned and does no harm (as opposed to steel BBs down a rifled barrel). A 4.5mm lead pellet weighs 7.0 gr. (unless you use a lighter weight alloy pellet) compared to the average steel BB which is around 5.1 gr. Worst case scenario you lose a little velocity, but, if the cartridge-loading smoothbore BB gun uses front-loading cartridges, and you change that dynamic to rear-loading pellet shells, (which have proven to produce higher velocities) you could get some surprising results. For the pellet shell swap out I have examined a number of smoothbore BB revolvers for compatibility and there are almost none (with the notable exception of Umarex Colt Peacemakers but since Umarex makes both smoothbore and rifled barrel models, its kind of a moot point). The one smoothbore revolver that really needs this swap out is the Umarex Colt Python, an extremely good gun to shoot but lacking in decent velocity for a revolver (compared to a blowback action semi-auto).

The question that has been raised since the advent of more pellet and BB cartridge firing models is the possibility of swapping out pellet cartridges for smoothbore BB models. The answer for some of these guns is yes you can, a few are available with both BB and pellet loading cartridges, while others become a game of finding the right round. Pictured are the Umarex Colt Python BB cartridge (left) the Crosman Remington Model 1875 rear-loading pellet cartridge, Colt Peacemaker rear-loading pellet cartridge and new Bear River Schofield rear-loading pellet cartridge. Only one pellet round will work in the Umarex Colt Python, the silver Colt Peacemaker cartridges.

Pellet shell swap out for the Python

 It goes without saying that most of you do not have access to multiple guns and multiple pellet firing shells to try a pellet shell swap out, so I have researched currently available pellet-firing shells. First, what doesn’t work and why. The Umarex Colt Python uses a front loading BB shell with a specific diameter rim, and the rim size is critical to the shell fitting the ejector. Of course, you really don’t have to use the ejector on a CO2 revolver since there is no possibility of shell case expansion after the round is fired. In most instances even with real cartridge revolvers, spent shells will just fall out when you open the cylinder and rotate the gun back, but sometimes a shell case will swell just enough to need a little push, and thus the need for an ejector. With a cartridge-loading CO2 revolver just tipping the cylinder back will allow the empties to fall out; ejectors are for authenticity but not of necessity. But there’s more to it than that. If the rim diameter of the pellet or BB shell is too small to catch the edges of the ejector, it will be sitting a fraction of an inch lower in the cylinder and thus create a slightly greater gap between the back of the cartridge and the CO2 valve in the recoil shield. Basically the same problem as too much cylinder gap to the barrel’s forcing cone, but on the other end. Either could cause a slight loss of efficiency by allowing air to escape.

Here the Python is loaded with its front-loading BB round at far right (marked UX on the rim), below that the 4.5mm Remington Model 1875 rear-loading pellet cartridge, next the new Schofield round and at far left the silver Colt Peacemaker round. They all appear to fit in the cylinder, but…

To be certain a rear-loading pellet cartridge will work in the Python it has to have a rim diameter that fits the ejector. Because it isn’t that apparent when you load a shell into the chamber, push the ejector rod and if the shell stays in the cylinder or falls off the ejector as it rises, the rim is too small.

…only the Umarex rounds work, the front loading BB shell and rear-loading Peacemaker pellet round, the other two (as well as the ASG Dan Wesson rounds) all fall through the extractor when it is pushed to remove the shells. This can be problematic in a couple of ways and only the Colt Peacemaker pellet shells should be tried in the Python.

To examine the available rear-loading pellet cartridges I began with pellet shells from last week’s Remington and Schofield test, but they proved too small and dropped through the ejector. Next I tried the ASG rear-loading pellet shells for the Dan Wesson Model 715 pellet revolvers, and surprisingly they were also too small for the Python’s ejector! After the first three shells, it looked like a dead end unless Umarex decides to make a rear-loading pellet shell for the Python, and then I grabbed six of the silver rear-loading pellet shells for the rifled barrel Umarex Colt Peacemakers. They fit! So, if you have a rifled barrel Peacemaker you have at least six rear-loading pellet shells that will fit in the Python’s cylinder. If you have a Python but no Peacemaker, you can buy the Peacemaker pellet shells separately from Pyramyd Air.

I have to tell you, Umarex does not recommend swapping out shells between guns, shooting pellets through its BB models or BBs through its pellet models but, as has been proven with both the Schofield and Remington smoothbore single actions, you can do it. As for using Colt Peacemaker pellet rounds in the Python they fit the cylinder just fine but are not designed for use in the Python’s speed loader. Win one, lose one.

With six Peacemaker rear-loading pellet rounds chambered, the Python is ready to break some records for velocity and accuracy with Sig Sauer alloy pellets.

Python on pellets

To retest the Python and set up a baseline, I chronographed velocities with the front loading BB cartridges using Umarex .177 caliber steel BBs. Average velocity was 364 fps with a high of 370 fps, and a low of 348 fps for six consecutive shots. Switching to the rear-loading Peacemaker pellet cartridges with Meisterkugeln Professional line 7.0 gr. lead wadcutters, average velocity from the Python’s 6-inch (5.75 inch internal length) smoothbore barrel dropped to 315 fps with a high of 322 fps. This was not surprising given the increased grain weight. I then re-shot the test with Sig Sauer Match Ballistic alloy pellets which weigh 5.25 gr., just 0.15 grains more than a .177 caliber steel BB. The top velocity with the Sig Sauer alloy pellets was an impressive 395 fps with average speeds of 387 fps, 383 fps, to a low of 367 fps. This is a noteworthy increase, not only over the Meisterkugeln lead pellets but over steel BBs as well.

None to shabby with .177 caliber steel BBs, the Python delivered a best six shots from 21 feet measuring 1.125 inches.

 On Target

The first test was shot with Umarex .177 caliber steel BBs and my best six shots measured 1.125 inches. This shows the inherent accuracy of this gun at a mid-range distance of 21 feet. The switch to the Peacemaker rear-loading pellet cartridges loaded with Sig Sauer alloy pellets had already shown a marked increase in velocity and at 21 feet the Sig wadcutters gave me a best 6-round group of 1.0 inches with two shots overlapping and a pair in the bullseye. Not a dramatic increase in accuracy but a big boost in velocity which will take this gun out to 10 meters with alloy pellets. I shot the final test at 10 meters with the Sig alloy wadcutters and got a best 6-round group measuring 1.25 inches, which is 0.25 inches better than with steel BBs at 10 meters (Airgun Experience No. 68).

Best six from the Python at 21 feet using Sig Sauer alloy pellets was 1.0 inches with two shots overlapping and a pair in the bullseye.

If you are also wondering if alloy pellets are easier on the gun, the answer here is also yes, since alloy pellets will not leave lead fouling in the barrel, so cleaning is a lot easier. More costly for certain, with a tin of 500 Sig Sauer pellets running around $35 compared to 500 Meisterkugeln lead wadcutters for $12.

Stepping back to 10 meters with the pellet firing cartridges I managed a best six shots in the X of a B-27 silhouette target covering 1.25 inches. That is the best I have ever done with the Python at 10 meters. (To be honest I can do better with the 7-1/2 inch Peacemaker at 10 meters, but that’s not the point of this story…)

The Takeaway

 Is the Python that much more accurate with pellets? In a game where first and second place finishes are measured in fractions of an inch, it is, and if you are into target shooting and want to get the most performance from the Python, load it up with Colt Peacemaker pellet cartridges, alloy pellets and shoot away. You’ll get the results you’re looking for.

 One quick note

I want to thank all of you for your feedback on articles over the past year since the Airgun Experience began. Reader comments can and often do lead to articles that explore your questions, such as this one about using pellet-loading cartridges in smoothbore BB revolvers. This exchange of ideas works well because Airgun Experience is done in the style of a magazine article with extensive photography and longer text and captions. In a print magazine when a reader has a comment or a suggestion about an article or a gun, it usually comes in the form of an email, just like it does here, only no matter how fast we respond in print; at best it takes two to three months from the time an article is done until the magazine hits the newsstands. With Airgun Experience, we can take your question or suggestion and turn it around into an article within a couple of days. So keep your comments and questions coming! It’s all part of the experience.


Best double action CO2 revolver triggers

Hammering down accuracy

Best double action CO2 revolver triggers Part 2

Doubling on air

by Dennis Adler

The candidates for best double action trigger from top to bottom, Webley MKVI, Umarex Colt Python, ASG Dan Wesson 2-1.2 inch barrel model, Dan Wesson Model 715 6-inch model, and Umarex S&W 327 TRR8.

Here again are the candidates for best double action trigger. From top to bottom, the Webley MKVI, Umarex Colt Python, ASG Dan Wesson 2-1/2 inch barrel model, Dan Wesson Model 715 6-inch and Umarex S&W 327 TRR8. They all have excellent features but only one has “the best” trigger for double action firing.

The one thing that New York armsmaker Eben T. Starr did with his 1858 double action pistol design, was engineer a trigger (or trigger lifter in this case) to “stage” the trigger for the final pull-through. What I mean by that is the trigger pull rotated the cylinder into battery and cocked the hammer but left a little additional pull before the trigger lifter struck the hammer release. This allowed a soldier to take better aim before firing. This same step in the trigger pull was repeated by Colt’s in their 1877 and 1878 double action designs, and has been used to great effect by S&W in their revolvers, which stage the hammers with relative ease. Most shooters pull straight through on double action, as it should be in combat, but for greater accuracy, or a studied and practiced pause before dropping the hammer, this aspect of double action revolvers has become a trait of the best guns and best triggers. It is also so with the best double action CO2 revolvers.

in order to have a 19th century design in the CO2 mix (to counterbalance the Starr) I’m using a British Webley MKVI (which evolved from the MKIV introduced in 1899); the MKVI was introduced in 1915.

To have a 19th century design in the CO2 mix (and counterbalance the Starr) I’m using a British Webley MKVI air pistol. The original .455 Webly model, introduced in 1915, evolved from the c.1899 Webley MKIV.

While you may call this a breech of etiquette, in order to have a 19th century design in the CO2 mix (to counterbalance the Starr) I’m using a British Webley MKVI (which evolved from the MKIV introduced in 1899); the MKVI was introduced in 1915. The rest of the double action/single action models are comprised of the Dan Wesson Model 715 with 6-inch barrel, and Dan Wesson 2-1/2 inch pellet cartridge-firing models, and the Umarex Colt Python and S&W 327 TRR8. Which among these excellent CO2 models has the best double action trigger? All five were tested with a Lyman trigger pull gauge with an average for six consecutive shots. Each gun was evaluated for pull-through, capability to stage the hammer, degree of stacking, and overall ease of firing.

The most accurate feeling double action trigger (not too light, not too heavy, but closer to a cartridge-firing S&W model) was the Umarex 327 TRR8.

The most accurate feeling double action trigger (not too light, not too heavy, but closer to a cartridge-firing S&W model) was the Umarex Smith & Wesson 327 TRR8.

The Umarex S&W 327 TRR8 averaged 7 pounds, 8 ounces. The trigger is very easy to stage, and has a light pull-through with moderate stacking. It feels sold like a real cartridge-firing pistol trigger. The Dan Wesson Model 715, for all its wonderful features and good looks, has one of the heaviest triggers among the double action revolvers with an average pull of over 12 pounds, 5 ounces, hard stacking all the way through, and it will not stage the hammer. It is by far one of the best and most authentic looking of the latest CO2 BB and pellet cartridge firing models, but does not deliver on trigger pull.

While both Dan Wesson models rae from ASG, the 2-1/2 inch model has a far superior double action trigger.

While both Dan Wesson models are from ASG, the 2-1/2 inch model has a superior double action trigger.

Interestingly its 2-1/2 inch counterpart (with a different trigger design) is far easier to shoot. Even though it is an incorrect design, using an S&W type cylinder latch, it has an exceptional double action trigger pull with an average of 7 pounds, 14 ounces. It also stages cleanly, but sounds a little “tinny” when the hammer drops. The minor shortcomings in its design are a small price to pay when the trigger feels so right.

Umarex prides itself in producing handguns with excellent triggers, and their Colt licensed Python model is no exception with a double action trigger that averages 8 pounds, 11 ounces. The trigger has easy pull-though, almost no stacking, and stages quickly. For overall feel it is one of the very best. Ah but leave it to the British to come through with the best built double action trigger (Webley has a lot of experience building airguns, so this is really no surprise), and with an average pull of 6 pounds, 4.5 ounces, easy staging of the hammer and virtually no effective stacking, it ranks as number one. This is a very authentic looking and handling copy of the famous MKVI, but the double action trigger on the airgun is 180 degrees from the .455 Webley cartridge firing models of WWII, which had a double action trigger pull that can wear a man out in six rounds.

The top three double action models, Umarex S&W 327 TRR8, ASG Dan Wesson 2-1/2 inch, and Webley MKVI.

The top three double action models, Umarex S&W 327 TRR8, ASG Dan Wesson 2-1/2 inch, and Webley MKVI.

If you want to shoot double action revolvers double action, the Webley MKVI, ASG Dan Wesson 2-1/2 inch, and Umarex S&W 327 TRR8 all offer a great airgun experience.

A word about safety

Double Action/ Single Action airguns provide the look, feel and operation of their cartridge-firing counterparts. Most airguns, in general, look like cartrrige guns, this group even more so, and it is important to remember that the vast majority of people can’t tell an airgun from a real cartridge revolver. Never brandish any of these BB and pellet cartridge-loading airguns in public. Always, and I can never stress this enough, always treat an airgun, any airgun, as you would a real cartridge gun. The same manual of operation and safety should always apply. read more


Best double action CO2 revolver triggers

Hammering down accuracy

Best double action CO2 revolver triggers Part 1 

By Dennis Adler

A sweep through double action history from the c.1858 Starr carried by Union Soldiers during the Civil War, to the famous .45 Colt Model 1878 double action single action, the S&W Triple Lock with swing out cylinder, and a modern S&E Performance Center 8-shot .357 Magnum (the basis for the 327 TRR8).

A sweep through double action history from the c.1858 Starr carried by Union Soldiers during the Civil War, to the famous .45 Colt Model 1878 double action/single action, the S&W Triple Lock with swing out cylinder, and a modern S&W Performance Center 8-shot .357 Magnum (the basis for the 327 TRR8).

Trigger control is one of the essential skills in target, competition and self defense shooting. With cartridge-firing revolvers and semiautomatic pistols trigger design and ease of operation is often one of the selling points. The fundamentals of trigger design, both in operation and levels of resistance, (stacking, travel, over travel, and reset), as well as quality, apply equally to air pistols that are based on actual handguns. Semi-autos are much easier to match for design, function, and resistance to cartridge-firing models, as evidenced by airguns like the S&W M&P40, Beretta 92A1, Sig Sauer P226 X-Five, and Tanfoglio Witness Gold Custom. When it comes to double action revolvers it is almost the same, but not exactly. The demands placed upon the trigger in a DA/SA airgun are not equal to those of a cartridge-firing model. There is less mass (a lighter weight alloy cylinder), a lighter hammer spring, and of course, the hammer itself is light weight alloy construction, not steel. The double action function on some CO2 revolvers can feel sloppy and trigger pull can vary from heavy, with excessive stacking on some, to light, smooth actions that run like a tuned revolver (from the S&W Performance Center, as an example). This is evident in a handful of CO2-powered, BB or pellet cartridge loading revolvers.

While it is not possible to leave a modern double action trigger and hammer staged (without holding the gun as shown in other photos), the 1858 Starr double action revolver actually stopped the hammer at this position until the trigger was pulled the rest of the way back.

While it is not possible to leave a modern double action trigger and hammer staged (without still squeezing the trigger), the 1858 Starr double action revolver actually locked the hammer in this position until the trigger was pulled the rest of the way back.

The Double Action Design

Double action revolvers were first developed in the mid 19th century during the percussion-era (loose powder, cap and ball). The most famous American version being the c.1858 Starr double action revolver used by Union soldiers during the Civil War. In the postwar American West the first double action/single action cartridge revolver was the .38 caliber Colt Model 1877 Lightning, followed by the larger and more powerful .45 Colt Model 1878.

There is an apocryphal tale of the first double action Colt six-shooters that is told in author and historian Joseph G. Rosa’s book The Gunfighter Man or Myth? It revolves (pun intended) around the design of early double action revolvers which were primitive by today’s standards, and some even by the standards that would come to pass by the end of the 19th century. There was, for lack of a better word, a prejudice by many cowboys toward double action revolvers in the 1870s and early 1880s. Rosa’s story was about a writer for the New Mexico Democrat who observed a young cowboy deciding on the purchase of a new revolver in 1884. The gun shop’s proprietor reached into a display case and retrieved a handsomely mounted .45 caliber revolver and said, “How do you like this? It is the newest thing out – a double action forty-five.” The cowpoke looked at the Colt Model 1878 and turned up his nose, “Ain’t worth a row of beans. No man ‘cept a tenderfoot wants that kind of thing. Give me an old reliable all the time. Ye see a man that’s used to the old style is apt to get fooled – not pull her off in time – and then he’ll be laid out colder’n a wedge.”

The trick to not being “laid out colder’n a wedge,” was in knowing how to pull the trigger, if you’re shooting double action, which is the whole point of the gun. It is faster than a single action (though there were some shootists who could easily outpace a new double action Colt with their old single action Peacemakers). Understanding what’s taking place was important to shooting a double action revolver quickly and accurately, because there was a lot going on inside.

Staging the hammer requires practice and a trigger pull that rotates the cylinder and locks the hammer part way back, allowing a longer time to sight before pulling the trigger the rest of the way to fire the gun. Most of the CO2 models based on actual cartridge guns can stage their hammers like the Umarex S&W 327 TRR8 shown.

Staging the hammer requires practice and a trigger pull that rotates the cylinder and locks the hammer part way back, allowing a longer time to sight before pulling the trigger the rest of the way to fire the gun. Most of the CO2 models based on actual cartridge guns can stage their hammers like the Umarex S&W 327 TRR8 shown.

The trigger in a DA/SA wheelgun has a big job. In one continuous motion it has to release the bolt stop (as the trigger is pulled back), operate the pawl to rotate the cylinder to the next chamber, lock the bolt back in the cylinder bolt stop, depress the hammer spring to cock the hammer, and then discharge the gun. The amount of resistance generated by pulling the trigger on a double action revolver could vary by gun and caliber, and even manufacturer.

To establish a baseline for comparison let’s start at the beginning by measuring the double action trigger pull on a Starr double action revolver. There were other DA/SA designs during the 1860s including those by Remington, as well as fine British double action revolvers. The Starr was one of the earliest, however, and in theory a double action only design because one could not thumb the hammer back without jamming the gun. This caused no small amount of consternation among soldiers trained on single action revolvers like the Colt 1851 Navy, Remington Model 1858 and Colt 1860 Army. The Starr’s trigger was actually a “lifter” with the job of rotating the cylinder and pre-cocking the hammer. The hammer release was a small lever projecting from the grip frame at the back of the triggerguard, and when it was struck by the trigger lifter it dropped the hammer. How much effort did this take? Trigger pull averaged a little over 12.5 pounds. And things didn’t improve much with cartridge models like the Colt Model 1878, which also demanded a good 12 pounds of effort to work the gun double action.

By the turn of the century Smith & Wesson was able to improve on that with guns like the .44 Hand Ejector c.1908 or Triple Lock (one of the earliest designs with a swing out cylinder), which took the average double action trigger pull down to around 9 pounds, 5 ounces. Even today, modern large caliber double action revolvers still come in at around 10.5 to 11 pounds average, without a lot of custom work. The difference is really in the smoothness of the action vs. the coarseness of earlier designs. The baseline is around 11 pounds for modern double/action single action cartridge guns.

The candidates for best double action trigger from top to bottom, Webley MKVI, Umarex Colt Python, ASG Dan Wesson 2-1.2 inch barrel model, Dan Wesson Model 715 6-inch model, and Umarex S&W 327 TRR8.

The candidates for best double action trigger from top to bottom, Webley MKVI, Umarex Colt Python, ASG Dan Wesson 2-1.2 inch barrel model, Dan Wesson Model 715 6-inch model, and Umarex S&W 327 TRR8.

In Part 2 the top guns get put to the double action test.

A word about safety

Double Action/ Single Action airguns provide the look, feel and operation of their cartridge-firing counterparts. Most airguns, in general, look like cartrrige guns, this group even more so, and it is important to remember that the vast majority of people can’t tell an airgun from a real cartridge revolver. Never brandish any of these BB and pellet cartridge-loading airguns in public. Always, and I can never stress this enough, always treat an airgun, any airgun, as you would a real cartridge gun. The same manual of operation and safety should always apply. read more