2019 Replica Air Pistol of the Year Part 1
By Dennis Adler
This has been a year of surprises and disappointments for air pistol enthusiasts but the surprises have far outweighed the let downs in some areas, notably the conspicuous absence of any new revolvers from ASG, Umarex, or Bear River, all of which were expected to continue the successful runs that had begun with the Dan Wesson double action pellet cartridge loading models, the Colt Peacemakers, and Schofield. In fact, there are fewer models overall this year, as some have been discontinued or are not currently available, like the nickel 7-1/2 inch Peacemaker (more about that in 2020!)
When this still from the last James Bond film first appeared in 2015, everyone was convinced that 007 was trading in his Walther PPK for a brand new H&K VP9. But that’s not quite the way it went; Bond picked up the VP9 fairly early in the film and used it on and off throughout the remainder of the movie. Craig had used H&K rifles in most of his previous outings as Bond, but this was a first for an H&K pistol. It was also reason enough to have a CO2 version in the works which was released this year by Umarex. Seems it takes as long to build a new blowback action CO2 pistol as it does to make another Bond film, which will be out this spring.
What the coming year holds for western gun enthusiasts is under wraps awaiting the 2020 Shot Show, so the lapse this year in new models may well be the bellwether for new six-shooters to be unveiled next month and throughout the year. I remain an optimist. What’s fueling that optimism is the handful of impressive semi-auto models that have been introduced this year, all tough acts to follow, so perhaps some new wheelguns are next. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I have heard a few things.
I have had a very stringent set of qualifications awarding top honors for the replica air pistol of the year, and one of those has been field stripping capability. It’s a darn good rule, but it is also one that automatically kicks a lot of otherwise impressive guns to the curb with no chance of winning. To be fair, field stripping would knock a couple of new guns right out of contention this year, that in other ways greatly surpass some that can be taken down like their centerfire counterparts. This rule knocked the Umarex Glock 17 out of contention in 2018, and I really felt bad about that afterward because it was one of the first blowback action CO2 models, based on a current centerfire gun that could be used for training exercises beyond 10 yards. So, for this year field stripping capability is going to be a 1 point bonus for the total points, or as a tie breaker at the end of the competition. I am also adding a 5 point bonus for design innovation, which will be well spelled out.
With matching dimensions the CO2 model of the VP9 presents itself as a high value CO2 pistol at a price that comes in around $20 less then its historically older sibling the HK USP, which is built on a different platform as a CO2 pistol than the VP9, which is closer in its operation to the Third Gen Umarex Glock 17. The flipside of this pistol, however, reveals some of the budget cuts but doesn’t necessarily undercut the look and handling of the gun.
With fewer guns this year, the competition will be broken down into the following categories each with a possible total 10 points. Again, the first is, in my mind, the most important for a replica, Authenticity; how close is the CO2 model in physical appearance to its centerfire counterpart? Aesthetics of the design will also have a bearing, such as the air pistol’s finish and its weight and balance compared to the centerfire model.
As the latest addition to the lineup from Springfield Armory, the MIL SPEC is one of the best looking pistols with an extremely well done slide, and modest white letter warnings on the frame. Copied from the .45 ACP MIL SPEC model, the grips are a standout feature. And since the centerfire model has the same Parkerized finish, the matte black look on the CO2 model is as right as it can be, and the same for the white dot sights. It is a very authentic looking airgun.
Second is the Ingenuity of the design; (not to be confused with Design Innovation). This can come down to the type of firing system used and how close it is to the centerfire design. Guns that use essentially the same systems as earlier designs (if it ain’t broke don’t fix it), might garner fewer points than a gun improving on an older design.
Third is another very important qualification, Ease of use; because if a pistol is a chore to load it is not going to bode well for its popularity with some shooters. Another aspect of ease of use is how exact the handling is and placement of operating controls to the centerfire gun. When a manual safety is required on a gun that does not have one as a centerfire pistol, how well that is handled in the design of the CO2 model will have a bearing on awarded points.
Rarely can you look at the right side of a blowback action CO2 pistol and not know that it is an airgun due to the white letter safety warnings and manufacturer’s marks. With the centerfire Springfield Armory XDM 4.5 models having a black polymer frame and flat black finish slide, correctly duplicating it for the Air Venturi .177 caliber models guaranteed an air pistol with totally authentic looking fit and finish. Even with the small details. The XDM models are also available in an authentic matte black finish.
Next would have been field stripping but that is now awarded as a 1 point bonus point, since it is not crucial to handing and accuracy when training, but is itself more of a bonus for the gun’s design authenticity.
Last is probably as important as the first, Performance & Accuracy; this will be determined by accuracy at competitive distances of 21 feet since all of this years guns are BB pistols and there are no new semi-auto pellet-firing models. (The only breakout design this year is the Sig Sauer Super Target single shot pneumatic, which is in a different class of air pistol.) Perceptible recoil (the more the better) and average velocity will count, as will sight design and ease of target acquisition. A gun that accumulates 50 points wins the Replica Air Pistol of the Year for 2019.
Bi-tones look better to some, and the 3.8 is available in matte black as well, but the Compact 3.8 CO2 model (left), with its correctly-sized extended capacity magazine (same as used in the 4.5 model), utilizes the same XD Gear grip extensions as the centerfire pistols! Does it get any closer than this?
This year’s contenders
Within the CO2 group of handguns you either have revolvers or semiautomatic pistols, and of course, there are CO2 powered rifles and pistols in other categories, the pistols not being replicas, and the rifles based on semi-auto tactical rifle and carbine designs or lever actions. Paring down a list of handguns for this year was not a problem, because it wasn’t even possible to compile a list of 10, and so for 2019 there are only nine guns in contention, all semi-autos, three brand new entries from another well known firearms manufacturer stepping into the airgun arena, Springfield Armory. Teaming with Air Venturi, Springfield has put itself right up against Umarex and Sig Sauer.
A slightly larger 92FS, the Crosman P1 will still fit most leather holsters made for the Beretta. The finish on the Crosman has a gloss, so it doesn’t come off with that matte black look like so many air pistols. With the laser mounted, the P1 is a pretty sharp looking CO2 pistol. It is easy to reach the sliding switch with your right hand trigger finger to turn it on, and the support hand thumb to turn it off.
Sig Sauer, though its Sig Air division, has had an impressive run of significant semi-autos the past three years, and for 2019 has only added one new model, but they made it a jaw dropper, the Sig Sauer P365, a micro compact 9mm, which, as a CO2 model, demanded a whole new design paradigm for blowback action air pistols.
The new Sig Sauer model is a masterpiece of design like its 9mm counterpart that manages to squeeze 10 rounds into a narrow grip frame that traditionally uses a single stack. Sig Air’s blowback action P365 is the smallest air pistol in its class, utilizing a groundbreaking CO2 BB magazine and firing system design.
Umarex is like a quiet giant, and except for its penchant to introduce new models in Europe before the U.S. has not held back this year introducing three significant new blowback action models, the military style Beretta M9A3 with some impressive design updates over the 92A1, and the third and fourth new Glock models in two years, the G17 Gen4 and a dark horse that rode in almost unannounced, the military style Glock 19X. That makes up eight of the nine; with the last spot going to an updated version of Crosman’s Beretta 92FS clone and 93R-style select fire mechanism, reintroduced this year as the Full Auto P1.
The new M9A3 gives up little to hint at its air pistol interior. The grips and slide are shades of FDE, while the frame and exposed section of the barrel are almost the same contrasting colors as the 9mm model. The M9A3 also still offers the select-fire system used on the 92A1.
All nine have been covered this year in Airgun Experience articles, and I recommend taking the time to look back and review these articles by linking to the Articles header on the individual product pages at Pyramyd Air. Thursday I will begin the breakdown of guns and how they will be paired up for comparison tests. I welcome any opinions from readers on these individual guns, (especially if you own them and have found things you like or dislike strengths and weaknesses), so I have a broader sense of the guns beyond my own experiences with them. You will find links to the articles below.
The Umarex Glock 17 Gen4 is the most refined of the Glock CO2 designs, and except for the absence of a caliber stamping on the left side of the slide (for the U.S. market) the Gen4 looks exactly like the 9mm model right down to the interchangeable backstrap panels.
Later this month, Pyramyd Air will be announcing a Replica Airgun of the Year Contest that will award the Top Gun for 2019 to one reader on Christmas Eve, as we celebrate the 500th Airgun Experience article this December 24th.
The most significant differences between the Glock 19X CO2 model and the Gen4 Glock 17, aside from the Gen4 being field-strippable, and the G19X having the FDE color scheme of its centerfire counterpart, is the trigger and the sights. The Gen4 trigger is identical to a Glock centerfire pistol in that it is a SAO design. The G19X trigger is a simpler DA/SA style, which Glock does not use on centerfire guns. The other big difference is in how well the white dot sights are regulated to POA accuracy on the G19X, and the exceptional velocity it achieves over the G17 Gen4 CO2 model.
And the contenders for 2019 are, in alphabetical order:
Air Venturi Springfield Armory 1911 MIL–SPEC
Air Venturi Springfield Armory XDM 4.5 bi-tone
Air Venturi Springfield Armory XDM 3.8 black
Crosman Full Auto P1
Sig Sauer P365
Umarex Beretta M9A3
Umarex Glock 17 Gen4