Compact and Subcompact CO2 models are in the minority of blowback action models available, but these five (actually six major examples if you count the two versions of the Makarov), are the most authentic in overall styling and brand name recognition, i.e. Walther, Makarov, Beretta, and Sig Sauer. This combination of models has not been tested in series, so the approach for Part 2 is going to follow the outline for Replica Air Pistol of the Year, and begin with a one-on-one elimination process beginning with the two most obvious guns, the Umarex Walther PPK/S and Gletcher Makarov PM 1951 (basically a Soviet PPK).read more
“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
As a nation, the United States has always been in the shadow of European armsmakers, someof whom have been manufacturing guns longer than the U.S. has existed. Early American gunmakers were nearly all Europeans who brought their venerable skills to the Colonies and helped establish the various schools of gun making in America during the 1700s. Samuel Colt was the first great American entrepreneur and inventor to set off on his own course in the 1830s, and even he had the foresight to make sure his U.S. Patent designs were also registered and patented in Great Britain and France to prevent European gunmakers from copying them.
During the Civil War the Colt 1860 Army was regarded as the most advanced handgun on the field of battle. It was, in fact, the best and ounce for ounce, the most powerful revolver Samuel Colt had invented.
While the sixgun may have been born here, it evolved in Europe at almost the same time. By the 1860s and 1870s Europe was technically ahead of the U.S. (Colt’s et. al.). Airguns also evolved in Europe, long before America, so there is something of a constant taking place here.
Sixguns, five and seven-shooters
Sam Colt’s first successful patent for a revolver was a single action pistol in 1835. Almost 30 years later, Colt was still selling single action revolvers, while in Europe and Great Britain the double action revolver was already a well established design before the American Civil War. These were percussion revolvers just like Colt’s 1851 Navy and 1860 Army, only they were double action guns. The most famous was the British Adams Patent Repeating Pistol, a true double action (self cocking) percussion revolver. The design was manufactured by Adams (designer Robert Adams), Beaumont-Adams, Deane, Adams & Deane, Adams & Tranter, and other Adams Patent licensees in London, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, England and Liège, Belgium. Keep that last one in mind!
In 1855, British arms designer Robert Adams and Lieutenant F.E.B. Beaumont designed a new double action revolver, based on Adams earlier DAO designs, that was not only a double action but had a hammer and internal mechanism that allowed it to be manually cocked with the hammer to discharge single action.
Like other British revolvers of the period, the Adams was a five-shot pistol, as opposed to a six-shooter like the Colt. The original Adams Patent revolvers had two disadvantages, the early models could not be cocked or fired single action, and there was no loading rammer. Both issues were addressed with the Adams-Beaumont model patented by Adams and Lieutenant F.E.B. Beaumont in 1855, and mind you, this was the same year that New York armsmaker E.T. Starr developed a DAO revolver, the first in America, and later used by troops on both sides of the Civil War. It was, however, a clumsy gun to handle for men trained on single actions, and mostly regarded as a failure. Quick studies, the new Adams double action models added a thumb spur to the hammer and an altered mechanism to allow the guns to be cocked and fired single action. A bullet rammer was also added on the left side of the barrel, as pictured in the example above. Conversely, in 1863 the U.S. Ordnance Department requested that Starr redesign his gun into a single action revolver, which was something of a success becoming the third most commonly carried sidearm by Union troops. Yet, in light of that revelation, both the North and South began importing Adams Patent double action revolvers during the Civil War! How significant was this? Colt wouldn’t develop a double action revolver until 1877.
New York armsmaker E.T. Starr developed a double action percussion revolver in 1855 but his design was not a true double action like the British Adams, and it could not be fired single action. Trying to cock the hammer could lock up the entire firing mechanism, making it very unpopular with soldiers who had learned to shoot using single actions. During the Civil War, Starr was asked by the Ordnance Department to redesign his topbreak revolver into a single action, thus erasing his great achievement of developing a revolver that could be discharged as quickly as one could pull the trigger.
William Mason designed and patented the Colt Single Action Army in 1872 and it became the U.S. military’s primary sidearm for nearly the rest of the 19th century. It was Colt’s first all-new metallic cartridge loading revolver (as opposed to Civil War era Colt single action percussion models that were converted to cartridge guns beginning in 1870-71, with conversion parts designed by William Mason and Charles B. Richards).
After the war, with so many surplus 1860 Army and other Colt models available, and the popularity of the self-contained metallic cartridge introduced with guns imported from Europe during the war on the rise, Colt factory designers William Mason and Charles B. Richards designed a conversion to remake 1860s and other models into cartridge-loading models. The first was with the 1860 Army and sold as the Richards-Mason conversion. The guns were introduced in 1871-72.
Remington had begun doing this in 1868-69 with their single action Army and Navy models as well, but by then the Europeans were already manufacturing large caliber metallic cartridge-loading double action revolvers, many of which were being imported into the U.S. just as the new Peacemaker (and S&W American) single actions were being hailed as the most modern handguns in America. Throughout the mid to late 19th century, and even into the early 20th, with German armsmakers developing semiautomatic pistols in the 1890s, America was always playing catch up to European gunmakers.
It took Colt until 1873 to introduce the all-new Peacemaker designed by William Mason. This eclipsed Colt’s own conversions (which were still being made until the early 1880s) and became the most preferred handgun in America. The single action pictured has a modified hammer screw with a mushroom head (on the left side) allowing the pistol to fit the innovative Bridgeport Rig, which suspended the revolver in the open allowing it to be drawn lighting fast by simply sliding it forward off the forked mount, or for those adept at handling a gun mounted to a Bridgeport, simply swiveled up and fired without removing the gun!
But here’s the thing, in Europe, at the same time as the Colt Peacemaker, sturdy 6-shot, double action, single action cartridge revolvers were being manufactured. Patented in 1874, the Manufacture d’Armes, Saint-Étienne was being hailed in Europe as the most practical military sidearm, just as the Peacemaker was in the U.S. It was chambered in 11mm, roughly a .45 Colt short. Quantities of these guns, and others from British armsmakers all found their way to America in the 1870s and 1880s as most British guns were readily available in Canada.
There is, however, an historical parallel within the air pistol market. The original cartridge loading guns, upon which the Umarex Colt Peacemakers and the Gletcher Nagant CO2 models are based, go back to the 1870s when Colt began manufacturing the SAA, and European armsmakers began manufacturing double action cartridge revolvers.
This finally brings us to today’s CO2 models of the Colt Peacemaker, like the Deluxe Nimschke model (bottom) based on classically engraved 19th century models like the .45 Colt at top. The CO2 models, blued, weathered, nickel, or hand engraved, represent the best of the Old West in air pistols. But there is another story here.
The 7-shot Gletcher Nagant (right) is a close cousin of the Saint-Étienne (left) and represents a CO2 version that, while slightly more modern (1895) is, in overall design, a contemporary of the Peacemaker.
The parallels today are historically close, at least for the eras of their designs. The Umarex Colt Peacemaker c.1873 and the 7-shot Gletcher double action Nagant c. 1895. Yes, there is a two decade gap there but the Nagant is impressively similar in appearance to the Manufacture d’Armes, Saint-Étienne 11mm (.45 Short) double action revolvers introduced in 1873 and 1874. The Saint-Étienne design is a close cousin of the Nagant, developed by Leon and Emile Nagant, and manufactured at their armory in Liege, Belgium. The 1895 Nagant was adopted as the standard issue Russian sidearm and the Nagant brothers later sold the design to the Russians who continued to build them for decades. The Nagant revolver was still being carried during WWII. Was the Nagant an anachronism? Perhaps not, lest we forget that the Colt Peacemaker was being carried as a preferred sidearm during WWII by some senior U.S. officers, including General George S. Patton who wore a brace of Colt Single Actions.
Here for comparison is a .45 Colt Peacemaker (top) an Umarex Colt Peacemaker (weathered finish 7-1/2 inch NRA model) a Saint-Étienne and a Gletcher Nagant. Something to think about when you consider what is and isn’t a Western gun! And once again, Europe had them first.
A gun of the American West?
Pairing up the Umarex Colt SAA and Gletcher Nagant models as period guns from the late 19th century is not by any means a stretch, and perhaps one of the most interesting comparisons you can make. After seeing the Saint-Étienne, a gun that found its way West to the American Frontier in the 1870s and 1880s, you’ll never look at the Gletcher Nagant in quite the same way, especially if you lay it next to a Peacemaker.
The Airgun Experience will return on Tuesday, October 15.
Small guns date back to pre-Revolutionary War flintlocks, but became a staple of handgun manufacture beginning in the 1840s with Henry Deringer’s small, percussion lock pistols. Deringer’s designs got hijacked by other armsmakers who called their guns Derringers, using a double “r” to make the name into a class of small gun. Colt had small pistols as well including the Root Sidehammer .32 caliber cap-and-ball revolver. By the time of the Civil War, Smith & Wesson had developed the first self-contained metallic cartridge, the .22 Short and a small revolver to use them, the No. 1 S&W (bottom right), which were often hand engraved like this New York style. Little guns took on a new look by the early 1900s after American arms designer John M. Browning developed the .25 caliber centerfire cartridge (among others) and the design for the Colt Model 1908 Vest Pocket Hammerless pistol. It was also built in Belgium by FN and known later as the Baby Browning.
What exactly is a “small gun?” The answer to that not only depends upon whom you are asking, but in what century! Small guns have been around for hundreds of years. Back in the 1840s the answer was Henry Deringer’s Philadelphia-built single shot percussion lock pistol, or a similarly designed gun (Deringer was blatantly copied by others who got around it by spelling his name with a double “r” as Derringer and using it to describe their gun as a type of pistol). By the 1860s, Smith & Wesson had redefined small pistol with its 5-shot, metallic cartridge loading No. 1 revolver chambered for .22 short rimfire and No. 1-1/2 for .32 rimfire. But a small gun could also be a.32 caliber Colt Root sidehammer cap and ball pistol, or Colt’s Model 1848 and 1849 cap and ball pistols. What they all shared in common was size; these were really small guns, even by today’s standards. By the 1880s, when medium to large caliber cartridge revolvers were the dominant sidearm, a small gun was bigger than before, if it was a revolver, and by the turn of the century, it was smaller, certainly flatter, if it was one of those newfangled, magazine-fed small caliber semiautomatic pistols designed for Colt by John M. Browning. Fabrique Nationale (FN) had similar guns to Colt, also designed by Browning, and built in Belgium for the European market.
By 1930, Walther had developed the PPK chambered in .25 ACP, .32 ACP or .380 ACP (all cartridges designed by John Browning). It was not as small as some of its predecessors but chambering the more effective 9mm Short (.380) cartridge. The PPK became the standard by which other small pistols would be compared for decades to come.
By simple definition, a “small gun” in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries was one that could be easily carried in a pocket, purse, or otherwise easily concealed on the person, whether it was a single-shot cap-and-ball pistol, a double barrel Remington Derringer, a 5-shot small caliber revolver, or magazine fed semi-auto. Today, there are still equally small revolvers in .22 LR and .22 WMR, Derringers in calibers up to .45 Colt (and .410 gauge), and semi autos in .25 and .32 caliber ACP, (as well as surviving originals like the .25 caliber Colt Model 1908 Vest Pocket hammerless and FN Baby Browning), so these small pistols have never gone away, but they have been overshadowed in recent years by Micro Compact semi-autos in larger calibers.
Today, a small gun can be chambered in almost caliber imaginable from .22 LR up to .44 Magnum and even some rifle caliber cartridges. In .177 caliber, however, the number of small gun choices are few for CO2-powered pistols, each unique in their design and history, with some original designs dating back before WWII, and others dating no further back than the last year. So, let’s review several of the smallest blowback action CO2 pistols you can own, the first of which remains the oldest, not only as an original design but also as a CO2 pistol.
With a .380 ACP Walther (top left) for comparison, you can see four of the blowback action CO2 models based on actual centerfire guns inspired by the Walther; at top right, the Umarex Walther PPK/S, bottom left, the Umarex Makarov Ultra, bottom, the Gletcher PM 1951, and center, the Walther PPS. Both the PPS and PPK/S use a stick magazine and CO2 loaded into the pistol grip, while the Makarov models use self-contained CO2 BB magazines.
The Walther PPK/S from Umarex is based on the pre-WWII PPK and post-WWII (1968) Walther PPK/S designs and was the first blowback action CO2 pistol made by Umarex. It was and still is a fairly anemic little gun that shoots under 300 fps and is best suited for 15 foot distances for any degree of consistent accuracy. It isn’t an expensive CO2 model, which is good because it uses a stick magazine and has a fairly flat black finish, which is not what a PPK or PPK/S looks like, as you can see from the pictures of the .380 ACP model. The rest of the earlier CO2 pistols that fall into this category are all vastly superior to the PPK/S but they cost a little more.
The Gletcher PM 1951 (Makarov) was one of the very best blowback action small CO2 models. It’s hard to come by these days.
The PM 1951 had really authentic looks and operation with a full blowback action like its Soviet cartridge-firing counterpart.
There two really nice ones, the Gletcher PM 1951, which is hard to find now, and based on the Soviet Makarov. This air pistol has a proper self-contained CO2 BB magazine, a locking slide, correct-style thumb safety, and a really smooth SA trigger pull. It has also proven itself to be pretty accurate at 21 feet and it will consistently break 300 to 320 fps, which is right up to par with most blowback action models, only this one is in the Subcompact pistol category. With an average velocity for the test gun of 329 fps, trigger pull was an exceptional 4 pounds, 14 ounces average with a short take up and almost instantaneous reset. It is one of the best air pistol triggers I have tested, which adds to the PM 1951’s surprising accuracy. The safety clicks on and off with authority and the slide release feels exactly like one on a cartridge-firing handgun, not a copy of one. Even though the original-style sights are not the easiest to acquire, the gun is steady in the hand and the 3-1/2 inch smoothbore barrel delivers better accuracy than expected. At a test distance of 21 feet, my best 10 shot group, out of 16 shots, a full magazine, fired offhand using a two-handed hold, covered 1.125 inches. I had a trio of flyers that hit left but most were at POA in the 10 and X.
At 21 feet it was none too shabby for accuracy, either.
The PM, Pistolet Makarova, was originally issued to Soviet officers during what we look back upon today as the “Cold War Era” when the U.S. and Russia began a chilly and dangerous game, the stuff of which spy novels, television series and movies have been based upon for decades. Until President Ronald Regan uttered those historic words, “Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall” on June 12, 1987, the cat and mouse game of Cold War detente that America and Russia had played helped make guns like the Makarov legendary. It also became a popular handgun in the U.S. and as a CO2 model Gletcher steered clear of using plastics for the airgun’s construction. By using all metal components, this CO2 copy of the famous Soviet pistol provides greater durability, more accurate styling, proper weight, and method of operation. It’s also not too difficult to see that the Makarov is “inspired” by Germany’s Walther PP and PPK models.
Umarex weighed in with its Makarov Ultra with a correct grip length and some subtly more accurate features, all of which paled in comparison to the gun’s exposed CO2 seating key.
The next, shall we say, vintage entry, is the exact same model only as produced by Umarex in its Legends series as the Makarov Ultra. Not all of the good things I said about the Gletcher PM 1951 apply to the Ultra. It has a self-contained CO2 BB magazine but with an external seating screw. The Umarex has a more accurate slide release, serrated hammer shape and more accurate trigger shape; it also has a proper length grip frame, while the Gletcher is a bit too long, necessary to contain an integral seating screw. The Ultra’s external key makes the grips the right depth, but looks, well, it doesn’t look good, what can I say? The trigger pull is much heavier as well, but the gun has some advantages like an average velocity as tested of 358 fps. It’s about as accurate as the Gletcher, so no real advantage there. Overall, in my book, the Ultra is not quite as good of a gun in those respects and as for size it still falls into the small gun category.
The star of small pistols was the Walther PPS. Almost perfectly scaled to its 9mm counterpart, the PPS delivered accuracy and velocity, in exchange for its stick magazine and CO2 in the grip. As a small gun for CCW training with air pistols, this was the best of the lot despite the stick mag.
The next gun is just plain confounding, the Umarex Walther PPS. This has been the best darn little CO2 pistol for several years, It is no smaller than the post WWII Russian guns, but way narrower, a slide width of 0.75 inches, total width of 1.0 inches, a slide that locks back, excellent white dot sights, a wickedly light SA trigger and accuracy that matches its centerfire counterpart at 21 feet. What’s not to like about this little blowback action pistol? It has a stick magazine and loads CO2 in the grip frame by removing the backstrap. Still, I really like this very affordable airgun for practice with concealment holsters. My test of the PPS (and there is a newer PPS M2 CO2 model, but I like the older style gun better), clocked an average velocity of 365 fps with Umarex steel BBs and I shot a best 5-round group from 21 feet measuring 0.56 inches with two shots in one elongated hole at 3 o’clock across the bullseye and 10.
The PPS at 21 feet delivers dime-sized groups.
It’s hard not to give this gun a pass despite its stick mag. And until this year it remained my favorite small gun in CO2, and then Sig Sauer did this. They made a seriously small gun in 9mm and a matching one in .177 caliber, the P365.
How the P365 changes small gun thinking
Sig Sauer wanted the P365 to be as authentic in handling and size as possible for a blowback action CO2 pistol, and in order for the airgun to achieve that goal they had to make it smaller than any other blowback action model and incorporate a self-contained CO2 BB magazine. To achieve a compact CO2 system to fit within the framework of the 9mm pistol; the air pistol cannot be field stripped like the centerfire model, but it has the same measurements as its 9mm counterpart but with a groundbreaking CO2 BB magazine that takes up the same amount of space as the Micro Compact’s 9mm.
What the PPS lacked was a self-contained CO2 BB magazine, and Sig Sauer figured out how to put one into a blowback action pistol even smaller than the Walther, with the groundbreaking P365.
One of the more interesting aspects of that, aside from being the smallest self-contained 12 gr. CO2 BB magazine ever devised for a blowback action air pistol, is that it loads very similarly to the 9mm. The Sig has what I would call a “zero aggravation” loading system for the 12 rounds of .177 caliber steel BBs. It has a very easily set locking follower but no loading port above it. Instead of having to pour BBs into the channel, you use your index finger to press the BB stop down (as the breech end of the barrel does when the magazine is inserted into the gun), and then load each BB into the channel one at a time. When all 12 rounds are loaded, you release the locking follower and the magazine is ready to load into the pistol.
The trigger pull on the test gun was 5 pounds, 6 ounces, with only 0.3125 inches of total take up to a crisp break. The trigger moves back 0.25 inches with almost zero resistance, and then there is a firm 0.125 inches until the trigger pull breaks the shot. There is no creeping with the CO2 model’s trigger, just a steady increase in resistance (stacking) common with a double action (or DAO) trigger. The pistol exhibits no over travel and the trigger has a quick reset. This all compares favorably with the centerfire pistol’s 6 pound average trigger pull.
Based on the 9mm Sig model, the SIG AIR Division of Sig Sauer built the P365 from the ground up to design and manufacture a 1:1 CO2 pistol that will, for the foreseeable future, be the new standard in Small Guns, and an accurate one, too.
This little air pistol is loud when its goes off and BBs slap into the target with more force than the velocity would suggest, a velocity that is just under 300 fps, right back where we started years ago with the Umarex Walther PPK/S, but with a much, much more accurate pistol, and a slide that comes back with the force of a small .22 LR handgun. You know this gun is working hard to deliver as much tactile feedback as any CO2 pistol, regardless of velocity. And despite its sub 300 fps averages the P365 is accurate at 21 feet, delivering its 12 round charge of .177 caliber steel BBs into 1.75 inches with a best 5-shot group measuring 0.68 inches.
We have classic small WWII and post WWII pistols, and modern small pistols, and in terms of CO2 powered handguns, I don’t think you can surpass the Sig Sauer P365 when you compare it to the other airguns in its class. Yes, I still like my old Umarex Walther PPS a lot, but I think it has to move over and make room for a Sig!
A word about safety
Blowback action airguns provide the look, feel and operation of their cartridge-firing counterparts and this is one reason why they have become so popular. Airguns in general all look like guns, blowback action models more so, and it is important to remember that the vast majority of people can’t tell an airgun from a cartridge gun. Never brandish an airgun in public. Always, and I can never stress this enough, always treat an airgun as you would a cartridge gun. The same manual of operation and safety should always apply.read more
When we are talking about copies of legendary military arms as CO2 models, it is not just a gun based on a design, it is a gun copied in detail from an original design like the Umarex Luger P.08 Parabellum and Mauser Broomhandle Model 712. Pictured are the limited edition WWII models. Only the P.08 is currently available.
In the past several years the world of CO2 pistols and rifles has been exposed to military history in ways that airgun enthusiasts could only have dreamed about as little as five years ago. Sure, there have been BB and pellet guns in the past that were based on military arms, like the Crosman Model M-1 Carbine built from 1968 to 1976, as well as a number of military training air rifles manufactured during WWI and WWII (very rare finds today), and more recently the Winchester Model M14 CO2 BB and pellet rifle, introduced in 2012, and of course, the excellent Diana K98 Mauser (under lever cocking) pneumatic pellet rifle. But in the world of blowback action CO2 pistols, rifles, and CO2 BB and pellet cartridge loading revolvers, the period from 2015 to 2019 has been a remarkable one for military arms enthusiasts.
Getting it right and wrong at the same time, the Tanfoglio Witness 1911 is an accurate copy of the WWII era 1911A1 c. 1926 design, but with a modern matte finish and overwhelming branding on one side and warnings and manufacturer’s marks on the other. Aside from that, the Tanfoglio (which is the same gun as the Swiss Arms 1911A1 currently not available), has it almost completely right including the small thumb safety, spur hammer and lanyard loop.
More than a century compressed into four years
CO2 models copied, not based on but actually copied, from WWI and WWII era arms, are virtually a separate category of airguns today. I have covered all of them in Airgun Experience over the last several years but here is a recap of what is available and some links to the original articles to look back for specs and performance.
Right finish, but only sold as a commemorative, the John Wayne WWII 1911A1 is a fine-looking gun with just enough weathering in the finish to appear like a 1911 that has seen some action. Commemorative 1911s are not uncommon in the centerfire world, so this John Wayne CO2 model is right as it can be.
American military arms in CO2 are the scarcest, since the two primary field weapons were the M1 Carbine and Model 1911A1 pistol. The M1 is new to the game and really rounds out the best combination of rifle and pistol. For the 1911A1, there are a couple of period designs, all but the John Wayne Commemorative, however, have modern finishes. The JW has a weathered or battlefield finish that gives the gun a little character. The Swiss Arms 1911A1 version is currently unavailable but the Tanfoglio 1911A1 is the same exact gun with the same issues of modern finish and over embellishment of makers brand and safety warnings (Another is the Remington 1911 RAC with even bigger branding and warning issues). My solution to this was covered in a series of articles on Defarbing a 1911, which gives you a lot of work to do, but ends with a very war worn 1911A1 that is good for a second look when you un-holster it.
With a lot of handwork, you can take a modern finish off a CO2 model (like this Swiss Arms 1911A1) and make it look like a well worn blued gun. All that is missing is the correct markings, which unfortunately are almost impossible to do without having them hand engraved on the gun, which is an expensive proposition. This is still a head turner even without markings, which could have been worn down over time.
The current star of WWII American military arms is the new Springfield Armory M1 Carbine. This is the standard wood grained plastic stock model. A hardwood stock is also offered.
Russian arms are a bit more plentiful in design since guns developed before WWI were still in use during WWI and even into WWII, which gives you a broadly dispersed choice in revolvers, semi-autos, and one major Russian military rifle, the Mosin-Nagant. I have covered all the variations of the Nagant Model 1895 pistols in BB and pellet-loading cartridge versions and two finishes, plus the now unavailable but beautifully built Tokarev TT-33 that was sold by Gletcher.
One of my favorite WWII Russian models is the Tokarev TT-33, which was (yes, past tense) built as a blowback action CO2 pistol by Gletcher. I didn’t care for the modern finish on the gun and this CO2 model became my first defarbing project in 2017.
I antiqued one, which has appeared in a several articles, along with the Makarov models like the PM 1951. Gletcher still has a Russian Legends line, and at the top of the order are two versions of the Mosin-Nagant, a circa 1891 cut down model with sawn off pistol grip, and the Model 1944 rifle. Both are excellent designs and have appeared in several articles over the last couple of years.
The WWII era Mosin-Nagant M1944 is manufactured by Gletcher and is a very close copy of the legendary Russian rifles. The bolt action air rifle is designed from original Mosin-Nagant plans but uses a removable box magazine (same style as the stripper clip fed integral magazine on the centerfire version) that holds CO2 and BBs. This is one of the better CO2 powered rifles made today and offers authentic operation. It is also accurate out to 10 meters.
Made by partisans during the Russian Revolution (1917) the Mosin-Nagant rifle was cut down into a concealable (under a long coat) bolt action pistol for close quarters use. The design was used in WWI and WWII as well. The Gletcher version is literally a cut down version of the 1944 model rifle. The shortened models were known in Russia as an Obrez.
Another pre-20th century design that remained in use by Russians in WWI and WWII was the Nagant revolver. A unique 7-shot design, it was one of the earliest military revolvers to be outfitted with a silencer because of its gas seal cylinder design. The Gletcher models are very authentic in design and offered in both smoothbore BB models (top) and rifled barrel pellet models (bottom). Both use cartridges. The guns also fit original and reproduction Nagant holsters.
It is the German military arms where airgun manufacturers have excelled, particularly Umarex, the parent company of Carl Walther. The Umarex Legends series has given us classic German pistols like the Walther P.38, Luger P.08, and the Mauser Broomhandle Model 712, perhaps the best blowback action pistol made for the sheer enjoyment of shooting CO2 airguns. To top off the German military line, the MP40 submachine gun allows realistic design and handling that is almost unrivaled by any modern CO2 design Carbine or select-fire arm. Umarex also has the Makarov Ultra version of the famous Russian semi-auto pistol.
Umarex has the P.08 in both the black grip (Black Widow) model and in a weathered WWII version.
Despite its stick magazine, the Umarex Walther P.38 (bottom) gets a pass for its fine polished blue black finish and accurate Walther banner markings.
If there is one masterpiece in German airgun design from Umarex it is the Broomhandle Mauser Model 712, pictured with an original C96 Broomhandle and shoulder stock holster.
Leather holsters were also made for the Broomhandle but the Model 712 demanded some extreme modifications for the extended capacity magazine. Pyramyd Air sells a reproduction of one such design to fit the CO2 version of the M712. (The Umarex Mauser is shown in the WWII finish, currently out of production.)
Fired from the shoulder, rather than this way like in the movies, the MP40 is surprisingly accurate even on full auto. Of course, recoil from .177 caliber steel BBs is a lot more manageable than 9mm cartridges!
Alas, the lofty British military arms are scarce in the CO2 world, in fact, presently there is only the Webley & Scott MK VI revolver, which is currently offered in the superior Battlefield Finish version with rifled steel barrel and pellet-loading cartridges, and the same model finished in bright polished nickel (which was not a traditional finish but was done back in the 1940s and later).
The best of the best in WWII weathered finish guns is the Webley & Scott MK VI which looks every bit as real as the actual WWII Webley at the top.
Of all the weathered finish CO2 military models, the Webley MK VI is the best for realism. There have been other weathered finishes offered as limited editions like the MP40 and M712 Broomhandle, both currently available only with standard matt finishes. We may see them again as WWII series guns, but likely not for awhile. The only weathered finish military guns remaining are the Webley, Luger P.08 and John Wayne 1911A1. When weathered finish guns come along that are appealing, buy them, because they often disappear from the market. The Umarex WWII Edition P.08 went out of production a couple of years back and is currently being offered again; this could be the last chance for that one.
The WWII period canvas holster, also sold by Pyramyd Air, adds the final touch of realism to the Battlefield Finish Webley MK VI.
As you can see, there have been some impressive models in the last several years, specifically in the military arms category, which is now a real category. Hopefully this review and the links to Airgun Experience articles will allow a quick reference to finding the best of the best in CO2 models. Happy reading!
The Airgun Experience will be on a brief hiatus and return on June 11th with the first series on the new read more
From the Old West, to Prohibition, to the battlefield
By Dennis Adler
The cut down Mosin-Nagant was a handy gun in its time, the rifles were plentiful having been made for over a quarter of a century by the time of the Russian Revolution in 1917, and easily modified. Some have the front sight remounted on the end of the shortened barrel, most had both sights removed. The Gletcher CO2 version favors the guns that were done by gunsmiths rather than revolutionaries with a hacksaw.
In the realm of military arms the Mosin-Nagant is a classic rifle, the Obrez on the other hand, is almost more of an historical curiosity because they were not made at any arsenal but simply modified individually in the field, much like cut down weapons used during the American Civil War. So, there was no absolute consistency from one to another, unless a revolutionary group with a decent gunsmith among them built a small quantity at one time, otherwise it was a pattern copied by individuals with surplus Model 1891 Mosin-Nagant rifles. In the Russian Revolution they served as a kind of rebel pistol in a rifle caliber. Some Obrez Mosin-Nagant pistols appeared during the Spanish Civil War and others were either resurrected or made new by resistance fighters during WWII, but still they were a rare gun to find in any numbers. This fact led Gletcher to the Obrez while looking at famous Russian military guns when they started their Russian Legends series of CO2 models some years ago. And while the rifle made most sense, the Obrez was almost irresistible as a unique CO2 model. And I don’t think anyone will disagree with that, even after Gletcher introduced the M1944 Mosin-Nagant WWII era rifle. The little sawed off M1891 had a look that any military weapons collector or arms enthusiast couldn’t shy away from. Many existing Obrez remain only because of the attachment their original owners had for them during the revolution. Those who survived, some maybe even as a result of using the gun, held on to them as wartime momentos. Other rifles throughout world wars and conflicts have been cut down in similar fashion; Obrez roughly translates to cut down, so it is not necessarily exclusive to the Mosin-Nagant. But it is to the Gletcher model.
The Gletcher has a nicely designed self-contained CO2 BB magazine that holds 16 BBs. Extra magazines are readily available for rifle and pistol models, which makes quick work of reloading the gun.
The magazine fits into the receiver and gives the gun the same contours as the 7.62x54mm R cartridge models with internal magazines.
The magazine slaps in with ease and the Gletcher is ready to handle like the actual centerfire Obrez pistols, only without the robust kick of the 7.62x54mm R rifle cartridge.
What can a 5.6 pound CO2 pistol with a 6-inch barrel do?
Impractical to shoot one-handed, the Gletcher Obrez is the ultimate two-handed hold pistol, but for quick operation you need to perfect a rhythm of slightly rotating the gun left while the shooting hand slaps the bolt up and open, and then rotating back as you drive the bolt closed. You can also work the action as close to straight up in the support hand as possible, as if it were a bolt action rifle without a shoulder stock, though it is hard to totally stabilize it. Either way it is not as quick to reload and fire as a carbine, and there is no graceful way to shoot this gun because it is neither pistol nor rifle. If you want accuracy with it as a BB gun though, you have to aim carefully and shoot slowly.
The bolt action is smooth and works easily to ready the gun for the first shot.
I did all of the photography outdoors in the snow, pretty much what a winter might have looked like in a Russian forest and open, snow covered field when the real Obrez Mosin-Nagant pistols were being used in battle. But unlike those 7.62mm guns, the CO2 in the Gletcher didn’t quite hold up to the task and the shooting tests were completed on the indoor range.
The best way to handle the Gletcher is to aim it like a rifle giving the gun as much support as possible with the shooting arm and offside hand. With the tangent rear sight and hooded front sight you can get a solid fix on your target. The weight of the gun when solidly supported in both hands makes it about as steady as possible for close range shooting.
21 feet and counting
First up was a trigger pull test to see how lightly the trigger press is to get off a clean aimed shot. Average pull was 3 pounds, 4.5 ounces with light stacking and crisp break shot after shot. You quickly get a feel for this trigger and that, along with the weight and balance of this hefty pistol keep you locked on target.
Looking over my velocity tests I decided to use Hornady Black Diamond black anodized steel BBs for test one at 21 feet, and then shoot it over with Dust Devils. For test 2 I backed up to 10 meters with Dust Devils. Remember, this is only a 6-inch smoothbore barrel, despite the looks of a longer barrel on the outside. Pushing Dust Devils to 10 meters at 380 fps seemed within the gun’s capabilities for maintaining accuracy. All tests were shot off hand with a two handed hold as shown in the pictures.
There is no set way to work the action, I tired giving the gun as much support as possible with the offside hand and arm while slapping the bolt up and back with my shooting hand and trying to keep the gun as level as possible.
With the gun almost leveled after drawing the bolt to rear, closing the bolt quickly kept it balanced and I was able to close the action, drop my hand back on the wrist and put the gun back on target with a smooth follow through.
The angle of the bolt lends itself to a quick return to the pistol grip and trigger. I did it this way for all of the outside shooting and would estimate a little over a second to work the action and get back on target. This would work well with large reactive metal targets and frangible BBs or copper coated Smart Shot outdoors, though not necessarily in below freezing temperatures!
The gun tends to hit left of POA but I had no problem with elevation. The Hornady Black Diamond clocking an average of 378 fps put nine out of 10 shots into 0.93 inches one flyer, if you will, in the bullseye, opening my total group up to 1.125 inches. Of the 0.93 inch group 8 shots were overlapping at 0.44 inches. So, at 21 feet with slow, careful aim the hefty Gletcher Mosin-Nagant pistol can pack them in tight.
On the indoor range and shooting for accuracy, not speed of reloading (also waiting 15 seconds between shots to keep the CO2 from over cooling), at 21 feet with Hornady Black Diamond I piled eight out of 10 shots into a very tight cluster, with one just slightly above, and what turned out with this group to be a “flyer” hitting the red bullseye. The gun consistently shoots left of POA but is very close for elevation (adjusted one increment up at 21 feet with steel BBs). You could correct POA by aiming right of center, which I did on a few targets, but I had the best overall groups with a 6 o’clock hold under the 10 ring. In this picture I have the bolt rotated left to the SAFE position.
Still hitting left with Dust Devils my shots came in higher and more to POA, but didn’t group as tightly. This is 10 rounds at 1.25 inches with a couple of overlapping hits.
I shot 10 rounds of Air Venturi Dust Devils at 21 feet, which clustered into 1.25 inches, so not quite as accurate as the Hornady steel. Stepping back to 10 meters I shot a 10-meter air pistol target. I had to adjust the rear sight down to the lowest position, which kept elevation decent but everything began hitting further left. I corrected POA to the right of the bullseye but shots still went a little left and only two rounds hit the black, the rest grouped left of center for a 10-shot spread of 1.25 inches.
Accuracy shatters like Dust Devils on steel at 10 meters but I still managed to get 10 shots on the target at 1.25 inches, though none tightly grouped, but rather spread out from end to end, and again almost all hitting left of POA. For just plain fun shooting the Gletcher is an interesting gun to handle and with a little practice about as accurate as any other BB “pistol” with a 6-inch smoothbore barrel.
Not a bad total group for Dust Devils at 10 meters from a 6-inch barrel, but for scoring at 10 meters, pretty bad. Still, the gun’s accuracy at that distance is good enough to work with reactive metal targets where accuracy requires that you hit the target not center punch it. At either distance with steel or frangible BBs, this heavy gun will give your arms a workout and you will get a sense of what the real Obrez Mosin-Nagant pistols felt like minus the, so I have read, very heavy recoil.
From the Old West, to Prohibition, to the battlefield
By Dennis Adler
The Gletcher Obrez version of the Mosin-Nagant Model 1891 is nothing if not interesting looking. The removable box magazine allows the combining of CO2 and BBs in one, and with spare magazines, quick reloads. The bolt action is impressively quick to work.
If necessity is the mother of invention, than war and crime is the mother of necessity. Most of the firearms developed in the 19th and early 20th centuries were built for offensive or defensive use in war; certainly many were also designed and built as target and hunting rifles, and even target pistols. There is, however, a fine line that separates that distinction, and everything needs to be viewed in the context of the times; we simply cannot subject 19th century thinking to 21st century interpretation.
The Mosin-Nagant was a series of rifles that were produced in Russia from 1891 through 1948. Many original Mosin-Nagant models are still in use today around the world. With millions having been manufactured they are readily available and affordable for military arms collectors. The Gletcher Mosin-Nagant CO2 rifle is based on the late WWII era model produced in 1944, a variation of the M38 version with a folding bayonet. Any of the models could have been used to make an Obrez.
Shortening the barrel and cutting the stock off at the wrist, as was done with older Mosin-Nagant bolt action rifles around 1917, perhaps even earlier, was done during desperate times in war by men whose very lives were at risk for having such a weapon. With the Model 1891 this was done most famously during the Russian Revolution, which began on March 8, 1917 and ended with the abdication of Czar Nicholas II, bringing an end to Czarist ruled Russia. Mind you, this all occurred in the midst of World War I, a war in which Russia was taking heavy loses in the fight against Germany. Within a matter of months Russia’s post-Czarist government was foundering, which led to the October Bolshevik Revolution and the beginning of the Soviet Union. However, the rise of Lenin as head of a new government was not entirely successful, and multiple factions arose leading to a Russian Civil War in the middle of a World War. The Great War ended in 1919 but the Russian Civil War lasted until 1923 with Lenin and the Red Army victorious. A year later Lenin died and Joseph Stalin rose to power as leader of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republic. All very interesting politically and historically, but also very much intertwined with the archaic weapons still being used in Russia during WWI and throughout the Civil War, the Mosin-Nagant in particular, which was developed during the reign of the Russian Czars and then used to overthrow them.
The Mosin-Nagant design was updated in 1930 and designated M91/30 which was famously used by the Red Army. Among changes was a switch from the hexagonal receivers used on the original rifles to less-labor-intensive and expensive to manufacture round receivers (such as those used on the Gletcher Mosin-Nagant). The bolt is removable just like the actual guns by having an empty magazine (or in the case of the Gletcher with the magazine removed), pulling the bolt to the rear, depressing the trigger, which releases the catch and allows the bolt to be drawn out the back of the receiver. It is replaced the same way, depress the trigger and slide the bolt all the way forward. The seating screw key, which stores in the front of the magazine, provides all the torque needed to seat and pierce the CO2.
Even though the Mosin-Nagant was designed before the turn of the century, it was so well built that, with later improvements in 1930, it remained in use by Soviet troops throughout WWII (rather famously), and well into the late 20th century. Primarily the design of Sergei Mosin, Leon Nagant’s designs were also employed in the bolt action and other parts of the gun when it was manufactured and eventually both men were paid equal sums for the rifle’s development, though neither of their names would be officially tied to it. The Mosin-Nagant label is simply preferred over the military designation “3-Lineyaya Vintovka obr 1891g.” What exactly is 3-Lineyaya? It translates to 3-line, a reference to the caliber, 3-line being 7.62mm.
Gletcher followed the design of the Mosin-Nagant for the M1944 rifle. It is very easy to see how the guns were cut down for the Obrez when compared together (inset).
The rifles employed the Sergei Mosin and Leon Nagant designs for the bolt handle and safety, which was engaged by pulling the cocking piece to the rear and rotating it left, allowing it to hook over the rear of the receiver, a very simple but reliable means of putting the gun on safe with a chambered round. The horizontal position of the turn bolt handle might seem awkward in appearance today, compared to more “elegant” bolt action designs with curved bolt handles that rest against the side of the stock, but Mosin’s design proved remarkably quick to operate in the field.
The seating key fits into an opening in the magazine, which is pictured facing opposite of how it loads to show the recess for the key.
As noted in Part 1, the Gletcher M1891 uses a removable box magazine that holds the CO2 cartridge and a load of 16 BBs. The original M1891 had an integral magazine with 5-rounds fed through the open action using a stripper clip, which was very common at the time. Unlike the Obrez models, which often had the sights removed and were not aimed so much as “pointed”, the Gletcher version uses the ruggedly-designed M1891/30-style sliding tangent rear and hooded front post sights, the /30 indicating the improved version of the M1891.
The magazine has a light follower spring and a locking follower (arrow) to make loading easy. Rather than a loading port in the channel, BBs are inserted though the large firing port one at a time. This is a slow but easy process. An extra magazine or two will make shooting sessions more enjoyable.
The wood-grained stock is synthetic but has a nice appearance and smooth reddish-brown finish. It also has the correct style finger grooves set along the sides of the forend. With an overall weight of 5.6 pounds it is a hefty little gun but an accurate copy of the Obrez variations, right down to the operation of the action, trigger, and the removable bolt. Gletcher has done an excellent job copying this somewhat obscure variation of the gun.
BBs and velocities
Since the Gletcher M1891 was introduced four years ago there have been two developments in .177 caliber BBs, copper-coated lead Smart Shot, which is heavier than steel BBs and thus delivers lower velocities but allows shooting at reactive metal targets, and frangible composite .177 caliber Dust Devils, which are lighter than steel or lead BBs and can be used with metal targets. Neither Smart Shot nor Dust Devils always reliably work in all magazine-fed CO2 pistols and rifles. So, first up is a velocity and function test of Dust Devils in the 16-shot, bolt-action pistol.
For the velocity test I used four different BBs, Remington plated steel, Umarex Precision polished steel, Hornady Black Diamond black anodized coated, and Air Venturi’s frangible composite Dust Devils.
One of the problems Dust Devils have is feeding and with the easy loading of the Gletcher M1891 magazine (through the firing port) light follower spring and the unique angle of the BB feeding column of 45 degrees, function with Dust Devils should be excellent. There were zero failures to feed from the magazine and average velocity was 380 fps.
Next up, I shot Umarex Precision steel BBs which averaged 366 fps. To give some balance to the velocity test I switched my steel BBs to Remington brand plated steel, which delivered an average of 368 fps, and then Hornady Black Diamond black anodized steel BBs which clocked 378 fps average. The factory specs say “average velocity 427 fps” but not with anything I have been able to find.
Not exactly a pistol, nor a carbine, the Obrez was simply a sawed off bolt action rifle that could be a formidable weapon at close range, as they were intended. Heavy, but small enough to be hidden, or with a lanyard attached to the stock and slung over a shoulder, and left resting along the side hidden under a coat. With the Gletcher’s sights (most Obrez had no sights) the gun should prove fairly accurate at air pistol distances out to 30 plus feet.
As a pistol (this is hardly what you could call a carbine without some form of shoulder stock) the Obrez Gletcher model is not a typical BB gun, but with its short barrel, very solid heft, slick bolt action and good sights, at ranges from 21 feet to 10 meters or so, it can keep .177 caliber BBs close enough to make shooting this unique airgun an interesting experience.
In Part 3 we’ll find out just how accurate the Gletcher is and how easy to handle on the range.