“One gun, one carry and master it” is the principle taught by John Bianchi, the master of concealed carry and the world’s most famous holster maker. I wrote John’s Biography in 2009 (John Bianchi – An American Legend) and he taught me his rules for concealed carry, the first of which was to find one gun and master it from holster, to drawing, aiming, shooting and concealment. If your are in law enforcement, as Bianchi was early in his career when he first began designing and making holsters for fellow police officers, this is easier to achieve. For civilians it is a precept that is easier to embrace than actually accomplish, at least it has been for me, because I have made a profession out of testing guns, and aside from a few favorites, have never had one gun long enough to consider mastering it for CCW use. Over the years I have gone from one to another, from DA/SA revolvers to semi-autos, full-size duty guns to subcompacts, and as for reviewing guns, it is hundreds of guns in and out of my hands for more than 20 years. So for me, mastering one gun is still a personal goal because my carry guns have changed a dozen times over the years (one of the benefits and pitfalls of having so many options from testing new models). There’s a handful I am proficient with to the point that I have total confidence in carrying them, but to be totally honest, the older I get the smaller my EDC gun gets. Still, I have never narrowed it down to one gun or even one holster. But I’m getting closer; more about that later. 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
In the Old West not everyone who carried a gun wore a holster. Some men just tucked the pistol into their pant’s waist. Others who wore a cartridge belt and holster often tucked a second gun behind the belt. The rig I am wearing in this photo is an exact copy of the holster and belt worn by Tom Horn. It was copied from the original by Alan Soellner of Chisholm’s Trail Leather. It was originally used for a feature on Tom Horn in Guns of the Old West. Here it plays host to a pair of 5-1/2 inch Umarex Colt Peacemakers.
I hesitate to tell you how many holsters I have. Let’s just say that if I ever end up on an episode of Hoarders it is going to be because of holsters. I am not alone in this, there are, and this is the truth, people who collect holsters, not guns, just holsters. They buy guns, but only to put in the holsters, that’s where the term “holster stuffer” comes from.
I have purchased holsters, off the rack, as it were, and I have had holsters custom made to fit specific guns, I have commissioned reproductions of original western holsters to be made for articles (which is altogether different because I got paid to do that), but I have also done this just for my own satisfaction. I would dare say that there are some holsters out there today from certain makers that would not exist if I hadn’t been the instigator of its design and manufacturing. There is even one out there today surreptitiously named after me. But before this becomes a holsters anonymous meeting, there is a point to this as it relates to CO2 air pistols.
This is a custom-built holster for a 7-1/2 inch Colt Peacemaker made by TrailRider Products in Colorado. It is a 100 percent accurate reproduction of a Miller-Fachet holster which was designed in the period between 1878 and1881 by Capt. Edward G. Fachet, Company Commander, Co. G 8th U.S. Cavalry. Capt. Fachet wanted an open top holster for use by the company troopers. This was a butt rear design and the U.S. military still favored a butt forward holster. It was never officially adopted by the U.S. Cavalry but many of its features appeared in several other holsters of the 1880s favored by civilians. It was a perfect fit for the 7-1/2 inch Umarex Colt Peacemaker and the cartridge loops also worked with the pellet-loading cartridges.
Authentic air pistols should fit authentic holsters
And this is the thing, when a company builds a reproduction of an actual firearm, it should be an exact copy with the same dimensions so it can fit the same holsters as the original gun. But it doesn’t always turn out that way. The slide is a little wider, or the triggerguard, or the frame is an 1/8th of an inch taller because of the CO2 system, it’s one thing or another and that’s all it takes for the gun not to fit the holster. Historic guns like the Umarex Colt Peacemaker are so close and leather just forgiving enough that they will fit any western holster, old or new, which is probably a windfall for holster collectors; CO2 holster stuffers now exist!
Another interesting pair of western holsters, also made by TrailRider Products is based on the holsters worn by Jesse James. The double holster rig has one holster for crossdraw and one for strong side draw. Holsters like these cost much more than the CO2 pistols they can hold but add a far more realistic look to your guns than contemporary western holsters made of thinner leather and with stamped rather than carved details. Pictured are an Adams & Adams hand engraved Umarex Colt Peacemaker and the prototype for the Schofield Texas Jack CO2 model.
When a CO2 pistol fits the same holster as its centerfire counterpart I give it extra points in my book because that is one of the essentials of using a CO2 pistol for training, not so much with Colt Peacemakers as say the HK USP, Glock 17 Gen3 and S&W M&P40, but even with the Single Actions for honing your fast draw and shooting from the hip skills. But the holster has to fit.
This is a one-of-a-kind holster copied from an original one-of-a-kind holster featured in the number one book on western holsters, Packing Iron by Richard C. Rattenbury. The handcrafted reproduction was made in Spain by Garcia Brothers/45Maker which specializes in historic western holsters. This extraordinary leather fringed rig has been featured multiple times in Guns of the Old West as well as in Airgun Experience. It also fits the 7-1/2 inch Peacemaker.
Sometimes recreating a famous gunbelt and holster has nothing to do with Old West history and more to do with cinematic history. The famous Duke rig worn by John Wayne in numerous films is duplicated today by John Bianchi Frontier Gunleather. It is a perfect match for any of the John Wayne Special Edition CO2 Peacemakers sold by Pyramyd Air. (The Red River D belt buckle was recreated by Alan Soellner of Chisholm’s Trail Leather)
One of the secrets of a good holster design is a proper fit. For the Umarex Colt Peacemakers, the Schofield and Remington CO2 models, Chisholm’s Trail Leather makes an exclusive line just for Pyramyd Air.
Breaking new ground
You don’t have to be a holster collector to appreciate the extra effort that goes into making a CO2 model a perfect match for its centerfire counterpart, and when that comes down to holsters, especially with either very modern handguns like the Glock and HK models or very old style European, Russian, and British pistols, like the Webley, the German Walther, and Russian Tokarev, Nagant and Makarov pistols, holsters are actually abundant. That these air pistols are accurately scaled to fit original and reproduction holsters makes them all that more enjoyable.
There is an interesting carryover in the American West, the period from the turn of the century to the early 1900s when Single Action revolvers were sharing holsters with new double action revolvers and the Colt Model 1911 semiautomatic pistol. Before 1911 military style flap holsters became common, western saddlers fabricated single action style holsters to accommodate the .45 ACP Colt semi-autos. This is another rare one-of-a-kind design taken from the pages of Packing Iron and handcrafted in Spain by Garcia Bros.
A striking contrast from handcrafted leather to stitched canvas but it is appropriate for one of the most talked about WWI and WWII handguns, the British Webley MK VI, which is among the best selling CO2 models today. A gun of this exacting quality (built by Webley and based on the original 1915 blueprints) deserves a proper period holster. Pyramyd Air offers two, an original leather style belt holster and the often favored canvas field holster (shown). A MK VI CO2 model needs a holster to complete the historic look.
Other famous German firearms not only hold a place in history but in the world of CO2 models, and the Umarex Luger P.08 Parabellum is crafted well enough to fit in original and reproduction WWII design holsters like this P.08 model from World War Supply.
Even the majority of airgun enthusiasts who don’t have the matching centerfire models can enjoy the full airgun experience by having the correct holster. While I doubt that holsters are a placebo for better packaging (the horrid blister packs that too many nice air pistols have been relegated to), a holster is a great alternative, especially if you have a small collection you want to display. Even if you have a decent box with your air pistol, like the Webley MK VI, having it in a Webley holster looks a lot better!
The military flap holster used in WWI and WWII was an adaptation of Single Action military flap holsters from the 19th century. Superb reproduction like this example sold by World War Supply are made to fit .45 ACP models but also perfectly hold the more accurate to the original 1911 CO2 models like the Air Venturi John Wayne Commemorative 1911A1. (Holster shown has an altered antique finish to match the gun)
While I can only speak to my own passions, I know they are shared with a lot of Airgun Experience readers, and holsters can honestly be 50 percent of the enjoyment of owning an authentically-made air pistol. When Umarex unknowingly built one of my all time favorite handguns as a CO2 model, (I haven’t yet convinced them to build guns that appeal specifically to me) the Mauser Broomhandle M712 presented an unusual problem when it came to holsters.
If one CO2 model defines building legendary WWII handguns it is the c.1932 Mauser Model 712 Broomhandle, the singularly most valued German handgun of its time with a detachable box magazine. The Umarex select-fire model is a 100 percent match, making it imperative that a proper period correct holster be made for it. That task fell to Chisholm’s Trail Leather which reproduces an M712 holster for Pyramyd Air.
The gun was perfectly sized to fit original and reproduction leather holsters and the wooden shoulder stock, but not with the magazine inserted. All commonly built holsters and stocks (original and new) were based on the standard fixed magazine Broomhandle design. The M712 presented the same problem for Mauser in 1932 as it did when the M712 CO2 model came out a couple of years ago. Mauser made special wooden shoulder stock holsters with deep magazine wells, a handful of leather rigs were made with everything from a cut away section with a removable magazine cover, to open bottom rigs and awkward looking holsters to fit. There really wasn’t much of a standard. All of the original M712 holsters that can be found are very expensive, as are original 20-shot Broomhandles and the M712 models which are still classified by the ATF as a Class III weapon. Just keep adding dollar signs as you read.
The holster is based on original designs (there were several types) to accommodate both the 20-shot Broomhandle with fixed magazine and the improved M712.
After over 20 years writing about western guns and holsters and quite a few modern handguns, I developed working relationships with some of the top holster makers in the world, so when the quandary of the Umarex Mauser Model 712 presented itself, I turned to Alan Soellner of Chisholm’s Trail Leather in Georgia, because Alan has recreated some of the greatest western holsters in American history, and he had begun dabbling in WWI and WWII era holsters around the same time the M712 CO2 model came out.
The cutaway side allows the pistol with magazine inserted to be safely holstered. It can be worn with a shoulder harness (as shown) or using the heavy duty double stitched belt loop.
With an M712 in hand and a lot of research, he came up with the holster pictured, which is offered today in a black finish version through Pyramyd Air, and yes, if you happen to have a Class III license and own a real M712 or 20-shot fixed magazine Broomhandle, the holster fits the original guns, too. You’ll also find a few custom-made Chisholm’s Trail western holsters on the Pyramyd Air website for 7-1/2 inch and 5-1/2 inch Peacemakers, the Schofield and Remington Single Actions, which again are interchangeable with the actual centerfire pistols.
The 1911 is a 108 year-old design still built today and as good as ever. Proof of authentic build is evident in this Sig Sauer WE THE PEOPLE which is a perfect fit in an original John Bianchi Speed Scabbard designed in the 1960s. If a 1911 fits this holster, it fits every 1911 Government Model holster. That being said, leather is forgiving, injection molded holsters, like the Blade-Tech are not. The Sig 1911 is a perfect fit, assuring this CO2 model is 100 percent correct!
Modern CO2 pistols that are well made and copied in fine detail from their centerfire counterparts fit the real holsters. Shown at top left the Umarex M92 A1 with a Galco Beretta holster, at top right the Umarex S&W M&P40 with a Safariland injection molded Level 2 locking holster, at bottom left a Sig Sauer licensed P226 X-Five BB model with a Galco P226 holster, and bottom right a Swiss Arms TRS 1911 with a Galco 1911 Fletch thumb break belt holster. If the guns fit (and they do) you have lots of holster options.
The same can be said for the new Sig Sauer M17 CO2 model which is a 100 percent fit to actual M17/P320 rigs like this belt holster and shoulder holster made by Galco.
The ultimate statement in authenticity for training is a competition pistol like the well established Tanfoglio Gold Custom. The CO2 model perfectly fits into this actual Safariland Gold Custom competition rig. The CO2 magazines also fit perfectly into the magazine carriers. As good as it gets!
This is what great holster making is about, especially with today’s ever expanding assortment of CO2 pistols. Fortunately, most of the guns are only new to the world of air pistols, and the holsters have, for the most part, preceded them by years, if not decades. When the manufacturer does it right, as so many are at present, the gun and holster combinations are just as authentic, adding a whole new level to enjoying the Airgun Experience. See you on Hoarders…
Deciding on a modern gun and holster combination is actually quite a bit more difficult than a vintage, or pre-WWII gun and holster. There, the choice for a number two could easily have fallen to one of the early-style CO2 1911 models and a World War Supply Tanker shoulder holster; an excellent combination. My choice would have been my custom weathered Gletcher Tokarev TT-33 and the World War Supply Tokarev holster. Choosing a modern day blowback action CO2 model presents a far more varied field, which also makes the point that there are a lot of modern pistols available as CO2 models. Getting the right gun and holster combination can be equally difficult. Back in the pre-WWII era most semi-auto handguns had unique contours and dedicated holsters like those for the Luger P.08 and Walther P.38, or PPK, Russian handguns also had distinctive shapes so again holsters were limited to specific guns and there were few choices. Today, there are more holster makers than gun manufacturers and choices abound for every conceivable handgun and means of carry.
This would have been too easy, picking another vintage gun and holster combination, so my custom weathered Gletcher Tokarev TT-33 and aged Word War Supply holster have to fall into the also ran category as we explore more modern gun and holster combinations.
What is a good second choice?
This is going to be a multiple choice, and all of you are going to help make the final decision because, well, there are just too many good guns and holsters out there. A few, however, stand out and when you look to find the best blowback action CO2 models odds are they are going to be brand name makers and any list of top guns is going to have an S&W M&P40, Beretta 92A1, Sig Sauer P226 and a modern 1911 Rail Gun. Sound familiar? Umarex, Sig Sauer and Swiss Arms, three of the current top brands when it comes to offering high-performance, quality-built, blowback action CO2 models. Modern guns also have modern holsters and for this group the choices are actually almost as specific in design as some of those pre-WWII CO2 models, because they all have 1913 Picatinny rails, and that makes holsters for standard non-rail models unsuitable.
Contour leather and injection modeled thermoplastic holsters offer superior pistol retention and there are a number of different designs and features for all types. Shown are four different holster types with four of the most authentic to their centerfire counterpart CO2 pistols on the market, the Sig Sauer P226 X-Five (top left) in a Galco paddle holster, the Umarex Beretta 92A1 (top right) in a Galco belt holster, the Swiss Arms 1911 TRS (bottom left) in a Galco Fletch thumb break belt holster, and the Umarex S&W M&P40 in a Safariland injection molded Level 1 tactical holster.
For my second choice and your final opinion on which is the most desirable, the choices are the Umarex Beretta 92A1 in a Galco belt holster, the Swiss Arms 1911 TRS in a Galco Fletch thumb break belt holster, The Sig Sauer P226 X-Five in a Galco paddle holster, and the Umarex S&W M&P40 in a Safariland injection molded Level 1 law enforcement tactical belt holster. All four guns are duty-size pistols and with holsters, are not deep concealment designs but suitable for some concealed carry uses. Paramount among all four is the holster’s contour fit for solid gun retention, cant on the Galco belt rigs, ease of adjustment on the Galco paddle holster, and the higher level of security for the M&P40 with the Safariland tactical holster. All four are made for the actual centerfire weapons and the exact fit of the CO2 models demonstrates how accurate they are to their cartridge-firing counterparts for training exercises.
The Sig Sauer licensed P226 X-Five is one of the most completely accurate CO2 blowback action pistol designs in both external and internal design with an actual short-recoil, locked-breech operating system powered by the CO2. Like all rail equipped guns the Sig requires a holster designed for the gun’s specific contours.
This also applies to the Umarex Beretta 92A1 a version of the centerfire Beretta model and, like the Sig, uses an actual locked-breech, recoil operated system. The Beretta model ranks as one of the best overall CO2 pistols currently manufactured and has the added advantage (as a CO2 model) of a select fire switch to go from semi-auto to full auto or burst fire. With the exception of the selector switch, the CO2 model is a 100 percent accurate copy of the 9mm pistol. Again, being a rail gun, it requires a specific holster to accommodate the deeper frame contours.
Arguably the most authentic of all CO2 pistols, the Umarex S&W licensed M&P40 is the number one CO2 training gun on the market for law enforcement (using M&P pistols). The Umarex version fits all M&P40 (and M&P9) holsters and works ideally with the Safariland injection molded Level 1 retention tactical holster.
The one drawback to all 1911 rail guns is that they do not fit 1911 holsters, and thus dedicated rail gun rigs must be used like this Galco Fletch, which has a rail channel in the contoured design. This is another approach to Level 1 retention with a thumb break safety strap that closes on a cocked and locked 1911. This is one of the best and most secure ways to carry a 1911 in a handcrafted leather holster.
Will that be leather or plastic?
For many there is only one answer, leather. Nothing feels or smells like a leather holster and for the vast majority of carry situations a leather holster is perfect. But here again I will defer to the legendary John Bianchi, who developed one of the very first non-leather holsters ever manufactured under contract to the U.S. military. As Bianchi explains it, “[Back] in 1981, during the early trials to determine a replacement for the 1911A1, a separate fact finding team had been established within the Department of Defense to look into new holster designs and one day the phone rang and it was the Department of Defense. ‘We read your book Bluesteel & Gunleather [Bianchi’s first book] and we are convinced that you are the final authority on holster design.’ The caller asked if they could send a team of acquisition people out to Bianchi International to visit and get some ideas on how to design a new military holster. When the DoD team arrived they discussed the content of my book and then they dropped the big question, ‘What should the new holster consist of?’ I told them it needs to appeal to Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy, and Coast Guard, so that means it needs to be environmentally balanced, suitable for extreme cold, extreme heat, humidity, dust, salt water, everything. We talked about the holster needing to protect the gun against environmental factors, as well as abrasion, rolling on it, and falling on it. It also had to be chemically and biologically adaptive and water proof. Troops in the field can’t have a wet holster, so that ruled out leather.”
In addition to being a legendary holster maker, John Bianchi is also a retired U.S. Army Major General. This is his battle dress camouflage jacket with the UM-84 General Officer’s version of the holster and belt in black leather, and General Officer’s special Beretta Compact (4.25 in. barrel) Model 92F. The holster is still manufactured after more than 30 years and sold by Safariland.
Over 30 months of research and development Bianchi came up with an ambidextrous mounting system (he is left handed) for a new military holster (designated UM84 and M12 for the military) constructed from DuPont Hytrel, a thermoplastic elastomer resin that can be molded into different shapes and has both flexibility and strength, is resistant to extreme temperature, chemicals, and of course, waterproof. The exterior of the holster was comprised of a ballistic weave equally resistant to the same extremes as the core. In the early 1980s the Beretta 92F military holster was an industry first. Today, injection molded thermoplastic and Kydex holsters are used globally for military and police, though many still can’t resist the allure of leather, (even the Bianchi UM84 was made in leather for issue to General Officers!) TheUM84 is still manufactured today to fit a variety of pistols.
Two other holster designs that have made concealed carry more effective. The paddle holster (right with the P226 X-Five) makes it easier to put the holster on and take it off without removing a trouser gunbelt. A paddle also makes it simple to quickly reposition the holster by sliding it back for better concealment or forward for a quicker draw. The paddle is also cant adjustable so the angle can be changed to user preferences. The Safariland injection molded Level 1 holster for the M&P40 uses an internal triggerguard lock to secure the gun. It cannot be drawn without the release switch on inside left of the holster (just to the left of the slide in this view) being depressed by the thumb before the gun is removed. The belt mount shown is also interchangeable with paddle and other tactical holster mounts. This is the basic Level 1 holster for law enforcement and combined with the Umarex S&W M&P40 one of the very best training combinations possible.
Modern injection molded holsters, like the Safariland pictured with the M&P40 air pistol, also allow the use of retention devices, so choosing between leather and plastic (to use plastic in the broadest sense) ultimately comes down to the holster’s intended use. Leather still wins the popularity (and beauty) contest but injection molded holsters are tougher and more desirable for hard duty use whether in the military, private sector or law enforcement.
The wrap up
Of the four CO2 models pictured and their companion holsters, each falls into my second choice for favorite airgun and holster combination. I would like everyone reading this to weigh in with a comment, pick one of the four, and help determine what the best modern CO2 pistol and holster combination is. We’ll reveal the results of your votes vs. my choice next week!
In the world of blowback action air pistols, historic recreations just do not get any better than the Umarex Broomhandle Mauser Model 712 (bottom) and the limited WWII edition shown. Umarex meticulously copied all of the essential details from the original 1932 Mauser model (top) right down to the operation of the thumb safety, semi-auto, full auto selector switch, and removable box magazine.
Legendary holster maker and personal defense authority John Bianchi, in his book “Point Blank” noted one basic tenet about carrying a firearm, “Master one gun and one holster.” In the world of concealed carry that is sage advice, though some people have more than one carry gun and more than one holster, depending upon the situation where concealed carry is warranted. (Bianchi also holds the world record for concealing the most handguns at one time, a total of 32 pistols). The idea behind the one gun, one holster rule, is to know your carry gun and holster so well that their use becomes intuitive. How this translates to training with air pistols, which is fast becoming a common and affordable means, is no different, and in many cases the holster in use is the same one that will carry the actual centerfire counterpart to the CO2 powered training gun. But that is not the idea behind this article. Rather this is literally based on one gun and one holster, as in, “if I could only have one air pistol and holster what would it be? And honestly, this is a lot more difficult to answer with an air pistol than an actual cartridge-firing handgun for self defense. With the most recent CO2 models one not only has contemporary handguns to consider but almost the entire 19th and 20th century as well, with CO2 models offering designs that date back to the 1870s! To make this choice a little easier, let’s limit it to semi-auto pistols from any period, and there has to be a good holster available to pair with it. For me, that opens several doors but there is only one I am going to walk through to get my personal favorite, the one blowback action CO2 pistol I would choose hands down if I could only have one; the Umarex Mauser Broomhandle Model 712 and the Chisholm’s Trail Model 712 holster, belt and magazine pouch.
Looking at the back of the CO2 model, it has all of the working features and details of the actual Mauser model. With the knurled handle of the manual safety in the lowered position, as shown, the gun is ready to be fired by either cocking the hammer or retracting the bolt. Look closely at the semi-auto, full auto selector switch; it is identical to the original models.
The best blowback action pistol
Aside from the fact that I have always admired the design of the Broomhandle Mauser and its innovative approach to self loading pistols in 1895…yes, it is a 19th century firearm…the Mauser has always had a certain, shall we say, pistol charisma, that no other handgun has (save for one copying the Broomhandle design like an Astra). The Broomhandle has been the hero gun or the villain gun in more films than I can list; it is also one of the most recognized handgun designs in the world, anywhere in the world. So when Umarex introduced a nearly 100 percent authentic CO2 version of the Model 712, as a selective fire (semi-auto or full-auto) with a detachable box magazine, it became the most desirable air pistol on the market, at least for me. And it still is.
Pushing in on the button allows the selector to be rotated from N (top position for semi-auto) to R (back position for full auto). When firing, the bolt comes back with each shot and re-cocks the hammer. The bolt on the CO2 model does not lock back on an empty magazine like the cartridge model, (it is being manually pushed back from the front for this photo to show how it re-cocks the hammer). Another thing that is different about the CO2 model is the absence of the full length recoil spring inside the bolt, which is an open channel on the blowback action Umarex. The elevation adjustable rear sight is made exactly like the original guns with increments from 50 meters out to 1000 meters.
What makes the M712 so special?
The answer begins with the origin of the Broomhandle pistol which was patented in Germany by Waffenfabrik Mauser on December 11, 1895. Among the very first successful semiautomatic pistols, it used a locked-breech design with a rectangular bolt housed inside the square section of the barrel extension. This is the same design that is used on the Umarex CO2 model. The Broomhandle also introduced a device to keep the bolt locked back after the last shot had been fired; this unfortunately is one of the very few features that Umarex did not duplicate. The lock back feature was originally intended for the Mauser to be more easily reloaded, which up until the Model 712, was through the top of the ejection port, by pushing a stripper clip of rounds down into the fixed magazine. With the CO2 model you pretty much know when the box magazine is empty and a magazine change is much faster than the old loading method used by Mauser until 1932 and the Model 712 with its detachable magazine. This made it possible for the first time to quickly reload a Broomhandle by changing the magazine. Of course, on full auto 20 rounds were expended in a little less than two seconds, unless one learned to shoot in short five-shot bursts. The same is true of the 18 steel BBs in the M714 air pistol on full auto. A spare magazine or two is a must.
Umarex has duplicated the Mauser Broomhandle in exacting detail. Gun at top is an original c.1930 Broomhandle with wooden shoulder stock holster. An original or reproduction) shoulder stock fits the Umarex M712. The gun even fits inside with the magazine removed.
The original Broomhandles with integral magazines were offered in 6, 10, and 20 round capacities. The standard barrel length was 5.5 inches and the guns were fitted with distinctive hardwood grips. The grips on the Umarex are wood grained plastic, nice but not enough to be mistaken for actual Mauser wood grips.
A manual safety on the left rear of the Broomhandle frame was actuated by pushing the lever upward into a notch, which either locked the hammer so that it could not be cocked, or if cocked, blocked the hammer so that the gun could not be discharged until the safety lever was lowered. The 1896 (or C96) Broomhandle was the first semiautomatic pistol that could be carried cocked and locked. There was also a wooden shoulder stock with a steel yoke that mounted into a channel in the gripstrap. This made the Mauser into a modest carbine pistol. The standard capacity (6 and 10-round models) models could also use the hollow shoulder stock as a holster, which could be worn in several different ways. The M712 models also had modified wooden stocks that were cut out to fit the longer magazine, and there were several leather belt holsters designed for the various Broomhandle models.
So what is a great, authentic CO2 model of an historic firearm without a matching, historically authentic holster? Not a question you have to ponder with the Chisholm’s Trail M712 holster. It is copied from original Model 1932 Broomhandle style holsters of the era. This is the prototype model in brown. The M712 holsters sold through Pyramyd Air are identical in every detail except they are finished in military black. The period belt is available from Chisholm’s Trail and the new magazine pouch will be offered shortly in military black from Pyramyd Air.
As the Mauser design evolved over three decades, there were several variations and improvements including changes to the safety mechanism, hammer design, sights, frame styles, markings, and in 1932 the addition of the Model 712 or Schnellfeuer, which introduced the removable box magazine. Considered among the most desirable of all Broomhandle designs, the M712 is also the most expensive for collectors (except for the 20-shot fixed magazine models, which came first and are even for desirable). Original M712 models also fall under Class III firearms, as part of the National Firearms Act of 1934, or as it is more commonly known, the NFA. This makes owning an original Model 712 a costly process. The Umarex M712 makes it possible to at least have a proper-looking model that can do everything the original did, except fire cartridges.
The Chisholm’s Trail M712 magazine pouch fits 1-1/2 inch belts and slides on horizontally to keep the magazine profile in line with the belt, as well as provide ease of access when reloading.
The M712 CO2 model is correct in intricate details like the N S selective fire control switch on the left side of the frame, the elevation adjustable rear sight, and thumb safety operation. All that it truly lacks, outside of firing metallic cartridges, is a more accurate finish to the frame, barrel, bolt, sights and controls, all a clean flat matte finish on the CO2 model, compared to the lustrous blue of the originals and grey (pickled) finish to the bolt, and other controls. Fortunately, the limited WWII edition of the CO2 model, with its weathered finish, makes a lot of this less obvious and the gun all that more realistic in overall appearances. But what is a great vintage firearm design without an equally great vintage holster in which to carry it?
Here the author opens the flap holster and draws the Model 712. Notice that the holster is designed to carry the gun with the magazine inserted. The new magazine pouch is mounted on the left side of the belt.
After emptying one magazine the release button is pushed and the empty withdrawn from the magazine well. It will drop free, but it’s a good idea to remove the magazine by hand, rather than letting it fall to the ground.
Handcrafted Mauser leather
If you could find a good condition original Mauser leather holster, it would set you back far more than the cost of the Umarex Model 712 Broomhandle. And, of course, it would not fit in the holster with the box magazine attached. The odds of finding a vintage M712 holster would be even greater and more costly. For those who want or have the Umarex Model 712 and have the same desire as I to carry it in a proper holster, the new Chisholm’s Trail M712 holster (the example shown is the prototype in brown, the production models sold by Pyramyd are military black), is a perfect and authentic to the era (1932) Mauser holster. Chisholm’s Trail also makes a period correct waist belt, shoulder strap, and has just introduced a period correct magazine pouch.
The reloading process is pretty quick with the new magazine pouch packing a fresh CO2 BB magazine…
…the flap is held closed by the brass stud which is easily released by applying pressure with the offside hand thumb.
The magazine is inserted breech end down, so that when withdrawn by the offside hand and rotated up to the magazine well, the BB is facing the right direction. The horizontal fit of the magazine pouch also keeps its profile in line with the belt and makes it easier overall to quickly access when reloading.
The pouch is an early military style with a flap that is secured with a brass stud passing through a slit. This is a design that goes as far back as Civil War era holsters and ammo pouches. And it still works as effectively today as it did in the 19th century. Some things really can’t be improved upon. Chisholm’s Trail copies this design perfectly. The pouches are wet fitted to a magazine mold so the loaded CO2 magazines will slip in and out with ease. The magazine pouches will be available shortly from Pyramyd (in military black) to match the M712 holster. Original military-style belts, like the example pictured, are sold by Chisholm’s Trail, but any 1-1/2 inch military style belt will fit both the M712 holster and magazine pouch.
With the magazine properly placed in the pouch when it is rotated up it is facing with the breech (BB) end forward. This makes one continuous move from opening the pouch with the thumb, extracting the magazine and then rotating the hand up to meet the gun’s magazine well.
The M712 is ready to go again. (Note the open pouch flap).
Without a doubt this is the best looking combination of CO2 handgun and holster I can imagine and I hope many of you share this passion for the legendary Broomhandle Mauser and its phenomenal Umarex M712 counterpart.
On Saturday the answer to the obvious question; what’s my second choice?