“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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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 Springfield Armory XDM 3.8 semi-auto in both black and bi-tone versions, vs. the actual 9mm XDM 3.8 models!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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?
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 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.
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?