Pocket Pistol Roundup Part 1

Pocket Pistol Roundup Part 1

The CO2 subcompacts

By Dennis Adler

“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


Small Guns

Small Guns

Air pistols of a certain type

By Dennis Adler

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.

Small conclusions

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


Top vintage military arms

Top vintage military arms

CO2 in War and Peace

By Dennis Adler

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


Tokarev TT-33, Makarov PM1951 and Grach MR-443

Tokarev TT-33, Makarov PM1951, and Grach MR-443

“The Gun That Came in From the Cold” Makarov’s PM 1951 Part 2, Part 1

By Dennis Adler

As I said in Tuesday’s article, I went a little over the top on antiquing the TT-33 so I pulled it back by redoing the finish to a standard condition of 30% as shown in the Blue Book of Gun Values Photo Percentage Grading Scale. It looks like a well used, finish worn WWII pistol. It is matched with an equally antiqued TT-33 holster from World War Supply. The Tokarev was used by Russian soldiers, police and the KGB for almost two decades giving way to the Makarov PM 1951, which wasn’t really that much of a step forward, as it was just a new gun.

Before I get into today’s review of the Makarov PM1951, I want to go over the Tokarev TT-33 one last time. After Tuesday’s article I went back and refinished the antiquing a second time on the Gletcher TT-33, this time with a specific goal in mind, something a little less beaten and more just field worn, so I eliminated the stains (re-polished the frame) and reblued and rubbed the finish out to what the Blue Book of Gun Values considers a 40% condition factor on the Photo Percentage Grading Scale (PPGS). It would actually be closer to 30% were it not for the good condition of the grips and lack of pitting in the finish. This is a nice look for a WWII-era service pistol. So this first photo is the final effort to achieve that look. Again, 0000 steel wool to polish out the factory finish, down to the alloy in most areas, and then coats of Birchwood Casey Perma Blue applied liberally with cotton patches, rubbed dark, then lightly brushed again with the steel wool, more bluing, polishing and then gun oil to stop the action and preserve the final look. It is a basic formula that anyone can adapt and alter to their personal preferences. This time I was going for a finish similar to the photo in the Blue Book PPGS. The Gletcher now has official prop gun status!

The PM 1951 was smaller, fired a larger caliber round but was actually a step back in design by using a heel mounted magazine release, while the much older TT-33 had used a frame mounted release.

The fate of the TT-33 as a military arm in the USSR

We know that some gun designs are timeless like the Colt Model 1911 and Walther PPK, and for others time runs out, and even though they may remain “timeless” like a Broomhandle Mauser, for many, like the Tokarev TT-33, production comes to an end. In the 1950s, this was to be the fate of the TT-33, from favored sidearm to backstreet shops and battlefield finds, from fine military holsters to being tucked behind someone’s back. What followed the Tokarev was another gun with its fundamental design tied to someone else’s work. As Fedor Vasilevich Tokarev had been inspired by John M. Browning, Nikolay Makarov would find his inspiration in the works of Carl Walther.

The PM 1951 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 (much again like today), the stuff of which novels, movies and television series have been based upon for decades. In 1951, the old but well used Tokarev TT-33 bowed to a shiny new player, the Pistolet Makarova.

Nikolay Makarov found most of his inspiration for the PM 1951 in the c.1929 Walther PP. The PM 1951 disassembled exactly the same way (pulling down on the triggerguard and then drawing the slide to the rear, up and forward off the barrel and frame). The excellent CO2 version by Gletcher (and Umarex) is built exactly the same and also fieldstrips the same. A true blowback action design, the Makarov had the barrel affixed to the frame and surrounded by the recoil spring. This was a push for a pistol chambered in 9x18mm (a slightly larger bullet diameter than a .380 ACP). Pyramyd Air sells the Umarex Makarov Ultra version.

As influences of John Browning designs were evident in the Tokarev, it was equally easy to recognize traces of the Walther PP and PPK design in Makarov’s new semi-auto. Interestingly, the Walther PP was actually a year older in design than the Tokarev, yet still appeared relatively modern in 1951 compared to the TT-30 and TT-33. The Walther influences are evident in the PM 1951’s slide design, blowback action and a fixed frame-mounted barrel surrounded by a large recoil spring. Makarov actually had some rather archaic ideas, and in some ways the PM 1951 was a step backward in that it resorted to the slower and more difficult to operate heel mounted magazine release. This was a severe handicap to an expeditious reload in the field.

The Walther PP and PPK had the magazine release on the frame behind the triggerguard, as did the Tokarev TT-33. Makarov reverted to the more traditional European style of magazine release on the heel of the pistol grip, which is odd since he had copied so much of the Walther design.

Like the Tokarev, the PM 1951 also used an 8-round single stack magazine but was chambered in 9x18mm Makarov (a slightly larger bullet diameter than a 9x17mm or .380 ACP) and was a more powerful handgun than the old 7.62x25mm Tokarev. It was also a double action/single action design with the safety also de-cocking the gun when set. This was a big selling feature.

Makarov’s design for the manual safety on the left side of the frame was a significant improvement over the TT-33’s safety mechanism, and the gun was easier to grasp overall due to its contoured grip design (again a lot like a Walther PP). Makarov’s design, however, had been only one among several submitted to replace the Tokarev. His was ultimately deemed the best to meet the demands of the postwar Soviet military and the KGB. It was first issued in 1951 overlapping the remaining TT-33s in service and was the Soviet Union’s primary military sidearm until the early 1990s and the next legendary Russian handgun of the mid 20th Century.

The slide locks back on an empty magazine and the release drops the slide with authority on the reload. This is a fairly heavy recoiling pistol for a CO2 model. The thumb safety is easy to operate.

Gletcher’s PM 1951

From the get go the Gletcher has one fatal accuracy flaw; it uses a single action trigger system with a double action length of pull instead of a correct double action/single action trigger. Of course, this is only relevant if you want to fire the first shot double action (hammer de-cocked). After the first shot, the PM 1951 is a single action gun.

The Gletcher PM 1951 uses an authentic blowback action like the original gun which adds even more authenticity to shooting this air pistol. Lastly, it works with self-contained 16-shot CO2 and BB magazines to provide more realistic handling when reloading and chambering the first round. The magazine’s weight also helps center the gun in the hand and improve the pistol’s balance. With an average velocity for the PM 1951 of 329 fps, this is a very smooth and fast shooting airgun. Despite the long pull, trigger press is an exceptional 4 pounds 14 ounces average. It may be wrong for the design, but it is one of the smoothest air pistol triggers around, which adds to the PM 1951’s impressive accuracy.

Gletcher has done a great job of minimizing verbiage on the PM 1951 which is all maintained on the right side of the slide and frame. The pistol has a 3.75 inch barrel with an internal smoothbore barrel recessed 0.25 inches from the muzzle.

My first 16-round target had a total spread (on a National 10 meter air pistol target) of 1.25 inches with several rounds closely grouped at 0.5 inches.

The safety clicks on and off with authority and the slide release feels exactly like one on a centerfire handgun, slamming the slide into battery. Even though the original-style Makarov sights are hard to acquire, the gun is steady in the hand, and the smoothbore barrel delivers better accuracy than some short barreled pellet models with rifled barrels. At a test distance of 21 feet firing offhand using a two-handed hold, my first target placed 16 shots into 1.25 inches with several tight groups of three and four rounds at 0.5 inches. My last target (who has a best target and keeps shooting?) was a nearly picture perfect 10 shots with all but two in one ragged tear, measuring 0.687 inches, the best I have ever done with the Gletcher PM 1951. It might not be 100 percent accurate in details but it is 100 percent accurate at 21 feet.

I had a best target consisting of 10 shots almost in one ragged tear measuring 0.687 inches, at which point I called it a day! The Gletcher PM 1951 Makarov is one of the better blowback action CO2 models and one of the Gletcher Russian Legends Series. It is also available in the Umarex Legends Series as the Makarov Ultra.

If you are an enthusiast of Cold War era guns, then this classic Soviet pistol from the 1950s is well worth adding to your collection. Saturday we begin our first look at the one of the latest Russian military handguns, the Grach MR-443 “Pistolet Yarygina.”

[1] Pyramyd Air sells the Umarex Makarov Ultra version which is the same as the Gletcher except for using an external CO2 seating key.


Luger P.08 and Makarov pistols

Luger P.08 and Makarov pistols Part 3

Making a choice between two Makarov pistols

By Dennis Adler

The two Makarovs, Gletcher’s PM 1951 (rear) and the Umarex Makarov Ultra. Neither gun is an exact copy of the famed post-WWII Soviet handgun, but each has its advantages and disadvantages.

The two Makarovs, Gletcher’s PM 1951 (rear) and the Umarex Makarov Ultra. Neither is an exact copy of the famed post-WWII Soviet handgun, but each has its advantages and disadvantages.

The Makarov or PM 1951 was a new design for the Soviet Union, but the Pistolet Makarova was, for the most part, a Russian variation of the circa 1930’s Walther PPK, in fact, both guns are very much alike, not only in general appearances but internal design and operation. Nikolay Makarov made a very nice Walther and Gletcher and Umarex make very nice Makarov pistols.

How close it is? The Gletcher PM 1951 (top) looks a lot like a real Makarov (bottom) but is a little lankier and lacking in a few minor but noteworthy details.

How close it is? The Gletcher PM 1951 (top) looks a lot like a real Makarov (bottom) but is a little lankier and lacking in a few minor but noteworthy details.

The Gletcher Russian Legends version is very accurate in design with proper grips (although a longer grip frame, (necessary for the length of the self contained CO2 and BB magazine), lanyard loop, muzzle shape and general contours. The trigger is slightly different in shape, but there is a big plus in that minor detail. In overall appearances it close to the Makarov.

The Umarex Makarov Ultra (top) has more accurate features including a nearly identical length grip frame, correct serrated hammer shape, and correct style slide release and thumb safety. The big drawback is the CO2 seating screw extending from the base of the CO2 BB magazine.

The Umarex Makarov Ultra (top) has more accurate features including a nearly identical length grip frame, correct serrated hammer shape, and correct style slide release and thumb safety. The big drawback is the CO2 seating screw extending from the base of the CO2 BB magazine.

Conversely, the Umarex Makarov Ultra has a more accurate slide release, serrated hammer shape and more accurate trigger shape; it also has a proper length grip frame. The worst feature is the self contained CO2 and BB magazine, which has the seating screw extending from the bottom, rather than using a recessed hex head seating screw. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, the Umarex, however, would be a superior gun in overall design if it had a proper CO2 BB magazine.

The Umarex Makarov Ultra (left) is an overall more authentic looking copy of the Makarov, but the CO2 BB magazine is a real detractor since it has the telltale CO2 seating screw extending out of the bottom. The Gletcher (right) has a recessed seating screw that is tightened with a separate hex head tool.

The Umarex Makarov Ultra (left) is an overall more authentic looking copy of the Makarov, but the CO2 BB magazine is a real detractor since it has the telltale CO2 seating screw extending out of the bottom. The Gletcher (right) has a recessed seating screw that is tightened with a separate hex head tool.

The Gletcher’s grip frame is 0.5 inches longer than the Umarex (which is closer to the real pistol for size). This is accounted for by the magazine designs which are totally different.

The Gletcher’s grip frame is 0.5 inches longer than the Umarex (which is closer to the real pistol for size). This is accounted for in part by totally different magazine designs.

 Best Shots

Velocity tests returned a little lower than expected 302 fps average for the Gletcher PM 1951, which is rated at 328 fps, and a little higher than expected 358 fps average from the Umarex Makarov Ultra, which is rated at 350 fps. The real upshot is that both are about equally accurate with their black military style dovetailed notch rear, and short blade front sights. The safety on the Umarex is hard to operate, while the Gletcher’s is pretty close to working the real pistol’s safety. The Umarex slide release is a superior design and easy to work, while the Gletcher’s simply doesn’t work unless you pull the slide back at the same time. Bottom line there is that the Umarex is built better. Neither gun is a prize when it comes time to change magazines as they use an original style Makarov release mounted at the base of the grip frame. You have to push it back to release the magazine. This calls for a strong thumb, although the Umarex requires about half the effort of the Gletcher.

Both Makarov air pistols are true blowback designs with the barrels mounted on the frame and surrounded by the recoil spring. This is almost exactly what a real Makarov or Walther PPK looks like when you disassemble it. This is done by removing the magazine, pulling the triggerguard gown at the front so it disengages with the frame, and then pulling the slide to the rear, lifting it up over the hammer and sliding it forward off the frame and barrel.

Both Makarov air pistols are true blowback designs with the barrels mounted on the frame and surrounded by the recoil spring. This is almost exactly what a real Makarov or Walther PPK looks like when you disassemble it. This is done by removing the magazine, pulling the triggerguard gown at the front so it disengages with the frame, and then pulling the slide to the rear, lifting it up over the hammer and sliding it forward off the frame and barrel.

The accuracy of the two guns really comes down to the triggers, with the Gletcher having a significant edge over the Umarex. Average trigger pull for the Umarex Makarov Ultra is a hefty 11 pounds, 4 ounces, with a long 0.75 inches of low resistance travel followed by 0.25 inches of heavy stacking to a clean break. The Umarex also has sharper than usual recoil for a blowback action air pistol, which goes hand-in-hand with its almost 50 fps average higher velocity. The Gletcher, with a lighter and smoother 4 pound, 5.7 ounce trigger pull, feels more like a target pistol with a mere 0.25 inches of travel to drop the hammer. It also has very snappy recoil, so both blowback action Makarov pistols are great to shoot.

Both guns delivered decent accuracy at 21 feet with the Gletcher turning in the best 10 rounds at 1.75 inches compared to 2.0 inches for the Umarex.

Both guns delivered decent accuracy at 21 feet with the Gletcher turning in the best 10 rounds at 1.75 inches compared to 2.0 inches for the Umarex.

The test target was shot back to back with both guns at a distance of 21 feet. The Gletcher PM 1951 put 10 rounds at 1.75 inches, the Umarex Makarov Ultra, 10 shots at 2.0 inches. Both guns had 5-shot groups of 1-inch or under. Neither gun is a perfect copy of the Makarov, but Umarex has the sum total of better features. What it needs is an updated magazine screw (like the PPK/S just got) and lighter trigger. Until then, this is a match up where you are quite literally trading velocity for accuracy.

In Friday’s Airgun Experience we are going to explore just how accurate some .177 caliber blowback action semi-autos are, not only on the outside, but on the inside!

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


Luger P.08 and Makarov pistols

Luger P.08 and Makarov pistols

One legendary WWI and WWII German semi-auto

faces off with Russia’s post WWII top gun

By Dennis Adler 

Two of a kind times two, the Umarex P.08 Legends Luger Parabellum (with the toggle locked open), the Gletcher P.08 version (one of two Luger models offered), the Gletcher Russian Legends Makarov (slide locked back) and Umarex Makarov Ultra. All four are blowback action semi-autos, but none are alike!

Two of a kind times two, the Umarex Legends Parabellum (toggle locked open), the Gletcher P.08 version (one of two models offered), Gletcher Russian Legends Makarov (slide locked back) and Umarex Makarov Ultra. All four are blowback action semi-autos, but none are alike!

Many of you are going, “What, why is he comparing a Luger with a Makarov?” Two reasons; both have their roots tied to military history and both have become iconic firearms. The Luger Parabellum is an evolution of a late 19th century design, the Borchardt, while the Makarov, an early post-WWII pistol, has its basis in the mid 20th century Russian Tokarev semiautomatic pistol, without which the Makarov might never have been designed. Both 1908 Luger and 1951 Makarov were being used in the post WWII era, and both remain to this day among the most significant of all European handguns, albeit the Luger with a much greater heritage than the Makarov. Both have been recreated as high-quality, blowback action .177 caliber semiautomatic air pistols, and by two different manufacturers, Umarex and Gletcher; two guns, two manufacturers, and two different approaches to the same end. Who comes out on top?  You be the judge.

The Luger Heritage

When it comes to historic handguns as a raison d’être for building a .177 caliber CO2 blowback action air pistol, very few handguns from the 20th century are more deserving than the Luger Parabellum. In fact, it is just barely even a 20th century handgun, being one of the very first successful (with the emphasis on “successful”) semiautomatic handguns ever. The P.08’s design was evolved from the c. 1893 Borchardt semiautomatic pistol developed by Hugo Borchardt.

Austrian born firearms designer Georg J. Luger was infatuated with the Borchardt’s design, if not its’ ungainly appearance with a foursquare grip almost in the middle of the frame and a massive rear toggling action. Luger envisioned a smaller version, with the toggle link having its mainspring inside the grip frame rather than behind it, so the gun could be more compact and its operation simplified. His first version of this new gun appeared at the end of the 19th century in 1898. In addition to the Broomhandle Mauser (which was a totally different approach to a semiautomatic pistol design) the Luger was one of the most significant semiautomatic handguns ever designed.

The Umarex Legends Parabellum P.08 is an accurate .177 caliber version of the Luger model adopted by the Germany military in 1908 (thus the P.08 which stands for Pistole Parabellum 1908). The Umarex uses a self contained CO2 BB magazine giving the gun added authenticity when reloading. A spare Umarex Parabellum CO2 BB magazine is shown stored in the magazine pouch of this World War Supply copy of the c.1938 Otto Sindel P.08 Luger holster.

The Umarex Legends Parabellum P.08 is an accurate .177 caliber version of the Luger model adopted by the Germany military in 1908 (thus the P.08 which stands for Pistole Parabellum 1908). The Umarex uses a self contained CO2 BB magazine giving the gun added authenticity when reloading. A spare Umarex Parabellum CO2 BB magazine is shown stored in the magazine pouch of this World War Supply copy of the c.1938 Otto Sindel P.08 Luger holster.

The Luger’s knee-joint-style toggle breechblock was still a very complicated design (eclipsed by the John M. Browning designs of the early 20th century for ease of operation and maintenance), and though technologically outdated by WWI, the Luger remained a reliable, precision built German sidearm remaining in use even after it was superseded as the German military’s standard sidearm by the Walther P.38 in 1940. What the two guns had most in common was reliability, accuracy and a 9mm cartridge.

The original Luger pistol was not chambered in 9mm, but for a smaller cartridge, the 7.65x21mm round. In 1901 Luger invented a new cartridge for his pistol, the 9x19mm Parabellum. What is known today as the most common pistol cartridge in use throughout the world was invented by Georg Luger and put into production in 1903.

The Gletcher P.08 is a slightly lower priced Luger model that uses a separate stick magazine and CO2 channel in the grip frame.

The Gletcher P.08 is a slightly lower priced Luger model that uses a separate stick magazine and CO2 channel in the grip frame.

Prior to the P.08, Germany had used a variety of semiautomatic handguns, making the P.08 the first standardized semiautomatic military sidearm of the German Empire. The guns were originally manufactured in Berlin by Deutche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken (DWM). They were later produced by Mauser (which acquired DWM in 1930), by the Royal German Arsenal at Erfurt, and after WWI, under license by Simson & Company and Kreighoff. Switzerland also turned out some 50,000 military and commercial Luger models, and in Great Britain, Vickers, Ltd. manufactured a small run for delivery to the Netherlands in 1920-21. The Luger Parabellum was even once considered by the U.S. government as a potential military sidearm. It lost out to the Colt Model 1911. So the Luger has a very long history and a design, however complicated, that has proven popular enough to become one of the flagship models for the Umarex Legends line of historic semiautomatic pistols.

The Makarov Journey

Russia, or rather the Soviet Union’s role in WWII, is confusing because at the beginning of the war in 1939, the Soviet Union appeared to be on Germany’s side (politically and in terms of Soviet invasions following Germany’s attack on Poland). That had all changed by 1943 when the Soviet Union found itself on the side of the Allied Forces (politically) following Joseph Stalin’s meeting in Tehran (Iran) with Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. Stalin’s change of heart had been motivated by Germany’s first invasion of Russia in June 1941 despite a non-aggression treaty, beginning a long and hard fought war in which the Soviet Union had to rely on a variety of mostly outdated firearms for its defense. Among those firearms was the Tokarev TT-33 semiautomatic, the only modern pistol in the entire Soviet arsenal. It had first been issued to the Red Army in 1934.

There are two ways to build a Makarov and Gletcher has pretty faithfully copied the 1951 Nikolay Makarov design with a full blowback action, a slide that locks back after the last round is discharged, and a self contained CO2 and BB magazine.

There are two ways to build a Makarov and Gletcher has pretty faithfully copied the 1951 Nikolay Makarov design with a full blowback action, a slide that locks back after the last round is discharged, and a self contained CO2 and BB magazine.

Of course, the Soviet Union was no stranger to semi-autos; the Red Army was already using the German Broomhandle Mauser and P.08 Luger and officers had even been allowed to purchase their own sidearms (usually a Broomhandle Mauser) since 1914, but the Soviets really wanted their own Russian-made semi-auto pistol. The desired caliber was 7.62x25mm (virtually identical to the 7.63x25mm Mauser Broomhandle round) and in 1930, arms designer Fedor Vasilevich Tokarev gave Mother Russia the handgun it wanted, the Tokarev TT-30, and in 1933, an improved version, the TT-33, which was adopted by the Soviet Union as its new sidearm one year later.

The Tokarev was to become the most famous Russian handgun of the Second World War, and remained in use until the postwar 1950s, by which time the U.S.S.R. wanted an even better Russian-made pistol. Enter the Pistolet Makarova Model 1951 or Makarov for short. Originally issued to Soviet officers during the Cold War Era, the Makarov was chambered in 9x18mm, (a slightly smaller caliber closer in size and power to a .380 ACP).

The Umarex version of the Makarov is also a blowback action design with a slide that locks back after the last round, and it uses a CO2 BB magazine as well, however, the Umarex has a CO2 tensioning screw that extends from the bottom of the magazine, which unfortunately slightly detracts from the authentic look of the airgun.

The Umarex version of the Makarov is also a blowback action design with a slide that locks back after the last round, and it uses a CO2 BB magazine as well, however, the Umarex has a CO2 tensioning screw that extends from the bottom of the magazine, which unfortunately slightly detracts from the authentic look of the airgun.

The Makarov airguns are all based on the original design, and like the Umarex P.08 Legends Series, is an all-metal, blowback action semi-auto with a self contained CO2 and BB magazine. You’ll note I said “airguns” and that is because, like the Umarex Legends models, there are similar blowback action P.08 and Makarov air pistols produced by Gletcher. The P.08 is actually offered in two versions by Gletcher, one identical to the Umarex Parabellum P.08 and a second model listed as the P.08, which uses a stick magazine and a CO2 chamber built into the pistol grip. Gletcher’s Russian Legends series also offers a Makarov model, the PM 1951. So there are two versions of the Makarov and three of the P.08 from which to choose.

Next Monday in Part 2, we start to make a case for the choices, an Umarex or Gletcher Luger Parabellum.