It’s not a myth, men with engraved guns felt a special bond with the gun that made it more than just a gun.Some men were emboldened by it, some more than others, like the Dalton Gang, but an outlaw packing a finely engraved gun was unusual, same for most lawmen, though there are some very famous exceptions (and you can fill in the blanks on that one starting with Wild Bill Hickok). An engraved gun was actually more likely to found in the holster, or perhaps on the desk, of a wealthy rancher, a successful businessman, or ranking military officer. Of course, anyone who saved up enough for a hand engraved gun could have owned one, too. Engraved guns usually meant something personal; a presentation to a friend, brother or relative, others were presented to a Sheriff or Marshall by the grateful citizens of a town. Most lawmen with engraved guns were in fact carrying guns presented to them.read more
History teaches us that the past is never forgotten
Some modern airguns with their roots in the 19th century
By Dennis Adler
As a handgun owner, long before I began writing about handguns as an occasional columnistforGuns & Ammo over 20 years ago, back when Garry James was editor, my interests were mainly historic firearms, (same as Garry), and that is what I wrote about in G&A, as well as in my first gun book, published in 1998, on the history of Colt’s 2nd and 3rd generation black powder guns. A dozen gun books later, on subjects as varied as Winchester shotguns, guns of the Civil War, guns of the American West, cartridge conversions of Civil War era black powder guns, and the history of the Colt’s Patent Fire-Arms Mfg. Co., my interests have never changed; so in my mind, modern handguns are essential to modern times, but historic guns are quintessential to handgun history, and to a great extent, American history.read more
At one point in history, firearms evolved from rudimentary, though often quite elegant, single and double shot pistols and long guns, to more affordable and efficient revolvers, revolving rifles and shotguns. It wasn’t until the Civil War that further developments came to the forefront, like the Henry and Spencer lever action rifles. War was a driving force, but in the period from the late 19th century to the early 20th, armsmakers made remarkable strides in the development of semi-automatic handguns and rifles. While the American West was still very much a dynamic in this country, from the mid west to the pacific coast, and along our borders with Canada and Mexico, firearms designs literally surpassed the needs of the times. Imagine the Texas Rangers, who had been created in an era of flintlock pistols and rifles moving into the new century armed with semiautomatic Colt Model 1911s. (The gun pictured is a customized Swiss Arms CO2 model along with a copy of an early 20th century western drop loop holster made for the Colt semi-auto.)
I can’t speak for everyone who likes western guns, I can only speak for myself and the handful of people I know who shoot CO2 powered Single Actions and Lever Action Rifles, and among that group there is a need for more new guns in this category. But what exactly is a western gun? And when did the Old West really come to an end? Certainly not when the calendar flipped over to January 1900; it might have been a new century but the wild and often untamed American West of the 1870s and 1880s held fast to its ways well into the early 1900s.
The latest guns of the early 20th century were overlapping with the end of the American West as automobiles slowly began to replace horses, the electric light illuminated city streets at night, and telephones allowed the fastest means of communication. As a firearm, the Colt Model 1911 was the embodiment of those modern advancements for lawmen, the military, and civilians alike. That it overlapped the last two decades of the American West (which most historians will agree was still recognizable well into the mid 1920s), is evident in how such commonplace items as holsters adapted to the new guns without sacrificing their Western heritage. The original design of this holster dates back to 1915 and R.T. Frazier Saddlery in Pueblo, Colorado. The reproduction was made in Spain by Garcia Bros.
Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Montana, Kansas, Wyoming, Colorado, and parts of California, still had their share of rough and tumble cow towns. New Mexico and Arizona were still territories until 1912, becoming the 47th and 48th states, respectively. It took territorial legislators and a band of heroic U.S. Marshals operating out of Ft. Smith, Arkansas, to bring law and order to the Oklahoma badlands before Oklahoma could achieve statehood. That took until 1907, and yet, the Oklahoma oil fields and surrounding towns were still as wild in the 1920s as they had been in 1880s and 1890s.
A similar design was worn by Texas Ranger Edwin DuBose around 1915. He was among the first Texas lawmen to begin carrying a Colt Model 1911.
Automobiles, telephones and electric lights brought conveniences, they didn’t bring civility or change the ways of men and women who had been born in the West of the late 19th century. Most of the senior lawmen of the day had honed their skills in the 1880s, and much the same could be said for the outlaws, ruffians, and miscreants of the era.
One other thing had changed, not for everyone, but for most, the types of guns that were being used. So by the 1920s, what exactly was a Western gun? The lead photo for this article answers that question to some extent.
The idea was simply to allow a modern weapon to work within the confines of contemporary gunleather. Lawmen that carried the 1911 in the early part of the century often carried a Colt Single Action revolver as well as a lever action Winchester.
We consider Tom Horn a figure of the American West, yet when he escaped from the Laramie County, Wyoming, jail in 1902 (where he was being held on a murder charge), he took Deputy Sheriff Richard Proctor’s pistol, a .32 ACP FN Model 1900 semiautomatic, and found himself essentially unarmed against his pursuers, because Horn had no idea how to work the Browning pistol, which Proctor carried with the safety set.
On the subject of Winchester lever action rifles, we are fortunate enough to have a very accurate copy of the Model 1894 from Umarex to round out late 19th and early 20th century Western guns. The model pictured is a sample of a proposed special edition with a polished and hand engraved receiver, that would be in an edition of 100 in the tradition of the famous Winchester One of One Hundred models. If this piques your interest, please write a comment.
Due to the design and manufacturing of the Umarex Legends Cowboy Lever Action, the only part of the gun that can be worked on is the receiver and Adams & Adams have proposed a polished finish with period Winchester engraving and borders. You can find pictures of original guns with this very same design.
When legendary 19th century frontier lawman, Bill Tilghman, was shot and killed on November 1, 1924, while serving as City Marshal of Cromwell, Oklahoma, a wild and almost lawless oil town, he was carrying a Colt Model 1908 semi-auto. His killer, Wiley Lynn, is reputed to have shot the Marshal at point blank range with a .25 ACP Colt Model 1908 Vest Pocket Model semi-auto, while Tilghman was trying to arrest him. The times hadn’t changed, just the guns. Had Tilghman been carrying his Colt Peacemaker he probably would have buffaloed Lynn with the barrel of the gun, and things might have turned out differently.
This early 20th century Western lawman actually has a 9mm Luger strapped to his hip in a modified Mexican drop loop holster. Not exactly what you think of when you talk about Western guns, but sure enough, in the early 1900s lawmen were using them.
It is surprising how well a Luger fits in some types of soft leather holsters like this old style whip stitch design. The gun is an Umarex CO2 model.
By the early 1900s, even though the majority of lawmen and law breakers still carried Colt Single Actions, there were Colt and Smith & Wesson double action revolvers in use, and Colt and various European semi-autos being carried, either as a primary sidearm or a backup. One early 20th century lawman in the Southwest carried a new 9mm German Luger in a western-style holster; the Sheriff of Anadarko Oklahoma (still a territory) had among his guns a shoulder stocked Model 1896 Broomhandle Mauser semi-auto.
In the early 1900s, lawmen from Oklahoma to the Mexican border were arming themselves with the latest weaponry. Mingled with this posse’s lever action rifles and single action revolvers is a shoulder stocked Broomhandle Mauser. Look closely, it is between the top cartridge belt and one of the lever action rifles.
Like the drop loop holsters made to fit the Luger, holsters were also made to accommodate the shape of the Broomhandle Mauser. The Umarex models are so accurate in their dimensions that with the magazine removed, they will fit a holster made for a C96 model.
Of course, with the magazine removed the gun doesn’t work but it only takes a moment to insert it and make the Umarex Model 712 functional. (Pyramyd Air also sells a holster that fits the gun with the magazine attached).
And lest we forget the Single Actions that are available in CO2 like the deluxe Nimschke hand engraved model from Adams & Adams. These are much pricier than the standard 5-1/2 inch nickel models, but they make a handsome CO2 pistol.
Engraved versions of the Bear River Schofield are also offered by Pyramyd Air, making this one of the most original looking of all CO2 models.
So, when we say we need more western guns as CO2 models, we actually have a few more than we realize! This is not to say we still don’t need a couple of new Schofield designs from Bear River, or a 4-3/4 inch Peacemaker or 2-1/2 inch barrel Sheriff’s model from Umarex, but you might think about finding a western rig for an Umarex P.08 Luger or Model 712 Broomhandle. They, too, have histories well rooted in the American West.
Not sure what this says about me but Richard Boone as Paladin was my favorite western hero when I was a kid.
I am drawn to certain CO2 air pistols and the occasional CO2 air rifle by my past and my passions for certain guns I have owned, be they airguns or actual cartridge firing guns. I grew up in a family where there were no guns. My interests stemmed from watching TV westerns in the 1950s and 1960s, Have Gun, Will Travel, Wanted Dead or Alive, Gunsmoke, and Bonanza, (and I could throw in a few others I liked like Trackdown and the Rifleman) and classic TV detectives like Richard Diamond, Peter Gunn, and Mike Hammer.
Running a close second to Paladin was Josh Randall. Both were killers, bounty hunters, soldiers of fortune, but they also lived by a code and had honor and great compassion. Maybe that’s just the way they were written, but I got it.
I learned about the old west and the 1950s era I was growing up in not only from school and books, but from what the small screen portrayed as the past and present. Somewhere in all of that the truth existed, but I went through all of the phases along the way; cowboy hats and boots, gun belts, Fanner 50 single actions, even the now very collectible Wanted Dead or Alive Mare’s Laig lever action cap gun.
Yep, I was just like most 10 and 11 year olds back in the 1950s, bitten by the cowboy bug. Back then I put on the hat, boots and the gunbelt because it was fun. I was a kid.
But I never really grew out of it. This photo is from a Guns of the Old West article I did a few years back when I reviewed the new Chiappa .44-40 Mare’s Laig like Steve McQueen used in Wanted Dead or Alive. Talk about reliving your childhood.
But it wasn’t until I got my first BB gun, built in the shape of a Colt Model 1911 and designed to shoot BBs, pellets or darts that I actually had something that did more than make a cap go bang. I discovered target shooting. Other kids discovered hunting, I leaned more towards shooting for scores on a target. I also found my first real firearms passion, the Colt Model 1911.
Obviously the television shows I had watched rarely had a 1911 (the occasional detective show) and as I grew up my interest was focused on purchasing a 1911 and learning how to shoot the legendary .45 ACP semi-auto. I finally got one in my early 20s, an old WWII model, and discovered they were harder than hell to shoot accurately! I literally could not hit the broad side of a barn with it. Not that I was shooting at people’s barns, (there weren’t any where I grew up anyway) but at the target range I could barely keep a shot on the paper target at 50 feet. I went through a lot of ammunition learning how to shoot that gun and eventually got fairly accurate with it. So, the Colt .45 ACP was my original passion.
For me, it began with an old WWII era 1911A1 back in my early 20s, not one so fine as this example, but it was my first passion as a gun enthusiast.
Life’s unexpected turns took me in vastly different directions as a journalist and photographer, none of which had anything to do with being a cowboy, detective, or even a target shooter for the next decade or so. Those of you who like automobiles might look me up on Amazon.com and see how many automotive books I have written over the decades. Then life sent me in another direction altogether. I had been based in California for my entire career when not traveling with various automakers around the world to photograph cars in exotic locations, when it all came to a sudden stop. I won’t go into details but I had tuned a corner, reevaluated my life, found someone who made my life better and followed her to Pennsylvania. (See what happens when you watch too many Hallmark movies). I was still writing books but as fate would have it I decided to write a book on old guns. That was over 20 years ago, and a lot of gun books and gun articles have followed. History has taught me that embracing old ideas, old passions and giving them new life, even late in life, is what keeps the past in our present.
Life runs in circles sometimes, and 50 years later I found that I still had a passion for the 1911A1, only as a CO2 model. I just had to make it look like the .45 ACP I had in my 20s. Defarbing has become another passion.
Airguns have always been a second passion for me and during the last 20 years I have tested hundreds and written about them in magazines and books. When I walk into my office there is a table on one side with air pistols on it. Some for testing, some for extended use, some that will be there indefinitely, and the first gun is the Swiss Arms 1911A1 I used for the Airgun Experience articles on Defarbing a 1911. It is there as a reminder of my first passion, my first 1911 (which didn’t look much better than the defarbed Swiss Arms and didn’t shoot as well!) and that the past can be recaptured in some often unusual ways.
When I was a kid I put on the hat, the boots, and gunbelt for fun. Honestly, even today, it is still fun whether I’m shooting a pair of Crosman Remington 1875 CO2 revolvers for Airgun Experience or a pair of real .45 Colts for Guns of the Old West. For the true of heart, you never outgrow your passion.
I began as an automotive journalist and ended up being a firearms historian. I get paid to put on the cowboy hat and wear the cartridge belt and fire the guns of the Old West, whether they shoot .45 Colt or 4.5mm pellets, and some might say I am living the life, but I am just following my passion. What’s yours?
Shooting .177 (4.5mm) Round Pellets through a rifled barrel pistol
By Dennis Adler
Smoothbore BB revolvers like the Bear River Schofield and Remington Model 1875 can fire BB-loading cartridges and also fire pellet-loading cartridges, and do so quite accurately as evidenced by these 21 foot shot playing cards ala John Wesley Hardin.
As we have proven in earlier articles, cartridge-loading smoothbore CO2 BB revolvers that have pellet cartridge-firing counterparts (or pellet-loading cartridges available), can also shoot 4.5mm lead or alloy pellets quite well; not as accurately as a rifled barrel model, but well enough to make it worthwhile with models like the Schofield and Remington. The cartridges are interchangeable, but you would not want to shoot a steel BB in a rifled barrel Colt Peacemaker; it’s a one-way street, unless you want to risk damaging the rifling with a steel BB.
The pellet and BB loading cartridges come with the smoothbore Remington Model 1875 (top) and the Schofield uses pellet-loading cartridges sold by Pyramyd Air.
On the other hand, some semi-auto style pellet-firing pistols with rotary magazines can shoot pellets or BBs. This started back in 2007 with the Umarex Beretta PX4 Storm, which uses a reversible 8-shot rotary magazine that will hold pellets or BBs. The downside to this, as has been pointed out numerous times, is that if you shoot steel BBs through the PX4 Storm, over time you will erode the surface of the barrel rifling and accuracy with pellets will begin to decline.
The first air pistol from Umarex to offer reversible 8-round rotary pellet magazines was the Beretta licensed PX4 Storm semi auto. This blowback pistol can shoot pellets or BBs. It was designed with a rifled barrel for improved accuracy with wadcutter lead pellets, but can also shoot steel BBs, which are held in the pellet chambers by a magnet at each end of the stick magazine. The use of 4.5mm lead round pellets will give the gun longer life as shooting steel BBs will eventually erode the surface of the rifling. Though it is not mentioned by Umarex, the lead round pellets work just fine and fit firmly into the pellet chambers of the rotary magazine, since they have the same diameter as a 4.5mm pellet. The Meisterkugeln Professional Line lead wadcutters are loaded in the top rotary magazine and the Gamo lead round balls in the bottom.
The idea behind the PX4 Storm and other similar designs that have followed, (like the Gamo PT-85 and new Umarex Walther PPQ among others), is allowing shooters to practice with lower cost BBs and use more expensive pellets for serious target shooting. In comparison a 500 count tin of Meisterkugeln Professional Line 7.0 grain lead wadcutters (my personal choice) retails for $15 while a 250 count tin of Gamo 4.5mm lead round balls sells for $5.95. Double that and 500 round balls retail for $11.90. Discounted price for Gamo round balls on Pyramyd Air is actually $3.95 and Meisterkugeln wadcutters $12.55. Either way, 500 rounds are not prohibitively expensive for target shooting or plinking with any pellet pistol that can also shoot BBs (or 4.5mm round lead balls).
The size of the lead round pellets keeps them in place in the rotary magazine which uses magnets to hold the smaller diameter steel BBs. Without the magnets steel BBs would fall out of the pellet-sized chambers.
To evaluate the PX4 Storm with pellets, BBs and 4.5mm round balls I am doing back-to-back tests for velocity and accuracy at 21 feet, which is the best distance with BBs. Pellets should be accurate to 10 meters or a little beyond, but to keep things even all tests will be at 21 feet.
The PX4 is no tack driver and the heavier grain weight lead round pellets slow velocity considerably, but the gun remains satisfactorily accurate for its price range and quality.
Using Meisterkugeln 7.0 grain lead wadcutters the PX4 Storm clocked a high velocity of 360 fps, a low of 340 fps, and an average velocity of 350 fps with a standard deviation of 12 fps. Switching the magazine over to the 8.2 grain Gamo 4.5mm lead rounds, the PX4 Storm’s velocity dropped to a high of 304 fps, a low of 281 fps, and an average velocity of 287 fps with a standard deviation of 12 fps. While using the lead round ball ammo may save the rifling, it certainly cuts into the gun’s velocity. How much? With .177 steel BBs (the magazine uses magnets to hold the steel BBs in place); the gun clocked a high of 339 fps, a low of 316 fps, and an average of 330 fps with a standard deviation of 12 fps. Velocity with steel BBs falls in the middle between average velocities for pellets of 350 fps and lead round ball of 287 fps. The big difference is going to come from accuracy.
The PX4 Storm punched eight lead wadcutters into 2.125 inches (all in the X ring of the Shoot-N-C target) with a best five measuring 1.50 inches. Not exactly a target pistol but the white dot sights are nice, and the pistol has snappy recoil for CO2.
At 21 feet the PX4 Storm punched eight lead wadcutters into 2.125 inches (all in the X ring of the Shoot-N-C target) with a best five measuring 1.50 inches. Not exactly a target pistol. The 4.5mm lead round balls offered a small advantage at the same distance giving me a best eight shots at 1.75 inches but below POA gathering seven of the eight in the 9 and 10 rings from 7 to 8 o’clock, with a measurement of 1.43 inches. The group opened up to 1.75 inches with a flyer in the bullseye! Switching to Umarex .177 caliber steel BBs for the final test, I ended up with eight shots at an uninspiring 2.75 inches but as I shot and corrected I managed to plant five of the eight inside 1.25 inches and my first three, all low, strung together at 0.687 inches.
The 4.5mm lead round balls offered a small advantage at the same distance giving me a best eight shots at 1.75 inches but below POA gathering seven of the eight in the 9 and 10 rings from 7 to 8 o’clock, with a measurement of 1.43 inches. The group opened up to 1.75 inches with a flyer in the bullseye!
With Umarex .177 caliber steel BBs in the PX4 I ended up with a wide spread comprised of one three shot group at 0.687 inches and five shots grouped (after correcting POA) at 1.25 inches.
Cast alloy rotary magazines
Stepping this back to earlier rotary magazine pellet-firing models, like the highly regarded Umarex Walther CP88, raises an interesting question. This is the original rotary pellet semi-auto model introduced in 1996, and it is still manufactured today. I am loading the magazine with eight Gamo 4.5mm lead round balls instead of wadcutter pellets. You have to be sure the balls are well seated in the magazine but the round pellets deliver an average velocity of 359 fps. The high was 379 fps, the low 345 fps with a standard deviation of 11 fps. This compares with Meisterkugeln lead wadcutters which delivered an average velocity of 417 fps with a high of 439 fps, a low of 406 fps and a standard deviation of 11 fps. The Meisterkugeln Profession Line wadcutter pellets have a grain weight of 7.0; the heavier Gamo 4.5mm round lead pellets weigh 8.2 grains, which explains the lower velocity.
The Umarex Walther CP88 Competition brought the classic design of the Walther P88 Champion 9mm pistol to the world of airguns in 1996. The 4.5mm, 8-shot semi-auto is based on the most exclusive of the centerfire P88 models manufactured in 1992.
The CP88 cast alloy rotary magazines will seat the round lead pellets but they have to be pushed in firmly. Once in place they stay put like a wadcutter pellet and perform as well at 21 feet.
While you can do this, I am not sure why you want to with a fine target pistol like the CP88. But you could also shoot the 4.5mm lead round balls from a CP99, the PX4 Storm, or other multi-load rotary magazine air pistol, but let’s look at the accuracy differential between round ball and pellets; the latter designed for target shooting.
At 21 feet with the CP88 and Meisterkugeln 7.0 grain lead wadcutters my best group measured 1.75 inches in the 10 and X rings with five of eight shots just under 0.74 inches blowing out the X.
At 21 feet with the CP88 my best group measured 1.75 inches in the 10 and X rings with five of eight shots just under 0.74 inches blowing out the red dot X. From the same distance using Gamo round balls I actually did better placing eight shots at 1.25 inches with three in the X. (In case you’re wondering, you cannot load steel BBs into the cast alloy rotary pellet magazines, they will fall out). At 10 meters I doubt the lead round balls could match the accuracy of the wadcutters, but at 21 feet they aren’t bad!
Loaded with the Gamo 8.2 grain lead round pellets the CP88 gave another impressive run dropping eight shots into 1.25 inches with three in the X.
Whether or not you decide to shoot 4.5mm round pellets in a rotary magazine fed pellet pistol is strictly a matter of choice. You can’t hurt the gun because the 4.5mm round lead balls run down the barrel rifling the same as a 4.5mm wadcutter pellet, and pistols that can alternately shoot steel BBs are better off with the lead balls in my opinion.
While I can’t see the logic of shooting BBs in a pellet pistol, unless it is just to shoot less expensive ammo for practice, the rotary stick magazine fed models like the PX4 Storm and Walther PPQ are built to do it. But any rifled barrel 4.5mm pellet firing pistol will aslo handle the 4.5mm round lead ball, even though it is primarily for single shot pellet rifles and pistols; what’s good for one, is good for eight.
When you can and can’t shoot a .177 caliber lead BB
By Dennis Adler
The caliber conundrum, when is a .177 caliber not 0.177 inches? When it is a steel BB (far left) which actually has a diameter of 0.173 inches (average) or 4.3mm, compared to a lead round pellet (center) which is just slightly larger at 4.5mm, or a wadcutter pellet (right). The difference in diameter is what keeps you from loading a lead ball into a .177 caliber, magazine-fed blowback action pistol designed for steel BBs. This is the same whether it is a stick magazine or a self-contained CO2 BB magazine; that .2mm difference is a lot with an air pistol.
The operative word in Airgun Experience is experience, and the way you get experience is by doing things and often doing them wrong. Failure is the best teacher, and hopefully it isn’t always costly, just educational. One of the early mistakes I made was trying to shoot .177 caliber lead BBs from a semi-auto pistol chambered for .177 caliber steel BBs. Lead BBs don’t fit. An air pistol that shoots steel BBs and is marked .177 caliber (4.5mm) does not actually shoot a .177 caliber diameter BB. Now, if it is a pellet-firing rifled barrel pistol it can, because the bore on a .177 caliber BB pistol and a 4.5mm pellet pistol are not exactly the same. A steel BB will drop right through the barrel on a smoothbore blowback action BB pistol. A 4.5mm pellet won’t even fit if you try to insert it, whereas with a pellet firing pistol you can actually push the pellet into the barrel.
Yes you can and no you can’t. A lead BB will not drop into a steel BB magazine as shown at left, it is larger than the loading port, good thing too, because it won’t work in the gun either. On the other hand, you can put a round lead pellet into a rotary magazine instead of a wadcutter or other pellet, though there is no reason to. At far right the design that gives two options; guns like the Umarex Beretta PX4 Storm or latest PPQ can load either pellets or BBs. Steel BBs are what most will shoot, but that can erode the rifling over time, so you can use a 4.5mm round lead ball if you want. Better for the life of the rifling and more accurate than a steel BB.
A properly sized lead pellet measures approximately 4.5mm in diameter and so does a .177 caliber lead round ball, like the popular Gamo Round 4.5mm (.177 caliber), but these are intended for use in rifles or pistols with rifled barrels. Just like a pellet, a 4.5mm round lead ball takes the rifling in a pistol or rifle and is about as accurate for a lead sphere (in relation to its caliber and velocity) as a round lead ball fired from a rifled barrel percussion pistol.
The 1851 Navy is an excellent example of a percussion pistol. Chambered in .36 caliber, the round lead bullet (ball) measured 0.375 inches, slightly larger than the bore. The ball was sized as it was pressed into the cylinder by the rammer (lever under the barrel which is hinged to pull down and push the rammer over the bullet and seat it into the cylinder). This is a copy of one of Wild Bill Hickok’s engraved 1851 Navy revolvers. The real gun is in the Autry Museum in Los Angeles. The copy was hand engraved for Colt’s by John J. Adams, Sr. of Adams & Adams.
I use the percussion pistol as an example because this is where round lead balls are near equals. Let’s take a .36 caliber percussion pistol; for example, a Colt 1851 Navy. The lead ball that is fired from that pistol has a diameter of 0.375 inches, slightly larger than the bore. If it were exactly the same size, it would not take the rifling and be about as accurate as a smoothbore pistol or musket. The slightly larger diameter lead ball is forced into the cylinder by the rammer and in so doing shaves off a little of the bullet, instant resizing. This makes a very tight fit and it requires the correct amount of black powder to develop enough energy to drive that round ball down the barrel, let the rifling stabilize its rotation, and head downrange at an effective velocity. Scale everything down to 0.177 inch diameter (4.5mm) and the same thing happens when you load a .177 caliber lead BB into a rifled barrel single shot rifle or pistol. The lead BB is just the right size to fit snugly. When the air charge drives it down the barrel the BB is similarly stabilized by the rifling which makes it more accurate than a steel BB down a smoothbore barrel. This is a very rudimentary explanation, but the point is, barrel caliber and BB size is not the same.
Airguns like the Umarex Beretta PX4 Storm that use reversible rotary stick magazines make it possible to shoot what you want, steel BBs, 4.5mm lead round balls or 4.5mm wadcutter pellets through a rifled steel barrel.
So why doesn’t that work in a CO2-powered blowback action BB pistol? Because smoothbore .177 caliber air pistols actually fire a steel round that has a diameter of only 0.172 to 0.173 inches, not 0.177 inches, or expressed in millimeters, 4.3mm, not 4.5mm. It is an incrementally small difference but in an airgun it is enough. Another important thing to know is that a .177 (4.5mm) round lead ball is a pellet, not a BB. But wait, you’re screaming there used to be lead BBs! And you’re right, but they were done away with for BB guns in the 1920s and replaced with steel BBs (pioneered by Daisy), which could be more accurately sized in manufacturing. And even there, steel BBs have small variances in diameter, as do lead pellets and the Gamo lead balls. There are also different grades of pellets, and more costly competition pellets are graded by lot numbers from one unbroken production run, for as much consistency of size as possible. Even with Meisterkugeln Professional Line pellets, you can go through a tin and find slight variations, some just a thousandth smaller, some larger, but not all the same. Many of you have run across this problem loading pellets into rotary magazines, some pellets are harder to insert, and some can actually fall through; I’ve had it happen, too.
Sig Sauer raised the bar for capacity and loading last year with their rotary pellet magazine design. It was introduced on the P320 ASP. Later this year an improved version of the P320, based on the military model and designated P320MHS ASP will introduce a first ever self-contained rotary pellet and CO2 magazine, blowback action and full functioning features, a groundbreaking design for CO2 rifled barrel semi-auto pistols.
There is yet another factor, magnetism. Most self-loading CO2 powered air pistols use a magnetic ring (rare earth such as Neodymium) to hold the steel BBs in place at the firing port; not so with pellet loading repeaters which have the pellets in individual chambers, (pellet-loading cartridges or rings like cast alloy or injection molded pellet magazines, or belt fed magazines like the new Sig Sauer models). The only way to load a .177 caliber round lead ball into a semi-auto would be using the same magazines that hold lead pellets. Models like the Umarex Beretta PX4 Storm even say you can shoot either. But that only works with rotary magazines; a 4.5mm lead ball won’t fit through the loading port on BB pistol magazines, so you never get any further than that.
In order to build a rifled barrel, semi-auto, CO2 powered, blowback action, self-contained round ball magazine model, you would need to make a dedicated lead round ball firing pistol and magazine with a feed design that did not rely on anything but the follower spring to hold the round ball is position for firing. Not exactly back to the drawing board but really too fine of a line to cross.
If you want to step back in time and draw a single action from your holster you can pretty much have what you want with rifled barrel pellet cartridge firing models like the Umarex Colt Peacemaker (top shown in deluxe hand engraved edition) or you can shoot BBs or pellets from the smoothbore Bear River Schofield (right shown in deluxe hand engraved edition) or the new Remington Model 1875, which actually comes with both BB and pellet firing cartridges.
Lastly, you’re probably wondering why then can you shoot a lead pellet out of a smoothbore revolver like the Bear River Schofield or the Remington Model 1875? Because the difference in size between a 4.5mm pellet and 0.172 to 0.173 inch diameter steel BB isn’t great enough to prevent a lead (or alloy) pellet fired from a cartridge from traveling down the smoothbore barrel. Just use pellet loading cartridges instead. The Remington even comes with both.
Things are about to change
Before this year is out, this entire discussion about greater accuracy and authenticity of handling with a rifled barrel semi-auto using a self-contained CO2 pellet magazine will become a moot point. Sig Sauer is about to reinvent the wheel with a CO2 magazine and rotary pellet mechanism in one, and if their solution works with the forthcoming P320MHS ASP, we will be entering a new era of blowback action CO2 pistol design. And if you still want to shoot 4.5mm round lead balls out of it, that’ll probably work, too.
This trio of new holsters for CO2 Single Action Colts, Schofields and Remingtons follow the lines of classic Western styles developed throughout the 1870s and 1880s. Many of these slim, contoured rigs were wet formed for specific pistols to ensure solid retention, and ease of draw and re-holstering. These three new historically-based holsters are for the Umarex Colt Peacemakers and the 1875 Remington (left in Gunfighter black with the Remington and center in Cowboy brown with a 5-1/2 inch Peacemaker), and far right for Bear River Schofield models. The 1875 and 7-1/2 inch Peacemakers use the same holster.
Quality gunleather is not hard to come by; you just need to throw down some serious cashfor an authentic holster and cartridge belt. In Cowboy Action Shooting a good gun rig is just as important as a good gun. This was also true back in the Old West among professional gunfighters and lawmen, as well as outlaws like Jesse and Frank James, the Dalton Brothers, Billy the Kid, and others who lived and died by the gun. With the latest CO2 powered Colt Peacemaker 5-1/2 inch and 7-1/2 inch Single Action revolvers, the Schofield, and 1875 Remington, high quality holsters make the shooting experience all the more realistic and enjoyable. But they often come at a high price. Shortly, there will be an entire line of high-quality American made leather holsters and cartridge belts designed especially for the Colt, Schofield, and Remington CO2 models that will be comparably priced to the airguns, so that anyone can have a period correct gun rig that will not only improve their Cowboy look, but their shooting skills when it comes to skinning that smokewagon.
The Gunfighter black California Pattern rig for 7-1/2 inch Umarex Colt Peacemakers shows how well wet forming contours the holster to the frame, barrel and ejector for a perfect fit. This also works with the 1875 Remington. Interestingly, an 1875 will fit a 7-1/2 inch Colt Peacemaker holster, but a Colt won’t fit a holster made for a Remington!
The new series of holsters are being made by Chisholm’s Trail, a company well known for its historically accurate holsters and cartridge belts. All of the new Chisholm’s Trail holster designs for the Colt, Remington, and Schofield CO2 models are based on an original fold back loop Slim Jim belt holster in the National Cowboy Hall of Fame Museum in Oklahoma City. Following original Slim Jim or “California Pattern” holster designs, they have a double recurved throat accented by a double edge groove around the mouth, along the side stitching and the toe. American made in the Old West tradition, each holster will be handcrafted from premium 7-8 gauge vegetable tanned cow hides and stained (Gunfighter black or Cowboy brown) with Fiebings premium oil based color stain. All the edges are rounded, colored and burnished smooth (as pictured) and the holsters also have a hand rubbed saddle finish inside and out.
The devil is in the details and it takes extra time and material to make a high-quality holster that’s built to last. Two of the key elements are the cut of the fold back loop (which is part of the holster pattern, not an added piece, and thus of the same weight and finish leather), the heavy stitching for the loop, and rather than the holster simply being folded and stitched, a leather welt is added between the two edges to provide a solid “backbone” for the holster. All of the edges are rounded, colored and burnished smooth for a perfectly finished look.
All holsters are available in Gunfighter black or Cowboy brown for the Colts, Remington and Schofield models.
California Pattern holsters used either a rounded and sewn toe, a sewn in toe plug (the most intricate variation), or an open toe design. The open toe is used for the airgun holsters. The most important feature, however, is that like many original California Pattern holsters, these heavy duty airgun rigs are individually wet formed to the model gun they are designed for to ensure a proper fit, making them as close to a custom built holster as you can get for under $100. Cartridge belts will also be available from Chisholm’s Trail with correctly sized .38 Colt bullet loops to fit BB and pellet-loading cartridges.
The California Pattern was designed to make drawing faster. In the Old West some gunmen even twisted the triggerguard over the edge of the recurved throat to expose it entirely. The airgun models have a flared mouth (upper edge) to make drawing and re-holstering easier.
There are specific advantages to wet forming a holster, a technique that dates back to original California Pattern holsters for pistols like the Colt 1860 Army, Colt conversions and the Model 1873 Peacemaker. Many such holsters are featured in Richard C. Rattenbury’s superb book on American gunleather Packing Iron which has an entire section on California Pattern holsters. You’ll even see a few that look like the Chisholm’s Trail models in this article.
The Schofield holster is specifically contoured and formed to fit the gun. Note the lines of the pouch that wrap around the gun’s frame to keep it in perfect position for a clean, fast draw. The double edge groove follows the recurved throat, stitches and ends around the toe of the holster. The mouth is also slightly flared to improve draw and re-holstering.
Good quality gunleather is not a rarity, affordable quality gunleather is and very soon those of us who own CO2 models of the Peacemaker, Schofield and Model 1875 will be Packing Alloy with the best of them!
Watch for an update on the availability of the 5-1/2 inch and 7-1/2 inch Peacemaker, Schofield, and Remington Model 1875 holsters.