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 columnist for Guns & 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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!
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Quality gunleather is not hard to come by; you just need to throw down some serious cash for 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 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.
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.
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.
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.