Back in 2017 I made a favorite pick of new airguns and started what would become the Replica Air Pistolof the Year competition. The air pistols that have won top honors over the past three years are all still being manufactured and are just as worthy of the top gun honors today, in fact, none of them have been surpassed thus far. Building a new CO2 model that can meet or beat the design, handling, performance and accuracy of earlier airguns that earned the Replica Air Pistol of the Year title is never easy, and each successive winner since 2017 has raised the bar. The competition in 2017, 2018, and 2019 was pretty tough because there were a lot of exciting new models, some based on earlier designs (2015 models), that were improved upon and a few that made the jump from BB guns to pellet guns and further expanding the competition for one model to rise to the top. read more
I am paraphrasing the legendary William B. Ruger, Sr., when I say that all gun designs serve the same purpose, to fire a projectile, but what the gun fires and how it fires it, will dictate the design of the gun. Case in point, John M. Browning designed .32 ACP and .380 ACP cartridges and he designed the guns to fire them in 1903 and 1908, respectively. Bill Ruger, Sr. was something of a modern day J.M. Browning and what I learned from my time around him in the 1990s, while I was writing a short biography of his life, visiting his factories, talking with his engineers and staff, and having quiet, introspective dinners with him discussing firearms history, was that great design, and the fundamental breakthroughs that come with them, become the paradigm for all that follows. I understood than as I do now, that with few exceptions, every single action revolver, regardless of manufacturer (including the c. 1953 Ruger Single Six and c. 1955 Ruger Blackhawk), is descended from Samuel Colt’s original revolver designs, even though Colt had died years before the Peacemaker was designed. Ruger’s point being that no matter how different, regardless of the ammunition it fires; however large or small the pistol may be, the fundamentals of its design began with Colt. Bill knew this when he designed the original “Old Model” Single Six .22 revolver, and all the Ruger-designed and built single actions that followed. Were it not for Sam Colt…read more
“One gun, one carry and master it” is the principle taught by John Bianchi, the master of concealed carry and the world’s most famous holster maker. I wrote John’s Biography in 2009 (John Bianchi – An American Legend) and he taught me his rules for concealed carry, the first of which was to find one gun and master it from holster, to drawing, aiming, shooting and concealment. If your are in law enforcement, as Bianchi was early in his career when he first began designing and making holsters for fellow police officers, this is easier to achieve. For civilians it is a precept that is easier to embrace than actually accomplish, at least it has been for me, because I have made a profession out of testing guns, and aside from a few favorites, have never had one gun long enough to consider mastering it for CCW use. Over the years I have gone from one to another, from DA/SA revolvers to semi-autos, full-size duty guns to subcompacts, and as for reviewing guns, it is hundreds of guns in and out of my hands for more than 20 years. So for me, mastering one gun is still a personal goal because my carry guns have changed a dozen times over the years (one of the benefits and pitfalls of having so many options from testing new models). There’s a handful I am proficient with to the point that I have total confidence in carrying them, but to be totally honest, the older I get the smaller my EDC gun gets. Still, I have never narrowed it down to one gun or even one holster. But I’m getting closer; more about that later. read more
Rarely do I use this forum to write an editorial opinion, but it seems that the time has come to compare the market, marketing and manufacturing of air pistols to the expectations of consumers, and these are seldom shared objectives. It does happen, but not as often as most of us would like. We expect new guns every year, and that means we are sometimes thrilled, but more often easily disappointed.
When I came into the airgun/air pistol market as an author almost 20 years ago, most of the airguns I write about today not only didn’t exist, they were not even imagined as being possible (Glocks for example). BB guns were as basic in 2001 as they were a decade or more before. When I looked for superstars that would be the topic for my first book on airguns (published by my late friend Steve Fjestad at Blue Book Publications), the field was small but well focused on two fronts. There was adult sport shooting with BB and pellet guns, and secondly a handful of guns (some the same) aimed at use for fundamental handgun training. This was nothing new, airguns had been implemented in the past for military training in times of war.read more
I had a chance to test the Umarex Colt Commander at the Umarex factory in Germany six months before it was introduced to the U.S. market in 2014, leading a revolution in blowback action air pistols that changed the very face of the CO2 air pistol market in five years.
Here we are at the beginning of a new decade, a very special one to me. When I was young I had remarkable expectations for the far, far distant 21st century and the year 2020, which had seemed to me, would be something momentous, it was so far away in the future. When I was 20, I saw Arthur C. Clarke and Stanly Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey with wide-eyed optimism for a world that was still more than 50 years away from the mesmerizing images on the screen. As far off as 2001 seemed at the time, I believed Arthur C. Clarke’s vision of the future, at least from a standpoint of technology. I shared his vision of incredible possibilities; it was not implausible, we could do this, and a year later Neil Armstrong walked on the moon; it was a beginning, and that was 51 years ago this coming July 20. We have not reached Arthur C. Clarke’s predictions of the 21st century, but in spite of the difficulties, setbacks and politics, we are treading on the periphery of that future, stalled perhaps, by a world that is far different than Clarke envisioned so many decades ago. How does this relate to air pistols?
A little over 50 years ago, the air pistols we have today were just as implausible as Clarke’s space station and spacecraft, and honestly, compared to Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the far distant future in Star Trek, Clarke’s reality wasn’t science fiction so much as was yet un-obtained science fact, and that future is no longer so distant.
Variations of the Umarex Colt Commander design were used over the next five years by Swiss Arms, Air Venturi, Tanfoglio, and most notably by Sig Sauer, which built matching CO2 and .45 ACP models of the Sig Sauer 1911 WE THE PEOPLE model making the Colt Model 1911 still the most revered pistol in any caliber.
In 2001 when I wrote the First Edition Blue Book of Airguns (see, there is an analogy after all), back then we were treading on the periphery of the future of air pistols. I had used two words to describe the new models appearing in this first edition, “Authenticity” and “Performance” and everyone from Anschutz and Beretta to Daisy and Walther had something new for the dawning 21st century. At the top of my list in that book were Umarex models built in cooperation with Beretta and Walther, the 92FS and CP99 pellet pistols, which exuded authenticity and performance for the time, since blowback action models were all but non-existent, except for the then impressive (in concept) Walther PPK/S, an anemic but fun little pistol to shoot, because of the moving slide and some tangible sensation of recoil like a real handgun. But the important guns of that new decade were not blowback actions, they were the Beretta and Walther pellet models, and no other proof need be offered today, than that these guns are still being manufactured 20 years later.
A perspective on two decades of design, an Umarex Beretta 92FS pellet model, one of the earliest and most expensive of Umarex pellet models (and still being manufactured after 20 years) and the 2018 Sig Sauer P320 M17 blowback action pellet-firing model with self-contained CO2 pellet magazine. The groundbreaking Sig design won 2018’s Replica Air Pistol of the Year.
By 2010 (coincidentally, the year of Arthur C. Clarke’s Odyssey Two) the world of air pistols was advancing faster than Star Trek sequels and the very world of air pistols was about to change as new blowback action designs were being developed. I was fortunate to test the first of this new era of authentic blowback action pistols in Germany the summer before the Umarex Colt Commander was introduced. In 2014, the Combat Commander was the most realistic, mainstream brand name CO2 air pistol on the market (and it had coincided with .22 LR versions also manufactured for Colt by Umarex) putting the venerable Model 1911 center stage in two markets, entry-level .22 LR pistols and blowback action CO2 pistols. It was the CO2 pistols, however, that would capture an emerging audience of airgun enthusiasts who had grown up in the era of the 1911’s emergence as the most famous semi-auto pistol of an entire generation – postwar Baby boomers. I would have to say that a majority of Airgun Experience readers fall into that category of kids who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, and by the time the Umarex Colt Commander had been introduced, were well-familiarized with the real thing, either through first hand experience, or through the voyeuristic experiences of television and film. Air pistols built to duplicate their centerfire counterparts would become the touchstones to our youth, whether we had handled the real guns or not. And that is where the past decade of air pistol design and technology has finally taken us; back to our own futures.
In a handful of years over the past decade we saw the development and introduction of such impressive CO2 models as the Umarex Mauser Model 712 select-fire Broomhandle, the remarkably authentic ASG CZ75 SP-01 Shadow (and modified Shadow Blue shown) the Sig WTP and various models of the Colt Peacemaker built by Umarex. Deluxe models like the hand engraved 7-1/2 inch version were a very limited edition aimed at airgun collectors.
The technology confined in the brief period between 2014 (actually 2012 and 2013 in Europe) to 2020 has eclipsed almost all the designs from the previous 50 years. The latest technology for modern air pistol design, particularly as pioneered by Sig Sauer, Umarex, and most recently Air Venturi’s partnership with Springfield Armory, is still breaking new ground as we head into the second decade of the 21st century.
The modern manufacturing of Umarex not only brought us new contemporary models, but impressively built pre- and WWII German handguns, including WWII models with aged finishes, like the Luger P.08 and M712 Broomhandle. The WWII Mauser was a limited edition.
Interestingly, over that same short span of time, this technology has also taken us back in time, through the efforts of Umarex and its deeply rooted history in Germany. The stars of that back story are pre-WWII and WWII-era blowback action models like the 1932 Model 712 Broomhandle Mauser, Luger P.08 and MP40 submachine gun, each a groundbreaking design for CO2 powered airguns. Conversely, pushing the limitations of modern handgun design, as it translates to air pistols, we have seen the evolution of impressively authentic models like the Glock 17 Gen4 and Springfield Armory XDM series. Their success as air pistols, however, is based in the realization that late 20th and early 21st century technology, as applied to cartridge-firing handguns, also moved into the future with the use of plastics (polymers) for frames and other parts. Once, air pistols that used plastics were regarded as mere toys. Today plastics are being used to duplicate centerfire pistols that are themselves made with polymer frames! The only person I can think of from my youth, who would not have found this a strange turn of events, would have been Gene Roddenberry.
This past year was another groundbreaking one for 1:1 authenticity with the Umarex Glock 17 Gen4, a CO2 pistol built to an almost uncompromising standard to match the 9mm model.
Stealing the Glock’s thunder for 2019, the Air Venturi Springfield Armory XDM 3.8 became the most authentic blowback action air pistol ever made and Replica Air Pistol of the Year, raising the bar even higher for any new blowback action models to come in 2020.
And boldly going
Of all the new models that were introduced in 2019, there is one that stands out in my mind as the air pistol that achieved the most technological breakthrough, and though it did not win 2019’s Replica Air Pistol of the Year title, it opened a door to what is possible when every accepted norm of design limitation is upended and reinvented, when the bottom line is a line that can be crossed, allowing designers to work with a clean sheet of paper. We have seen it in the recent past with the M712 Broomhandle (still a unique design that is unmatched), and we see today with the Micro Compact Sig Sauer P365. What remains now, is to remember where we were 10 years ago, and where designs like the P365 can take us in the new decade. It’s a lot to think about on the subject of air pistols, in a world that is as unpredictable as ours.
Oh, and lest we forget what significant improvements were made in double action revolvers over the last decade. Certainly the best of the best was the ASG Dan Wesson Model 715 snub nose revolver with rifled barrel and pellet loading cartridges.
Innovation and authenticity can take more than one form. The gun that broke the rules by becoming the first Micro Compact to be built as a 1:1 blowback action CO2 pistol with a self-contained CO2 BB magazine came from Sig Sauer’s remarkable Sig Air division. For the 2020s, this one lays the groundwork for smaller air pistols with full operating features and self-conation CO2 BB magazines.
In terms of size, a pistol as small as the CO2 version of the 9mm Sig P365 was not possible until Sig Air designers figured out how to make a self-contained 12 gr. CO2 BB magazine and pistol firing system smaller than ever before. It may not have ended up being the Replica Air Pistol of the Year, but for technology, it is the air pistol of the decade.
If there is a message in my ramblings, it is that we, as air pistol and airgun (air rifle) enthusiasts and collectors, are the benefactors of technology that has not only given us a second chance at our past with CO2 air pistols and rifles that were simply unimaginable in our youth, but a present that is unrivaled in the history of airgun design with true 1:1 models for serious handgun training and the leisure of sports shooting. The subtext may appear to some to be on the wrong side of history at the moment, but history is what we make it.
The final four top guns for 2019 are (from left to right) the Umarex Beretta M9A3, Umarex Glock 17 Gen4, Air Venturi Springfield Armory XDM 4.5 and Air Venturi Springfield Armory XDM 3.8 models. Each is a worthy contender for 2019’s Replica Air Pistol of the Year.
If there is a dark horse candidate among the final four, all with a least 50 points, it is the Umarex Beretta M9A3, because for all of its very authentic features, it has an “extra” feature that actually takes away from its exceptional value as a 1:1 CO2 version of the 9mm model. As much as I enjoy shooting BBs on full auto (with blowback action models that actually have select fire counterparts), this fun feature has done nothing for the M9A3 or the 92A1 before it in respect to it being an excellent training gun for its centerfire counterparts. If we disregard the selector switch, which is so small that it’s not hard to do, the M9A3 is just as accurate in its design as the Glock 17 Gen4 and the two new Springfield XDM models. It is a solid 50 point gun and any other year would have walked away with the win. But this year we have four guns that are equally worthy, but, only one can win.
The Glock 17 Gen4 CO2 model is a near perfect match for the 9mm model. It represents the very best of what is possible with a blowback action air pistol for fit, finish, and authenticity.
The little details that will make or break the winner
The fatal flaw for the M9A3 is the select fire switch. Between the Glock 17 Gen4 and the two XDMs, finding fatal flaws is a great deal more difficult. Differences in velocity and accuracy are not significant enough to break this three-way tie, velocity is too close, and honestly, accuracy is purely subjective here, since it is based on my shooting skills, and while they remained fairly constant with all three guns, there are those of you who can shoot better than me even with the worst of them. So it must come down to how far Umarex and Glock, and Air Venturi and Springfield Armory, have gone to make these guns absolutely as authentic as possible for an air pistol.
All three fieldstrip exactly like their centerfire counterparts. They all have the correct fit and finish, correct sights, and operating controls that look, feel and function like those on the centerfire models. The Glock 17 Gen 4 was the only gun to break 50 points from the start, with the 1 bonus point for field stripping capability added to a perfect 50 point score. The two XDM each lost a point for velocity by being right at 300 fps, while the Glock got the full 10 points with an average velocity that was 317 fps; the small margin that was better than the XDM models. But it’s not enough to really make the Glock 17 Gen4 the immediate winner.
The Gen4 turned a few heads when it was first disassembled and reveled not only a accurate take down to the 9mm model but a dual recoil spring and guide rod like the centerfire model uses.
The Glock has just about everything down right. It has a fully functional Safe-Action trigger, it has an approximate trigger pull to the 9mm pistol, it has correct factory markings on the slide, except for the 9x19mm stamping, it has authentic markings on the right side of the slide and barrel lug, even the warnings are hidden on the underside of the triggerguard, and the mandatory added manual safety brilliantly disguised as the serial number plate on the underside of the dustcover. The not so simple tells are the brass finished .177 caliber muzzle recessed inside the 9mm muzzle and the aforementioned absence of the 9x19mm stamping on the left side of the slide. The gun has robust felt recoil for a blowback action CO2 pistol and even the inner details have been addressed with a Gen4-style dual recoil spring and guide rod assembly that can be removed when field stripping the gun. It is as close to perfect as you can get. But can it beat the XDM 4.5 and 3.8?
The XDM models also fully fieldstrip and the guns are as accurately duplicated from the centerfire models, but in even finer detail than the Glock, and with a few extra features. (Both the Glock Gen4 and XDM models have interchangeable backstraps). In this image, I have turned the barrel around so you can see the fine detail in the barrel lug, which bears the same design as the centerfire pistols with MATCH at the top, the serial number below, and for the CO2 models, .177 CAL (4.5mm).
What sets these two new entries into the blowback action CO2 market apart from the rest, even from the Umarex Glock 17 Gen4, is the complexity of their design. The XDM is a more intricately manufactured air pistol. And it is not simply the two slide finishes available, polished or black Melonite to match the centerfire models; it is the internal and external operating features of the centerfire XDM designs that have been so carefully reproduced for the air pistols.
The XDM is a double threat for this year’s title since there are two models, and two finishes for each model. Pictured is the XDM 4.5 in the excellent Bi-Tone finish and the XDM 3.8 in the black Nitron-like slide finish. Both the 4.5 and 3.8 have three interchangeable backstrap panel and are currently being offered with a free XDM paddle holster. The 3.8 also comes with three matching grip extensions for the magazine (as shown).
Is it safe?
The Glock has famously relied upon a single safety design, the Safe-Action trigger, which is combined with internal safety mechanisms (a drop safety for example) all immediately disengaged when the blade safety is pressed flush with the trigger shoe and the trigger is pulled. Springfield Armory and its manufacturing partner in Croatia, where the centerfire guns are built to Springfield’s exacting standards, utilized their version of the Glock-type trigger safety but backed it up with a 1911-inspired grip safety (and internal drop and striker safeties), all disengaged when the blade safety is pressed flush with the trigger shoe and the trigger pulled, but this only happens after the grip safety is depressed by fully the gripping the gun. It is a dual external failsafe. There’s more.
The XDM is a more complex design since it not only has the blade trigger safety, but a secondary grip safety that must be depressed when gripping the gun in order for it to fire. Yet even with the dual safety like the centerfire models, the CO2 version is still required to have a manually set safety. You can also see the striker status indicator on the XDM, which in this picture shows the gun is cocked.
The only way to tell if a Glock action has been cycled is the position of the trigger. Springfield wanted more than that, so they added a striker status indicator (like the Walther P99 among others) which protrudes from the rear of the slide when the action has been cycled. Of course, this does not guarantee a loaded chamber, so the XDMs have a loaded chamber indicator that sticks up from the top of the slide (the Glock’s protrudes from the right side of the slide extractor behind the ejection port). These are the working features of the centerfire guns. On the XDM CO2 models, the loaded chamber indicator is always in the up (loaded) position as an additional reminder to shooters, whether beginners or seasoned pros, (i.e., always regard every gun as loaded), while the Gen4 CO2 model’s indicator is a non-functional, molded-in piece that rests flush, and thus indicates an empty chamber. It’s a very small point, but one gun is obviously more instructive.
The little details are important right down to how the required manual safeties (not required on the centerfire guns) are cleverly disguised as the serial number plates on the Glock 17 Gen4 and XDM CO2 models. A slight touch of greater authenticity is seen in the XDMs which actually have serial numbers on the moving SAFE and FIRE selector.
The grip safety on the XDM CO2 models works; you cannot fire the gun unless the grip safety is depressed. With the grip safety depressed the gun still will not fire unless the trigger safety is pressed with the trigger. You can try this with an empty CO2 model (magazine removed and action cleared) by racking the slide and trying to pull the trigger without pressing in on the grip safety. The trigger will move back but the pistol will not fire. You can test the trigger safety the same way by depressing the grip safety and trying to pull the trigger from the edges but not depress the blade safety. The trigger won’t move at all. It design exactly like the centerfire model; both the grip and trigger safeties must be engaged in order for the gun to discharge. This is a far more complex firing system than any the Glock CO2 model. And there is the mandatory manual safety, which, like Umarex Glock 17, is hidden on the underside of the dustcover where the serial number plate goes. What has Springfield done differently to make it better? It actually has a serial number on it. Slide it back toward the triggerguard and the gun is locked. Push it forward and the action is released to function exactly like a centerfire XDM. That’s as good as a mandatory manual safety can look and function.
The bottom line with the XDMs is that they are as authentic as technically possible for a blowback action CO2 pistol, inside and out. But I can only give the 5-point bonus for Design Innovation to one gun and there are two XDMs, one of which takes things, just one step further.
It’s a package deal with the 3.8 which comes with one magazine, three interchangeable backstrap panels and three matching size grip extensions. At present, the guns also come with an XD holster as part of the purchase price.
When Springfield Armory decided to build a Compact version of the XDM, they developed a new, shorter frame, slide and barrel with a length of 3.8 inches. This smaller version of the XDM 4.5 had a shorter grip frame and thus a lower total capacity. As a pure Compact this was a necessity for concealed carry. However, the full size 4.5 magazines also fit the 3.8, so one could use the longer magazine in the smaller gun; it just stuck out the bottom of the grip like an extended capacity magazine on other pistols. Springfield wasn’t satisfied with that. Since the guns also had three sizes of interchangeable backstraps, it was decided that three size-matching grip extensions would be included with each XDM 3.8, so the longer 4.5 mags could blend in with the grip and backstrap, while also providing a better hold for the Compact pistol. This was also beneficial for those with larger hands. The shorter magazine could be used for concealed carry and the spare mag (or mags) the extended capacity version with the grip extension. Or, one could simply carry with the longer magazine, which was still shorter than some full size semi-autos.
No matter which finish you like the XDM 3.8 is the most authentic blowback action CO2 model currently being manufactured and the gun that has raised the bar to a new level this year.
The XDM CO2 model is exactly the same, except that there is only one magazine type, the 4.5 version, which is necessary to handle the CO2. So, the XDM 3.8 comes with the grip extensions used on the centerfire guns, making it the single most innovative and authentic blowback action CO2 pistol in every detail, and 2019’s Replica Air Pistol of the Year. And now, the other winner.
The first person to answer all 9 questions correctly, and pick the Replica Air Pistol of the Year for 2019 is Cstoehr, who posted the correct answers and the XDM 3.8 as his choice on December 22nd at 1:42 PM. Congratulations and Merry Christmas!
Thanks to everyone for following the 2019 Replica Air Pistol of the Year series this month. This article marks the 500th Airgun Experience article and a fititng end to the year. The Airgun Experience will return in January.
A Merry Christmas and Happy New Year’s to one and all! read more