Looking ahead I know there are some new air pistols coming, I know of one or two for certain because I have them (and I still can’t tell you yet), but there are others promised that I have told readers about in recent weeks that are coming next month (as in tomorrow), that probably are not going to show. We all know most of the reasons and know the impact on imports and manufacturing wrought by the current global situation, so no point in belaboring things here. We will see some impressive new guns in July, maybe the long awaited optics mount for the Sig Sauer M17 P320 ASP, eventually the reportedly impressive new Glock semi-auto pellet model, and a comparable Walther PPQ, so appetites are thoroughly whetted and patience evaporating as we head into summer.read more
When it comes to accuracy with a .177 caliber blowback action BB pistol, there were always two guns you could count on to provide sub 1-inch groups almost every time, the Tanfoglio Limited Custom and Gold Custom, two airguns that almost no one ever had a bad word to say. I certainly didn’t and always used the Gold Custom as my baseline for 21 foot accuracy with a BB pistol. The Limited Custom was always the close second. The CZ-75 based designs were just about flawless with precision triggers and consistent velocity in the 300 to 320 fps range.
I have been sitting on this for awhile. I have certain favorite air pistols that I bring into articles from time to time because they are worth a second or even third mention, because someone might not have read the original articles, or might be new to airguns and are looking for a really great pistol. These were really great air pistols. There are, in fact, a lot of really impressive air pistols today, some introduced just this year, that are almost game changers for blowback action CO2 models. But over the past half dozen years there have been several equally impressive blowback action models, and now two of them are conspicuously gone. I was hoping that the Limited Custom would come back as models sometimes do, but I don’t think it will, especially since the Gold Custom is gone as well. The Limited Custom was, in my opinion and that of individuals who own them, one of the most accurate and best built blowback action CO2 pistols since blowback action air pistols were introduced 19 years ago. And there is a certain irony in that, as the first blowback action CO2 pistol, the Umarex Walther PPK/S, is still being manufactured almost two decades later, while the Tanfoglio Limited Custom, introduced in 2012, is nowhere to be found. Every online retailer that still has a listing, shows it as “out of stock” or “no longer available” and that pretty much spells “out of production.”
The Limited Custom could be used as a practice gun with actual competition rings like this Safariland, so all that changed was the recoil and noise level when you drew and fired.
The Safariland rig was set up for the Gold Custom and could also be adjusted for the shorter Limited Custom. I used it for both. The magazine pouches also worked with the superb Tanfoglio CO2 BB magazines.
Why are we missing this one so much?
If you look at some of the very latest CO2 models, like the Umarex Glock 17 Third Gen, one of a handful of new air pistol designs based on an actual firearm, or the Springfield Armory XDM 4.5 and 3.8, you have new, innovative designs that haven’t been previously built as CO2 models; they are not the same old 1911 rehash (not that I don’t love 1911s, but you really have to go some to reinvent that wheel, like Sig Sauer did with the We The People), but in 2012 the Tanfoglio was the “new gun” based on an existing centerfire pistol. It was followed a year later by the Tanfoglio Gold Custom based on the 9mm competition model. So why are the Limited Custom and Gold Custom gone?
With the Gold Custom I was able to practice speed drawing, target acquisition, rapid firing, and magazine changes with the same precision as the centerfire model and for just comparative pennies to firing 9mm.
The Gold Custom was a totally dedicated competition pistol, while the Limited Custom was straddling the line between target pistol and competition gun, much the same as its 9mm counterpart, though it depends upon what level and classification of competition you are interested in! While Tanfoglio firearms are manufactured in Italy, the air pistols are (were) made under license to KWC in Taiwan. The centerfire models are imported for the US market by European American Armory (EAA), which sells the latest centerfire version of the Limited Custom, as well as the Extreme Limited, which happens to look a lot like the CZ 75 SP-01 Shadow Blue 9mm and CO2 series models, (and well they should, since Tanfoglios are all based on the CZ 75 design). Tanfoglio also still sells the Gold Custom, which remains one of the most successful competition pistols in the world.
The 9mm Limited Custom from Tanfoglio was distinguished by having the same silver alloy grips and controls as the Gold Custom. I often wished the airgun had matched the 9mm this way as well. The centerfire pistol also has a ported barrel and slide, which were unnecessary for the CO2 model. The slide would have been another nice touch, though.
As much as I liked the Gold Custom, the Limited always held more appeal for me as a target shooter who prefers open sights. It was as close to the 9mm model as you could get.
I liked the CO2 version of the Limited Custom because it had a very close relation to the centerfire model with a Bomar-style adjustable rear sight that allowed you to dial in POA accuracy. At 21 feet, the Limited Custom could only be out shot by the Gold Custom fitted with a reflex sight.
The windage and elevation adjustable sight made the Limited Custom one of the most accurate blowback action CO2 pistols on the market.
It was a fully accurate, short-recoil, locked-breech, tilting barrel design, so it was again, as close to a centerfire gun as an air pistol can come.
While Tanfoglio and EAA still see the virtue of offering a greater variety of models, it seems airgun retailers and importers don’t have that option. I will never find fault with either of these air pistols. They are still the gold standard for blowback action CO2 pistol accuracy. Practical pistols like the Glock 17 Third Gen and Springfield Armory’s XDM models may be the biggest and brightest stars this year, but the guns that are gone, the Tanfoglio Limited Custom and Gold Custom, would still be in a class of their own. They are air pistols that, if you own them, are keepers and near perfection in blowback action CO2 pistol design, one that deserved a longer history.
When I first tested the Limited Custom a couple of years ago I had some of the best targets I’ve ever shot with a blowback action air pistol, and the gun worked flawlessly throughout.
While not as accurate as the Gold Custom with a reflex sight, I never had 10-shot groups wider than an inch with the Limited Custom from 21 feet.
The Gold Custom was always the gun to beat for overall accuracy at 21 feet when it came to blowback action air pistols. Both the Gold and Limited Custom models will be missed.
The lessons here are that the bottom line and the bullseye are not always on the same page, and when an airgun comes along that you like, you would do well to buy it.
A word about safety
Blowback action airguns provide the look, feel and operation of their cartridge-firing counterparts and this is one reason why they have become so popular. Airguns in general all look like guns, blowback action models more so, and it is important to remember that the vast majority of people can’t tell an airgun from a cartridge gun. Never brandish an airgun in public. Always, and I can never stress this enough, always treat an airgun as you would a cartridge gun. The same manual of operation and safety should always apply.read more
Back in the 1970s and 1980s Crosman was already building some authentic looking CO2 air pistols based on the then very popular Colt Python models. While long before air pistols with swing out cylinders and BB or pellet loading cartridges, these early CO2 models helped set the wheels into motion for the impressive CO2 wheelguns and semi-autos we have today. (Photo courtesy Blue Book Publications)
It is a nice August afternoon, sunny but not abusively hot, a light breeze and the perfect day to set up some paper targets in the backyard and have some fun shooting an air pistol. If that sounds far and away from my usual “this is a must have training gun” style, it’s because some days you just want to have some fun with no agenda, in fact, this is what air pistols (and air rifles) were meant for. Thanks to a very industrious airgun industry that begins with some very intriguing CO2 air pistols developed in the 1970s and 1980s by Crosman, which were copies of Colt, Smith & Wesson, and Walther models, (with a really heavy emphasis on Colt), the wheels of industry were already in motion for what we see today from Umarex, ASG, Sig Sauer, and others, who build air pistols that not only look and feel authentic, but work in much the same way as the actual centerfire pistols they are based upon.
One of the longest lived semi-auto handguns in the world, (as in still being manufactured after more than 100 years) is the Colt Model 1911, offered today in its many versions as a CO2 model. This example, based on the pre WWII 1911A1 design introduced in 1925, is sold under the Swiss Arms and Tanfoglio names. The custom weathered blued finish was done by the author. (Western 1911 holster by Garcia Bros. Spain)
We have the best of the best today in blowback action semi-autos, and while authenticity is a driving force, most of these air pistols are just plain fun to shoot. On a day like today I can say I have five, what I call “default” air pistols to pick up and shoot just for fun, to target shoot and kick some soup cans around. Some of you may have the very same air pistols, (and even for the very same reason), so here are my top five, right up to the minute.
New isn’t always number 1
Among the earliest blowback action models developed was the Colt Model 1911A1. Umarex was first out of the chute with the Commander model, which is probably a staple of almost every contemporary airgun collection, but it is an updated combat design, and as most of you who have read Airgun Experience the last few years know, I lean toward older gun designs from the early to mid 20th century, and of course, Colt and other single action revolvers from the 19th century.
Crosman was among the first airgun manufacturers to have a CO2 model based on the Colt Peacemaker, but these 21st century models from Umarex, with custom hand engraving by Adams & Adams for Pyramyd Air, are truly as authentic as an air pistol can be. The standard nickel finished 5-1/2 inch models are readily available; while the hand engraved guns are a special order.
This may limit my appeal among some readers, but to diehard old gun enthusiasts like myself, the new stuff is interesting but there’s nothing like a classic old gun that has style, character and a look that is all its own. Yeah, you can tell a Glock from a Sig, and an H&K, but they are all variations on the same formula. The same can be said for old guns, too, I suppose, but it was a lot easier to tell a Colt Peacemaker from a Smith & Wesson No. 3 American, or an 1875 Remington, and when you hit the 20th century, even a Colt double action from an S&W, and certainly a Luger or Mauser Broomhandle from anything else (other than copies of Lugers or Mausers by other gunmakers).
Not by any small coincidence, all of the guns I am talking about exist today as CO2 models. Classics inspire, because they become timeless. If that were not true, Colt (and other armsmakers) wouldn’t still be manufacturing Single Action Army pistols and 1911 semi-auto models, S&W would have shelved its revolver designs decades ago. It is not surprising then that my number one and number two “default” airguns are the Umarex Colt Peacemaker and a Colt-based 1911. I didn’t say Umarex Colt Commander because it’s too modern, instead my 1911 go-to pistol is the Swiss Arms/Tanfoglio branded model of the c.1925 Colt 1911A1.
In my series of articles on Defarbing a 1911, I showed all the steps I went through to take a standard Swiss Arms Model 1911A1 CO2 model and refinish it to look like a well worn WWII era pistol. While it is no more accurate than any other 1911 CO2 model of this design (they are all made in the same factories for different brand names like Swiss Arms, Tanfoglio and Air Venturi), refinishing makes it look so much more authentic than the standard matte look of CO2 versions, with the exception of more modern tactical models that have the look of a Cerakote finished gun. (1911 Tanker shoulder holster from World War Supply)
They are all made in the same factories in Taiwan (even the Umarex Commander and Air Venturi John Wayne 1911). Those who have been following Airgun Experience know I did a series of articles on defarbing the Swiss Arms model and refinishing it as a weathered, battlefield worn gun that looks much more like an actual old .45 ACP model than an air pistol. If you have the time and a little skill (and I have as little as possible), it is well worth the effort to do this with a 1911 because it will become a favorite just for the look of the gun.
The place to start is with one of the most authentically designed blowback action CO2 models, like the Tanfoglio Witness 1911, which has correct c.1925 1911A1 features including the small thumb safety, spur hammer, military sights, and arched mainspring housing. Getting that finish down to the bare metal is a lot of work but when you have it done and apply an aged, hand rubbed blued finish, the end result really is worth the time and effort.
The Swiss Arms/Tanfoglio 1911A1 models also have the correct older style hammer, trigger, small thumb safety, sights, and arched mainspring housing of the 1911A1, and are all about equally accurate out to 21 feet. This is also so for CO2 models based on later designs and tactical versions of the 1911. Older is still better, if you like old.
The Peacemaker goes without saying and you can still get one in a variety of models, including an entire John Wayne series, for BBs or pellets with 5-1/2 inch barrels, (I am hoping the 7-1/2 nickel models will be back in the pipeline some day), and as a 21 foot target gun, the old fixed sights and that light, single action trigger will still have you punching bullseyes and flipping over cans Old West style.
The Peacemaker is by far one air pistol on everyone’s short list and the variety of special John Wayne “Duke” models includes this weathered finish BB cartridge model. (The classic Duke Holster and cartridge belt is by John Bianchi Frontier Gunleather)
Even semi-autos are vintage guns when you look at their history. By the end of the 19th century German gunmakers were truly at the forefront of semiautomatic pistol design and one of the greatest semi-auto (and later select fire) pistols in history came from Mauser with the C96 Broomhandle (c.1896). There were multiple variations throughout the 1920s and 1930s, including the Model of 1932, or its more recognizable name, the Model 712, which offered an extended capacity (20-round) detachable magazine and a selective fire semi-auto/full auto switch. Of all the Broomhandle Mauser models produced, this was the gun Umarex chose to build as a CO2 powered blowback action (blowback bolt) air pistol in 2015, and since that time it has remained one of the most enjoyable airguns to shoot.
In the history of semiautomatic German firearms, which stretches back into the late 19th century, perhaps no handgun is better recognized the world over than the Broomhandle Mauser. The Umarex Legends Model 712 is one of the great modern blowback action CO2 models on the market with very authentic design, handling and operation.
While bullseye accuracy is not the 712’s strong suit, it is just pure fun to load and shoot at targets on semi-auto and with some degree of accuracy. On full auto, where you can send its total 18 rounds of .177 caliber BBs downrange in a little over a second if you don’t learn how to feather the trigger, accuracy suffers, but it is great fun to shoot. It is a masterful rework of an historic pistol and probably one of the best built CO2 pistols an enthusiast of vintage firearms could own. It will always be among my top five.
With a good hold on the magazine well you can get a sharp bead on the target and shoot some pretty tight groups with the M712 set to semi-auto. This remains my number 1 gun for summer fun target shooting outdoors. Might not be anywhere as accurate as modern-style CO2 semi-autos, but way more fun to shoot!
Revolvers have a way of making the best air pistols because they are fundamentally easier to build, can generate higher velocities, as all of the CO2 can be used for sending a BB or pellet downrange, while semi-autos have to proportion some of the CO2 for each shot to operate the slide’s blowback action; and revolvers fired single action, even if they are a double action/single action design, are inherently accurate target pistols.
Old guns, in my opinion, are more interesting to handle and shoot than modern ones, and considering that the original Webley & Scott MK VI (in .455 caliber) was designed in 1915 and remained in use through WWII, it is by far a British classic that really deserved to be made as a pellet cartridge firing CO2 model. It is also a darn accurate one at 10 meters!
There are quite a few popular models today but none as historic in its design and ease of handling and loading as the Webley MK VI, my fourth go-to gun for summer fun shooting outdoors. The Battlefield finish remains my number one choice with the Webley models for the best possible overall look of a real vintage WWI-era pistol.
And the fifth place belongs to a gun that has held a spot in my top five since it was introduced back in 2013, the CZ75 based Tanfoglio Gold Custom, which is not only still the most accurate blowback action CO2 pistol (it does require mounting optics but has the top rail included), but a remarkable bargain-priced air pistol with every possible feature, including a target trigger.
About as modern as it gets in my book for fun shooting is the best blowback action CO2 target pistol made, the Tanfoglio Gold Custom. You can go overboard with a holster for this one, as I did, getting the Safariland competition rig used with the 9mm versions (which costs more than the air pistol), but for some, a really fulfilling target shooting experience is worth it. The Center Point Optics reflex sight completes the package.
These are CO2 models that I will always own. Each has its unique characteristics, abilities, weaknesses (the Tanfoglio only because you have to invest in an optical sight to complete the gun), and historic significance. Their designs span nearly 150 years of firearms manufacturing and technology, yet remain popular even to this day, and all but the Broomhandle Mauser are still manufactured as centerfire models. These five represent timeless designs that have inspired some of the best air pistols you can own, especially if you love old guns.
These are my top 5 CO2 models for summer fun shooting. They are priced from $100 to $150, great value for great shooting.
Having a favorite anything means you have had it for awhile, unless something comes along that is so overwhelming it surpasses everything before it. In the world of firearms that only happens once in a great while. With blowback action CO2 models based on actual centerfire guns, it can happen more often because air pistols not only have ties to the latest guns, but can just as easily be based on guns from the past; with air pistols a new gun is always interesting, but it isn’t always new. One of the best examples of this was last year’s Umarex HK USP, a gun that has been around for some time but as a new blowback action CO2 pistol really hit it out of the park. The next closest was the Umarex Glock 17, a design that has been around as a 9mm pistol since 1982. Both are great and maybe in a few years one of them will become a favorite for me, but what I consider a favorite gun has a deeper meaning.
There are five CO2 pistols I consider my “absolute keepers.” These are models that I would not want to part with. Every one of them is a gun that readers picked to be my favorite of all time. Of course, “of all time” in this context is only a period of about four years, prior to that none of them existed as air pistols. But they did exist as centerfire guns, and that’s what makes these five very special.
I don’t think there is a better revolver, single or double action reproduced as a CO2 model that can outshoot an old fashioned Peacemaker. The 7-1/2 inch nickel pellet models are my favorites, and the engraved version the best of them all. My Adams & Adams hand engraved model was the prototype but every one is exactly the same. It is a lot of money to put into a CO2 Peacemaker, but those of you who purchased them know it was money well spent. (Holster by John Bianchi Frontier Gunleather)
More people picked the Peacemaker than any other and it was a logical choice given my background. The 7-1/2 inch engraved nickel model is one of my very personal favorites because I was the one who suggested having these very authentic Umarex Colts given the same engraving treatment as the centerfire models. My 7-1/2 inch Umarex is the actual engraving prototype for the limited series of guns done for Pyramyd Air by Adams & Adams. If not for one other CO2 model that came along, the Peacemaker would be my all time favorite, but it is only one of five.
The Tanfoglio Gold Custom was among the first CO2 models I purchased and over the last few years it has never been outdone for overall features and accuracy by newer air pistols. If you are into target shooting, this is the CO2 pistol to own.
The gun that is my favorite has been my favorite since it came out. But first, the gun that almost knocked it out, the Tanfoglio Gold Custom. I have had this model since it was introduced. It has proven to be the most accurate blowback action CO2 pistol there is. Even though a few newer guns may be more appealing, they can’t outshoot it, and that makes this very authentic copy of a championship competition pistol another of my five favorites.
A touch of blue and black makes the CZ 75 SP-01 Shadow a better looking gun. These three pieces, grips and magwell, are available from Pyramyd Air as well. Fully equipped with the optics bridge the Shadow Blue was almost as accurate as another of my favorites.
The closest I came to finding a better gun than the Tanfoglio was the aftermarket customized CZ 75 SP-01 Shadow Blue. From a purely visual perspective it is one of the best-looking blowback action CO2 target pistols there is (and if you don’t like it in blue it can be done in CZ’s competition orange or red versions, but I like the almost turquoise blue anodized aluminum accessories best). It can’t quite outshoot the Tanfoglio, but it does give it a run for looks.
That leaves me with two great air pistols that I consider among the best ever. To understand my interest in these two you have to understand my motivations for selecting them. My first semi-auto handgun was a Colt Model 1911. It was an awful gun to shoot. I got rid of it after a couple of years but found myself drawn to the Model 1911’s better self, and got into customized models, the first of which I still have over 30 years later. The 1911 is the very image of the 20th century American handgun, just as the Peacemaker is for the 19th. The Sig Sauer 1911 CO2 WE THE PEOPLE represents one company’s view of that image, albeit a German company now rooted in the U.S. As 1911 CO2 models go, there simply isn’t a better 1911 than the Sig Sauer. Is this my all time favorite?
I have been a fan of the Model 1911 for decades, and Sig Sauer managed to develop a CO2 version of their WE THE PEOPLE .45 ACP that now stands as the very best blowback action 1911 model made. You need to have a taste for custom guns to appreciate the unusual finish, grips, and markings, but beyond that, it is a perfectly balanced and fully equipped 1911 with the best sights and ambidextrous thumb safeties of all CO2 1911 models.
The back story
Long before I started writing about guns I was writing about American and European Classic Cars. Over more than 30 years, beginning in 1977, I wrote thousands of magazine articles and took somewhere around 10,000 photographs, edited car magazines, and authored and photographed over 30 books on automobiles, including three very popular ones for Random House and HarperCollins. And it was the cars that got me into guns! Car collectors are also very often gun collectors and this is where it started.
Back in the late 1970s I was working as the assistant editor of Car Classics magazine for the legendary Dean Batchelor, former editor of Road & Track, and director of the Harrah Automobile Collection. I learned a lot about writing and automotive history from Dean and a few of his old friends. You might say I became there young protégé. I will always be thankful for what they taught me and for introducing me to other influential collectors. And there was one who was a gun collector.
I had an assignment to shoot a Lamborghini and it required a European looking estate for the background. One collector I had met had such a house. And after contacting him we set a day and time for me to arrive with the Lamborghini. I had previously shot a Porsche 550 Spyder there, so we weren’t strangers. Lighting is essential for outdoor photography and a bright sunny day really isn’t what you want. Light clouds to soften the sun, or just before sundown is better, and with a red Lamborghini the day’s harsh, bright sunlight put things on hold for awhile. (If I ever write a book on automotive photography, I’m calling it “Waiting for a cloud”). We decided to grab some lunch and somehow got on to the topic of guns. He collected all types of handguns but favored early (pre-war era) German pistols. When we got back to the house, the light was still not good, so I got a tour of his gun collection. What struck me first was a cabinet with guns I had only ever seen in movies. He put the very first Broomhandle Mauser I ever held into my hands. It was a Model 712, even then a very rare and expensive gun. That started me on collecting Broomhandle Mausers for the next 30 plus years. But the one I couldn’t get (did find a couple over the years and knew all the paperwork that would be involved) was a Model 712. I simply could never afford it. Every time I had enough disposable income and found another, the value had gone up proportionally and I still couldn’t afford it. I have photographed a few, handled a few, but never owned one. Then, one day Umarex introduced a CO2 version of the Model 712. I bought it, and have shot it countless times, written about it more than almost any other air pistol, and for all of the reasons I have explained, despite many newer and innovative CO2 models that I really like, the Model 712 was, is, and will always be my favorite CO2 air pistol of all time.
My all time favorite is the one gun I was never able to own as a cartridge pistol, the Mauser Model of 1932 or M712. The original C96 Broomhandle (developed in 1896) is also one of a handful of semiautomatic pistols that overlapped with the last years of the American West. Used by lawmen and outlaws alike, it is a unique gun that has its roots planted in two different centuries. As an air pistol, this is about as good as it gets, at least for me.
Reader Adventurist summed it up best when he said this was the gun I would pick: “It’s a pistol that has a very diverse and colorful history including The Old West.” It does indeed, and for this adventure, you have won the M9A3.
The very first Airgun Experience was a tribute to John Wayne’s last film, The Shootist, and the limited edition Umarex Colt Peacemaker hand engraved and custom finished Shootist CO2 model. This was the beginning of an entire series of hand engraved CO2 Peacemakers in 5-1/2 and 7-1/2 inch barrel lengths that would be introduced in Airgun Experience articles.
This marks the 400thAirgun Experience article and over the period from No. 1 to No. 400 so many new CO2 air pistols and rifles have been introduced it becomes difficult to keep them all in comparative categories. The only real defining characteristics are magazine types, blowback or non-blowback actions (and that has to include revolvers), sights, though most are fixed sights of one type or another, and lastly, the quality of the build, fit, and finish. In most cases the differences between blowback and non-blowback semi autos covers all the rest, but not in every case and with today’s choices, that really doesn’t pare down the list all that much. So to start, let’s look back at new models introduced since Airgun Experience No. 1, which started with a new model.
The nickel finished 5-1/2 inch Peacemakers were the first fancy models, aside from early commemorative BB models like the U.S. Marshal’s Single Action. The western guns have always had a special place in Airgun Experience.
That air pistol, developed in 2016 from the 5-1/2 inch Umarex Colt Peacemakers introduced the year before, was a hand-finished and engraved copy of John Wayne’s Single Actions from his final film, The Shootist and only 100 were made. They are gone now and forever in the “collectible” airgun category. But that gun did set the pace for the standards of Airgun Experience both for readers to expect and for me to live up to. With 399 articles under my belt I hope I have delivered what you have come to expect in an Airgun Experience review. And that you have come to know what it is that I like and expect in an air pistol or the occasional air rifle I might review. I’m a handgun guy and there’s no separating that from what I write and how I write it.
Sig Sauer jumped into the airgun market with rifled barrel pellet models like the P226 ASP, based on the P226 models that were made famous in the hands of U.S. Navy Seals. It was an authentic looking air pistol designed by Sig with the intention of its use as both a recreational shooting air pistol and as a training gun.
While the Sig lacked some very basic operating features for a blowback action pistol, like a slide and barrel lug interface (it was just molded into the slide), and functioning slide release (the slide could not lock back), the ruggedly built pellet model did offer a working safety decocker as one of its training features. It was a step forward in blowback action pellet pistol design and a portent of greater things to come from Sig Sauer by 2018.
What has surprised me most over the last three years has been the number of new CO2 models and the continual improvements in the authenticity of design, number 1 on my checklist, the quality of fit (“does this gun sound like it’s rattling to you?”), and finishes that don’t scream “air pistol” from 10 feet away. Of course, when it all comes together you end up with some very impressive looking CO2 models that bring a new level of responsibility with them, and that boldfaced paragraph I sometimes place at the end of an article about treating these highly authentic looking and handling air pistols with the same respect as their centerfire counterparts. That started early in the column with a couple of new Sig Sauer models in 2016, the first of which was featured in the second and third Airgun Experience articles covering the P226 ASP, a new Sig Sauer marketed blowback action, pellet-firing air pistol, the first of the ASP models, that both excited and disappointed. As a blowback action CO2 pistol it had several very neat features including a rifled barrel, working safety decocker, white dot sights, a fairly authentic trigger pull and a threaded barrel. But Sig used an economy of features to keep the price down and make the P226 ASP a basic hands-on training gun that was only good for familiarizing how the gun sighted, learning trigger control and safe handing with the safety decocker. Basic. It was a small step forward for pellet-firing CO2 pistols but functionally behind then current CO2 blowback action BB models like the Umarex Colt Commander. But it proved that Sig Sauer was in the game.
Aside from the Umarex Colt Peacemakers, the first new CO2 model that really rocked me back on my heels was the Air Venturi version of the Umarex Uzi pistol. Unlike the semi-auto only Umarex Uzi, this special version offered a real Mini Uzi-design selective fire system, making it as close to a real existing gun as any air pistol up to that time.
By the summer of 2016 I had found one blowback action CO2 pistol that would be my very first “keeper” when I reviewed the Mini Uzi select fire pistol. Going from guns like the Umarex Commander to the Uzi was like stepping through the looking glass. I had tested 9mm Mini Uzi and .22 caliber Uzi models for Combat Handguns magazine and this was as close to a real Uzi pistol as possible. It showed me, and I hope those of you who read that article in the summer of 2016, that the future of CO2 blowback action pistols was about to change from the simplistic to the outrageous.
Much as I like Model 1911 Colts and 1911 variations for competition shooting, I have always had a preference for the CZ 75 based Tanfoglio Gold Custom 9mm competition pistols (which have been in the hands of world champion shooters for years) and when the CO2 version was introduced and actually fit the Safariland Tanfoglio Gold Custom competition rig, I was sold on the CO2 model as another keeper. Even the CO2 BB magazines work with the competition rig’s mag pouches. This remains the most accurate (properly fitted with optics) CO2 blowback action BB pistol on the market.
All of the essential features of the 9mm model have been perfectly duplicated from the slide serrations to grip profile and alloy grips, and thumb safeties making the Tanfoglio Gold Custom the best competition training gun made today.
The Tanfoglio Gold Custom was also reviewed that summer and as the top level 9mm CZ 75-based competition pistol it was an equally impressive and accurate blowback action CO2 BB model that has maintained its position as the most accurate blowback action BB pistol on the market. Given all that has come, that is quite an impressive accomplishment for one of the earlier CO2 models. The Tanfoglio Custom Limited with adjustable sights followed, but did not stay around long enough to do anything but whet a lot of appetites for a Tanfoglio that didn’t require optics. If that gun ever comes back, there is a waiting list of CO2 owners who missed out on what was one of the very best CO2 pistols of the last three years.
One thing I have never grown out of is dressing the part with western guns. Helps to have been doing Guns of the Old West magazine for over a decade, but when the CO2 Peacemakers came out, especially the nickel 7-1/2 inch pellet cartridge-loading models with rifled barrels, they quickly found their way not only into Airgun Experience but Guns of the Old West as well. The CO2 Peacemakers cut their own niche into the airgun world and despite no new models (like a proper 2-1/2 inch barrel Sheriff’s Model), they remain the best Single Action air pistols made.
In the very near future you will be able to custom order your own Peacemaker from Pyramyd Air with your personal choice of finishes, combinations of finishes, and barrel lengths (5-1/2 or 7-1/2 inch). Stay tuned for more on this one.
The summer of 2016 also saw the beginning of an evolution in wheelguns. With the 5-1/2 inch and 7-1/2 inch rifled barrel Peacemakers, Umarex had established the BB and pellet cartridge as a new standard for revolvers.
ASG and its licensed Dan Wesson models got off to a good but not entirely accurate beginning in 2016 with both BB and pellet-cartridge firing models with smoothbore and rifled barrels. The grip frame, however, was closer to the Umarex 327 TRR8 and used a S&W-style cylinder release.
Within a year’s time ASG had added a new and very proper DW Model 715 with the correct crane cylinder release and superior hard rubber combat grips. The unique finish changed colors from deep blue black (outdoors) to a silver grey under different lighting.
Umarex and ASG were leading the parade, the latter with its first Dan Wesson models, which were nice but not authentic to the original Daniel B. Wesson II designs. ASG would follow up in 2017 with a truly bona fide 6-inch Model 715 with the correct crane-mounted cylinder latch, a rifled barrel and pellet-loading cartridges. This became the all-time best CO2 double action revolver, along with the 2-inch snub nose version that, in the estimation of many Airgun Experience readers, is the best CO2 revolver ever. And it has not been surpassed thus far.
The hottest ASG Dan Wesson came almost a year after the 6-inch version with a 2-inch nickel snub nose, pellet-cartridge model that is not only the best looking of the DW CO2 models but the Number 1 revolver training gun on the market. Another absolute keeper.
By the end of summer 2016 I had found that Umarex was delivering more new guns than ever and each was a benchmark in its own right with the Beretta 92A1 select-fire pistol, which combined two actual Beretta models into one gun, making the CO2 92A1 a bit of an anomaly for authenticity but one heck of an exciting blowback action air pistol to shoot. The 92A1 had the look and feel of a 9mm pistol, a more robust blowback action and of course, semi-auto and full auto fire. It also matched the current Beretta 92 series design, making it a truly up-to-the-minute pistol in most respects. The other great new model of 2016 was really quite unexpected; but first the back story.
Authenticity of style, fit, and finish, were all combined in what remains the most exciting Beretta CO2 model you could own, the 92A1, a virtual 1:1 of the 9mm version with the added option of a Beretta 93R-based selective-fire system.
I had seen a plastic Broomhandle Mauser semi-auto air pistol in the Umarex booth at the 2015 Shot Show and I had remarked, “too bad they didn’t do it in metal.” There were some restrained smiles from the Umarex folks and a, well you never know. The next summer I knew, we all knew. Umarex had launched a new Legends model, the Mauser Model 712 select-fire Broomhandle, an all-metal blowback action pistol that again reset the mark for what is considered an impressive air pistol. With the M712 added, the select fire air pistol world was getter better and better. There were three options, the Mini Uzi, The Beretta 92A1 and the Mauser M712. Each was unique in its design and history and as authentic as any airguns available at the time.
I have always had a passion for the legendary Mauser Broomhandle pistols, most of which, while expensive, are not hard to obtain in very good to excellent condition, despite most being 100 years old. The one that is hard to find and harder still to afford, is the Model 1932 select-fire pistol, or as it is also known, the Model 712.
When Umarex introduced the M712 select-fire Broomhandle they did it about as right as they could, making it so authentic that original Broomhandle shoulder stocks fit the air pistol!
Umarex also had another ace up its sleeve (and no, not the Legends Ace Single Action, with all due respect to Expendables fans) but rather a semi-auto so authentic in design that by the end of 2016 a few law enforcement agencies were trying them out for recruit and remedial training exercises, the S&W M&P40. It has been around just long enough to be an established benchmark that other CO2 models try to beat, and in fact by 2018 that was accomplished by three new semi-autos, which we will discuss a little later.
CO2 training guns are not new, but Umarex began perfecting the concept for law enforcement with the S&W licensed M&P40. The Military & Police model is so authentic that it can interchange with M&P40 duty gear and accessories. It also field strips exactly the same making it a total training gun for law enforcement agencies that carry the M&P pistols. And Umarex and S&W didn’t miss a thing, the CO2 model comes with three backstraps so it can be adapted to various hand sizes, essential for serious training with an air pistol.
These Pennsylvania Sheriffs carry the M&P 40 and train indoors with the CO2 models to keep up handling proficiency and lower the cost of live ammo (.40 S&W) range training, while still seeing accuracy results on paper 21 feet downrange. The CO2 model and its magazines fit the officer’s centerfire Level 3 duty holsters and spare magazine pouches.
We still have another 2016 introduction to revel in. While Umarex was asserting itself, Sig Sauer was testing the waters, ASG was belting out an authentic CZ 75 semi-auto and multiple Dan Wesson models one of the oldest airgun manufacturers in the world was revisiting its own history, Webley & Scott Ltd.
Remember the Tanfoglio Gold Custom? This is where it comes from, the CZ 75. ASG introduced a very realistic CO2 version of the classic DA/SA hammer-fired 9mm pistol that uses identical self-contained CO2 BB magazines with the 9mm model’s extended base pad. This is one of the most overlooked and underrated CO2 models on the market and one that every serious air pistol collector should own.
Rule Britannia. England has produced some of the finest and most rugged handguns in history and one of the longest lived and famous is the Webley MK VI. Webley & Scott entered the airgun market decades ago but in the past few years have brought forth something uniquely their own, the MK VI CO2 models. The current offerings have rifled steel barrels, pellet-loading cartridges, and either nickel or weathered Battlefield finishes.
Webley started out by introducing a BB cartridge loading model of the famous WWI and WWII British .455 caliber sidearm, the MK VI. While as authentic as any military copy could be (since they used the blueprints from the cartridge guns to design the air pistol) the MK VI was another check in an amazing year for CO2 models. What was missing was a rifled barrel version (which was already on sale in Europe) and the U.S market got that in doubles with nickel finish and weathered Battlefield finish rifled barrel pellet-firing models in late 2017.
The Battlefield finish MK VI is the most authentic looking of the current models. Nickel guns were rarely made and most were plated after the fact. The Battlefield adds just enough wear to look like a pistol that has seen the elephant.
In Part 2 we continue looking at the best new CO2 models, but first, something you all need to know! Thursday’s Part 2 will conclude my review of all the best guns I have tested since 2016, and in Saturday’s Part 3 conclusion, I will reveal my all-time favorite. Everyone who reads Airgun Experience on Tuesday and Thursday has a chance to win a brand new Umarex Beretta M9A3 by posting a comment with the gun they think I will pick on Saturday. This needs to be in the comments section before read more
I’ve tested air pistols equipped for optics with a variety of red dot sights from those costing less than $100 to professional red dot optics costing $400 and up, and what I have learned is that they eliminate almost every random factor outside of shooter error. The only way to eliminate that is to use a Ransom rest, but in the world of competitive shooting or just leisure time target shooting the random element, the person doing the shooting, has to participate! By adding the optics bridge to the Sig Sauer P226 X-Five Open the CO2 model moves up into the same category as the Tanfoglio Gold Custom. There are very few blowback action CO2 models that can match the Gold Custom for handling or accuracy. The variable is choice of optics, and I have shot this gun with everything from a low dollar Truglo red/green dot sight (about $47), and Walther MRS ($64.95), all the way up to a $400 C-More STS2 (Small Tactical Sight), and the Tanfoglio performs no matter what is riding on the optics bridge. To give the Sig Sauer P226 X-Five Open an even footing, I have equipped the Tanfoglio Gold Custom and the Sig with Walther MRS optics, thus this third and final evaluation will come down to trigger pull, slide action, and the wild card, the steadiness of the shooter’s hand!
Both pistols use an optics bridge, the Tanfoglio with the bridge screwed to the frame and intended to be left permanently mounted, the Sig Sauer with a removable dustcover rail mount that uses four screws to tighten it down. Both guns have ported compensators. Both guns are fitted with the Walther MRS Multi Reticle Sight. The Sig has a DA/SA trigger with a SA pull of 3 pounds, 10 ounces; the Tanfoglio has a SAO target trigger that drops the hammer with a pull of 2 pounds, 13.5 ounces.
About the MRS
Among affordable red dot sights, the Walther MRS ranks high with a choice of four reticle designs (thus the designation MRS for Multi Reticle Sight), seven brightness levels to give you clarity from low light to high noon, 1/3 MOA and a 17 yard field of view at 109 yards, fully and easily adjustable windage and elevation screws, an integral Weaver rail mount with two large hex-head screws, and a long life CR 2032 battery. It outranks many more expensive pistol optics and retails for less than $65. I went with this sight for its optical features and a price that is in line with the cost of either gun. The wisdom of my using optics that cost three to five times as much as the airgun has often been questioned, but I can justify it by using them on the real cartridge-firing models. Training with the same optic is an advantage.
The Walther MRS ranks high among red dot sights with a choice of four reticle designs, seven brightness levels and easily adjustable slotted windage and elevation screws.
To put the Sig Open into a head-to-head competition with the Tanfoglio Gold Custom, the shooting test will be shot offhand from 21 feet using a Weaver stance and two handed hold. To make it just a little more interesting the target will be a cardboard IPSC silhouette. Each IPSC target will have 10 rounds fired at 1-second intervals and the best total score (overall spread and best 5-shot group) will determine which gun is the winner. Since the optics are identical on each gun, and hopefully I shoot each one the same way, the decisive feature will be the triggers, quality of the barrels (even though both are smoothbore), the blowback action recoil, barrel realignment as the slide closes, and balance in the hand. Going into this I can admit to knowing the Tanfoglio has a lighter trigger, both have quick reset and with their metal compensators excellent balance, although the Tanfoglio is a little smaller, a bit lighter and has a shorter barrel. The question is with a little more heft and extra barrel length, can the Sig Sauer with optics outshoot the almost undisputed leader in blowback action .177 caliber target pistols?
Just to recap, the Sig Sauer P226 X-Five Open has a DA/SA trigger with a single action trigger pull that averages 3 pounds, 10 ounces, with 0.438 inches of take up, slight stacking during the second stage of the trigger pull, and a very short 0.25 inch release to reset. The Tanfoglio Gold Custom’s SAO trigger has an average pull of 2 pounds, 13.5 ounces, 0.375 inches of take up, a firm pull and 0.25 inches or release to reset (this is different than the reset on the Tanfoglio Limited Custom). The Sig weighs 3 pounds, 9 ounces (empty) with the optics bridge and Walther MRS optics; the Tanfoglio 3 pounds, 6 ounces. The MSRP for the guns, as shown (without the Walther MRS), are within $20 of each other, the Tanfoglio being the most expensive at $189.95.
Off to the range
For this test the ammunition will be Hornady Black Diamond .177 caliber black anodized steel BBs. Velocity at the muzzle for the Sig measured 329 fps (a high of 339 fps and a low of 320 fps). The Tanfoglio clocked an average of 328 fps (a high of 338 fps and a low of 320 fps). The Sig Open has a more robust recoil (especially the first couple of magazines with a fresh CO2 cartridge), while the Tanfoglio has less felt recoil and a much smoother slide action. Combined with the target trigger the Gold Custom is more consistent from shot to shot.
The Sig slammed 10 rounds into the IPSC silhouette target from 21 feet at an average velocity of 329 fps and a best 5-shot group measuring 0.75 inches.
The Sig delivered 10 rounds in the IPSC target’s A-Zone with a spread of 1.5 inches and a best 5 shots covering 0.75 inches. Two additional tests gave the same results within a fraction of an inch. The Sig Open (at least this example) is not as accurate as the standard model even with the addition of optics.
Just a bit smoother to shoot, and a little more consistently accurate, the Tanfoglio Gold Custom punched 10 rounds into the target from 21 feet at a velocity of 328 fps and a best 5-shot group at 0.56 inches to beat the Sig.
The Tanfoglio with the Walther MRS delivered its 10 shot charge almost on top of the A in the A-Zone with a spread of 1.24 inches and a best 5 shots grouped at 0.56 inches, to beat the Sig Sauer by 0.19 inches. I love the Sig but I love the Tanfoglio more.
The Sig Sauer P226 X-Five Open is an excellent blowback action air pistol with very authentic looks, weight, balance and handling but not quite the equal of the Tanfoglio Gold Custom, which just handles and shoots a little better. It remains the champion of blowback action target models.
A Word About Safety
Blowback action models like the Sig Sauer P226 X-Five Open and Tanfoglio Gold Custom provide the look, feel and operation of their cartridge-firing counterparts. All arguns, in general, look like guns, but those based on real cartridge-firing models even more so. It is important to remember that the vast majority of people can’t tell an airgun from a cartridge gun. Never brandish an airgun in public. Always, and I can never stress this enough, always treat an airgun as you would a cartridge gun. The same manual of operation and safety should always apply.read more
Going head-to-head with Tanfoglio’s Limited Custom
The DA/SA vs. the SAO target pistol
By Dennis Adler
Top guns in .177 caliber CO2 blowback action models are the Sig Sauer P226 X-Five Open and Tanfoglio Limited Custom. The Sig is a slightly larger gun with a longer barrel (not counting the ported compensator), and longer sight radius. Their MSRP’s are within $20 of each other, the Tanfoglio having the higher retail price. Both are currently on sale.
When you are faced with two excellent guns the only way to make a choice is to shoot them both and see which one is best for you. After a lot of testing over the past few years I narrowed down my “Best Guns” list for blowback action semi-autos to about five, and of those, two proved best for target shooting, the Tanfoglio Limited Custom with open sights and Tanfoglio Gold Custom for use with optics. But there is also the Sig Sauer P226 X-Five, which even in its standard configuration can give the best semi-auto CO2 models a run for their money when it comes to features, handling and accuracy. The Sig’s Open model actually rivals either Tanfoglio and it is only one gun vs. two! So, here we go with the first runoff between the P226 X-Five Open and Tanfoglio Custom Limited.
The Sig (right) and Tanfoglio have virtually identical Bomar-style fully adjustable rear target sights. The Sig has a slight advantage with a much larger blade front sight compared to the Tanfoglio’s.
How they stack up
Both the Tanfoglio and Sig X-Five Open use an adjustable Bomar-type rear sight, and a single blade front, neither having a white dot, although the Sig’s front sight (which has a white dot on the standard model) is almost twice the size of the Tanfoglio’s. Both airguns have flared magazine wells for quick reloading, though of totally different design, as well as self-contained CO2 BB magazines with extended base pads, again with differing designs. They are both big full-sized handguns, the Sig weighing 47 ounces, the Tanfoglio 43.1 ounces. Both also have excellent balance in the hand, but the Sig is a little nose heavy compared to the Tanfoglio Limited Custom. You can credit that to the X-Five Open’s 2-inch long metal ported compensator. The Sig also has a longer slide, 7.75 inches in length vs. 7.25 inches for the Tanfoglio. A little more weight comes from the Sig having a dustcover rail for mounting a tactical light or light laser combination and a more robust frame, compared to the svelte lines of the CZ-75 influenced Tanfoglio.
Both guns have oversized ambidextrous safeties. In this view you can also see the shallow CZ-75 based slide used on the Tanfoglio, which contributes to its trim lines and smooth operation. The slide rails ride inside the frame, rather than over it, as on the Sig Sauer. The Tanfoglio uses a competition SAO trigger, while the Sig has a two-stage DA/SA trigger.
The first of two advantages for the Sig is a much longer sight radius, 7.25 inches vs. 6.06 inches. Commensurately the Sig’s barrel measures 5.32 inches (internally) vs. 4.0 inches (internally) for the Tanfoglio, so the X-Five Open has a little longer reach. The second big difference between these two target pistols is trigger design; the Tanfoglio is an SAO, the Sig a DA/SA.
With a longer slide, longer sight radius and longer barrel, the Sig Sauer P226 X-Five Open has several advantages over the smaller, more competition-oriented Tanfoglio semi-auto.
There are very few blowback action airguns with a finer trigger than the Tanfoglio Limited Custom and Gold Custom. The Limited Custom’s pivoting trigger has an average pull of 3 pounds, 8.7 ounces. Take up is a mere 0.438 inches with almost no discernable stacking, a clean break, but almost a full release to reset. Even so, it is still about as fast a CO2 semi-auto pistol as possible, making it ideal for practicing competition shooting skills.
The 20-round Tanfoglio drop free magazines are an outstanding feature, they are easy to load, have an excellent locking follower and a large loading port. Also note the deeper flared magazine well on the Tanfoglio. Both guns use magazines with extended base pads.
The P226 X-Five Open can be fired either double action for the first shot (if the gun has been de-cocked) or single action by cocking the hammer; as with any DA/SA design, after the first shot the pistol fires single action. Trigger pull in single action averages 3 pounds, 10 ounces, with 0.438 inches of take up, slight stacking during the second stage of the pull, but a very short 0.25 inch release to reset. It’s not as light a trigger as the Tanfoglio’s but it is a hair faster.
The Sig P226 X-Five Open magazines hold 18 steel BBs and are specific to this model, so the flat base P226 X-Five magazines will not work. The 20-shot magazines for both Tanfoglio models are interchangeable and just for the record, the Tanfoglio magazines are easier to load with a follower that locks down and an easy loading port just above it. The Sig magazines have a follower that locks down but you have to hold it back to load BBs. If you use an Umarex speed loader, it is less of an issue.
For the test, I chose Umarex steel BBs. The targets were Birchwood-Casey Shoot-N-C at a distance of 21 feet. Both guns have factory rated velocities of 300 fps and the tests were shot offhand using a Weaver stance and two-handed hold.
The Tanfoglio Limited Custom feels much more like a competition pistol than the Sig and handles extremely well. The trigger is one of the best around for a blowback action CO2 pistol and contributes to the Limited Custom’s consistent accuracy.
The Sig Sauer P226 X-Five Open has an excellent two-stage trigger with a very quick reset. The ported compensator does not appear to add anything to the gun’s performance outside of looks. But it’s a good look!
And the winner is…
First up, the Tanfoglio which placed 10 shots inside the 10 and X rings at 1.44 inches, with a best 5-shot group measuring 0.74 inches, which is not quite as good as the last test I shot with the Limited Custom, which landed a best five shots at 0.562 inches.
The Tanfoglio put 10 in the 10 and X ring from 21 feet for a total spread of 1.44 inches and a best five rounds at 0.74 inches.
The Sig P226 X-Five Open delivered its best 10 round group at 1.02 inches with a best five shots at 0.50 inches. In the end, the Sig just edges out the Tanfoglio for best overall accuracy, but only by a fraction of an inch. I would be happy to own either gun, but for the absolute best balance, accuracy, and ease of loading and handling, my choice would still be the Tanfoglio Limited Custom. For a dedicated target model with open sights, it is still the gun to beat.
The Sig P226 X-Five Open just edged out the Tanfoglio Limited Custom with a best 10 rounds at 1.02 inches and a best five shots at 0.50 inches.
In Part 3 we add the optics bridge to the Sig Open and face off with the Tanfoglio Gold Custom, both equipped with Walther read more