Young Gun, Old Gun

Young Gun, Old Gun

The design of a firearm

is still based around a simple principle

By Dennis Adler

I am reminded every time I put a montage of CO2 models like this together, that we have at hand a remarkable variety of firearms designs. Some, like the early 20th century Mauser M712 would be almost out of reach for the majority of collectors as a centerfire pistol, first because of the value, and second in still being a Class III weapon after almost 90 years. Others have simply gone up in value exponentially because of their rarity, like original Colt Peacemakers and WWII pistols like the P.08 Luger, while most of what you see here remain the mainstream guns of the 21st century, such as the latest Ruger 10/22 carbine,the Glock 17, S&W M&P40, and Sig Sauer P320/M17. As real firearms this would be quite an expensive group of guns.

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


Greater Expectations

Greater Expectations

A serious look at air pistols and practicality

By Dennis Adler

Back in 2000 when I was preparing the First Edition Blue Book of Airguns these were the latest designs. They were all pellet-firing pistols that had excellent velocity, authentic styling and fundamental handling, guns that could be used for target shooting and handgun training (like the Walther CP99), but they were not blowback action pistols, and they were not actually semi-autos. Internally they worked like a DA/SA revolver with the cast alloy pellet magazine inside the action, rotating like a cylinder with each pull of the trigger (or by cocking the hammer). Look at the guns pictured in my feature from the 2001 book, and you will see the finest CO2 air pistols on the market at the time.

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


Umarex Thompson M1A1 Part 6

Umarex Thompson M1A1 Part 6

Outfitting for the field

By Dennis Adler

Every good CO2 rifle needs accessories and the M1A1 is very good indeed and there are a lot of excellent reproduction WWII accessories made for the Thompson by World War Supply, including the Thompson Kerr sling (the one essential for the CO2 subgun), the Thompson 3-cell magazine pouch (far left with the Thompson CO2 BB magazine sticking out…it fist perfectly), as well as accessories for the M1911A1 CO2 pistol, including a correct WWII era M1936 cotton webbing pistol belt, U.S. 1911 cotton webbing dual magazine pouch, and JT&L marked U.S. M1916 leather holster for the 1911A1. There are also various supply pouches and the US Military Musette Bag M1936 (background).

A gun by itself is all it needs be to perform its function. Everything else just makes it easier. Holsters and cartridge belts, magazine pouches, accessory bags, all were developed to make guns easier to handle in the field, and on the battlefield they were all the more important. The more complex the weapon, like a submachine gun, the more support gear it needed. The Thompson M1A1 needed several essential pieces to make it most serviceable in combat, beginning with a sling to shoulder the weapon and on occasion add support for firing by wrapping one’s arm in the sling. Guns with magazines needed a place for extra magazines, extra cartridges, and the military had multiple designs for M1A1 magazine pouches and other belt carried accessory pouches; the U.S. Military Musette bag – a 20th century version of the frontier era “possibles bag” held whatever else might be needed from small accessories and extra ammo to maps and tools, rations, a wool cap, and other small gear. And of course, a soldier needed a belt to carry a holstered sidearm and spare ammo or magazines (depending upon the type of handgun). Most of the items mentioned were manufactured for the U.S. military by various companies during WWII. read more


Umarex Thompson M1A1 Part 5

Umarex Thompson M1A1 Part 5

Honest accuracy with fixed sights

By Dennis Adler

This trio of Legends from Umarex each stand out in its class, but the most interesting thing is that the M1A1 can match accuracy with the longer-barreled Cowboy Lever Action and pretty much outshoot the MP40, and that makes it a best in any class CO2 model.

A CO2 powered BB air rifle will shoot with reasonable accuracy out to 10 meters, even beyond, but target accuracy is another story. Looking back at the Umarex Legends Cowboy Lever Action fired with Meisterkugeln lead wadcutter pellets through the rifle’s smoothbore barrel, my best accuracy at 10 meters was 10 rounds into 1.25 inches with a tight group of 8 rounds in one large hole measuring 0.5 inches edge to edge. I also shot with the Umarex Peacemaker BB cartridges and put 10 rounds at 1.625 inches with a best 5-round group at 0.5 inches. I then pushed the Cowboy Lever Action all the way out to 40 feet with H&N Sport Match Green 5.25 gr. alloy wadcutter pellets and printed an impressive 10-shot group at 1.125 inches with multiple overlapping hits and the best five shots at 0.562 inches. Of course, this was shooting pellets not BBs and the Lever Action is a lighter, longer barrel air rifle then an M1A1, which only has a 9-inch (internal length .177 caliber) barrel vs. a 19-1/2 inch internal length barrel. Being a lever action it also had no appreciable movement (no blowback action) and a very light trigger. Results were as expected.   read more


Umarex Thompson M1A1 Part 4

Umarex Thompson M1A1 Part 4

Select Fire and Performance

By Dennis Adler

Simply stated (without the technical explanation of all the parts involved), switching from semi-auto to auto, or SINGLE to FULL AUTO as stamped on the M1A1 receiver, moves the disconnector out of position allowing the trigger, which would otherwise be held by the disconnector until the next pull, to cycle continuously with the hammer striking the firing pin (or the release valve on the CO2 model), as long as the trigger is held back. This is where learning to fire in short bursts can help improve accuracy and conserve rounds. (While an internal hammer was used on all earlier Thompson models, the Savage Arms Co. redesign for the military’s M1A1 had the firing pin machined to the face of the bolt).

Select fire is a great option on an air rifle like the Thompson M1A1 submachine gun especially since the M1A1 seems capable of maintaining tight groups even on full auto, more about this later. The same can’t be said for the legendary .45 ACP models which are notorious for muzzle rise. Again, never having fired one I can’t speak to that with any personal experience, but those who have fired them say muzzle rise with the big .45 Auto Thompson has to be managed. I have fired other types of smaller caliber weapons on full auto and 9mms have increasing muzzle rise, so a .45 Auto goes without saying. Accuracy with any automatic weapon not only comes down to a proper grip to control recoil but trigger pull and learning to fire short, accurate bursts, which is hard to do. CO2 models like the Thompson allow a level of practice that simply is not available in the centerfire world without owning a real select fire Thompson and going through a lot of .45 ACP ammo. Of course, if you have gone that far the cost of ammo is probably not a big consideration. read more


Umarex Thompson M1A1 Part 3

Umarex Thompson M1A1 Part 3

Built to perform

By Dennis Adler 

During WWII, approximately 1,700,000 Thompson Submachine Guns were produced and used in every major battle fought from 1942 to the end of the war in 1945. The guns were heavy at an average of 10 pounds, but slung over the shoulder small enough for easy carry. This WWII soldier armed with an M1A1 is also carrying a Model 1911A1 in an M1916 JT&L 1942 leather holster. (Library of Congress)

The idea behind the M1A1 was to take the then current M1928A1 and modify the design to make it faster and less expensive to manufacture, in order to meet the needs of the U.S. Army, U.S. Army Air Forces (consisting of both Army and Marine Corps pilots), United States Marine Corp, U.S. Navy, and Coast Guard during WWII. The Thompson M1A1 design was adopted in April 1942, so this latest Umarex Legends model is based on a design that is now 78 years old. Compared to the rest of the Umarex Legends, the M1A1 is a youngster, historically. As the most refined (as in easiest to manufacture) of Brigadier General John T. Thompson’s designs, (Thompson passed away at age 79 in 1940, more than a year before the U.S. was drawn into WWII), the various Thompson designs leading up to the M1A1 had all been proven in combat (M1928A1), both by the military and federal agents (FBI and Treasury) during the Prohibition Era, U.S. Postal Inspectors, various state and local law enforcement agencies, and in foreign conflicts. The Savage Arms improvements to the M1A1 made the Thompson more efficient for combat use by simplifying the firing system, and building improved stick magazines that held 30 rounds, that were easy to load, attach and most importantly, remove to clear the action in the event of a jam. (The same design had already been developed for the 20 round stick magazines). read more


Umarex Thompson M1A1 Part 2

Umarex Thompson M1A1 Part 2

The devil is in the detail

By Dennis Adler

The M1A1 at the top was sold by Rock Island Auction Co. and written up as follows: This is a very late World War II production M1A1 Thompson Submachine Gun, manufactured by the Auto Ordnance Corp. in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The M1A1 was introduced in April 1942 as a war-expedient/simplified version of the M1928 Thompson Submachine Gun. The war expedient features included the elimination of the barrel cooling fins, Cutt’s compensator, adjustable rear sight and removable buttstock. They also employed a side-mounted cocking handle and a fixed firing pin with a slightly longer bolt which allowed the weapon to be easier and cheaper to manufacture. This example has the standard Lyman “L” type fixed rear sight, horizontal walnut forearm and fixed walnut buttstock. The new Umarex M1A1 is below. No more need be said.

WWII-era M1A1 Thompson SMGs are expensive. Auto-Ordnance still makes the .45 ACP models as semi-autos for a lot less, and those run $1500 to a little over $2000, depending upon the version; M1 Carbine, M1A1-style SBR, or Tanker Model, but the only way to get a select-fire version today, outside of purchasing an original WWII model or an older Auto-Ordnance model, (they built select-fire versions up until 1986), doing the paperwork, (this applies to the new Auto-Ordnance M1 SBR which approximates the M1A1 with a short 10.5 inch barrel), federal background check and transfer fees ($200), is to opt for air and get the Umarex Legends M1A1, which is to say, at this moment in time, the ultimate CO2 subgun on the market. Sorry MP40, this is a much cooler American subgun. There is literally nothing you can say about the look of this new Umarex model that is not positive. Like I said in Part 1, even the wood finished plastic stock, pistol grip and forearm are the most realistic looking pieces ever. Would I like to see a version with real wood? Absolutely, but that would probably raise the price at least another $100 (like the Springfield Armory M1 Carbine). As it stands, as a new 2020 model, there is nothing missing and I can’t think of a better way to kick off the year than with a model that has been on just about every Airgun Experience reader’s wish list for years. read more