Old World fixed sights

Old World fixed sights

Don’t raise the bridge, lower the river

By Dennis Adler

The big gun of the Old West was the .45 caliber Colt Buntline Single Action. With a 12-inch barrel length, as short as 10-inches and as long as 16-inches, that front sight was a ways out, and you had plenty of steel to sight along. A man with a Buntline could make the long shot.

That’s the title of a 1968 Jerry Lewis comedy that has nothing to do with handguns or air pistols, but the title makes a statement that does, because for the longest time in the history of handguns, the sights, if there were sights at all, were fixed in place. You didn’t adjust the sights, you adjusted your aim.

Long barrels were not an exception back in the 17th century, when the most powerful handgun made was the Wheelock. This model’s design dates back to the German Wheelock pistols built from around 1580 to 1620. There is a long hook on the opposite side of the frame so that it could be hung from a sword belt.

The front sights for handguns more or less evolved from the front sights on muskets, fowlers, and longrifles. The handgun, as an idea, began as the Chinese hand cannon, a small barrel one held in the hand, lit the fuse and pointed at a target. After awhile people started mounting the barrel on a short stick; it was easier to get another stick. Fast forward to the late 16th century and the hand gun was making a comeback in Europe, principally in Southern Germany, as a practical, hand held weapon with a clockwork-like firing mechanism known as a Wheel Lock (or Wheelock). To put this handgun design in some historical perspective, in the period from the mid 1500s to the early 1600s, a trained marksman armed with a Wheelock pistol could shoot a knight in armor off his horse. Of course, this worked as well the other way; a mounted soldier could carry two loaded Wheelock pistols in saddle holsters and one or two more hooked around a sword belt, and return fire from horseback. Hitting a moving target with a large caliber pistol that took almost a half second to fire from the time the trigger was pulled, was no small accomplishment. read more


Sweet Inspirations

Sweet Inspirations

Borrowing from the past

By Dennis Adler

During the 1850s Colt produced .44 caliber Dragoon Models with detachable shoulder stocks. Although far from the first use of this combination to turn a holster pistol into a short barrel carbine, the Colt models from the 1850s through the 1860s are the most famous. Dragoons with shoulder stocks were generally fitted with a folding rear sight on top of the barrel lug (which you can see folded down). Accuracy with the stock attached was greatly enhanced and point of aim was more accurate than with the pistol’s hammer notch rear and half moon German silver front sight.

At the end of the article on the Crosman Backpacker Model 2289G I put in a picture of several Frank Wesson single shot .32 rimfire pistols from the 1870s which were fitted with shoulder stocks to make them into carbines. This shows that the concept for the Crosman was rooted in our past, but it is far more interesting than that. For so many of the very popular airguns we have today, the past is the source of their inspiration, like the early Gletcher Russian Legends, and Umarex Legends models such as the MP40 sub machinegun and M712 Broomhandle, among others. But this particular subject of making carbines out of pistols has its roots far more deeply planted in the past. Frank Wesson built his guns as simple, affordable single shot pistols, some with longer barrels that could be used to hunt small game and affixed with a metal skeleton shoulder stock to make the pistol more accurate, like a rifle, but removable for easier transport. In an airgun context the 2289G, Diana Chaser, shoulder stocks for any of the Crosman 1399 series models as well as other Crosman pneumatic pistols, even the shoulder stock for the Umarex S&W 586 (perhaps the closest relation to the Frank Wesson pistols) fall into this same category. read more


Crazy for holsters

Crazy for holsters

If the gun fits, buy it!

By Dennis Adler

In the Old West not everyone who carried a gun wore a holster. Some men just tucked the pistol into their pant’s waist. Others who wore a cartridge belt and holster often tucked a second gun behind the belt. The rig I am wearing in this photo is an exact copy of the holster and belt worn by Tom Horn. It was copied from the original by Alan Soellner of Chisholm’s Trail Leather. It was originally used for a feature on Tom Horn in Guns of the Old West. Here it plays host to a pair of 5-1/2 inch Umarex Colt Peacemakers.

I hesitate to tell you how many holsters I have. Let’s just say that if I ever end up on an episode of Hoarders it is going to be because of holsters. I am not alone in this, there are, and this is the truth, people who collect holsters, not guns, just holsters. They buy guns, but only to put in the holsters, that’s where the term “holster stuffer” comes from.

I have purchased holsters, off the rack, as it were, and I have had holsters custom made to fit specific guns, I have commissioned reproductions of original western holsters to be made for articles (which is altogether different because I got paid to do that), but I have also done this just for my own satisfaction. I would dare say that there are some holsters out there today from certain makers that would not exist if I hadn’t been the instigator of its design and manufacturing. There is even one out there today surreptitiously named after me. But before this becomes a holsters anonymous meeting, there is a point to this as it relates to CO2 air pistols. read more


Back in my Guns & Ammo days

Back in my Guns & Ammo days

Beretta Model 92FS XX-Treme

By Dennis Adler

I originally wrote this caption because at the time very few CO2 pistols looked like the XX-Treme. “Not your father’s Crosman pellet gun, the Beretta XX-Treme raises the bar for intimidating design. Fully equipped, as shown, the price is just $318.99.”

This is a little trip back in time, about 15 years back, when I was primarily an automotive journalist, gun enthusiast and collector. Early on in my career when I was writing about rare and expensive vintage American and European cars from the early 20th century, I had determined that I was never going to be a car collector. My interests were in photographing and writing about them, not owning them, and I never kept that a secret even when I was editor of one of the (at the time) top-rated collector car magazines in America. This led one of my competitors to brand me a “non-collecting voyeur” which really has a pretty nasty connotation. But I wore it well for over 30 years and through authoring dozens of automotive books and running the magazine. I loved old cars; I just didn’t want to own them. (Truth be told, the ones I would have loved to own were so far out of my reach financially that I had long dismissed any thoughts of ownership). read more


Parts Interchangeability

Parts Interchangeability

Beretta 92 Models

By Dennis Adler

When you fieldstrip all three of these Beretta 92FS-style CO2 pistols you end up with the same parts. The only difference is that the Crosman (far right) has a better magazine for loading, but the other mags work in the Crosman just as well. The full auto setting is selected by the safety when moved to the lowest position, allowing one pull of the trigger to fire the gun continuously until you let off. The select fire Umarex Beretta 92A1 has a different selector switch apart from the thumb safety.

The concept of parts interchangeability was pioneered by Samuel Colt in the 1850s to facilitate more efficient and precision manufacturing at his Hartford, Connecticut, South Meadows Armory. In a way, Colt even pioneered the moving assembly line with revolver and rifle components progressing along dedicated production lines, minimizing unnecessary movement. As noted in the book, Samuel Colt – Arms, Art, and Invention by Herbert G. Houze, within the Colt’s factory buildings there were “fifteen hundred machines, the majority of which were both invented and constructed on the premises. Every part of a pistol or rifle is made by machinery, and being made to gauge, is an exact counterpart of every other piece for the same purpose.” Every part was inspected for uniformity before going to assembly, and thus you had parts interchangeability. The efficiency of the Colt factory allowed guns to be built and assembled in large numbers, and for guns in the field (remember much of this occurred just prior to and during the Civil War) an armorer in a military unit or company could replace damaged or broken parts with spares that were identical and required very little hand fitting, if any. Henry Martyn Leland, the founder of both the Cadillac and the Lincoln Motor Car companies in the early 20th century, had worked for Colt’s during the Civil War where he learned the value of parts interchangeability. After Colt’s he took this skill to Springfield Armory and later Brown & Sharpe in Providence, Rhode Island, a precision tool making company, before setting off to Detroit and America’s emerging automobile industry. The significance of parts interchangeability has been realized globally by virtually all manufacturing, whether in the form of firearms, automobiles, hand tools, or appliances, and to the point of this article, air pistols. read more


More Childhood Approved Airguns

More Childhood Approved Airguns

’Tis the Season

By Dennis Adler

Only Jean Shepherd could turn a kid’s BB gun mania into one of the most beloved Christmas movies ever. It’s an annual event in our house, we even have an early Christmas Story Daisy Red Ryder that sits on the fireplace mantle every Holiday Season. Our own BB gun mania.

I must admit that when I was a teenager I didn’t expect, nor did I want an “official Red Rider carbine action 200 shot range model air rifle.” (Of course, in truth I would have had to want a Red Ryder Model 94 Carbine back in the 1960s; the Red Ryder in A Christmas Storey was based on the Number 111 Model 40 Red Ryder Variation1 made in 1940 and 1941). The movie wasn’t released until 1983 and the gun didn’t even exist as it was written in Jean Shepherd’s Christmas classic until after the film. So what did I want? Well, as I mentioned in Thursday’s Airgun Experience I wanted a real Colt Model 1911. But there were other guns with which I had become equally absorbed. None of which existed as air pistols back then. Today, I would be in absolute airgun bliss. The guns I wanted back then were mostly all WWII models and earlier (I have always been a step out of time), and looking at this week’s Pyramyd Air emailing of “12 Airguns you wanted as a kid but never got” I decided to wrap up the week with my old Christmas list and why I wanted them (even though they didn’t exist as airguns back then.) read more


What Drives Your Passion?

What Drives Your Passion?

Some airguns are a personal link to the past

By Dennis Adler

Not sure what this says about me but Richard Boone as Paladin was my favorite western hero when I was a kid.

I am drawn to certain CO2 air pistols and the occasional CO2 air rifle by my past and my passions for certain guns I have owned, be they airguns or actual cartridge firing guns. I grew up in a family where there were no guns. My interests stemmed from watching TV westerns in the 1950s and 1960s, Have Gun, Will Travel, Wanted Dead or Alive, Gunsmoke, and Bonanza, (and I could throw in a few others I liked like Trackdown and the Rifleman) and classic TV detectives like Richard Diamond, Peter Gunn, and Mike Hammer. read more