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
The gun test that never happened, actually happened, in part, back in
2018 when I did a comparison of drawing and firing a 5-1/2 inch Peacemaker
vs. a Webley MK VI, to see if there was any advantage to one gun over the other
The first test
The belief that a Colt Single Action is faster to draw and fire accurately than a double action is debatable; depends on the person doing the shooting. One very famous case in point is the legendary exhibition shooter Ed McGivern who set a record shooting two S&W Model 10 double action revolvers on August 20, 1932, emptying both in less than 2 seconds. The following month he set another record firing 5 rounds from an S&W Model 10 at 15 feet in 2/5ths of a second and grouping his shots close enough that he could cover them with his hand. He was actually faster with a double action revolver than anyone with a semi-auto! So, if the question is “which is faster, a single or double action revolver” and the person pulling the trigger was Ed McGivern, the answer is Ed McGivern.read more
It would seem logical that the Colt Peacemaker, a gun developed in 1872 and made famous on the American Frontier, and the British Webley MK VI, developed in 1915 and used by British forces in WWI and WWII, would not have crossed paths in combat. The U.S. military adopted the Colt Model 1911 as its standard issue sidearm prior to WWI and the government had, in fact, begun to replace the Peacemaker back in 1889 for the U.S. Navy, with the Colt Model 1889 Navy in .38 and .41 calibers and in 1892 for the Army with a series of smaller caliber (.38 Long Colt) revolvers beginning with the Model 1892. Colt made improved .38 caliber Models in 1894, 1895, 1896, 1901, and with the Model 1905 issued to the Marine Corps. In response to criticism of the .38 caliber double action revolvers being under powered for a military sidearm, Colt developed the New Service in 1909 chambered for a .45 Colt cartridge. Two years later the Colt Model 1911 was adopted as the standard issue U.S. military sidearm replacing the majority of revolvers then in use. read more
Longevity and technology are strange bedfellows, most often in opposition of one another because technology seeks better ways to accomplish tasks which in turn leads to obsolescence. The internal combustion motor, for example, improved factory manufacturing long before it was used to power a horseless carriage in 1886 (Carl Benz Patent Motorwagen) and that in itself offers an interesting perspective on revolvers. Six-shooters belong in the 1800s when they were the most advanced handgun design in the world. Thanks to Samuel Colt, after 1835 revolvers flourished as a design, stumbling a little at first (Colt’s first venture building revolvers in Paterson, NJ when broke in 1842) but through Colt’s ingenuity and better technology, oh there’s that word gain, Colt’s revolver designs from 1848 on never looked back. Colt’s began building single action cartridge loading revolvers in 1871-72 and the Peacemaker in 1873. Even when early semiautomatic pistols were being developed in the 1890s, revolvers were regarded as the best sidearm of choice by military, law enforcement, and civilians alike. However challenged by newer and better semi-auto designs following the turn of the century, even with designs by the Colt’s Patent Fire-Arms Mfg. Co. and John M. Browning for semi-auto pistols, revolvers remained the choice by a resounding majority of law enforcement, U.S. government agencies (like the F.B.I.) and civilians. Even when the 1911 became accepted by some law enforcement agencies, like the Texas Rangers in the 1920s, they often carried a revolver as well. The legendary Frank Hamer did. When semi-autos reached their highest level of use by law enforcement, government, and civilians, from the mid 1980s to the turn of the century (and thereafter), revolvers did not decline in manufacturing (with the exception of Colt’s DA/SA models and they are making a comeback). In fact, manufacturers like Smith & Wesson and Taurus increased the number of DA/SA models and dove headlong into the 2000s with new designs, new manufacturing technology, like Titanium cylinders and aluminum frames. Models from Taurus and Ruger began combining alloy and polymers for lighter, more durable revolvers and in a wider variety of calibers, including those used in semi-auto pistols. The revolver wasn’t going away. Why?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.
When we are talking about copies of legendary military arms as CO2 models, it is not just a gun based on a design, it is a gun copied in detail from an original design like the Umarex Luger P.08 Parabellum and Mauser Broomhandle Model 712. Pictured are the limited edition WWII models. Only the P.08 is currently available.
In the past several years the world of CO2 pistols and rifles has been exposed to military history in ways that airgun enthusiasts could only have dreamed about as little as five years ago. Sure, there have been BB and pellet guns in the past that were based on military arms, like the Crosman Model M-1 Carbine built from 1968 to 1976, as well as a number of military training air rifles manufactured during WWI and WWII (very rare finds today), and more recently the Winchester Model M14 CO2 BB and pellet rifle, introduced in 2012, and of course, the excellent Diana K98 Mauser (under lever cocking) pneumatic pellet rifle. But in the world of blowback action CO2 pistols, rifles, and CO2 BB and pellet cartridge loading revolvers, the period from 2015 to 2019 has been a remarkable one for military arms enthusiasts.
Getting it right and wrong at the same time, the Tanfoglio Witness 1911 is an accurate copy of the WWII era 1911A1 c. 1926 design, but with a modern matte finish and overwhelming branding on one side and warnings and manufacturer’s marks on the other. Aside from that, the Tanfoglio (which is the same gun as the Swiss Arms 1911A1 currently not available), has it almost completely right including the small thumb safety, spur hammer and lanyard loop.
More than a century compressed into four years
CO2 models copied, not based on but actually copied, from WWI and WWII era arms, are virtually a separate category of airguns today. I have covered all of them in Airgun Experience over the last several years but here is a recap of what is available and some links to the original articles to look back for specs and performance.
Right finish, but only sold as a commemorative, the John Wayne WWII 1911A1 is a fine-looking gun with just enough weathering in the finish to appear like a 1911 that has seen some action. Commemorative 1911s are not uncommon in the centerfire world, so this John Wayne CO2 model is right as it can be.
American military arms in CO2 are the scarcest, since the two primary field weapons were the M1 Carbine and Model 1911A1 pistol. The M1 is new to the game and really rounds out the best combination of rifle and pistol. For the 1911A1, there are a couple of period designs, all but the John Wayne Commemorative, however, have modern finishes. The JW has a weathered or battlefield finish that gives the gun a little character. The Swiss Arms 1911A1 version is currently unavailable but the Tanfoglio 1911A1 is the same exact gun with the same issues of modern finish and over embellishment of makers brand and safety warnings (Another is the Remington 1911 RAC with even bigger branding and warning issues). My solution to this was covered in a series of articles on Defarbing a 1911, which gives you a lot of work to do, but ends with a very war worn 1911A1 that is good for a second look when you un-holster it.
With a lot of handwork, you can take a modern finish off a CO2 model (like this Swiss Arms 1911A1) and make it look like a well worn blued gun. All that is missing is the correct markings, which unfortunately are almost impossible to do without having them hand engraved on the gun, which is an expensive proposition. This is still a head turner even without markings, which could have been worn down over time.
The current star of WWII American military arms is the new Springfield Armory M1 Carbine. This is the standard wood grained plastic stock model. A hardwood stock is also offered.
Russian arms are a bit more plentiful in design since guns developed before WWI were still in use during WWI and even into WWII, which gives you a broadly dispersed choice in revolvers, semi-autos, and one major Russian military rifle, the Mosin-Nagant. I have covered all the variations of the Nagant Model 1895 pistols in BB and pellet-loading cartridge versions and two finishes, plus the now unavailable but beautifully built Tokarev TT-33 that was sold by Gletcher.
One of my favorite WWII Russian models is the Tokarev TT-33, which was (yes, past tense) built as a blowback action CO2 pistol by Gletcher. I didn’t care for the modern finish on the gun and this CO2 model became my first defarbing project in 2017.
I antiqued one, which has appeared in a several articles, along with the Makarov models like the PM 1951. Gletcher still has a Russian Legends line, and at the top of the order are two versions of the Mosin-Nagant, a circa 1891 cut down model with sawn off pistol grip, and the Model 1944 rifle. Both are excellent designs and have appeared in several articles over the last couple of years.
The WWII era Mosin-Nagant M1944 is manufactured by Gletcher and is a very close copy of the legendary Russian rifles. The bolt action air rifle is designed from original Mosin-Nagant plans but uses a removable box magazine (same style as the stripper clip fed integral magazine on the centerfire version) that holds CO2 and BBs. This is one of the better CO2 powered rifles made today and offers authentic operation. It is also accurate out to 10 meters.
Made by partisans during the Russian Revolution (1917) the Mosin-Nagant rifle was cut down into a concealable (under a long coat) bolt action pistol for close quarters use. The design was used in WWI and WWII as well. The Gletcher version is literally a cut down version of the 1944 model rifle. The shortened models were known in Russia as an Obrez.
Another pre-20th century design that remained in use by Russians in WWI and WWII was the Nagant revolver. A unique 7-shot design, it was one of the earliest military revolvers to be outfitted with a silencer because of its gas seal cylinder design. The Gletcher models are very authentic in design and offered in both smoothbore BB models (top) and rifled barrel pellet models (bottom). Both use cartridges. The guns also fit original and reproduction Nagant holsters.
It is the German military arms where airgun manufacturers have excelled, particularly Umarex, the parent company of Carl Walther. The Umarex Legends series has given us classic German pistols like the Walther P.38, Luger P.08, and the Mauser Broomhandle Model 712, perhaps the best blowback action pistol made for the sheer enjoyment of shooting CO2 airguns. To top off the German military line, the MP40 submachine gun allows realistic design and handling that is almost unrivaled by any modern CO2 design Carbine or select-fire arm. Umarex also has the Makarov Ultra version of the famous Russian semi-auto pistol.
Umarex has the P.08 in both the black grip (Black Widow) model and in a weathered WWII version.
Despite its stick magazine, the Umarex Walther P.38 (bottom) gets a pass for its fine polished blue black finish and accurate Walther banner markings.
If there is one masterpiece in German airgun design from Umarex it is the Broomhandle Mauser Model 712, pictured with an original C96 Broomhandle and shoulder stock holster.
Leather holsters were also made for the Broomhandle but the Model 712 demanded some extreme modifications for the extended capacity magazine. Pyramyd Air sells a reproduction of one such design to fit the CO2 version of the M712. (The Umarex Mauser is shown in the WWII finish, currently out of production.)
Fired from the shoulder, rather than this way like in the movies, the MP40 is surprisingly accurate even on full auto. Of course, recoil from .177 caliber steel BBs is a lot more manageable than 9mm cartridges!
Alas, the lofty British military arms are scarce in the CO2 world, in fact, presently there is only the Webley & Scott MK VI revolver, which is currently offered in the superior Battlefield Finish version with rifled steel barrel and pellet-loading cartridges, and the same model finished in bright polished nickel (which was not a traditional finish but was done back in the 1940s and later).
The best of the best in WWII weathered finish guns is the Webley & Scott MK VI which looks every bit as real as the actual WWII Webley at the top.
Of all the weathered finish CO2 military models, the Webley MK VI is the best for realism. There have been other weathered finishes offered as limited editions like the MP40 and M712 Broomhandle, both currently available only with standard matt finishes. We may see them again as WWII series guns, but likely not for awhile. The only weathered finish military guns remaining are the Webley, Luger P.08 and John Wayne 1911A1. When weathered finish guns come along that are appealing, buy them, because they often disappear from the market. The Umarex WWII Edition P.08 went out of production a couple of years back and is currently being offered again; this could be the last chance for that one.
The WWII period canvas holster, also sold by Pyramyd Air, adds the final touch of realism to the Battlefield Finish Webley MK VI.
As you can see, there have been some impressive models in the last several years, specifically in the military arms category, which is now a real category. Hopefully this review and the links to Airgun Experience articles will allow a quick reference to finding the best of the best in CO2 models. Happy reading!
The Airgun Experience will be on a brief hiatus and return on June 11th with the first series on the new read more