Compartmentalizing Airguns Part 1

Compartmentalizing Airguns Part 1

Best in class options

By Dennis Adler

When it comes to blowback action CO2 models with self-contained CO2 BB magazines, excellent triggers and combat sights, there are several choices including the first of the blowback action models, the Umarex Colt (Colt licensed) Commander which is a contemporary 1911A1 version, and the more modern Swiss Arms SA 1911 TRS which updates the design to match current .45 Colt Rail Gun (CQBP) models with ambidextrous thumb safeties, forward slide serrations, and a long, integrated Picatinny rail for lights and laser sighting systems. These CO2 models offer superb handling and accuracy (at 21 feet) for around $110.

Not everyone has the ability to buy every airgun they want (and neither do I), so you have to make some informed decisions on what to buy. With so many excellent choices today, in just the single category of air pistols, how do you decide? Sure, I get to test them all, but I only keep certain ones, the rest go back, and I make those choices through a process I call Compartmentalizing Airguns. This is simply breaking down specific interests into categories, or compartments. I have four. Since this is my article I’m going to use my interests, and since you are reading this, it’s pretty likely we have shared interests. So, what makes one air pistol more desirable than another? And price isn’t always the answer; in fact, to do this right price has to be a secondary consideration.

Both the Umarex and Swiss Arms models use the same operating system which is a CO2 version of the John M. Browning short-recoil, locked-breech design from the M1911. Like a .45 ACP model, the airgun slides lock back on an empty magazine for reloading. The Umarex Colt and Swiss Arms 1911 TRS are among the highest rated 1911 CO2 models. Both make excellent training guns or simply very accurate and reactive BB pistols for target shooting.

One thing I’ve learned over the years with airguns, as well as centerfire and rimfire handguns and rifles, is if you can’t afford it right now, don’t settle for a substitute; might as well save up, because you will still want the one you didn’t buy. However, since the vast majority of airguns in this category are under $150 and most under $100, I’m not sure money should be that big of a factor. Now, if you’re looking for a high-end competition pistol or rifle, where the retail prices start around $1,000, then that’s another story, and a very different article!

Another advantage to the Umarex, Swiss Arms, Sig Sauer, and other 1911 CO2 models of the same design is that they can be completely field stripped like a centerfire model. Again this applies more to training (learning how to disassemble the gun) than use as a recreational BB gun for plinking, but authenticity of details adds to the quality of the air pistol. The big difference for the 1911 CO2 models is the extra blowback action recoil spring (the larger spring) which fits over the barrel like a blowback action pistol. The remaining parts simulate the components of a field stripped 1911. This design is used for all the 1911 CO2 models featured in this article.

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The first thing I consider is what kind of centerfire pistol would I want, if I were going to buy only one handgun? I know a great many airgun owners never actually buy centerfire or rimfire pistols or rifles, or have even fired one, and in many countries outside the U.S. this isn’t even a choice. First off, if you have no intention of using an airgun as a training substitute for a matching centerfire handgun (or rifle) you are open to look at a greater variety of options. I for one want some semblance of design and functional compatibility with an actual firearm. I think most airgun enthusiasts would agree, and while that narrows down my choices, what remains are some very fine and affordable airguns.

The latest 1911 on the CO2 scene is the Sig Sauer WE THE PEOPLE, which is the most authentic in detail and handling of any current 1911 air pistol, and an exact duplicate to the .45 ACP Sig Sauer 1911 WE THE PEOPLE model. Remarkably, the Sig Sauer 1911, which is a Sig Sauer branded pistol, (not a licensed model like the Umarex Colt), sells for an average of $10 less than the CO2 Colt Commander or Swiss Arms 1911 TRS.

We will begin with my first category, Blowback Action CO2 Pistols. Yep, that’s jumping right into the abyss with a lot of established makes and models out there and a handful of new ones, some coming out within the next couple of months. But let’s say you are looking for realistic handling, the most features, and best price for a pistol to use for plinking at paper targets, tin cans, and reactive targets with friends and family, so it doesn’t need to have any relationship to a centerfire or rimfire pistol you may or may not own, or even consider owning. You simply want the most gun for the money, period. Right off the top I am ruling out compact and subcompact designs and a couple that are right on the line, like the Umarex S&W M&P40. This still leaves a lot of full size handguns from which to choose.

The Sig Sauer also has large white dot combat sights, extended beavertail and palm swell grip safety and the more popular flat, checkered mainspring housing preferred on most competition and tactical 1911 models today.

Next I am going to select only guns that have self-contained CO2 BB magazines. Stick magazines are great for some models, but if I am only buying one airgun I want one that gives me some options. Why? Guns wear out, seals wear out; a separate self-contained CO2 BB magazine also wears out, but is easily replaced. Even if you get a bad one (and it happens), it can be replaced. So, another consideration is a model that has extra magazines readily available. If you can’t get spare magazines it’s a non-starter.

One feature shared with the Swiss Arms 1911 TRS is ambidextrous thumb safeties. The Sig is really a best buy in this category.

Among full-sized BB firing blowback action CO2 models with self-contained CO2 BB magazines are a number of well established pistols that have been in production for several years. The obvious choices are Colt Model 1911-based designs, it’s an American classic. Remember you are looking for the most features, so consider build quality, brand recognition, accurate handling, and sights, the sights are really important. That rules out any 1911 model with original style military sights (unless that is the type of 1911 you want), and this narrows down the number of options to models with combat sights, preferably white dot sights. On my list this gives me the following models:

Umarex Colt Commander, the first of the blowback action branded 1911 Colt models and the longest in production. It is known for excellent build quality, accuracy, a very good trigger, combat white dot sights, and readily available CO2 BB magazines. The negatives are the thumb safety design which even when set allows the slide to be racked (it should not on a 1911) and its use of redundant SAFE and FIRE markings and a directional arrow on a safety that only has SAFE and FIRE functions. Its self explanatory and this only irritates those of us who know 1911s.

At 21 feet, the Umarex Colt Commander with its light trigger pull, white dot sights, and very close to POA accuracy, can make short work of a bullseye.

Next in line for a traditional 1911 combat configuration is the new Sig Sauer WE THE PEOPLE 1911 which is “fundamentally” the same gun as the Colt Commander in a much better looking form if you like embellished pistol designs, custom grips, and fully functioning ambidextrous thumb safeties identical to those found on .45 ACP combat models.

The third option is a 1911 Rail Gun like the Swiss Arms 1911 TRS or SA 1911. The SA models have the same functional features as the Sig Sauer but with different finishes and grips, and the addition of an integral dustcover accessory (Picatinny) rail. In terms of dollars they are all commensurately priced (discounted) to within $10 of each other, $99.95 to $109.95. All use the same style CO2 BB magazines which are interchangeable if one brand or another can’t be found, plus Tanfoglio Witness magazines also fit. This gun was eliminated from the options because it has the old-style military sights. Out of this selection I would choose either the new Sig Sauer or the Colt Commander; the Sig is $10 less, the Colt-branded Commander is older and has a proven track record. The Rail Guns are great, but unless you are going to invest in a tactical light or light/laser sighting device, offer nothing over the Sig Sauer WE THE PEOPLE 1911, and only an ambidextrous thumb safety over the Umarex Colt Commander.

Stepping up to a DA/SA blowback action model that has nearly 100 percent equivalence to the 9mm Beretta 92A1 version (with rounded triggerguard and integral accessory rail) the Umarex Beretta 92A1 delivers as much authenticity as possible in an air pistol. The CO2 model is almost indistinguishable (at this angle and left side) from the 9mm pistol. But the CO2 model has one added feature you won’t find on a 9mm.

What’s that you say? You don’t care for 1911s? You want more features for your only blowback action CO2 pistol than a 107 year-old design has to offer. You want everything thus far but in a double action, single action semi-auto pistol. This category can be narrowed down quickly to the top models; the Umarex Beretta 92A1, Sig Sauer (licensed) P226 X-Five, Swiss Arms SA 92 (copy of Beretta 92FS), and the latest top-of-the-line ASG CZ-75 SP-01 Shadow. All four have ambidextrous thumb safeties, combat sights with either white dots (92A1), a single white dot (X-Five and SA92) or red fiber optic front sight (SP-01), DA/SA triggers, dust cover accessory (Picatinny) rails, readily available extra CO2 BB magazines, and are completely filed strippable like their centerfire counterparts. The price spread (discounted) ranges from $99.99 (P226 X-Five and Swiss Arms SA92) to $129.95 for the 92A1 and $139.95 for the CZ-75 SP-01 Shadow. We are still well under the $150 cap I placed on a blowback action model.

Aside from being a blowback action CO2 pistol with self-contained CO2 BB magazines, white dot sights and ambidextrous safeties, the Umarex Beretta 92A1 has a select-fire lever on the right side just behind the grip that switches the airgun from semi-auto to burst fire. This makes the 92A1 the most versatile of any CO2 model in this class.

How do I break this foursome down to make a best choice? If you are looking for total number of features for the money, a quality build, and a proven track record, the choice is down to one, the Umarex Beretta 92A1 which shares all the best features plus a select-fire control to shoot on full auto. This also bumps it up into another classification (or compartment), Select Fire Airguns. The 92A1 is a double winner for this added feature.

The Beretta 92A1 air pistol also completely field strips like the 9mm model. This is another desirable feature on a quality CO2 air pistol.
The gold standard for Sig Sauer (licensed) models is the P226 X-Five, a high-quality, full featured copy of the famous Sig Sauer P226 competition model. It is offered in a matte black or duo-toned matte and brushed silver finish with simulated wood grips. The Sigs have proven to be reliable and accurate and affordable at around $100. It’s hard to go wrong here. The Silver is currently offered in a pistol kit for around $150.

The Sig Sauer licensed P226 X-Five models also have a proven track record for accuracy and reliability. The Swiss Arms SA92 is a slightly lower-feature take on the Beretta (older style 92FS configuration with no Beretta brand markings), and it has a safety design based on the (c. 1970s-1980s) select-fire Beretta Model 93R. At one point Gletcher made a Model 92 with a select-fire mechanism, and this exact same frame, only without the select-fire detent is used for the Swiss Arms SA92. Gletcher discontinued its Beretta-style pistols a few years back. And there was another contender, an excellent one, in fact, that is no longer available, the Tanfoglio Limited Custom. If you have that model, consider yourself a lucky airgun owner! (Fortunately, the magazines are the same as used in the Tanfoglio Gold Custom, so you’re still in luck).

If there’s a head-of-the-class in new DA/SA models it is the CZ-75 SP-01 Shadow blowback action CO2 pistol which duplicates the CZ-designed competition/tactical version of the legendary CZ pistol. This is also the most expensive of the blowback action models selling for around $140. This air pistol has matching features to the 9mm model in design, handling, and operation. It’s not quite as accurate as some of the others downrange, but it offers a lot of possibilities…
One of those is the upgrade to the competition model’s anodized aluminum grips and magwell. The biggest add-on is a feature that will be discussed in an upcoming Airgun Experience article.

These are the best of the current blowback action models with all the desirable features, models that are based on actual firearms, some historic, others more modern but all well established choices for my first compartment: Blowback Action CO2 Pistols. I have my “go to” gun in this category, so make your choices and let me hear from you over the next week while the Airgun Experience is on a brief hiatus. When we pick up on September 18, I’ll reveal my choice if I could only have one blowback action air pistol. We’ll also look at the next category, Selective Fire Airguns. There will also be some new CO2 models that will be reviewed later this month and in early October. Keep your options open.

The Airgun Experience will return on Tuesday, September 18th.

8 thoughts on “Compartmentalizing Airguns Part 1”

  1. There is one other co2 Pistol I would include, that has a co2 mag , and while not a true action pistol , is an exact replica of a firearm , and extremely accurate. The P08. It’s only negative is relatively velocity , but with dust devils gets a boost. My first blowback semi auto was the Colt Commander. It is deadly accurate and fun to shoot. It would not be my first choice today. It is not a true Commander, since it is full Government model length. It should have a true 1911 safety and preferably an ambi option . For an action pistol I would go with the Sig. I don’t like or need a rail . I would like to see a non commemorative version of the Sig in blue or satin nickel. Ideally a Colt series 70 Government would be the way to go Swiss Arms has a satin nickel version sans rail that would be perfect if they had gone the extra mile and put the rail gun ambi safety on it.

    • The Sig definitely ranks highest for the looks and keeps pace with the Colt Commander, and yes I agree it is improperly named, foe accuracy with better handling. The P08 is a good one, too, but didn’t get the nod because it is not a modern design. Yes the 1911 is nearly as old but still within the mainstream of modern firearms. I would also like to see a blued Sig version. They are on their game, might just happen.

  2. Very lucky indeed to have one. From your list I would go with the Beretta. It has all the desirable features of an action pistol, select fire if that’s your thing, but also I get a consistent 5 clips out of every c02 used which makes it very efficient. I find the other action guns average about 3-3.5 reloads. With that said, if I had to chose one, it would be the 92A1.

  3. Choosing among these blowback action pistols is difficult because I like all three airgun models: 1911, 92, and P226 X-Five.

    My choice among these three models with fixed sights would be either the Colt Commander or the SA 1911 TRS. Both of these shot to point of aim reasonably well for me.

    My choice among these three models with a fully adjustable rear sight is the silver P226 X-Five.

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