Expectations in context
Why old guns are still interesting
By Dennis Adler
As a firearms historian, I have always been drawn to older designs which I find endlessly fascinating and often unique. Sure, it’s great to have a modern semiautomatic pistol that fires quickly and accurately and can be reloaded in seconds. It is technology at it’s best for the modern day. But the same could be said in the 1850s for a loose powder cap and ball percussion revolver like a Colt 1851 Navy; it was the best and most advanced technology for the modern day. The point being that everything needs to be understood in the context of the time in which it took place, something this country used to be pretty good at. Seems we have momentarily lost that ability and with it the capacity to view history in context with the modern day. But this is not about politics; this is about a handful of air pistols built only a decade ago that I wrote about in Wednesday’s Airgun Experience. There is more to the story.
Even in the span of a single decade, times change and old ideas, old guns, as the example here, can become obsolete or at least outdated. We progress; we invent, improve, and move forward. But that does not mean the past is discarded, and this applies to most everything in life and to our nation’s history, even if that starts to sound a bit political. In many ways all history in intertwined. History is reinterpreted certainly, better understood with the passing of time, it is studied and reflected upon, learned from, absolutely. That is what makes history important, whether it is about how nations and mankind evolves, be it through changes in culture and perceptions, art, music, architecture, or automobiles, and right down to how a blowback action air pistol was designed a decade ago. Progress is always achieved by change, and what we leave behind are the guideposts to that progress.
The short view
The history of CO2 air pistols is a relatively short study, especially blowback action designs, and one that can be researched and understood from the collector’s perspective quickly underscoring how far we have really come in a relatively short time. And this is something I talk about often in the Airgun Experience because collectors are afforded the opportunity to make interesting comparisons between design evolutions, especially when it is confined to only 20 some years from the first blowback action air pistol to today’s latest designs. This is really a 21st century story. That makes my collecting interests very shortsighted because I confine them to CO2 pistols that are authentic to actual rimfire and centerfire guns (regardless of when the original guns existed). A collector like fellow author Tom Gaylord, whose interests span almost a century of airgun manufacturing, must have a broader knowledge and a lot more storage space! That’s why this column has steadily tried to reflect contemporary air pistols (and a handful of rifles) that use CO2 as a power source. It is my area of interest and likely yours if you are reading Airgun Experience.
There’s something very interesting about CO2 powered airguns because the entire concept evolved in the 20th century, and that means for those of us of a certain age, who can remember the first CO2 air pistols from their past, the entire history has evolved within our lifetime. These old Crosman models, and other designs, were the origin guns of what we see today, the evolutionary steps from non-blowback semi-auto designs (semi-autos in appearances only), and early revolvers, some with CO2 in the pistol grip, others with the air cartridge in more imaginative places, were all heading toward a future when the air pistol would better resemble, handle and load like the real guns that inspired them. This includes Old West revolvers, military rifles and handguns, and other designs that evolved in the centerfire and rimfire world over the last 150 plus years. These originals and the veneration they have received over time inspired airgun manufacturers to design strikingly impressive replicas that almost close the distance between the originals and the copies powered by air.
A narrower view – the Umarex HPP
I like this gun both as a semi-collectible, if you have or can find one for sale, and as a noteworthy stepping stone in blowback action guns of the 21st century. The Umarex branded pistol arrived three years after Umarex and Beretta had broken ground with the blowback action PX4 Storm, a gun with mostly molded in parts and basic construction that did offer a few interesting features, including a working DA/SA trigger and the 8×8 reversible pellet magazine. A good enough gun that, despite non-functioning safeties (and a sliding manual safety on the right) plus a slide that did not lock back, (and there are still no pellet loading models that lock back on an empty magazine), has remained in production to current time. It would be an excellent candidate for an upgrade by Umarex.
Another minor star of early blowback action designs was a Walther-like model from Daisy, designated Model 5501 and introduced in 2008. This entry-level blowback is still sold by Daisy.
In 2010 Gamo also weighed in with an early blowback that is still sold, the PT85 (which I have reviewed in Airgun Experience) and was a Gamo-styled version of the Beretta PX4 Storm.
So what is it about the HPP that I like so much? Aside from being one of the best early (c.2010) blowback builds, it had more looks and smoother handling than most of its contemporaries, a slide that locked back after the last round, fit a Galco Sig Sauer P228 holster and, as the following test shows, was a darn good shooter. Why it went away is uncertain but Umarex had a lot of irons in the fire by 2014 and 2015 and the HPP was not a branded name gun, like its Colt, S&W, Walther and other blowback action model lines. Its technology moved forward in other air pistol designs, but the gun itself was discontinued. This is one good gun that kind of fell through the cracks of time, even though it was only a decade.
On the firing line with the HPP
First let me say, this was (is) a loud gun with a robust kick, and this one is 10 years old and still gets your attention when you pull the trigger. As for velocity, guns with stick magazines tend to have higher velocities than those with self-contained CO2 BB magazines, (with the noted exception of the very anemic first blowback action CO2 pistol, the Umarex Walther PPK/S, which clocked well under 300 fps). In 2010 the HPP was factory rated at 400 fps. Today, this decade-old blowback, shooting Umarex steel BBs, averaged 397 fps with a high of 401 fps and a low of 389 fps for 12 rounds. Trigger pull remains long but light with 0.625 inches of take up to a very audible and tactile click, and then an effortless pull through to a clean break. Average trigger pull measured 4 pounds, 4.1 ounces.
To wrap up, I shot a single standard Birchwood Casey Shoot-N-C test target from 21 feet using a two-handed hold and Weaver stance. With the white dot aimed just below the red bullseye at 6 o’clock, the HPP hit a bit low and left by less than an inch, and put 10 shots inside of 1.22 inches, and a best five rounds at 0.56 inches with four overlapping edge to edge. Although this is the first time I’ve shot this gun in almost 10 years (and the first target), the Umarex HPP remains as good a gun in 2020 as in 2010, when it was technology at it’s best for the modern day.