Expectations in context

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.

As matte black air pistols go, the blowback action Umarex HPP had a lot of style with its recognizable Sig-Sauer P228 profile, 9mm muzzle opening with the 3.75 inch smoothbore barrel recessed 0.5 inches to give the gun an authentic look. And while the ejection port was molded into the slide, it still had good, clean definition.

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the span of a single decade, times change and old ideas, old guns, as the example here, can become obsolete or at least outdated.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.

What a difference a decade can make looking at the then very small 2000 model year Umarex Walther PPK/S with its exposed CO2 seating screw and anemic sub 300 fps average velocity (about 295 fps), compared to 10 years later and the far bolder, realistic looking HPP with an average velocity of nearly 400 fps, no exposed seating screw, and a slide that locked back. Umarex had made great strides between 2000 and 2010.

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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.

In 2007 Umarex had introduced the Beretta PX4 Strom, another breakout gun (that is still in production) using a reversible 8×8 rotary pellet magazine. The gun was priced competitively but had too many molded in, non functional pieces, like the ambidextrous safeties, no muzzle recess, and a clumsy manual safety on the right side of the frame. Three years later, compared to the HPP, (even though it was a pellet pistol vs. a BB pistol), the HPP looked better and handled better.

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.  

Technology at its best for the times, in 2010, the CO2 was loaded into the grip frame by removing the backstrap. The seating screw was large and easy to operate but totally concealed when the stick magazine was inserted. It was a better looking airgun overall and elements of this design are still in use a decade later.

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.

The ejection port may not be real, but the HPP would lock back on an empty magazine which was more important to handling and learning how semi-autos worked.

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.

A Sig Sauer P228 copy with enough differences not to offend the German gunmaker, the HPP’s shape proved close enough to the real deal to fit in this Galco P228 paddle holster.

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.

First time I have shot this gun in almost 10 years, I went from the chronograph test to this Birchwood-Casey Shoot-N-C target at 21 feet and put 10 shots at 1.22 inches without any additional practice or POA corrections. The gun was a natural shooter that would only need a little aiming correction with its fixed sights. Even with the slight POA/POI deficit, the groups were very tight.

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.

2 thoughts on “Expectations in context”

  1. Interesting pistol. It can still be found new in EU. As far as older co2 action pistols are concerned do you have an opinion about the Crosman C40? I found one, new, and I couldn’t resist after handling it. Love the heft, power and the adjustable sights. And the “Made in USA” … Its dark green finish makes a good pair with the HK P30.

  2. Not only are pistols like this interesting as sign posts on the road to today’s more advanced designs, they still could be viable or serve as platforms for improved models today. The HPP could be a better version of itself with a co2 mag. The old Crosman SA 45 or Peacemaker could with the co2 in the grip serve as a platform for an 1851 Colt Navy. And the king of semiauto pistols, the Crosman 600 deserves its place in the throne

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