Five top blowback action semi-autos

Five top blowback action semi-autos…

with the easiest to load magazines!

By Dennis Adler

Five different guns all with one thing in common, a self-contained CO2 BB magazine that is easy to load. Clockwise from bottom left, Umarex P.08 Parabellum, Umarex Beretta M92A1, Sig Sauer P226 X-Five, Tanfoglio Limited Custom and Swiss Arms SA 1911 TRS.

Blowback action semi autos burn through .177 caliber rounds almost as fast as a selective fire model on full auto. That’s a great part of their appeal; a realistic airgun experience that simulates the cartridge-firing model’s operation. A semi-auto is a fast gun to shoot and reload, which is why they are generally preferred over revolvers. But even with a self-contained CO2 BB magazine, like all five of the airguns featured here, the reloading experience can vary from slow to excruciatingly slow. Not with loading the magazine into the gun, that’s 100 percent accurate in every respect, but rather with loading the BBs into the magazine! Pressing anywhere from 8 to 15 rounds of 9mm, .40 S&W or .45ACP into a cartridge magazine is no picnic either, but each round goes on top of the other and gets pushed down into the magazine compressing the follower spring as you go. If CO2 BB magazines worked the same way, loading would be pretty straightforward. But that isn’t the way BBs load into a self-contained CO2 BB magazine.

What makes a good air pistol magazine?

You would expect that the best blowback action CO2 models would have the best and easiest to load magazines, but that is only partially so. Some of the very best guns have some of the hardest and most frustrating magazines to load. If you have strong, well rounded fingernails the problem is less acute. However, a really good CO2 BB magazine needs a follower that locks down below the BB loading port. Next best would be one that locks down even with the port so all you need to do is pull it a little lower to add BBs, and if it slips it still catches rather than flying all the way to the top of the magazine and driving the BBs loaded upward with excessive force. This often results in the top BB actually being expelled from the magazine. Other complications are simply the time consumed in repeatedly pulling the external follower flange down, and that can be anything from a small serrated flange that is almost flush with the loading channel, to one that is easy to get a hold of and pull down. Another complication is the resistance of the follower spring, some are very heavy, others light. If you have a gun with a heavy follower spring, a small follower flange, and does not lock down, you have a magazine that is a handful to load, even if you speed up the process with an Umarex speed loader.

A locking follower makes the job somewhat easier but since models like the Sig Sauer P226 X-Five and Swiss Arms 1911, which have excellent CO2 BB magazines do not have separate loading ports, you have to pull the follower flange down a little further and load the BBs into the opening (arrows). The good part is if you let loose of the flange it goes back into the catch and not all the way back up. These are much easier to load than magazines without a locking follower.

Easy and not so easy loaders

One of the very best blowback action CO2 models is the Umarex S&W M&P40, which uses a self-contained CO2 BB magazine that is identical in size to the 9mm and .40 S&W M&P magazines. It has a small follower flange that is almost recessed into the BB channel, a heavy follower spring, and it does not lock down for loading. For all of this model’s superior design and operating features, you have to endure one of the hardest loading magazines.

Sometimes the best blowback action CO2 models, like the Umarex S&W M&P40 don’t have the easiest magazines to load. The S&W CO2 BB magazine has a heavy follower spring and a very small external flange (arrow) almost recessed in the loading channel, a small center loading port (arrow) and no means to lock the follower down when loading. This means you have to hold it down with pressure on the spring while loading BBs.

A model of virtually total equivalency for features is the Sig Sauer P226 X-Five, which has a magazine follower that locks down level with the loading port, which is the notch used to load BBs. With that as a starting point you just have to pull it down a fraction of an inch to begin feeding in BBs. If it slips or your finger gets fatigued, just let it back up to the notch. Once filled, the follower can be easily pulled back, pushed to the left and allowed to move up to engage a full column of .177 caliber steel BBs. This makes the loading job go quickly.

In this close-up you can see how the follower locks into the wider notches in the loading channel. Pulling it down just a little more and holding it firmly allows enough space above the follower to load BBs into the wider locking notch area. It is not a perfect system but easy enough.

Another fine example of this design is the Swiss Arms SA 1911 Tactical Rail System model which has a 1911-sized magazine that loads similarly to the Sig, but the follower catch at the bottom of the loading channel is a little less precise and it takes a bit more dexterity to handle this one, but the overall quality and design of this Swiss Arms model more than makes up for it.

The best design is also one of the hardest to find, it uses a follower flange that locks down at the bottom of the loading channel and has a large round loading port above. This design is used on the Umarex Beretta M92A1 and both Tanfoglio Limited Custom and Gold Custom semi-autos.

Next in line and one step up are those that have locking followers that set below the loading port. Here the number one gun is the Umarex Beretta M92A1 which excels at loading with the follower locked down. With an Umarex speed loader you can fill this magazine in a couple of seconds, release the follower and you’re ready to go. Equally quick to load is the Tanfoglio Custom Limited (and Gold Custom) which use the same magazine follower and locking system (but not the same magazine design) as the M92A1. These are literally “lock and load” in the truest sense.

The Umarex P.08 Parabellum magazine uses a slightly different approach with a very large follower flange (arrow) on the left side of the magazine (as it faces you) and a large loading port (arrow). You need to pull the follower flange all the way to the bottom and compress the spring, hold it down and load the BBs. This is actually much easier than other follower designs except those that lock down and have a separate loading port.

The fifth airgun is a totally different design and from a different era, the WWII model Umarex Legends P.08 Luger Parabellum. This self-contained CO2 BB magazine has a lighter follower spring and a large easy to hold follower flange on the side of the magazine that is easy to pull down and hold down with your thumb (not your thumb nail, your thumb) and load BBs through a large round port. Once again with a speed loader only a few seconds and you are done.

The absolute easiest CO2 BB magazine to load is the Umarex Beretta M92A1, with locking follower and a large round loading port (arrows).

Final Thoughts

Would you choose a blowback action CO2 model based solely upon how easily the self-contained CO2 BB magazine is to load? Maybe not, but if any of these five semi-autos appeal to you, their magazine designs will make your airgun experience that much more enjoyable.

12 thoughts on “Five top blowback action semi-autos”

  1. My bias is to the 1911 and P08. The type of follower lock and loading port of the Beretta should become the industry standard . Two questions are why didn’t the other manufacturers think of it , and why don’t they make gen 2 magazines that have them ?

    • Good questions! I think one answer is tooling costs, once something is set up and in production; changes are more complicated if not in practice than within budget limitations. As for making Gen2 magazines that might cost a little more for the added convenience, I can’t see any reason why it is not done, other than perhaps there needs to be a strong enough consumer demand to justify a new line item.

  2. I have been loading my Umarex Colt Commander by placing the magazine on a table, follower and visual channel up. First pull the follower back to the catch, then line up bbs in the visual slot. Pulling the follower back as far as it will go with my index finger nail while simultaneously lifting the base of the magazine slightly(easier than it reads). Allows one to guide and push the bbs into the opening in front of the fully retracted follower. Because the base of the mag is slightly raised the bbs roll to the top of the magazine and out of the way. Unconventional but with a little practice it’s faster and easier than the directions in the owners manual.

  3. A handy little tool can be found at any supermarket checkout counter. Buy one of those eyeglass repair kits, and use the little screwdriver to hold the follower .

    • That works on a couple of them that have a lock but no port, using the flat of the eyeglass screwdriver to pull the follower flange down, but still not the answer for the M&P40 follower. Just strong fingernails. Perhaps someone will design a follower locking tool that catches the top edge of the follower flange and allows it to be held down more easily.

  4. Great article . Without being specific, because right now, can’t remember, I have several semi automatics that the magazine spring seems much too strong. Why do they do that ?., Breaking fingernails to compress a spring whose only job is to feed some light weight BBs . A non blow back pistol that I have had magazine problems with is the Crosman C41. The spring is so heavy, it will literally shoot the BBs out the end of the magazine and destroy the feed point of the magazine. Granted the magazines are cheap, but when you add shipping charges it gets ridiculous !
    Best wishes

    • Magazine springs are like recoil springs; every manufacturer has a standard, at least with cartridge-firing handguns. With airguns it is again a question of who makes the gun and what their standard is for a magazine follower spring. Some need a heavier spring to feed the BBs quickly for the semi-auto action. The P.08 has a light spring and it also has a very different and slower blowback action with the toggle link design. Umarex tends to use heavy springs as do a couple of other brand names. And it is also likely that many manufacturers do not make their own springs (that’s a business almost all its own), so they outsource parts like springs, and again there are different spring weights and spring construction, and that also is a part of which springs end up in which airgun magazines. A heavier spring is better though, and provides smoother function. It is just harder to compress, and magazines without a follower lock and separate loading port are harder to load.

  5. While I have not tried another blowback after a dismal experience with a P08. On several firearm magazines with difficult mag springs. A 3/8 wing nut works well to help depress a protruding follower device. I don’t know how it might work on a airgun nag but it may be worth a try.

    • Sorry your p08 was a stinker . I had one bad mag that was replaced . Would give Air pistols another try with a Colt Commander or 1911 clone . Pretty reliable and a lot of fun. Dennis is a fan of the Beretta 92, and the loading of the mag is , as stated , easier.

    • The S&W M&P40 is a great blowback action CO2 model, really one of the very best you can purchase and a great training gun. As for the magazine, it is a hard one to load, but it is all part of the learning curve, there are a lot of cartridge guns with magazines that have very heavy follower springs and it takes a lot of thumb strength to load them. An Umarex speed loader would be an excellent extra gift for your grandson.

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