Free Wheeling

Free Wheeling

Why Revolvers still thrive in the 21st century

By Dennis Adler

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?

Western gun enthusiasts were simply overjoyed when the nickel pellet model of the Umarex Colt Peacemaker came out a few years ago. The 5-1/2 inch model was followed by a 7-1/2 inch, which now is temporarily a hard find, but will be back sometime this year. The 7-1/2 inch models were sidelined for special editions, which themselves are almost exhausted. The 5-1/2 inch model is an impressively accurate pellet pistol with its internal rifled barrel. The 7-1/2 inch models are capable of 0.5 inch groups at 21 feet and out to 10 meters for experienced Single Action shooters. As single action CO2 models go, there is no equal for a pellet cartridge firing six-shooter.
About as good as authenticity gets in a modern DA/SA wheelgun, the ASG Dan Wesson Model 715 sub nose with 2.5 inch barrel is a dead ringer for the .357 Magnum models. At one point, DW offered the snub nose barrel for the 715 in the Pistol Pack, so it is an accurate copy in CO2, even though the short barrel is no loner available. This is as close in feel to a DA/SA revolver as you can come with an air pistol.

Well, you don’t have to be as old as I am; old enough to have grown up in the 1950s and 1960s, when Colt and S&W revolvers were the primary sidearms of police, (with few exceptions), and only the U.S. military relied on semi-autos as sidearms, (and even then not entirely, Military Police often carried revolvers), to realize that unlike other designs from the late 19th and early 20th century, revolvers were still relevant. The answers to why were in the design, because (1) they were easy to learn to handle, (2) simple to load and re-load, (3) relatively easy to shoot accurately with practice (like any handgun), and (4) almost impossible to jam or damage, almost; there are ways to screw up anything. The why, is that outside of capacity and speed of reloading, semi-autos have nothing over revolvers (not even size in many cases) and are far more complex in design, manufacturing, and maintenance than an old-style wheelgun.

When the pellet model Colts were introduced, a limited number were dedicated to custom hand engraving by Adams & Adams, and while pricey you won’t find a more impressive looking CO2 air pistol. Pictured are the Nimschke 5-1/2 inch two-tone and Nimschke 7-1/2 inch. L.D. Nimschke was one of the premier engravers of original Colt revolvers. (Holster custom made by John Bianchi Frontier Gunleather)

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Six on air

I know it is a long way to go to get to the topic at hand, CO2 models, but the reason revolvers have survived for 185 years since Sam Colt’s first patents were granted, is that the design concept has endured; had it not, we would likely not be having this discussion. Technology and longevity have, in this one instance, gone hand-in-hand and what could arguably be called the best of the best designs have been used for the basis of CO2 models. How well those designs have been executed is more to the point. Many are, and I don’t mean this disparagingly because cost of manufacturing and retail price almost always weigh heavily, “nice” copies that resemble the gun they are based upon. What I am looking at here are the handful that are much more than “nice” they are “exceptional” and they are also, too few. Considering the difference in prices between the “nice” and the “exceptional” (about $30 to as much as $50) I can’t make a great argument for companies not doing better when better is possible. I don’t need to name names or specific guns, we all know which ones are wanting and which are most fulfilling to shoot.

As classic among British revolvers as an early 20th century Colt or S&W DA/SA is to American gun collectors, the Webley MK VI proved to be a formidable handgun albeit a somewhat antiquated and overbuilt design. When Webley & Scott trademarked and designed a CO2 model, they finally settled on the best of three versions with the pellet-cartridge firing Battlefield Finish version, which has the look and feel of a classic handgun that has seen the elephant. Proper canvas and leather holsters are also available for this British warhorse. It is number 2 on my top list of CO2 revolvers, and second only to the Colt Peacemaker.

My list is a short list, not by choice but by what has risen to the top in terms of quality, authenticity, accuracy, and above all else, ability to shoot pellets rather than BBs. And while I have proven that you can shoot pellets through a smoothbore (and the Crosman Remington 1875 among others is sold with both BB and pellet-loading cartridges), there is a point of diminishing returns, and I have proven this point time and again as well. Pellets beat BBs.

But what about the seven-shooter? The Russian Nagant revolver, originally designed and built in Belgium, was one of the longest used DA/SA revolvers in military history. The Gletcher CO2 models are well crafted and copied authentically from the original guns, and handle similarly. They are unusual to load and odd to handle, but once you get a feel for the pellet-firing cartridge models they can reward you with surprising accuracy.
This nickel (silver) version of the Nagant is the better looking of the two, (though I plan on antiquing a black model later this year to see what can be done with the guns to punch up their authentic look), but either will give you dime-sized groups at 10 meters. It is probably one of the best shooting of all current CO2 pellet cartridge models.

If you don’t have the models I recommend, you are missing out on some impressive CO2 pistols. I can tell you that I am all but certain that our patience (we have patience?) with Bear River will probably be rewarded in 2020, and that the future of the Colt Peacemakers is about to take a turn, but that’s all I can say, other than you’re going to like it. For now, the guns worth having (some of which are not currently available in the versions I prefer, but will be again), begin with the 7-1/2 in nickel finish Colt Peacemaker with rifled barrel and pellet-loading cartridges, the 5-1/2 inch version, also in nickel, both with white grips, the Webley & Scott Mark VI pellet model with Battlefield finish, which generally gives you a better sight picture then other finishes on that gun (when they were available), and Gletcher Nagant pellet model in either finish, though I prefer the nickel (silver).

My next favorite after the Webley, the Dan Wesson Model 715, is a much faster gun to handle, though it would be interesting to see how long it takes to open the cylinder, dump the six and drop in six more with the speed loader, vs. opening the Webley, ejecting all six and refilling the cylinder using a speed loader.

Add to that, any of the three ASG Dan Wesson Model 715 pellet pistols, 2-1/2 inch and 6-inch for total authenticity, and the 4-inch if you want to break with tradition and have a Model 715 with an accessory rail under the barrel.

Dan Wesson hasn’t made a .357 with an accessory rail but ASG has and that gives the 4-inch model an interesting if not authentic look. With a tactical light and laser underneath it can be an even more accurate pellet pistol.
And the gun you can’t beat for downrange accuracy with pellet-loaded cartridges is the 6-inch Dan Wesson in the highly reflective gunmetal finish. Drop this one in a holster and you have a target range ready combo.

Like I said, a short list if you want it all. There are lots of compromises, lots of excellent pellet-loading models (rotary mags), but if you are serious about a six-shooter (OK, 7-shooter with the Nagant) these are the ones to have. None will disappoint you in looks, handling, and some will surprise you with accuracy.

It actually doesn’t get any better than this, the ASG Dan Wesson in a Galco Phoenix thumb break belt holster. Take me back to the good old days of wheelguns.

5 thoughts on “Free Wheeling”

  1. Revolvers are popular as replica airguns for a few reasons. First newer ones like the Schofield ,Peacemaker , Nagant Webley, and the ASG 715 are near exact replicas of the Fire-Arms they are based on. They load with cartridges, not so with semiautos. Most can be disassembled ,and they do not have molded in non functioning parts like many semiauto replicas. They are as accurate or more accurate than any semiauto replica. There is no replica semiauto pistol I have seen that can outshoot my Peacemaker pellet replica. Last , power. Most of the revolvers shoot harder and further than the semiauto replicas . That’s my story and I’m sticking to it

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