Lasers vs. Red Dot Reflex Sights Part 2
20 Years in Context
By Dennis Adler
Between the Umarex Beretta 92FS pellet pistol and the Sig Sauer M17 two decades have passed, and we have gone from 8-shot, cast alloy pellet magazines and non-blowback action pistols to 20-shot rotary belt-fed pellet magazines (also containing the 12 gr. CO2) and blowback action. We have gone from excellent red dot scopes (like the Walther Top Point) to the latest Sig Air reflex sight for the M17. It is all a giant leap in 20 years from one state-of-the-art era in CO2 air pistol technology to another, from what, in the context of my airgun experience, is now a comparison of “old school” vs. “high tech” in design and innovation.
A 20 Year-Old Air Pistol
To put things in the correct context of 20 years ago and today, I have to remove the Walther MRS from the Beretta and replace it with what was available when the gun was introduced in 2000 (the MRS was added along with the laser in 2014). The original model year 2000 gun was equipped with the Walther Top Point red dot scope on a bridge mount that fit completely around the frame and slide. It was part of a special design originally made for Pyramyd Air and sold as the 92FS XX-Treme. The base gun was otherwise the same as the 92FS example with the slide-mounted rail, MRS and wood grips. The original bridge mount for the 92FS was similar to the design used for the Walther Top Point scope offered in 2000 as an option for the Walther CP99 pellet pistols, only constructed of cast alloy rather than injection molded like the CP99 version. The Beretta 92FS and Walther CP99 used the same essential internal firing systems utilizing the 8-shot, cast alloy rotary magazines. In this 20-year comparison, the Beretta 92FS with the Top Point red dot scope was the Sig Sauer M17 ASP with red dot reflex sight of its day. About as fair a comparison as could be for CO2 air pistols.
As I have stated numerous times, the Umarex Beretta 92FS has been such an excellent CO2 pistol that it has remained in production for 20 years, and one would have to wonder if the Sig Sauer M17 ASP will still be in production 20 years from now. A truly timeless design can span two decades in the blink of an eye. But what exactly have we gained in that 20 years?
92FS vs. M17 ASP
The answer is easy to find by comparing the two guns and their optics, inch- for-inch and ounce-for-ounce and then shooting them head-to-head at 10 meters with their respective optics (meaning using the old Top Point scope on the 92FS and not the MRS reflex sight).
The Beretta 92FS with the Top Point and the optics bridge is one hefty pistol with a combined weight of 56 ounces (3.5 pounds), compared to the lightweight Sig Sauer that tips the scale at 36 ounces (2.25 pounds) with the Sig Air reflex sight. The upgraded 92FS with the MRS reflex sight and red laser weighs 54 ounces (3.4 pounds), still a heavy gun. Consider though that the heavy 92FS is a non-blowback so all that weight properly held is as solid as a rock, and that the lighter weight blowback action Sig delivers a lot of movement, more realistic sure, but at what cost to accuracy? Both guns have rifled steel barrels.
From muzzle to beavertail the Beretta spans 8.37 inches, the Sig Sauer 8.0 inches, the guns have a height (base of grips to top of the optics) of 8.25 inches and 7.1 inches, respectively, and widths of 1.625 inches (frame/slide width plus optics) and 1.25 inches. If you add the width of the Beretta’s alloy bridge mount side rails it is a bulbous 1.75 inches wide, and with the M17’s ambidextrous thumb safeties, the Sig has an maximum width of 1.5 inches.
Internally, the old school Beretta is fundamentally a revolver with each pull of the double action trigger, or manually cocking the hammer for each shot, rotating the 8-shot rotary pellet magazine to the next round. Despite being a blowback action pistol, the M17 ASP and its 20-round belt-fed magazine also utilizes the trigger to rotate the belt to the next round as the trigger is pulled. The double action trigger pull on the Beretta is a robust 7 pounds, 8.5 ounces (5 pounds, 7.5 ounces if you manually cock the hammer for the shot and put the trigger into single action), while the DAO Sig Sauer requires a very consistent but still heavy 6 pounds, 11 ounces average from shot to shot. So, overall, the Sig Sauer is a more realistic pistol to handle, it has a blowback action, and the advantage of self-contained CO2 pellet magazines for quick reloads, compared to the Beretta’s 8-shots, slow reload rotary mags and separate CO2 in the grip frame. That’s a lot of technological improvements for 20 years.
Ah, but does it shoot better?
That’s the question every airgun enthusiast has to ask, even if the Beretta is an iconic CO2 pistol. The design is enduring but is it up to the task of trading shots with the M17 ASP and Sig Air reflex sight?
Using traditional RWS Meisterkugeln 7.0 gr. lead wadcutters the Beretta averaged 410 fps for eight rounds. The M17 ASP with only eight shots through the chronograph clocked an average of 327 fps. The advantage in velocity, at an average of 80 fps, clearly goes to the non-blowback Beretta 92FS, but there is a lot to be said for the feel of the M17, it’s realistic weight and handling, the brisk recoil of the slide, and the sound, which as I have mentioned before, is similar to a large caliber semi-auto with a silencer. (And I still wish Sig would make a replacement threaded rifled barrel and a faux silencer for the M17 ASP). Overall, the M17 ASP has seriousness about it that is lacking with the 92FS beyond its ominous looks. Being a non-blowback with a heavy double action trigger (or requiring the awkward need to re-cock the gun for each shot like a single action revolver) the sense of realism shooting the Beretta 92FS fades in comparison to the 21st century Sig, and if that is part of what you’re looking for in a CO2 pellet pistol, then the “old school” 92FS design comes up lacking, even though it is built (I really should say handcrafted) in Germany and remains one of the best CO2 pellet pistols on the market.
With the Top Point scope and Sig Air reflex optics sighted in for 10 meters, the best eight rounds downrange from the 92FS (fired from a Weaver stance and using a two-handed hold) grouped into 0.94 inches with a best five rounds in the 9,10, and bullseye measuring 0.53 inches. Firing only eight rounds from the M17, the Sig grouped its shots into 1.0 inches with a best five in the 9, 10 and bullseye measuring 0.72 inches. All things being as equal as possible, the old school zero-recoil, heavy weighted and big scoped Beretta just edges out the high tech, light weight, blowback action M17 ASP by a few fractions of an inch. Which gun is easier to shoot and most accurate? If you have been waiting 20 years for a gun like the Sig Sauer M17 ASP, the answer is obvious. But if you just want to punch holes in paper and work toward that perfect score with a CO2 powered pellet pistol, odds are, if you already own a 92FS with an optics mount and red dot scope (which is about the only way to have one now), that class has already been dismissed.