Last best semi-auto showdown Part 2
Three blowback action models that wowed us
By Dennis Adler
I’m not sure what air pistol manufacturers can do in 2019 that will outshine the HK USP and G17, though Glock and Umarex will be adding a G17 Gen4 model this year, which will offer the improved Gen4 design modifications (but does not appear to have Gen4 interchangeable backstrap panels). While we wait to see what Sig Sauer will unveil or announce this coming week as well as the latest announcement of the Air Venturi/Springfield Armory models, let’s wrap up this week by drilling bullseyes with these three impressive blowback action models, starting with the Umarex Glock 3rd Model G17. This one delivers on the promise of striking authenticity of fit and finish hinted at by the non-blowback action entry-level G19 Compact model earlier in 2018. The G17 has made good on everything developed for the G19 with the addition of a blowback action and self-contained CO2 BB magazine, all of which were praised in last December’s rundown to Replica Air Pistol of the Year. The Glock lost 10 points and a solid shot at the top honors because it cannot be field stripped. I can’t say that field stripping is the be all and end all of what a CO2 semi-auto should encompass in its design, but it is a sticking point for many, myself included, but as you will see, there is so much more to the G17 (and hopefully the Gen4) than one facet of design authenticity.
The Glock recap
Aside from the difference between a 9x19mm cartridge and .177 caliber steel BB, the line separating the 3rd. Model CO2 Glock 17 from its centerfire counterpart is all but invisible, so long as you don’t look for a caliber stamping on the left side of the slide or turn the gun over and see the manual safety recessed into the underside of the dustcover. In overall length, height, and width, the CO2 model is a perfect match, at 8.03 inches, 5.47 inches, and 1.0 inches, assuring that perfect fit in centerfire gun holsters. Externally, barrel length appears to be the same, 4.49 inches, though the recessed .177 caliber steel smoothbore barrel is 4.25 inches. The one deviation is carry weight with the CO2 model coming in a little heavier by 2.13 ounces, almost entirely attributable to the heavier magazine for an overall weight of 27.0 ounces vs. 24.87 ounces for the 9x19mm pistol.
It is well known that Glocks have an average trigger pull of 5.5 pounds unless specifically requested to be set at a higher or lower resistance, though the latter is generally not done with the exception of competition guns. The CO2 model’s trigger comes in a pound heavier at 6.5 pounds average, but this is a very smooth trigger pull with only light stacking during the last 0.18 inches to a heavy but clean break and zero over travel. Total trigger pull is 0.93 inches with zero resistance as the safety and trigger move back 0.75 inches. It is so consistent and manageable that precise shooting is possible with the CO2 model’s slightly heavier trigger pull.
There is the question of blowback action design on the Umarex which uses a short, short-recoil system (a terminology that fits this pistol and a few others of similar makeup) with the barrel in a fixed position. That means it does not move or tilt down likea typical short-recoil, locked-breech design and is unlike the authentic Browning-style short-recoil, locked-breech, tilting barrel design used for the HK USP and M&P40 CO2 models. These two operate like their centerfire counterparts. I can’t say that this should be regarded as a flaw in the Umarex Glock 17’s design, so much as a choice, which, through the firing system design, allows the CO2 to be more effectively used. Since there is no recoil other than what is deliberately generated by the CO2 when firing, the G17’s internal design allows the pistol to gain an edge in velocity over the more authentic operating systems in the M&P40 and HK USP. The Glock 17 clocks an average velocity of 376 fps; a good 50 fps faster than the HK USP’s 328 fps average, and a significantly higher velocity than the M&P40’s 310 fps. So, there is a quantifiable advantage to the G17’s operating system and the gun still delivers a respectable feeling of recoil as the slide slams back with each round.
During my original accuracy test of the Umarex Glock 17 my best groups from 21 feet all measured (in groups of five rounds) 0.74 inches firing from a Weaver stance, using a two-handed hold. The G17’s fixed white dot sights have no appreciable windage or elevation issues and the gun holds on target with no POA adjustments. I did a new 10-round test at 21 feet for this three gun comparison, and the G17 put 10 rounds inside 1.0 inches in two 5-shot groups with a best 5-shots at 0.437 inches and at an average velocity of 376 fps. It is the most consistently accurate of the three.
Heckler & Koch on the money
This is not just a statement about the reasonable price of the Umarex HK USP but the remarkable authenticity of design and operation that sets this CO2 model apart from and even above the M&P40. The USP CO2 model has one ambidextrous control shared among all USP centerfire variations, a dual magazine release lever integrated into the bottom of the triggerguard. I have always liked this design over the traditional frame-mounted button-style magazine release. This is a personal choice that is not shared by a lot of shooters, but I have owned a Walther P99 for almost 20 years and that is where this design originated. The airgun also duplicates the USP triggerguard design which has a raised forward rest for the trigger finger, another P99 trait that only HK has continued.
The centerfire models weigh an average of 28 ounces (without magazine), and have an overall length of 7.68 inches, width of 1.26 inches and barrel length of 4.25 inches. The CO2 model specs out at 7.68 inches, width of 1.26 inches and a height of 5.5 inches. In weight, the centerfire 9mm model averages 29.0 ounces, the CO2 version weighs 34.2 ounces because of its heavier metal magazine (the centerfire guns have injection molded magazines that weight a mere 1.87 ounces empty).
Like the Umarex Glock 17 and S&W M&P40, the USP fits all centerfire holsters and can mount any USP-based or railed mounted accessory (the latter with a USP rail adapter), so again there is total compatibility with the centerfire models across the board.
The USP being a DA/SA hammer-fired pistol gives this CO2 model one advantage over the striker-fired Glock and S&W, the ability to decock the gun with a loaded chamber, a feature I personally find important in a semi-auto handgun. This again is a matter of preference and more modern pistols lack this capability making the USP something of an “Old School” design that will appeal to older shooters who were raised on hammer-fired guns with manual safeties and semi-autos with decocking mechanisms.
What the HK offers is a choice since it can be manually cocked and the first and all subsequent rounds fired single action. Trigger pull on the USP CO2 models compares to the centerfire gun’s average 5 pounds single action robust 12 pound average double action, about the same as many double action revolvers. The CO2 model averages 5 pounds, 1.5 ounces single action and 11 pounds 8.0 ounces double action. The SA trigger press on the USP is short and firm with a crisp break, solid recoil from the slide, and quick target reacquisition.
Again using a 10-meter pistol target at 21 feet and firing Umarex Precision .177 caliber steel BBs, the HK sent 10 rounds downrange into 0.75 inches with a best 5-shots packed into 0.49 inches at an average velocity of 330 fps. The Glock has a slight advantage in accuracy and a 46 fps advantage in velocity.
The M&P40 delivers
The Umarex S&W M&P40 has been around just long enough to become a little dated up against newer models with higher average velocities. While still a superior internal design to the new Umarex Glock 17, and on an equal footing with the HK USP, the S&W CO2 model has the lowest average velocity and the hardest magazine to load without a locking follower and the smallest follower tab of the three guns. Of course, once the magazines are loaded all things are equal. The Glock loads easiest with 18 BBs (equivalent to a 9mm with 17+1), the HK has a locking follower, easier loading port than the S&W, and a capacity of 16 rounds, the equivalent of a 9mm with 1 round chambered and 15 rounds in the magazine, and the M&P40 magazine holds 15 rounds, equal to a full magazine in the centerfire pistol.
In a head–to-head comparison the Umarex weighs 25 ounces (with magazine) an S&W M&P40 weighs 24.25 ounces (without magazine) thus the airgun with the magazine inserted almost exactly duplicates the carry weight of its cartridge firing counterpart. In overall length, height, and width, the .177 caliber M&P40 specs out at 7.5 inches, 5.25 inches, and 1.2 inches; an M&P40 measures 7.63 inches, 5.25 inches, and 1.2 inches. An M&P40 has a 4.25 inch barrel. The airgun’s internal firing mechanism (which simulates a striker fired system) takes up a little more room at the breech and thus the smoothbore barrel for the Umarex M&P40 comes up a little shorter at just under 4.0 inches.
Trigger pull on a factory set M&P40 averages 6 pounds 8 ounces, while the Umarex trigger, which is identical in design, is a lighter 4 pounds, 8.7 ounces average. Trigger travel on the Umarex is 0.5 inches from rest to fire with 0.125 inches of over travel. In comparison, the trigger on an S&W M&P40 has .300 inches from rest to fire. Between the Glock and HK USP, the S&W has the smoothest trigger overall from shot to shot. The white dot sights on the Umarex M&P40 are similar in appearance to the Novak sights used on the M&P series, and are easy to acquire, making the airgun equal under normal lighting conditions to sighting with an S&W M&P model. The CO2 M&P40 put its 10 rounds downrange into the 10-meter pistol target at a spread of 0.95 inches with a best 5-shot group at 0.5 inches, and an average velocity of 302 fps.
Overall, the Glock performed the best of the three guns; the S&W has the best trigger and the HK the best features for ease of handling. It is, as I said early on, a competition among equals that is best decided by the individual firing the guns. With these three, it is almost impossible to make a bad choice. There is something here for every handgun enthusiast.
Next week we look at another late 2018 introduction, the Umarex HK VP9. A fine blowback action model that got lost in the shadow of the USP blowback.