One Year Anniversary of the Airgun Experience
12 months, 144 articles, and three “Top Guns”
by Dennis Adler
Exactly one year ago today the first Airgun Experience column was posted with a tribute to the 40th Anniversary of John Wayne’s last film, The Shootist and this past Saturday we celebrated the Duke’s 110th birthday with a roundup of all the John Wayne Colt Commemorative airguns. It might seem that we have come full circle, but over this past year quite a few new and exceptional CO2-powered air pistols have been introduced. To commemorate the One Year Anniversary of the column we are going to look back at the best of the best and select one gun in each category; blowback action semi-autos, BB or pellet cartridge loading double action revolvers, and BB or pellet cartridge loading single action revolvers, to be Gun of the Year. All three of the Airgun Experience’s first annual “Top Guns” will be revealed at the end of the article, and be sure to call Pyramyd Air Customer Service at 888-262-4867 and mention the “Airgun Experience promotion” for a special offer on these Top Guns!
Setting new benchmarks in air pistol design
From 2016 through early 2017 the airgun market has exploded with new designs, innovative manufacturing, and BB and pellet-firing models that so closely match their cartridge-firing counterparts for size, weight, balance, and handling (and in some cases field stripping), that the bar has been raised higher than ever for 12 gr. CO2 powered .177 caliber Adult Air Pistols. Out of the new models I have selected the three best in each of the primary categories; the rapidly growing BB and pellet-cartridge firing Single Action Revolver class, the improved pellet cartridge firing Double Action Revolver class, and the most impressive of all for new technology and features, the BB and pellet firing Blowback Action Semi-Auto class.
I am going to start with the latter as these three air pistols have singularly set the standards for blowback action semi-autos as practical personal, law enforcement, and military training guns. The cost effectiveness of these three airguns, all of which have centerfire counterparts in use today by state, local and federal law enforcement agencies, military and Spec Ops, as well as civilians, makes training of basic handling skills possible. The CO2 models can duplicate every aspect from reloading, holstering, proper drawing and weapons presentation, safety precautions, working through duress scenarios, tactical reloads, and weak hand shooting practice. This is all possible for a fraction of the cost of using (and thus putting wear on) duty and service guns. In addition, firing with CO2 allows safe and relatively quiet indoor practice year round, important for smaller departments without their own shooting ranges and in areas where severe climates prohibit outdoor practice in winter.
The three most successful examples of this type of air pistol are the new Umarex Smith & Wesson M&P40, which has already been adopted as a training gun by several local law enforcement departments whose officers carry the M&P9, M&P40 and M&P45 models; the Umarex Beretta M92A1, the latest version of the U.S. military issue sidearm from 1985 to 2017; and the new Sig Sauer brand P320 CO2 pellet-firing blowback action semi-auto. The Beretta 92A1 has the added advantage (for airgun enthusiasts) of a select-fire mechanism based on the rare Beretta 93R variation that was built for Italian military and law enforcement.
The Sig Sauer is a hardcore “minimalist design” training gun that allows essential skills to be practiced with an accurate size, weight and approximate trigger pull CO2 pellet-firing model using a rifled steel barrel. The 9mm Sig Sauer P320 was developed for the U.S. Army’s Modular Handgun System (MHS) trials, and succeeded in becoming our nation’s newest standard issue military sidearm, replacing the Beretta M9 (92 Series models in use since 1985). So, all three of these semi-autos have exceptional engineering, performance, and accurate handling to simulate their centerfire counterparts. One will be this years “Top Gun” in the blowback action semi-auto category.
Semi-autos, as a design concept, are actually late 19th century guns, even though today’s 21st century models are very different in construction and appearance. The idea is very old, and so is the double action revolver, which in basic operating design dates back to the 1850s! From American manufacturers, cartridge firing double action revolvers go back to the Colt 1877 and 1878 models. Like semi-autos, today’s double action/single action and double action only (DAO) wheelguns have very little resemblance to those from the 19th century, but are still the same fundamental designs, a cylinder that is bored completely through allowing a metallic cartridge to be inserted at the rear of each chamber and fired either by pulling the trigger fully to the rear, which rotates the cylinder, cocks the hammer, and then discharges the gun, or by manually cocking the hammer (except on DAO models with internal or shrouded hammers) and firing single action.
There are presently a number of excellent CO2 powered wheelguns on the market, but the very latest have taken the airgun design to new levels of authenticity and downrange accuracy. The overall leader at present is one manufacturer with three versions of one gun, the ASG Dan Wesson Model 715 pellet-cartridge firing model with 6 inch, 4-inch, or 2-1/2 inch barrel lengths.
The new 6-inch, 4-inch and 2-1/2-inch CO2-powered Dan Wesson Model 715 revolvers have the correct original Model 715 configuration with the crane-mounted cylinder latch. Regardless of barrel length or finish, the pellet cartridge firing models have rifled barrels for greater accuracy. The 6-inch has a distinctive, high polished gun metal grey finish and correct Hogue rubber combat style grips for a solid hold. The full length vent rib barrel shroud on the Model 715 (like the actual .357 Magnum version) is engraved with the Dan Wesson signature on the left side and .357 Magnum and the Dan Wesson signature on the right. It is a handsome looking gun that is not overdone with graphics, but rather looks more like the high end cartridge revolver it is based upon. The 4-inch pellet-cartridge model is offered in high polished nickel and has an integral accessory rail under the barrel shroud. Again this model has the correct crane-mounted cylinder latch and rubber combat style grips.
The 2-1/2 inch model is the most interesting being a snub nose, but shorter barrels usually mean less accuracy downrange. During the comparative range tests best 12-shot groups from 10 meters (33 feet) were 1.25 inches and 1.74 inches, respectively for the 6-inch and 4-inch models, and 2.98 inches for the snub nose. Actually, 1.74 inches is quite good for the 4-inch gun at that range. As a pellet cartridge-firing CO2 revolver, I not only like the overall authentic look of the new 4-inch ASG Dan Wesson Model 715, I like its weight, balance, and accuracy, and I particularly like the double action/single action trigger on this model. The obvious winner here is going to be ASG, but which barrel length and model will be the Top Gun?
Going back to the Old West, my favorite topic and my favorite guns, brings us to the best new Single Action revolvers, and this is the hardest group to judge because every one of the guns is not only new but impressive in every possible way. We begin with the oldest (first out of the three guns), which is the Umarex Colt Peacemaker, now offered in a nickel plated pellet-cartridge firing version with a 7-1/2 inch barrel and as a limited edition hand engraved model. This is and remains the gun to beat for accuracy and speed from 21 feet to 10 meters. It is the fastest handling and quickest shooting gun but not entirely the most exciting of the trio when it comes to elegant styling; blasphemy you say! But what about Smith & Wesson’s equally legendary No. 3 American and the Schofield version, the latter originally built for the U.S. Cavalry in 1875? Here was a gun that changed the way revolvers were loaded, that offered a new grip angle and sighting design for more accurate shooting when carefully aimed. S&W didn’t reinvent the six-shooter here but they most decidedly left a lasting impression and built a legacy that ultimately eclipsed even Colt in the late 20th century.
The Bear River Schofield CO2 model came on the scene a little rough around the edges but was swiftly refined with a beautifully polished nickel model, and through Pyramyd Air, another historically accurate hand engraved limited edition to rival even the 7-1/2 inch Colt Peacemaker. A smoothbore sadly, even with its new rear-loading pellet firing cartridges, the Schofield can’t quite beat the Colt for accuracy, but comes so close that it is almost a coin toss as to which gun is the more desirable among Western aficionados. Actually the answer is both.
There was always a page missing from this Old West airgun revival because there were three iconic cartridge-loading six-guns that became the most famous among lawmen and outlaws alike from the 1870s to early 1900s. The last gun to round out the tale of the American West was the Remington Model 1875, the third new CO2 powered, rear-loading, pellet cartridge firing model. Right out of the chute Remington offered the gun exclusively in polished nickel and with both BB and pellet loading cartridges. Again, they opted for a smoothbore barrel, which leaves the 1875 just short of standing up to the Peacemaker, pretty much as it was back in the Old West, when the Remington was a solid number three among cartridge revolvers, eventually leading Remington to abandon the market in 1894 and concentrate on semi-autos. The history of the Old West, however, would not be complete for Single Action air pistols without it!
The Top Guns
First the Semi-Auto group, which has three superb models in contention, the Umarex S&W M&P40, Umarex Beretta 92A1, and Sig Sauer P320 ASP. The win is not only based on features, authenticity, and handling, but all around practicality for shooting and training. You might expect the M&P40 to be the best choice, but it is still a BB-firing gun with a smoothbore barrel, which limits its operating distance to 21 feet. The same goes for the Beretta 92A1, even with its extra selective fire control. For pure state-of-the-art hands on training and accuracy, the Top Gun honor has to go to the new Sig Sauer P320. It lacks some of the operating features of the other two guns, but at the end of the day (or the training session) it fits every basic requirement for learning how to draw, fire, and shoot accurately with a P320, even minus recoil. The edge comes from a rifled steel barrel, firing 4.5mm pellets, and having an effective range out to 45 feet, better than double that of the M&P40 and 92A1 air pistols. As a close quarter battle handgun the P320 won the U.S. Army’s nod as its new standard issue sidearm, and the CO2 models earn ours for best new Blowback Action Semi-Auto pistol.
We already know ASG wins the double action category, but it is not the 6-inch model that gets the top honors, but rather the newer 4-inch model which is a more practical size for training, and it delivers pinpoint accuracy out to 10 meters. It is just a little better than the 2-1/2 inch snub nose, which could just as easily be the Top Gun in the Double Action Revolver category. But the slightly longer barrel carries the day.
For everyone with a rifled barrel, pellet cartridge firing Colt Peacemaker, you have already purchased the best gun on the market, but we also have to look at future potential. The Colt has reached its best gun status leaving only shorter and longer barrel lengths to be added. The Schofield has all of its potential in the original design which is hard to improve upon, even with the CO2 model, save for adding a rifled barrel and a Wells Fargo version. It is the Remington Model 1875, the late comer to the game, both in the 1870s and in 2017, that holds the most promise for becoming one of the very best single action CO2 revolvers on the market. Right from the day of its release it came with both BB and rear loading pellet cartridges, an excellent fit and finish and a quality that leaves little to be desired. It has the potential to be improved upon with a rifled barrel that would put it on an even footing with the Peacemaker for accuracy. And it is already nearly as fast a gun to handle (where the Schofield is slower, but definitely more deliberate). It joins the Colt and Schofield as the third link in an unbreakable chain of legendary six-shooters, and this year’s Top Gun in the Single Action category.
The Airgun Experience will return in one week with a three-part review of the gun you have all been waiting for, the Umarex Legends MP40.