Pocket Pistol Roundup Part 2
The lesser of two
By Dennis Adler
Compact and Subcompact CO2 models are in the minority of blowback action models available, but these five (actually six major examples if you count the two versions of the Makarov), are the most authentic in overall styling and brand name recognition, i.e. Walther, Makarov, Beretta, and Sig Sauer. This combination of models has not been tested in series, so the approach for Part 2 is going to follow the outline for Replica Air Pistol of the Year, and begin with a one-on-one elimination process beginning with the two most obvious guns, the Umarex Walther PPK/S and Gletcher Makarov PM 1951 (basically a Soviet PPK).
Makarov and Walther features
The Makarov or PM 1951 (Pistolet Makarova 1951) was a new design for the Soviet Union, but in fact a Russian variation (knock off is another word) of the circa 1930’s Walther PPK. In fact, both guns are very much alike, not only in general appearances but internal design and operation. Nikolay Makarov made a very nice Walther. The Gletcher Russian Legends CO2 model makes a very nice Makarov copy.
The Gletcher version is accurate in design with nice grips (although a longer grip frame, necessary for the length of the self contained CO2 and BB magazine), lanyard loop at the base of the left grip, muzzle shape and general Makarov contours, including the inconvenient but correct magazine release at the heel of the grip. The trigger is slightly different in shape, but there is a big plus in that minor detail. In overall appearances it is much closer to the Makarov than the Umarex version which has a .177 caliber muzzle opening, whereas the muzzle of the Gletcher is recessed so the opening is closer in size to the actual gun. Conversely, the Umarex Makarov Ultra (now just Umarex Makarov) has a more accurate slide release, serrated hammer shape and more accurate trigger shape; it also has a proper length grip frame but in exchange for that has an exposed seating screw for the self contained CO2 and BB magazine. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, the Umarex, however, would be a slightly more authentic looking gun if it had a proper CO2 BB magazine like the Gletcher.
What really distinguishes the two Makarov pistols is the trigger pull, which in turn, can affect accuracy. Average trigger pull for the Umarex Makarov is a hefty 11 pounds, 4 ounces, with a long 0.75 inches of low resistance travel followed by 0.25 inches of heavy stacking to a clean break. The Umarex has brisk recoil for a blowback action air pistol, which lends a feel for shooting a handgun. The Gletcher, with a lighter and smoother 4 pound, 5.7 ounce trigger pull, feels more like a target pistol with a mere 0.25 inches of travel to drop the hammer. It also has very snappy recoil. Both guns only fire single action after either racking the slide or cocking the hammer if it has been lowered. Both also use the thumb safety as the actual safety for the air pistol, and this is where we begin to understand, that unlike in a Bond film where 007 usually gets the upper hand, the Russian Legends PM 1951 has many advantages over the disadvantaged Umarex Walther PPK/S. “Goodbye Mr. Bond…”
The Walther’s shortcomings
With the debut of the PPK/S in 2000, Umarex and Walther wrote a new chapter in the design and manufacturing of air pistols, a chapter that is continually being revised, even by the original author, Umarex.
The Umarex Walther PPK/S was the first of its kind in two categories, the first Umarex replica airgun for .177 caliber steel BBs, and the first replica airgun with a blowback system. In that, it was the first air pistol to use the basic fundamentals of the original cartridge-firing model in a CO2 design, right down to the disassembly of the Walther PPK/S.
The CO2-powered model managed to stick around through a couple of iterations, including one version with a faux suppressor, (very James Bond), and though not a particularly accurate, nor powerful airgun, its legacy was that of being the first commercially successful CO2-blowback action air pistol in the world. That makes it worth having in your airgun collection even if you never shoot it.
Things that are right and things that are so wrong abound on the PPK/S beginning with the original models that field stripped like an actual .380 ACP Walther by pulling down on the triggerguard, and then pulling the slide all the way to the rear and lifting it up and then forward off the barrel which is permanently affixed to the frame like an actual centerfire blowback Walther PPK/S. The CO2 model also has recoil spring wound around the barrel. Nikolay Makarov duplicated it precisely in the PM 1951. Walther also used a left side thumb safety as did the Makarov, but Umarex took a shortcut making it a molded in part of the slide and adding a trigger finger safety on the right side of the frame, just behind the triggerguard. Technically it works very well; aesthetically it is an abomination on a PPK or PPK/S. The slide only racks correctly if the stick magazine (did I mention it has a stick magazine and not a self-contained CO2 BB magazine like the PM 1951?) is loaded. But it will lock back on an empty magazine.
The current PPK/S model, has replaced that awkward telltale exposed seating screw handle with an internal seating screw and a separate hex head tool to tighten it. This gives the new PPK/S airgun cleaner, more authentic lines. Unlike the .32 ACP and .380 ACP models, the Umarex uses a single action trigger that looks like a DA/SA, and thus to fire the first round the slide either has to be racked or the hammer manually cocked. The grip contour is slightly different and longer, but close in size and shape to the cartridge model with the finger extension base plate on the stick magazine.
There is one disconcerting change in the later PPK/S CO2 models, a locking pin has been added in the frame just above the front of the triggerguard which prevents the gun from being field stripped (as shown in the photo using a earlier gun), without using a drift to push the pin out. There was a problem when taking the early models apart, a wire spring and an actuation lever pressed into the side of the frame easily fell out. Not a lot of fun to get back in, Umarex made disassembly more difficult on subsequent models and since there is really no reason to take the CO2 model apart for cleaning, it is not a big deal, but it was a big deal that you once could, like the Gletcher PM 1951. That gun comes apart easily and effortlessly reassembles; just another notch in the Makarov’s grips.
Air and steel
The PPK/S test gun firing Umarex .177 steel BBs clocked an average velocity of 286 fps. Surprisingly, the Gletcher PM 1951 ran steel through the chronograph at exactly the same average of 286 fps. In my original tests of the Makarov PM 1951 when it came out a few years ago, this same gun had averaged 302 fps. It is factory rated at 328 fps. Even with the same velocity as the PPK/S both guns were consistent with standard deviations of only 2 fps, and just below the 300 fps threshold. The average sub 300 fps velocity for the Walther and PM 1951 are their worst failings, but hey, the new Sig Sauer P365 can’t do much better; so don’t hate the Walther or the Makarov for their velocity. It seems to come with the territory. Ah, but wait. The Umarex Makarov easily breaks the 320 fps threshold (it is factory rated at up to 350 fps), so size alone isn’t the only stumbling block. The Gletcher Makarov and Umarex Walther PPK/S (and yes, the new little Sig), just are not as powerful. If you are looking for velocity first, you need to look at the Umarex Makarov.
Accuracy PPK/S vs. PM 1951
Since neither gun can break 300 fps, 21 feet is about as far as you want to be from the target for any degree of accuracy. I started with the PPK/S and 10 rounds of Umarex steel BBs, using a two-handed hold and Weaver stance. This is about as steady as you can get shooting off hand with this gun. The PPK/S is at a disadvantage for accuracy compared to more powerful and more accurate blowback models, which is any blowback model built after the PPK/S was introduced 20 years ago. At 21 feet I put 10 shots at 2.25 inches, thanks to one high flyer and one far right, with the remaining eight rounds clustered into 1.5 inches. This is about as good as it gets with the PPK/S unless you cut your distance to 15 feet. Generally at that distance the gun will shoot tighter groups.
The old and newer PPK/S models are true blister pack, entry-level BB pistols that without their Walther heritage would barely be worth mentioning, but it is one of those air pistols that most airgun collectors feel a little compelled to own, even if it doesn’t get shot much.
The PM 1951 put 10 rounds into 2.125 inches, a little better than the Walther, with a best group of five tightly clustered at 0.75 inches, to give the Gletcher Makarov a dubious but clear win at 21 feet over the lesser PPK/S. The result is quite the opposite of the real Cold War guns.
So far, small guns, small prices, small rewards, but still fun to shoot.
In Part 3 the Umarex Walther PPS and Beretta 84FS square off. Neither has to do too much to beat the last two CO2 models. Any bets?