Replica Air Pistol of the Year Part 4
What it takes to become 2018’s Top Gun
By Dennis Adler
This has been an impressive year for new blowback action models and this is where the toughest competition for Replica Air Pistol of the Year emerges with guns like the Sig Sauer WE THE PEOPLE 1911 and ASG’s CZ 75 SP-01 Shadow; air pistols that not only visually correspond to their centerfire counterparts but match handling, operation and ability to be field stripped. These are two examples (but not the only two this year) where manufacturers went the distance to get everything as accurate as possible. Why do this for a CO2 BB pistol? Like the highly regarded Umarex S&W M&P40, the new Shadow SP-01 and Sig Sauer 1911 are more than great air pistols, they are so well matched to their centerfire counterparts that they are perfect training guns that allow total familiarization with the firearm right up to pulling the trigger. And there, all that is lacking is heavy recoil from the velocity of a centerfire cartridge, the high dB rating of a live round vs. the low dB rating of a CO2 pistol, and accuracy beyond the optimal 21 to 25 foot range of a .177 caliber steel BB. Thus the CZ Shadow (and competition-style Shadow Blue) and Sig’s custom 1911 WE THE PEOPLE are the first to square off against each other.
These two are an interesting juxtaposition of semi-auto pistol designs, an SAO trigger system vs. a DA/SA design. Both are hammer fired, both (in this instance) have ambidextrous thumb safeties, use self contained CO2 BB magazines, have excellent sights, approximate weight and balance in the hand compared to their centerfire counterparts, have slides that lock back on an empty magazine and impart a definite feeling of recoil through their slide action and firing operation. Were there fewer models to consider this year, the run off would be between these two guns. Both are excellent. What then separates them beyond the obvious technical differences of design?
We begin by looking back at the initial introduction of ASG’s CZ 75 SP-01 Shadow last spring. The gun had but one failing, it shot low at 21 feet, and the hold over was around 2 inches. A second sample was tested and this gun also shot just “slightly” below POA requiring a minor correction by aiming dead center for the bullseye or slightly above depending upon how shots were hitting. But the important thing is, the gun kept tight groups. Pistols with fixed sights often require aiming corrections so this is nothing unusual.
The SP-01 brought a lot to the blowback action air pistol market in quality of design, fit, finish, and handling in comparison to centerfire models. It also brought a new option to CO2 pistols that is rarely seen; the ability to upgrade the gun. Not only is the Shadow exceptionally authentic to the 9mm pistol, it is possible to alter it to match models upgraded by the Česká zbrojovka Custom Shop, in this case the Shadow 2 Black & Blue. With a couple of replacement parts the CO2 model from ASG can be modified to look like the original Shadow competition version, Shadow 2 and CZ 75 Tactical Sport models. This is a unique aspect to the gun which earns it a sold 10 points for authenticity. Making the SP-01 Shadow into the Shadow Blue (currently the only option available from Pyramyd Air) takes the CZ up a level in handling as a target pistol by adding anodized aluminum grips and a flared mag funnel. A matching blue CZ magazine base pad is also available from Stampede Airsoft (along with Shadow Red and Shadow Orange color options). The mag funnel helps speed up reloading by channeling the magazine into the magwell. The flared design also provides more surface area for the support hand when using a two-handed hold, and with the Shadow being an ambidextrous design, this works equally well for left-handed shooters.
CZ pistols are incredibly well made (centerfire and ASG CO2 models alike) and both the centerfire and CO2 versions utilize a short-recoil, locked-breech design common among the majority of modern semi-autos. The .177 caliber pistol uses a modified blowback action but with a separate recoil spring, guide rod and linkless barrel, like the centerfire pistols. This is also among the easiest semi-auto pistols to fieldstrip and that process is translated to the air pistol’s construction though it does not completely fieldstrip without using a screwdriver to remove a screw that holds the lug to the barrel.
The proof, of course, is not only in looks and function (where this gun earns the most points), it is in overall accuracy. The Shadow Blue delivered an average velocity of 319 fps, a high of 324 fps, a low of 317 fps, and a standard deviation of just 2 fps for 10 consecutive rounds. The SP-01 Shadow is factory rated at 312 fps.
Trigger pull on a 9x19mm SP-01 Shadow averages 8 pounds 7.5 ounces double action, and 2 pounds 11.5 ounces single action. This Shadow has a heavier but very smooth double action pull of 9 pounds, 15 ounces, and a slick single action trigger press of just 1 pound, 15.4 ounces average. Considering only the first round is fired double action (if you have de-cocked the pistol after chambering the first BB), the overall advantage is the single action trigger on the SP-01 for its smooth, light pull and clean break shot after shot. The slide also delivers a pretty decent kick when it comes back so you know you are firing a blowback action pistol.
On the negative side, SP-01 magazines are hard to load. The magazine base pad has to be removed to access the seating screw. After CO2 is inserted and tightened down with the enclosed hex head wrench, the base pad has to be slipped back onto the bottom groove of the magazine. Next the CZ magazines do not have locking followers, so you need to hold the follower and compress the spring while loading 17 steel BBs into the just slightly larger than BB circumference loading port, very similar to the S&W M&P40 CO2 magazines.
Looking downrange, the red fiber optic front sight on the Shadow SP-01 is very easy to see and sight alignment on target is quick. The trigger pull being as smooth as it is on this gun made consistent shots in and around the bullseye for a best 10 shot target with a spread of 1.56 inches and best five rounds measuring 0.75 inches from 21 feet. For accuracy the gun does not quite measure up to some of the competition with open sights, and that is going to cost some points, but the Shadow Blue (or black Shadow SP-01) are outstanding new models and add significantly to the pleasure of shooting CO2 pistols.
Model: ASG CZ 75 SP-01 Shadow/Shadow Blue
Authenticity 1 to 10: 10 (based on fit and finish)
Ingenuity of the design 1 to 10: 9 (short-recoil, locked-breech based design)
Ease of use 1 to 10: 8 (slow loading magazines, tends to shoot low)
Field stripping capability 1 to 10: 8 (requires screw driver for complete fieldstrip)
Performance & Accuracy 1 to 10: 9 (best 5- shot groups at 0.75 inches)
Total Points: 44
Sig Sauer being comparatively new to the air pistol market has continually upped its game for the last three years from one air pistol to the next, and for the blowback action BB firing class, hit its stride this summer with the introduction of the WE THE PEOPLE Model 1911. Sig Sauer went so far as to deliver its uniquely designed and finished WE THE PEOPLE Model in .45 ACP and 4.5mm (.177 caliber) as a matching pair, making this absolutely the most authentic blowback action CO2 pistol you can own. The Sig Sauer model is a breakthrough design that exemplifies forward thinking within the airgun industry. The CO2 WE THE PEOPLE is so close, that unless you take note of the caliber stamped on the left side of the frame, or see the recessed 4.5mm barrel inside the rifled .45 ACP muzzle, the two guns are almost indistinguishable. From the right side the same is true physically, but the white lettering for the air pistol Warnings are on the frame. Even so, the attention to detail is evident in the pistol’s construction, and there is only one other minor visual tell, the absence of an extractor hole at the back of the slide. In its overall presentation, the Sig Sauer 1911 earns 10 points right out of the box.
The WE THE PEOPLE air pistol is true to the centerfire version in all its operating features, including ambidextrous thumb safeties. The .45 ACP and 4.5mm also have the early flat checkered mainspring housing preferred on competition and tactical models, and matching skeletonized hammers and competition-style triggers. Both share low profile white dot sights (the .45 ACP model with tritium night sights), and the Sig model’s uniquely distressed finish and special engraving on the slide flats and top. The guns also share the same grip panel design with 25 stars on each aluminum panel.
On the range Sig’s 1911 CO2 model is not a quiet air pistol, probably a little louder than most blowback action models and it delivers a decent kick when the slide comes back. Like the Sig Sauer .45 ACP 1911, the air pistol uses the John M. Browning-designed platform of frame, slide, barrel, and recoil system using a recoil spring guide, single recoil spring, recoil spring plug and barrel bushing. The CO2 model follows the same design with internal modifications to accommodate the CO2 firing system which includes an additional lightly wound recoil spring around the barrel, like a blowback action semi-auto. The gun completely fieldstrips like the .45 ACP model. A solid 10 points earned.
A loaded (full magazine and one round chambered) Sig 1911 will average 46.5 ounces (2.9 pounds). The CO2 model with CO2 loaded in the magazine and 17 steel BBs (though for training you should load 8 BBs to equal the centerfire pistols 7+1 capacity) weighs 36.5 ounces (2.28 pounds). The self-contained CO2 BB magazine for the Sig is one of the easiest I have found thus far to load with a locking follower and a heavy follower spring to keep the .177 caliber steel rounds running as fast as you can pull the trigger.
The CO2 model specs out with an overall length of 8.5 inches and weight of 35.2 ounces (empty). The .45 ACP WE THE PEOPLE has an overall length of 8.7 inches and weight of 41.6 ounces (empty). Frame size (and 6.5 inch sight radius), grip type, and low profile sight design are identical. The air pistol’s trigger has an average pull of 5.7 pounds with 0.187 inches of take up, moderate stacking and a crisp break. Trigger reset takes 0.175 inches, so a full release of the trigger is not necessary to fire again; another plus for the Sig CO2 model. Average trigger pull on the .45 ACP WE THE PEOPLE is 6 pounds 4.5 ounces as set by the factory. Take up is a shorter 0.125 inches with light stacking and a crisp break. Trigger reset takes 0.125 inches, so again a full release of the trigger is not necessary to fire. This shared feature between the .45 ACP and CO2 model is another training plus. Where they differ is in resistance; manually cocking the hammer on the centerfire model requires more effort than the air pistol, same with racking the slide, but these are both to be expected since the hammer for the airgun is going to be lighter than a centerfire pistol’s, as is the recoil spring resistance, since the CO2 has to generate the recoil effect, while the centerfire model needs a heavy recoil spring to slow the reward motion of the slide after firing.
The Sig CO2 model sends its 4.5mm (.177 caliber steel BB) rounds downrange at an average velocity of 329 fps which is decent for a blowback action pistol. My best offhand 5-shot groups shooting at a full size B-27 cardboard silhouette target from 25 feet (during a live fire comparison with the .45 ACP pistol) measured 0.51 inches (a second group of four measured 0.68 inches with a flyer that opened up my entire 10-shot group to 1.56 inches. The .45 ACP model, by the way, punched its best 5-shot group into 2.25 inches at 50 feet, and 2.75 inches at 25 yards. At 21 feet on the indoor range the WE THE PEOPLE CO2 model landed 10 consecutive rounds into 1.25 inches with a best five rounds almost overlapping at 2 o’clock and measuring 0.437 inches. It has the accuracy downrange to match its looks and operation.
Model: Sig Sauer WE THE PEOPLE 1911
Authenticity 1 to 10: 10 (based on unique finish)
Ingenuity of the design 1 to 10: 9 (short-recoil, locked-breech design)
Ease of use 1 to 10: 10 (easy loading magazines)
Field stripping capability 1 to 10: 10 (fieldstrips like a 1911)
Performance & Accuracy 1 to 10: 10 (best 5-shot group under 0.5 inches)
Total Points: 49
Thursday the match up between Austrian design and German precision, the Umarex Glock 17 vs. the Umarex Heckler & Koch USP.