Replica Air Pistol of the Year Part 6
What it takes to become 2018’s Top Gun
By Dennis Adler
We have come down to the two guns that some readers have predicted would be this year’s winner. But we have learned from the preceding eight guns that the point system allows very little latitude. Some favorites have fallen by the wayside on the simple fact that they cannot be field stripped. If you are looking at authenticity as a guideline for the best overall model, it needs to be capable of duplicating as many features of its centerfire counterpart as possible, field stripping is one of them, it is among the most basic of skills learned in handgun training. Even though it is not an essential part of a quality CO2 blowback action pistol (which can be cleared of a stuck BB or pellet without full disassembly) it is a feature that says “this gun has been built to the highest standards of authenticity.” Only a handful of the 10 guns for 2018 meet that standard, but it is not the sole defining quality for being chosen as Replica Air Pistol of the Year.
This next to last installment is a Sig vs. Sig showdown against two very different yet similar CO2 blowback action pellet-firing semi-autos, the P226-based X-Five ASP Competition, a finely tuned target pistol, up against a modern military sidearm in CO2, the P320-based M17 ASP. Before a single shot is fired the reality of this test is that the X-Five ASP cannot possibly win. It cannot be field stripped. So what does this second place finisher to the M17 ASP have to offer that makes it so worth owning?
Let us for a moment set aside the competition and ask what is more important in a CO2 pistol for the average airgun enthusiast. Authenticity is important but unless you are intent on using the airgun as a training aid or a stepping stone to the actual centerfire model, authenticity is not the deciding factor. If you are not learning how to disassemble a pistol for cleaning, and CO2 pistols need only minimal cleaning which can be done without disassembly, field stripping capability is not the deciding factor. Ease of use and Performance & Accuracy are the deciding factors. Having a pellet-firing CO2 pistol that is fun to shoot, easy to load, easy to handle, and is accurate enough that you have a feeling of accomplishment and pride when you walk away from a shooting session is something that authenticity and field stripping cannot afford; they are added benefits but not the sole reason for owning a CO2 pistol. The points system was set up to remove this emotional equation from making the final decision. So, here is what Sig Sauer offers in the X-Five ASP as opposed to the M17.
The X-Five ASP is copied from the X-Five Match pistols designed for IPSC shooting and is combined with the hammer and SAO trigger design of the X-Five Tactical. This almost vertical trigger was originally used on the centerfire X-Five competition pistols. By almost flattening out the trigger the trigger finger interface is changed to create more leverage. While this does not noticeably change the weight of the trigger pull it changes the way it feels; stacking becomes less evident, the trigger feels lighter and the pull seems shorter. Average trigger pull on the X-Five ASP Silver measured 5 pounds, 10 ounces with 0.625 inches of take up, very light resistance and a final pull of 0.187 inches with light resistance and a clean break.
The Sig Sauer X-Five Match used a brushed stainless finish which is duplicated on the latest X-Five ASP Silver, as well as the polymer X pattern checkered grips. The Match pistols did not have the P226 decocking lever, nor does the X-Five ASP. The Match used an extended frame and slide and a 5-inch barrel, a flared magwell, deep undercut triggerguard, and adjustable rear sights. All of these features are duplicated on the P226 X-Five ASP, which has a 5-inch rifled steel barrel.
Internally this Sig Sauer air pistol is a combination of the P226 ASP and P320 ASP models, the latter relating to the X-Five ASP using a P320-style 20-shot rotary Rapid Pellet Magazine (RPM). This also means the CO2 is loaded into the pistol grip separately from the pellet magazine, making the X-Five a hybrid design combining features that were first developed in 2016 for the P226 ASP. With the X-Five there is also Sig Sauer’s efficiency of design which dictates non-functioning parts to the gun which serve no actual purpose to firing or handling. The molded-in slide and barrel lug interface that lacks any detail beyond an edge is carried over from the P226 and P320 ASP models. This will cost the gun points for authenticity. The X-Five ASP also has a non-functional slide release, which, while looking exactly as it should, is fixed in place since the slide cannot lock back with the rotary pellet magazine design and Sig sees no reason to manually lock the slide back as it serves no practical purpose on the air pistol. However, considering that target shooters come in right and left-handed versions, the ambidextrous thumb safeties are fully functional on the X-Five ASP.
The X-Five is a large handgun and just slightly wider than the P226 ASP by 0.0625 inches and 0.687 inches longer overall (it is also 0.375 inches taller). As a result it will not fit a standard P226 holster. The X-Five ASP weighs in at 44 ounces, just 2.7 ounces shy of the 9mm X Series pistol. In size, the X-Five ASP has an overall length of 8.7 inches, height of 5.94 inches (base of magwell to top of rear sight) and a slide width of 1.0 inches. Width at the edges of the ambidextrous safeties is 1.625 inches. Sight radius is a very lengthy 7.06 inches with a flat surface matte black rear sight and white dot blade front sight. While authenticity of design is a heavily weighted factor, consider that the X-Five ASP is a “dedicated target pistol” and the rifled steel barrel makes it one of the most accurate (perhaps the most accurate) blowback action 10 meter pellet pistols on the market. If you want precision and accuracy as a sports shooter, there’s little more you can ask for.
In my 10-meter test with what I determined through shooting different brands of pellets to be the best match for the X-Five ASP, 10 rounds of H&N Match Green 5.25 gr. alloy pellets, gave me a best target with 10 rounds at 0.74 inches in the black and five shots at 0.375 inches. This is what the X-Five ASP is built to do. If you are a target shooter, this is your gun of the year, regardless of how many points it earns.
Model: Sig Sauer P226 X-Five ASP
Authenticity 1 to 10: 8 (molded-in and inert parts)
Ingenuity of the design 1 to 10: 10 (uses 20-round rotary pellet magazine)
Ease of use 1 to 10: 10 (magazines are easy to load)
Field stripping capability 1 to 10: 0 (cannot be field stripped)
Performance & Accuracy 1 to 10: 10 (best 5-shot group at 0.375 inches)
Total Points: 38
Authenticity, combat accuracy, practical training with a variety of holsters, precise design interchangeability with a centerfire counterpart, weight, balance, fit and finish define the goals Sig Sauer set down for the P320 M17 ASP. All of these specific goals have been met. But there is one more aspect to the M17 that sets is apart from any other pellet-firing CO2 model that has come before. The role of the M17 as both a military pistol and as a blowback action CO2 pellet-firing model, is very different than that of the Sig Sauer P320 models they are based upon, and as a CO2 pistol quite different from the P226 X-Five ASP Competition.
Sig Sauer’s design for the M17 air pistol is almost as unique as its approach to the centerfire P320 M17 model. While the 9mm pistols are a modular design that allows moving the fire control housing (firing mechanism and trigger) from one frame to another to change the size of the gun from a full size duty pistol all the way down to a compact carry pistol, change magazine capacities, and even calibers, the M17 CO2 model is a dedicated 4.5mm pellet firing duty-sized pistol equal in dimensions to the M17 military issue pistol with extended capacity magazine. The 9mm magazine holds 21 rounds, the standard capacity magazine 17 rounds. For the CO2 model, the extended capacity magazine holds 20 pellets. The airgun’s dimensions are almost 100 percent matching to the centerfire pistol.
A comparison of the 9mm M17 with the CO2 model shows an overall length of 8.0 inches, barrel length of 4.7 inches, and carry weight (with empty extended capacity magazine), of 29.6 ounces (1.85 pounds) for the centerfire pistol. The M17 ASP has an overall length of 8.0 inches, internal rifled barrel length of 4.68 inches, and a carry weight (with empty magazine) of 34.0 ounces (2.1 pounds). The heavier CO2 magazine adds most of the extra 4.4 ounces in carry weight. The centerfire and CO2 models have the same approximate height (with extended capacity magazine) and exact width, so the airgun can be used with any type of civilian or military holster or carry method. This is a significant training plus. Given the excellent blowback action on the CO2 model, which delivers a palpable sense of recoil, and a sound level, which I rate at medium loud, the single 12 gram CO2 cartridge is giving everything it’s got to run this gun and get the shots downrange. That means you will only get about two reloads (40 rounds) out of a CO2 to achieve the best possible performance.
The M17’s construction allows a lot of looking into openings to see how things fit together and function in unison. It can be field stripped, a first for a blowback action pellet model. Where Sig Sauer has also excelled in Authenticity of design for the P320 M17 ASP is by having a blowback action pellet pistol with an actual slide and barrel lug interface (not the first but a first for Sig Sauer), and fully functional ambidextrous thumb safeties. Sig has not come up with a way to lock the slide back on an empty magazine nor to follow through on a functional slide release, which still remains unnecessary for the design, but they have instead achieved the highest goal for a pellet-firing blowback action pistol; a self-contained CO2 pellet magazine. This is the engineering marvel of the M17, a first-of-its-kind self-contained CO2 pellet magazine with a 20-round rotary fed “clip”. That’s the official term Sig Sauer has given to the modular pellet-loading device for the M17 magazine.
Loading the CO2 into the main section of the magazine uses a long lever that folds down away from the back of the housing similar to the loading system Sig Sauer developed for the P226 ASP (which has a folding backstrap panel to accomplish the loading and seating of the CO2 cartridge). With the M17 magazine, once the lever is lowered the CO2 is inserted, raise the lever and squeeze it closed against the back of the magazine. In one move the CO2 is locked, raised into place, pierced and sealed with the housing that fits into the pistol’s grip frame. The pellets load into a compact version of the X-Five ASP’s rotary magazine; once loaded, the clip drops into a channel and locks into place. The CO2 and pellet clip are now one piece within the magazine and ready to load into the M17. This is what serious military air pistol enthusiasts have been waiting for. Forget that the slide doesn’t lock back, you can change magazines after 20 rounds like an actual M17, you can practice tactical reloads, you can do just about everything with the CO2 model you can do with the centerfire pistol for training and shooting at distances out to 45 feet, well beyond the 10-meter competition range and into the world of practical close quarter combat and defensive shooting practice.
There is one notable internal difference with the CO2 model (other than being a CO2 model and having a unique firing system), unlike the striker-fired P320 M17 centerfire pistol, the M17 ASP uses an internal hammer. Trigger pull on the blowback action pistol averages 6 pounds, 6 ounces with 1.0 inches of take up and it needs a full release of the trigger for each shot.
The use of alloy pellets in this gun is advantageous to achieve maximum velocity for shooting at greater distances. Average velocity with Sig Sauer 5.25 gr. Match Ballistic Alloy wadcutters delivered an average of 358 fps for 20 shots. Changing to H&N Sport 5.25 gr. alloy wadcutters, the M17 delivered a high of 372 fps, a low of 352 fps, and average velocity of 358 fps for 20 consecutive shots. H&N Sport delivered identical average velocity to the Sig Sauer alloy pellets, but slightly better low velocity averages. I chose the H&N for the final 10-meter test evaluation against the X-Five ASP.
The final evaluation of the M17 led me to two conclusions, one that you have to master the trigger on this gun for accuracy, it is a DAO and you need to have the full weight of the first joint of the trigger finger against the trigger (as when firing a double action pistol vs. a single action where one often uses the tip of the trigger finger) to keep shots consistent, and even then it is going to take time to keep shot groups tight. The M17 is not a target pistol in this configuration (and if that hints at some future Sig Sauer accessories, it does), still, the M17 is not going to be as accurate at the X-Five ASP Competition. But it is does have commensurate accuracy with the centerfire M17 military pistol; much more about this later in the postscript to Replica Air Pistol of the Year. For this evaluation, my best 10-shot group at 10 meters with the M17 ASP had a total spread of 0.875 inches with the best 5-rounds clustered into 0.56 inches. No match for the X-Five Competition, but rather a match for the M17 military pistol.
Model: Sig Sauer P320 M17 ASP
Authenticity 1 to 10: 9 (as matched to the centerfire model for fit and finish)
Ingenuity of the design 1 to 10: 10 (self-contained CO2 pellet magazine)
Ease of use 1 to 10: 10 (magazines are easy to load)
Field stripping capability 1 to 10: 10 (can be field stripped)
Performance & Accuracy 1 to 10: 10 (best 5-shot group at 0.56 inches)
Total Points: 49
With three guns tied at 49 points each, the Sig Sauer WE THE PEOPLE, Umarex HK USP and Sig Sauer M17 ASP will go up against each other for the Replica Airgun of the Year title on December 25th.