Replica Air Pistol of the Year Part 7

Replica Air Pistol of the Year Part 7

No real losers

By Dennis Adler

Six impressive new guns from 2020 cover the range from the 1870s to the 21st century. With that level of diversity among pellet cartridge revolvers, a belt fed pellet semi-auto, and two blowback action BB pistols, the comparisons are stretched to the limits but the underlying qualities of each gun, as well as their shortcomings, will ultimately lead to a best choice for 2020’s Replica Air Pistol of the Year.

In the past few years it has been a clear process of elimination that has made the annual top gun choice comparatively straightforward as one gun always rose to the top. Not so in 2020 with three guns tied at 49 points and two at 48 points. Even the gun that comes in last, the Chiappa Rhino, has 47 points and at the beginning was the one gun I thought had the best shot at 2020’s title being the only totally new CO2 air pistol of year.  The remaining five are all improvements or upgrades to existing models and every one of the six models reviewed for Replica Air Pistol of the Year fell short of 50 points (some even with bonus points added to their total) for one reason or another.

Wheels and slides

The distinction between revolvers and semi-autos has always been one of the reasons why blowback action air pistols often gain an advantage if the manufacturer goes the distance and builds a solid 1:1 gun that can be field stripped. That used to be worth 10 points but it also eliminated the possibility for a revolver to win, so this year, field stripping is again reduced to a 1 point bonus in order to break a tie, but as the last six articles have shown, that is not the case for 2020, as each gun, even those with the most advantages, had some flaw that costs it a clean shot at 50 points. Picking the best CO2 pistol for 2020 is going to take a more imaginative approach and that means looking at something you can’t test with a chronometer or a paper target, emotional appeal.

The two single actions that have made it into the year’s top gun comparisons are both older models that have new lives in 2020. The Umarex Colt Peacemaker is now a gun that you can have built to your own specifications, including one of three barrel lengths and multiple finishes and finish combinations like the nickel and gold gun shown. The engraving will cost you extra and is done by Adams & Adams. The Barra Schofield Wells Fargo with 5-inch barrel is the gun so many readers were asking for over the last couple of years. Barra finally delivered (after taking over Bear River). The smoothbore SA is surprisingly accurate, fast handling and models like this hand engraved nickel version will be sold by Barra in 2021 as a deluxe limited edition. What makes the Wells Fargo important to this year’s competition is its astounding velocity (around 480 fps with alloy pellets) and accuracy at 21 feet.

What does that look like? 

It is safe to say the majority of Airgun Experience readers share a penchant for both vintage and historic firearms that is tempered with a desire for at least one very accurate pistol for target shooting (as well as a good rifle). It is no secret I have always leaned toward Western and vintage (early 20th century) firearms, and this year’s choices offer two clear options, the Barra Schofield and Pyramyd Air Airgun Builder Peacemakers. The two guns tied at 48 points each. The smoothbore Barra Schofield Wells Fargo delivered one of the best 5-shot groups of the series with H&N Sport Match Green alloy wadcutters; a tight 0.56 inches. The gun lost its shot at 50 points by one point for the manual safety, and one for essentially being a shorter barreled version of the 7-inch Schofield model and that comes off Ingenuity of Design. But let’s overlook the latter for the moment and consider the appeal of the gun on its own merits. This is one that we (Western airgun enthusiasts) really wanted, and Barra delivered. As a smoothbore pistol with fixed sights, it is more accurate with pellets than some models with rifled barrels and adjustable sights. That’s something to be considered. For example, the Wells Fargo’s best target at 21 feet had five rounds at 0.56 inches, less than the size of a dime. The gun with the best possible sights, the upgraded Sig Sauer M17 ASP with a rifled steel barrel and red dot reflex sight had five at 0.5 inches. In a shooting contest that makes the M17 ASP the winner, but as a fair comparison, it’s the same as putting a Colt Peacemaker up against a Colt 1911 National Match and being surprised when the 1911 does better.

To be objective, with old fashioned open revolver sights the Schofield was well regulated enough that it could almost equal the accuracy of a gun with a superior rifled barrel and state-of-the-art optics. 

The Peacemaker with a 7-1/2 inch rifled barrel just could not keep groups as tightly packed as I had expected. This was all with H&N Sport Match Green 5.25 gr. alloy pellets, which were used for the pellet gun tests this year. I will follow up with another test in January using 7.0 gr. Meisterkugeln lead wadcutters (which my original 7-1/2 inch gun from 2016 does exceptionally well with), but as a head-to-head competitor with alloy pellets it was not as accurate overall as the smoothbore Wells Fargo with a 5-inch barrel! I’m a little mystified, too.

What happened with the Peacemaker?

If none of you were surprised that the newest rifled barrel, 7-1/2 inch Peacemaker, shooting the same alloy pellets as the smoothbore Schofield Wells Fargo, only had a best 5-shot group measuring 0.625 inches, and at a mere 21 feet mind you, (this is after all a pellet pistol that is accurate out to 10 meters), then you weren’t paying attention. My older 7-1/2 Umarex Colt Peacemaker has delivered best 5-shot groups of 0.5 inches at 10 meters. Maybe I had a bad day at the range. So to be sure I went back today and shot another series of 21 foot targets with the Airgun Builder nickel and gold 7-1/2 inch model. My best 5-shot group still measured 0.625 inches from 21 feet. I could go back and shoot my original 7-1/2 inch model from 2016 but that would have no bearing on the 2020 guns, so at this point, I am willing to say that 0.625 inches is the best that I can do offhand with the Peacemaker at this point in time with this ammo (H&N Sport alloy wadcutters).

The Tales of Wells Fargo

I may seen to be belaboring this point considering these are the number four and five guns for total points, but this is going somewhere. Another test with the Wells Fargo put six shots in the 10 and bullseye at 1.25 inches with four overlapping at 0.625 inches. This pretty much evens out the Schofield and Peacemaker with the advantage going to the Wells Fargo for matching the 7-1/2 inch rifled barrel Peacemaker with a 5-inch smoothbore barrel! It is also an easier pistol to aim. This is why the two guns tied in the first place, but this time I am giving the nod to the Schofield and adding back the point I deducted for it being a variation of the 7-inch model. The 5-inch gun is impressive. But now I have a four way tie on my hands, but one of the guns is a revolver with old time Western sights dead up against the latest semi-auto air pistol technology! (That’s kind of a victory in itself for me and quite an endorsement for the Wells Fargo).

With very little aiming correction for a fixed sight, Old West pistol, the Barra Schofield Wells Fargo was up to challenging all of the other pistols for accuracy at 21 feet.
Only one CO2 air pistol for 2020 was a completely new gun based on the centerfire models which are themselves unique in the world of modern firearms. The Rhino shoots well but suffers from a very heavy trigger pull that makes consistent accuracy harder. It is certainly the most unusual gun of the year if not the best.

Total scores

The sole remaining revolver of the three has a best shot group that measures 0.56 inches. The best semi-auto from the remaining three, of which only one is a pellet pistol, the M17 ASP, has a best five shot group that measures 0.5 inches. That’s a mere 60/1000ths of an inch difference, 0.06 inches between an old style wheelgun with a notch rear and crescent blade front sight, versus a high tech pellet firing semi-auto with optics! 

A past Replica Air Pistol of the Year winner, the Sig Sauer M17 ASP gets a new look and significantly improved accuracy with the addition of a dedicated, slide-mounted, low profile reflex sight. For a blowback action pellet pistol the updated Sig is the gun to beat. That’s 10 rounds through the bullseye and 10 ring. The add on $49.99 Sig Air optic fits existing M17 ASP pistols, so if you have the gun, the upgrade is the best deal of the year.

The Barra 009 also has a best five shot group from 21 feet of 0.5 inches but it bears the burden of having to aim with a significant holdover, sort of a Hail Mary POA. But it’s a blowback action BB pistol up against a rifled barrel pellet pistol at the same distance. Again, it is an impressive gun.

The gun that surprises and disappoints at the same time, the very intriguing Barra 009 delivers a CO2 powered BB pistol based on the select-fire Glock 18 machine pistol. The gun is accurate (as you can see) but has a mind boggling sighting problem. This fine 10-shot group with five rounds at 0.5 inches was achieved by aiming just under the words Birchwood Casey at the top of the target. Once you master this gun’s hold over issues, you can print tight groups all day long on semi-auto and get some pretty decent results shooting on full auto, albeit for about two seconds! An extended capacity magazine is due early in 2021.

Next we have the Shadow 2 with its adjustable sights and a best group of 0.53 inches, splitting the difference between the M17 ASP, Barra 009 and the Wells Fargo revolver. Bottom line, they are all good shooters capable of sub 1-inch accuracy at 21 feet. We expect this from the M17 ASP with optics, and you would expect this from the Shadow 2 as a target level blowback action BB gun.

A blowback action BB pistol with adjustable sights is what so many readers have wanted and ASG came through this year with the CZ 75 SP-01 Shadow based Shadow 2. Copied form the current 9mm target models, this is one big step forward for authentic looking semi-auto BB pistols.

The Barra 009 Glock 18-syle blowback action and Wells Fargo revolver are the real surprises here. So it all boils down to which of these guns, the Wells Fargo revolver shooting pellet cartridges, the M17 ASP with added optics shooting pellets, and two blowback action BB pistols, the Shadow 2 and 009, is the best gun for what it is delivering, total points notwithstanding.

The obvious winner should be the Sig Sauer M17 ASP with the Sig Air reflex sight, but remember it only beats the Schofield revolver by 0.06 inches and is matched for accuracy by the fixed sight 009 BB pistol. The real difference is that we know the Sig is still going to do well at 10 meters, while the rest are going to fall by the wayside, but this is a 21 foot test to keep things even.

The Shadow 2 lost points for a hard to load magazine and mediocre average velocity, and there is no way to make that better; the Shadow 2 is the first one of the final four to get kicked out.

We are down to a dual ammo revolver that shoots BB or pellet cartridges, has an impressive average velocity of 482 fps with 5.25 gr. alloy wadcutter pellets (which beats the pellet firing M17 ASP semi-auto’s average of 401 fps with the same pellets), and butts heads with the remaining blowback action BB pistol, the 009. It’s starting to look like Gary Cooper in High Noon.

If the Schofield Wells Fargo didn’t shoot pellet cartridges it would be the next gun to go, but it does, and does so quite well for a smoothbore pistol. The Barra 009 (Glock 18 design) is absolutely the most fun to shoot for the sake of shooting with its select-fire capability, authentic design, full field stripping capability and easy to load CO2 BB magazines, but for all its good features, shooting this gun accurately is a lot of work. Much more work than the Barra Schofield Wells Fargo, which is just good old fashioned fun to shoot. So, if you’re going to get bumped off the list might as well be by one of your own. (I will get another 009 in January and see if the aiming problem is endemic to the design or this test gun, but for now, “Goodbye 009.”

Old gun vs. new gun

This is about as disparate as it can get when choosing between two air pistols for this year’s top honor. I’m going to throw this out and see what you all think; dollar value. The nickel Schofield Wells Fargo will be available in about a month and will sell for the same as the current nickel 7-inch Schofield model, that’s a reasonable $119.99. The Sig Sauer M17 ASP also sells for $119.99 but you’ll need to spend another $49.99 to get the Sig Air low profile reflex sight that makes the M17 an accurate shooter (on its own, it is adequate but nowhere capable of what it can do with the red dot sight). The ASP CO2 pellet mags hold 20 rounds but the gun goes through air pretty quickly running that big slide back with every shot. The Well Fargo will shoot a lot of rounds before you have to load another CO2, and being a topbreak revolver, reloading the pellet shells is easy. You don’t even have to remove the cartridges if you don’t want to. Bottom line, there is absolutely nothing about this new model not to like, and after awhile you don’t even think about the manual safety, you just load, draw and fire. Reload and repeat.

“Cover your ears, darling…”

Well, I suppose I’m deranged, but I…I guess I’ll just have to call the Barra Schofield Wells Fargo 2020’s Replica Air Pistol of the Year.

One thought on “Replica Air Pistol of the Year Part 7

  1. Hands down the Wells Fargo gets its ‘ prize. Will interesting to see what velocity and accuracy the rifled barrel version will reveal. I see a head to head match up. The smoothbore may keep the velocity lead, but at 10 yards and beyond the rifled barrel version should shoot tighter. Either way a nickel pair will be in my holsters. Long time coming and worth the weight. Happy Holidays to all, and a brighter 2021.


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