Replica Air Pistol of the Year Part 7
What it takes to become 2018’s Top Gun
By Dennis Adler
We find ourselves with three CO2 models tied for the title of Replica Air Pistol of the Year and it is as diverse and well defined a representation of three distinctly different types of blowback action semi-auto pistols as possible, spanning more than a century of firearms design. First, a very traditional SAO (single action only) Colt-style Model 1911, with a few modern improvements such as white dot combat sights, ambidextrous thumb safeties, and a custom finish. But the Sig Sauer WE THE PEOPLE is also the most authentic 1911 CO2 model made, an exact copy of Sig Sauer’s .45 ACP WE THE PEOPLE 1911. It is our standard bearer for design integrity.
Almost as far as possible from a traditional semiautomatic pistol design, like a 1911, is the second model tied for Top Gun, the Umarex Heckler & Koch USP, a blowback action CO2 model just as authentic to its centerfire counterpart as the Sig, only the USP is a modern DA/SA (double action/single action) hammer-fired pistol with a polymer frame, a safety/decocker, ambidextrous magazine release, and white dot sights.
Both the Sig and HK are smoothbore air pistols with self-contained CO2 BB magazines and state of the art construction, fit and finish, and both can be completely field stripped corresponding to their centerfire counterparts. The Sig and HK represent two of the very best blowback action air pistols, not only of this year, but any year. Choosing between them is about as difficult as it gets.
Into this very interesting tie between early 20th (1911) and late 20th (1989) century handgun design comes a 21st century pistol that is completely different from its two competitors; a DAO (double action only) striker fired (on the centerfire model and internal hammer fired on the CO2 model), blowback action pistol with ambidextrous thumb safeties, a polymer frame, extended capacity magazine, and white dot sights. The only thing it has directly in common with both the HK USP and Sig 1911 is white dot sights! The greatest difference, however, is that the Sig Sauer P320 M17 is a rifled barrel pellet pistol with a self-contained CO2 pellet magazine.
Finding common ground
Putting aside the M17’s pellet-firing advantage, how do you choose between SAO, DA/SA and DAO pistols? These are three different types of guns, a modern day equivalent of the choices late 19th century shooters had to make between a Single Action or Double Action revolver, or semiautomatic pistol. Each presented its own advantages and disadvantages. Considering that SAO, DA/SA, and DAO pistols are all still manufactured today, no one has actually ever had to make the choice beyond a personal or military/law enforcement mandate, and even then there are exceptions and variations to accommodate specific needs. For example, the centerfire HK USP is made as a DA/SA with and without the decocker, and as a DAO pistol to meet the demands of specific end users whether law enforcement, military or civilian. The M17 is based on the Sig Sauer P320 which does not have ambidextrous thumb safeties (or a thumb safety at all) and 1911’s have been built in a variety of configurations including DA/SA versions. At least here, with these three CO2 models, there is only one version of each, and each pistol is a different design from the other. There is no common ground here, other than being the latest CO2 pistols, and each inspired by the design of an actual centerfire model that has become popular or significant enough to warrant a reproduction air pistol.
Breaking down the advantages and disadvantages
This is where personal preferences can sway choices in handguns whether for law enforcement, the military or personal use. We have a generation in this country that grew up in an era when the most popular handgun was the Colt Model 1911, the sidearm of the U.S. military. There was the 1911 and then there was everything else. Everything else mostly referred to Colt and S&W revolvers and a handful of popular foreign guns like the F.N. Browning Hi-Power and Walther PPK. To put that in context, when choosing an automobile most Americans drove a Ford, General Motors, Chrysler or American Motors product, and there were three national television networks to watch, CBS, NBC and ABC. Life was simple. Thus we have the Sig Sauer WE THE PEOPLE 1911 as the historic gun of choice based on the American Colt 1911; a simple, SAO semi-auto pistol that everyone is familiar with.
If the 1911 is the simple solution, it is to semi-autos what the Colt Peacemaker is to revolvers. From there forward the DA/SA design begins to muddy the waters. As a CO2 pistol that embodies the features most old gun hands are comfortable with, i.e. a hammer and a safety, the HK USP, a pistol that can be cocked, de-cocked, fired single action or double action for the first shot, and has within its design the advantage of a lighter weight and remarkably durable polymer frame, simple, straightforward operation, and large, easy to see sights, the Heckler & Koch in its CO2 form is the next best gun for the average firearms enthusiast. A fine representation of late 20th century semi-auto pistol technology, even if we had to wait until 2018 for it to arrive as a blowback action air pistol!
But then here we are living in the 21st century and firearms technology has moved forward in remarkable strides, and within the blowback action CO2 airgun world, almost every significant stride has been taken since 2014. And what has that technology given us in just four years time? The best handgun gun designs in history all recreated as CO2 models, BB/pellet cartridge loading revolvers and blowback action semi-autos with self-contained CO2 BB magazines, in just four years!
The Sig Sauer P320 M17 ASP is the culmination of that technological surge, the first blowback action, semi-auto pistol with a self-contained CO2 pellet magazine, the perfect 21st century training gun for what will be, for the foreseeable future, the 1911 of its time; the gun carried by the U.S. military.
All three of these airguns are winners for their design, quality of fit and finish, and authenticity to the centerfire pistols that inspired them, but the 1-point margin I have to offer can only go to one gun, and here I must choose to acknowledge technology of design over everything else and name the Sig Sauer P320 M17 the 2018 Replica Air Pistol of the Year.
Merry Christmas to one and all!