A history of arms at your fingertips
By Dennis Adler
Groundbreaking decisions are hard to make, especially when the subject being discussed has been debated for more than a century and no definitive conclusion has been reached. If revolvers were as antiquated as they should be, given that the fundamental design has barely changed in over 180 years, with the exception of advancing from loose powder cap and ball and percussion cap ignition to self-contained metallic cartridges and double action triggers (which are themselves more than 160 years old), then they would have long been discontinued by armsmakers. But no, revolvers have evolved and some have even reached a form of equivalence to modern semiautomatics by utilizing polymer frames and separate fire control housings. Revolvers have as much of a role in self defense, hunting, sport and competition shooting today as they did in the 19th century. The debate continues.
Modern airgun manufacturers have played a significant role, more so of late, in perpetuating the balance between revolvers and semi-autos by recreating many of the best examples from both the past and present. Airgun enthusiasts now make the same choices lawmen, military ordnance boards and civilians have been making since the turn of the last century, “Do we carry a revolver or a semi-auto pistol?” Today, semiautomatic pistols certainly command the lion’s share of the world’s military sidearms, and more specifically 9x19mm (9mm) semiautomatic pistols, seconded by .45 ACP and .40 S&W chamberings. Most of those same designs from long-established manufacturers like Colt, Sig Sauer, Smith & Wesson, Heckler & Koch, Beretta, Walther, Steyr, and CZ, among others, are duplicated in CO2 variations, including those with blowback actions and self-contained CO2 BB magazines, as well as pellet-firing versions with independent CO2 and pellet-loading clips. Presently the greater minority in airguns is among authentically styled and operating revolvers, which in order to have a real presence in the market must span almost the entire history of revolvers, not just the late 20th and early 21st centuries like semi-autos. What few there are, however, rate as stellar examples that use some form of BB or pellet-loading brass cartridge, and operate identically to their centerfire counterparts. And this is where revolvers, in my opinion, surpass almost every semi-auto air pistol for authenticity, and in many cases, even accuracy.
Many of you have voiced opinions about guns you would like to see recreated as CO2 models, especially certain Colt and S&W revolvers. Some of these seem to be essential additions from an historical perspective but might be difficult, if not impossible to build because of their grip design, which would not be spacious enough for a 12 gram CO2 cartridge and the requisite operating mechanisms. Interestingly, one of the most asked for guns is a Colt Diamondback which is essentially a slightly scaled down Python. It has a grip size that would absolutely work (as shown by the photo of an actual Diamondback .38 snub nose model). In Europe, Umarex offers a 4-inch Python, which is hopefully on the waiting list to be imported (remember consumer demand drives the market!) A Colt licensed Diamondback would not be much of a stretch.
But for the moment consider one of the available alternatives, the Dan Wesson Model 715 snub nose model with a rifled barrel and pellet-firing brass cartridges. If you don’t already have this revolver in your airgun collection, you are missing a real gem. It is hands down the best of the trio of correctly styled Dan Wesson models from ASG. I would dare to call it the revolver version of the Umarex S&W M&P 40 for accuracy of design and overall realistic handling.
For historic double action revolver fans Gletcher has a corner on the market with the 7-shot, pellet cartridge-loading, rifled barrel, Nagant revolver. Another must have for wheelgun fans.
Umarex Colt Peacemakers have already proven their mettle in test after test and with the latest addition of a nickel and gold 7-1/2 inch pellet model, the choices and price ranges are almost across the board. The Bear River Schofield is just as good a gun as the smoothbore Colt BB models (but a hair more accurate with its pellet-loading cartridges).
Clearly revolvers have a decisive edge over semi-autos for pellet-firing cartridge models that operate and handle almost exactly like the original guns. And I don’t think the debate over revolvers vs. semi-autos will ever be resolved since new cartridge revolvers keep coming out each year and bumping heads with semi-autos; and many of them are being built by the best known manufacturers of semiautomatic pistols!
When I want to grab an authentic CO2 powered air pistol to practice with, it is probably going to be a pellet cartridge firing revolver. Not because they are necessarily better but rather because they are timeless. If there is one thing I have learned after all these years writing about handguns, it’s that history never gets old, and neither do revolvers.