Revolvers vs. Semi-Autos Part 3

Revolvers vs. Semi-Autos Part 3 Part 2 Part 1

A history of arms at your fingertips

By Dennis Adler

History at your fingertips; CO2 powered semi-auto and revolver designs span more than a century of gun making with historic examples such as the Webley MK VI, American classics like the Colt Python, and semi-autos like the Colt 1911 and its U.S. military successor the Beretta M9 (92 FS, 92A1). These and other great CO2 models are all a part of the ongoing debate of revolvers vs. semi-autos in which you can have a voice. Write a comment and vote your preference.

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.

Revolvers have barely changed in over 180 years, with the exception of advancing from loose powder cap and ball and percussion cap ignition, like the rare 12-inch Colt Paterson at top, to self-contained metallic cartridge models like the Colt Peacemaker. The next big step was double action/single action models. Since then, it has been variations on a theme and more modern designs, but still the same idea Samuel Colt invented in 1835.

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.

Double Action, single action revolvers are a favorite among airgun enthusiasts but still too few in number to equal the variety of semi-autos on the market. Classic Colt “Snake Guns” like the Diamondback are on the airgun want list and the .38 Special Colt revolver could someday make the cut since it is a smaller version of the Python. The model shown is a 2-inch Diamondback with the smaller grip frame and grips. The 4-inch and 6-inch models used larger grips similar to the Python and would leave adequate room for the CO2 channel.

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.

And speaking of the CO2 Pythons, in Europe there is a 4-inch model like the example pictured which is yet to be imported and sold in the U.S. Another one to add to your revolver want list.

There is a more than adequate substitute for the Colt models, the ASG Dan Wesson Model 715 with a 2-1/2 inch barrel. This is currently the most authentic snub nose CO2 revolver made and uses pellet loading cartridges.

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.

As close to real as it gets in CO2, drop in your six rounds and you are ready to step up to the firing line. The CO2 loads easily through the base of the authentic combat-style hard rubber grips.

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.

Among the best historic revolvers is the Gletcher Nagant, a 7-shot Belgian-designed wheelgun that served the Russian military for decades. The airgun loads the CO2 in the grip frame (so smaller grips can work!) and feeds its seven rounds of pellet-loading brass cartridges through a hinged loading gate. The airgun is easy to handle, very accurate and well worth adding to the debate and virtues of revolvers vs. semi-autos.

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).

Yet another reminder of how old revolvers are, the latest models from Umarex and Bear River recreate the Colt Peacemaker and Schofield six-shooters carried by the U.S. Cavalry, frontier lawmen, outlaws, and a lot of everyday folks back in the latter part of the 19th century. These two CO2 models rank among the best and most accurate pellet and BB firing revolvers on the market. Both are available in the hand engraved versions pictured, plain nickel, and the 7-1/2 inch Peacemaker is now offered in a new nickel version with gold tone cylinder, hammer and trigger.

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.

5 thoughts on “Revolvers vs. Semi-Autos Part 3

  1. Great treatment and review of an eternal debate. I believe this time around the revolver wins. The pellet incarnations of the firearms are either very close in appearance and function ,or like the Webley , Dan Wesson , Nagant, Peacemaker and Schofield, dead on. They load and function as gas propelled versions of firearms. They also in many cases are more to much more powerful than the semiautos. Few blowback semiautos reach the power and velocity of the Schofield ,Webley and Peacemaker . The Schofield and Webley using the pellet cartridges crack 500 fps with 5-5.5 gr pellets and are still in the mid 40o fps range using 7 gr slugs. In terms of replica airguns the revolvers have the potential to really move forward. I must say I now regret even more passing on a 2.5 inch barrel Diamondback years ago. That revolver as well as the mid frame S&Ws, N frame Large revolvers like the 28, 29 and 1917 should be in the planning stage. A revised pellet version of the Colt Python more like the sturdy Dan Wesson , with a rifled barrel pellet model . in 2.5 ,4 and 6 inch versions could not lose. Not many remember them but in the late 70s Colt restyled the Police Positive D frame 38 in steel and brought out the alloy version Viper . They were essentially 4 inch barreled versions of the Detective Special and Cobra using wood , longer grips . That profile like the Diamondback, lends itself to a 12 gm co2 revolver. Hopefully the Webley pellet revolver will appear in the USA . This is one of my favorite replica revolvers. Revolvers aren’t dead yet ,and looking at da and sa revolvers available today, there is still demand for self defense and outdoors use. That’ s my story and I’m sticking to it.


  2. I still feel more in control shooting a revolver than a semiauto. High capacity semiautos are all the rage today, but for most they are not superior for much but throwing a lot of rounds downrange. I have won several bets stating I could put more rounds on target accurately wit ha da revolver or a sa Peacemaker than someone with a semiauto. They might get off more shots , but they miss more. If I found myself in the middle of nowhere against marauding hoards I might pick a 1911 , if I was limited to a handgun with as many spare mags as I could carry. I wouldn’t feel unarmed if I had a 4 inch da Colt or S&W revolver with a few speed loaders and spare cartridges. I carried a Walther PPk 380 as a ccw pistol for years , just because it was flat , easily concealable and reasonably powerful. Still carry it , or a Colt Mustang 380, occasionally but have grown to prefer a hammer shrouded late model Colt Agent or Detective Special. There is no comparison to the power of a standard or plus p lhp 38. I do not see the advantaged of any other ccw handgun. With the return of the 2 inch Colt da revolver , I think more people will realize that there is no better combination of size and power for most self protection scenarios. Police and military are other markets and there the semiauto rules. Times change, but newer may not be better. If someone was charging me with a machete . I would still take a 45 Colt or hot loaded plus p 38 over a 9mm. In that scenario you better hit your target with the first 1or two of six rounds than the 15th of 16 rounds.



  3. Just dropped the hammer on the nickel Gletcher. Was debating that one , and probably need another revolver as much as another herniateddisc in my neck , but looks like a nice shooter. Will probably wind up with a replica holster as well . Hopefully the 4 inch Python will get a visa to the USA. Looking at the Diamondback, it looks naked without a TylerT grip .


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