Semi-auto pellet pistol evolution Part 2

Semi-auto pellet pistol evolution Part 2

From perfection to perfection

By Dennis Adler

Top guns in their own right and in their own time, the Umarex Beretta 92FS has been manufactured for just shy of 20 years, the Sig Sauer by comparison has been around about 20 minutes. It has the advantage of the very latest air pistol technology while the Umarex Beretta is where multi-shot, semi-auto pellet pistol design began.

Almost two decades separate the technology between the Umarex Beretta 92FS pellet model and the Sig Sauer P320 M17 ASP. For air pistols it is a big difference, for the actual guns, the Sig replaced the Beretta as the primary U.S. military sidearm, but the M17 only succeeded the Beretta M9 (military designation for the 92FS) because it provided specific features that the Beretta could not, regardless of how the gun was updated as the M9A3. The improved military model failed to give Beretta the competitive edge it needed to retain the government contract it had enjoyed since 1985. In a way, this is like the advanced technology between the two pellet-firing CO2 models. It is also fair to say, that both the Beretta 92 series (and latest M9A3 pistols) and the Umarex 92FS CO2 model remain in production, so the advances in technology over two decades have not made either of them undesirable. They’re just not state-of-the-art handguns.

The Sig is a much taller gun with its extended capacity magazine, which for the CO2 model is a must to contain the tall, self-contained CO2 pellet magazine. The Sig measures 6.25 inches from the base of the magazine to the top of the white dot combat sights. The Beretta measures 5.5 inches from the base of the grip to the top of the windage-adjustable rear sights. And obviously the Beretta is a wider gun with its excellent checkered hardwood grips. Both pistols have ambidextrous thumb safeties.

Being an old design does not make a gun unpopular with consumers, the Colt Model 1911 certainly proves that, and the Beretta 92 series still holds favor with other military and law enforcement agencies. The M17 has won out for its lighter weight, more durable construction using a polymer frame, and capability to be quickly modified as needed by moving the fire control housing (trigger and firing mechanism) from one P320/M17 frame, barrel, slide, and magazine combination to another in a matter of minutes. From a military standpoint this makes the guns much faster to repair in the field, suitable for multiple end users with different frame grip sizes, and as a pistol system easily adapted to various configurations for mission specific use. The Beretta can do none of these things, just as the Umarex Beretta 92FS can only use an 8-shot rotary magazine while the M17 ASP can use a 20-shot self-contained CO2 pellet magazine. For the military, the M17 is a better gun but for shooting pellets at 10 meters, does the technological advantage of the M17 ASP make it a more accurate or easier to shoot air pistol then the long established best-in-class 92FS?

In overall length the Sig, with it’s squared off slide, short beavertail and internal firing system, measures 8.0 inches, and the Beretta with its elegant open slide design, extended beavertail and hammer-fired action measures just a fraction more at 8.25 inches. As a blowback action, the Sig Sauer CO2 model breaks ground with an actual slide and barrel lug interface.

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If you have neither of these air pistols then this is going to be an important part of the test. If you have the 92FS, then how well the M17 handles in comparison could be a big part of your decision to add one to your airgun collection. Granted, it is a far lesser investment than the Umarex Beretta (you could buy two M17s and have twenty bucks in change for the difference in price), but for serious target shooters can this masterpiece of modern design and engineering outshoot an old established air pistol that was built for target shooting?

Where technology weighs in the greatest is in loading CO2 and pellets. The Sig is the latest design with its two-part self-contained CO2 pellet magazine, while the Beretta is very old tech with a removable grip panel to insert the CO2 in the grip frame and a cast alloy 8-shot rotary magazine. The M17 is closer to an actual semi-auto in its operation, while the Beretta is a very well disguised 8-shot revolver.

The Beretta weighs 2.75 pounds, has a larger and wider grip than the M17 ASP, and delivers almost zero feedback (recoil or movement in the hand). The Sig Sauer tips the scales (empty) at 2.15 pounds, fits the average hand a little better with a grip width of 1.25 inches and a grip frame depth of 2.0 inches, which makes the distance from the backstrap to the trigger 3.25 inches. And this is a fixed distance since the gun is a DAO.

Weight is where these two guns also differ and when you are shooting for accuracy weight can either work in your favor or against it. The Sig tips the scale at 2.15 pounds, the all metal Beretta adds an extra 0.6 pounds to the heft coming in 2.75 pounds. For what its worth, a bright nickel finish, checkered hardwood grips with a gold Beretta medallion, and the deeply grooved frontstrap and backstrap add a lot in the looks department compared to the molded polymer M17 grip frame. These are two very different designs from two different eras in gun manufacturing, yet the similarities are there in features like front and rear slide serrations and ambidextrous thumb safeties.

The Beretta has a wider grip width of 1.375 inches but the same 3.25 inch grip frame depth due to a deeply contoured beavertail. This reduces distance to the trigger to 3.125 inches when fired double action. But, if you are shooting slowly and want a more accurate shot, you can manually cock the hammer, decreasing both the distance to the trigger and trigger pull. The distance shortens up to 2.5 inches and the trigger pull drops from an average of 8 pounds, 14 ounces, with heavy stacking, to 5 pounds, 8.5 ounces with light stacking and a clean break. It is a heavy trigger but there is no slop in it. The Beretta has a long trigger take up of 1.0 inches, but fired single action it drops to 0.25 inches.

Styles change but some things remain timeless with the 92FS nearing its 20-year anniversary. Both guns have rifled steel barrels, the Sig at 4.6 inches, the Beretta at 5.0 inches.

The M17 has a constant DAO trigger pull of 7.0 pounds average with 0.875 inches of take up, light stacking throughout and a crisp break. The gun is also designed to impart moderate felt recoil (by CO2 pistol standards) as the slide slams back. In comparison to other blowback action CO2 pistols it has more felt recoil and muzzle rise than most. So you have some felt recoil in one pistol and none in the other. For realism, the M17 gets the nod, but what about accuracy shooting pistol targets at 10 meters?

In Saturday’s conclusion we’ll find out if tried and true wins over new technology.

2 thoughts on “Semi-auto pellet pistol evolution Part 2”

  1. When I saw the Glock 17 Gen 3 accessory magazines were available, I also looked for the accessory magazines for the M17. Unfortunately, those magazines are still not available. Do you happen to know when they will be available?

    • Not any certain date, but by this summer I expect, maybe sooner. I have already seen the extra magazines and the packaging, so release can’t be too far off. Given the performance of the M17 and reloading time for the pellet clip, I feel that two extra magazines are a must for sustained shooting on the target range (your backyard or basement).

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