Stick it to me Part 2 Part 3
Stick magazines vs. CO2 BB magazines in Blowback Action Pistols
By Dennis Adler
Consider that the P.38 blowback action CO2 model has been around since 2012 and the Walther PPS since 2014, and neither has suffered in sales or popularity because they have stick magazines; maybe there is a reason why Umarex hasn’t made a change. I can’t speak for Umarex or the company’s marketing strategy, but they did update the PPK/S with an internal seating screw and clean up that gun’s exterior lines last year. I guess that’s something, but the PPK/S has never been a performance gun, its only claim to fame is its name and having been the very first blowback action CO2 air pistol 18 years ago. The newer Walther PPS, however, was in many ways a game changer in 2014. I saw it before its U.S. introduction when I visited the Umarex factory in Germany and tested a pre-production prototype (along with many other CO2 models and new Walther centerfire pistols that have since come to market). I knew then, despite its stick magazine that it was going to be a success on every other level, just like the P.38 that had preceded it two years earlier.
Stuck on a stick
I’m going to approach this from a fairly rudimentary viewpoint, not to make it easier to read but rather make it easier for me to explain. I have been writing about airguns for practical, affordable handgun training since I began the Airgun Experience in May of 2016, but I have been writing about airguns for much longer, going on 20 years now, and over that time I have seen so many advances in designs and features that I find it hard to complain about too many things with the current and vast variety of action air pistols and action air rifles available. But I do get stuck on stick magazines more often than any other thing, except possibly molded-in features, which I still cannot find any real justification for, other than as a pure cost-cutting measure for production. However, the recent introduction of the Hatsan H-1911 pellet-model so totally blows that rationale into the weeds that I can’t begin to explain how Hatsan can have accurate, individually cast pieces (slide release lever, thumb safety, slide ejection port and barrel interface), on a non-blowback action pistol no less, that sells for well under $100, while a more costly blowback action pistol (not picking on anyone in particular but you know who they are) uses molded in ejection ports in the slides and molded-in non-functioning safeties (on some models), while retailing for over $100. The disconnect in features is not proportionate to the retail prices.
For the majority of blowback action CO2 BB models this is a moot point; everything works, but when you get into pellet-firing blowback action pistols the logic seems to evaporate. Stick magazines, on the other hand, however inaccurate for training, only limit one aspect, reloading practice, and then only in respect to handling a full-sized CO2 BB magazine compared to a stick with a full-sized base pad. The trade off is otherwise not a big issue. In point of fact, blowback action CO2 models with the CO2 loaded in the grip frame and a separate stick magazine get more shots on average than those with self-contained CO2 BB magazines and also generally have higher velocities. For a blowback action BB pistol, the Umarex Walther P.38 delivers an impressive factory rated maximum velocity of 400 fps. That is an average of 50 to 100 fps better than the majority of blowback action pistols with self-contained magazines. Would I like to see the P.38 upgraded to a self-contained magazine? Yes, but not at the expense of its velocity. Rather, I’d like to see Umarex expand the model variations and add a P.38K, optional brown bakelite-style grips and maybe even a special WWII edition with a battlefield finish. I’m not alone in these sentiments, and Umarex is well aware of the shared interest in such variations from its consumers. Replacing the stick magazine takes a back seat to other things that could be done with the P.38 platform.
On the other hand, there is nothing that could be done to make the more modern Walther PPS a better pistol for the money than to make a version with a self-contained CO2 BB magazine. It would immediately have parity with the most authentic blowback action CO2 model on the market, the Umarex S&W M&P40. And that is where I am going to begin my comparison between blowback action models with self-contained CO2 BB magazines and those with stick magazines.
PPS vs. M&P40
This is a win-win for Umarex since they manufacture both guns. But let’s see how these two pistols stack up and see why they are the ideal guns for this evaluation and for training with airguns.
From a law enforcement standpoint, the M&P40 is ideal since both the 9mm and .40 S&W M&P models are carried by a number of city and county law enforcement agencies across the country. As a duty pistol the M&P has a high capacity and the CO2 model offers the same approximate number of shots with .177 caliber BBs. It is the exact size and approximate weight of the centerfire model and fits all of the same duty gear, including the self-contained CO2 BB magazines which makes the M&P perfect for every basic training exercise including tactical reloads. The PPS is also identical in size and approximate weight to its 9mm counterpart but with a higher capacity stick magazine that holds 18 shots. Both air pistols have slides that lock back on an empty magazine and mechanically correct magazine releases. The M&P has the optional ambidextrous thumb safeties (that work), and ambidextrous slide releases. It also has interchangeable backstrap panels (S, M, L) while the PPS uses the one backstrap that comes with it as the access panel to load the CO2 into the grip frame. The PPS is sized to be an ideal backup gun or concealed carry weapon, so it is also good for law enforcement training use.
Either of these two serves the purpose for civilian introductory handgun training; the M&P has a slight advantage for full function skill levels, while the PPS is better suited to CCW training. Both have correct white dot sights and trigger shapes, the M&P almost identical to the two-piece S&W trigger, while the PPS has the correct shape but lacks the centerfire models articulated blade trigger safety. (The airgun uses a manual crossbolt safety built into the trigger, so the mandatory airgun safety requirement is met).
What really separate these first two test examples are their CO2 and magazine designs and performance. The working theory is velocity and total number of shots with the expected advantage going to the PPS with its separate CO2 and stick magazine.
These two CO2 models from Umarex are among the best when it comes to realistic handling, trigger control, sighting, felt recoil, and holstering for carry and drawing practice. How they shake out going head-to-head for velocity and accuracy will be covered in Saturday’s Part 3 conclusion.