Tokarev TT-33, Makarov PM1951 and Grach MR-443
By Dennis Adler
Why would you build a non-blowback action CO2 semi-auto with a slide that locks back and has a fully functioning slide release lever? It even locks open on an empty magazine if you pull it back, and functions to chamber the first round when loading. So we are left to figure out why one key feature from the otherwise superb CO2 model is left off. The short answer is economics. Blowback action is an “effect” which is only a small contribution to the shooting experience if you are not using the airgun for training purposes, yet the Gletcher Grach has a double action/single action trigger even when there is no slide action to re-cock the hammer. (Chambering the first round with the slide cocks the hammer). Doing away with blowback action has two principal explanations, well three if you consider lower cost of manufacturing, but then why do everything else? The two logical reasons both date back to the turn of the last century and the introduction of the Umarex Walther CP88 and Beretta 92FS 8-shot rotary pellet-firing magazine semi-autos in 1996 and 2000, which also have double action/single action triggers and functioning hammers. They were designed to provide optimum velocity and to be fired double action or single action, the latter for greater accuracy by manually cocking the hammer for each shot. This is the same idea behind the Gletcher Grach, plus the added features of a moving and locking slide and functioning slide release. The question then, is how much of an improvement will this gun see in velocity with .177 caliber steel BBs for the tradeoff? It makes sense for a target quality pellet-firing model like the Umarex Beretta 92FS and Walther CP88 but does it make sense for a BB firing model?
On the surface it seems reasonable to assume that a 12 gram CO2 powered air pistol that devotes 100 percent of the air to propel the BB downrange is going to have a higher average velocity then a pistol that also draws off a portion of the air to artificially drive the slide back in order to simulate a short-recoil, locked-breech, or blowback action cartridge gun. On rimfire and centerfire models, the slide is driven back by the gasses produced when the gun is discharged. This pushes the slide against the recoil spring which begins to compress as the slide is driven back on the frame rails. As it moves back the slide’s extractor ejects the spent shell case, the back of the slide re-cocks the hammer, and then, with the recoil spring fully compressed, the slide is driven forward again to strip a fresh round from the magazine and chamber it as the slide returns to its forward and locked position. In a blowback action CO2 model enough of the CO2 from each shot must be used to recreate this same sequence of events, with the exception of ejecting a spent shell case (until such time as a functioning BB or pellet loading shell can be devised that works in a magazine. My money is on a lever action rifle to be the first to successfully achieve that.) So, where does the Grach fall in velocity with its compromised non-blowback action design?
The average blowback action CO2 model has a velocity with .177 caliber steel BBs of 300 to 320 fps. There are some exceptions like the new Sig Sauer P226 X-Five Silver which averages around 340 fps. Taking away the blowback action from the Grach we should expect the gun to chronograph well over 340 fps. The Grach clocked a high of 351 fps with Umarex steel BBs, and an average of 344 fps with a standard deviation of 6 fps for six consecutive shots. As the CO2 began to drop the average remained a more consistent 330 fps. If there is supposed to be any great advantage to velocity by eliminating the blowback action, it is not overly evident in the Grach other than it does better than the 300 fps average for most blowback action models.
Russian guns are built like tanks
The 9x19mm Grach is a hefty pistol with stiff controls (safety levers, slide release, etc.) but ruggedly constructed. Of course the Gletcher Grach is not built in Russia and runs a little smoother, but not much. The ambidextrous thumb safeties require effort to set and release; no accidentally bumping it on or off! The drop free magazine release requires a similarly robust effort, but works well. The gun fills the hand and with its weight of almost 36 ounces loaded, is heavy enough to be solidly held on target with a two handed hold for accuracy. Now comes the trigger pull. Yes, it is equally heavy, a weighty two-stage trigger with a first stage that also cocks the hammer as it comes back needing a trigger press of 5 pounds, 8 ounces average and a total pull of 7 pounds, 6.0 ounces to fire. Single action averages 5 pounds, 4.5 ounces with 0.875 inches of take up and a crisp break. Take up is identical when fired double action. Resistance for the first 0.25 inches is free until the hammer begins to cock and then trigger tension stacks up fast ramping up to over 5 pounds as the hammer comes back (and you can see this happen in your line of vision looking through the sights). A full release of the trigger is necessary to reset in either double or single action. It is a heavy trigger, but it is consistent and easy to learn to manage, and thus keep the gun on target shot-to-shot. The white dot sights are also easy to keep on target. There are a lot of plusses for a gun that starts out with a pretty big deficit.
The Gletcher Grach has an excellent magazine design with a sliding base pad that allows access to a hidden hex head seating screw and then slides back to completely conceal it, so the magazine looks like a real centerfire mag. The BBs are also easy to load by pulling the follower all the way down and locking it, and then pouring BBs right into the firing port. It is slick and easy to use, no separate loading port, no problem holding back the follower. It is one of the better CO2 BB magazine designs I have tested for ease and speed of loading, especially with an Umarex speed loader.
I started with my sighting target (which you never see but is a crosshatch pattern with 1-inch squares and a red dot center) to determine where the fixed sights on this gun are hitting. I use it more often for guns with adjustable sights, but was curious how the Grach would do out of the box. I was impressed with the Grach to find it hit within 1-inch of POA with tight groups slightly to the right and above the bullseye fired double action. I switched to a Shoot-N-C target and with a fresh CO2 and 18 rounds dropped the entire group inside the 10 and X rings with a best 10-shots measuring 1.187 inches and a best 5-shot group at 0.56 inches, all tightly clustered over the top of the bullseye with three overlapping. Total spread for all 18 shots measured 1.75 inches. I went and shot a second target firing 12 shots single action. I found myself pulling right but the Grach still kept close groups with a dozen rounds measuring 1.75 inches and a best 5-shot cluster at 0.625 inches. Looks like we have another DA/SA CO2 pistol that shoots better double action than single action! But however the Grach shoots, it shoots well.
The Gletcher Grach NBB checks a lot of boxes for what you want in a military-style CO2 pistol, but misses the one big box for blowback action. It has everything else going for it, decent velocity, very good accuracy, good construction, an adequate double action/single action trigger, good white dot sights, self contained CO2 BB magazines, and solid construction. It is also reasonably priced. I’d gladly pay more for it to have blowback action but for the price, what the Grach delivers certainly does not disappoint.