Top 5 Wheelguns
Why revolvers endure
By Dennis Adler
Back in my youth (that’s like an episode of Happy Days in writer years) there were two kinds of television shows that boys liked, westerns and detective shows, mostly westerns, but detective shows were a lot like westerns (some actually were) and the heroes almost always carried revolvers. Back in the 1950s and 1960s just about all lawmen; U.S. Marshals, uniformed cops, detectives, both police and private, State Troopers and FBI agents, among others, typically carried S&W or Colt revolvers. It wasn’t until years later that semi-autos began to make a dent in the general law enforcement sidearm category, and even after they did, revolvers remained the preferred backup gun.
So what it is that has made the “wheelgun” so enduring for more than 150 years, popular enough, in fact, that even in the face of the most modern semiautomatic pistols of the 21st century, revolvers, both of original 19th and 20th century designs and more current polymer and alloy frame snub nose configurations, continue to be among the most common pistols in use? I guess you could ask why anyone would purchase a car with a stick shift, when we have so many high-tech automatic transmissions on the market. And the answer is the same to either. There’s just something about the mechanical simplicity and dependability of old, well-engineered designs that you can’t replace with 7-speed automatics and 19 shot semi-autos.
Do airguns imitate real life?
You better believe it, and they do it more so today than ever before because that old devil technology makes it so. Yes you can have the latest CZ Shadow, Model 1911 Rail Gun, Beretta, Walther or Sig Sauer semi-auto in a blowback action BB or pellet firing model, but you can also have anything from a Colt Peacemaker to a vintage Webley or a slick new Dan Wesson, that load pellet-firing cartridges. And that makes revolvers the most realistic CO2 pistols you can own. I don’t care how cool a new semi-auto looks, until someone figures out how to build them to fire pellet-loading cartridges that fit into a correctly sized magazine, and a firing mechanism that can eject the empty shell case when the slide comes back, no semi-auto air pistol will ever touch a cartridge-loading wheelgun for total authenticity!
The Top 5 Wheelguns
Revolvers are the only modern day firearms that have roots going all the way back to the early 1800s and Samuel Colt’s original 1835 patent. Although Sam was long gone before the Colt’s Patent Fire-Arms Mfg. Co. introduced the 1873 Peacemaker, it is a given that the pellet cartridge-firing Peacemaker with 7-1/2 inch barrel is at the head of my Top 5 list. It is also the only single action pistol on the list. The list is comprised solely of pellet cartridge-firing models since all of the Top 5 picks have BB cartridge-firing counterparts (the Colt only with a 5-1/2 inch barrel).
What is it about the Umarex Colt Peacemaker that continually puts this air pistol at the top of every list? Like all of the Colt licensed SAA models, the 7-1/2 version bears the Colt’s patent dates (September 18th 1871, July 2nd 1972, and January 19th 1975) on the left side of the frame and the Rampant Colt emblem at the rear of the frame. The 7-1/2 inch model, however, is only offered as a pellet cartridge firing model (in the U.S.) and has a rifled steel barrel to provide greater accuracy.
The centerfire Colt Peacemaker design has been in production in numerous barrel lengths, calibers, and grip designs longer than any other revolver manufactured in the world, and today it remains the indisputable icon of the American West, in any caliber. The 7-1/2 inch CO2 models are offered in nickel, nickel and gold, weathered finished special editions, and the exclusive Adams & Adams hand engraved model sold by Pyramyd Air. The 7-1/2 inch model is also one of the most accurate pellet cartridge-firing revolvers there is, and even rivals the ASG Dan Wesson 6-inch double action, single action Model 715 for accuracy at 10 meters.
The ASG Dan Wesson models make up the next three guns in the Top 5 list because they are simply the most authentic to the .357 Magnum Dan Wesson Model 715 wheelguns (or any contemporary double action, single action revolvers) that there is. ASG is the hands down champion of pellet cartridge-firing revolvers. Let’s begin with the 6-inch model and work back to what I regard as the best overall DA/SA CO2 pistol you can own, the 2-1/2 inch Model 715.
The 6-inch, 4-inch and 2-1/2-inch ASG Dan Wesson Model 715 revolvers have the correct Dan Wesson configuration with the unique crane-mounted cylinder latch. Regardless of barrel length or finish, the pellet cartridge firing models all have rifled steel barrels for accuracy. The 6-inch has a distinctive, high polished gun metal grey finish and correct Hogue rubber combat style grips for a solid hold. The full length vent rib barrel shroud on the Model 715 (like the actual .357 Magnum version) is engraved with the Dan Wesson signature on the left side and .357 Magnum and the Dan Wesson signature on the right. All three Dan Wesson models are not overdone with graphics, but rather look more like the high end cartridge revolvers they are based upon.
The 4-inch pellet-cartridge model is offered in high polished nickel and has an unusual feature not found on the centerfire Model 715, an accessory rail under the barrel shroud. Again this ASG model has the correct crane-mounted Dan Wesson cylinder latch and Hogue-style rubber combat grips.
The 2-1/2 inch model is the most interesting by virtue of being a snub nose revolver, which comprise the vast majority of centerfire revolvers used as backup and primary concealed carry guns.
During comparative range tests best 12-shot groups from 10 meters (33 feet) were 1.25 inches and 1.74 inches, respectively for the 6-inch and 4-inch models, and 2.98 inches for the snub nose. None of them could be called target pistols, however, ASG has a rail mount optics bridge for the 6-inch model, and the 4-inch DW can be equipped with an accessory rail mounted light laser. But for real world handling, EDC training and experimenting with concealed carry comfort (without springing for a centerfire or rimfire pistol first), the 2-1/2 inch Dan Wesson CO2 model scores the highest overall marks for authentic design, handling, and accuracy (commensurate with barrel length).
Not quite as old as the Peacemaker, the Webley MK Series double action, single action topbreak revolvers have as storied a history in Great Britain and throughout Europe as Colt single actions in America. Webley revolvers date back to the 19th century. They were often seen in America in the post Civil War era, and George Armstrong Custer is known to have owned and carried a 1st model Webley RIC (Royal Irish Constabulary) model revolver. The RIC predates the topbreak Webley models introduced in 1894 and it is believed he was carrying the RIC at Little Big Horn, making the Webley very much a part of American history.
The Webley MK VI came along in 1915 as the culmination of Webley topbreak designs that began with the MK I in 1894. The latest pellet cartridge-firing MK VI CO2 version, introduced last year, has a weathered Battlefield Finish and is by far the best looking of the Webley & Scott CO2 trio. It is also the most accurate of the rifled barrel pellet models, in part, due to how the sights look with their weathered finish. The worn edges actually make them easier to see and hold on target than the dark flat military finish sights on the Service Model or bright nickel finish Exhibition model. The Battlefield Finish is exceptional with wear to the high edges typical of holster wear and handling in the field where the pistol’s barrel flats and muzzle, edges of the cylinder flutes, triggerguard and backstrap would be rubbed enough to dull or wear through the blued finish on a military pistol that has seen heavy use. There is even a wear line below the stirrup latch release lever on the frame. However, the most valuable characteristic of the surface wear on the MK VI model is the aforementioned sights with faded edges that provide a better outline of the rear notch and front blade. This bumps the Battlefield Finish MK VI to the front of the CO2 Webley queue, and into my Top 5 Wheelguns list.
If you like revolvers, single or double action, and want as much authenticity as possible in your CO2 pistols, this group of five pellet cartridge-firing models cannot be outdone.