Top 5 Wheelguns

Top 5 Wheelguns

Why revolvers endure

By Dennis Adler

Out of the holster and ready for action, the 7-1/2 inch Umarex Colt Peacemaker has the feel of a real .45 Single Action Army and draws the number 1 spot in my Top 5 Wheelguns review.

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.

As beautiful as a Single Action Colt can get, the hand engraved 7-1/2 inch Umarex pellet firing Peacemaker has a rifled barrel to deliver accurate 4.5mm shots out to 10 meters. It is a gun that shoots as good as it looks! (Holster courtesy John Bianchi Frontier Gunleather)

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.

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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 nickel plated 7-1/2 inch Umarex Colt Peacemaker presents a striking canvas for the engravers art. While a softer metal, the alloy frame pistols can be done in the exact same patterns and detail as 19th and 20th century Peacemakers. (Holster hand made by John Bianchi from a design worn by legendary U.S. Marshal Heck Thomas.)

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 large windage and elevation rear sight and serrated ramped front make the Dan Wesson Model 715 easy to get on target. Nickel guns stay nickel, but the polished steel grey on the 6-inch Dan Wesson pellet model looks like a deep polished blue in daylight.

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 Model 715 with 4-inch barrel has the same full shroud and vent rib design, plus an under barrel Picatinny accessory rail, a feature not found on the actual .357 magnum models.

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 Model 715 has same large grip contour found on the other two models and provides a solid, hand-filling hold. The rear sight is adjustable for windage and elevation. Also note that the CO2 model has the correct barrel locking bushing at the muzzle, although the barrels are not interchangeable.

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 ASG Dan Wesson Model 715 comes with a speed loader and six pellet-loading cartridges, but the ASG Dan Wesson pellet rounds also fit in a Safariland/Bianchi .38 caliber speed strip. Extra shells are available in a box of 25.

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.

The 2-1/2 inch snub nose Dan Wesson Model 715 is the most authentic snub nose CO2 revolver on the market. Like other DW Model 715 revolvers, the 2-1/2 inch comes with rear-loading pellet cartridges and a 6-round speed loader. The grips, finish, sights and details of this air pistol are about as real as it gets for a modern DA/SA model.

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).

Webleys had a distinctive look, the MK VI featuring a square-butt grip, flat sided barrel, and large triggerguard. Military models had a dull finish (like the first smoothbore CO2 Service Model) that was less reflective than the blued finish on some Webley & Scott military and commercial models. Nickel was also offered for the MK VI, though rare, but the best looking of the three Webley & Scott CO2 models is definitely the Battlefield Finish, a brilliant compromise with a gunmetal look and edge wear commensurate with a gun that has seen heavy use in the field.

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 weathered patina showing wear on the edges gives the MK VI Battlefield Finish model a very realistic look, more so than either the Service Model or nickel silver Exhibition Model. The Battlefield Finish Webley is shown with the MK VI heavy canvas field holster.

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.

The heavy canvas holster was used for a number of Webley and Enfield models during WWI and WWII. (Vintage military belt and buckle by Chisholm’s Trail Leather)

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.

18 thoughts on “Top 5 Wheelguns”

  1. The Umarex Peacemakers, despite their rudimentary sights, are the leaders of the pack not just for authenticity , but for handling and balance. There is no semiauto firearm that enjoy the flexibility of ammunition that a revolver can reliably cycle and fire. I for one still like the power generated by a revolver. As for speed of handling in experienced hands the revolver is still a fight stopper . I really like the Dan Wesson Series And was somewhat disappointed when the 2.5 and 4 inch pellet versions came out in silver rather than the polished blue of the 6 inch barrel version . I cannot help but think that the polished blue/ gray finish on a Peacemaker, with color case chemically applied colors to the frame , loading gate and hammer would make for an exquisite Peacemaker. The Webley is another excellent choice , and a must have . I have the the nickel version and the sights take some getting used too , but it is capable of good sa and good to excellent da accuracy. Honorable mention must go to the no longer available Nagant. It is a very lightweight, accurate enjoyable historical revolver. This has been a disappointing year for revolver fans . Nothing new from ASG, Umarex should have already released the 4 3/4 and true Sheriff model . I forced myself to buy an EMF 357 Posse Single Action to ease my pain.

  2. As far as authenticity goes with the 715, wouldn’t top place go to the 6” version, finish notwithstanding? As far as I am aware, real steel Dan Wesson revolvers come in configurable 4,6 and 8 inch barrels with the 6” being the norm. For snub nose revolvers, I’d love to see a .38 special made into a pellet firing airgun.

      • No problem, easy to do (you should try writing these things!) and as I noted earlier, if you take into account that the DW was once offered with that barrel length, the statement is true either way.


    • Originally, the Dan Wesson had 2-1/2, 4- 6- and 8-inch barrels and shrouds, but in later years and after CZ purchased the company the snub nose barrel was discontinued. I know it was offered because I had an early Dan Wesson model with all four barrels and I usually had the 2-1/2 inch barrel on the gun, or the 8-inch barrel. Not sure I ever even fired the gun with the 4- and 6-inch barrels. Sold it umpteen decades ago and bought an S&W Model 29 Classic Hunter when it was first introduced around 1987.

  3. The has arrived for some airgun snubby understudies. First up should be the newColt Cobra . , next a Colt Diamondback 2/1/2 barrel version. Bear River apparently had some prototype S&W j frames, but those as well as the Wells Fargo Schofields are apparently in limbo. An easy snub to do would be aS & W model 10 round butt as well as a 2inch Colt Official Police.

    • Not sure what is up with Bear River. ASG also has Schofields on their website, same guns, different finishes. I would be all in for a Colt Diamondback with pellet loading cartridges. The gun is certainly large enough for the CO2 to fit in the grip frame. One can wish!

  4. The ASG are nice but are just smoothbore with pellet shells, but better finish options. Would think the cash strapped Colt would be all in for licensed airguns. Too bad about the Nagant. Short barrel Webley would be nice. The Umarex Peacemaker could easily be morphed into an 1878 da Frontier. Seems the will is not there.

  5. Not only would I pick the Peacemaker as the number one airgun revolver, I would choose it as my number one firearm revolver. Why? First handling and looks . No revolver evokes the the sheer history in your hand as the Peacemaker. Versatility and power. From plinking to hunting , the old smokewagon does it all . As accurate as any revolver with iron sights. I have plinked
    at and reliably hit paint stirring sticks jammed in the ground at 75 yards with a 4 3/4 inch 357 SingleAction . Last it is fast and furious as a fight stopper. As fast or faster from the holster as any handgun . The fight is over after the first one or two shots. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it

  6. All this talk of revolvers got me to pull out two of my favourite revolvers (who am I kidding they’re all my favourite) for some afternoon plinking. The only reason I hesitate to get the snub nose is I know by nature it won’t shoot as well as my 6″ and I don’t need a snub nose for practice, it would just be for plinking. Plus I have the Ace in the Hole which shoots surprisingly really well for its size.

    • Thats definitely comparable, nice shooting. I get really good groups sa with the 6″, below is at 20 feet and only 6 shots. I might take the plunge and get the snub nose but I feel that I’m truly holding out on the next best thing other than another Dan Wesson but it doesn’t look as if thats going to happen in 2018 for revolvers.

      • Nice shooting. You already have the Umarex Ace which is a deadly accurate short barrel . If you don’t have one and can track one down , Iwould add a Nagant pellet revolver before supplies dry up. As stated nothing new in revolvers in the foreseeable future.

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