Young Gun, Old Gun

Young Gun, Old Gun

The design of a firearm

is still based around a simple principle

By Dennis Adler

I am paraphrasing the legendary William B. Ruger, Sr., when I say that all gun designs serve the same purpose, to fire a projectile, but what the gun fires and how it fires it, will dictate the design of the gun. Case in point, John M. Browning designed .32 ACP and .380 ACP cartridges and he designed the guns to fire them in 1903 and 1908, respectively. Bill Ruger, Sr. was something of a modern day J.M. Browning and what I learned from my time around him in the 1990s, while I was writing a short biography of his life, visiting his factories, talking with his engineers and staff, and having quiet, introspective dinners with him discussing firearms history, was that great design, and the fundamental breakthroughs that come with them, become the paradigm for all that follows. I understood than as I do now, that with few exceptions, every single action revolver, regardless of manufacturer (including the c. 1953 Ruger Single Six and c. 1955 Ruger Blackhawk), is descended from Samuel Colt’s original revolver designs, even though Colt had died years before the Peacemaker was designed. Ruger’s point being that no matter how different, regardless of the ammunition it fires; however large or small the pistol may be, the fundamentals of its design began with Colt. Bill knew this when he designed the original “Old Model” Single Six .22 revolver, and all the Ruger-designed and built single actions that followed. Were it not for Sam Colt…

I am reminded every time I put a montage of CO2 models like this together, that we have at hand a remarkable variety of firearms designs. Some, like the early 20th century Mauser M712 would be almost out of reach for the majority of collectors as a centerfire pistol, first because of the value, and second in still being a Class III weapon after almost 90 years. Others have simply gone up in value exponentially because of their rarity, like original Colt Peacemakers and WWII pistols like the P.08 Luger, while most of what you see here remain the mainstream guns of the 21st century, such as the latest Ruger 10/22 carbine,the Glock 17, S&W M&P40, and Sig Sauer P320/M17. As real firearms this would be quite an expensive group of guns.

Much the same can be said of firearms designed by John Moses Browning for Colt’s (the 1911 stands out), Winchester, FN (Fabrique Nationale), and of course, Browning itself, (originally J. M. Browning & Bros. in Ogden, Utah c.1880), and for the guns of Paul Mauser, Georg Luger, Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson. I could go on for pages with firearms concepts and the men behind them that have become the standards for all we have today, and that is what makes collecting firearms so interesting. Even more interesting, is that for airgun enthusiasts all that I have said also applies to CO2 pistols and rifles. The works of Colt, Browning, Mauser, Luger, Smith and Wesson, and even Bill Ruger, Sr., is represented by air pistols and air rifles with designs descended from their original guns. It is an amazing heritage in which we can share, however vicariously, through the airgun experience.

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Old Guns, New Guns

The same formulas apply to CO2 handguns and longarms as to their centerfire and rimfire counterparts, what the gun fires dictates to a great extent how it is designed. CO2 is the propellant, a .177 caliber steel BB or a 4.5mm lead or alloy pellet is the bullet. They are separate components just as Sam Colt’s percussion pistols with powder poured into the cylinder chambers, a lead ball seated atop each, and a percussion cap placed at the back of the cylinder chamber to ignite the powder charge. The hammer strikes, the cap, the round is fired; the hammer hits the valve, the CO2 is released and the round is fired. The fundamentals still dictate the design. No matter what it looks like on the outside, the internals require the same actions in order to function. We may improve upon how the action occurs, but the end result is the same. More so with air pistols because even those with modern designs based on striker-fired semi-autos (like the Glock, Springfield Armory XDM, and Sig Sauer P320 and M17 models), still use some form of internal hammer to strike the CO2 valve releasing the charge of air that puts things into motion.

With old guns, like all the current single actions; Colt Peacemakers, the Schofields (more about that later in the week), and the over zealously branded Remington 1875, the look is as close to the original designs on the exterior, which must also cleverly disguise the internal differences to the highest possible degree. These are mechanical success stories that wholly surpass almost everything that came before. Why “almost?” Laws and politics, perhaps practicality and the underbelly of man to corrupt anything good, ended the groundbreaking Brocock Tandem Air Cartridge design (early 1990s to 2014), which used actual custom-built western revolvers and lever action rifles manufactured in Italy by Pietta and Uberti. These guns were specifically designed to fire a .22 caliber lead pellet from a self-contained metallic cartridge charged with compressed air (basically a miniaturized pre-charged pneumatic bullet). These reusable, self-contained metal cartridges and the guns designed to use them were the issue. Built for sale in the UK by Brocock and paired with the Italian revolvers (1851 Navy conversion, 1875 Remington, Colt 1873, etc., the airguns could, with some ingenuity on behalf of a criminal element, be converted to fire actual cartridges. Cartridge guns being almost impossible to own in the UK made this a profitable endeavor, and the Brocock design was legislated out of existence in the UK. The guns could not be traded in the UK or exported (many had to be turned in and destroyed), and thus this technology, a remarkably logical one, came to an end. The guns occasionally turn up on the secondary market in the U.S. and Europe. (If any of our U.S. or European readers own one, I would love to see some pictures and get some opinions on the design).

Select fire weapons like the M1A1 Thompson and full auto weapons like the MP40 are all Class III arms, and even a semi-auto Thompson is an expensive purchase today. As CO2 models they make the almost unobtainable, obtainable, and with their very authentic designs are as close to the real thing as many of us will come. There is also the cost of ammunition for the .45 ACP M1A1 Thompson and 9mm for the MP40, plus at what the originals would cost, it’s unlikely most people would shoot them very often. As CO2 models, pennies can fly out the barrel all afternoon and you wouldn’t put a dent in a day’s shooting with .45 Auto. What we need is a weathered M1A1. (Canvas sling for M1A1 courtesy World War Supply)

Within the confines of what technology exists for building CO2 powered air pistols and rifles today, the U.S. market currently has some of the best choices in both old handgun and rifles designs, and some of the most modern, as exhibited in the photos. I am drawn to these designs, particularly revolvers with BB or pellet cartridges, and semi-autos (or select-fire) guns, because they embody some the greatest classic and groundbreaking designs of the past.

With CO2 airguns we can now span the history of modern weapons from the 1870s to the 21st century. More noteworthy for America, is the knowledge that in very few parts of the world today can an individual have in one collection the actual guns of the past and present sharing a spotlight with their CO2-powered counterparts.

When I put an array of current production CO2 guns together for an article such as this, I find myself truly impressed with what the world of airguns has accomplished. Certainly, there are a dozen guns I would love to see recreated in CO2, and may yet see in the next year or two. Still, even the handful exhibited here, just a small sampling of what is available, is a reminder that no matter what the design, and no matter what era it came from, it can be done, because as Bill Ruger Sr. once told me, they are all based around a simple principle, and that is one principle history has yet to change.

Authenticity really comes through in another benchmark in CO2 air rifle design, the Springfield Armory M1 Carbine, which can be ordered with a hardwood stock as shown. The gun is so accurate in detail that it accepts a reproduction M1 Carbine oiler and sling, and fit both the U.S. military fleece lined M1 carry case or leather scabbard used to carry the M1 Carbine in a Jeep, on a motorcycle, or tracked vehicles. (All accessories courtesy World War Supply)

6 thoughts on “Young Gun, Old Gun”

  1. Looking at these airguns and the current political and health situation we are in , the time is here for a renaissance of these types of airguns. Rising ammunition costs, low availability even for 22 rimfire, and reloading components, and pending the 2020 election result, further ownership restrictions on firearms. Select fire is a fantasy for most, and can only be realized by airgun collecting. I would suggest a Sten, and Grease gun as the next two relatively easy to make models, followed by an STW43/44. Ruger should take some of their own advice and put out a Ruger Flat Top revolver, and some of their current semi auto pistols as well as a blowback MarkIV target pistol.How about the old OldArmy black powder pistol as a 22 pellet revolver? Takedown PC9 as a blowback bb rifle? Hopefully the western revolver variations from Barra in the form of Wells Fargo models and maybe pellet versions with rifled barrels will appear. The Schofield is a dead on accurate replica airgun. Seems to me a Spencer rifle would be bold and daring. Umarex has been criminally negligent by not offering an artillery P08. There has been a lot of interest by collectors in the old S&W 39, a blowback air pistol version of this as well as the classic Browning High Power is long overdue, as are some classic pocket pistols like the O3 Colt and Beretta 1934

    • Much of what you suggest is possible but only one or two ideas will likely make it anytime soon. I know Umarex is exploring some new ideas for the Legends series, but not sure what or when. Ruger air pistols and more versions of the 10/22 would all come from Umarex which holds the most brand name rights. Given the current health situation, imports and production are running slower. On the positive side, this is allowing more time for thinking and planning. Down the road, not too far down I hope, some of your suggestions and at least one of your earlier ideas may well see the light of day. I think my point in this article about what is available, when you consider most of it came about in the past four years, bodes well for what the next few years may bring.

  2. Just as an aside, I don’t have a Chrony , but as this group shows, there is an adjustment period after piercing a co2 cartridge which usually results in the first couple of shots having lower velocity and shooting high. I usually fire 3 or 4 shots of just co2 before throwing lead down range. As this target shows , I couldn’t restrain myself.

  3. One thing about the Brocock system. Revolvers of this type are still being made and sold in Europe, at least Germany! They call it LEP system, with the necessary 5.5fpe limit. Barrels, cylinder and internals steel, frame some kind of alloy, 4.5 or 5.5 cal. Quite expensive but unique.

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