by B.B. Pelletier

I wanted to title this report Americana, because that’s what it really is. But when someone on the internet wants to research their gun, the model is the only thing they are interested in. Make no mistake, though–the Healthways Plainsman is Americana, as much as Dad’s Root Beer and Buster Brown shoes.

Unlike the Daisy Red Ryder that everyone knows by name, the Healthways Plainsman is the BB pistol that almost everybody knows on sight, without knowing what it is. It’s about as ubiquitous as the Marksman 1010 BB pistol, but most of you may have to think about it for awhile. And showing you a period ad may stimulate your memories.

A Plainsman ad from 1965. They called the gun semiautomatic because you just keep pulling the trigger to fire. Actually it’s double-action.

I DID NOT go to Roanoke to buy a Plainsman! In fact, I have assiduously avoided the Plainsman for the past 20 years. Before that, I wasn’t a writer, so my avoidance was private and didn’t count. I have blogged Chinese spring guns. I have blogged Marksman BB pistols. I have even blogged Wamo cap-firing BB guns that have less power than thrown BBs. So, why was I avoiding the Plainsman? No good reason. I just was.

In fact, this is a great little BB gun that I actually shot in my youth. My favorite relative was Uncle Don. He was a man’s man. Whenever we got together, he got out his guns and let me shoot. One summer I spent a couple weeks with him and Aunt Gert on the shores of the St. Lawrence River. There, he introduced me to his Plainsman. It shot fast and hard–two things a 12-year-old boy likes. I went through so much of his CO2 that he had to put the brakes on and get me fishing to slow me down.

But I never owned one of these pistols myself; and when the time came to get airguns, I went other ways. In this report, I want to discover what I missed–right along with you.

I stumbled across this pistol on Mike Ahuna’s table at the Roanoke airgun show last weekend. It was in the box and included an owner’s manual, sales receipt (without the year of sale, unfortunately) and several other papers associated with both the gun and with Numrich Arms (the former name of Gun Parts Corporation), where it was sold. I’ve seen plenty of other boxed Plainsmans–there was even one at this show–but the condition of this box and papers caught my attention. The gun sang to me!

The Plainsman box looks like a big smile to me. It looks happy, and it makes me feel happy to look at it.

The timeframe
I’ve found ads for the Plainsman pistol as early as 1960 and as late as 1969. With just a quick check, let’s assume I missed some and extend that by a couple years on both ends. The owner’s manual that came with the gun is dated 1957, which may be the first year of release. The earliest price I’ve seen in 1960 is $14.95.

On the late end of the run, there would have been new-old-stock guns for sale for several years after they stopped making them, so they no doubt were sold well into the 1970s. But companies like Daisy were putting pressure on the market with newer guns made of plastic and having the same features and more modern profiles. The final price I saw in 1969 was $18.95.

Pat Pending must have been a prolific airgun designer, because we see his name on so many guns from the 1950s and ’60s. Seriously, that was a dodge used by many companies to avoid the costly fees and time spent in getting patents. Many of the guns that say Pat. Pending have nothing patentable in them. I’m not saying that’s the case for the Plainsman, but I sure am hinting at it!

The pistol is all metal with plastic grips. It resembles a Colt Woodsman in shape, though its grip is larger than a Woodsman grip. The trigger works with or without CO2 in the gun and has a smooth, light two-stage pull, though stage two is somewhat long. The gun weighs 29.3 oz. The smoothbore barrel is six inches long.

Plainsman on top and Colt Woodsman on the bottom. The Plainsman is a little beefier than the firearm.

The Plainsman uses 8-gram CO2 cartridges instead of the 12-gram cartridges of today. In its day, more guns used the smaller cartridge, so it didn’t seem so strange. Today, however, you can buy these vintage small cartridges here at Pyramyd Air, so there’s no reason not to shoot your vintage gun.

Adjustable power
The Plainsman comes with adjustable power. There are three power settings. A coin-operated screw at the bottom of the grip selects each setting, and the detents are stiff enough that there’s no question where you are. Healthways didn’t use velocity figures for their gun because at this time nobody had access to a chronograph. So, they stated power by what a BB would do to a tin can. Remember, when this gun was made, tin cans were actually made of steel. Don’t confuse them with the soft soda cans of today. Think more of a stout soup can or a coffee can. On low power, where you got up to 100 shots, a BB would dent one side of a can at 15 feet. On medium power, you got 55 shots and the BB would deeply dent or pierce one side of a tin can at 15 feet. On high power, you got about 45 shots, and a BB would almost go through both sides of a tin coffee can at 15 feet.

Turn the screw at the top to the left (located at the bottom rear of the pistol grip) with a coin to increase power. There are three settings.

Healthways claimed an accuracy of 50 shots through a one-inch group (they say pattern in the manual) at 25 feet. That seems reasonable, and places it among the most accurate BB guns. I’ve seen accuracy like that from the Umarex Makarov, so I know it’s possible.

The barrel is a thin steel tube, but it’s encased in a metal housing that looks more substantial. In fact, everything about this gun looks and feels substantial.

When I researched this pistol, I learned that Healthways put out many different models. This pistol, for example, has a rifled counterpart that looks the same but uses nickelplated lead balls for ammo. And there’s a single-action western model I admit to never having seen before, though I might have seen one and thought it was something else. It, too, had a rifled-barrel counterpart that shot lead balls. Finally, there’s the Topscore spring-piston model that’s fairly well-known, though I admit that I never shot one.

Healthways also offered this Western-style revolver at the same time as the Plainsman.

Lift this gate and drop 100 BBs into the gun. Feeding is handled by the mechanism inside.