S&W 78G and 79G – Part 1
by B.B. Pelletier
Nobody asked for this report, but after completing the report on the Crosman Mark I and starting the report on the Crosman 2240, I thought I’d complete the circle by reporting on this pistol, as well. Why this one, you ask? Because, back in the day, the 78G was a competitor of the Mark I in both power and accuracy.
I reported on the 78G as recently as last year, but that report was thin. Now, with both the Mark I and the 2240 getting a full three-part test, I feel I have to include this gun as well, to round out the field.
This is my S&W 78G in the box. Many of these guns have their original boxes because they were sold as new old-stock just 10 years ago.
The .22 caliber 78G and .177 caliber 79G single-shot target pistols were made (actually, produced) by Smith & Wesson from 1971 through 1980. They were first made in their Tampa, Florida, plant. In 1973, they moved the airgun division up to Springfield, Mass. In 1978, they moved airguns back to Florida. From this point forward, I’ll speak specifically about the 78G, unless I indicate otherwise, though much of what goes for one gun goes for the other, as well.
The first version of the gun was finished in shiny black paint, featured two power levels and had an adjustable trigger. Later, the adjustable trigger was discontinued, the cocking notches reduced to just one and the paint was changed to a dull matte finish that was more uniform than the shiny black.
Blog reader twotalon sent us this photo of the adjustable trigger on his S&W 78G.
In 1980, S&W parent, Bangor Punta, sold the pistol design to Daisy, who rechristened them the models 780 and 790. The triggers got much heavier and creepier during this transition. The final model Daisy made was a shiny, nickel-plated, .177 caliber model 41 that paid homage to the S&W model 41 target pistol, which the guns were originally patterned after. It has the worst trigger and surface finish of all.
So, if you’re seeking the finest guns to shoot, look for a model 78G with shiny black paint and adjustable trigger. But beware. S&W had problems with porous metal castings in the early pistols, and some of the early guns will leak down and cannot be repaired. I owned one early model, but the gun I’m testing for you in this report is the later version.
In many ways, the 78G is the equivalent of the Crosman Mark I and the 2240. The way it handles is beautiful. It balances much like a Smith & Wesson model 41, which I borrowed and compared — gun-to-gun — for an article in an Airgun Revue. Both guns hold well, with the weight centered in the hand and just a touch of muzzle heaviness.The 78G feels as much like its firearm equivalent as the Mark I feels like a Ruger, except that the 2240 has no firearm counterpart and feels just as nice as the other two.
The gun sits low in the hand, making the sight line easy to acquire. The trigger blade is well-situated for my average hand. Like the Mark I, the 78G has two cocking knobs protruding from either side of the frame above the trigger. However, the later versions of the gun have a single power level, unlike the Mark I. The early gun with the adjustable trigger also has two power levels.
Loading is done separately from cocking, just like the Mark I. On this gun, a latch is pulled and the bolt is pulled straight back to expose the loading trough. There’s no resistance to this bolt, as it doesn’t cock the action, so loading is smooth and easy.
The gun’s power is adjustable, and there have been aftermarket power boosts for this pistol almost since Smith and Wesson began making them. The power adjustment is in the same place as on the Mark I, and it works the same way. Turn the screw inward to put more tension on the hammer spring and outward to reduce tension. The more tension, the longer the valve stays open and the most gas flows through.
All 78G and 79G pistols have a power adjustment screw located beneath the muzzle at the front of the gun. The outer ring locks the power adjustment screw in place.
What I’m about to suggest has no basis in fact, and I’ve never even heard it suggested before other than by me. I find the Smith & Wesson 78G/79G actions to be remarkably similar to the Crosman Mark I/Mark II actions. They cock the same way, they load the same way, the power is adjusted in the same way and the adjustable triggers work the same. I see too much similarity to believe it happened by coincidence. The Crosman guns began production in 1966 and the S&Ws started in 1971. I feel certain there was some borrowing of technology by S&W when they designed their pistols. Beyond that observation, I know nothing.
This should prove to be an interesting report. When I’m finished, we’ll have nine reports on three very significant air pistols.