Smith & Wesson 78G and 79G target pistols: Part 1

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

S&W 78G
My S&W 78G pistol.

A history of airguns

This report covers:

  • History
  • Physical description
  • CO2
  • Fit
  • Loading
  • Adjustable power
  • My observation

Before I get into today’s report I have a surprise for you. I had a conversation with Val Gamerman on Friday about the TR-5 and together we discovered something neither of us had ever thought of. You’ll read about it tomorrow.

History

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 .22 caliber 78G, unless I indicate otherwise, though much of what goes for one gun holds for the other pistol, as well.

Physical description

The 78G is a very realistic copy of the S&W model 41 target pistol in .22 rimfire caliber. The weight and dimensions are very close, with the air pistol’s 43.5 oz. being slightly heavier than the rimfire pistol’s 42 oz. with the 7.5″ barrel. The external dimensions are very close, and the wood grips on the firearm are faithfully reproduced in plastic on the airgun. But it’s the realistic kind of plastic that fools people!

S&W 78G 41
The 78G and 79G are patterned after S&W’s famous model 41 target pistol.

CO2

The gun is powered by CO2. The 12-gram cartridge sits inside the grip and is accessed by unscrewing a knurled knob on the bottom of the grip. Insert the cartridge with the small end sticking up where the knob attaches, and when it is tight, press in on the knob below to pierce the cartridge. My pistol was resealed many years ago and still holds gas fine.

S&W 78G CO2 knob
Screw the knob all the way down then push in on the round button on the bottom and the gas will load and seal.

My current pistol came in a factory box with five S&W powerlets and a tin of 250 pellets. This is the most common presentation I have seen of this pistol in the years I’ve been in airgunning. At some airguns shows, I’ve seen as many as 50 of these boxes stacked up on a show table, awaiting a sale. But that was 20 years ago. I don’t see it anymore. Today, people are starting to pay good money for just one pistol, even without the box and papers.

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 power levels were reduced to just one and the paint was changed to a dull matte finish that was more uniform than the shiny black. The gun I am testing is shiny but lacks the adjustable trigger. I’m not certain my gun has the original finish. It may have been repainted.

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. Ironically it has the worst trigger and surface finish of all.

So, if you’re seeking the best gun 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 their early pistols, and some of those 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 a later version.

S&W 78G adjustable trigger
Reader Two Talon sent in this picture of an adjustable trigger.

In many ways, the 78G is today’s equivalent of the Crosman 2240. The way it holds is beautiful. It balances much like a Smith & Wesson model 41, which I borrowed and compared — gun-to-gun — for an article I wrote in an Airgun Revue magazine many years ago. 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 Crosman Mark I feels like the Ruger Marks I through III.

Fit

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 Crosman Mark I, the 78G has two cocking knobs protruding from either side of the frame above the trigger. There was a high and low power level initially, however the later versions of the gun like the one I am testing have a single power level, unlike the Mark I. The early gun with the adjustable trigger also has two power levels.

S&W 778G cocking knob
The cocking knobs (one on either side of the pistol) are pulled toward the front of the gun (to the left in this view) to cock the pistol.

Loading

Loading is done separately from cocking, just like the Mark I. On this gun, a latch is depressed on the left side of the slide and then 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.

S&W 78G loading
My pistol has had some work done on the bolt for loading.

Adjustable power

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 Crosman 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.

S&W 78G adjustable power
The outer screw locks the inner screw that adjusts the power.

My observation

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. I hope some of you who own these guns, or the Daisys I have mentioned, will chime in.

27 thoughts on “Smith & Wesson 78G and 79G target pistols: Part 1


  1. Yes we will chime in, I am addicted to these and the Crosman Mk1&2 pistols.
    They are like potato chips, you can’t have just one.

    I have been resealing and reselling them so they will go on shooting for another 50 years.

    I have also been putting together a guest blog I need to finish and submit to you comparing the differences in the S&W guns and the Daisy guns.
    Including photos of the internal differences.

    I currently have 3 of them, 2 of the 78g models, serial number 2074, and 3248, and an very early Daisy 790.

    All have been resealed with parts from Mac1.

    Daisy redesigned the internals to meet the “drop safety” requirements, and when they received S&W pistols for service work, they “upgraded” them and stamped a letter D on the front strap near the piercing cap.

    As for the similarities to the Crosman design, I have read, in many places that the same man had a hand in designing both guns.
    But like all internet rumors, I don’t know if it can be substantiated.

    Ian


  2. B.B., and all you folks,

    I have a friend looking to get a pellet or BB pistol to practice for his concealed carry permit. He will be using his M1911. What would be the best one? There are so many out there and I do not have any experience with the airguns.

    I was thinking this one would be good, not sure he wants to spend this much but probably would if it’s still one of the best.
    https://www.pyramydair.com/s/m/Colt_1911_A1_CO2_pellet_gun/136

    Thanks in advance
    Don


    • Wow. An m1911 is a big heavy gun for concealed carry. Tell your friend to consider one of the polymer frame guns.

      Fred formerly of the DPRONJ now happily in GA



        • Benji-Don,

          This is a report by B.B.: https://www.pyramydair.com/blog/2017/08/sig-sauer-spartan-bb-pistol-part-1/

          I would recommend he pick the model bb or pelet gun based on how close it comes operationally to his carry firearm.

          I carry a full sized USM1911A1 every day and have for the past 48 years. I can’t say I would trade it for a shorter/smaller weapon. With an 8 round magazine and one in the chamber they really don’t weigh that much more than smaller 1911; if you have an excellent gunbelt and holster you can hardly tell the difference in weight. Concealability depends on body type, location on body, attire, and attitude. The belt is what most folks don’t get right. I also have carried them in a shoulder rig as well as a drop-down leg rig when flying.

          shootski




  3. “S&W had problems with porous metal castings in their early pistols, and some of those early guns will leak down and cannot be repaired.”
    B.B., back in 1981, I worked at a small company up in Maine that produced microwave components for the Governemnt.. Much to our chagrin, we found that many of the bronze castings on some of our components that needed to be pressurized were porous and “leaked like a sieve.” With hundreds of leaky castings, and no time to get them replaced in time for the due date on a Naval contract, we pulled a vacuum on the castings and painted them with a thermo-setting resin till they held pressure (we usually got it on the first try; if not, then on the second). To do a one-off for a single air pistol would require a total teardown and might well be cost prohibitive. But if you had one of these pistols with a bad casting yet really yearned to fix if anyway, you might be able to pull it off. =>

    https://www.godfreywing.com/blog/how-impregnation-makes-porous-parts-pressure-tight


    • Interesting. Appreciate the info. I’ve heard about the porosity issues with various airguns over the years and always wondered if something like this would work. Thanks.


      • You are most welcome, Derrick. There are different resins to bond with different materials: bronze, aluminum, and steel. We were only doing proof pressure testing to 100 psi. I believe it would work with a CO2 pistol, but I don’t know about a 4500 psi PCP rifle…then again, I’m sure no one would ever use a casting on one of those anyway. =>



    • B.B.,

      I think the blowback would be better than the accuracy. I will send him a link to this report. I was going to send him a link to the PA site with the search results for 1911 but the results were overwhelming.

      The grip with the stars looks pretty aggressive, will it have a similar feel?

      Thanks
      Don


  4. Zimbabweed,
    These pistols are very easy to reseal. Kits are available on e-bay and JGAIRGUNS has the valve stem(poppet). Videos are on Youtube. I’ve resealed my two 79gs and my 78g. I think the S&Ws are easier to reseal than my Crosman Mark 1 & 2 were. Its really not difficult to even replace the seal in the valve stem. I’ve resealed two of the valve stems.
    anotherairgunblob has an excellent article on the gun.


  5. B.B.,

    I just looked “classic” up in the dictionary, and it had a cross-reference to these air pistols!

    Thank you for this report. It is an excellent Memorial Day gift.

    Michael


  6. My first air pistol was the 78G bought back in the 70’S. doesn’t have the two power levels or adjustible trigger but did have the leaky frame which Smith replaced. I have resealed mine, too. Great pistol.

    Fred formerly of the DPRONJ now happily in GA



  7. Sorry BB, Micheal!! I apologize! My older age now kickin in and not thinking period sometimes! I agree it is Crosman!! I went back and looked at my collection and for some reason I was thinking and said Daisy! Meaning Crosman! Old Crosman rifles! I have a few and purchase non working for parts on most all airguns and mess with them! Many parts comes in at times for another air gun! LIKE SIGHTS ETC.! Semper FI!


  8. My dad bought me a 79G for Christmas back in the mid to late 70’s. Man I wish I still had it. I shot the fire out of that pistol and swear I could hit anything. I sold it to a kid around the block for $15 plus some other stuff in trade. I wanted cash to buy a BSA Scorpion pistol which I bought. I still have the scorpion but wish I had kept the 79G. I still have the manual for it. If I ever come across a 79G for a decent price I will buy it as it has a special meaning to me.



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