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.