History of airguns

This report covers:

  • Gen one Colt SAA
  • P08 Luger
  • One more handgun
  • Long guns
  • The M1 Garand
  • M1 Carbine
  • Airgun Carbines
  • Summary

Today we take a look at those iconic items that transcend taste and live in the world where form follows function — those things that just work! It’s a day to look at the best things that exist — not because of how much they cost but just because they exist.

Since this is an airgun blog I will mention a few of them, but to get the fullness of what I am trying to say I will have to break outside the boundaries of airguns. Some things are so “right” that almost everybody recognizes it.

Gen one Colt SAA

This is an historical blog and there is no time constraint on things that are just right. But I have to start somewhere so I will begin in 1873 with the first generation Colt Single Action Army revolver. Only the first generation was this way, because the firing pin and the grips were changed on the second generation. The grips got slightly fatter and the hammer got a thinner firing pin. The fat firing pin of the first generation hammer will not fit through the hole in a second generation frame that was cut for the thinner firing pin.

That first generation grip fits most people’s hands perfectly, allowing the revolver to rotate under recoil. Now, all single actions have the same general shape, but the Gen I Colt grips were slightly thinner. I’ll admit that the last finger of your hand has to be wrapped underneath the grip because it is too short, but that was the way the Colt was to be grasped. If you knew that, the fit was ideal for most hands. You will even see stag grips that have an indent on the lower front of the right grip panel to allow that finger to do its thing.

SAA
The grips on the first generation Colt Single Action Army revolver were nearly perfect for many hands.

This is where guys with larger hands will argue that the 1860 Colt Army grip that is longer, is also better than the Gen I SAA grip. And for them it probably is. We experience that grip today on all the CO2 replica airguns that are in the SAA style.

airgun SAA
Umarex has brought us many different SAA airguns, but all of them have the 1860 Colt Army grip that is long enough to contain the 12-gram CO2 cartridge.

The point is, like a Radio Flyer red coaster wagon, things don’t get much better than a first generation Single Action Army revolver. No wonder we like the air pistols that are modeled after them!

P08 Luger

Another iconic firearm is the Pistole 08 — the German Luger. They were made in many calibers, starting with a .30 caliber for the Swiss and also a small run of .45 ACP pistols to compete for the U.S. Army contract in 1910. But by far the best-known and most recognized caliber got its name from the German development of the pistol — the 9mm Parabellum, which is Latin for prepare for war.

My Luger is from the early days when they were made at the German royal arsenal in Erfurt. But it looks very much like the last Lugers made in about 1943.

Luger
My Luger was made at the Erfurt royal arsenal during World War I.

The Umarex P08 exists as a BB repeater that not only has realistic toggle action at the breech when it fires, it also disassembles like the firearm. Replica airguns have done their best to keep up with the classics.

P08 BB pistol
The Umarex Legends P08 pistol is a super replica!

One more handgun

A couple weeks ago I was getting ready for church, where I was on security duty for the day. I normally carry a Sig P365 pistol in 9 mm, but that day I wanted something a little smaller to carry in an inside pocket of my cargo shorts, so I got my .22-caliber Walther PPK/S.

What? Not only is my .22 PPK/S not smaller — it’s actually bigger than the 9mm Sig. I was thinking because it is a .22 rimfire that it had to be smaller, but it’s not. It’s exactly the same size as the Walther .380 ACP PPK/S. And that pistol is larger than the P365.

But back to the Walther. The PPK/S isn’t what Walther designed originally to be a compact pocket pistol. That was the PPK or Polezeipistole Kriminal (police pistol criminal, or undercover cop). As we all know, James Bond was issued one in 7.65mm or .32 ACP. The PPK/S was an American version that was a little larger to meet some draconian gun laws for imported firearms. But the real PPK is now produced in this country, and that is okay. Go figure!

Walther PPK
Walther’s PPK was the pocket pistol that started it all.

The PPK and the larger PP inspired many other popular pistols, among which was the Soviet Makarov. It was also the very early start of the larger-caliber concealed pistol, such as the P365 I just mentioned.

Long guns

The most iconic long gun is perhaps the 1898 Mauser whose design was copied (and Germany was paid reparations after the war by the U.S. for copying a patented design) by the 1903 Springfield. The Mauser is a rugged battle rifle, but the early 1903 Springfield went beyond even that, to become a svelte bolt action with legendary balance and handling. As WWII was starting Springfield changed the design to give soldiers better sights and also to lessen the cost to manufacture. It was at that point that the magic was lost. Functionally the 1903A3 Springfield was the better rifle, but in handling it couldn’t hold a candle to the original 1903.

Find a Hawke Scope

The M1 Garand

When the M1 Garand came out in the late 1930s with the  promise to replace all the Springfields then in service, the Marine Corps clung tightly to their bolt-action rifles. Only after some time was spent with Garands did many jarheads grudgingly admit that it was the better battle rifle — but it never replaced the iconic feel of the original Springfield.

I can’t blame the Marines for how they felt, either, because while they awaited their Garands, many of them in the Pacific theater were forced to use the Johnson — an underdeveloped and ill-conceived semiautomatic battle rifle that couldn’t even carry a traditional blade bayonet because its barrel moved backwards to counter the rifle’s very heavy recoil.

Airgunners say they want an M1 Garand air rifle and I’m sure many believe they do, but how many really do, as in willing to pony up some serious cash, is the big question. The M1A that copies the civilian version of the M14 hasn’t met with a lot of enthusiasm. I think what airgunners really want is an airgun M1 Garand that is all steel and wood and weighs 10 pounds like the firearm, yet costs $150 or less. That can never happen.

M1 Carbine

In contrast to the Garand that had to fight its way into servicemen’s hearts, the M1 Carbine was a hit from the start. Oh, it was criticized for firing a low-power pistol cartridge, but give the choice between carrying the 5-pound carbine and the 10-pound Garand, the carbine won most often with troops that weren’t going directly into battle.

After WWII the M1 Carbine was so popular that millions of examples from more than 30 different makers were made, and it is still being made today. Can’t say that for the Garand, nor for the 1903 Springfield.

Airgun Carbines

Airgunners have enjoyed the M1 Carbine since Crosman first brought out their iconic BB repeater in 1966. I have one that I cherish. But in my opinion Springfield Armory makes the best airgun M1 Carbine of all. It’s not cheap, but it’s reliable and hyper-accurate for a BB gun. When I need an accurate BB gun, that’s the one I reach for.

M1 Carbine three carbines
A Crosman M1 Carbine BB gun on top, the Springfield Armory BB gun in the middle and a military M1 Carbine below.

Summary

Yes, sometimes the designers get it so right that the design lives on long past them. The reason I made this report a Part 1 is because I expect you readers to tell me what I forgot to mention.