S&W 78G and 79G – Part 2

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

Today, we’ll look at velocity and power of the S&W 78G. I’m getting reacquainted with this pistol because I’d completely forgotten how it performs. For starters, I’d sent this gun to Dave Gunter in Oregon to reseal and soup it up. Dave and I decided that I wanted the maximum power I could get from the gun, so that’s what he gave me.

Dave also told me I’d get only a few shots from a CO2 cartridge at this power level. I accepted that because I seldom shoot CO2 guns, anyway, so gas conservation isn’t high on my list, but in this case performance was.

In Part 1, I neglected to tell you about the pistol’s other modifications. At some time in the past, the former owner had the trigger turned into an adjustable one. Though it’s only a single-stage regardless of where the trigger is set, the let-off can be adjusted down into the dangerous range. It was set that way when I bought it through the internet, and I asked Dave to adjust it to a safe level as long as he was working on the gun.

Trigger adjustment
He was shocked at how unsafe this kind of adjustment is, because all it does is reduce the contact area of the sear. For those who are new to shooting, the sear is that part of the trigger that safely holds the action in the cocked position until the shooter intentionally fires the gun through the use of the trigger. That last thing you want is a gun whose sear contact area is so small that it can slip off on its own or even slip when the gun is bumped slightly!

The trigger adjustment just changes the area of sear contact. This is not where the factory adjustment would be. And, yes, that is the first owner’s name scratched into the triggerguard. It’s also on the box.

Power boost
To get the power from the gun, Dave worked on the valve, both opening and smoothing the ports through which the gas must flow. he also switched the valve return spring to one better balanced to the modifications he’s made. That we cannot see because it’s buried deep inside the gun. But we can see one additional touch he added to the bolt. He thinned the bolt nose and smoothed it to reduce any resistance to gas flow.

The thinned bolt probe is seen on the left, and this photo shows you how the bolt opens straight back. Since it doesn’t cock the mainspring, the bolt is light and easy to move.

Velocity with RWS Hobbys
Okay, time to stop talking and start showing the performance. RWS Hobby pellets are lightweight .22 caliber pellets. At 11.9 grains, they’re just about the lightest all-lead pellets you can find. In my hot-rodded 78G, they average 532 f.p.s. with a spread from 523 to 542. That’s quite a bit faster than the 2240, so I remembered wrong. The average muzzle energy is 7.48 foot-pounds, or a full foot-pound more than the 2240. The 2240 averaged 482 f.p.s., and the Mark I averaged 472 f.p.s.. The 78G is clearly in the lead.

Velocity with RWS Superdomes
With RWS Superdomes the 78G averaged 492 f.p.s. The spread was a tight one, from 484 to 497 f.p.s. The average muzzle energy was 7.8 foot-pounds, so a little more than the Hobbys. For comparison, the 2240 averaged 455 f.p.s. (the Crosman Mark I wasn’t tested with Superdomes).

Velocity with Crosman Premiers
The 78G shot Crosman Premier pellets at an average velocity of 494 f.p.s. The spread went from 486 to 498 f.p.s. That works out to an average muzzle energy of 7.75 foot-pounds. The 2240 averaged 448 f.p.s., and the Crosman Mark I averaged 431 f.p.s.

So, what’s the downside?
You want that kind of power? Then you must pay. You might get that power from a longer barrel, but to get it from the stock 78G barrel means the total number of shots is just 15. There are powerful shots left after No. 15, and a casual shooter might see as many as 25 shots from one cartridge. For tight velocity spreads, 15 shots is all you get.

This is where the 2240 will kick the 78G’s butt. Because for only a few dollars, you can put on a longer barrel that will probably give you the extra oomph you want without disturbing the shot count. This is where the physics of CO2 operations comes into play.

But this 78G is still a cool air pistol. I’m having fun shooting it again after so many months of being dormant. It’s sleek and it’s powerful. We’ll find out next time if it’s also accurate.

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.

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 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.

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. When I’m finished, we’ll have nine reports on three very significant air pistols.