When it comes to pistols, Jonathan Young is a firm believer in the concept of small is beautiful – especially when it happens to go bang
Handling an air pistol accurately can be tougher than shooting an air rifle. Some pistol shooters go for size, while others feel small is beautiful, so let’s open the matchbox and take a closer look inside.
A heavy rifle absorbs movement and because a springer recoils, some airgunners like the dampening effect of weight. Some target shooters even add lead inside their stocks to tip the scales even more. Air pistols are different.
Too ungainly and the pistol will not allow adequate grip. My old fantastic and powerful BSA Scorpion was a combat-style two hands and hold on job for sure. If it’s a springer, you then have the recoil factor. Follow through, or keeping on aim after the shot is released, can then be a chore.
An air pistol with a smaller frame allows much more freedom. An LP53 springer, for example, is a doddle to use, and originally slip-on weights could be added onto the barrel for more dampening and balance when carrying out some serious target shooting.
Smaller air pistols have certainly been seen over the decades. Vintage springers achieved this years ago with the Tell II, Thunderbolt Junior and pre-War pop-outs – and don’t forget the FB Record Jumbo concentric springer.
The smallest trophy would go to the odd 1970s American Cub by a company called Jaguar Arms. At just under 120mm long, it was an 8g CO2-fed single-shot pellet-firer that in a little way emulated a pocket-sized semi-auto, with the emphasis on ‘little’, as from a distance it looked like a large cigarette lighter.
In the UK, a company called Saxby & Palmer developed a self-contained cartridge design. This had both the propellant – pressurised air held in a loadable container – along with the projectile.
The Tandem Air Cartridge had arrived, ‘tandem’ referring to having these two elements arranged one in front of the other. Incidentally this is different to the current replica CO2 airguns that take loaded shells – all these only take the pellet or BB, whilst the gas supply is totally and legally separate.
A brief track through British airgun history brought their early 1980s Herald bolt-action rifle that used gigantic alloy tandem cartridges, and then their super Lee Enfield No.4 battle rifle with its smaller cartridges that mimicked the military .303 cal. rounds.
Nothing to do with small air pistols so far, but S&P went bust, and then along came another company called Brocock, who took over the gap in the market. This is when the real fun began with small air pistols.
With their own redesigned and even smaller Brocock Air Cartridge, the size of a .38 calibre round, the door was open for these to be used in smaller air pistol frames.
Brocock released many, others followed. Brocock then developed the Micro Cartridge and this was used to feed their new Para PPK, a Walther PPK-style pistol which for the time could be claimed to be the smallest multi-shot air pistol yet made.
Harper Classic Guns took things further and released many air cartridge specials such as the tiny single-shot Harper Micro – basically a tube and trigger release in a wooden handle. This is where things could have got really exciting in creating the smallest air pistols … but there’s always a ‘but’.
There was a fear that tandem cartridge airguns could be converted to use firearm ammunition, so a change in UK law meant all these designs were in effect banned unless you wanted to keep yours on a restricted and conditional Firearm Certificate.
Astonishingly, a vast sphere of what had been totally legal and fun airgunning was wiped out overnight. Today only a few stocks, grips or cartridges appear for sale from owners who were forced to hand in their tandem airguns or face the draconian licence.
CO2 quickly became top dog for target shooters and plinking pistoleros. Many top names in target air pistol shooting already relied on CO2, with Hammerli probably the best known. Many others such as Rohm and Brno also relied on CO2 for accuracy and dependability.
Easier to hold on aim, well some at least, and follow through with no recoil should mean better scores on target. Today, whether for plinking or more serious club competitions CO2 really has found its way to the top of the hill. With CO2, many designs just got smaller and smaller, especially those for informal use.
So what are the contenders for the smallest air pistol? I mean modern pokey and accurate if at all possible? We were soon spoilt for choice in smaller for better grip, or lighter in weight for better handling.
Notable are ASI Gamo from Spain, who released their R-77 CO2 pellet firing revolver in the latter part of the 1990s, available in a choice of barrel lengths. R-77s had for years been fitted with rubber grips that wrap around the slender frame casting hidden underneath.
The earliest units, however, had hard plastic grips with the frame visible. Opting for the 2.5” barrel gave a tiny Police Special-style snub-nosed revolver just around the 170mm mark.
Worth handling also is their ball repeater/single-shot pellet pistol called the P-23 with a tip-up barrel for loading a single pellet directly into the barrel or revealing a BB/lead ball feed channel. Even smaller pistols exist.
The Umarex Walther PPK/s CO2 BB gun at 155mm is another favourite small design and was one of the earliest to get blowback long before the current glut of newer designs that have appeared recently. Back when these were first released that hard kick of the blowback seemed a total hoot. It still does, but to get the best from this little gem owners have been known to spend a little time fettling these.
Steel BBs, a short smoothbore tube and blowback have not eroded our love for this little beauty. Changing ammo helps – my steel BBs fall straight through the barrel and out the muzzle. Some airgun tuners go full hog and replace the smoothbore pipe with a proper rifled steel barrel and only use lead ball ammo.
Another contender in the small category is the all-steel non-blowback Baikal Makarov MP654k at a mere 160mm long. It’s small, and my oh
my it’s made from steel! It’s got a weighty presence and feels like a real pistol, as being based on the Makarov 9mm it’s made at the same manufacturing plant. What other modern air pistol, especially in CO2, is made of blued steel?
One small air pistol was imported then fell under the radar too quickly. The Anics A-9000 is the little brother to an older and somewhat larger design called the Skiff.
At 170mm top to toe it may be a tad longer than our PPK and Mak, but not by much. Don’t forget this tiny package gives you a 22-shot pellet-firing SA/DA semi-auto-style repeater. Wow! Isn’t it nice when a manufacturer thinks big and makes small!