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The Umarex TR50 (and HDR 50)

Umarex TR50

Umarex has a line of paintball-type guns they call “T4E” or “Training for Engagement.” The line includes .43, .50, and .68 caliber CO2 guns intended for law enforcement and military training, firing rubber balls, chalk-filled “dust balls,” and paintballs. Two are also available in higher power versions for use as non-lethal defensive weapons in countries that prohibit the use of weapons for that purpose.

Not long ago I purchased their TR50, a CO2 powered revolver that uses 12gram CO2 cartridges and replaceable cassettes, each of which can hold 6 rounds. It has a nominal muzzle energy of 7 joules, which translates to about 6 foot pounds. The HDR is the self-defense version, which produces 11 joules, or around 8 foot-pounds, of muzzle energy. It’s not available in the US but, curiously, can be purchased in the UK and some European countries. I’m not particularly interested in the TR50 as a self-defense weapon, although loaded with rubber or pepper balls I think it would be a good defense against aggressive dogs while bicycling or hiking.


One interesting feature of the TR50 is how the CO2 loads. 12gram cylinders are loaded in the grip, after which a plug is screwed in, but this doesn’t pierce the cartridge. To do that, the user has to give the plug a sharp rap with the palm or a nearby firm surface, the idea being that the gun can be loaded and ready for use with the risk of gas leaking out. (An Allen wrench is provided to help seat the plug, though after a few loading cycles it becomes easier to tighten the plug by hand.) Once pressurized, a metal peg pops up above the grip, giving both a visual and tactile indication that the gun is ready to shoot.

TR50 cylinder loaded with rubber balls

The TR50 and HDR are much more popular in Europe than in the US, largely because there aren’t very many legal self-defense options available in many countries. The result is a number of products designed to improve the terminal effectiveness of the gun- better projectiles, longer barrels, and molds for making your own projectiles. The simplest way to improve power downrange is via heavier projectiles, which do a better job of extracting the energy available in each shot. You can buy hard plastic balls with a steel center, balls made from rubber mixes with powdered iron, and molds to make your own projectiles. It was this last option that most interested me, but high shipping costs make this an unattractive option, as they almost double the price from around $40-50 to $80-90.

What I’ve decided to do instead is to make my own molds, either from a chunk of aluminum or from a piece of UHMW polyethylene I have on hand. European experimenters typically make their projectiles from hot melt glue, which has several advantages: It’s hard enough to hold its shape when fired, soft enough to not damage the gun and barrel, and cools and hardens rapidly, which speeds up the production of multiple rounds. I do intend to try that, but I’m also considering paraffin wax, silicone caulk, and other materials. More on that after I get around to making the molds.

While I’m not planning on using this as a defensive weapon, I did install a rail-mounted flashlight I received for review:

Looks totally tacticool, doesn’t it? This inexpensive light uses CR123A lithium batteries and produces a very bright and wide illuminated region. It might actually be a good tool for investigating noises in the backyard after dark- especially when loaded with a full cylinder of pepper balls.




What Happened to Crosman Premier Pellets?

Old 10.5gr Premier on the left, new one on the right

Crosman has been bringing out a lot of exciting and innovative guns in recent years, but I’ve been hearing complaints about their pellets. The bulk-packed Premier 7.9 and 10.5s have long been my go-to pellets for FT and hunting, and recently, thinking I was down it only half a box, I ordered a new box of the 10.5s.

What I received was downright depressing, starting with the box they were packed in. It was made of cheaper, lighter weight cardboard, it leaked pellets, and the familiar die number stamps was missing from the back. The pellets themselves were nice and shiny, but each one had a distinct mold line running around it, and the surfaces were much rougher than that of my old pellets. Inside the box I found lead flashing, distorted pellets, and other signs of poor quality control.

Has Crosman given upon producing quality pellets? Have they outsourced these to China? I don’t know. Luckily I discovered two full boxes of both the 10.5s and the 7.9s, which should last me quite a while. But unless something changes at Crosman, after those run out I’m switching to JSB.

The Predom Lucznik Wz. 1970 Air Pistol

 

I was reading through one of the many airgun forums I drop into sporadically when someone mentioned that Apex Gun Parts had a few more Polish military air pistols back in stock. I didn’t know that there was a Polish military air pistol, but immediately clicked over to Apex’s site to see what they had.  It was a reasonably priced (around $100) pistol with a curious resemblance to the Walther LP-53, a classic German air pistol of the 1960s and 70s.


 

If you’re old enough, you may remember this classic image from the Sean Connery era:

That’s an LP-53 that Connery is holding, and the story of why he’s holding an air pistol, and not the Walther PPK described in the Fleming novels, is an amusing one. It seems someone forgot to arrange for the pistol needed for the photo shoot, and someone on the crew said no problem, I’ve got a Walther, ran home, and came back with his Walther LP-53. This image made it into the poster for From Russia With Love.

The LP-53 was an interesting and popular pistol, available in a basic model and also in a more refined target model, with better sights. It was popular enough that the Poles took notice, and made their own clone at the government owned Predom Lucznik firearms plant, primarily for use in military training. (There are actually several different civilian and military versions with different model numbers- I’ve seen some marked Wz. 70).

Let’s take a closer look.

The sights are a bit crude in manufacture, as it the entire gun, when compared to the Walther, but fully adjustable and easy to use.  As with the Walther, it’s a spring pistol gun with a novel design- the spring, piston, and cylinder are contained entirely within the grip. There’s a threaded cap at the base of the grip that allows for easy disassembly and rebuilding.

Like its Walther predecessor, the Wz. 1970 (which means “Model 1970”) is a spring air gun with an interesting break-barrel cocking system. The trigger guard is actually the cocking lever, as shown above, and compresses the piston and spring contained in the handgrip. It’s an old enough design that the piston and  breech seals are made of leather, as you can see here:

 

Incidentally, the design of this cocking system is not original with Walther, but goes back to the Lincoln Jeffries pistol of the early 20thC:

 

A few test shots with the gun suggested that the piston seal was worn out or at least dried out. The gun is supposed to chronoograph at around 380fps with 7gr pellets, but the long delay between trigger pull and the sound of the pellet hitting the trap indicated the gun wasn’t putting out anything near that velocity.

Rather than disassembling the gun- it would have been a bit pointless as I don’t have a replacement seal- I decided to try adding a fair amount of silicone oil to the chamber. Modern synthetic piston guns shouldn’t be lubricated as all between rebuilds, but leather sealed guns needed to have the seals kept very wet, with regular reapplication of oil to replace what gets shot out. Luckily I had a bottle of 1970s vintage silicone oil on hand.

Using an improvised pipette I dropped perhaps .2-..3 mililiter directly into the chamber, worked the cocking lever a few time, and then left it to sit for a few minutes so that the oil would be absorbed by the leather piston seal. The improvement was immediate and obvious, with trigger pulls being immediately followed by a satisfying thwack! of pellet hitting metal.

About that trigger: It’s probably the worst airgun trigger I’ve ever encountered. There’s a sear adjustment screw but I’m cautious about turning it too far, based on experience with other airguns. ( I once spent several hours  replacing the trigger adjustment screw in my Alfa Proj match pistol after I unscrewed it just a bit too far.)  Even with it backed off to minimal safe sear engagement, it’s still a scratchy, unpredictable, release. Shooting behavior is rough, too; the unusual vertically recoiling piston means that there’s a lot of up and down movement before the pellet leaves the barrel. This is one pistol that requires a strong grip to shoot accurately.

Here’s my test target- a standard ISSF air pistol target, shot two handed at 10m:

My first shot went far to the left so I dialed a few clicks of correction in .The next four you can see strung vertically in the 5 and 6 ring. Another few clicks, and a little more experience with the trigger, and I put two shots in the black, still shooting two handed. Then I put the pistol down, picked up my Feinwerkbau LP100 and shot that 10-X one handed, just to remind myself that I still knew how to shoot 😉

The following day I tried shooting it offhand, as if it were a match pistol, using the same target. I’ve outlined the shots here in blue Sharpie:

It’s hard to see, but one of my shots was in the 9 ring, just above the shot I made with my FWB 1000. Interestingly, I didn’t shoot it that much better two handed. I’m going to keep practicing and see if I can find a way to get better groups. I may also try shooting it from some sort of rest to see what it’s capable of.

As you might guess, cocking is a bit difficult, as the short barrel doesn’t provide a lot of leverage unless you place your hand at the very end of the barrel. That’s where the sight is, of course, which doesn’t make for comfortable cocking either. With the Walther LP53 the makers thoughtfully provided a cocking aid as seen in the Walther illustration below:


 

This cocking aid consisted of a trimmed-down wooden ball with a recess cut in to clear the sight, and a rod that was inserted into the barrel. The last inch and a half of barrel were counterbored to the rod wouldn’t damage the rifling, and this feature is complied on the Polish pistol too, though I haven’t yet seen any evidence of a cocking aid being supplied by Lucznik. I’ll probably make something similar this winter.

It’s crude, difficult to shoot, and not terribly accurate. I like it.

 

 

 

Sgt. Dave reviews the SIG Sauer P226 Pellet Pistol

My interest in realistic-blowback BB replicas actually began with a search for a repeating pellet pistol.  I got it into my head that a pellet repeater would be a good choice for dealing with varmints at in-your-face range, which does happen, if rarely, out here in the country.  As I searched, I developed a set of criteria:  CO2 power (what else?), semiauto action (which made blowback operation desirable) and removable linear magazines with the pellets in a stack, like cartridges in firearms…I mean, why not?  Should be able to get lotsa pellets in a magazine the size of the ones in semiauto pistols.  Trouble is, I eventually discovered that no manufacturer wants to put pellets in a stack!  Most repeaters use small, removable rotary magazines, but that’s just disguising a revolver as a semiauto, and who wants that?  [LOTS of shooters, apparently, but I just HAD to be the exception…]  The closest I found was the legendary moving-belt magazine in the Anics SKIF 3000, and I ALMOST bought one…but then they all suddenly disappeared from the market, seemingly at once.  (The Beretta CX4 Storm replica uses a similar magazine, but it’s a carbine, and the new SIG Sauer P320 replica revives the design in improved form, but I’m getting ahead of myself.)

I came across one way of fooling myself in the form of the Beretta PX4 Storm replica, which combines realistic blowback action with a stick magazine consisting of two eight-round rotors, one at each end.  They take pellets or steel BBs, using magnets to hold the BBs in place.  After shooting eight, you can flip the magazine for a total of sixteen rounds.  A neat trick, and better than the alternatives.  A few other manufacturers, like Gamo, offer pistols with similar magazines, but when I ran across the SIG Sauer P226, I decided that was the one for me.  I never liked the looks of the PX4 anyway.

The P226 is NOT what my Sponsor dismisses as just another polymer-frame, striker-fired, double-action-only pistol, a modern fashion he dislikes.  For starters, it has a hammer.  Sure it’s double-action, but it’s single-action after the first shot, like a Beretta.  And it’s heavy!  Modern BB-shooting metal replicas tend to leave one wondering whether the real firearms they represent don’t have more heft, but no such doubts arise with this gun.  To make sure I wasn’t imagining things I weighed it, then weighed my next-heaviest BB-replica for comparison.  Because I’m unsure of the accuracy of my scale I’ll avoid citing numbers, but the P226 easily outweighed the competition by 8 ounces (240g), although with magazines loaded the BB-pistol was an ounce (20g) heavier since BB magazines are solid castings and quite massive.  (Well OK, I cited a few numbers.)  By way of explanation, the P226 really does appear to be all-metal, with the only externally-visible plastic parts being the grips and the sights.  The rifled steel barrel is threaded for a silencer.

And this is where the surprises begin.  In stark contrast with the gun, the magazines are all-plastic.  They are marked with symbols for both pellets and BBs, like the claimed capability of the Beretta PX4, though the instructions for this gun clearly state .177cal pellets only.  But the magazines have magnets to retain steel BBs, again like those for the Beretta.  This won’t be an issue I’ll be testing anytime soon, since my Sponsor has quoted a friend who says using BBs just once in this class of airgun will wipe out its accuracy.  One would think H&N Smartshot would be OK; they seem to stay in place even though the magnets don’t help, but I’m in no hurry to test them either.

Visual examination of the P226 reveals what appears to be a takedown lever and a slide release, neither of which move.  Are they stuck?  I contacted PyramidAir, and was informed that unlike realistic BB replicas, pellet airguns are Not Designed for Disassembly.  Further research into the SIG Sauer firearm revealed that the airgun slide lacks any of the notches or cutouts required for lockback or disassembly.  It also lacks an ejection port; just a shallow indentation where one should be…well, it doesn’t need one, but neither do realistic-blowback BB guns, every one of which I’ve seen has an ejection port that cycles open.  (I even have a plastic Airsoft gun with a working ejection port.)  So no further discussion of the interior mechanics of this airgun will appear in this review.

The P226 is equipped with a drop-hammer safety, which does not restrict slide movement or trigger pull, a real surprise — especially since trigger pull operates the hammer while safed, double-action style.  At least the hammer won’t cock if drawn.  If CO2 is loaded, however, no gas is expended with the safety engaged.

 

And loading CO2 is one of the slickest features of the P226.  The rear strap of the grip swings down after a release near the top is pressed, exposing the cartridge well.  Closing the grip levers the cartridge up into the piercing tube and holds it in place.  And takes A LOT of force!!  Be prepared, and DO NOT back off after you’ve started closing it, if you don’t want to waste off all your gas in a failed attempt to load it.  In fact, the lever applies so much force that the plunger gouges the rounded end of the cartridge every time.

 

 

SIG Sauer appears to have addressed the problem of the difference in trigger feel between single- and double-action with a trigger that does not change position at all when the hammer is cocked.  There’s still a difference in trigger feel, but in single-action operation you still have a trigger travel of nearly three-quarters of an inch.  At least you can feel a nice, solid stop before hammer release, less than an eighth of an inch from full-travel.  In double-action, you can clearly feel tension buildup before hammer release, so you should be able to acquire good trigger control as well as practice in double-action technique.  Either way, you’ll hear a click before hammer release (explained below), which isn’t as helpful as it sounds as it isn’t close enough to more significant events.  It’s the hammer that initiates discharge, by whacking on the gas valve.  With no CO2 loaded, I find that the P226 in double action feels like nothing so much as the cap guns I played with as a kid.

So:  Load sixteen, and insert the magazine, being careful not to get it the wrong way forward.  It won’t fit in the magazine well the wrong way, but could jam if pushed.  (I marked mine.)  Latched in place, the bottom of the magazine is recessed into the grip, so unlike firearms magazines (and realistic replicas), you can’t seat it reliably with the flat of your palm; it has to be poked in with a finger.  Then you can rack back the slide if you want; it’ll cock the hammer.

And nothing else; the rotor (cylinder?) at the top of the magazine is advanced by trigger pull; that’s the click I mentioned hearing as the next chamber snaps into place.  It really does work like a revolver cylinder.  The topmost round is in battery, and is propelled from its position in the magazine by the discharge.  You should be aware that pulling the trigger partway and changing your mind about shooting will advance the rotor (cylinder?) anyway, moving an unexpended round out of battery and causing possible issues with empty chambers before expending all your ammo.  And keep count of your shots, because the slide will not lock back, and you will not be prevented from expending all the CO2 you want “shooting blanks.”

When it’s time to reload, the magazine is not so much drop-free as pop-out.  It’s under spring tension, and would pop up like a slice of toast if you turned the P226 upside-down and pressed the magazine release.  So make sure you’re ready to catch it.  Then you can flip it over and shoot another eight.  You could even load different pellet types in each end if you had a reason.  You should be able to empty three full magazines on a CO2 cartridge, but after that you’re pressing your luck, and could face reliability issues long before the slide stops cycling.  I should mention that I was once able to empty five magazines on a warm day…but I was pressing my luck on the last eight rounds.

Accuracy is about what I’ve come to expect from “action pistols,” which is a bit of a disappointment as I’d hoped rifle-spun pellets would do better.  But I was able to shoot a slightly better group at rest from fifteen feet (my best result, unsurprisingly) than I’ve done with my BB replicas.  The three-dot sights are in the current military style, and the front sight appears to be dovetailed in and adjustable for windage — but without being able to disassemble for examination it’s impossible to determine if it really is, and being plastic, an adjustment attempt could do damage if it isn’t.

Realistic-blowback BB pistols can often disappoint in their attempt to simulate recoil by cycling their actions, but the SIG Sauer P226 has an authoritative snap.  It adds some realism to training, even if realism is lacking in other areas.  The biggest disappointment comes from SIG Sauer’s own insistence in the value of their pistol — AND longarm — replicas for firearms training.  I’ve even seen a SIG Sauer video.  I was looking for realism in field-stripping at the very least — that would sure help the training curriculum.  Still, the P226 is as much fun as any when chosen for a “combat-arms”-style course of fire.  And eight rounds between reloads is more realistic than those double-digit loads in those replica BB magazines.  My P226 leaves me undecided as to whether I’ll ever acquire a P320.  I only have two reasons to want one:  That monstrous 30-round magazine and the fact that it’s been adopted by the U.S. Armed Forces as the successor to the Beretta M9 — and I already have a Beretta, as well as an M1911.  Otherwise, it’s just another polymer-frame, striker-fired, double-action-only pistol.  Other than collection completion, I can make do with my P226 just fine.