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The Beeman P17: Best bargain in air pistols?

 

Normally the only air pistols that interest me are match pistols- those capable of making one-hole groups at 10 meters, with triggers that can be set to just a few ounces. But I’ve heard so many good things about the P17 that when I saw it at Amazon for under $33, I decided to bite and see why it had such a strong following.

The P17 is a Beeman-licensed, Chinese manufactured, copy of the Beeman P3, which itself is a rebranded HW40 manufactured by Weihrauch in Germany. The Weirauch gun is all metal gun that sells for around $240. What kind of quality and performance can you get for one seventh of that? I’ve never handled a P3, but I have owned two Weirauch HW45s, which Beeman markets as the P1. They’re excellently made, with all the quality you expect of fine German guns.

The P17, on the other hand, feels like a well made toy. It’s mostly plastic, with a few metal parts- barrel, cylinder, trigger, and sear. I wouldn’t expect it to last as long as a P3, but if decently cared for it should last several years. The pumping system is the same as that found on the FAS 6004 and the Gamo Compact, and the P17 is cocked and loaded the same way as the more expensive guns:

The upper part of the gun is unlatched via what looks like  a hammer at the rear of the gun, and hinged forward. A pellet s inserted at the breech end of the barrel:

and the barrel/arm is hinged back into place, compressing air in the cylinder and cocking the trigger.

This takes a surprisingly high amount of effort, far more than the FAS 6004 or the Gamo Compact. I don’t know if this is because the energy is higher (it shoots around 100fps faster than the other two pistols), or because the cocking geometry is not as efficient, but there it is. It definitely takes an adult to do it. Once cocked, the slide safety is automatically engaged- an excellent feature on a gun designed for beginners, I think, and perhaps a necessary for experienced shooters as well, given the contortions you have to go through to cock it.

The adjustable sights are simple but cleverly designed, using short pieces of “light pipe” plastic to create luminous dots under reasonably bright illumination:

They’re the sort of sights you’d put on a combat gun, not one designed for shooting at paper targets, though, so while they’re very easy to see and quick to acquire, they’re not ideal for paper punching.

The trigger is… well, not wretched, but not very good. It’s light, but it’s very long- probably as a safety feature. You can’t feel the break coming, so there’s no way to stage it. The best technique I found was to get a good target hold while quickly and smoothly pulling straight through.

Shooting two handed, I got the following group at 10 meters with the stock sights:

That’s roughly an inch. I then tried attaching a Millet dot sight that costs twice as much as the gun:

…and shooting one handed, as if I were shooting Bullseye. After a few shots to get the Millet more-or-less on target, I got the following shooting at a standard ISSF Air Pistol 10m target:

That’s actually not bad, considering how poor the trigger is when compared to even a cheap match gun like the Gamo Compact. (The shots outside the black were all sighting shots.)

 

In summary, then, the plusses:

  • Surprisingly accurate
  • Really Cheap
  • Fairly well made
  • High velocity for a single stroke pneumatic
  • You can mount a scope or dot sight
  • Recoilless

And the minuses:

  • Mediocre trigger
  • Sights are wrong for precision shooting

I’d have to say that all things considered it’s an excellent value, a more accurate plinker than anything else in its price range, and a good budget choice for learning basic pistol marksmanship-  especially if you can’t afford anything better.

Feinwerkbau 100 Match Air Pistol

Yes, another 10 meter match air pistol. I’d never fired (or even seen in person) a Feinwekbau 100, 102, or 103, but I’d heard that they’re great guns, the best of the single-stroke pneumatic era. One came up for sale at a fair price, and I’d just sold some expensive toys, so…. this one made it into my collection.

As you can see, functionally it’s not terribly different from the IZH-46m. There’s a large cocking arm underneath that rotates down and around 180 degrees to open. When you reach the fully extended position, the loading gate flips open:

Place a pellet in the loading tray, close the gate, and that o-ringed aluminum bolt pushes the pellet into the  barrel and seals it.

Bring the cocking arm back around and you compress a charge of air. It takes significantly more force to do so than cocking the IZH-46m, something that was dealt with in later versions of this pistol. The model 102 (there was no 101) used two cocking levers that divided the work between them. Easier, but a bit clumsy. The 103 used a longer cocking arm with better geometry to less cocking effort. It was also removable, which made the gun lighter.

The trigger on this gun, like the triggers on just about every other Feinwerkbau, is about as good as you would want. It’s adjustable for length of pull, position, first stage and second stage length and weight, and trigger shoe angle. I was able to get it just where I wanted with just a few adjustments to the position of the trigger, and left everything else alone.

Firing performance is excellent, as you might expect. It’s recoilless, of course, and absolutely free of any vibration or movement on firing. The sights are more of less identical to this eon my LP-80, being adjustable for not only windage and elevation but also for the width of the rear sight notch, something I really appreciate. For some reason the sights were cranked way to one one side and very low when I received it, but after a quick check of the manual to see which way the controls worked I had it on target pretty quickly.

As it points better than my IZH-46 and has a better trigger as well, I decided the Izzy would go and this gun would take its place. If you’re looking for one for yourself, 100s, 102s and 103s in excellent working condition generally  run from $600 to $700. They don’t seem to show up for sale as often as other guns, perhaps because once someone buys one, they tend to hang on to it. Like the Feinwerkbau recoilless spring  guns, you could shoot one of these in competition today without giving up very much to shooters with $1500-2000 PCP guns, although your cocking arm might get a bit tired over a long match.

[Single-Stroke Pneumatic (SSP) air pistols and rifles were an intermediate stage between the complex recoilless spring-powered guns that dominated ISSF competition in the 1970s and today’s modern pre-charged pneumatic guns. With no spring to wear out, and no spring hysteresis, SSPs are more efficient than spring guns and have much less vibration. The very first match SSP was the Walther LP1, which came out in the mid-70s. While it was a very accurate gun, it was harder to cock than the Feinwerkbau and didn’t really challenge it on the firing line. It wasn’t until the LP100 came out in 1988 that the big move to SSPs started. SSPs in turn were replaced by CO2 powered guns, which were less fatiguing to shoot (as there was no cocking effort), but problems with fluctuating gas pressure at different temperatures and altitudes led to CO2 guns being replaced by PCP guns. When it comes to actual firing performance, there’s not a lot of difference between an SSP and a PCP gun.]

Saying farewell to my IZH-46m

I recently purchased yet another target air pistol so one of the collection has to go, and I’ve decided it’s the Izzy. Excellent condition, not a lot of use. The grips have been slightly sculpted to my XL hands, so there’s plenty of wood left there. One of the e-clips fell off and I temporarilyreplaced it with a neoprene washer that actually seems to hold better.

(Sold 5/2/17).

The Chiappa FAS 6004 Air Pistol

 

A friend of mine who shoots PPC bought an FAS 6004 last year, thinking it would be good for home practice. A few months later he must have decided otherwise as he offered it to me at an attractive price. I’d been interested in the pistol since first reading about it, and so after an hour of testing it in my basement range I decided I had to buy it.

The gun is based on the earlier FAS 604, which was originally made by Domino in (I believe) the 1980s. The 604 was a serious competitor in the world of ISSF competition back then, when single-stroke pneumatics like the FWB 100 and the IZH 46 were starting to  displace spring guns like the FWB 65/80/90 and the Diana Model 6 from the firing line. It was not a cheap gun, being made of precision made parts, and costing close to $1,000. Today’s FAS 6004 is a less expensive clone of the 604 made by Chiappa of Italy that uses more cast parts to reduce the cost of manufacture. Externally, it’s almost identical. From a dozen feet away it’s impossible to tell the difference.

 

The FAS 6004 is available in two models, differing only in the style of grip. Mine is the less expensive ($420 retail) model that uses an ambidextrous wood grip. For $550 you can get the pistol with an adjustable wood grip in two sizes and in left or right handed versions. Everything I’d read about the ambidextrous grip said that it’s the best ambidextrous grip ever put on an air pistol and I’d have to agree. It’s made of solid wood, with a very fine stippling pattern that provides a superb grip. It fits my XL sized hand as well as smaller hands. Before I bought it I thought I might upgrade to the adjustable grip, but now I think I’ll stick with it.

 

I really like the feel and the balance of this pistol. It has a solid feel and is just muzzle heavy enough to stabilize it. The sights are easily adjustable, thanks to the large coin-slotted knobs. I’d prefer an adjustable width front of rear sight, as I like to see more space either side of the front sight, but shooters with better vision or shorter arms may not see this as an issue.

Functionally the pistol works a lot like the Gamo Compact or the Beeman P17. You release the barrel and cocking lever by depressing a latch on the left side of the pistol, just in front of the rear sight:

 

And lift the barrel/cocking lever assembly up and forward:

 

The pellet is then inserted directly into the rear of the barrel:

…and the cocking lever/barrel is swung back into place, compressing a charge of air. This takes a fair amount of force (more than is required for cocking an IZH-46m) , and while it’s certainly not difficult for an adult male (or a fit adult female) it’s probably too much for a junior shooter.

Shooting behavior is very predictable. The trigger is adjustable for weight, length of first stage, and trigger position. It’s not as crisp or smooth as my FWB 80 or IZH-46m, but it’s a lot better than the Daisy 717/747/777 or the Gamo Compact. Trigger weight can’t be adjusted as low as the FWB and IZH (I learned this when the adjustment screw popped loose and flew across the room) but it can be set as low as 12 ounces, according to Chiappa.

At first, a lot of my shots went pretty wide, with some of them landing outside the black. I realized that this gun was not as forgiving as my other match air pistols. The sight radius is shorter, and the velocity is around 100 fps lower. That means that the pellet takes a longer time to exist the barrel, and that means that follow through is much more important. Once I started concentrating on my follow through, groups tightened up:

 

 

It looked like I was pulling to the left, which suggested that I pay more attention to trigger control, but it also looked like the gun was shooting low. I added 4 clicks of elevation and tried a few more:

 

 

Not a great group, and one wild shot (which I called), but the two shots that felt the best went right into the 10 ring. I can certainly live with that.

I haven’t shot competition since 1998, preferring to just compete against myself in my basement 10 meter range. (If I intended to compete, I’d sell all three of my air pistols and buy one good PCP pistol.) But if you’re looking for a starter pistol for competition, this wouldn’t be a bad choice. If the IZH-46m was still available, that would be my first choice, but they haven’t been imported for a while. The Gamo costs around $150 less, but the trigger on the Gamo isn’t nearly as good.

The FAS is a fine entry level match pistol, and one that will teach good shooting habits. If you can regularly shoot good scores with this gun, you could move up to an entry-level PCP like the Hammerli AP20 and start winning competitions. If, like me, you just want to shoot informal matches against your friends and yourself, the FAS 6004 is a pistol that you can enjoy shooting for a long time.

Postscript: I thought the 6004 might replace one of my other target air pistols, but while deciding which guns to sell as part of a general thinning out of the collection, the 6004 got the nod. In many ways it was one of the most enjoyable match guns to shoot, but I do significantly better with my FWB LP80 and IZH-46m.