What makes a good replica pistol? A good shooter? Something that replicates the function of the original? Something that looks and feels like the original? There isn’t any “right” answer of course, but this article looks as some of the elements that you may want to consider. It also explains the philosophy used when reviewing pistols on this site.
Look and feel
The moment you first pick up a pistol, I think you immediately have an idea of how good a replica it is. Does it feel like a real pistol? The first issue is weight – I don’t care for plastic pistols simply because they generally feel much too light. Metal replicas come much closer, though it’s rare for a replica to match the actual weight of the real weapon.
Tokyo Marui Glock 17 – nicely made, a good visual replica and a great shooter, but all plastic construction means it’s very light indeed. Picture from eHobby Asia.
Finish is the next thing. Classic pistols tend to be made of blued carbon steel or polished stainless steel. Both have a very distinctive look, and very few replicas get this right. Of the replica pistols I have handled, only Tanaka revolvers which feature the midnight gold finish actually look like blued steel.
Tanaka Smith & Wesson M29 in Midnight Gold finish – about as close to the look of blued carbon steel as it’s possible to get. Picture from eHobby Asia.
And very few pellet or BB shooting replicas come close to resembling polished stainless steel – most settle for a dull, painted silver, though again, some Tanaka revolvers with their Jupiter finish come close.
Tanaka Smith & Wesson M66 in Jupiter finish. Almost indistinguishable from real stainless steel. Picture from eHobby Asia.
Modern pistols tend to use a variety of protective coatings, which generally results in a matt or semi matt black or very dark grey finish. This is generally easier for a painted “pot metal” replica to reproduce and many replicas of modern pistols have realistic looking finishes. However, a pet hate of mine is mismatched finish on the slide and frame of a modern semi-auto pistol.
WE P226. Nice replica, but black frame with grey slide and controls. Why? Picture from eHobby Asia.
To me, an important aspect of any replica is its ability to replicate not just the look but the function of the original weapon. For this reason I don’t particularly care for fixed slides on semi-autos and non-rotating cylinders on revolvers. I also prefer full size drop-out magazines in semi-autos and removable shell casings on revolvers. I also like to see safety catches, magazine/crane releases and slide catches which look and operate like their real-world counterparts.
Gun Heaven Nagant M1895 – a functionally accurate revolver replica.
Another thing that is very important to me in a replica is the ability to shoot. These are supposed to be guns, after all. For that reason I don’t care for deactivated weapons or blank firers. I don’t skirmish or hunt, so any comments in reviews about shooting are entirely related to target shooting. Power and accuracy are obviously both important to shooting, but sound is as well. A replica which produces a weedy “phut” when fired (unless it’s a replica of a silenced weapon!) just doesn’t hit the spot for me. Realistic feeling recoil movement is also good, though this is really only attainable on blowback replica semi-autos. Reliability is also an issue – I have owned some wonderful looking replicas where the internals appear to have all the strength and longevity of over-ripe cheese.
An early Umarex Smith & Wesson 586 – a great shooter and beautifully made and finished, but with its non-rotating cylinder not such a good functional replica
I don’t suppose there will ever be such a thing as a prefect replica. Commercial considerations alone ensure that all air and airsoft pistols involve some level of compromise. Some are great replicas, but not so good at shooting (for example, I have owned two Tanaka revolvers – both looked wonderful and handled well, but neither shot with any real power or accuracy and both produced only a restrained “pop” when fired). Some are great shooters, but not such good replicas (for example, any of the Umarex pellet firing semi auto replicas – all shoot very well, but they’re revolvers dressed up to look like automatics). Having said that, some modern airsoft pistols are getting close. Airsoft pistols have always been great functional replicas, but new technology is allowing the production of some very fine shooters too.
What matters is to decide what’s important to you, and I hope that the reviews on this site will help you to decide what replica pistol will meet your needs.