The Mindful Shooter: Zen and the Art of Replica Pistols

Zen Buddhism and replica pistol shooting. Two things that you might suspect don’t have much in common, but you’d be wrong…

Here’s the situation; you have got yourself a nice, accurate shooting replica, you have learned appropriate stance, grip and sight picture and yet, you still can’t get those shots to group the way you want. Maybe there’s a bit of your technique you have forgotten to work on? The bit that lives between your ears, for example? Like most activities that require intense concentration, shooting any kind of pistol needs mental as well as physical preparation if you are going to do it well.

Image: 3.0 Brazil via WikiMedia Commons

Something that many athletes and top sports people are now using to improve their focus and concentration is mindfulness, a concept taken from Zen Buddhism. In this article I want to talk about how this relates to replica pistol shooting. OK, I know, it’s probably not what you were expecting when you arrived at a site devoted to replica guns, but bear with me for a few moments – there may actually be something here for all of us. And don’t worry, there’s no extra charge and you won’t have to shave your head or give up burgers in order to use these techniques.

Kenjuu Do – The way of the pistol

One of the reasons I enjoy target shooting with replica pistols (or any other type of pistol) is that it demands absolute focus if you are to achieve consistently decent results. You just can’t shoot accurately if you’re thinking about that proposal that must be finished for Friday or whether that strange smell in your son’s bedroom really is incense as he claims or some other less socially acceptable herbal substance. After a good shooting session I generally feel strangely relaxed and worry-free. So I was fascinated to discover something called Kenjuu Do, a precept of Japanese Zen Buddhist philosophy which translates roughly as “the way of the pistol”. This uses pistol shooting both as a form of meditation and as a practical way to learn aspects of Zen Buddhism.

The ideogram for The Way of the Pistol

It may initially seem strange to talk about target shooting with a pistol as a form of meditation, but it actually makes sense if you think about it. Pistol target shooting isn’t just a physical act. Certainly you need to get things like grip, stance and breathing right but it also involves the correct mental preparation and approach. If your mental approach is wrong, you just can’t shoot well. I suspect that this need for focus and mental engagement while you’re shooting helps to distract you from the worries and concerns of everyday life and that this is part of what makes you feel relaxed and content afterwards.

Zen provides ways to tune your mental approach for target shooting and suggests that the approaches and techniques used to improve your shooting can also be applied to other aspects of your life. I’m not a Buddhist or a practitioner of Zen or any other philosophy but I do find some of the teachings relating to Kenjuu Do fascinating and I thought I’d share them with you. Will they make you a better shooter? Maybe. Will you become a Zen Master? Almost certainly not. But you might just learn something about our hobby and why it makes you feel the way it does.

The path to enlightenment via replica guns? Take a Crosman MKI and add a little bit of Zen philosophy…

Zen: Oneness of body and mind

Zen is based on a subset of Buddhist teaching and was originally propounded in China in the 8th Century before becoming established in Japan in the 14th Century. The word Zen is an English derivative of the Japanese word dhyana which means “to think“. It’s important to remember that Zen is not a religion in the conventional sense. That is, it does not ask you believe in anything supernatural nor does it offer a set of rules to be followed in order to receive benefits in an afterlife. Rather it provides guidance on how to live a satisfying and fulfilled life. In Zen Buddhist terms this is known as reaching enlightenment. Part of this involves achieving fusion between mind and body so that the two operate in harmony.

The Horyu-Ji temple at Nara was one of the earliest Buddhist temples in Japan

When Zen Buddhism reached Japan it became integrated with the existing warrior ethos and tempered with a more practical view of how to achieve enlightenment. This often used seemingly ordinary tasks such as flower arranging or gardening and used them as arts (or “Ways”) that helped lead to spiritual growth. These activities were not done just for their physical results but also because they helped to learn mindfulness, an attitude that can be applied to other things. Archery (Kyudo) and later pistol shooting were seen as perfect Zen activities which required a combination of physical discipline and mental focus. To me, one of th e most interesting things about Zen thinking is the way in which it can be applied to almost any activity (including of course, motorcycle maintenance!).

But how, you might reasonably ask, does all this relate to shooting your replica pistols? Well, let’s have a look at four linked precepts of Kenjuu Do and see if they can be used to improve your shooting. Bear in mind that I’m not in any way a Zen expert and what you have here is simply my understanding of how some elements of Zen can be applied to our hobby. To find out more about Zen Buddhism in general and Kenjuu Do in particular, you’ll find a link at the end of the article to a website that describes all of this in more detail.

The Empty Mind

“In shooting, you learn more about yourself than any other sport.”

Frank Higginson

One of the central tenets of Zen is the ability to remain calm and retain mental balance in all circumstances. This is called achieving mushin, an “empty mind”. This shouldn’t be confused with the state of mental blankness which can be induced simply by watching back-to-back episodes of America’s Next Top Model. In Zen terms, achieving an empty mind means focusing completely on the present moment, accepting responsibility for your actions and, where these haven’t achieved the desired result, calmly trying again without allowing emotions or thoughts of success or failure to intrude. Achieving an empty mind involves removing all of the seven “defilements” which can upset mental balance. These are:

    Happiness (Yorokobu)

    Anger (Okoru)

    Greed (Urei)

    Expectation (Omou)

    Sadness (Kanashimu)

    Terror (Osoreru)

    Surprise (Odoroku)

“Tranquillity in tranquillity is not true tranquillity; it is tranquillity in action that is the true tranquillity”

Extract from the Fudochi Shinmyoroku (Divine Record Of Immovable Wisdom) by the Zen priest Takuan

We all lead busy lives and these leave us constantly filled with conflicting thoughts and emotions. That’s perfectly normal. However, target shooting gives you the chance to practice consciously clearing away all of these. If you use a pistol capable of accurate shooting but you don’t achieve the accuracy you expect, the problem may lie in your mental approach. For example, does this sound familiar; you’re shooting a string of ten shots. You get to number eight, and you can see that all the previous shots are grouped nicely, right in the centre of the target. If you can just do as well with the next three, you’ll beat your own best previous effort… Except of course that you won’t. Because as soon as your mind is filled with the defilements of excitement and happiness, your shooting gets worse.

When you take up your stance for shooting, you should consciously try to practice ensuring that you don’t feel excitement, concern, stress, worry or anything else. Instead, focus completely on the present shot without thinking about previous or subsequent shots. It’s not easy, but if you can do it, this will almost certainly help you to shoot better. It’s the fact that accurate pistol shooting demands that you clear your mind before and during the activity that has led some people to describe this as a perfect example of Zen standing meditation.

One shot, then die

“When you do something, you should burn yourself completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself.”

Shunryu Suzuki, Sōtō Zen master and teacher

The Japanese phrase “Issha Zetsumei” is sometimes used in Kenjuu Do. The direct translation is something like “one shot and then die”. The concept comes from the idea of a dying soldier on the battlefield who has only a single shot left. This soldier will have no other opportunity to leave his mark upon the world other than through this single shot. Zen teaches that there are no second chances in life and that everything you do should be approached with 100% focus and attention, just like the dying soldier. Each thing you do, no matter how ordinary it may be, should be approached as if it is the single most important thing in your life.

If you are not completely focused on what you are doing, or if you start thinking about what has gone before or what may happen in the future, it distracts from the here and now and your performance suffers. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should literally approach each shot as if it were your last, but rather that you must take each shot separately and individually. Zen teaches that people often spend too much time thinking about the past and planning for the future. If instead you focus completely on the present moment you will achieve more satisfactory results. When you are shooting, don’t be distracted by what has gone before or possible aggregate scores. Don’t get angry if the previous shot was bad or excited if it was good. Instead, remain calm and try to bring all your attention and focus to the present shot. Like achieving an empty mind, this isn’t easy and it takes conscious effort.

Focus on the target

“Right concentration keeps the mind and body working together properly… They will not miss the target, nor will they be deluded or distracted from the Right Path of Life.“

The teachings of Buddha

One of the things that Buddhism teaches is the importance of focus or “right concentration.” To whatever you are doing, you should give absolute concentration and avoid distraction or irrelevancy.

One of my favourite Zen parables concerns a Japanese Zen master archer. While teaching his young pupils, one day he told them that he wanted to demonstrate an important lesson. He had them cover his eyes so that he could not see, then he took aim and shot an arrow towards the target. The pupils were embarrassed to note that he completely missed the target – they had imagined that he would somehow use his Zen skills to shoot accurately even when he could not see the target. He removed the blindfold and explained that he wanted to illustrate that, if you want to succeed, you must always focus on the target.

OK, Duh! If you want to shoot accurately, you need to focus on the target. Who’d have guessed? But actually this idea links closely with the first two ideas. To shoot well, you must be completely focused on the target. If you allow yourself to be distracted by anything else you will shoot less accurately.

Intuitive awareness

“Thousands of repetitions and out of one’s true self perfection emerges.”

Zen saying

Another precept of Zen Buddhism involves attaining what is called an “intuitive understanding” of any activity. In part, this is achieved through frequent repetition. If you do something often enough, you cease to think about it consciously and instead it becomes understood at a much deeper level. This true of any activity but particularly those which require mental and physical co-ordination. Multiple world champion racing driver Ayrton Senna spoke about how, on a couple of occasions, he was able to set his fastest laps after attaining a state where he was no longer conscious of driving the car and instead seemed to be watching himself from outside. The same things apply to more mundane activities that we all undertake. When you drive to work in the morning, you almost certainly aren’t thinking about gear changes, braking points and steering. You have done these things so often that instead they become fused into a single activity which you do for the most part without conscious thought leaving you free to focus on the whole process of driving safely.

The same things apply to target shooting. If you are consciously thinking about your stance, grip, breathing, sight picture, score or any other specific element, you will not shoot well. If you practice often enough these things will become intuitive and automatic and you will reach a point where you will be able to focus instead on the process of shooting as a whole rather than thinking about its individual elements.

Conclusion

“The shooting practitioner does not look at the target for the result of his or her practice, but inward, for the target is not a target – it is a mirror. And if the heart is right, each shot clears away some more of the obstacles clouding the vision of one’s true nature.”

Zen in the art of pistol shooting website

If you can apply these four techniques to your shooting, you may be on the way to what Zen describes as “shooter, bullet and target as one.” If you achieve this, shooting ceases to be composed of several different activities and becomes instead a single, intuitively understood process where the shooter, the gun and the target are all involved. Zen also suggests that the mental disciplines and techniques developed for target shooting can be applied to everyday life – that’s one of the reasons that both archery and shooting are used as a part of the teaching of Zen philosophy.

This has been a very quick look at Zen as it relates to replica pistol shooting. I hope there is something here you may find useful and that may even help to improve your shooting. In shooting, as in many other activities, mental preparation and training can be just as important as other techniques. Zen thinking is one way of approaching this. And if anyone accuses you of wasting your time playing with toy guns in the future you can explain that you’re actually exploring the precepts of Zen philosophy!

May your aim be true and your shooting free of defilement.

Links

If you’re interested in learning more, here is a website that provides much more detail about both Kenjuu Do and Zen Buddhism:

https://www.bullseyepistol.com/zeninfo.htm

Many of the images used in this article come from a collection of photographs of real Samurai taken in Japan between 1860 and 1880. You can see more of the collection here:

History Collection Samurai photographs

Gun Heaven Webley MkVI Service Revolver

The first batch of Webley revolvers, also known as “Self-Extracting” or “Top-Break” revolvers, arrived in Thailand at the end of last year. Proving to be quite popular, I unfortunately missed out and so had to wait until completion of both the Chinese New Year and Songkran festivities to take possession of my very own Webley MkVI. The wait was definitely worth it!

This is the 6mm smoothbore version is marketed in Asia, under licence, by Gun Heaven of Hong Kong and Taiwan. As far as I am aware, it is identical to the 4.5mm version except for the calibre and the fact that it does not have a safety switch fitted to the right-hand side (I note some models have such a safety fitted just above the trigger; although unobtrusive, I am of the opinion that it is unnecessary: if you are ready to shoot and then change your mind, you simply lower the hammer, remove the “cartridges” and place the pistol safely in a holster or otherwise out of harm’s way).

Real Steel Background

Webley & Son of Great Britain, who would later become known as Webley & Scott following a merger in 1897, started development of their famous “Top-Break” revolvers in the 1870s for both military and civilian markets. All were chambered for the substantial .455 inch calibre cartridge with heavy 265 grain bullets travelling at a little over 600 fps. Black-powder cartridges were used in the MkI which appeared in 1887 and replaced the Enfield revolver as standard issue to the British Army. Black powder continued to be used until the MkV in 1894 when smokeless cordite ammunition was introduced (source: world.guns.ru).

The MkVI was the pinnacle of the Webley Top-Break design featuring a six-inch barrel (previous versions had either four or five inch barrels), squared instead of more rounded “bird’s beak” grips and a removeable front post (although this is cast as part of the barrel on the replica). Whilst the earlier MkIV was known for being used extensively during the Boer War, the MkVI became synonymous with The Great War, entering service with British and Commonwealth troops in 1915. Although production of the MkVI by the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield ceased in 1932 (Webley & Scott had stopped production in 1921), this powerful revolver was still to be relied upon by soldiers in World War Two alongside its replacement, the Enfield No.2 MkI (source: Wikipedia).

Gun Heaven Webley MKVI

Packaging and Presentation 4.5 / 5

The gun is held securely in place using bubble-wrap inside an attractive cardboard box. Six “cartridges” are provided along with a detailed user manual that covers operation, field-stripping, a specification comparison between the CO2 replica and the “real steel” … and film and game credits! This last one is a rather novel idea, but hardly surprising seeing as how this pistol has featured in so many films over the years.

Excerpts from the User Manual (2014 – far left) … and Small Arms Training Pamphlet, Vol.I, No.11 (1937)

This movie list is repeated on the back of the box along with a brief history of the original firearm. From “The Lost Patrol” to “A Million Ways to Die in the West” (have not seen that one… yet!) and from “Doctor Who” to “Dad’s Army” (two of my favourite shows as a boy… and ones which I am revisiting in middle age!) the Webley Mk VI Revolver has featured in so many productions (even when it should not have, owing to the fact it did not yet exist!) that it is extremely difficult – nigh impossible! – to know which to illustrate here. However, it would be ridiculous not to give at least a couple of examples; so courtesy of that fountain of knowledge the “IMFDB”…

Col. Durnford (Burt Lancaster) taking aim (both eyes open) in “Zulu Dawn” …

… and she’s got two! Anna Barnes-Leatherwood (Charlize Theron) in “A Million Ways to Die in the West” (… and who said shooting is just for boys!)

… and finally a shot (excuse the pun!) from a film set in this part of the world — Captain Hornsby (Denholm Elliott) traipsing through the jungle in “Too Late the Hero”

Another excellent idea – and one which I have not seen before – is the inclusion of the facsimile Small Arms Training Pamphlet (Vol. I, No.11) dated 1937, specific to the Webley MkVI. However, the only reason I have not given full marks (and I am being very “fussy” here!) is I would love to see an imitation cartridge box provided with replicas of such historically important guns. Admittedly, I have only ever seen this with the Tokyo Marui 1911A1, but it struck me as being another rather enterprising idea.

Visual Accuracy 8.5 / 10

This replica is, at first glance, identical to the original firearm. My first thoughts were, should you be the curator of a museum wishing to save a little money, then you need look no further than the Webley MkVI replica!

However, there are some very minor differences which I will highlight here. I should like to stress that none of these were at all immediately apparent. The photos with the blue background are part of a larger collection of immaculate British revolvers I found at the “TIR et COLLECTION Armes Règlementaires” forum, a link to which is given at the end of this review.

Photo (top) courtesy of tircollection.com

On the left-hand side everything would appear to be exactly the same, except for the hammer which, when at rest on the replica, sits slightly proud of the firing pin. Mine comes in what is known as a “weathered” finish and, in my opinion, adds significantly to the authenticity of the gun. The original usually featured a selection of proofing marks and stamps – for example, on the cylinder cam as given above – which are not on the replica. Furthermore, the rear sight appears to be slightly higher, but that may well be intentional as it shoots using a perfectly balanced sight picture.

Three well-defined stamps/ engravings may be found on the left-hand side of the frame. Both the “Mark VI” stamped above the cylinder and the “Webley” patent stamp, correctly identified as 1915, below the cylinder are exactly as would be found on the cartridge firing original; having the calibre stamped on the barrel is something I have not seen, at least on the images I have found, but in my opinion does not look at all out of place.

After all, it could be to distinguish it from the MkIV, reintroduced in 1942 in .38 inch calibre and which bears more than a passing resemblance to a scaled-down MkVI — if one of those is in the pipeline, perhaps with an alternative grip style featuring either the “Webley” logo or “bird’s beak” grips — than I for one would certainly like to have the pair.

Photo (top) courtesy of tircollection.com

A few other minor discrepancies are also noticeable on the right-hand side; namely a screw instead of a pin on which the barrel catch pivots and a pin missing to the rear of the cylinder near the top of the grips. The grips on the replica are of black plastic; I assume Bakelite would have been used on the original. Also, as mentioned previously, the front post is cast as part of the barrel whereas it is held in place by a screw on the original.

The serial number is stamped on the frame above and to the rear of the trigger guard. It actually took me some time to find out exactly where they were placed on the original. My search culminated with the Imperial War Museum website and the Webley MkVI used by author J.R.R Tolkien during World War One (a link to the IWM website is given at the end of this review):

Photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, London: © IWM (FIR 11492)

As can be seen, the serial number was stamped on the edge of the cylinder (photo above) as well as underneath the gun, forward of the trigger guard (photo below):

Photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, London: © IWM (FIR 11492)

N.B.: The screw for the trigger guard is not included on the replica

The shells, whilst marked “Webley .455” are nearly the same size as those of the “.38 inch” WinGun “7-Series” with an outside shell casing diameter of 9.6 +/- 0.05 mm for the Webley as against to 9.4 mm for the WinGun. However, the lead-coloured rubber “bullet” into which the BB is fitted is slightly shorter than that of the 7-Series “.38” (I believe the “7-Series” is what the Dan Wesson replicas are based upon).

Left to right: WinGun .177, WinGun 6mm, Webley 6mm and Nagant M1895 6mm

Please note that some Webley 6mm shells (not shown) have a smaller diameter hole which will reduce muzzle velocity

It certainly looks the part… and performs, too

Operational and Functional Accuracy 15 / 15

Apart from using CO2 as a propellant, operation is exactly the same as that of the original. A CO2 capsule is inserted by removing the right-hand side grip. There is a notch in the base for this purpose. The lanyard swivel, which doubles as a piercing screw, is then gently tightened without piercing the capsule. I then like to replace the grip before tightening the screw further in order to pierce the CO2. Capsules are pierced cleanly and efficiently and it holds its charge well.

BBs are pushed into the front of each “cartridge” and held firmly in place by the rubber “bullet”. Pressing on the barrel catch allows the barrel and cylinder to swivel forward. Cartridges are then loaded – if dropped into place there is a faint metallic “ring” – and the barrel/ cylinder swung back into place with a positive, metallic “click”. You really could be forgiven for forgetting this replica is made of alloy as against steel!

The Webley MkVI, as per the original, may be fired in both single and double action. Once firing has been completed, the cylinder is again swung open and the cartridges raised automatically by the extractor. If the barrel is pushed fully forward, then the extractor will return to its closed position.

A shell being extracted. Although marked “.455” it is in fact more akin to a .38”

Inset: BBs are held firmly in place by the rubber “bullet”

Field-stripping instructions are provided in the user manual. This is much more straightforward than I imagined it would be. With the shells removed, the bottom screw below the cylinder cam assembly is removed and the cam rotated in a clockwise direction. The cylinder then “pops-up” when the barrel is fully opened and can be removed.

Indicating the screw which unlocks the cylinder cam

Shooting 35 / 40

Most of my shooting to date – nearly 600 rounds through six CO2 capsules – has been done in single-action using both a one and two handed grip (the targets shown have all been using two hands). Double-action was a little stiff at first, but is improving with use and practice. The pistol has a real “heft” to it, although with a tendency to fall forward if not held with a firm grip; just like the original, I should imagine. I weighed mine using digital scales and, correcting for spent CO2, this came to 1062 grams (loaded) which equates to 2.34 lbs (an original would be 2.4 lbs, unloaded).

The fixed sights provide a good, clear sight picture; even in low light and without my specs on! As mentioned previously, the rear sight is slightly higher on the replica, but I should imagine this is intentional as it results in a point of aim equaling point of impact.

When target shooting, then the front post should be in focus, not the rear sight.

A clear sight picture with POA (top of post) = POI

I initially shot using .25g (FireFly) BBs. Although obtaining reasonably good results at six yards with a grouping of about 1.5 to 2 inches and mean score of 37 based on sets of five shots at the standard Umarex Boys Club target, which is scaled for use at this distance, I soon discovered that heavier .40g (FireFly) balls resulted in a marked improvement as shown in the following photo:

.40g 6mm BBs at six yards using a two-handed grip.

The grouping on target four is ⅝ inch centre to centre. The inset shows the chrono reading from shot #41

Although muzzle velocity was rather inconsistent for the first few shots, it soon settled to approximately 370 +/- 20 fps using .40g 6mm BBs in a relatively cool (for Thailand!) 27°C. In fact, by about half-way through the capsule of CO2, readings were even more consistent at around 385 +/- 5 fps. At least 90 goods shots may be had from a capsule of CO2. However, it had been a few days prior to this that I first decided to swap to the heavier ammunition… just after I had shot my 10m UBC competition!

All shot at 10m. The targets on the left using .25g, the rest using .40g.

The target in the centre, whilst not being a high score, has groupings of 1 ⅜ inch and ¾ inch (not counting the flier) top and bottom respectively

Whether it is a little less powerful than the 4.5mm version, I am not sure. It is certainly perfectly adequate for my needs, being just right for my “Biscuit Tin” range with shots easily connecting with the single lid which presents an eight inch diameter target at twenty yards. What is also worthy of note is that, thanks to the slightly higher power than is usually associated with 6mm replica guns, on pulling the trigger you immediately hear the impact against the tin lid in the distance, making it much more suitable (and fun!) for plinking in the garden (neighbours permitting).

There is even a puff of “smoke”, noticeable at night, from the  rear of the cylinder and barrel. Whether this might indicate an imperfect seal between the CO2 valve and cartridge, I would not like to say as the pistol is remarkably efficient in its consumption of CO2 and the marriage between the two with the cylinder closed appears to be fine; anyway, it looks kind of cool. The pistol is not particularly loud.

Quality and Reliability 14 / 15

It is really too soon to form a proper opinion, but to date the pistol has operated flawlessly. What has to be remembered is that, although no doubt made of a very good quality and durable alloy, it is still made of alloy and not steel. The only thing I could mention is that there is a very slight lateral movement in the barrel where it pivots with the frame, but this is not worsening with use and disappears when the barrel is snapped shut. Furthermore, I would be very surprised if the original did not have some minor movement at this point, too — these guns were built to operate in the worst conditions possible; reliability as opposed to fine tolerance was the order of the day.

The cylinder comes lightly greased and there are no signs of wear to the pawl teeth.

Right – view through the smooth bore barrel

The wide indexing pawl, cylinder stop and valve gasket.

Right – Please note the steel insert in the hammer where it strikes the “firing pin” (this reinforcing pin is to be found on all the WinGun/ Gun Heaven replicas I own)

Overall Impression 15 / 15

I have decided on full marks for this section since, if anything, this pistol has surpassed my expectations — and they were high. Having been so impressed by this smoothbore version of the Webley MkVI, I must admit that I am more than a little keen to see the .177 pellet version one day. Also, as mentioned above, should the manufacturers decide to modify things somewhat to produce a MkIV to accompany the MkVI, then in my opinion they would definitely make a great pair!

Introduced in 1915, this gun was issued to men who were expected to endure the unimaginable horrors of World War One. Most of these men were not professional soldiers, but ordinary people from all walks of life who when called upon, did their duty, many of them never to return home. Terrible sacrifices were made on both sides; not only must this never be forgotten, we must ensure that it never happens again.

On a less serious note, I feel immense credit is due to Gun Heaven/ Toubo/ WinGun and Webley for deciding to work together in order to revisit the original design and thence develop what can only be described as a thoroughly authentic, fully functioning replica of the Webley MkVI Service Revolver; one which should appeal not only to shooters and collectors of replica firearms like myself, but also to those who may otherwise not be particularly interested in replica pistols such as full-bore and other shooting enthusiasts, military historians, readers of classic late 19th and early 20th Century fiction and, last but not least, avid television and movie fans!

Total 92 / 100

Review by Adrian. Adrian is also a moderator for the Umarex Boys Club Forums.                   

Related posts

Nagant M1895 Revolver review

Umarex Colt Single Action Army revolver review

Links

http://www.tircollection.com/t7678-revolvers-british

http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30034679

ASG STI Duty One

Nice replica, shame about the trigger… The ASG STI Duty One is a fairly typical product from Danish distributor ASG – it’s well made, well finished and a good replica of the original pistol.  However, it does have a couple of idiosyncrasies which you need to bear in mind if you’re thinking of buying one.

ASG produce two replicas based on the STI Duty One – one has blowback and one doesn’t.  Apart from blowback, the two appear to be identical (though the non-blowback version is a little cheaper to buy). The ASG STI Duty One is also available in both 6mm and 4.5mm form. I have owned three examples of this replica and all were 4.5mm, blowback versions, so that’s what I’ll mainly be talking about here though I believe that the other versions are similar in function.

Real steel background

In the early 1990s, Texan gunsmith Virgil Tripp started building custom 1911 pistols for the growing IPSC market.  His attention to detail and the quality of his products quickly brought commercial success and in 1993 a young engineer and Computer Aided Design (CAD) specialist called Sandy Strayer joined Tripp Research Inc.  With Tripp’s pistol knowledge and Stayer’s engineering skills, the two revolutionised the 1911 market when they introduced their 2011 range in 1994.  This provided a modular frame using fiber-reinforced plastic for the trigger guard, grip, and magazine well which was attached to the metal upper portion of the frame.  The STI 2011 frame was strong and reliable but less than half the weight of a conventional all-metal 1911 frame.

One of the STI International 2011 range

The company changed its name to Strayer-Tripp, Inc. (STI) in 1994 and focused on two distinct lines of pistol – the 1911 range which provided pistols with a conventional frame based on the 1911 design and the 2011 range which used the new modular frame.  In 1997 the company was bought over by the owners of electronics company Tessco, Inc., and was re-named STI International.  The STI 1911 and 2011 ranges continued to be popular and by 2007 STI International was the third largest exporter of guns in the USA.

The STI International Duty One

The Duty One is one of the most popular pistols in the STI International 1911 range.  However, unlike many STI pistols, this isn’t primarily intended as a target shooter.  It’s a practical carry gun with fixed sights which is available with 3″, 4″ and 5″ barrels and chambered either for the .45 ACP round or the 9x19mm.  The Duty One features a patented STI International lightweight trigger and a commander style hammer and is supplied with a distinctive matte blued finish.  An ambidextrous thumb safety is provided in addition to the grip safety.  The Duty One is available in standard and “lite” form, which incorporates a lightweight aluminium frame.  The Duty One was redesigned in 2014 and current versions feature distinctive “grid” pattern slide grip serrations and a revised grip.

The ASG STI Duty One

The ASG STI Duty One is a CO2-powered licensed replica of mostly metal construction with a stick type drop-out magazine and a short under-barrel accessory rail.  CO2 is retained inside the grip and accessed by removing the backstrap and grip base.  This replica is manufactured in Taiwan on behalf of ASG and is available in 4.5mm and 6mm.  ASG produce two versions of the STI Duty One – one with blowback and one without.  The figures below and the information in this article is based on my experience with the blowback version.  The non-blowback version looks very similar, but I haven’t tried it.  I believe that the 4.5mm version is available in matte black finish only though there is a two-tone version of the non-blowback and the 6mm blowback versions with a polished slide.  All versions include full STI markings.

Two-tone 6mm version

The slide moves through less than the full range of travel during blowback and locks back when the last round is fired.  The thumb safety, magazine and slide release work as per the original but the grip safety is moulded in place and has no function.  The ASG STI Duty One cannot be field stripped. ASG also produce CO2 powered replicas of several other STI handguns including the Lawman, Tac Master, Combat Master and the tiny Off Duty.

Packaging and presentation  2.5/5

The ASG STI Duty One is provided in a card box with a single magazine and a short user manual.

Visual accuracy  8/10

STI Duty One (left), ASG STI Duty One (right)

The ASG STI Duty One is generally a good visual replica of the pre-2014 STI Duty One.  Grips, markings, finish and overall shape and profile are very good indeed and all controls are a good visual match for the original.  The main visual difference is the trigger – the ASG replica uses a pivoting style trigger rather than the sliding 1911 style trigger seen on the original.

Functional accuracy  11/15

The version tested is a blowback replica with a drop-out, stick-type magazine.  The trigger operates in single action only and the slide locks back after the last round is fired.  The slide catch, magazine release and thumb safety work as per the original weapon.  The slide moves through restricted travel compared to the cartridge version.  The grip safety is moulded in place and has no function.

The slide release catch on the cartridge version can be extracted to the left side to allow the slide to be removed.  On this version the slide release cannot be extracted and the slide cannot be easily removed.

Shooting  30/40

The CO2 chamber is accessed by pressing a button in the base of the grip, which allows the plastic panel which forms the base and rear of the grip to be removed.  CO2 can then be inserted and tightened and pierced using the plastic tab at the base of the grip.  The tightening tab is a little small and quite fiddly for use with large man-fingers, but with a bit of practise this can be done without too much drama.  It can sometimes be difficult to remove the used CO2 cartridge.  Even with the cover plate removed and the tab loosened as much as possible, it can take a fair bit of shaking to get the used CO2 to drop out.  Re-fitting the cover panel can also be a little fiddly, though it’s nice to see that this completely conceals the loading tab once it’s in place.

Loading the stick type magazine reveals the first of this replicas’ idiosyncrasies.  The follower locks down, which makes it easy to load BBs in to the port at the top of the magazine.  However, if you then release the follower, the BBs will spray back out of top of the magazine.  To prevent this, you must cover the holes at the front and rear of the top of the magazine with your fingers as you release the follower.

When you have CO2 and BBs loaded, the ASG STI Duty One feels good.  The chunky, deeply serrated rubberised grips and angular frame allow a firm and consistent grip.  STI International obviously knows a great deal about how to make a handgun that handles well, and the ASG version replicates this nicely.  This feeling is reinforced when you pull the trigger – a loud bang and strong blowback make this feel like a powerful and purposeful shooter.

However, pulling the trigger also reveals the second odd issue with this pistol.  Like many blowback replicas, the blowback action cocks the hammer, but it doesn’t queue the next BB for shooting.  This is done during the long first part of the trigger pull and the movement of the BB can clearly be felt.  The problem here is that if you pull the trigger fairly slowly towards the release point, the BB can roll out of the front of the barrel if the pistol is pointed level or slightly down.  The solution is to pull the trigger firmly and fairly quickly (the manual actually warns that the trigger should be pulled “in one swift motion“), but this doesn’t help with accuracy.  This issue does seem to be variable – on one of my Duty Ones, BBs regularly fell out of the end of the barrel before I was ready to shoot, but the other two seemed less prone to this.  And if for any reason you pull the trigger halfway back and then release it without firing, when you next pull the trigger you will load a second BB into the breech and you’ll then fire both at once.  The trigger action on this pistol is a problem and it’s notably worse than, for example, the ASG CZ75 (though it’s identical to the trigger on the ASG CZ P-07 Duty, which has the same fault).  You really must develop a style where you pull the trigger quickly and confidently every time if you are to avoid issues.  Being tentative will lead to double loading or losing the BB before you shoot.

The loud bang and strong blowback make the Duty One feel powerful, but the numbers don’t really back this up.  I have owned three 4.5mm examples of the ASG STI Duty One and all chronoed at around 325 – 350 fps dependent on temperature.  Perfectly respectable figures, but well short of the 436fps claimed by ASG.  Accuracy was also average without being great.  Even though they lack white dots, the sights are clear and easy to read but grouping with two of my Duty Ones was around 1½” – 2″ at six yards – fair but not great.  The third example was notably worse, grouping at 2″ – 3″ at six yards.  These aren’t terrible figures, so perhaps it’s just because the ASG Duty One feels like it’s so powerful that they seem a little disappointing?

CO2 consumption is fair for a blowback replica with three magazines (60 shots) of full-power shots available from a single CO2.  If you continue to a fourth magazine, you’ll gradually run out of puff until the CO2 is completely exhausted somewhere around the 70th shot.

Other than the issues noted, the ASG STI Duty One appears to be reliable.  The slide locks back every time and I had no mechanical problems or failures with any of the examples I owned.  Because the slide and magazine releases and the thumb safety are on the left side only, this isn’t a particularly great pistol if you’re left-handed.

Quality and reliability  13/15

The overall fit and finish of the ASG STI Duty One are very good indeed.  Everything fits well without rattles or movement and seams are well concealed. The rubberised grips are a particularly nice touch and the matte black finish seems more durable than the finish on many replicas (which sadly isn’t difficult).  I have heard of owners who have had the front sight come loose on this model, though I didn’t experience this on any of mine.

The operational issues noted in the Shooting section seem to be design flaws rather than manufacturing defects, and this does seem to be generally a high-quality replica which is available at a very reasonable price.

Overall Impression  11/15

This is a great looking, well made and well finished replica but for me, trigger action is at the heart of how much I enjoy shooting a pistol.  On the ASG Duty One, the trigger action is flawed, which I found very frustrating.  This replica looks good and feels great, but for me at least, the shooting experience just doesn’t deliver what is promised.  I ended up buying three different Duty Ones, in the hope that I’d find one which shot as well as it looked and handled.  I failed, and I’m not sure that I’d buy another.

Conclusion

I’m a big fan of the 1911 platform and I generally like updated 1911s.  There is a lot to like here and in most ways this is a great replica of a modernised 1911.  It’s certainly a good looking and well-made pistol and it’s relatively inexpensive.  However, I found its shooting ability to be fairly poor and the trigger action rather disappointing.  And after all, the ability to shoot is the reason we buy this type of replica rather than a non-shooting wall ornament.

If you can find one that shoots well, or if you’re willing and able to modify your shooting technique to overcome its inherent issues, you may enjoy the ASG STI Duty One.  If not, there are probably better ASG products and better modernised 1911 replicas to add to your collection.

Pros

Nice looking and handling replica

Feels solid and well made

Finish seems to be more durable than average

Strong blowback

Cons

Trigger action

Accuracy and power aren’t all that great

Non-working grip safety

Not lefty friendly

Total score: 75.5/100

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