Everything A1!

The Beretta 90 series pistols first came to fame when the 92F was adopted as the issue sidearm for the American military and since then it’s gone on to become one of the most popular handguns in the world. Whichever gun the US army uses, automatically becomes an icon and many companies around the world make versions of this excellent handgun. Umarex, unsurprisingly, makes a number of models of this gun, and I was keen to test one that I felt might have potential as a competition pistol for Iron Plate Action Shooting (IPAS) competitions. The Model 96 A1 on test is a Co2 powered 6mm airsoft model which I selected because 6mm has been accepted into IPAS this year, as long as the gun is powerful enough to compete alongside the usual .177 lead pellet guns the sport was developed on. The Co2 versions of most replicas tend to be higher powered than the green gas equivalents, which is mostly down to the fact that the Co2 is stored at around double the pressure. The reason IPAS needs the extra power is two fold. Some of the targets are at quite long range for a pistol and a low-powered airsoft gun wouldn’t be able to hit the plates consistently at those distances. Secondly, when fired fast enough, the 6mm plastic balls shatter as they hit the steel plates, guaranteeing that they can’t bounce back at the shooter or other competitors watching the event. I chronographed the 96 at an average of 325 fps, which calculates to 0.9 ft.lbs muzzle energy, which should be enough to smash the balls at most distances.

A third reason I like the Co2 versions is that they have a quicker and more snappy action, as the slide cycles back and forth, making quick successive shots feel easier.

The pistol is a faithful replica, being a large and handsome gun, to my eyes at least. The grip is thick and gives a hand-filling hold which I found particularly comfortable. I have average-size hands and suspect that anyone with smaller mitts might do well to choose a different model. The frame is deeply chequered along both the front and back strap and the slight swell at the front adds to the locked-in feeling. The hard plastic grip panels are typically military but their diamond pattern surface does aid grip.

The magazine has an extension, which in the real firearm is one of the distinguishing features of the 96 over earlier models, in that it makes room for a few extra rounds. In the replica, this is only a plastic cover, but I liked it because it added support to the little finger of my left hand, something missing on many pistols. This particular model is the 96 A1 which is the most recent evolution of this now classic gun but most of the improvements are internal, so there’s little to distinguish it visually from earlier versions apart from the mag’ extension. The replica differs from the firearm in that the trigger guard is squared rather than having the round front of the real thing. Of course, there have been so many variants of this gun that perhaps there has been a version of which I’m unaware.

All the controls on the replica work in exactly the same way as the original including the mag’ release, the slide release and the strip-down lever. The safety is a de-cocker on the firearm whereas the one on the replica disconnects the trigger completely. This works in either single- or double-action modes, which brings us nicely on to the trigger. As with other Umarex airsoft pistols I’ve tested recently, it’s smooth and light, materially aiding control and accuracy. You simply can’t shoot fast accurately with a bad trigger and this one is excellent, whether pulling through from a hammer down position, cocking and firing the hammer, or from the hammer cocked position, in single-action mode. I’m so impressed that Umarex has moved on so far with the standard of their triggers. A good one is a real pleasure to use whereas a bad one can put me off a gun forever.

To load this pistol you first need to drop the mag’ from the grip and then depress a small button at the base and slide off the extension piece. This I always find awkward, but once off, you use the 5mm hex key supplied to unscrew a cap and then drop a 12 gram Co2 capsule in neck first. Next refit and tighten the cap and refit the extension. Then pull down the sprung loaded follower and thumb in 23 6mm balls. The .25 gram weight ones are recommended and I endorse that. I found these more accurate than the lighter ones, especially as the range increased. Gassed and loaded the mag’ can now be slipped into the grip until it locks. To chamber a pellet the slide needs to be racked which also cocks the hammer. From here the pistol is live and ready to go and 23 rounds of fun shooting awaits the flick of your finger.

In single-action mode like this the trigger’s travel is short and light although there is some free travel in the system before the hammer drops, but you soon learn to anticipate that. As mentioned earlier, the faux recoil has a nice snappy feel, quickly going back into battery, allowing you to get the sight picture back, and fire another shot. In fact, I was able to ring steel plates as fast as I liked with this pistol with very little effort. Gas consumption seemed good for a blow-back gun and I was soon having a good time at the range. I noticed that the shots were landing a little low at 10 yards, so I read the manual on how to adjust the hop-up. This is a device that adds back-spin to the pellet in the barrel which reduces drop, so I removed the slide, a job that needs no tools, and used the tiny 1.5mm hex key provided to tune the gun until it shot to point-of-aim for me. This only took a few minutes, and was time well spent. If you change ammo, this might well need to be done again to tune the gun to the pellet.

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The sights are fixed and have white dots painted on to speed sight acquisition and are a worthwhile addition, making fast aiming and therefore fast shots possible.

Overall this is a fun gun to own and shoot, and will allow an IPAS competitor to hit plates fast all day long, plus it’s an accurate replica, something collectors I’m sure will appreciate. It’s perhaps not the first gun you’d think of for competition use but if you like to be a bit different and stand out in the crowd, take a look, I think you’ll like it.