Cheaper Than Dirt! staffers covering the 2014 SHOT Show in Las Vegas have filed their final reports on breaking news that affects the firearms industry, gun ownership, gun regulation, and other topics.
Real Value in Replica Firearms
They say you can’t travel back in time, but that’s not exactly true. I was able to reel back the years and rediscover the joy of shooting only a 10-year-old can experience when I visited the Umarex factory in Arnsberg, Germany, last summer. And I wasn’t the only who felt that way. In fact, there’s no faster way to bring out the inner child in a pack of grizzled gun writers than releasing them on a range with full-auto MSR airsoft replicas and reactive targets.
The manufacturer has been in business for 42 years, but it took a major step forward in the United States four years ago, when it planted roots in a 117,000-square-foot facility in Fort Smith, Arkansas. The whole idea was to better serve the customer—both retailer and end user. Based on the growth curve Umarex is seeing, they’re doing something right.
“We provide a wide range of products and price ranges to satisfy a large and varied customer base, which includes target shooters, hobbyists, hunters, collectors, and law-enforcement agencies,” says managing partner Eyck Pflaumer. “Each customer is looking for something different—whether it’s a spring-action air rifle, CO2-powered pistol, or a realistic airsoft replica for training purposes. No matter the intended use, Umarex is dedicated to providing a quality product.”
Given the higher production and labor costs found in Europe, you might think Umarex would have been tempted to outsource the work to cheaper facilities in Asia. But that strategy never found legs as the company’s managers, and its highly trained workforce, take obvious pride in what they build in Germany. “We produce a high-end product in Germany,” says general manager Olaf Beisheim. “We’re not interested in making cheap products in Asia.”
The challenge, Beisheim notes, is that the product cycle can be very short, sometime only two to three years. That’s one reason Umarex has 10 licensing partners, including Beretta, Colt, Walther, Browning and Ruger.
“We rely on our partners to introduce new, innovative products,” Beisheim says. “We then make a one-to-one copy of the original product. Though trigger weight and pull are different, the user still gets the same feeling of shooting the original. Without, of course, the recoil of the real gun.”
This makes the replicas ideal candidates for LE training as well as off-season training for hunters. Replicas also appeal strongly to shooters who want to experience the heft and overall appeal of the real gun, but in a less-expensive alternative. The other appeal is that in many areas, airguns and airsoft replicas face far fewer restrictions on use than centerfire or rimfire firearms.
There’s something else at work as well. “Target shooting can be boring,” Beisheim says. “We know younger shooters want a more exciting experience, and these replicas provide that.”
Fort Smith–based Justin Biddle, Umarex’s director of marketing, says shooters are often interested in the company’s high-end products, such as the Beretta 90 TWO. “It’s a CO2 pellet pistol that holds eight rounds and weighs within an ounce of the real thing. It’s an inexpensive option for someone to go out and shoot. The ammo costs virtually nothing and is readily available. The CO2 propellant costs very little as well—a 12-pack sells for just under $6. The customer can get into the pistol for around $200 retail. What’s not to like?”
Biddle said, “With air rifles, there are price points from the very basic level to all the way up. You can spend $1,500 for an air rifle if you want. We would recommend something in the $250 to $350 range for a guy who needs a good rifle to go out and practice with in the off-season, a gun such as the .177-caliber break-action Umarex Octane.
“It features a muzzle velocity of 1,450 feet per second with an alloy pellet—comparable to most .22 rimfire ammunition—and doesn’t have the loud, sharp report of a rimfire rifle,” he said. In addition, he notes the integral SilencAir Silencing System dampers auditory report volume with a five-chamber unit that significantly reduces the sound of the shot.
Another design feature of note is the ReAxis Gas Piston, which contributes to smooth operation with less vibration and reduced recoil while increasing accuracy and versatility. “Gas pistons were originally used in hunting rifles for their ability to remain cocked for long periods of time without deterioration of a metal spring and the damage that results in inconsistent and diminishing velocity,” Biddle said. “In the Octane, it means years of accurate shooting with consistent velocities. Unlike other gas-piston rifles on the market, the ReAxis Gas Piston uses a reversed-axis design that places the mass of the gas strut in a position that pushes the piston, giving the Octane more power and impact.”
The rifle not only gives a shooter the opportunity to shoot year-round but to shoot inexpensively. “Keep in mind that as a higher-end model, it’s inherently more accurate, which gives the shooter an enhanced shooting experience. He or she will be able to practice trigger control and sight acquisition and get instant feedback, even when sitting in the garage or basement,” Biddle said.
According to Biddle, replica aficionados are attracted to a model that has the same weight and feel of the real gun. “Reactive targets are a lot more fun than simply punching holes in paper,” he says.
Many shooters also will opt for a scope. Biddle says spring-powered air rifles (often called springers) create a double recoil. If the shooter mounts a typical centerfire scope on this rifle, the recoil may shatter the lenses.
“Centerfire riflescopes are designed to withstand single recoil, so the lenses are padded on one side only,” he says. “You need a scope specifically designed for this type of rifle, one that has dual-padded lenses.”
Umarex’s new Walther PPS replica features a CO2 blowback system that simultaneously blows the slide back as it propels a steel BB at 350 feet-per-second. Because this replica looks and feels (and fits in a holster) like the popular concealed-carry pistol. It allows the user to safely practice holster and carry drills without scheduling a trip to the range. (479-646-4210; umarexusa.com) — By Slaton L. White, Editor, SHOT Daily
Editor’s Note: Our staff articles are supplemented with reporting by SHOT Business Daily, reprinted with permission. SHOT Daily, produced by The Bonnier Corporation and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, covers all facets of the yearly firearms-industry show. To view a 2014 digital version of SHOT Daily, click here.