When is an airgun not an airgun? a look at Daisy's Model 179 BB pistol?
An airgun is not an airgun when it doesn't use air to launch the projectile. Following that definition, no gun that's powered by CO2 qualifies as an airgun, either. Ah, yes, but where else are we going to put them? So, for many decades, all but the most anal airgunners have accepted C02 guns as airguns. And, so, it has been for other powerplants, as well, ranging from guns powered by rubber bands to zimmerstutzens, which definitely do cross over the line into the firearms category.
What about the Daisy Model 179 Peacemaker? Remember it? No. You probably don't unless you're either an airgun collector or you chanced to have one as a kid.
The 179 is a 12-shot BB repeater that looks outwardly like a Colt Peacemaker until you get within 5 feet of it. Then you notice that all the features seem to be melted together and it's really a shell that has the outlines of the Peacemaker, but almost nothing you see is functional. In truth, it's a catapult gun.
Before you were born, another name for a slingshot was a catapult. There are catapult collectors who would love to step in right now and correct me on my use of the term slingshot, which they would argue more properly applies to the leather strap David used to hurl a rock at Goliath.
They're correct, of course, but I'm setting that aside, just as I did the definition of airgun. For the sake of my story, a slingshot is a Y-shaped piece of wood with elastic straps that we all used to make as kids for the express intent of getting into trouble.
Catapult guns, therefore, use similar elastic straps or bands (rubber bands, in fact) to launch their missiles, which turn out to be individual balls of No. 6 lead birdshot. I've reported on these curious guns in the past, and they were distributed widely throughout this country from 1923 through the 1980s.
Well, in 1960, Daisy decided to enter the catapult gun game with the Model 179. Though it looks like a Single Action Army revolver, it's powered by only a spring that the shooter controls through the hammer one of the few parts that actually does work on the gun.
The 1960s were a dynamic time in our culture. The Western craze that started in the early 1950s and boomed with Davy Crockett toward the end of the era was doing battle with outer space in the public eye. The Russian Sputnik satellite had recently opened the eyes of the world to a universe of new possibilities, to make a poor pun.
Space was poised to do battle with the Old West on television, facing off against shows like Gunsmoke and Have Gun: Will Travel, whose popularity dominated prime time broadcasting.
But space-based airguns were more difficult to make. They just didn't seem real. When did Buck Rogers ever shoot a lever-action rifle? Daisy tried to span the gap with the blue and while Model 110 Air Force Rocket Command BB gun that most little boys thought was a girl's gun. But western-style BB guns were easy to make and already well-recognized, so Daisy took the path of least resistance with their line of lookalike BB guns under the Spittin' Image trademark and rode out the western craze until it vanished into the sunset.
One of their great ideas at this time was to build airguns that closely resembled firearms that the public already identified with, and the Colt Peacemaker was the first of these. The Model 179 was readily accepted by little boys and their parents, who were seeing similar guns on their favorite shows every night. It was the first Spittin' Image gun to be made.
The 179 is made from two shells of die-cast metal that house the working innards. A metal hammer is thumbed back, single-action style, to load the next BB that resides in a linear magazine housed within what would be the ejector housing on a firearm. Not much beside the hammer moves on the outside of the pistol, with the exception of the magazine follower that looks like the ejector handle. On some later models, there's also a crossbolt safety button that runs transversely through the frame of the gun.
The spring-loaded magazine holds 12 BBs in line with the bore. A small window cut into the top of the frame allows the shooter to see the next BB in place to be fired.
One extra benefit
The 179 had one additional feature that parents loved, and kids hated. It was weak. Kids used to rate their guns by what they would do to a tin can, which at this time was still made of pretty stout steel plate. A Benjamin pneumatic would shoot through both sides of a can, and a Daisy No. 25 pump BB gun would severely dent one side, to the point of breaking the metal and leaving a deep impression of the BB.
Then there were the lesser BB guns, like the Red Ryder, that were still potent but not quite up to the No. 25. The smaller guns like the Model 103 Scout followed, and so on down the line.
At the bottom of the heap were the catapult guns that would not always break a thin paper target at close range. They shot at velocities from 80 to 180 fps, or roughly half of what a stout airsoft gun will do today. You could shoot them and watch the BB arc down as gravity pulled it quickly to earth. Hitting a target at more than 25 feet was a primitive version of artillery gunnery, except that you still had to be able to see the target to hit it.
The king of the catapults was the Daisy 179. In the owner's manual for my late-issue 179, Daisy publishes the velocity of 140 fps, and the recommended range for target shooting is 9 feet. I loaded my pistol with Daisy's latest zinc-plated BBs and proceeded to shoot at a paper target at that distance.
It soon became clear why they put me that close. First, the BBs failed to penetrate the bull on the paper target because I'd pasted a sticker on top of the paper (what was I thinking?) and second, though I am better than average with a handgun, I still shot a group greater than 3 inches at this distance. Time to break out the chronograph!
Apparently I have the magnum 179, for my pistol averages a blistering 160 fps. Ten shots ranged in speed from a respectable 152 fps to an astonishing 163 fps, I'm not normally a fan of hyper-velocity-guns, but this is one I think I'll keep,
Before you ask--no, there arc no easy ways to soup up a 179. Unlike spring-piston guns, this one does not have a piston, so oiling has no effect on velocity except to possibly gum up the works and eventually slow things down. The BB is launched by the force of the hammer impacting it at high speed. Think of a croquet ball and-mallet to understand how it works.
In the days when this pistol was still a viable product, Daisy long guns shot, much faster. Only the problematic Daisy Targeteer, which was a spring-piston design, was as slow.
Good or bad--you decide
The 179 Peacemaker was never a huge commercial success, unlike the Red.Ryder or No. 25 pump gun. Production lasted from 1960 'through 1981 s and I'm sure there were still new old-stock guns on dealers' shelves for several years after that.
The story might have ended there except that, while cleaning out the plant in the new millennium, Daisy discovered the parts for another 800 guns. They were all the late-model version of the gun that has a crossbolt safely in the frame. Apparently, these guns were sold as parts kits to a dealer in another country; but while the shipment was in transit, the legislature of that country changed the laws to make these guns unacceptable. The parts were-returned to the factory and stored until being rediscovered 20 years later.
Wanting to make lemonade, Daisy seized upon the idea of issuing these "special" guns as the final Model 179s ever sold, and they sold them through the Daisy Museum. Each gun is accompanied by a Certificate of Authenticity, signed by the Daisy-Museum curator, Orin Ribar, and the whole pack age was put into a sepia-toned vintage-looking lithographed box. The box and certificate are the only proof that you have this last issue gun, which now is commanding a small premium among collectors.
I bought mine while visiting the museum in 2003, so my outer shipping container is blank. And yes, something as .small and insignificant as a plain cardboard box is considered important to collectors.
But wait ...
If you're intrigued by the 179--and against all rational thought you decide you want to collect them, there are two additional variations you need to be aware of. First, the pistol was sold with a matching holster and designated the Model 180. Those will be very hard to find, because what little kid wouldn't wear that holster continuously when TV westerns were the hottest entertainment available? But if you're diligent, you should be able to find one eventually. Good luck finding the box!
Rarest of all 179s is the salesman's sample. Handmade of solid brass that's painted a dark gray, this is a heavy handgun that commands respect from everyone. Thirty-four of these special serial-numbered guns are known to have been made during the run of the 179, and they were given as gifts and honors ... and some may have even been used by salesmen, though that is purely conjecture.
They are available
If the idea of owning one of these small delights fascinates you, they're still readily available through airgun classified ads and at airgun shows. Many are still in great condition because, unlike Red Ryders, they often didn't get played with. With prices being depressed as they are, expect to pay about $50 for a good working gun or $100 for an excellent, one in the box. The special issue guns from the Daisy Museum go for about $150, but they must have the box and all documentation to be considered authentic.