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Air Venturi AV-46M Review

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tsujigiri:
I havenít seen a lot of user reports on this pistol besides a couple threads detailing some issues other shooters had early on, so I thought Iíd post my thoughts on it. I first read about the Baikal 46M a few years ago, but had a variety of reasons to not get into air pistols. Coming from a powder burner background, I like knowing that my range toys also have practical applications for hunting and defense (even if Iím unlikely to use them). Due to the decreased leverage and barrel length, air pistols just donít have the power for a practical application. And since the best air pistols are geared specifically towards 10m competition, Iíd have to learn a whole new way of shooting one-handed and pick up skills that wouldnít necessarily translate into the Weaver stance that I use with my other pistols. But after reading up more on these and seeing the new AV-46M with its attractive red laminate grip, my interest was piqued again. Then Pyramyd ran a sale on their refurbs and the price was too good to pass up. Since these guns are known to be highly durable and run forever, not known for an immaculate fit and finish, I figured I wouldnít be giving anything up by going with a refurb. I asked Pyramyd if the early issues with the gun had been resolved, but the representative I spoke to claimed not to have heard of any issues. I went ahead and ordered knowing that I could always return it if it didnít work as promised.

First a little background on the AV-46M; this is a match pistol thatís been produced in one form or another since the end of the 80ís. When it was introduced, SSP pistols were the gold standard of 10m competition, and the Baikals were Olympic-level contenders. Since then, PCP guns have taken over, and every other Olympic SSP has gone out of production as companies like Feinwerkbau, Walther, and Pardini have adjusted their lineups to meet the new paradigm. That makes the AV-46M a unique piece and the absolute pinnacle of current production air pistols if youíre like me and donít want to deal with complexity, cost, space, and maintenance of PCPís. This newest iteration is supposedly made by Alfa Precision rather than Baikal due to embargoes placed on Russian weapons manufacturers a few years back. There are rumors circulating around that these are still made by Baikal and rebranded, but some users have noted differences in how some parts are made on these new guns compared to the old Baikals. I donít think weíll ever know for sure.

tsujigiri:
Operation
On to the gun! Operation is simple, just pull the oversized lever forward to pull air into the chamber. Pull it a little further forward and the breech pops up for loading and the trigger sets. Push the lever back into place, where it serves as an oversized trigger guard, and the gun is pumped. The force required is very moderate and the lever is cleverly designed with cams and sliding components that ensure the stroke is smooth and consistent. Since the pumping lever is not part of a ďslideĒ on top of the gun like on most SSP pistols, you have more leverage and donít have to worry about pinching your fingers. Press a pellet into the chamber and push the breech back down until it locks, and youíre ready to go! Thereís no safety on this gun, and you must be mindful not to touch the trigger while pumping or pressing the breech block down. If you do happen to do this, the gun will fire as soon as the breech is locked into place, whether your finger is on the trigger or not. You can also press the sliding lock forward and pull the breech block up manually to cock the trigger for a dry fire without expelling any air. Itís a nice feature to have considering how spectacular the trigger feels, and a necessary one for actual competition shooters who often dry fire about 10 times for every live round they put down range.

Trigger
The trigger is something that really blew me away on this gun. Iím picky about triggers and appreciate a good one, but this is my first 10m gun. It really is on a different level. Even my custom Anschutz 22lr trigger feels heavy by comparison (I donít think most powder burner manufacturers would allow a gun with a trigger this light to make it into a customerís hands for liability purposes). The trigger comes with 4 screws for adjustment. 2 of them alter the weight balance between the first and second stages. One adjusts the overtravel, and the last one sets the trigger weight. I quickly adjusted the pull weight and overtravel as low as they would go. The first/second stage adjustment I left as-is. The result is phenomenal. I donít really have a way to measure the weight since my pull gauge only goes down to 8oz, but I can say this feels quite a bit lighter than an 8oz trigger. It has a clearly defined first and second stage and breaks crisply, barely moving past the break. Itís really a joy to use; and after firing a few shots I felt I had gotten my moneyís worth on the basis of the trigger alone. Iíve also fitted the Air Venturi upgraded trigger blade to this gun, which features a trigger shoe that keeps your finger position consistent and can be adjusted to suit your grip. On a side note, Pyramyd sells a rather pointless ďupgraded triggerĒ configuration of this gun for $80 more. When I asked them what was included in this package, they told me itís the $30 aftermarket trigger blade and an ďinstallation fee.Ē Since the trigger blade comes with the necessary Allen wrenches and installs in about a minute, Iíd say save the $50 and buy the basic configuration with the upgraded blade added on. Youíll want to uninstall and reinstall it to match the angle and position to fit you anyway.

tsujigiri:
Grip
This is the first gun Iíve owned with an anatomical grip. The original Baikals had a rudimentary blocky grip that was meant to be whittled down to size by the end user. The wood used was very basic and often derisively referred to as ďshipping pallet scrapsĒ by some shooters. Probably the most noticeable change made with the new AV-46M is the beautifully contoured grip in red laminate. Every curve has been precisely machined to mold to your hand naturally, although you can sand it down more if you wish. Due to the layered material used, itís easy to see at a glance how intricately the grip is shaped. Itís a great aesthetic choice for this style of grip, and in my opinion makes the gun look a few orders of magnitude better. A few coats of Royal London Oil really made the grain and color pop. I know many wonít agree with me on this, but I think this is the best-looking air pistol Iíve ever seen. Some out of production models certainly look sleeker, but the experimental spacegun look of the AV-46M really strikes my fancy. From the box, the only issue I had with the grip was a sharp point around the first knuckle of my ring finger. I smoothed it down a little and the grip felt like it was custom fit to my hand. Sure, you could sand an original Baikal grip to the same shape given enough time and skill, but I wouldnít bet on my own handiwork on that front. With the AV-46M, almost all of my work was already done for me. In the hand, the gun feels like an extension of my body. The palm shelf at the bottom has a little range of adjustment to provide a rigid lock around your hand. I have medium length hands but slimmer fingers, and found that at the very top of the adjustment range I was just able to get the right amount of support. Shooters with smaller hands may not be able to get it as tight as they need.

Sights

The gun comes with blacked out target sights, the rear plate of which can be flipped for a different notch size. Included in the box is another set of sights with different sizes. You can play around with different sizes to get the sight picture you want, but I like the default setup so far. The front sight is held on to the barrel with a set screw, and came slightly canted to the side. Itís an easy fix. The rear sight has adjustment knobs for windage and elevation. They are textured and decently sized, with firm detents. Making adjustments is easy without tools and the mechanism feels high quality. Some company out there has at some point made a mount for this gun to attach an optic, but I canít find one for sale anywhere right now. I might try it out if they become available again, but on the other hand Iím not sure how much weight I want to add to a one-handed gun.

tsujigiri:
Fit and finish
Hereís an area these guns arenít particularly known for, and I can confirm that it is pretty rough in non-critical areas. The barrel and main tube are finished more finely, but most of the components have a rough casted look to them or coarse tooling marks. There are also a lot of sharp edges where parts werenít deburred; the sight blades for instance are sharp enough to draw blood if you brush your knuckles against them. Iíve never run into a gun that was so refined in some ways, but so rough in others. I thought Weihrauchís rifles were paradoxical in this respect, but the AV-46M takes it to another level. If I had handled one of these without knowing anything about it, I donít think I could have accurately guessed its price. It feels like it could be a prototype hand-built by a custom gunsmith just as much as it could be a Soviet manufacturerís push to go toe to toe against the finest western brands of  its day. Some of the parts up close look like they came from an airsoft replica, but everything fits together precisely and securely like you would expect on a serious instrument. At the end of the day, thatís the part that matters, isnít it?

 Longevity
As this gun has been in production in its various forms for over 30 years, it has quite a track record. Everything I can dig up online indicates that itís a real tank with no known weaknesses. The only parts that really wear out as far as I know are the seals. There are 5 of them; 2 on the breech block, 1 for the pump, and 2 more to seal the air chamber. Unfortunately, these seals are specially made for the gun rather than being generic O-rings that could easily be swapped out. But even these hardly ever wear out, especially if youíre attentive enough to add a couple drops of oil to the pump seal every 500 rounds or so. I picked up a couple spare sets of seals anyway. Pyramyd has the seal set listed for $75, but a few Russian sellers on eBay have them for under $20 shipped. With current world events, these may no longer be available, but it looks like there are plenty of moderately priced parts out there for this gun. I certainly plan to put a lifetimeís worth of use into this gun and am fully confident that it will hold up to that.

tsujigiri:
Value
When reading about this gun online, one will inevitably run across forum members who question the price point of the new AV-46M because they bought their IZH-46M decades ago for significantly less. You know what else was significantly cheaper years ago? Everything. There certainly have been some deals on this gun over the years, but I would argue thatís more a case of it being criminally underpriced than it being overpriced now. It may have a rough finish when seen up close, but the gun has enough smoothness and refinement to feel like it could be worth thousands when itís at armís length. To me, the trigger alone is worth the price of admission. Whatís more, the contoured laminate grip is a notable upgrade over the original that Iím sure added some cost to the gun. Although I initially didnít intend to get into air pistols, I would have to say that after putting some time in with the gun my perspective has changed. It really is a joy to shoot, and feels like one of the better values in firearms that Iíve run across. They seem to still be available at Pyramyd, but who knows how long that will last. Iím guessing that world events will likely prevent more of these from entering the country for the foreseeable future.

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