Although it doesn’t receive as much press as many other shooting activities, air pistol competition is one of the most challenging bullseye disciplines. The 0.45-inch 10-ring of the 10-meter target is smaller than the diameter of three pellets placed side-by-side. The difficulty of air pistol shooting is increased by the projectile’s greater barrel time, which makes proper form and follow-through even more critical.
For those who are both cost- and quality-conscious, selecting a truly competition-worthy air pistol can be problematic. Top models from Feinwekbau, Hammerli, Morini, Pardini, Steyr, Walther and others typically cost $1,400 to more than $2,000, while most less-expensive guns lack the features or accuracy for high-level match use. A notable exception to this is the Baikal IZH 46M, a Russian-made competition air pistol imported by Pyramyd Air of Warrensville Heights, Ohio. It is functionally comparable to many of the best target air pistols but retails for only a third to a quarter of the price.
Made by Izhevsk Mechanical Works in Izhevsk, Russia, the Baikal IZH 46M is a modification of the older IZH 46 design, with a longer cylinder for about 50 to 60 fps greater velocity.
To operate the IZH 46M, the long under-barrel cocking lever is rotated fully forward and then returned to its original position, compressing air inside the cylinder below the barrel. This must be repeated for each shot. Cycling the cocking lever also causes the slide latch to move forward and release the bolt, which rotates 90 degrees upward to expose the breech end of the barrel for the insertion of a fresh pellet. When the cocking lever is returned rearward, the slide latch lever moves to the rear, and the bolt and its attached bolt lever are manually rotated downward until they lock in place, sealing the breech.
When the trigger is pulled, compressed air in the cylinder passes rearward through a valve mechanism, takes a 90 degree turn upward to pass into the bolt, and then takes another right-angle turn forward to impinge upon the pellet in the barrel.
Other than its lever-cocking design, the Baikal IZH 46M is very similar in design and construction to other high-quality target air pistols meeting the requirements for international competition. Its 11.02-inch-long, 0.395-inch-diameter blued-steel barrel has hammer-forged rifling in a 12-groove right-hand twist, with a recessed crown at the muzzle. At the chamber end, the barrel is mounted solidly in the black-anodized aluminum frame threaded to accept the 1.1-inch-diameter steel gas cylinder. Inside the cylinder is the piston that compresses the air, as well as the cocking lever linkage. A two-piece yoke located about 1.5-inch to the rear of the muzzle clamps the barrel and cylinder together, stabilizing the forward end of the barrel. Attached to the lower part of the frame are the two-piece hardwood stocks, which are stippled in areas gripped by the hand, and feature an adjustable palm shelf.
One of the strong points of the IZH 46M is its two-stage trigger. Five separate trigger adjustments are offered: pre-travel, sear engagement, second-stage trigger pull weight, overtravel and horizontal trigger position. These adjustments are controlled by five easily-accessible screws. Trigger weight can be set from about 14 ounces to 2.2 pounds; our sample pistol came from the factory set for an ultra-crisp 15-ounce pull. For non-firing practice, the trigger can be dry-fired without cocking the firing mechanism.
The pistol’s iron sights are designed expressly for target use. A steel band at the muzzle accepts front sight blades of 0.133, 0.153 or 0.175-inch widths, and the frame-mounted steel rear sight is click-adjustable for windage and elevation. Each click moves the pellet impact point about 0.1 inches at 10 meters. Two user-changeable steel rear sight blades are provided with the pistol.
An optional, detachable, 5.3-inch-long aluminum Weaver-style rail from B-Square can be used to mount red-dot scopes. Our test pistol came in the form of Pyramyd Air’s IZH 46M Kit, which includes the B-Square rail, a BSA 42 mm red-dot sight and a Plano aluminum case.
We fired our test pistol for accuracy at 10 meters with three different brands of pellets: Gamo Diablo Match, H&N (Haendler & Natermann) Finale Match and RWS R10 Match. Firing was from a Caldwell Stable Table Portable Shooting Bench. Sighting was by way of the supplied BSA 42 mm red-dot scope. Our Baikal exhibited impressive accuracy, particularly with the RWS R10 and Finale match pellets, both of which produced five-shot groups considerably smaller than the 0.45-inch 10-ring.
We asked several experienced bullseye competitors to test the sample IZH 46M. The air pistol won high marks for its accuracy, trigger quality, sights and ergonomics. Its bore axis allowed a comfortable and natural hand, wrist and arm position.
In our judgment, any person of normal strength can easily handle the Baikal’s 17.5-pound cocking lever force. Given its features, rugged construction, outstanding accuracy, and extremely reasonable cost of $380, we consider the Baikal IZH 46M to be perhaps the best value currently available in a match-grade target air pistol. And though its price makes it especially appealing to novice competitors, it is sufficiently refined that few shooters will ever outgrow it.
Manufacturer: Izhevsky Mekhanichesky Zavod [Izhevsk Mechanical Works]; Russia
Importer: Pyramyd Air; (888) 262-4867; www.pyramydair.com
Action Type: lever-cocking, single-shot pneumatic air pistol
Rifling: 12-groove, right-hand twist
Sights: interchangeable-post front; rear adjustable for windage and elevation with interchangeable blades; optional mounting rail for red-dot or scope sights
Trigger: single-stage, 15-oz. pull; adjustable from 14 ozs. to 2.2 lbs.
Overall Length: 161⁄2"
Weight: 2 lbs., 10 ozs. (without red-dot sight), 3 lbs., 2 ozs. (with red-dot sight)
Accessories: extra front sight blades; extra rear sight blade; cleaning rod; sight adjustment tool; drift punch; extra seals; owner’s manual
Options: B-Square Weaver-style sight rail, BSA 42 mm red-dot sight, Plano aluminum case (IZH 46M Kit)
Suggested Retail Price: $380 (pistol only); $450 (IZH 46 M Combo: pistol and BSA red-dot sight); $500 (IZH 46M Kit: pistol, BSA red-dot sight and aluminum case)