Classic replica air pistol review: Crosman Mark I and Mark II

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In the mid-1960s, Crosman reached what in retrospect was some kind of high point in terms of CO2 powered air pistols.  The company were producing a range of innovative, carefully designed and well engineered air pistols which appealed to both collectors and shooters.  By 1965 the Wild West revolvers, the 38 series revolvers and the Model 600 had all proved to be reliable and popular.  However, all these pistols were multi shot plinkers – ideal for sending large numbers of pellets or BBs accurately out to 10m or so, but less accurate beyond that range.  What the company didn’t have was a modern, high quality replica air pistol capable of tight groupings at ranges of 50ft or more.  Which led to the development of the Mark I and the Mark II, CO2 powered replicas of the Ruger Mark 1.

I have to admit right at the start that this isn’t an entirely unbiased review – the Mark I is probably my favourite of all the Crosman “Golden Era” replica air pistols.  Like the Ruger Mark 1 on which it is based, there is something that just feels “right’ about the Mark I (and the Mark II) when you pick one up.  These may not have the technical “Wow!” factor of the Model 600 or the emotive appeal of the SA-6, but if you want a beautifully balanced, well made and supremely accurate replica air pistol, they don’t get much better than this.

Development

In the late 1940s, engineer, inventor and entrepreneur Bill Ruger bought a war souvenir Japanese Nambu pistol from a US Marine who had served in the Pacific theatre.  Using the Nambu as a model, Ruger set out to produce a simple, reliable and inexpensive .22” handgun for target shooting and plinking.  After some experimentation, by 1949 he had produced a prototype which incorporated the cylindrical bolt and overall look of the Nambu.  However, he didn’t have enough money to start production of the new pistol.  Fortunately he made contact with Alex Sturm who had the money to act as financial backer and the vision to realize that Ruger’s new pistol could be something very special.  Sturm, Ruger & Co. was formed in 1949 and went on to become one of the most iconic US firearms manufacturers.  And the .22 pistol based on the Nambu became the company’s first product, initially as the “Standard” though it later became more generally known as the Ruger Mark 1.  The Mark 1, with its simple design proved to be reliable, rugged and inexpensive to produce and went on to become one of the most prolific and well-loved .22 automatic pistols ever made with over two million examples produced.

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In the mid 1960s, Crosman were looking to expand their range of successful and reliable CO2 powered replica air pistols.  They already had a range of Wild West revolvers to keep cowboy fans happy and their 38 revolvers were being used as training tools by police and military personnel in addition to selling well to the public.  Their Model 600 and 677 provided reliable semi-auto shooting action to keep plinkers happy.  They also had the Model 157, an accurate, single shot CO2 powered target pistol, but this was purely an air pistol, not a replica of a firearm.  What they didn’t have was a powerful, accurate replica air pistol capable of shooting targets at ranges of up to 50ft.

By that time the Ruger Standard was selling well and had become very highly regarded as a pistol which pointed naturally, had great balance and bore more than a passing resemblance to the iconic Luger.  Although the Crosman Mark I/II are not licensed replicas of the Ruger Mark 1, and as far as I am aware Crosman advertising from the 1960s did not make reference to the Ruger, there is no doubt that the Crosman pistol was at least very strongly influenced by the look and proportions of the Ruger.

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Ruger Mark 1 (left), Crosman Mark I (right)

The .22” Crosman Mark I and the .177” Mark II were launched in 1966.  Both sold strongly from the start and their simple design and high manufacturing standards ensured that both were reliable from the outset.  With only minor changes the Mark I remained in production until 1983 and the Mark II until 1986.  When these pistols were introduced, Crosman was still under the control of the Crosman family and the company was producing some of the highest quality and most innovative air pistols ever seen.  By the time they were phased out in the mid 1980s, Crosman was owned by a British conglomerate and their simplified range was focused on easy to produce, lower cost models, many of which used plastic extensively. Large numbers of both models were produced during their long production run.

Design

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The Mark I and Mark II are functionally and technically almost identical.  Other than differences in barrels and rifling, the only other difference is that the bolt tip on the Mark II is thinner and is magnetized so that it can also hold a steel BB in position in the breech.  Visually, the two are distinguishable by markings on the outer casing and by the use of black grips on the Mark II and brown, wood effect grips on the Mark I.

The Crosman Mark I and Mark II are virtually all-metal – the outer body is an alloy casting while internal parts are made from steel and brass.  Only the grips are plastic.  Weight is good making this replica feel very solid and the balance point is close to the rear of the trigger guard.

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CO2 is stored inside the grip and accessed by removing a piercing cap in the base of the grip.  All models incorporate two-stage cocking with low power and high power settings.  The pistol is cocked by pulling forward on the cocking knobs located either side of the body, above the trigger.  The cocking knob has two stages – moving the knob only to the first (low power) stage gives approximately 100fps less than moving to the second (high power) position.  Using the low power setting is claimed to give improved CO2 usage.

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Early models also incorporate a velocity adjustment screw on the front of the main body, below the barrel.  Turning this screw clockwise increases power, turning it counter clockwise reduces power.  Using this adjustment screw reduces/increases power for both cocking positions.  The power adjustment screw was phased out around 1975.

All models incorporate an adjustable trigger.  By turning the 1/16” hex screw located inside the trigger guard and in front of the trigger, trigger pull weight can be adjusted.  The rear sight is fully adjustable on all models.  Elevation adjustment is done by use of the slotted adjustment screw on top of the sight.  Windage adjustment is done using a slightly odd, push me – pull you system which uses two slotted screws, one on either side of the sight.  To adjust, the screw on the side in which you want to move the sight is first loosened, and the screw on the opposite side is tightened.

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On all models the bolt is operated by turning the bolt knob counterclockwise one quarter turn and then pulling it to the rear.  When a pellet or BB is loaded, the knob is pushed fully forward and then turned one quarter turn clockwise to lock.

All models are provided with a manual safety on the left side of the frame, behind the trigger.  The manual safety can only be applied when the pistol is cocked.

Production

The Crosman Mark I and Mark II were introduced in 1966.  Production of the Mark I continued until 1983 and the Mark II remained in production until 1986.  However, several changes to the original design were incorporated in both models around 1975.  The most notable change was that the ability to adjust power using the screw under the front of the receiver was dropped.  From mid-1975, the receiver used a new casting which did not include the power adjustment screw (though two-stage cocking was retained).  At around the same time several other changes to the initial design were incorporated including the replacement of the toggle type piercing cap with a push button type.

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Early toggle style piercing cap (left) on a Mark I and later push button style (right) on a Mark II

Other changes focused on the bolt and bolt guide at the rear of the receiver: the cast alloy bolt knob was replaced with a machined, knurled version and the machined metal bolt guide was replaced with a plastic version (and the retaining screws for the metal version, visible at the side rear of the receiver on early versions were also dropped).  Other minor changes included modifications to the barrel nut and the muzzle nut.  However, these changes did not happen all at the same time, so for example, you may find a Mark I with the power adjustment screw of the early version but which also has the later plastic bolt guide.  Crosman repair stations also tended to replace the early toggle style piercing cap with the later push button style when Mark I or Mark II pistols were returned for servicing or repair.  So, it’s common for early pistols to have been retrofitted with the later style piercing cap.

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Early receiver style with cast bolt knob and bolt guide retaining screws (arrowed, left) and later type with machined bolt knob (right)

The good news is, none of this really matters.  Later models are just as good as early versions in terms of shooting.  The only functional change is the loss of the power adjustment screw, which I confess I never bothered to adjust on my early Mark I.  If you really want to save CO2, you can always just cock the pistol to the first stage.

Operation

Inserting and piercing CO2 is simple on this replica: just unscrew the piercing cap, insert the CO2 cartridge neck down (i.e. with the neck facing towards the piercing cap) and then screw the piercing cap back on.  If you have one of the early style piercing caps, it must be screwed on with the toggle in the “home” position.  To pierce, the toggle is flipped to the opposite position, but do remember to return it to the “home” position before shooting. On push-button style caps, the cap is screwed on and then the button on the cap is pressed.  Crosman recommend pressing the base of the cap against a hard surface.  However, on my Mark I, it needed a fairly sharp tap against a hard surface before the CO2 would pierce.

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A pellet or BB is then loaded by twisting the bolt knob 90° anticlockwise to unlock and then pulling backwards.  This exposes the loading trough in front of the breech.  A pellet is placed in the trough and the bolt knob pushed forward.  This pushes the pellet or BB into the breech and the bolt knob is then turned 90° clockwise to lock.  Both the Mark I and Mark II accept a range of pellet types without any problems.

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The pistol is cocked by moving the two cocking knobs forward.  Cocking takes very little effort and when the first click is heard, the pistol is cocked to the low power setting.  If you continue to push the cocking knobs forward you’ll hear a second click, indicating the high power setting.  I like the idea of the high and low power settings.  Velocity isn’t particularly important for target shooting and normally I’d be happy to trade some fps for improved CO2 consumption.  However, on my Mark I, the trigger pull was notably less crisp when cocking only to the low power setting, and for this reason I always cocked to the second, high power setting.  The manual safety can only be engaged when the pistol is cocked, and there is no way to safely de-cock other than firing.

If you have a pre-1975 example, power can also be adjusted using the slotted screw on the front of the main casting, below the barrel.  On my Mark I, I left this set at the mid position and never felt any need to adjust it.  I suppose if you are shooting at long range you might want to adjust for maximum power, but otherwise I don’t really see any need for this adjustment.

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The trigger pull can also be adjusted by using the hex screw inside the trigger guard, just in front of the trigger, but some caution is required.  It is possible to adjust the trigger so that it releases with a pull of around one pound or even less.  This is really, really light and with the trigger set like this it’s just way too easy to inadvertently fire.  Most owners report that a pull of around 2lbs gives a crisp, useable trigger pull.

The Mark I and Mark II both shoot with a satisfying bang though there is virtually no felt recoil due to the lack of blowback or other moving parts.  The sights (and particularly the undercut front post) provide a clear sight picture and full adjustment of the rear means that you can set things up so that the point of aim and the point of impact coincide at your chosen shooting range.  A good Mark I will generally shoot at around 400fps in the high power setting and the smaller caliber Mark II will shoot a little faster.  You can expect anything from 30 – 60 shots per CO2 depending on your chosen power settings.  The Mark I is just phenomenally accurate, certainly one of the most accurate replica air pistols I have tried (in my experience, only the S&W 78G/79G get close).  At 10m, a decent Mark I is capable of grouping at well under ½” and even at 50 feet can still group at under 1”.  It’s generally agreed that, out to around 50 feet, the Crosman Mark I is actually more accurate than the Ruger Mark 1 which it replicates.  I have less experience with the Mark II, but I believe that it’s only a little less accurate than the Mark I at 10m when using pellets.  It will be less accurate if you use BBs, but really, why would you?  BBs are a little cheaper than pellets but when you have a classic air pistol this accurate, why would you accept lesser accuracy and the risk of eroding the rifling on the barrel just to save a few pennies?

However, accuracy also means that shooting a good Mark I or Mark II can be a daunting and a humbling experience.  These pistols are just so damn accurate that there really isn’t any excuse for not producing tight groups at 50ft and even beyond.  If, like me, you’re used to shooting multi-shot pistols at 10m and under, you may discover that you’re not nearly as good as you thought you were if you use one of these.  And that’s just the standard version – some modified Mark 1s are claimed to be capable of a 1” grouping at 50m.  I don’t know about you, but I can barely see a 1” target at 50m using iron sights, let alone hit one reliably!  So, be prepared to feel a little silly the first time you shoot one of these.  The good news is that, if you’re willing to practice and improve, the Mark I will allow you to discover the satisfaction of precisely placing pellets at ranges well beyond those which most modern replica air pistols can manage.

Buying a Mark I/Mark II

Should you go for a Mark I or a Mark II?  For me, that’s a fairly simple choice.  The barrel on the Mark II is a compromise, allowing both pellets and steel BBs to be fired without damaging the rifling.  The barrel on the Mark I is rifled and designed to take pellets only, and this, added to the better stability of the heavier .22” pellet,  gives the Mark I the edge for accuracy, especially at longer range.  And extreme accuracy is what makes this replica stand out.  Given that, I’d always go for a Mark I if I had the choice.

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And the good news is, there is lots of choice.  Large numbers of the Mark I and Mark II were made over their twenty year production run, and because it’s a simple, robust design, lots of them are still around.  The long production run also means that prices tend to be lower than for some other classic Crosman models, for example, the Model 600/677 or the very rare Model 451.  As with all older pistols, it’s difficult to quote a precise price because this is so dependent on condition and whether the sale includes things like the original box, manual, etc.  In general, it should be possible to find a reasonable, working Mark I for around the same or less than you’d pay for (for example) one of the top or the range Umarex pellet shooters.  For something that’s immaculate and in its original box, you can expect to pay more.  The Mark II generally sells for a little less than the Mark I.  If you are looking for an air pistol which will hold its value or appreciate, go for a Mark I in good condition with its original box and paperwork.

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This early Mark I has lost most of its original finish.

There are relatively few problems with these replicas.  Seals wear out over time and the lands and grooves on barrels will eventually wear (though both models seem to be capable of thousands of shots without major degradation of the barrel).  Finish is variable.  Some seem to keep their original finish and resist scratching and chipping, others seem to prone to completely shedding their finish, leaving dull, oxidized alloy.  Don’t be too put off if you find one of these with a poor finish – these often sell for much less, but re-coating is an option and the lack of finish doesn’t affect power or accuracy.  Because so many were produced and are still being used, spares and replacement parts (grips and re-seal kits in particular) are widely available for the Mark I and II.

The Mark I was (and is) a popular pistol to modify, and you will often come across examples which have been modified.  Longer barrels (10”, 12” and 14” barrels are fairly common), bulk CO2 adaptors and mounts which allow the use of optical sights are all fairly common.  The performance of some modified Mark I pistols is simply astounding – versions of the Custom LD MKI Long Range Pistol produced by Mac-1 Airguns for example, are said to be capable of over 600fps and 1” groups at 50m!  Decent optical sights certainly help those of us with ageing eyesight to use more of the accuracy of even the standard Mark I, but it is notable that recently, the best prices seem to be paid for original, unmodified examples.  I guess that as the Mark I becomes rightly regarded as one of the classic pistols from a classic period for Crosman, collectors are becoming more interested in owning original and unmodified examples.

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Mark I fitted with wood grips, a mono-mount and a red-dot sight

Conclusion

These pistols exude quality in almost every way.  From the undercut Patridge front sight to the accurately adjustable rear sight, everything feels well-thought out and nicely put together.  Better still, these are natural pointers which have great primary balance and fit the average hand better than most pistols.  Mimicking something as popular and well-regarded as the Ruger Mark 1 was a very sensible design choice by Crosman, and the Mark I and II inherit many of the fine handling qualities of that pistol.

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Are there any down sides to these replicas?  Well, both have grips that include a thumb rest and are intended for use in the right hand only (though left-hand or ambidextrous grips are easy to find) and the safety is designed for use with the right hand only.  And of course they’re single shot only, which can come as a shock if you’re used to blasting away with modern multi-shot replicas.  Other than that, there isn’t a lot wrong with either.  Both the Mark I and the Mark II are simple, robust, well engineered and will last a very long time indeed if they’re looked after.  And there are very, very few replica air pistols which will provide the accuracy and power of a good Mark I.

Related pages

Crosman 38 revolvers

Crosman Wild West revolvers

KJ Works Ruger MK 1

Home

Classic replica air pistol reviews

Links

Crosman support page with links to download the Mark 1 manual and parts diagram

https://support.crosman.com/hc/en-us/articles/203361344-MARK-1-Owner-s-Manual-EVP-1966-1983-

And the same for the Mark 2

https://support.crosman.com/hc/en-us/articles/203544200-MARK-II-Owner-s-Manual-EVP-1966-1986-

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