Shell games

The idea of shell ejecting airsoft props is nothing new; models from companies such as Daisy, Tokyo Marui, Marushin, Maruzen, and others go back at least to the 80s. These have run the gamut from novelty spring power models where you still have to cycle every shot (which is fine for something like the M870 shell ejecting airsoft shotgun, but strange in a semiauto pistol like the H&K P7) to versions that could use real 9mm shell casings (TM’s MP5) but were extremely fragile and prone to malfunction, to models that even fire caps while cycling electrically and ejecting plastic casings (like the semi-auto M4s I have a few of – also cheaply made though). On the high end, you have things that cost over a thousand dollars even when they aren’t rare or collector’s items, like the Cheytac sniper rifle.

No, I don’t have one of those. It’s a huge step up from the shell ejecting plastic Super-9 rifles that have been easy to get for ages… especially in price.

Most of these have had their advantages (just the fact you can get that shot of it ejecting a casing, for example) and disadvantages – anything that feeds shells is to some degree prone to stovepipe and double-feed jams, amongst others, and there’s more that can mechanically go wrong with the prop. Casings have to be purchased, retrieved, and they often wear out or break over time. On my M870 the shells all come blue, a standard non-gun designation, and they’re slightly smaller than 12ga. Still, sometimes it’s worth it.

In the past year I’ve acquired two new shell ejecting airsoft models, and I have to say they’re both better than any of the vintage models I have… at least so far.

Up first, the Top M4A1. This is far from cheap, although I got a great deal on a lightly used model; add shipping from Japan and accessories costs to the generally around $700 pricetag and it adds up fast. I used this on our audience-award-winning 48hr film fest project Ouroboros here in Richmond last month, as part of a suite of M4s all sometimes being exchanged for each other; real SIG M4s that were modified to cycle blanks (rented from The Specialists), solid rubber training M4s, and the Top – I swapped around sights, grips, rail covers and other accessories to try to make them able to stand in for each other. The Top M4 was used for one specific shot where we were too close to safely fire the .223 blanks – it had been originally billed as point blank, so I was planning on using it for that. It uses an electric blowback system to cycle the casings. Casings themselves are plastic, and do get scraped up and notched a bit with re-use, but you should be able to get at least several uses out of them. I believe there are upgrades available including a steel extractor, aluminum shells, and a steel receiver… but I haven’t sunk any more money into mine yet. Here’s a little behind-the-scenes iPhone video of one take:

We did have a few double feeds and stovepipes that day, but far less than you would with a modelgun version, and fixing it is as simple as pulling out the shell.

The more recent purchase (ordered a while ago but it’s been back-ordered most places) is the Marushin shell ejecting CZ75 gas blowback airsoft pistol. I generally prefer gas blowback to electric blowback systems, just in terms of crispness and sound, and this one’s no exception. The pistol itself is really light weight, with most of the weight being in the magazine. You won’t really get any recoil off this at all, but it does work well with the shell casings:

Granted, none of the shell ejecting props will give you muzzle flash or much in the way of recoil, but besides being one less thing to add in post, it does also help an actor feel like they’re really firing something, without the safety and logistic challenges of dealing with blanks. I think they can be great choices for digital video productions, especially when you’re shooting in an urban area, maybe a hotel or someone’s apartment, and don’t want to deal with noise complaints, police calls, etc. of realistic-sounding gunshots.

While you could conceivably use these for live theatre (stick a suppressor on the end to justify the lack of a boom?) the sound really isn’t right – the RAP4 models are probably better suited to live theatre, as they make better sound, are more durable, and it doesn’t matter so much that the casings don’t quite look right up close (and that there’s no actual blowback mechanism).

My favorite shell ejecting airsoft may still be the bolt action WWII KAR rifle, since I like the casings it uses and it allows me to demonstrate what a clip is (and how it’s different from a magazine):

IMG_8600

…but there’s much more use for modern models. Marushin made a 1911 and a Glock that it released at the same time as the CZ75, and they all operated the same – I’d actually have preferred to get one of the Glocks, but they went out of stock very quickly and haven’t come back. I know Glock is a bit fanatical about shutting down anything not explicitly licensed, so there may have been legal issues involved. Still –  more specialty tools in the toolbag!

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