Pistol shooting solely for the sport of shooting, though not uniquely American in origin, has its roots firmly entrenched on United States soil. Outside of the Camp Perry shooting competitions, there weren’t any formal shooting organizations in the U.S. until 1976, when the International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) was formed. In 1984, the United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA) was organized as the U.S. region of IPSC, and in 1996 the International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA), which is intended for production guns only, was established. However, five years before the USPSA was created, John Bianchi had a vision of his own for a formalized pistol competition that has become the crown jewel of all American shooting events—the Bianchi Cup. First held in 1979, in 1984 the event was renamed the NRA Bianchi Cup.

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“The Bianchi Cup was directly responsible for the creation of factory-sponsored shooting teams,” explained founder John Bianchi. “When the Bianchi Cup was first organized, the event took place at Ray Chapman’s Green Valley Rifle and Pistol Club shooting range in Columbia, Missouri.” This was the same city where the IPSC was formed and Chapman, a buddy of Bianchi’s, was the 1975 IPSC World Champion.

Over the past 36 years, participation in American shooting sports has grown to unprecedented levels, and over that same time the guns used for competitions have evolved from production models to some very exotic configurations.

“My original concept was to focus on personal defense combat shooting with conventional guns and holsters,” said Bianchi. “As the years have passed, it has become more and more sophisticated with specially built guns, and holsters designed especially for competition use that are just platforms to rest the gun in [like the latest Model 014 Bianchi Cup holster from Safariland].”

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As for the guns that are made to “sit” in the 014, most are custom built for competition, and one of the most impressive is the Italian-built Tanfoglio Witness Elite Gold Team. Tanfoglio’s purpose-built competition models have won almost every major competition pistol match in the world at one time or another, and at the top of the list is the latest Tanfoglio Gold Custom Xtreme, a single-action (SA) semi-automatic made for the IPSC Open Division competitions and used by five-time world champion Eric Grauffel. This version is supplied with a special silver finish; a ported barrel with polygonal rifling; a lighter, ported slide; a compensator; Xtreme aluminum grips; an Xtreme Hammer; an Xtreme Trigger; a scope mount with a blast shield; a C-More optic; a slide racker and a thumb rest. For the competitive shooter desiring Tanfoglio’s top-of-the-line semi-auto, the price tag is $5,884. Now imagine being able to practice with this same Eric Grauffel-approved semi-auto for only $200.

Gold Standards

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The gun replicates the features of the cartridge-firing Gold Custom.

Looking at the .177-caliber air pistol version now available from Pyramyd Air and the 9mm Tanfoglio it is based upon, they are almost indistinguishable. The Tanfoglio Gold Custom air pistol shares the same design features and is a full blowback-action semi-auto chambered for .177-caliber steel BBs. While internally it is the same blowback-type action used in a variety of 1911-based air pistols, the Tanfoglio has a completely different trigger design and grip configuration. The air pistol also uses a unique, Tanfoglio-designed magazine that is contoured like a double stack and based on the competition magazines made for the Gold Custom Xtreme. Standard production Colt 1911 air pistol magazines will not fit in the Tanfoglio’s flared, beveled grip well.

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Like the 9mm competition model, the air pistol has a special silver finish (dark silver for the air pistol); an oversized triggerguard; a finely checkered flat mainspring housing; a checkered front grip strap; a ported slide and compensator; Xtreme aluminum grips; an Xtreme Hammer; an Xtreme Trigger; a flared and beveled magazine well; an oversized/checkered magazine release; a permanently affixed scope mount; a slide racker; and thumb rest safeties. The smooth-bore barrel is 5 inches in length, not counting the ported compensator, and overall length for the pistol is 9.84 inches. Height, without the rail, from the base of the magazine well to the top of the slide, is 5.25 inches.

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The air pistol’s slide locks back after the last BB is fired.

For IPSC competition in its Open Division, the rules are, well, wide open. Optic/electronic sights are permitted as well as ports/compensators. There are no minimum trigger-pull restrictions. There’s no maximum size of firearm allowed and there are no restrictions on holster position. The Gold Custom air pistol is built to match those same standards as applied to the Tanfoglio Gold Custom Xtreme race gun. It also features all-metal construction for an accurate approximate weight (minus optics) of 47.36 ounces.

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Exhibiting the air pistol’s training capabilities for competition shooters, the author performs a speed reload with the Tanfoglio Gold Custom and extra magazines after drawing from a Safariland Open Class holster fitted to an ELS belt with spare magazine holders.

The Tanfoglio uses self-contained magazines that hold both the CO2 capsule and up to 20 steel BBs. The slide locks back after the last round is fired and multiple magazines can be carried for practicing quick reloads. The large, checkered magazine release drops the empty with ease, and reloading with the wide, beveled magazine well is seamless. It’s very close to the real thing.

Air It Out

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For testing, I selected Hornady Black Diamond black anodized steel BBs, which are ranked among the best and most accurate. The target was an IPSC/USPSA cardboard torso target set out at approximately 7 yards, which is the nominal distance for blowback-action air pistols (although the Tanfoglio also shoots very well at 10 meters). Trigger pull on the air pistol averaged a very light 2.9 pounds, and velocity from the 5-inch barrel was 336 fps. Using a TruGlo Red Dot Open series optic, which offers a red or green dot and a 5-MOA reticle, the best group of 15 Black Diamond BBs literally blew a section out of an IPSC target’s A-zone with an overall spread of 0.74 inches.

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The air pistol’s trigger pull proved light and crisp with a very quick reset, and there is just enough force in the slide’s recoil to give the gun a very realistic feeing when fired. The competition-style slide release is easy to activate, as is the right-side slide racker knob. The ambidextrous thumb safety’s levers drop into the “fire” position with ease, providing a solid resting point for the strong-hand’s thumb.

The Tanfoglio’s weight, balance and operation are as close to the 9mm competition pistol as possible for an air gun. For competitive shooting practice, drawing the Tanfoglio air pistol from the Safariland Bianchi Cup holster is as important as shooting the gun itself, and practicing magazine changes from the rig makes this one of the most enjoyable and exciting competition-style air guns you will probably ever experience. I know I certainly enjoyed handling and firing the Tanfoglio air pistol at the range.

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