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by Bill Mills
At long last, paintballers have access to a holsterable semi-auto paintgun at a price low enough to be an extra or backup. With proper maintenance your paintgun shouldn’t be failing, so a back-up shouldn’t be necessary. However in 24-hour games, you can be on the field for hours at a time. Having a paintgun small enough to be hidden, or carried while carrying large and ungainly scenario props can be a real advantage.
There have been holsterable semis before, but each has had their own drawbacks, which kept them from being widely used. The Crosman 3357 was one. Not a true semi, it was a double action revolver. The long trigger pull chambered each ball and cocked the hammer. Its accuracy was poor, and it only held 6 paintballs. In addition, the 50 caliber paintballs it used were hard to come buy. It did, however have an extremely high coolness factor, since it was a functional revolver. The AGA semi-auto pistol used the same valve and breech with as the Crosman, but featured a spring fed 8 shot magazine in 62 caliber. 62 caliber paintballs are next to impossible to find today, but back in the late 80s they were in use in Tippmann SMG-60s and 62-caliber conversion WGP Snipers. Later came the AFT – a holsterable version of the F2 Illustrator. While effective, it had a hefty price tag, and was somewhat awkward in shape. Like the others, the AFT is no longer manufactured. Currently in production are the custom built Squall from Palmer’s Pursuit, and the Sydarm from Airgun Designs. Both are top quality products, but both cost almost twice what low cost production semis cost, placing them out of the budget of many recreational players. Additionally the Sydarm is only available to police and military units as a training tool.
Enter the Sidekick semi auto. A 10 shot 68 caliber semi-auto that sells for under $100. Of course the road from idea to the playing field was not so fast and smooth.
in 1998, Chris “Goob” Nall of the Mayberry Marauders paintball team (all of the players on the team have nicknames following the characters from the Andy Griffith Show) saw an ad in Action Pursuit Games for a small holsterable semi auto and pump paintgun. After a number of phone calls to the listed dealer, he learned that the semi was not yet available, but the pump was, so he ordered it. It was a slightly modified version of the DSDS pistol. The DSDS is a Nelspot style pistol with a molded plastic receiver built for delivering 68 caliber scent marking balls for hunters.
After receiving his pistol, and using it on the field, he found it lacking in a few areas. Now you don't need to be a rocket scientist to have ideas how to improve a paintgun, but it doesn't hurt. Goob took his background as a manufacturing engineer who works on missiles, and called the pistol's manufacturer directly.
After a number of calls, there were improvements in the design, including materials changes and the addition of a velocity adjuster. Goob started an on-line paintball store, paintballstuff.com that was oriented toward the scenario player, and paintballstuff.com became the distributor of the new Sidekick pump action pistol.
So, what about the semi? Goob learned from the manufacturer that they had built some rough prototypes, but nothing that worked effectively. He collaborated with the manufacturer, tweaking here, and adjusting there, and beta test versions were put in the field late September of 1999. We had the opportunity to use one of these for review. The final production model should be ready mid to late spring 2000.
Overall, the Sidekick Semi looks very similar to its pump relatives. The main external difference is a slot cover in the feed area instead of a pump. Internally it’s a whole different animal. Instead of the Nelson valve concept, it employs a blow forward bolt and valve system.
The physical layout is quite simple, an over/under tube design. There are no gadgets or hoses hanging out of the sides, so it slides cleanly into a holster or tucks under a belt. The grip frame is made of a molded long chain polymer material, which is both lightweight and durable. The main body of the grip area is built up as “vanes” rather than one solid molded piece. This design retains strength yet further decreases weight. While the grip does not include screw holes, it appears that with a bit of ingenuity, wraparound and flat panel grips such as those made by Hogue, Pachmyer, Pearce Grips, and Pro Team could be installed.
A threaded Delrin plug in the bottom unscrews to release the 12-gram CO2 cartridge used as a power source. We suspect that as with the Splatmaster and Rapide paintguns, some players will cut a side slot in the grip allowing cartridges to be “quick changed” without unscrewing the plug all the way.
Two screws hold the grip frame to the receiver, and for strength and durability, they thread into metal components rather than the polymer of the receiver.
The top half of the receiver is for storage. Its front portion is a tube, which holds paintballs. It comes stock with a spring fed magazine tube. The magazine tube consists of a strong delrin outer section and an inner section that is made from a 10 round paintball tube (if you haven’t been around the sport long enough to remember those they look like translucent plastic cigar tubes). Inside the magazine is a coiled spring that puts constant pressure on the paintballs, feeding them toward the chamber. Fully loaded, the tube has a capacity of 10 paintballs.
In the center, the top half of the receiver has a small wedge. This wedge redirects paintballs that are pressed toward the back, down into the breech.
In the rear, the receiver is open. It has a C shaped sleeve that slides over a dovetail completing the design lines of the Sidekick. Inside the sleeve is empty space that can be used for storage of a spare 12-gram cartridge, Magic Beanz, grocery lists, or whatever.
The lower half of the receiver contains the parts that make everything go. In the front is a brass barrel. Because it has low friction, and is easy to polish to a smooth finish, brass makes a great barrel material. Its drawback is that it is subject to corrosion. Should a paintball break in the barrel, it’s important to thoroughly clean and dry the barrel at the end of the day, rather than let it sit for a month or two.
In the rear is the brass air chamber. Inside and underneath it has a hollow pin surrounded by a pliable seal, which pierces the 12-gram cartridge. On the back face is a stainless steel cap screw that is the velocity adjuster.
A power tube extends from the front of the valve body, and resting on it is a blow forward venturi bolt. Inside the bolt, a piston blocks the power tube.
When gas is applied to the Sidekick, the valve chamber charges with gas. The internal gas pressure pushes the piston forward in the power tube a fraction of an inch until the bolt engages the sear, which is protruding up from the grip frame. The sear assembly itself consists of 2 pieces of aluminum, a forward sear and back sear. The forward sear is the part that holds back the bolt. The back sear sits on the front arm of the trigger. When the trigger is pulled the back sear pulls the forward sear down, releasing the bolt. Once the bolt has been released the forward sear releases from the back sear, and spring pressure pushes it back up where it waits to retain the bolt for the next shot.
Once the bolt has been released, the gas pressure forces the piston down the barrel and the bolt forward. At the front of its stroke, the barrel is sealed, and holes in the rear of the piston allow the gas to travel through the bolt and fire the ball. With the pressure in the air chamber relieved the mainspring then returns the bolt to the rear position.
For being a blow-forward semi-auto, the Sidekick is very simple in structure. There is no on/off valve and there is no pressure regulator. Ideally a pressure regulator and a valve that shuts off the gas flow into the valve chamber when the bolt is forward would increase gas efficiency and velocity stability. However they would also increase the bulk and cost of the Sidekick. Since the magazine holds 10 rounds and a 12-gram cartridge has enough gas to fire all 10, Goob felt that further complication to the design was not desirable.
A piston inside the valve chamber is positioned by the velocity adjuster and determines the volume of gas it can contain.
Performance on the field:
Before we hit the field Goob reminded us that we were testing a beta model. That means a version that is ready for field testing, but not the final product. By the time this article is in print, production models should be available.
We loaded it up and stepped onto the chrono range. First shot over the chronograph, without adjustment was 290 fps. 9 trigger pulls later, in rapid succession, and the velocity had dropped to 203 fps with every ball hitting a 50 gallon oil drum that was roughly 20 yards away.
At longer ranges the accuracy was better than we had expected, but it was the close-up point shooting we were most concerned with, and close in, the Sidekick was dead on. Between shots, the velocity dropped anywhere from 8-15 shots per second. For longballing this would be a problem, but at 20 to 30 yard ranges, where a light pistol would be most advantageous, it seems to have little effect on the ability of a shooter to hit their target.
The Sidekick does include front and rear sights, but we completely ignored them. After all, the while light pistol idea is: draw, point, and shoot, very fast.
While some of the Sidekicks being tested had no leakage problems, others including ours had slow leaks in power tube seal. This meant that if a 12-gram cartridge was left in the gun for several hours it would leak away to uselessness. We solved this on the field, buy putting in the cartridge, but not giving the CO2 knob the final twist until just before we planned to shoot. Goob expects that the leakage problems will be completely resolved shortly, and does not plan to release production models until they are.
The other drawback we found was the spring feed system. Loading fresh paint we had absolutely no problem loading and firing 10 shots at the shooting range. The limitation we ran into was not with the paintgun, but the paint. In the hot, humid Florida weather paintballs quickly become flexible and soft. Add body heat to that from tucking it into a pair of BDUs and the paintballs eventually become “smooshy” like water balloons, deforming under the pressure of the drive spring. When they are deformed enough, they will not feed into the breech.
The paintballstuff.com web site suggests loading only 8 balls, and we found better usability when we loaded only 5 paintballs into the feed tube. Even then after a couple of hours in the hot air, ball deformation became an issue. Another solution suggested by Goob was to replace the spring fed tube with a standard 10 round paintball tube. This does not put any stress on the paintballs from the spring, so deformation, even if the paintballs do become soft, is avoided. The drawback is that the rate of fire is reduced slightly. Players running without a feed spring need to tilt the Sidekick upward between shots to make sure that a ball drops into the breech. In cool weather and indoors, paintballs remain stiff and brittle, and in indoor testing we found the spring feed to work great, holding the paintballs for hours at a time without and trouble.
The Sidekick Semi auto is available
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