When I was younger, my dad would take me and my brother out to shoot the family .22 rifles. Though that was my first experience with real firearms, my interest in firearms didn’t begin there. Like so many of my generation, my interest started with toy cap guns.
Back in the 1950s and ‘60s, toy guns that shot caps were almost a requirement for young boys. (Thanks to Dale Evans, models and outfits for cowgirls existed too.)
While cap guns predate the ‘50s and ‘60s by many years, I submit that those two decades were truly the Golden Age. Get on YouTube and you can see all the marvelous Mattel cap gun and toy gun TV commercials from the era.
A Variety of Toy Guns
I had all kinds of cap guns as a kid. Not only the greats — Mattel’s “Fanner 50,” for instance (available on eBay) — but also guns from the “Johnny Eagle” series and some equally cool cap guns from Marx. My supply of toy guns served as the neighborhood armory for playing “Cowboys and Indians,” “Cops and Robbers” and “Army.” Of course, we learned to play those games by watching the great TV shows of the time, such as the WWII series Combat and the classic westerns Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers and Gunsmoke.
Cap guns of my youth prepared me for an interest in the real thing as I got older. Like Ralphie in A Christmas Story, I lusted for a BB gun. I never got the Daisy Model 25, but I eventually ended up with an American-made Daisy Winchester 94 replica BB gun. That BB gun led to my first real rifle: a Ruger 10/22.
Years ago, I was blessed with a son, and I wanted to spark his interest in firearms in the same way. But how to do that in the anti-gun/anti-toy-gun climate of the 21st century?
Most of the very few cap guns on today’s market are imported, plastic junk. Many bear only a passing resemblance to an actual firearm and would be lucky to survive a single hour — much less a day — of play. Where could I turn?
Online retailers eBay and Etsy have a good selection of vintage cap guns. I purchased a vintage Mattel Shootin’ Shell .38 Snub — one of my childhood favorites — on eBay. Mechanically it still functions, but since it requires the no-longer-available Greenie Stickum caps, it can’t go “bang.” A good buddy of mine has a decent collection of cap guns, and he told me to check out Wild West Toys.
Wild West Toys
Located in Azle, Texas, Wild West Toys is the only American manufacturer of nearly full-sized Western die-cast metal cap guns. Wild West’s toy guns are designed for the long haul and serious outdoor play.
Opened in 1998, Wild West Toys purchased many of the toy molds for American-made cap guns popular in the Golden Age, saving them from the scrap heap and preserving an important part of our heritage. Wild West Toys carries a line of imported cap guns and new old-stock American-made guns, but it was the newly manufactured models that caught my eye.
Drawing inspiration from the Lone Ranger’s guns, I selected a Bronco .44 Long Barrel cap gun with Stag grips. It has a barrel length of 5.75 inches and a silver finish with white grips.
The Bronco .44 is a double-action design that mimics the traditional Western single-action revolvers, including faux engraving. It uses 50-shot paper-roll caps. At the front of the frame on both sides is a release latch that opens the left side of the frame, allowing the spring-loaded sideplate to open. When open, the sideplate reveals the loading area for the roll caps. To load, simply drop in a roll on the interior post and feed the leading edge of the cap roll upward under the hammer.
You’ll also find when you open the sideplate a partial-length freely revolving cylinder positioned in front of the cap “magazine” with six silver dummy rounds that can be removed one at a time and reloaded. They are about .22 caliber in diameter.
The Bronco .44 and other American-made guns by Wild West Toys are assembled using screws. If they break, they can be easily repaired. At the end of the barrel is the requisite orange plastic insert. It does not protrude far enough from the muzzle to be objectionable.
The Bronco .44 loads and feeds easily. It also shoots caps reliably. The caps are about half as loud as the ones I played with as a kid. According to Wild West Toys owner Bob Terry, the feds got involved years ago and cut the powder charges for caps in half.
More Than Toy Guns
Wild West has a wide range of other great items such as holsters, replica badges and non-firing replica guns. There are also models with pink and turquoise grips. I ordered a synthetic black adjustable holster to go with my son’s Bronco .44.
When the weather was nice enough, we took the Bronco .44 outside and loaded up the caps. I found that my son’s hands were not yet big enough (at 4 years old) to pull the trigger double-action — which automatically advances the caps and fires them. I was able to teach him to hold the hammer back and manually advance the caps. He could then thumb the hammer back far enough to fire the gun.
We have gone on several expeditions in the backyard to search for “bad guys,” but I was feeling a bit left out since my Shootin’ Shell .38 could only go “click.” I remedied that by purchasing a Bronco .44 Short Barrel Relic cap gun with black Longhorn grips. Barrel length of the Relic is 4.75 inches. Now we can play Lone Ranger and Tonto, and my son has two cap guns that he will hopefully pass down to his children someday.
The Bronco .44s aren’t cheap, but they are worth every penny. The long-barrel model is priced at $44.95, while the short-barrel Relic is priced at $39.95. If you want to spend less, there are other new old-stock American-made models from other makers for about half the price. Imported models are available as well. There are also some guns made in conjunction with Parris Manufacturing.
If you are interested in generating future interest in the shooting sports in a young child, try starting him or her out with a quality cap gun and some traditional Western TV shows.
More info at: WildWestToys.com