What is a zip gun? Well, it can mean different things to different people.
Zip gun is a term often applied to cheap homemade guns or improvised firearms. People used to make little .22 LR zip guns from car antennas or zip shotguns with two pieces of pipes and a nail.
The term zip gun was also applied to a weapon once called the “future of fun.” This moniker was given to the gun by USFA, the company that made the ZiP .22.
It made quite a splash after its announcement and debut. USFA promised an affordable and fun plinker with a novel design that fired America’s favorite plinking round, the .22 LR.
As owners of the ZiP soon found out — it was far from fun in practical use. To figure out what happened in this long and somewhat tragic story, we start in December 2012.
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Sleigh Bells Ring
It was that most wonderful time of the year. People were preparing for Christmas, it was cold, and SHOT Show 2013 was gearing up.
But for those that couldn’t go to SHOT, Douglas Donnelly, the owner of USFA, brought a website to life detailing their new USFA ZiP gun.
Prior to the ZiP, USFA, or U.S. Firearms Manufacturing Company, was known for producing high-quality Colt Single Action Army replicas. These guns were well respected and a favorite of Single Action Shooting Society members.
In stark contrast, the design of the ZiP was about as far as you can get from a single-action army revolver.
USFA’s little ZiP became a bit of an overnight sensation thanks to its wild design.
A mostly polymer handgun that’s also a bullpup and feeds from Ruger 10/22 magazines is a surefire way to raise some eyebrows. It was delightfully odd, and they promised an MSRP of less than $200.
In January 2013, SHOT Show the ZiP premiered! The design was so weird that it drew crowds.
Aside from its simple blowback operating mechanism, everything else about it was bizarre. Your hand wrapped around the rear of the gun, your trigger finger rested below the ejection port, and below the trigger sat a support position for your middle finger.
A set of rods that sat above the barrel allowed you to charge the weapon or recock the trigger to try and restrike a cartridge that failed to ignite.
Unfortunately, the gun suffered from constant failures at SHOT Show 2013 range day. At the time, this was blamed on the cold temperatures of range day, but it would foreshadow future problems.
The Market Impact
The ZiP was released to gun stores later that year and promptly failed to impress. I know because I purchased one.
Like many owners, I was so excited to go plink, only to be disappointed.
Early guns constantly malfunctioned. If you fired more than three rounds without a malfunction, consider yourself lucky.
USFA quickly released an upgrade kit to solve those issues — it didn’t.
The ZiP shipped with two springs. One for hot loads like CCI stingers and one for standard bulk pack stuff, but it didn’t matter which one you used.
At first, owners were advised to only use 10-round Ruger 10/22 mags. They later released spring upgrade kits for the BX25 mags to attempt to get them to feed fast enough.
However, I can say from experience it didn’t matter. No magazine worked. The plastic bolt simply cycled too fast for magazines to feed properly.
No Stopping Now
USFA and Doug Donelly doubled down and threw their back into the project. He sold off all the USFA revolver tooling to support the ZiP gun.
He saw modularity as the key to the gun’s success.
There were promises for threaded barrels for suppressors. We also got different rails, you could attach red dots to the gun, or a different top cover would let you use Glock sights.
Heck, an SBR stock was even released.
There was also a promised drop-in kit and barrel that would make the weapon a single-shot .22 Magnum. The kit never appeared although I suppose it would have been a better option than what was essentially already a single-shot gun.
In the end, the shoddy reliability of the ZiP killed any potential success.
Donelly went all in to realize his dream with the ZiP, and in the end, it cost him. The lack of sales and failure of the ZiP bankrupted USFA, and they eventually lost their FFL.
Reportedly only a few hundred ZiP guns were ever produced. I still own mine, but lord knows the last time I shot it.
Maybe it’ll be worth something someday — If not, I own a meme and a conversation piece, so I guess that was worth the small sum I paid.
What are your thoughts on the USFA Zip? Let us know in the comments below! Interested in some .22 LR pistols that actually work? Check out our hands-on review of the 9 Best .22 LR Pistols/Handguns.