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Old 11-18-2013, 04:28 PM
PALADIN85020
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The Colt Woodsman pistol - a retrospective



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The Colt Woodsman has always been one of my favorite .22 pistols.

John



The Colt Woodsman .22 pistols deserve inclusion as classic handguns if for no other reason than they were the first successful .22 rimfire autoloading pistols. Although there were many permutations of this pistol over the years, the basic design for the original version was another product of the fertile brain of the master, John Moses Browning. Until Browning’s design, semiauto feeding of rimmed .22 cartridges was not reliable, as the rims tended to catch on each other. The key to consistent feeding was Browning’s use of a slanted magazine. In this design, the rim of the higher round was always in front of the ones below it in the magazine. This allowed each round to feed forward smoothly.

Browning sold his design in 1911 to Colt. Two Colt engineers, F.C. Chadwick and G.H. Tansley, modified and developed the design and should share credit with Browning for its success. The pistol was placed on the market in 1915 as the Colt Caliber .22 Target Model. It did not acquire the name “Woodsman” until 1927, at about serial number 54,000. The factory called it the “Model S,” matching their internal designation for the frame. The pistol survived on the marketplace for 62 years, evolving into many different versions.

Categorizing and identifying Woodsman pistols is somewhat involved. In a nutshell, there were three different series over the years, and each series had three main subcategories. These subcategories were the “Sport Model” with a 4 ½” round barrel, a “Target Model” with a 6 or 6 ½” round barrel, and the top-of-the-line “Match Target Model” with a heavier flat-sided barrel. Magazines and grips differ greatly among the three series.

The first series pistols were made from 1915 to 1947. The earliest ones, until 1927, had no “Woodsman” markings on the gun. The Sport models had fixed front sights, which became adjustable in 1938. These rear sights were adjustable only for windage. The Target Models had increasingly thicker barrels. From 1915 to 1922, a rather lightweight “pencil” barrel was used. From 1922 to 1934, the barrel became thicker, and from 1934 to 1947, a straight tapered barrel was used. A large bullseye target imprinted on the left side easily identifies the Match Target model. All first model pistols had the bottom of the grip frame at 90 degrees to the angle of the grip, making the rear of the grip much shorter than the front. The Match Target model had walnut grips which extended down over the grip frame, giving them the nickname “elephant ear” grips. In 1932, a heat-treated mainspring housing was phased in, allowing for the increased pressure of high velocity ammunition. These mainspring housings have a grooved pattern for easier identification. Match Target models easily ruled the roost in pre-war bullseye .22 pistol matches.

Match Target Woodsman pistols were produced and sold only to the military during World War Two and all civilian production stopped. Shipments to the government were not extensive; perhaps around 4,000 are estimated to have been bought under contract. A few Woodsman pistols were bought by the OSS, forerunner of the CIA, for experiments with sound suppressors. These were bought through civilian dealers and then modified. Match target pistols were retained by the military for quite a few years. Some were sold through the Director of Civilian Marksmanship in the 1950s, but most were reported destroyed.

The second series of Woodsman pistols was produced from 1947 to 1955. These are most easily and generally identified by a magazine release button behind the trigger, similar to the system used on the 1911 pistol. The grip frame now more closely matched that of the Luger and Ruger pistols, being full length at the rear. The Match Target initially had a 6-inch barrel. A 4 ½” barrel became available in 1950. Accro brand rear sights replaced Coltmaster sights in 1953. Provided with each pistol were two different-sized wedge-shaped “grip adapters” that could be attached by a screw to the mainspring housing. These allowed the grip angle to be customized to the user’s preference. The pistol illustrated for this article is a Match Target model with a 6-inch barrel and Coltmaster rear sight. It was manufactured in March, 1953. It’s complete with an original box, spare magazine, accessories and papers. A special model known as the “Challenger” was produced from 1950 to 1955. Unlike the other 3 models, it had a butt magazine release. There was no automatic slide stop on this economy model. All models other than the Challenger had provisions for a lanyard attachment and were equipped with magazine safeties.

The third series Woodsmans were produced from 1955 until production stopped in 1977. All had a butt magazine release, a larger trigger guard, and a non-grooved trigger. The lanyard attachment provision was omitted. In 1956, the magazine safety was eliminated. In addition to the standard Sport, Target and Match Target models, a new “Huntsman” model was introduced. This one could be had with a 4 ½” or 6” barrel, and featured a fixed rear sight. There was no automatic slide stop on this model. The “Targetsman” model came out in 1959, with a six-inch barrel and a cheaper adjustable rear sight.

Production of the Colt Woodsman pistols ceased in 1977, as they had become outdated and too expensive to manufacture in competition with the more modern Smith & Wesson, Ruger and High Standard .22 pistols. If you seek an extra magazine or two for your particular Woodsman, be advised that finding the correct one can be a struggle, as there was quite a mix over the years. Be sure to specify the series and model before you attempt to buy one, and test fit it in your pistol if possible.

Today, the Woodsman pistols have become hot items on the collector market. The first and second series Match Target pistols have become premium items in particular. If you are seeking a good match pistol for actual use, look for a second series Match Target like the one illustrated. These are particularly desirable. A six-inch barrel will usually bring a higher price than the 4 ½” version. As always, finding one with its original box, papers and accessories is hard, and they are becoming quite expensive.

The Colt Woodsman pistols are true classics with a birthright going back to the very first .22 autoloader. That the design originally sprang from the mind of the incomparable John Browning gives them additional panache. As they are no longer made, you will see their values continue to escalate. You’ll find them to be jewels of workmanship made in the old-fashioned way, hand-fitted one at a time, and quite deserving of a space on the shelf of the classics.

All text and photos (c) 2013 JLM



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Old 11-18-2013, 05:14 PM
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Thumbs up

You keep going to all the websites I visit. My thumb is getting tired LOL! Can't beat an old Colt!

James
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Old 11-18-2013, 07:23 PM
GyMac
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Thanks so much for posting! Excellent info on an excellent gun.
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Old 11-18-2013, 08:33 PM
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woodsman

thanks! I really enjoyed reading this.
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Old 11-18-2013, 08:43 PM
Granite3
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Excellent read, and a beautiful work of form, function, and finesse!

Sexy they are, bet it feels real good in your hand with superb balance!
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Old 11-18-2013, 09:39 PM
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Paladin, why did Colt put the straight section on the second series Woodsman trigger? Is there a record of how Colt came to include this feature? I really like it, and for me it makes the trigger more controllable.
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Old 11-18-2013, 09:59 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PALADIN85020 View Post

Today, the Woodsman pistols have become hot items on the collector market. The first and second series Match Target pistols have become premium items in particular. If you are seeking a good match pistol for actual use, look for a second series Match Target like the one illustrated. These are particularly desirable. A six-inch barrel will usually bring a higher price than the 4 ½” version.
In my experience of collecting these pistols over the past 35 years, the 4 1/2 Inch barrel Match Target pistol generally brings a higher price than the 6 Inch barrel Match Target. Most target shooters bought the longer barreled Match Target for competition (due to its longer sight radius) making the 4 1/2 Inch Match Target less frequently encountered, and commensurately more expensive.

Just my 2 cents.

BRP
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Old 11-19-2013, 09:57 AM
dana.thomas
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Very enjoyable read, thank you. I learned that previous to the Woodsman the auto load 22 was not reliable because of the rim catching on a lower rim in the magazine. Can anyone give some examples of what Colt changed about the design they bought from Browning in 1911? You say, " Two Colt engineers, F.C. Chadwick and G.H. Tansley, modified and developed the design and should share credit with Browning for its success." I have often read that Colt modified the design but I never see any examples of design changes. Dana
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Old 11-19-2013, 12:22 PM
PALADIN85020
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dana.thomas View Post
Very enjoyable read, thank you. I learned that previous to the Woodsman the auto load 22 was not reliable because of the rim catching on a lower rim in the magazine. Can anyone give some examples of what Colt changed about the design they bought from Browning in 1911? You say, " Two Colt engineers, F.C. Chadwick and G.H. Tansley, modified and developed the design and should share credit with Browning for its success." I have often read that Colt modified the design but I never see any examples of design changes. Dana
George Tansley and Francis Chadwick's main contribution to the design was the assembly lock plunger. They slightly simplified the firing system and had introduced a variant take-down method. Their work was concurrent with Browning's. The Tansley-Chadwick patents and Browning's were filed together by Colt on March 30, 1917.

John
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Old 11-19-2013, 12:30 PM
PALADIN85020
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Provincial View Post
Paladin, why did Colt put the straight section on the second series Woodsman trigger? Is there a record of how Colt came to include this feature? I really like it, and for me it makes the trigger more controllable.
I dunno. My guess is that it offered a more consistent trigger feel in view of inevitable minor variations of finger placement on the trigger. The straight line of the trigger is almost 90 degrees to the axis of the barrel.

John
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Old 11-19-2013, 08:17 PM
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The influence of this pistol on it's successors cannot be denied. If Colt were to produce another .22 I would hope it would be a Second Series Target and Match Target revival. One of the changes from the original that wasn't mentioned was the flip of the follower button to the other side of the magazine which in turn moved the slide release to left side with the safety. I understand that the earlier High Standard magazines were interchangeable with the pre war Colt. The C style magazines can be quite pricey as well as the A and B of the original Woodsman. I am wondering about the key ring screwdriver. I purchased a couple of those from Bob Rayburn but I am not sure of the year of their introduction. I seem to remember a small straight screwdriver with either a plastic or metal handle from my childhood but unfortunately, like the box, it has been lost to the ages.
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Old 11-20-2013, 09:49 PM
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Great as the Match Target models are, the Sport and Target models are better suited as field pistols or kit guns. A little lighter and easier to carry, they make fine game getters and trapline rigs.







can't leave out the economy model Huntsmans as field guns....



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Old 12-18-2013, 10:21 AM
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I just picked up a second series match target for just under $500 Can . It is about 85-90%. With an excelent bore. Are they acurate . I have a HS Victor, Ruger mark II, and browning buck mark. The Colt and the price cault my attention . I would still like a 41, and a Buck Mark Medalist . But one piece at a time ...

Sent from my SGH-I747M using Tapatalk
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Old 01-14-2014, 09:23 AM
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A coveted 2nd Series 4 1/2" MT

And from 1952 we have this fine example with a nice set of Target Grips:
[IMG][/IMG]

Last edited by VertFish; 02-21-2014 at 07:26 AM. Reason: Picture juggling
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Old 02-20-2014, 11:50 PM
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Collecting Woodsmans

I also have enjoyed collecting the many variations of these Colt .22 pistols. My father told me they would become very desireable............ so we started buying them years ago............ many of them still in the box! Thanks Dad!

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