Hello and welcome back to another edition of The Rimfire Report, our ongoing series that is all about rimfire firearms, ammo, shooting sports, and anything else that falls into the rimfire category. This week I was browsing around Gunbroker.com and came across a pistol I hadn’t seen or shot in nearly two decades – the Colt Woodsman Match Target pistol. The Colt Woodsman was an iconic .22LR pistol designed by John Moses Browning, that was sold to Colt and was then introduced in 1915 in its first iteration. Today we’ll talk a bit about the history of the Colt Woodsman line as well as what brought along the popular Colt Woodsman Match Target pistol and why they often fetch such a high price on the open market.
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The Rimfire Report: Colt Woodsman Match Target Pistol
Pre-First Series and First Series Woodsman Pistols
The Colt Woodsman was first introduced in 1915 but without its proper “Woodsman” moniker. The Woodsman product name would not come about until 1927 which was well after the patent for the pistol was filed on March 30th, 1917 (see below). The pistol featured an internal hammer, a 6-inch barrel, and an unusual 10-round magazine that only survived through the first series iterations. The 10-round magazine fits flush into the bottom of the grip but had to be manually held in place by a small latch near the rear of the butt. The pistol was sold with fully adjustable front and rear sights and it eventually gained enough popularity over the years to garner several different iterations including the Huntsman, Targetsman, Challenger, and of course the subject of today – the Match Target.
The Colt Woodsman Match Target would not come about until 1938 and would have several major changes made to the design including a much heavier barrel, its iconic “Elephant Ear” grips, as well as a completely different set of sights. The Match Target model would eventually be adopted by the United States Military beginning in 1941 which briefly ended civilian production of the popular pistol. Colt would later resume production in 1948 and just a year later Ruger would come out with their eerily similar Ruger Standard pistol which also featured a 10-round magazine and similar form factor.
Second and Third Series Woodmsn Pistols
Several major upgrades came to the second series match target pistols which made the pistol heavier, longer, and added several safety features that were absent in the first series pistols. The Woodsman Match Target would once again be requisitioned by the United States military with several different models made for the Coast Guard, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps. By chance, the one Colt Match Target pistol I shot was a vintage 1955 Navy Match Target Model which featured a beautiful high-polish blueing and Navy markings. This pistol was extremely accurate from my recollection and what was odd to me was the way the grips actually extended about an inch or so past the metal frame of the gun.
Colt Woodsman Match Target models that were eventually retired from the various branches they were issued to in the United States military, were either sold off, destroyed, or sold as scrap. Models that were sold off by the United States Navy and US Air Force were sold through the Civilian Marksmanship Program and now fetch prices northwards of $2,500. A cursory look at Gunbroker.com will show that even civilian-produced models with the Elephant Ear grips sell for well over $3,000. What seems to be the coveted feature on all Colt Woodsman Match Target models are the Elephant Ear grips which are somewhat of a rarity. Navy Models like the one I shot several years ago can sell for much more due to their rarity.
The design would eventually be phased out by Colt in 1977 during the third series which saw the magazine released moved back to the heel of the grip (some second series models were made with a button magazine release and these are quite rare). Some more budget-minded models featured fixed sights like the huntsman which had a non-tapered barrel and no last shot hold open. Huntsman models, despite their budget focus, can still fetch over $650 on the open market today. The Elephant Ear grips of the Colt Match Target can often be sold for several hundred dollars due to their rarity.
The Colt Woodsman Match Target and its brothers and sisters are now all solidly within the realm of collectors pistols. I haven’t seen one in person for almost a decade and I don’t ever see them for sale in pawn shops or on consignment at local gun stores. The pistol is a true classic, one that I am sad that I have not had enough trigger time behind. If I had to pair the pistol with something equally as rare and venerated, I would probably say the Colt Woodsman is like a classic car. Something that may have once been a common sight but is now considered a rare collector’s item worthy of preserving because of its legacy, performance, and of course the fond memories many probably had with it. Before the introduction of the Ruger Standard, the Colt Woodsman Match Target was a top-of-the-line .22LR pistol and sat at the pinnacle of performance and accuracy for many years.
I’d be interested to see what your experiences with the Colt Woodsman are. Do any of you own a Colt Woodsman Match Target or any of the coveted Elephant Ear models? Let us know down in the comments below. Thanks as always for reading TFB and for stopping by to read The Rimfire Report.
The Information used for this article was collected from David Miller’s book “The History of Browning Firearms”. You can pick up a copy here.
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