Colt Woodsman Target Model 1st Series w/box  Colt Woodsman Series
Semi-Automatic
22 LR Pistol
COLT Woodsman 2nd series Match Target

 

 

THERE ARE THREE DISTINCT SERIES (maybe even 4 or 5 depending on how you interpret it)

This article is a brief rendition of the Colt "Woodsman series, and will give the average owner insight to this series. 
If you are a collector, then you need to do advanced searching


There are three basic series of Woodsman pistols, corresponding to three basic frame designs.  There are also some sub-series within the series, like different barrel lengths, sights or grips. 

 

The models referred to here are all those pistols built on the “S” frame as designated by the Colt factory.  The First "Woodsman" series would have NOT been marked Woodsman, however for general purposes it is a Woodsman, but for collectors is called the pre-Woodsman as noted below.  The actual First model Woodsman (that had that name on it) as it existed prior to and during World War Two, was basically the same as the pre-Woodsman.  The Second Series includes all versions built on the "second" frame design from late 1947 until mid 1955, and the Third Series means the third “S” frame design as used from 1955 to the end of regular production in 1977. 

 

The "S" series is the model number that the Colt factory assigned to this model.  Others model designations were "P" for the SSA (Peacemaker), G for the Government model (1911), "I" for the Python, "M" for the 1903/1908 32/380 semi-auto and "N" for the 1908 25ACP, etc.

 

Pre Woodsman (1915-1927)

The first Colt 22 RF automatic was marketed as Colt Automatic Target Pistol.  There was no inscription on the LH side of the frame at the location where the barrel threads into it.  This pre-Woodsman and the First Model can be easily recognized by its distinctive profile, which resembles the German Luger and the later Ruger Standard model, both having the rakish rearward grip angle.  The grips were standard checkered walnut.  The serial numbers started at #1 which also provides a sure means of identification, with this serial number located on the front strap of the grip, and contains only numeric characters, with NO alphabetical suffix characters.

The slides were marked on the LH side “Colt Automatic Caliber 22 Long Rifle” in 2 lines. There were no markings as to model or caliber on the frame or barrel.

 

These pistols were designed to use only Standard velocity ammo, which was identified by a checkered thumbprint on the upper rear web of the mainspring housing. 

 

The grip-frame bottom was 90 degrees to the magazine with the magazine latch on the rear of the grip frame securing the upper rear of the magazine in the magazine well.  Most of these EARLY magazines had no identifying marks on the bottom.

 

Barrels were 6 5/8” long and a step down shoulder at the rear to a small diameter straight, “pencil barrel” (no taper).

You will note in the photo below that there is no writing on the LH side of frame where the barrel screws into.  And that many of these early guns had the trigger placed nearer the center of the trigger guard as seen below.

 

Colt pre-Woodsman

 

Ammo Change  If your pistol is pre-WWII, it will have a pattern on the mainspring housing, where the web between the thumb and forefinger touches when holding the pistol in firing position.  If that pattern is checkered (photo on the left below), it was made for use of standard velocity ammo (what was available at that time).   If it is a pre WWII gun made after 1931, the pattern was changed to horizontal parallel lines (center in the photo below), because these later designed guns all were all designed for the later high velocity ammo which came out in 1931 at about s/n 80,000

 

The factory did offer conversion kits for usage of High Speed ammo in the early guns.  This included a new mainspring housing and recoil spring.  However it is possible to have a early standard velocity gun that has just had the recoil spring replaced with the newer high speed version, but the only way to tell on these is tear it apart and look at the recoil spring as identified below.  It is not recommended to use the older pistols with the older weaker recoil spring when using the now common High Speed ammo because of possible internal damage to the slide.

 

After looking over factory blueprints, the identifying thing of the newer High Speed recoil spring the difference is that it is wound LEFT HANDED, as compared to the older weaker Standard Velocity spring that is the common right handed wind.  I came up with this after looking at copies of original factory blueprints and am probably the only one around that knows this. 

 

Some say that the mainspring housing was made stronger.  In all my years as a obsolete firearms parts replacement manufacturer, I seriously doubt this, and the change was simply the horizontal lines to easily identify one from the other.  Also in my 60 plus years of gunsmithing, I have seem numerous of the older standard velocity guns still being shot using High Speed ammo.  They still seemed to survive, however the main problem was that the slide would not go forward with enough energy to completely feed or chamber a round (a weakened recoil spring being the culpret).

 

Standard Velocity ammo on Left, with High Velocity ammo on Right Woodsman pre-war magazine 
 

 

Woodsman First Series (1927-1944/1946)

The normally accepted serial number separating the pre-Woodsman from the "Woodsman" is 54,000.  This model is a carry over of the Pre woodsman with the following exceptions.  The LH side of the of the frame at the location of the barrel threads is marked ‘The Woodsman”.


The model was the same, serial numbers carried on from the pre series, but with the addition of the 4 1/2" sport barrel and the first series Match Target which had a heavy flat sided barrel.  This Match Target also has a MT prefix to the serial number and these numbers are on the RH side of the bottom of the grip frame as the normal location on the front strap was covered by the wood wrap around grips.

 

After the introduction of the High Speed ammo in 1931 the recoils spring was changed and this thumbprint was changed to signify HS ammo, at about s/n 80,000.  Conversion kits were made available for the older Standard Velocity guns.  Some say the mainspring housing/slide stop was made of a different or casehardened material.  However it is my guess that this is not the case, just that the horizontal parallel lines on the mainspring housing for identification, since they made the recoil spring stronger to accommodate the more powerful round there was really no need to change the housing.

 

There were 3 sub series, the (1) Sport model which had a 4 ½” straight taper barrel and a fixed front sight.  And the (2) Target model with a 6 5/8” barrel tapered barrel with a small front sight base, and the front sight pivoting in with adjustment screw in front for elevation of the sight blade. (3) The Match Target used a totally different barrel, being flat sided nearly the same thickness as the front of the frame, then running parallel for about 1 ½”, raising to about 1” from the top and then lathe turned in a taper but with the sides still flat, to the muzzle.  On the LH side of the flat directly in front of the where the barrel is threaded into the frame, was rollmarked a Bullesye about 1” in diameter, with the words Match above the Bulleseye and Target below. 


In the photo below you will notice the writing on the frame where the barrel screws into that says  "The Woodsman".  Also note the trigger moved more rearward in the trigger guard.

 

Colt First Series  Sport Woodsman

 

The grips for the MT were usually made of checkered walnut and wrapped around the front of the grip frame, utilizing one center screw there along with the normal through screw.  These wood grips had the sides extending downward, simulating elephant ears by which they were nicknamed.

 

This Match Target only came with a 6 5/8” barrel and also had adjustable front and a new adjustable Stevens rear sight.  This series Match Target was in production from 1938 to 1944.  Wartime MT production saw the use of brown plastic grips extending downward near the same configuration of the later 3rd series guns. 

 

The plastic material the shorter standard grips that were used on the Sport or Target versions was the same as the wartime MT.

 

The rear sights were normally non adjustable on the Sport or Target pistols.

 

Magazines for the Pre-Woodsman and 1st series Woodsman are interchangeable no matter the color.

 

All of the Woodsman series have a unique take down system that retains the recoil spring for easier re-assembly.  You will note a small 1/8" peg protruding upward in front of the rear sight and slightly to the side of it.  This peg activates a recoils spring retainer that has to be utilized upon reassembly of the slide onto the frame.

 

The 1938 factory advertisement for the First Series Woodsman Match Target shown below.

 

 

 

Production ceased during WWII for private sales, however some 4,000 Match Target pistols were assembled and issued for military practice purposes up into 1944.  These would have been marked "US PROPERTY".  And the wooden grips were replaced with newer longer plastic grips.   After the war, in 1946, some sporting guns were assembled of existing parts. 

 

Woodsman Second Series (1947-1952)

The Second Series Woodsmans  was a newer, improved redesign of the 1st series, their most predominate distinguishing feature is they have the magazine bottom being parallel to the barrel, making for a larger grip area.  And they have a automatic slide stop, or hold open device that is activated by the magazine thumbpiece.


These 2nd Series Woodsmans are the only models that have a push button magazine release, as used on the Government Model 45.   They also came with the new Coltmaster adjustable rear sight.  There was a lanyard ring provision incorporated in the bottom rear of the mainspring housing.

 

Magazines for this series, although made slightly different for the 2nd and 3rd series are somewhat interchangeable.  The LATE 3rd series will not latch in place in the 2nd series unless there is a retainer notch cut in the front (some have it while others may not, depending on vintage).  However the 2nd series will lock into the 3rd as the latch on them is on the heel of the magazine.

 

Woodsman 2nd series, Sport.  Note the similarity to Colt 1911
45 ACP magazine latch & the adjustable rear sight, with Coltwood grips
Grip adapters in Coltwood
   

 

All post-WWII type Woodsmans, both Second and Third Series, have the serial number stamped on the RH side of the frame at the rear where the barrel is threaded into.  An S suffix is added to the serial number.

 

Barrels were 4 ½”  for both the Sport or Match Target, with 6” for the Target and Match Target.  Front sights were different on the Sport than the Target models.  The Sport had a front sight sloping forward apparently to facilitate a easier draw from a pocket, while the Target and Match Target model's upper rear angled rearward, to give a better non reflective sighting surface.  Of the versions offered, the 4 1/2" Match Target is the rarest, because most dedicated target shooters wanted the longer barrel, supposedly for better accuracy.

 

All barrels of the post War models were screwed into the frame using LEFT HAND THREADS.  This was apparently because of the RH rifling and if the barrel was not secured tightly enough, the bullet rotating inside the barrel and the barrel using RH threads, the barrel could unscrew, not a common occurrence, but did happen occasionally.

There was a magazine safety feature of the this new series, which made the firearm unfireable with the magazine out.  And there is a slide stop inletted into the LH grip panel, as visible in the photo above, on all the Woodsmans of this series that holds the slide back on firing the last shot in the magazine.  This slide stop feature was not available on the economical Challenger, Huntsman or Targetsman, however the slides could have been machined for it as they probably came off the same Woodsman production production line before the rear sight cuts were made.

 

The slide appears to be the same rounded top as the 1st series.  All the rear sights used on these early 2nd series models were the Coltmaster.  The front sights all were installed in a small silver-soldered on ramp, and the blades were retained by 2 small pins.

 

The grips were made of “Coltwood” a wood-grained mottled brown/yellow/black Bakelite.  The Target and Match Target  utilized a thumbrest on the LH grip panel.  The Sport version’s LH panel was plain.  The grips later went to injection molded brown plastic. 

 

A unique feature of the 2nd series Woodsman is the provision for a grip adapter on the back strap which was made of the same material as the grips.  With few exceptions, each came with two grip adapters, a large and a small, and were secured by a single screw from the rear.

 

Now you may see some of the Sport versions with the standard ramp front sight base but a fixed rear sight and made from mid-1949 to mid-1950 only.  However these seem to be a the prototype and predecessor to the Challenger series.  One Colt letter states this was issued to the military as a arctic survival pistol.

 

Although it is part of the Second Series, the Challenger model, (being a economy model) unlike the Woodsman, had a spring catch at the butt and a C suffix to the serial number.  The Challenger was a economy model with fixed front and rear sights.  These could have either the 4 ½” or 6” barrel, with the shorter barrel more common as these were promoted as a trappers sidearm. 

 

Triggers were usually the curved for the Sport, Challenger and early Target, with the Match Target being grooved and more straight with a forward bend at the bottom.  However  on some of the early 2nd series you will see the less pronounced arc normally used on the Match Target of the same vintage found on some Targets or even Sport versions as seen in the photo above.


Colt Challenger, early version.  Note the spring type butt style magazine latch,
brown grips & fixed sights
 

 

Woodsman Second Series, Late (1953-1955)

 

In 1953 the slide had a center raised rib and a new Accro rear sight was used.  This sight was inletted into the top of the slide’s rib, making for a rear sight of less upward protrusion giving it more protection.  This is sometimes called the 2nd Series late version.  

 

In the photo below you will notice the new style adjustable rear sight as used on the Target and Match Target guns.  Also notice the thumb rest on the LH grip panel also used on the Target and Match Target guns.

 

Woodsman 2nd series,  late Match Target.  Note the new style Accro adjustable rear sight & slightly raised rib on slide
 

 

Woodsman Third Series (1955-1977)

 

The 3rd Series replaced the 2nd Series in mid 1955.  The most obvious change was the replacement of the push button magazine release with a new style snap catch at the rear top of the butt.  If the magazine release is at the heel of the butt, AND the pistol has an S at the end of the serial number, it is a third series.

 

The trigger guard was made a bit larger, the grip adapters and lanyard ring were eliminated, and the trigger was reshaped.

The magazine safety, which was a feature of the 2nd series, was carried over to the 3rd series for a few months, and then was quietly dropped as the parts supply was depleted.

 

The sights stayed the same as the 2nd series except for the Match Target, which went to the new Elliason target style.   Grips were originally injection molded black plastic, but they were otherwise identical to the late 2nd series brown plastic grips.  In 1960, at about SN 189200-S, Colt switched to real walnut wood which were bulkier than the previous plastic.

The first 1001 Woodsmans of the 3rd series were assigned serial numbers from the end of the 2nd series serial number block, from 146138-S to 147138-S.  The numbers then skipped to 160001-S and restarted.

 

Note in the RH photo below the new style magazine bottoms were made of a stamped metal that could be removed for cleaning.

 

The 2nd and 3rd series utilized a automatic slide stop.   If the slide stop engages by itself and not ONLY when the last round is fired, in all probability the slide lock spring is either broken or badly bent and or out of position.   The problem is usually the spring is not functioning and the lock is not being held down but slightly floats, which bounces around during frecoil, intermittently bouncing up at the wrong time.

 

This one is a bitch to get in place without pinching/bending it so it allows the lock to function freely.  It is a FINE wire with a couple of coils in the middle that goes in a hole in the slide lock and with tails on both ends, one tail under the hex headed screw and it has to be installed so that tension holds the lock DOWN.  It should only be activated UP on the last shot by the magazine thumbpiece.

Pull the grips off and you should be able to see it in the hole, but all the rest is hid behind the stop body.

If you take the screw off  (do not pull it out), but try to keep it in position with the stop as you pull the unit out to the left and away from the gun.  And be careful to not remove this on or near a carpet floor.

The hard part is putting it back.  What trick I do is to use a Dremel tool and grind a slight groove in the screw body, under the head for the spring tail to nestle in.  This then allows the tail of the spring a place to be slightly retained in place as you insert the unit back in place and hopefully retains it there as you tighten the screw.

You probably will have to do this numerous times to get the tail from not being slid/locked under the larger screw body shank.

 

Woodsman 3rd series, Target.  Note the new style butt pivoting magazine latch Magazine latched in 
   


 

The 2nd series Challenger was replaced with the very similar Huntsman but continued with the Challenger serial numbers.   Word was, that there was a model name confusion between the Browning Challenger 22 pistol also on the market at that time, and the Colt’s pistol of the same name, so Colt changed their name to Huntsman.  These more economical guns did not have the automatic slide stop as did the "Woodsmans".


Colt Huntsman  Note the fixed sights & new style pivoting butt magazine latch & no slide stop
 

 

The Targetsman which came into being in 1959 was a just a 6" barreled Huntsman with a economy fragile adjustable rear sight.


Colt Targetsman.  Note the economy fragile style rear adjustable sight
 

 

Some of the internal parts interchanged from the early models clear into the last versions, these being hammers, hammer plunger, sear and sear spring, trigger bar.

 

There are more changes that could be added to this list, depending on how far one wishes to go with the collection, and on which features the collector considers significant.  An engineering or design change might be an important variation to one person, and an insignificant item of little interest to another who just wants a pistol for plinking or packing on a hunting trip.  With the many overlapping changes that took place over the span of years, the possibilities for the collector are almost endless.

This series of pistols were made in the excess of 690,000 firearms being sold during their production life of 62 years.


For a link to a factory Woodsman takedown instructions  CLICK HERE    This is copied off  Bob Rayburn's Colt 22 website.



Now Comes My Association With the Colt Woodsman.  As a young man in high school, I ran a trap line EARLY mornings and week-ends during the winter.  I had saved enough money doing farm jobs during the summer and convinced my mother to purchase me a 22 pistol.  Which was a used H&R model 922, with a 6" barrel.  This was the older version without multiple extraction, you had to use the cylinder base pin to push out each fired case.  I literally wore this gun out, even sent it back to the factory once, I later wore/chipped the ratchet on the cylinder, so I soft soldered a gob of solder on the missing section, and with my pocket knife whittled it down so the cylinder rotated and was timed correctly.  When it wore down again, I just redid the solder job.  I got very good at shooting tree leaves and specks of foam floating down the nearby creek in the winter time.  I even, if I hung a spinner on a alder limb across the creek while fishing for cutthroat trout, would pull the line tight and shoot the limb off to get my spinner back.


After I got out of school and got a job in the woods, I bought my own Christmas present, a used 1953 Colt Woodsman Target on December 24, 1956 for $47.50.  I remember this price as it was $10.00 more than Ruger was selling their new Standard model 22 automatic pistols for at the time.  I still have the bill of sale (somewhere).  Matter of fact a number of years ago, I mentioned to my wife "Happy anniversary of our first date".  She asked how could I remember that, "easy I had just bought my first Colt Woodsman that day",  (not what she wanted to hear by the way).


When I turned 21, I got my first Concealed Weapons Permit and that pistol was a constant companion to me, riding in a Nelson shoulder holster for MANY years.  I could not begin to count how many ruffled grouse that pistol has accounted for.  Or how many deer it has finished off, not to mention the one or two it got on it's own.  It even finished off a bull elk once and killed numerous slaughtered beef cattle with it.  Or the pigeon who's head was shot off while sitting on the top of a barn roof with it.  And possibly even a few salmon in the fall, not to mention those ferocious soda cans.  My parents lived near a creek that had a footbridge crossing it leading to the barn.  In the winter when the water was up, I shot many floating alder leaves and specks of foam moving with the current from this bridge with this pistol.  And you will be surprised on how good a person can get at instinctive shooting like this when you can see the bullet impact in the water.


From this association, after becoming a gunsmith and being more closely associated with firearms, I began acquiring more of these little beauties.  Before long I found some that were not listed in any of the reference books available at that time.  This intrigued me, so if I could not buy one of these different versions, I would at least make notes as to the differences and serial numbers.  Through my business and attending Washington Arms Collectors monthly meetings, I became acquainted with a man who was collecting Winchester 22 pump rifles.  He also had a few Colt Woodsmans, so we started comparing notes.  This man was Major Robert Rayburn.


Bob soon became more interested in the Colts than the Winchesters, sold the rifles off and we both pursued collecting Colts.  I went for all Colt automatics, while Bob stayed with just the Woodsmans.  We compared notes for a good many years, gaining insight to these pistols.  We had both put together very good Colt collections. 

I did some competitive indoor 22 pistol shooting for a while until my eyesight deteriorated to where I needed cataract surgery.  And yes, I shot a Colt Match Target model.


At that time, the property I owned was only about 3 acres and I was leasing another 4 acres.  I was raising riding/pack horses for my son and I for our elk hunting trips into high primitive country on the Cascade range.  I had made mention to the owner of this leased property, if he ever decided to sell, I wanted 1st chance.  Well he finally offered it to me.  I had boxed myself into a corner then and needed this property as I had built a larger barn on my property for the horses.  But I did not have the finances to purchase it at that time. 

The only tangible thing I was willing to part with was my Colt collection.  This was a hard decision, but for those of you who may also have a collection of any kind, how do you store it safely, take care of it, much less who do you even consider showing it to?  As someone may mention your name at the wrong time or place and it could get repeated in the presence of a thief or his friends.

 

And it was a investment (sort of), and so would be that land.  I made a deal with the land owner and started selling off my Colt collection.   It was split up and Bob bought all the Woodsmans, where the centerfire guns went to another collector in Portland OR.    Bob picked out the guns I had, that he didn't have, or upgraded his with mine and sold/traded the others.  Before long he accumulated one of the best Colt Woodsman collections in the world.


Bob expanded his knowledge, displayed his collection at national conventions and wrote magazine articles.  He even wrote books giving explicit information not previously published.  He put together a website http://www.colt22.com/   Some of his data was acquired from visiting the Colt factory achieves.  On his website he has photos of the most frequent problem of reassembling this pistol.  


When I sold my collection, the one pistol that did not go was my original Woodsman.  It had by then been transformed into a Sport version by shortening the barrel to 4 1/2", reinstalling the front sight ramp and replacing the front target blade with a sport blade.  Many may ask if a longer barrel is more accurate.   From my experience, I did not notice any difference, other than ease of carrying.


To carry on part of the Colt Woodsman tradition, after selling my collection, I purchased another well used one, cleaned and reblued it, then and gave it to my oldest grandson when he turned 21. 

Then along the way, I acquired another Sport Woodsman of the same vintage, but this one had rested in a watery highway ditch for many years before someone found it and turned it into law enforcement, from whom I later bought it.  This gem was so rusty that I filled a gallon glass pickle jar with rust remover, (suspect it was Phosphoric Acid).  This did such a good job of removing the rust that even all the screws and small springs were salvaged, however I did replace the recoil and hammer spring.  I lined the barrel with a rifled liner and found a set of used grips from a later series at a gun show.  This pistol may usually be found in my hunting or fishing backpack.  It is so ugly that no one would want to steal it, but it shoots just as good as my old standby.

Here is my rusty/trusty Woodsman


Copyright © 2014  LeeRoy Wisner  All Rights Reserved

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Originated 11-04-2013,  Last updated 12-15-2014   ***
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