As another historic John M. Browning design, the first successful rimfire semi-auto pistol would later become the Colt Woodsman.

What makes the Colt Woodsman popular with collectors:

  • Designed by John M. Browning.
  • First successful rimfire semi-auto pistol.
  • One of the most popular pistols of the early 20th century.
  • Was extensively hand fitted.
  • Now 40 years since they were in the Colt catalog.
  • Collectors categorize three groups, First (Pre-Woodsman), Second and Third series.
  • Some specimens can are valued at more than $4,000.

The classy Colt Woodsman .22 rimfire was one of the most popular pistols in America during the first half of the 20th century. In production from 1915 to 1977, the Colt factory in Hartford turned out more than 600,000 of the various Woodsman models. This total includes the Huntsman, Challenger and Targetsman — economy variations without features like adjustable sights, hold-open actions and thumb rests.

This is a Second Series Match Target manufactured in 1968.
This is a Second Series Match Target manufactured in 1968.

Like most guns that were introduced in the early 1900s, the Colt Woodsman required a lot of hand fitting that would make it quite expensive today. Were it not for this, the guns of the Woodsman family probably would still be in production. It has now been more than 40 years since these models were in the Colt catalog, which adds to their popularity on the used gun and collector markets. “They aren’t making them anymore” is a frequent phrase heard when gun collectors get together.

The great gun designer John M. Browning came up with the original model of what later would become known as the Woodsman. His design was one of a significant historic nature; it was the first successful rimfire semi-auto pistol. Other gunmakers were plagued with functioning problems due to the rimmed cartridges hanging up in the magazine. Browning’s answer was a slanted magazine that positioned each cartridge slightly in front of the one below it, preventing the rims from catching on each other.

In 1911, Browning obtained a patent and then sold his design to Colt. Two of the company’s engineers, G.H. Tansley and F.C. Chadwick, made some minor changes and in 1915, the “Colt Caliber .22 Target Model” was introduced. That was the name of the pistol until 1927.

Made near the end of the Pre-War series, this Woodsman Sport Model came out of the Colt Hartford factory in 1941.
Made near the end of the Pre-War series, this Colt Woodsman Sport Model came out of the Colt Hartford factory in 1941.

Colt originally saw the Caliber .22 Target Model as a pistol for the target shooter, as the name implied. It was indeed popular for use on paper targets, but it also soon became a favorite of small-game hunters, trappers, hikers, fishermen, campers and other outdoorsmen. Hence, the new name “Woodsman” was chosen and that name appeared on the receiver starting at about serial number 54,000, in 1927.

The Pre-Woodsman and the first Woodsman Target models were designed to only be used with standard-velocity .22 Long Rifle ammunition. In 1932 changes were made in the mainspring housing to handle the higher pressures of high-velocity ammunition and all subsequent models were given this treatment. This change was phased in between serial numbers 81000 and 86000. The best way to tell which ammo should be used is to examine the mainspring housing. A checkered pattern in this location means it is one of the older guns and should only be used with standard-velocity ammunition. A pattern of grooved horizontal lines indicates it is a later model, designed for high-velocity ammo.

Recognized by its target logo and “elephant ear” walnut grips, this is a 1st Series Match Target Model, circa 1938.
Recognized by its target logo and “elephant ear” walnut grips, this is a 1st Series Match Target Model, circa 1938.

Woodsman collectors categorize the different variations of the gun into three main groups:

First Series (1915-1942)
Pre-Woodsman (1915-1927)

  • Woodsman Target (6 5/8-inch barrel)
  • Woodsman Sport 1933-1942 (4½-inch barrel) Wraparound extended walnut “Elephant Ear” stocks
  • Woodsman Match Target 1938-1942 (6 5/8-inch heavier barrel)
  • Military Woodsman Match Target 1942-1944 (6 5/8-inch barrel) U.S. Property or U.S. Military markings, extended plastic stocks

Second Series (1947-1955)

  • Woodsman Target (6-inch barrel)
  • Woodsman Sport (4½-inch barrel)
  • Woodsman Match Target (4½- or 6-inch barrel)
  • Challenger (6-inch barrel)

Third Series (1955-1977)

  • Woodsman Target (6-inch barrel)
  • Woodsman Sport (4½-inch barrel)
  • Woodsman Match Target (4½- or 6-inch barrel)
  • Huntsman (4½- or 6-inch barrel)
  • Targetsman (6-inch barrel)

Various changes in features and options were made from one series to the next. On the First Series, the magazine release was at the heel of the grip. On the Second Series, this feature was a round push-button located behind the left side of the trigger guard, the same location as on the Colt 1911/1911A1 pistols. With the Third Woodsman Series, the magazine release was moved back to the heel of the butt.

One of the most popular Woodsman models is the Sport variation of the Third Series, manufactured from 1911 to 1977.
One of the most popular Colt Woodsman models is the Sport variation of the Third Series, manufactured from 1911 to 1977.

On the First Series, the rear sight was adjustable for windage and the front for elevation. Colt referred to these as “adjustable sights,” but a fully adjustable rear sight was only available on the Match Target model. With the Second Series, the fully adjustable rear became standard on all Colt Woodsman models. Other Second Series changes included an automatic slide stop to hold the action open after the last round was fired, a lanyard ring in the butt and a thumb rest on the left side of the wooden grip.

Economy models, such as the Challenger, Huntsman and Targetsman, lacked most of the features mentioned above. All had fixed sights except for a lower-priced adjustable rear on the Targetsman.

Estimated Colt Woodsman Values

Estimated values courtesy 2018 Standard Catalog of Firearms.
FIRST SERIES
Pre-Woodsman
NIB       Exc.      V.G.       Good     Fair     Poor
$2,800   $2,200   $1,400   $850     $350    $200

Woodsman Target
NIB       Exc.      V.G.       Good     Fair     Poor
$2,500   $1,700   $1,100   $500     $250    $200

Woodsman Sport
NIB       Exc.      V.G.       Good     Fair     Poor
$2,600   $1,800   $1,300   $600     $250    $200

Woodsman Match Target
NIB       Exc.      V.G.       Good     Fair     Poor
$4,000   $3,500   $2,200   $1,500   $700    $600

Military Woodsman Match Target
NIB       Exc.      V.G.       Good     Fair     Poor
$4,400   $3,500   $2,000   $1,100   $500    $400

SECOND SERIES
Woodsman Target 6-Inch Barrel

NIB       Exc.      V.G.       Good     Fair     Poor
$1,800   $1,400   $1,000   $750     $350    $200

Woodsman Sport 4 1/2-Inch Barrel
NIB       Exc.      V.G.       Good     Fair     Poor
$2,000   $1,500   $1,050   $800     $350    $200

Woodsman Match Target 6-Inch Barrel
NIB       Exc.      V.G.       Good     Fair     Poor
$2,200   $1,700   $1,400   $900     $600    $350

Woodsman Match Target 4 1/2-Inch Barrel
NIB       Exc.      V.G.       Good     Fair     Poor
$2,500   $1,800   $1,500   $1,100   $650    $400

Challenger 4 1/2-Inch Barrel
NIB       Exc.      V.G.       Good     Fair     Poor
$1,050   $900     $600      $450     $300    $200

Challenger 6-Inch Barrel
NIB       Exc.      V.G.       Good     Fair     Poor
$950      $800     $500      $400     $250    $200

THIRD SERIES
Woodsman Target (6-Inch Barrel)

NIB       Exc.      V.G.       Good     Fair     Poor
$1,200   $1,000   $700     $450     $275    $175

Woodsman Target (4½-Inch Barrel)
NIB       Exc.      V.G.      Good     Fair     Poor
$1,400   $1,100   $750     $500     $300    $200

Woodsman Match Target (6-Inch Barrel)
NIB       Exc.      V.G.      Good     Fair     Poor
$1,900   $1,600   $950     $725     $500    $300

Woodsman Match Target (4½-Inch Barrel)
NIB       Exc.      V.G.      Good     Fair     Poor
$2,100   $1,800  $1,050   $800     $550    $350

Huntsman (4½ or 6-Inch Barrel)
NIB       Exc.      V.G.      Good     Fair     Poor
$850      $750     $500     $365     $225    $175

Targetsman (6-Inch Barrel)
NIB       Exc.      V.G.      Good     Fair     Poor
$950      $800     $550     $400     $250    $200

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the July 2018 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


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