Whitney Wolverine Range Report
Designed by engineer Robert Hillberg, the .22 rimfire Wolverine pistol was cast from aluminum with a sandwiched steel tube holding the barrel and breech block. It's futuristic styling put it right in the same league as Buck Rogers' blaster. The Whitney Wolverine went into production in 1956 and was an immediate hit with customers. It's radical 'space age' design was ergonomic to the hand, and pointed naturally for most shooters. It was endorsed as "The most reliable, best shooting, best pointing little .22 pistol ever handled" by none other than Rex Applegate.
Wolverine was the pistol's original name, but this had to be changed, due to a trademark infringement with another company. Later pistols were stamped with the name "Whitney Autoloader". The Whitney Wolverine pistol then went out of production because of distribution problems. To make matters worse a rival pistol was introduced, selling for just a few dollars less than the Wolverine (remember 1956 dollars....not 2006 dollars). How do you spell Ruger? The Whitney Wolverine's fate was sealed. Robert Hillberg eventually went on to work for High Standard, and the Whitney company was sold to avoid bankruptcy.
Recently, two companies, Olympic Arms and Samson Manufacturing have attempted to revive the Wolverine. Like all great designs it just refuses to die. The Olympic Arms Whitney Wolverine is built with a high-strength polymer frame and entered production in 2004. It is priced at $279.50. The Samson Wolverine will be manufactured from original Whitney molds and dies. These will be aluminum framed. Samson is in possession of a huge inventory of original parts from the 50's. The Samson pistols will have consecutive serial numbers starting form the last 1957 production model. As soon as the ATF red tape clears, Samson production will begin.
Still, I wanted an original pistol, not a reproduction. I have seen the Wolverine on Gunbroker and Auction Arms with bids in the $500 range. For that money, the Wolverine seemed doomed to remain my Holy grail gun, a quest that I would never acomplish. Then, on a visit to Clark Custom of all places, I found my Wolverine. Because I could buy a reproduction for $300, I set my limit at that mark for an original. Jim Clark sold me my Art Deco plinker for $295 out the door.
Once home, I disassembled the pistol to inspect and lube it prior to shooting. It looked easy enough, just unscrew this dealie on the muzzle, pull the innards out, and hell.......what was that little bastard that just dropped out, bounced across my crotch and hid under the table. Olympic Arms has a manual online. God bless them. It was the barrel key that popped out. I have a disassembly box for this kind of thing........I should have used it. After a bit of looking around with a magnet, I found the key. Never again....... I got everything back together, but could not get the trigger to drop the hammer. It was maddening. I looked at the online schematic again, trying to isolate the problem. I could find nothing missing, nothing wrong. Crap. I screwed the pooch. I inserted the magazine, intending to put the pistol away. Wait a minute.......I squeezed the trigger. The hammer dropped. It had a magazine disconnect safety. I said a Hail Mary, and stuffed the pistol in my bag for the following afternoon.
I took the Wolverine to the range with a box of Federal bulk pack ammo after work today. I immediately found there is a trick to loading the magazine. You have to hold your tongue just right. A .22 round slips neatly into a hole in the follower to lower it and assist with loading. If you get a round reversed in the magazine though, you are screwed for a while.
The Wolverine thumb safety operates opposite of the 1911's function. To engage the safety, you thumb the lever down. To release the safety, you thumb it up. Or, if you are like me, you ignore the safety and just shoot the pistol. This is not a gun I would carry around loaded.
The Whitney Wolverine is an incredibly fast shooter. It has a slight muzzle flip, but it comes back to sights before you can pull the trigger again. It was a very nice gun to shoot. The rear sight is a thin spring affair. The sights were set dead on. The trigger was light and consistent. It had no creep, and very little take-up. I am not sure if a Wolverine can be dry fired safely. I am guessing it cannot be. The pistol had no feeding extraction or ejection issues. It did, however, develop a light strike problem after 100 rounds or so. I began getting a light strike or two with every magazine. I was not certain if it was gun or ammo, so I saved the lightly struck rounds, loaded them into my Woodsman and fired every one of them. I suppose my next job will be tearing down the Wolverine's bolt to clean up the firing pin.
The Whitney Wolverine was adequately accurate. The real pleasure was just in shooting it though. This pistol is not a target gun, but it is one of the most enjoyable plinkers I have fired. Compared to a 37 ounce Ruger MKII, the total 23 ounces the Wolverine weighs is noticeably lighter. The lighter weight should make for a less controllable pistol. The ergonomics of the Whitney prevent that however. The Whitney is one of the easiest to shoot pistols I have ever fired. It is difficult NOT to hit what you point it at. It is also fun to dump a magazine of ammo down range. With the Wolverine, it is difficult to slow down, take deliberate aim and squeeze off a single shot with precise aim. The pistol can do it if needed, it's just that the shooter will likely not want to. This pistol is designed to exterminate rampaging tin cans with multiple shots fired in rapid sucession.
Parts for this gun might be hard to come by. Numrich still has magazines for $39.40, but that is all. Samson Manufacturing is supposed to have a huge quantity of original parts, but whether they will give parts support is uncertain. The Whitney Wolverine is also C&R eligible.
Tonight, I will rectify the light strike problem. I plan to look over the manual this time!