A Nurse with a Gun

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Whitney Wolverine Range Report

When I first saw a picture of one, it became my Holy Grail Gun. As Modern as Tomorrow it was billed. Sadly, when tomorrow came in 1957, the Whitney Wolverine disappeared. It was on the retail shelves for a scant one year. Only 14,000 were manufactured. Still, this little aluminum pistol captured the imaginations of so many people it could not be forgotten.

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.

Whitney WolverineI 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!

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Blogger David Codrea said...

Xavier, this is as fine a piece of gun writing as I have ever read. You really have a knack for pacing and keeping things interesting by interspersing technical details with personal commentary. And I really like the way your photos showcase the story. Bravo. Good job all around.

10:29 PM  
Blogger Paul Simer said...

That is a beautiful pistol. Congrats on the find.

I think I had a plastic pellet gun modelled after that when I was a kid. It was orange and would shoot a plastic ball hard enough to leave little welts on my sister.

I wonder if Mom still has that little devil. If she does, I'll have her retrieve it and take pictures.

2:02 AM  
Anonymous MarkF said...

With the greatest regret, I have to report that the Samson release is on indefinite hold, due to the company being swamped with Govt. orders for their other products.

5:24 AM  
Blogger Xavier said...

With the extra capital samson is no doubt enjoying, perhaps the likelihood of an aluminum reproduction will increase!

6:17 AM  
Anonymous Oleg Volk said...

Xavier, I need your email address. Please drop me a line to photo@olegvolk.net -- I can't figure out what your email is. I have a Marlin 99M1 rear sight (which isn't a peep but rather an open sight, just set very far back). I planned to put it on a Ruger 10-22 because I liked its design so much. Let me know where to send it, I'll ship it to you.


11:57 PM  
Anonymous curlymaple42 said...

Just so you know, Samson is still working on the Wolverine manufacturing. I have been chatting with them about it lately and there should be a number of original parts pistols made, then I guess new parts pistols too, but not sure about that one. Keep an eye out on Samson's webpage for up to date info...don't give up!!

9:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a Whitney Wolverine made by the Whithney Firearm co New Haven Conn serial #24008

7:04 PM  
Anonymous Lightning said...

There is an abundance of mis-informarion on the Web concerning the Whitney Wolverine pistol (among other things). The gun was manufactured until at least 1961, and possibly 1962, not 1957. I purchased mine new, at retail, from a high volume gunshop in Los Angeles in June, 1962, shortly after having read the J.F. Galef and Sons' Whitney ads in the major outdoor magazines of the day.

Also, in 1965, I sent in an order to Whitney for a replacement firing pin, which was promptly filled, and I have in my posession, the dated receipt for that order. I also have the original 1962 receipt for the pistol, purchased from the Martin B. Redding Co., Culver City, California. I still own the Wolverine, by the way...guess I'm rather fond of it.

8:41 PM  
Blogger Kildlawyrs said...

I recently attended a gun show in Orange County, CA. While perusing a multitude of old, and pretty beat up looking assortment of old pistols, there among the general detritus, before my unbelieving eyes, was an original Whitney Wolverine! I paid too much for it, I know ($350.00), but what the hell - I have wanted one since the early 1960s when I first saw a picture of one (also always wanted a Bucker "Jungmann" airplane. Finally got one of those too!) I swear my Wolverine looks virtually identical to the one Xavier posts in his website. Even the blueing is worn in the same places. Like Xavier, I also had similar problems when disassembling. For me it was the firing pin block that did a 'runner'. I have a question for those of you owning an original. In addition to the barrel seat which goes inside, mine also has a sort of washer affair which fits between the barrel nut and the frame. Some how it looks sort of "kluged". I don't see it in the pictures, so I am not sure it should be there. Does any one else have this on their Wolverines? Haven't fired it yet.

6:48 PM  
Blogger Kildlawyrs said...

Thought I might shed a bit of information on the Samson "Wolverine" project. I have e mailed them on a number of occasions, but have received only half way, desultory answers. They never seem to address my questions directly. About the most revealing answer I got when I asked whether or not the project was to go forward was, "At this point, it looks like not". Earlier, they had informed me that parts only would be available, but then from their enigmatic answers to my further questions, they even appeared to back away from this option. I notice that when I pull up their web site, there is no longer any mention of the Whitney Wolverine. I even typed in a "Search" on their site. Results? Zip.
Doesn't look good.
Since I live in the increasingly mentally ill Peoples' Republic of Kalifornia, I cannot legally purchase an Olympic Wolverine. I have been concerned about numerous negative reviews I have seen on the web. Quien Sabe?
Hope to shoot my original this weekend. Will report.

8:13 PM  
Blogger Kildlawyrs said...

Don't know if any one cares, but I just got back from shooting my original Whitney Woverine. Here's the deal; depending on the ammo I was using, its performance ranged from abysmal to good. It definitely did NOT like Remington Brass H/P; jamming and failing to feed repeatedly. Federal Champion was much better, with just one jam out of 50, but with numerous "light strikes". These were mysterious, as the imprint made by the firing pin was very deep. Hard to figure why the bullet did not fire. Finally, I shot 50 rounds of Remington Thunderbolt Solid Lead bullets. There were no failures, and just one light strike.

Also took along a Beretta Neos with somewhat similar results. My Walther P22 digested it all; 120 rounds with just one failure to feed (Remington Brass H/P). Not bad, not bad at all.

All three pistols are very fun to shoot. They point naturally, and can shoot off ten rounds in about 4 seconds. .22s are fun. Probably not such a good idea for self defense, although the Walther P 22 sure is a handy, easy to carry and reliable gun. Something to be said for that...

5:27 PM  
Anonymous tom said...

In case anybody still takes a gander at this page.

I have an Olympic and an original Whitney. They seem to like CCI Velocitor best of everything I've shot in them.

6:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I purchased the Olympic Whitney Wolverine in 2005. The clip that came with it shoots fine. However, I purchased three additional clips and they all repeatedly jam. In fact, I sent them back to the company and they sent me three 'new' ones. Those also jam, regardless if I use top end ammo or the cheapest I can find. It is very frustrating. BUT, I love the looks and feel of it, so I have yet to part with the pistol. I just wish it was more reliable. Thank you for your time.

11:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a Whitney pistol that is exactly like the Wolverine but there is no inscription except Whitney in white lettering on the left side...the other side says Whitney Fire Arms Inc.,new Haven ,Conn.The barrell is not standard blued but looks like enameled paint..?
Is this the same gun?

5:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have recently acquired a Whitney that is the exact image as the one shown and described by Xavier. The serial #26181 and is in excellent condition. I'm reluctant to disassemble it without some type of reference. I went to the Olympic Arms site as Xavier suggested in 2006 but they don't have any info on the Whitney. Does anyone have a manual or where I can get access to one?
Thanks, Bob

1:18 AM  
Blogger Otto's said...

I recently purchased a vintage Whitney Wolverine and wanted to have a gunsmith look at it. Seems like the extractor may need to be replaced. Can anyone recommend someone who is familiar with this model? Thanks!

5:41 PM  
Blogger Otto's said...

I recently purchased a vintage Whitney Wolverine and wanted to have a gunsmith look at it. Seems like the extractor may need to be replaced. Can anyone recommend someone who is familiar with this model? Thanks!

5:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am replying to Bob's:
I have recently acquired a Whitney that is the exact image as the one shown and described by Xavier. The serial #26181 and is in excellent condition. I'm reluctant to disassemble it without some type of reference. I went to the Olympic Arms site as Xavier suggested in 2006 but they don't have any info on the Whitney. Does anyone have a manual or where I can get access to one?
Thanks, Bob

I coincidently have a Whitney similar to Bob's. The coincidence is that mine has an identical serial number 26181.

In response to Otto it also has an extractor problem.

email: pard@comcast.net

4:07 PM  
Anonymous Thomas said...

Olympic Arms has updated a number of parts to solve feeding issues, including a different bolt, barrel, and magazine design. If you have an Oly Arms Wolverine, ship it to them UPS addressed to the Whitney shop and they will ship it back to you UPS overnight in short order with all parts replaced and thirty rounds of test firing. No charge but shipping them the gun. They eat the return shipping.

I just got mine back and it's eaten 250 rounds of mixed .22LR quite happily without any stovepiping.

The new magazines/hard parts updates are not interchangeable with the old Oly Arms magazines. If you want extra mags, you won't be able to use your old stovepipe model extras, you will have to purchase new mags. The new manager of their Whitney Shop has done wonders for the gun.

11:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am the luckiest reader as I have 2 wolverines one is the black model and the other is one of just 900 silver anodized models made by whitney...

12:27 AM  
Blogger M. Mitchell Marmel said...

Just acquired a Wolverine, S/N 27XXX, today, and it's still a handy little plinker. Took it to the range and it chewed the center from the target at 25 feet...

Dismantling notes: The firing pin can be removed by taking out the little curved lock from the top of the carrier tube. After this, the firing pin may be removed, the pin holding the breechface pushed out and the whole shootin' match removed. :) Mine was sticky; probably hadn't been dismantled in awhile...

9:11 PM  
Blogger vaughanpederson said...

I ordered a new "Whiney Wolverine" from Olympic Arms. It will not feed, chamber nor fire a round of ammunition! It is worthless. I have found after weeks of effort that Olympic Arms's "complete customer satisfaction" guarantee is equally worthless.
Buyer Beware!

6:48 PM  
Blogger vaughanpederson said...

I ordered a new "Whiney Wolverine" from Olympic Arms. It will not feed, chamber nor fire a round of ammunition! It is worthless. I have found after weeks of effort that Olympic Arms's "complete customer satisfaction" guarantee is equally worthless.
Buyer Beware!

6:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whitney Aluminum Pistols

I am holding a Whitney pistol that is chrome with white grips. It has Whitney stamped on the the left side near the bolt. It has Whitney Firearms Company Hartford Conn. Usa stampted on the right side next to the bolt. the serial number stamped under the grip is 3xxxx. Nowher does it say Wolverine or Auto Loader.
Do you have any idea wheather it is authentic?

3:40 PM  
Blogger Xavier said...

Yes, it is authentic. Whitney was forced by a lawsuit to stop using the name Wolverine. They did make some nickel guns with white grips. These are even more unusual.

5:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does Anyone know where I can get a Magazine for a Whitney 22. LR?
will any other type work?

7:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just inherited an original Wolverine pistol from my dad. He'd forgotten it, new in the original box burried in a closet just like when he broght it home in 1956 in Ann Arbor MI.

4:07 PM  
Blogger vicco27 said...

8/29/09 vicco27
I have been interested in the Whitney Wolverine pistol since I saw one at a hardware store in 1957 and got to hold it in my 16 year old hands. At $39.95 it was well out of my financial reach. A couple of years ago I started to get the urge to buy one. Finding the prices starting at $350.00 for junk and going up from there. I decided to do some research and like many others became confused. Then I found out about a new publication, The Whitney Wolverine by Antonio J. Taglienti, Mowbray Publishers 54 East School St. Woonsocket, RI 02895. I received the book about 3 weeks ago and to say the least it has been enlightening. The author was welcomed into Robert L. Hillberg's home ( the inventor of the wolverine ) and Mr Hillberg worked with the author to help to make sure that everything was factual in the book right down to the duplicate serial numbers mentioned earlier in this blog. I will talk more about what has happened since I got the book.

2:37 AM  
Anonymous don said...

I'am lucky as I have 2 wolverines one in the black bought about 20 years ago. Then about 9 years ago found the anodized silver model. the anodized models only around 950 were made.. for a 45+ year old pistol they still look and shoot great

4:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have an original Whitney Wolverine
pistol which I bought new by mail in 1956. It is fun to shoot but it has a design flaw. The pin holding the barrel nut is swaged into the aluminum frame. This pin will eventually become loose. I sent the gun back to the manufacturer and they reswaged the pin into the frame. Still worked loose. I solved the problem by making a washer to put under the barrel nut and it is shaped to also include a hole for the pin. Never had a problem after that.

11:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A co-worker of mine told me he moved his dad to a resthome. In his dad`s bedroom he found a 22 pistol. He isn`t fond of guns so he sold it to me (100 bucks)sight unseen. It is a flawless original Whitney w/manual.I had it inspected at a gun shop,it has never been fired and never will.

1:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent article. I have an original Wolverine I inherited from my Grandfather. He swore it was the most accurate, best shooting .22 he'd ever seen.

Unfortunately I will need a few parts and possibly a competent gunsmith before mine will fire again.

5:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What does your gun do/not do? More often than not Whitneys that do not work have been assembled incorrectly. Get an assembly sheet if necessary from Olympia Arms. The directions for the new gun will work for the original. vicco27

3:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


6:36 AM  
Anonymous Mike said...

I was just given an original Whitney Wolverine .22 from a old friend (who bought it new)...

It looks perfect and I am wondering (2) things...
- should I enjoy it as a gun and just shoot away (or treasure it as a antique and put it on the shelf?
- what is it worth (near perfect condition, in the original box)


1:01 AM  
Blogger The Knight Group, Inc. said...

hello everyone, my fiance just purchased a whitney wolverine. new to her, and she loves it. for a 1000 reasons. so here is the issue. lots of cycling problems. magazine fits loose in the grip, leads to strip feed problems. can anyone share the dimensions of their well functioning magazine lips. I have a caliper so .001 measurements would be great.

2:57 PM  
Anonymous Vicco27 said...

To get absolutely correct measurements of a Whitney, I suggest contacting Olympic Arms. That's the company that's making the reproduction Whitney's and they should have the specs on file.

12:58 PM  
Blogger roger said...

3/20/12 Added a Whitney to my collection. Wanted one for years. they are only going up in price. Mine is the blue one. SR nr 356xx not Wolverine labled model has Caliber 22LR
patent pend. Sweet pistola!!!

3:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am just so lucky as I have 2 Whitneys-one in black and one nickel plated
The black on I have had for 17 years ago and love to shoot it. The nickel one I bought at a gun show on the last day. It was in a holdster and allyou could see was the white grips, but I knew just by the shape of the grips what it was. Bought it for $275.00 with out even haggleing for a better price, which I think was less than I paid for the black one.
I have only shot the nickel pistol once just to check it out and then back into the safe.Too rare to take a chance with as they are prone to break the end off the slide if dropped on a hard surface.
any one who has one will be looking for another just to add to their collection of guns...

5:00 PM  
Anonymous LLOyd said...

Where can I find out what year my Nickle Plated White Grip Whitney was made? Also the Olympic magazines will work in the original with a slight bit of modification.

5:04 PM  

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