A Nurse with a Gun

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Plinker Shoot Out...Woodsman vs MKII

The Champion

Ruger MKII This Ruger MKII has long been my favorite plinking gun. Although ugly, in a plinking contest, it is the one to beat. It is stock with the exception of a Volquartsen trigger, and Clark Custom grips. By the serial number, this pistol was made in 1985. I bought it in a pawn shop for $159 a few years ago. It quickly became a favorite of mine, even over other MKII's. It has a barrel length of 6 & 7/8 inches, and a sight radius of 9 & 1/2 inches.

The Challenger

Colt Woodsman I purchased this Colt Woodsman 1st Series at a pawn shop for $250 recently. The Colt Woodsman is the stuff of legend when folks talk plinkers. It's the unavailable measuring stick for other rimfire pistols, often having it's name dropped in a debate in a subtle contest of one up-manship. This particular example has a 6 & 1/2 inch barrel with a 9 & 1/4 inch sight radius. To my knowlege, nothing has been done to this pistol other than shooting it. This particular example was put out by Colt in 1942.

The Ammo

For this shoot out I selected Federal 36 grain copper plated hollow point ammo. It's the kind that comes in the 550 round bulk pack at Wal-Mart. I picked it because it was cheap. That's good enough for me. This is a plinking shoot out, nothing else. If the gun can't shoot plinking ammo, it looses!

Head to Head

Holding these two pistols, the light weight of the Colt immediately struck me. Combined with the smaller grip, it felt like a feather compared to the Ruger. On the other hand, the Ruger felt like a gun compared to the Colt.
The grip angle is the same on both pistols, although the Clark grips subtly alter the Ruger's grip angle to approximate a 1911. The Ruger is 43 years younger than the Colt, and technology moved along during that time. It would not be fair to knock the Colt for the lack of these advances, such as a last shot bolt hold open device. The front sight on the Colt is adjustable for elevation. The rear sight is adjustable for windage. On the Ruger, the front sight is fixed, and the rear provides both adjustments.
The trigger on the Ruger is very nice. It is a Volquartsen unit that has been fitted by myself. It is, however, exposed to the gunk that results from shooting. Ruger rimfire pistols often develop a gritty trigger as a result. I need to install a trigger shield device in this pistol. For this shoot out though it was clean. The Colt trigger mechanism, by contrast, is well protected from accumulating grit and grime. The Colt trigger is crisp and very sweet. The internals of the Woodsman are machined steel, and quite large and easy to work with. There is a beautiful economy to the design. It's an elegant design, by John Moses Browning. Go figure. If the 1911 had a rimfire peer, the Woodsman is it. By contrast, the stamped steel Ruger looks and feels cheap.
The Ruger is notorious for it's reassembly difficulty. In actuality, it's kind of like a secret handshake. Following these instructions will have most people doing it themselves in one try. Last night I disassembled the Colt for a good cleaning. It would not have been fair to run a clean and lubed gun against one that had 60 years of gunk inside. I followed directions from this website and had no problems. I could see where problems could occur if the recoil spring did not remain captured. Still, for maintenance ease and simplicity, I have to give the Colt the edge.

The Shoot Out

Due to time constraints, I shot only 500 rounds through each pistol. Neither pistol had any failures. I had no dud rounds either. I tried to make both guns jam. I shot them sideways and upside down. They were boringly reliable. Both guns shot accurately as far as plinking accuracy goes. The Colt magazine was a bit tricky to load, and it took a little bit to figure out how to get a full 10 rounds in it. After that, it was smooth sailing.
I can understand why Colt went to the "elephant ear" grips on their Match Target Woodsmen. I had, after all, installed essentially the same on my Ruger. I can see, why the Woodsman is a legend. It is a reliable, accurate pistol that shoots an inexpensive cartridge for hours of plinking fun. It is a finely machined and fitted handgun designed by a man of sheer genius, John Moses Browning. I can see why many rimfire afficianados revere the Colt Woodsman.
I can see, as well, how Bill Ruger came along and kicked the Woodsman to the curb with a gun that was just as durable, just as accurate, but costing considerably less. The Ruger does everything the Woodsman does.
Still, I remember those hot summers as a kid, hiding out in the woods doing the things boys did back then. I had a Ruger MKI I had traded a bicycle for. It was a good pistol, but one of my friends' father was a gunsmith. Troy had a Colt Woodsman. When I shot Troy's Woodsman I knew the same people that made his gun also made the guns carried by our boys fighting in Southeast Asia. That meant a lot then. I did not know the same man designed them both. A Colt has a history, and a mystique, even to a boy, and even in a rimfire plinker. Contrast that with Bill Ruger's infamous 10 round magazine statements. Still, Bill Ruger's design for the Ruger rimfire pistol was inspired and revolutionary. It put an affordable handgun in many a young shooter's stocking.

For cool points, the Colt wins, hands down. Heck, even the BATF agrees and listed all Woodsmen prior to 1978 as C&R pistols. For getting the job done on a budget though, the Ruger whoops Colt's ass.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Only been following your blog for about 2weeks now.

The Woodsman post was a decent read. I'll keep my Ruger 22/45, the Mk1 & family really can't be beat for money. -bp78

7:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great comparison. I used to have a Woodsman, but I traded it for a HK. I should not have done that.

1:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Xavier, thanks for a great read, I've had some experience with the Colt Woodsman also:

I was being persued by members of my gun club to join one of their pistol teams but I only had a S&W 22 Masterpiece revolver (an excellent pistol) that everyone said would sink me in timed and rapid fire (gallery course). I started hounding a buddy of mine to buy his Woodsman Match Target 2nd. series that he didn't use any longer and he finally gave in. The only stipulation, he wanted what he paid for it, nothing less! I was overjoyed, $50 even way back then was pretty cheap.

I wouldn't join a team until I thought I wouldn't drag the team down, and didn't I practice! Surfice to say the Woodsman shot very well for me and I climbed up to be able to squeeze out high average for our team the first year, I was estatic.

When the other competetors wanted to try the Woodsman (It was, I believe, the only one in the league) they couldn't believe how heavy the trigger pull was. Most were shooting High Standards and Rugers. Almost without exception they would aim my Woodsman at the target for a few seconds and then place the gun down and ask "How do you take off the safety?" the safety wasn't on...they just couldn't believe how much pressure was needed to fire it.

I didn't have the trigger lightened I only shot it for maybe two more years before packing it away and buying a used High Standard. That was a HUGE jump for me in competition but I believe shooting with the heavy trigger Woodsman for a few years helped my shooting.

My buddy wanted to buy back the Woodsman after a number of years but once I own a gun it almost becomes part of me. Plus it has risen in value to somewhere between $1,000 and $1300. It is in almost new condition with 98-100% blueing. He also gave me with the gun the original box, target, screwdriver, and grip extenders.

I wonder if all Woodsmans had the heavy trigger or was mine just an exception? Could that be the reason they weren't used in competition? I haven't fired it in decades, I think I'll give it a couple hundred rounds some day just to bring back those great memories of competition with some great people.

Thanks again for bringing back a nice part of my shooting experience.

Ron from Massachusetts

10:36 AM  
Blogger Jerry The Geek said...

I've got a pre-woodsman "Colt .22 Auto", SN 20xxx, which makes it about 70 - 80 years old. My father traded a Luger for the Colt and a mason jar full of .22 ammo during The War (dubya dubya eye eye), mostly because it came with the ammo and could NOT get ammo for the Luger. He needed the gun to get meat for the house . . . squirrels, quail and rabbits. Meat was hard to get in the mountains of Eastern Oregon back then, and he needed a 'survival gun'. Survival for his family.

He told the story of once being out on a hunt, and a bobcat walked around a corner on a steep mountain trail, so he killed it with his Colt. (Bobcats are as almost as rare as pre-woodsman Colts now, in Oregon.)

It's a fine weapon. I haven't shot it for 20 years now, because I don't want to take a chance on damaging the gun with ammo hotter than it was designed for. But it still looks rugged, and simple, and I do admire the clean lines.

Thanx for blogging the gun. It reinforces my determination to keep it in the family. I hope my children value it as much as I do, but they won't get it until I'm gone. I love that old gun.

10:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Xavier, thank you - it was nice reading about the Colt Woodsman. Just today I purchased a Colt Woodsman Match Target, 3rd Series, 6" barrel - in 99% (near perfect) condition for $895 U.S. if you can believe it. This is a firearm for which I will cherish the responsibility of being its caretaker!

Kurt K.
Seattle, WA

8:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I bought a Match Target new in '72. Was amazed at how accurate it was compared with the other .22 pistols of the time. I stored it away in the original box about 20 years ago and plan on keeping it as an heirloom. It's such a fine pistol it's a shame Colt quit manufacturing them.

2:59 AM  
Blogger R0b-San said...

I've had a MKII for about 25 years now...amazingly accurate and very reliable. I just picked up a Colt Woodsman with a serial # dating back to 1949...what a beuatiful pistol...and very accurate too. Thanks for the test and write ups...Keep the faith, baby!!!


2:33 PM  
Blogger R0b-San said...

Thanks for the write up on the Ruger and Woodsman. I've owned a MKII 6 7/8" for about 25 years, and just recently socred a second series Woodsman Sport Model for a very reasonable $300! Both are fanatstic pistols that have given me hours of fun a cheap pistol paractice. You can't go wrong with either one.


2:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can anyone tell me what was Bill Ruger's infamous line about 10 round magazines???

12:23 PM  
Blogger james said...

I have a 1903 colt 22 pistol and was wondering what it is. I have learned that a woodsman was produced in 1915. So I think it is something other than a woodsman.

10:35 PM  
Blogger james said...

Is a 1903 colt 22 pistol a woodsman?

10:37 PM  
Blogger Xavier said...

All the pre-WWII guns had the patent dates on the barrel. Normally there were two dates in 1918 and one 1903 date. Those made prior to 1918 had only the 1903 date, of course. The 1903 patent actually had nothing to do with the Woodsman, which was not even in the conceptual stage in 1903, but Colt used the earlier patent to give them some protection until the unique features of the Woodsman could be patented.

4:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I liked the Colt/Ruger comparison, and the other posts as well.
Just bought a well worn 1918 Woodsman for $500. Gun looked like it hadn't been cleaned in 30 years, or shot much since then. I took it apart & cleaned it. Got some CCI standard solids and went to the range.
After 100 rounds I fell in love with this gun. I am rusty as hell and was never a great shot 40 years ago.
I was beating up on the younger guys with hand cannons and long barreled guns, The Colt would
click off 5 shots in 2 seconds
in a tight group, I could not make it jam or misfire.
What a great little gun

11:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Xavier your comparison between the Woodsman and the Ruger was a fine read. In the previous post about the gun show you mentioned seeing the Browning Challenger. I own a Woodsman- a family hand down series two target model. I haven't shot it much as I don't want to hurt its value so I recently purchased an original Challenger (1958-1975) and
it is very close to the Woodsman at least externally. I haven't disassembled it yet as it looks as though it was hardly ever shot if at all. Anyway the point I wanted to confer is the grips on the Challenger are very hand filling and extend beyond the grip frame. I have shown off my two pieces for others to compare and some prefer the Woodsman and others prefer the Challenger. If you were to find another first series Challenger in good condition for $350 I wouldn't hesitate to buy it as their value is going up as well. Not quite as much as the Woodsman but there were not as many produced. Would love to hear your comments on the Challenger in relation to the MKII and the Woodsman...
John N from Illinois

10:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a Ruger MkII that I bought 30 years ago that I really liked but when I found a used Colt Woodsman a few years later I fell in love. It has been my favorite woods pistol since I bought it. It's a 2nd series sport with the 4 1/2 inch barrel. I bought an El Paso Saddlery crossdraw holster for it.

10:21 PM  

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