Colt Woodsman Match Target Pistol

22 May 2024   |   by Greg   |   Blog
Gun Collectors Club

A Historical Overview

The Colt Woodsman Match Target pistol is a renowned semi-automatic sporting firearm that holds a significant place in American gun history.
Manufactured by Colt's Manufacturing Company from 1915 to 1977, this pistol was the brainchild of John Moses Browning, one of the most influential gun designers of all time.

The Woodsman Match Target was specifically designed for precision shooting and quickly became a favorite among sports shooters for its accuracy and reliability. Over its production lifespan, the Woodsman underwent several design changes, divided into three distinct series. This article will delve into the history, design, and variations of each series of the Colt Woodsman Match Target pistol.

Colt Woodsman Match Target .22Lr 6in heavy barrel 3rd Series 1955 Black grips

Series I: 1915–1941

The first series of the Colt Woodsman, often referred to as the "Pre-War" series, was introduced in 1915. This series laid the foundation for what would become a legendary line of pistols.My gun pictured in this article is a 1955 Series III gun. When I first started downsizing my collection, the first guns to go were all of the Pre-War guns. In order to make downsizing pallatable, I developed a plan whereby I would sell several guns and buy one. That way, my numbers went way down. My collection became much smaller, yet more valuable.

Design and Features

Frame and Grip Design: The Series I Woodsman featured a lightweight, streamlined frame with a slightly curved backstrap, providing a comfortable grip. The early models had a distinctive "pencil barrel," which was relatively thin and tapered.

Caliber and Magazine: Chambered in .22 Long Rifle, the Woodsman had a 10-round magazine, which was quite advanced for its time. The .22 LR cartridge made it ideal for target shooting and small game hunting.

Sights and Barrel: The Match Target variant, introduced later within the Series I period, featured a heavier barrel and adjustable sights, which significantly improved its accuracy for competitive shooting.

Trigger and Safety Mechanism: The trigger pull was smooth and consistent, a hallmark of Browning's designs. The pistol also included a manual safety lever located on the left side of the frame.


During this period, Colt introduced several variants to cater to different shooting needs:

  • Target Model: Featured a 6 5/8 inch barrel and adjustable sights.
  • Sport Model: Had a shorter barrel, typically around 4 1/2 inches, making it more suitable for casual shooters and hunters.
Notable Changes and Innovations

One of the most significant innovations of the Series I was the addition of the "floating chamber" design, which helped replicate the recoil of a larger caliber gun, enhancing the training value of the pistol.

Colt Woodsman Match Target .22Lr 6in Heavy Barrel 3rd Series 1955 Black Grips

Series II: 1947–1955

The second series of the Colt Woodsman, known as the "Post-War" series, saw production resume after World War II. This series introduced several refinements and improvements over the original design. Again, my gun in the photos is a 1955 Third Series gun. I was in fact searching for a Series II gun when I discovered this unfired (other than the factory test fire) Series III example from 1955.

Design and Features

Frame and Ergonomics: The Series II Woodsman featured a redesigned frame with a straighter backstrap, which improved grip ergonomics and made the pistol more comfortable to shoot for extended periods.

Magazine Release and Safety: The magazine release was moved to the bottom of the grip, a change from the previous side-mounted release. The safety mechanism was also updated for easier operation.

Barrel and Sights: The Match Target models continued to feature heavy barrels and adjustable sights. Additionally, some models introduced a ribbed barrel design for added rigidity and accuracy.

Finish and Materials: Improved manufacturing techniques allowed for better finishes and materials, enhancing the durability and aesthetic appeal of the pistol.


The Series II introduced new variants and models to expand its appeal:

  • Challenger Model: A budget-friendly version with simplified features but retaining the essential qualities of the Woodsman.
  • Huntsman Model: Aimed at casual shooters and hunters, it featured a fixed rear sight and a simpler design.

The Series II Woodsman incorporated a more robust extractor design and other minor internal improvements that enhanced reliability and ease of maintenance. These changes made the pistol even more popular among sports shooters and enthusiasts.

Colt Woodsman Match Target .22Lr 6in Heavy Barrel 3rd Series 1955 Black Grips

Series III: 1955–1977

The third and final series of the Colt Woodsman, produced from 1955 to 1977, represented the culmination of decades of design evolution and user feedback. When I was seeking out a Colt Woodsman Match Target gun, one of the things I looked at first was the grips. I wanted a gun from the Baby Boom Period (1946-1964), which meant it would have either Coltwood grips (1947-1950), injection-molded plastic grips (1950-1960) or walnut (1960-1964). The grips had to be pristine, and these black plastic grips on my 1955 gun are.

Design and Features

Frame and Grips: The Series III Woodsman featured a more modern, angular frame design with improved grip panels that offered better control and comfort. The backstrap was slightly arched, catering to a more natural grip angle.

Magazine and Safety: The magazine release was again relocated, this time to the heel of the grip, providing a more secure and intuitive release mechanism. The safety lever was redesigned for quicker and more reliable operation.

Barrel and Sights: The Match Target models in Series III continued to be equipped with heavy barrels and fully adjustable rear sights. Some models also featured an extended front sight for better target acquisition.

Trigger Mechanism: The trigger mechanism was refined to provide an even crisper and lighter pull, enhancing the shooting experience and accuracy.


Several notable variants were introduced in the Series III lineup:

  • Targetsman Model: Featured adjustable sights and was aimed at the target shooting market.
  • New Targetsman: An updated version with further refinements to the sights and barrel.
  • Coltman Model: A special edition with unique finishes and limited production numbers.
Technological Advancements

During the Series III period, Colt utilized advanced manufacturing techniques and materials, which improved the overall quality and performance of the Woodsman pistols. These advancements included better heat treatment processes for critical components and the use of higher-quality steel alloys. By the end of the Baby Boom Period in 1964, cost-cutting measures became a priority at all gun manufacturing facilities.

Colt Woodsman Match Target .22Lr 6in Heavy Barrel 3rd Series 1955 Black Grips
Legacy and Impact

The Colt Woodsman Match Target pistol holds a revered place in the history of firearms, not only for its superb design and performance but also for its impact on competitive shooting and sportsmanship. Each series brought significant advancements, reflecting the evolving needs and preferences of shooters over six decades. The only black mark on its record is the fact that William McMillan missed the 1956 Olympic Games due to a malfunction with his Colt Woodsman pistol during the U.S. trials. Four years later McMillan would take the Gold Medal in 25 Meter Rapid Fire at the 1960 Olympics in Rome.

Influence onCompetitive Shooting

The Woodsman Match Target was a favorite among competitive shooters for its accuracy and reliability. Its precision and ergonomic design made it a dominant force in target shooting competitions, setting standards for future target pistols.

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Collector's Item

Today, the Colt Woodsman Match Target pistols are highly sought after by collectors and firearms enthusiasts. Each series represents a unique chapter in the evolution of semi-automatic sporting pistols, and original models in good condition are considered valuable pieces of firearms history. I no longer collect any Pre-War guns, so I will not have a Series I example.

Colt Woodsman Match Target .22Lr 6in Heavy Barrel 3rd Series 1955 Black Grips

John Moses Browning's Legacy

The Colt Woodsman is a testament to John Moses Browning's genius and enduring influence on firearm design. His innovative approach to pistol design, combined with Colt's commitment to quality, resulted in a firearm that has stood the test of time and remains a benchmark in the world of sporting pistols. The majority of guns in my small collection are Browning inventions.

Colt Woodsman Match Target .22Lr 6in Heavy Barrel 3rd Series 1955 Black Grips

The Colt Woodsman Match Target pistol truly represents the best of American craftsmanship, innovation, and the sporting spirit. From its inception in 1915 to its final production run in 1977, the Woodsman evolved through three distinct series, each bringing new improvements and maintaining the pistol's reputation for excellence. Whether in the hands of a competitive shooter or a collector, the Colt Woodsman Match Target remains a cherished and iconic piece of firearms history.

Colt Woodsman Match Target .22Lr 6in Heavy Barrel 3rd Series 1955 Black Grips

The Colt Woodsman Match Target is more than just a firearm; it is a symbol of a bygone era of American craftsmanship and ingenuity. Collectors prize these pistols for their historical value and the quality of their construction. Original Match Target models, particularly those in excellent condition with their original packaging and documentation such as this one, command high prices in the collector's market.

Colt Woodsman1955 Match Target

As we look back on the history of the Colt Woodsman Match Target, we are reminded of the enduring appeal of a well-crafted firearm and the legacy of a company that played a pivotal role in shaping the American firearms landscape. Downsizing my gun collection has been difficult, simply because letting go of any of these historic guns has been difficult. Yet acquiring a classic like this makes me happy.

According to my Colt Archive Letter, this gun shipped to Rose, Kimball & Baxter, Inc. Elmira, NY on October 20, 1955 as part of a two-gun shipment.

Rose, Kimball & Baxter, Inc. was a wholesale hardware distributor headquartered in Elmira, New York. Its roots trace back to 1864 when Miles Ayrault and Stephen Rose founded Ayrault & Rose, selling hardware and mill supplies. Over time, the company underwent several name changes, eventually becoming Rose, Kimball & Baxter, Inc. in 1952. In 1976, the name changed again to RKB Enterprises.

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When I Began Downsizing My Collection...

The feelings I experienced were terrible. Awful. I felt like I was loosing a part of myself with every gun that I sold. It was going so bad that I put the brakes on and paused my liquidation activity while I regrouped and developed a better plan. My modified plan would work.

Colt Woodsman Match Target .22Lr 6in Heavy Barrel 3rd Series 1955 Black Grips
The Liquidation Plan I Developed...

I felt like an absolute genius when I came up with a solution that worked for me. Here's how it all began. I had the thought that "Once a gun collector ceases buying guns and begins liquidating them, clearly it is no longer a hobby." Being very honest with myself, I knew that I was not yet ready to give up my hobby. Yet I also knew that I was not willing to burden my wife with a big mess at my demise. The way I achieved my downsizing goal was simple.

After selling five guns, I allowed myself to buy one gun. Just knowing that when my group of less-expensive guns sold, I would be able to buy a more expensive one, actually made the (partial) liquidation process exciting! You may not be a fan of the lowly .22 Long Rifle Cartridge, the 6 inch barrel or the plastic grips. Yet, if you are a true gun enthusiast, I hope you can appreciate the beauty and history associated with this $85 gun from 1955 as I do.

My father was 18 years-old when this gun was born in 1955. He says that $85 was pricey for a handgun in 1955, then went into a story about his Savage Single-Shot .410 shotgun that he paid $24 for. In today's dollars, $85 would be approximately $960, however, the value of this gun outpaced inflation and the value of the dollar.

60-Year Historical Value of My Gun
60 Year Value Chart Colt Woodsman Match Target .22Lr 6in Heavy Barrel 3rd Series 1955 Black Grips

The trajectory of appreciation really took off after the gun had been out of production for 20 years. Almost every gun enthusiast will tell you that they do not buy old guns as an investment. However, since this gun has lived its entire life (thus far) without a trip to the range, let's deviate from that point of view and take a look at the investment aspect.

Investing $85 in this gun in 1955 would have been a great choice, yet not as good as investing in it 30 years later in 1985. In a previous blog post I wrote about Roosevelt Dimes, which were made from Silver (1946-1964). Had you purchased 850 dimes and put them up for 60 years, they would have been worth approximately $1,800.

It is likely that there was more than one owner during this 60-year holding period. Let's assume there were two. The person that held the gun the first 30 years did not do so well. The gun was in production during most of that time-frame. If the second owner purchased the gun in year 30, approximately 8 years after production ceased and held it for 30 years, that owner did quite well.

Colt Woodsman Target, Sport & Match Target Serial Number Table

These are only ESTIMATED manufacture dates. To find a more accurate date of your gun, go to Colt's Database Search and type in your number with the "S" but omit the dash. Better yet, order a letter from the Colt Archive.

Collectors know that there can often times be pretty big variances between date of manufacture and ship date.

The Match Target guns do not have Woodsman stamped anywhere on the gun. The Second Series guns will have the magazine release button on the left side of the frame behind the trigger guard, while the Third Series will have it on the heel of the butt (at the bottom of the grip frame).

The Baby Boom Years 1946-1964

I'm estimating that there were 195,438 of these guns manufactured in the Post-War Baby Boom Period, of which, an estimated 146,136 would have been produced during the Series II phase and 49,302 after the Series III was introduced in 1955.

Note the Serial Number change during the transition from Series II to Series III. My gun is one of the first Series III transition guns.

Fortune was smiling on me when I undertook my search for a Match Target gun from the Baby Boom Period. At this stage in life (age 64) I likely won't acquire another Match Target, however if I did, it would surely be a Series II or III from the years in this chart.

YEAR Beg. Serial # End Serial # # Made
1947 1-S 249-S 249
1948 250-S 35749-S 35,500
1949 35750-S 68899-S 33,150
1950 68900-S 86199-S 17,300
1951 86200-S 100099-S 13,900
1952 100100-S 123699-S 23,600
1953 123700-S 137649-S 13,950
1954 137650-S 142599-S 4,950
1955 142600-S 146136-S 3,537
SERIES II 146,136
1955 146137-S 147138-S 1,002
1955 160000-S 161599-S 1,600
1956 161600-S 172199-S 10,600
1957 172200-S 182499-S 10,300
1958 182500-S 185199-S 2,700
1959 185200-S 189249-S 4,050
1960 189250-S 193299-S 4,050
1961 193300-S 196899-S 3,600
1962 196900-S 200599-S 3,700
1963 200600-S 204499-S 3,900
1964 204500-S 208299-S 3,800
Total Baby Boom Period 195,438
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America's Cold Warrior: Paul Nitze and National Security from Roosevelt to Reagan

In America's Cold Warrior, James Graham Wilson traces Paul Nitze's career path in national security after World War II, a time when many of his mentors and peers returned to civilian life.

America's Cold Warrior: Paul Nitze and National Security from Roosevelt to Reagan
America's Cold Warrior

Serving in eight presidential administrations, Nitze commanded White House attention even when he was out of government, especially with his withering criticism of Jimmy Carter during Carter's presidency.

While Nitze is perhaps best known for leading the formulation of NSC-68, which Harry Truman signed in 1950, Wilson contends that Nitze's most significant contribution to American peace and security came in the painstaking work done in the 1980s to negotiate successful treaties with the Soviets to reduce nuclear weapons while simultaneously deflecting skeptics surrounding Ronald Reagan.

America's Cold Warrior connects Nitze's career and concerns about strategic vulnerability to the post-9/11 era and the challenges of the 2020s, where the United States finds itself locked in geopolitical competition with the People's Republic of China and Russia.

About the Author: James Graham Wilson received his Ph.D. in diplomatic history from the University of Virginia in 2011. He is currently a Historian at the U.S. Department of State, and has compiled 10 volumes in the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series.


My MOS when I served in the United States Army was 76Y. For you non-military readers, the Military Occupational Specialty of 76 Yankee means that I was a Unit Armorer. While on REFORGER 85, I trained with German Paratroopers and qualified as "Expert" with the German G-3 rifle, the Israeli Uzi 9mm sub-machinegun and the 9mm handgun.