Colt

Small frame Lightning.

Here is one I picked up because it was cheap ($250), looked sharp, and I'd been wanting a 22 pump anyway. The Colt Lightning rifles were made in three sizes: small, medium, and large, with the medium and large being chambered for 32 and 44/40 caliber respectively. The Lightning design dates to the late 1800's. It was Colt's answer to the Winchester lever action, with a faster cocking action. Alas, the resulting rifle wasn't quite as rugged as the Winchester, so the Lightning never did see large sales.

The cover plate is missing on the receiver, as it seems to be with a lot of small frame Lightnings. Can't see into the bore easily on this rifle, as the breech is pretty much encased in the receiver. I should have looked closer, this one has pitting in the bore. Feeds and shoots .22 shorts just fine, would take 22 longs if I could find any, but long rifle bullets won't fit. Why not? At the time this rifle was designed, in the late 1880's, the LR cartridge didn't exist. Serial number on this one dates it to 1901.

This one's a refinish job, 100% blueing. I suppose it reduces the value of the rifle, but it does look sharp.

Accuracy suffers from the pitted bore abrading the bullet, but I don't fire this one much. I would like to locate a cover plate for the receiver, even a reproduction would do. And if anyone has a Lightning barrel for sale, shout at me.

Woodsman Match Target.

The Woodsman's story is well told elsewhere, so I won't go into great detail. It is a classic John Browning design that endured for over sixty years. The Match Target model began with a slightly heavier barrel on the Series 1, progressing to the full square barrel on the Series 2 and 3.

This particular example is an early 3rd Series, dating to 1957. As old as I am... it seems to have weathered the years with a bit more grace than I did. Quality? What can I say? It epitomizes quality. Like many of the better Browning designs, it is both robust and elegant, with that incredibly precise and solid feel that Browning gave to his best efforts. Barrel lengths on the MT could be had in 4.5" and 6". This one is the 6".

Alas, the Colt emphasis on quality did the Woodsman in, as it did the Diamondback and Python in. The price was just too high. When production was terminated on the Woodsman in 1977, the Match Target model was selling for almost $500, a very high price for a .22 target pistol at the time. Curiously enough, a clean MT sells in the $800 range right now, which is about what one pays for a S&W 41. Accuracy is comparable,and I leave it to the individual to decide which one has more class. By a wide margin... The MT is still right on the edge of 'value for money' pricing.

Disassembly of this particular example revealed how closely the Ruger Mk2 copied the Browning design, especially in how the hammer spring and bolt release are arranged. Even the magazine release is the same. Accuracy is perhaps a bit better than my bull barrel Mk2. However, raw accuracy measures really don't explain the MT. Just picking up the two pistols tells quite a story, with the Colt being the hands down winner on feel alone. The MT fits your hand like a glove, and it feels like it has been carved out of a single block of metal.

Both the Match Target and the Diamondback stand as two of the finest rimfire pistols ever made. This is how firearms were meant to be built. It is a pity, to say the least, that Colt dropped production. Quality never becomes obsolete. Judging by the rising prices on Colt pistols, they could easily keep five or six master gunsmiths busy with low volume production of the Python, Diamondback and Woodsman.

WARNING!!! Despite what you may hear, I highly recommend AGAINST shooting hot ammunition in these pistols. This is a Series 3, supposedly with the heavier spring, yet when I first tried to disassemble it, the bolt would not come completely off. Bottom line is that the metal where the bolt stop comes to rest on the frame had been hammered into a slight bulge. Eventually, I persuaded the bolt to come off, and a few minutes of careful work with a diamond file rectified the problem, but this pistol shows all the symptoms of having fired ammunition that was too powerful for it. Subsonic target rounds are a lot more accurate, and won't damage your frame. Don't fire hot ammo in these old classics, you will regret it.

.22 Diamondback.

After the Colt revolver mania died down due to the shutdown of production, I went looking for a Python. Found this, instead. Think of it as a mini-Python, one that doesn't bust your eardrums or your wallet after an afternoon of shooting.

Slightly smaller than the Python, but every bit the equal in quality, which is to say the best. Velvet finish, perfect fit, no rattles or bits knocking around. This is one you buy to remind yourself of what quality gunsmithing is all about.

I recently checked the prices on the Diamondback, and was astounded at how much they have risen. Like the Springfield M2, I've had several offers to sell this one at a handsome profit, but I bought it to shoot, not to make money on. And it's a delight to plink away with. Like the 52D, it just feels right.

And a tip on accuracy. The Diamondback, at least this one, is a fussy eater. It is particular about its ammunition. I have noticed that the better subsonic rounds such as Winchester Supreme and RWS Subsonic, produce terrific results, whereas the hotter 22 loads don't do so well.

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