Category Archives: Fun Firearm Friday

Fun Firearm Friday — Collectible 1938 Smith & Wesson K-22 ‘Outdoorsman’


1938 Smith & Wesson K-22 “Outdoorsman”

Today I’m going to present a first look and firing review of a very special firearm. This is a highly collectible prewar Smith & Wesson K-22 ‘Outdoorsman’. So, just how rare is this target-grade .22 LR pistol? The first edition K-22 was introduced in 1931, and in 1940 the ‘Outdoorsman’ was superseded by a second generation version marketed as the K-22 ‘Masterpiece’. In 1941 production ceased altogether as Smith & Wesson geared up to support the war effort.

When I first saw this handgun I had an inkling that it was probably prewar because it lacked the ribbed barrel of every postwar K-Frame (medium frame) Smith & Wesson I’ve ever seen. That pencil-thin tapered barrel just looked so elegant compared to the later ribbed barrels. But I wasn’t sure, as the gun was merely tagged for sale as a, “Smith & Wesson .22,” with no further information. So, I went home and did some research, started getting excited when I thought I recognized what it was, called the store for a reading of the serial number, and verified that this was indeed a rare prewar K-22, probably with incorrect grips installed as they lacked the familiar diamond pattern surrounding the screw holes.

Replacement S&W grips

Once I got the K-22 home I removed the grips and verified that they were indeed not the originals. The factory-installed grips would have the gun’s serial number marked on the insides:

Period-incorrect grips — Made after 1969

Grips not serial numbered to this gun

While we have the grips off this K-22, let’s take a look at what’s beneath them on the frame:

S&W K-22 grips removed

S&W K-22 grips removed

Production of the K-22 ‘Outdoorsman’ ended December 28, 1939. The total number made was 17,117 before the launch of the improved ‘Masterpiece’ K-22 in early 1940. The prewar K-22s, both the ‘Outdoorsman’ and the second generation ‘Masterpiece’, sported a non-ribbed 6-inch/152mm round barrel, adjustable rear sights, a trigger set between three and four pounds/1.4 to 1.8 kilograms, checkered Circassian walnut grips, all in a package weighing in at about 35 ounces/990 grams. With the K-22 came a Smith & Wesson claim that the gun was capable of shooting 1.5-inch/38mm groups at an astounding 50 yards/45.7 meters. That’s a lot better than I’m capable of as you can see from the two targets presented below (but in all fairness I shot free-handed rather than bench-resting the pistol). The targets I used were ones I printed on 8.5×11-inch/216x279mm standard letter-size paper.

The first target displays 18 rounds fired in single-action at a distance of 10 yards/9.1 meters:

8.5×11 target, 10 yards, 18 rounds, single-action

This next target shows 18 rounds fired in double-action at a the same distance:

8.5×11 target, 10 yards, 18 rounds, double-action

Oddly enough, I did better at double-action, but I’ve found over the years that the longer, heavier trigger pull in double-action forces me to maintain tighter concentration and control when I’m firing — pretty much the opposite of the rest of the shooting world, I’m sure. Plus, I’d just completed testing a single-action only 1973 Ruger Super Bearcat with a much lighter trigger, so I may have been thrown off by that as well.

As far as I can tell, the K-22 retailed for around $40 (S&W billed dealers $22.19 for them in 1935). In today’s money, that $40 works out to $624. Keeping in mind that this was in the midst of the Great Depression, it’s a wonder the K-22 found the audience that it did. Being billed as pistol suitable for both hunters and marksmen, the K-22 came equipped with an adjustable rear sight:

Adjustable rear sight and blued hammer

The K-22 initially came with a Call gold bead front sight (named after Charles Call), but that was changed to a higher-visibility ‘silver’ (actually stainless steel) bead about 500 pistols into production:

Silver bead front sight used after first year of production

Typical roll marks and stamps on the K-22 ‘Outdoorsman’ include the following:

Smith & Wesson roll mark

S&W trademark logo

S&W patent markings

K-22 caliber mark

“MADE IN U.S.A.” stamp

I already mentioned that the grips that came with this example were not original to the gun. There is one other anomaly that I saw as well. On every K-22 I’ve found pictured on the internet, both prewar and postwar, all are equipped with case hardened triggers and hammers. Not so this example. Both are blued, and I suspect they did not come this way from the factory:

Trigger blued rather than case hardened

Hammer blued rather than case hardened

The reason that I only suspect this is because I did not receive from the Smith & Wesson historian confirmation on this even though I pointed out the bluing when I sent in photographs along with a request for the gun’s history.

Most of the letter sent back from the S&W historian is boilerplate typical of other S&W history letters I’ve seen:

S&W Historical Foundation letter for this specific K-22

You have to get past the first four paragraphs to get to the specifics of this particular K-22, which I’ve cropped out below:

S&W Historical Foundation letter — Information specific to this K-22

A quick note about these Smith & Wesson Historical Foundation letters. If you have a Smith & Wesson firearm made between 1920 and 1966, obtaining a history on that firearm is something you should really consider. It’s fun researching where your gun first headed from the factory, and you may even get more history on it. I’ve seen at least one letter for a pristine, like-new K-22 with original box and manual that turned out to have been shipped to a police department for training purposes.

Now onto the subject of serial numbers for these pieces of prewar history. Any collector will tell you that the value of a collectible falls considerably if the gun is not fully ‘matching’. By matching, I mean all parts are original to the gun. On the K-22 Outdoorsman there are three places you need to check for this match. The first place to look is to turn over the gun and check out the primary serial number on the base of the frame butt:

Serial number stamp — Frame grip butt

Now it’s time to check the cylinder for a match:

Serial number stamp — Cylinder

And, finally, as we have the cylinder swung out away from the frame, let’s turn over the gun and look at the flat portion at the base of the barrel for one more match:

Serial number stamp — Under barrel

There is one more number stamped on these weapons, but it is not related in any way to the serial number. Again, with the cylinder swung out, look at the frame just below where the pinned barrel is mounted. Here you will find a number that was used internally at Smith & Wesson. The purpose of this number was to assist the craftsmen who handcrafted these works of art. This is an assembly number that assisted in keeping together until final assembly the parts meant for a particular gun:

This number was used by the factory to facilitate hand fitting of parts

I hope you enjoyed this little bit of firearm history at least half as much as I enjoyed researching it. For additional information, may I suggest the following articles:

American Rifleman article: A Look Back at the Smith & Wesson K-22 written by Dave Campbell; November 13, 2012

Gunblast article: Smith & Wesson K-22s written by Mike Cumpston; January 8, 2003

One last look at this nice example of a prewar (1938) Smith & Wesson K-22 Outdoorsman:

Prewar Smith & Wesson K-22 “Outdoorsman”

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Fun Firearm Friday — Colt MK IV/Series’ 80 Mustang Plus II


Colt’s MK IV/Series 80′ Mustang Plus II

In May, 2017, I ran a three-article series on pocket pistols. The pistols viewed that week were the Beretta 3032 Tomcat (.32 ACP/7.65mm) and the Colt Mustang Lite (.380 ACP/9mm kurz). That series culminated in a shoot off between the two, as well as a size/weight comparison between them of the Walther PPK and PPK/S.

Colt’s MK IV/Series 80 Mustang Plus II

While researching that article, I found information on the Colt MK IV/Series 80 Government Model 380 (a scaled down version of the Series 80 Model 1911 introduced in 1984), and the even smaller early Colt Mustangs, which arrived two years later and continued in the market until around 1998 (reintroduced in 2011). What I did not include in that article was information on another Colt .380 ACP/9mm kurz pistol that starting in 1988 bridged the size gap between the Government Model 380 and the Mustang.

Colt’s MK IV/Series 80 Mustang Plus II

That pistol is the Colt MK IV/Series 80 Mustang Plus II. The Mustang Plus II took the all steel 7+1 capacity frame of the Government Model 380, and mated to it the shorter slide and barrel from the 5+1 (later increased to 6+1 after 1992) capacity Mustang — two additional rounds, hence the name Mustang Plus II. These original Mustang Plus II pistols were blued steel, but sometime around 1990 Colt came out with a stainless version. Production of the stainless Mustang Plus II was thus only around seven or eight years, making this a bit of a rarity. At least I’d never seen one, up until July of last year.

Colt’s MK IV/Series 80 Mustang Plus II

The MK IV/Series 80 Mustang Plus II you see here today was manufactured in 1991, and appears very lightly used with no holster wear marring the stainless slide. It came with three factory magazines, which on the base are stamped with the Rampant Colt trademark, the letter ‘M’ on all three magazines, and the letter ‘S’ also on the nickel plated magazine, and the words ‘Colt .380 Auto.’ on all three.

Original Mustang Plus II/Government Model 380 magazines

The left side of the slide top line reads, “COLT MK IV/SERIES’ 80.” Below that in a smaller font is, “—MUSTANG-380 AUTO—.” The Rampant Colt is to the right of both lines. On the reverse side ahead of the ejection port, the slide is stamped, “PLUS II.” The barrel inside the ejection port reads, “CAL 380.”

Colt Mustang Plus II — Slide stamp

Comparing the slide markings to a more recent (circa 2016) polymer-frame Mustang Lite, the two lines on the left side read, “—MUSTANG—,” and “COLT 380 AUTO.” The right side of the newer Mustang Lite is blank, but, “CAL 380,” is stamped on that portion of the barrel visible through the ejection port.

Mustang Plus II and Mustang Lite (formerly XSP)

Dimensionally, the two guns are very similar. Slide and barrel length are, of course, the same, but the slightly longer beavertail of the Mustang Plus II adds perhaps a millimeter of length. The height differs, as one would expect. The Mustang Lite comes in at 3.9 inches/99mm, whereas the Mustang Plus II measures about 4.5 inches/114mm.

Mustang Plus II and Mustang Lite — Height comparison

But it’s the weight that most distinguishes the two. The Mustang Lite with it’s lightweight polymer frame, is a mere 12.54 ounces/356 grams including a empty magazine 11.2 ounces/318 grams without magazine). The slightly larger, all steel Mustang Plus II tips my scale at 19.42 ounces/551 grams (17.9 ounces/508 grams without magazine).

Colt’s MK IV/Series 80 Mustang Plus II

Magazine capacity only differs by a grand total of one—7+1 for the Mustang Plus II vs. 6+1 for the Mustang Lite when using the included (but in my case nonfunctioning) factory magazine. There are aftermarket (and more importantly reliable) magazines that give the Mustang Lite 7+1 capacity, but at the expense of an extra full inch/25mm of height because of the magazine’s finger rest configuration. Comparing the Plus II magazine to the extended aftermarket magazine for the Lite, it appears Metalform could knock off a half-inch/12.5mm of that penalty if they just left off the finger rest extension. But that extra length does allow for a more secure grip, as the pinky finger is no longer left dangling beneath the frame when the extended magazine is used.

Mustang Plus II and Mustang Lite — Height comparison

I’ve yet to fire the Mustang Plus II, and I look forward to a direct comparison with the Mustang Lite. The additional weight probably won’t help much in the recoil department, as I find the Mustang Lite already very controllable even without the 6.88 ounces/195 grams of added mass.

Mustang Plus II (1991) and Mustang Lite (2016)

So, if I were to choose between the two for a concealed carry piece, which would I pick? Hard choice. The Mustang Lite has the advantage of an ambidextrous safety, which is not really relevant to me as a right-hander (unless I had to use it with my left hand, of course), and the Mustang Plus II wins out in the height department by a small amount if you equip the Mustang Lite with an extended magazine to match the capacity of the Plus II. Weight difference isn’t really a factor on something already under 18 ounces, but I’ll admit that I do enjoy the additional heft and overall balance in the hand of the marginally heavier Plus II.

Colt Mustang Plus II — Rear sight

There is, however, a subtle difference in the triggers. The Mustang Lite takes up quickly and consistently, then has perhaps an eight of an inch of creep before breaking. The Plus II, on the other hand, displays more resistance on the longer take up, almost to the point of feeling mushy. And there’s a tactile, almost second-stage feel during the take-up pull. But the break requires less pull and feels cleaner with no creep at the end. Both triggers are exceptional, but I believe I prefer the feel of the Plus II in this department.

Mustang Plus II — Front sight

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Fun Photo Friday — 54 Days at Sea; Istanbul Images


Blue Skies above the Blue Mosque

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Filed under Fun Firearm Friday, Photography, R. Doug Wicker, travel, vacation