Tag Archives: firearm collecting

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 The first edition K-22 was introduced in 1931, and in 1940 the ‘Outdoorsman’ was superseded by a second generation version marketed as the K-22 ‘Masterpiece’.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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Western Wednesday — Collectible 1973 Ruger Super Bearcat Shooting Review


Ruger Super Bearcat with box, manual, warranty card

It’s time for a Western Wednesday firearm review, and today’s shooting review is on a gun that Ruger made for less than three years (June 1971-January 1974)! I’ve already discussed Ruger’s alloy framed 1st edition Bearcat (see: Interesting Collectables: “Old” 1st issue Ruger Bearcats), in which I presented a rare ‘Alpha Cat’ Bearcat and one of the very first Bearcats (624th off the line) produced with oiled walnut grips rather than the previous rosen-impregnated rosewood grips. Here is an image of those early Bearcats:

Rare 1960 “Alpha Cat” (top); very early (1964) Bearcat with oiled walnut grips

‘Unmodified’ means that both of those Bearcats were never sent back to Ruger for the transfer bar modification that would make safe the loading all six cylinders. That is why I’m referring to these pistols as Old West-style firearms, as they adhere closely to the design of the Colt 1873 Single-Action Army ‘Peacemaker. Below shows a comparison of a copy of the original Colt 1873 design along with an old issue three-screw Ruger Single Six (also unmodified) and an old issue Bearcat, all of which are only safe when the hammer rest over an unloaded cylinder chamber (more on that below):

USFA Single-Action Army; unmodified 3-screw Ruger Single Six; 1960 Ruger Bearcat

These classics may have been called ‘Six-shooters’, but disregard what you saw on television and in the movies. Nobody in their right mind would holster one of these guns with all six chambers loaded.

1973 Ruger Super Bearcat with Super Bearcat box

That means, unless you are physically at the range, on the firing line, and preparing to fire the weapon, the cylinder should be loaded so that the hammer rests upon an empty chamber. How do you do that? Here’s a recap from my previous article on the original (1958-1970) Ruger Bearcat:

Proper (safe) loading sequence for any Single-Action Army-type pistol or unmodified (no transfer bar) Ruger single-action revolver:

  1. Count out and place five (for a six-round weapon) bullets before you
  2. Five rounds only!
  3. Put the rest of the ammunition out of reach
  4. Thumb back the hammer two clicks, to the half-cock position; this frees the cylinder for rotation by hand
  5. Open the loading gate
  6. Visually inspect all cylinder chambers, making certain no bullets are loaded, by rotating the cylinder while peering down through the open loading gate
  7. After verifying all chambers are empty, place one round in the chamber exposed through the open loading gate (we’ll call this “Chamber 5”)
  8. Rotate the cylinder, bypassing the next empty chamber (Chamber 6) and proceeding to the second empty chamber (Chamber 1—why the skip will become evident in a moment); load one bullet into Chamber 1
  9. Continue loading the next three chambers in order (Chambers 2, 3, and 4)
  10. Close the loading gate
  11. Loaded Chamber 5 is next in line for the barrel, a.k.a., firing position
  12. Thumb back the hammer to the fully cocked position; doing this rotates loaded Chamber 5 away from the barrel
  13. Empty Chamber 6 is now in the firing position
  14. Holding the hammer back with your thumb, squeeze the trigger until the hammer releases
  15. Keeping the trigger pulled, gently lowering the hammer all the way to the frame with your thumb; failure to keep pulling the trigger will result in the hammer stopping at the half-cock loading position, which is not safe

You’re done. Your “six shooter” is now properly loaded with five bullets, and if you followed these directions the hammer is safely resting over an empty chamber and the weapon is safe to carry.

1973 Ruger Super Bearcat

Production of Ruger’s alloy-framed Bearcat was terminated in 1970 as the company retooled production in favor of an all-steel frame, and in June of 1971 the Super Bearcat was introduced. Initially, the Super Bearcat retained the anodized aluminum trigger guard, but even this was converted to steel after old stock was exhausted. Here you can see the Super Bearcat with steel frame and trigger guard beneath two previous Bearcats with alloy frames and anodized trigger guards:

Ruger “Alpha” Bearcat (top); Bearcat (middle); SuperBearcat (bottom)

During Ruger’s two-year seven-month run of the Super Bearcat, approximately 64,000 were produced. Of that number, the first 37,000 used the previous anodized trigger guard. Thus, beginning in early 1972, only the last 27,000 Super Bearcats produced had trigger guards of blued steel.

Super Bearcat with blued steel trigger guard

Ruger’s roll marks between the Bearcat and the Super Bearcat differed slightly, with addition to the latter of the weapon’s caliber and an ® indicating a registered trademark:

Ruger Super Bearcat roll mark

The Super Bearcat retained the lightly stamped Ruger eagle medallion and oiled grips that began with the previous Bearcat line beginning in 1964.

Super Bearcat oiled walnut grip with stamped medallion

And one touch that started with the original 1st edition Bearcats in 1958, continued through the 2nd edition Super Bearcat era ending in 1974, and carried on beginning with the reintroduction of the 3rd edition Bearcat in 1993 through today is an engraved cylinder:

Engraved cylinder common to all three Bearcat editions

So, how does this weapon shoot? The trigger is incredibly light, and initially the breaking of the trigger took me by surprise, but I soon got past that. I set at 10 yards/9.1 meters a target printed onto 8.5×11-inch/216x279mm standard letter-sized paper. I then loaded up and fired three full cylinders’ worth of Remington 36-grain .22 LR Plated Hollow Points, for a total of eighteen total shots. Here are the results:

Eighteen rounds at 10 yards/9.1 meters

For additional reading on both the 1st edition Ruger  Bearcat and 2nd edition Super Bearcat, I highly recommend the following great articles:

Unmodified 1973 Ruger Super Bearcat

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A Preview of Future Firearms Articles


1973 Ruger Super Bearcat

As many of you probably know, even though I concentrate on photography and travel, my most popular articles by far are on various firearms, especially those considered collectable. After my current transatlantic crossing series (the follow-on to the Baltic cruise series), I’ll be running a week of firearms articles before continuing on to another travel series.

Ruger Super Bearcat 7-20-2019 2-55-30 PM

Top to bottom: Rare “Alpha Cat” Bearcat (1960); One of the first Bearcats (1964) with oiled-walnut grips; Super Bearcat (1973)

One of these articles will feature a Ruger Super Bearcat. The Super Bearcat followed the original ‘1st Issue’ Bearcat line, and they were manufactured from late 1971 until around January 1974. The example you see here dates to 1973, and has increased rarity because it was never sent back to Ruger for the transfer bar modification (this link is to the Ruger PDF information).

1973 Ruger Super Bearcat with Super Bearcat box

During that four-year run Ruger produced 64,000 Super Bearcats. Of those 64,000, only the last 27,000 had the blued trigger guard seen in this example.

Ruger Super Bearcat with box, manual, warranty card

But the article I’m really excited about will be on this excellent example of a pre-war, 1938 or very early ’39 example of Smith & Wesson’s highly prized K-22.

Pre-war Smith & Wesson K-22 Outdoorsman

S&W made the K-22 from 1931 until late 1940, after which all manufacture was transitioned to support the war effort. From 1931 until 1939 the K-22 was known as the K-22 ‘Outdoorsman’, and 17,117 of these pistols were made. The 2nd issue of the K-22 saw 1,067 examples produced in 1940, and these were billed as the K-22 ‘Masterpiece’.

1938 or ’39 S&W K-22

I’ll know more about this K-22 Outdoorsman before writing that article, as by then I should have a history supplied by the Smith & Wesson historian on this particular example.

S&W K-22 with Magna grips (not original)

Until then, how did I manage to narrow down the date of manufacture to 1938-’39? By doing a search of the serial number, of course. When I get the history on this weapon, I’ll be able to see how close I got on my guestimate.

K-22 serial number places this toward the end of Outdoorsman production

So, that leaves you with a taste of two out of three of my upcoming firearms articles, probably coming in a couple of months. The remaining article will feature three Soviet-made, WWII-era Mosin-Nagants. Two of those will be M91/30 Izhevsk rifles made in 1938 and 1943. The last will be a special treat — an exquisite example of the Izhevsk-manufactured Mosin-Nagant M44 Carbine made in 1944.

Until then, tomorrow we’re back to Skagen, Sweden and a transatlantic adventure.

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