As a teenager, I had an opportunity to shoot a friend’s High Standard H-D pistol. This was the model with the exposed hammer, which I thought was cool because I was saturated with all the television westerns of the 1950’s, and all those guns had visible hammers. The friend also offered to sell the H-D model, but being totally committed to “the cowboy way,” I was saving my coins for a new Ruger Single Six. As a result the High Standard slipped from my grasp for what would turn out to be more than half a century, and while I was always disappointed, I realized I had made a conscious choice, and I shared some wonderful memories with that little Ruger throughout our years together. As a junior officer in the Air Force, I shot a few bullseye matches during the 1960s. Although the pistols we used were excellent, certainly well beyond my novice abilities, I always felt a tinge of envy when one of the other shooters pulled a Colt Match Target 22 from his pistol box for the rimfire stage of the match. It didn’t matter whether he won the match or finished last; what mattered was that he had the most elegant .22 pistol I’d ever seen.
Even more, it had the Colt logo emblazoned on the side, and nothing symbolized American handguns more than Colt. The dream to own one sprang to life and waited for more than four decades to become a reality. And now, after all the years, I was staring at both guns in the Elite Firearms case trying to decide whether it was my eyes or my memory that was playing tricks on me. I had both pistols pulled from the case for a quick inspection. This was not a serious value appraisal; I knew that if both guns were the real deal they would be going home with me. I’m a shooter, not a collector, and this looked like my opportunity to acquire two of the guns I’d missed in my youth to share some late-in-life field adventures. It wasn’t until I got home and pulled the reference books that I was able to identify specific model characteristics.
High Standard H-D
The High Standard has a serial number in the 173,000 range, meaning it’s a Model H-D Military made between 1945 and 1950. Interestingly it was not made for the government as a training gun but rather sold on the civilian market. This gun has the checkered walnut grips and external safety but not the trigger stop that was installed on later models. It has the H-D external hammer with both a full-cock and half-cock position. This model has the longer 6.75-inch round barrel (which I like on a field gun that will be used on small game and varmints) and an excellent bore.
The rear face of the front sight blade is vertical and has serrations to eliminate reflection and reduce glare. The rear sight appears quite rugged and is adjustable for windage and elevation but with only minor changes in elevation possible. The rear sight blade is enclosed by two half- moon shaped ears and rotates between a vertical position (highest elevation position) and about 45 degrees to the rear (lowest elevation position.) The sight picture is very crisp and precise.
The magazine release latch is on the bottom of the frame in the European style, rather than having a thumb release at the rear of the triggerguard in the American tradition. That strikes me as an odd choice for a handgun designed to prepare troops for the 1911, but it will work fine for my more recreational lifestyle. There are a few “goobers” on the H-D, but the bluing is original if slightly worn in places. Both pistols had serrations at the rear of the slides, a feature particularly appreciated on the H-D since it had no means of locking the slide to the rear.
Colt Match Target
When I first put my hands on the Colt Match Target in the store, it’s possible I started drooling a little. This was the classic bullseye match dream gun. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t shot a bullseye match in decades; the dream far outweighed the reality, and I was not going to miss this opportunity. Again, it was after arriving home that I really started to identify the model and time frame from which it came.
The 31st Edition of the Blue Book of Gun Values lists this Colt as a Woodsman 2nd Series Match Target Model. With its 6-inch heavy barrel and “S” suffix serial number it was manufactured between 1947 and 1955. The front sight blade is distinctly undercut on the top portion (that part that you see in the rear sight notch) with the bottom part of the blade even more severely angled into the base. The rear sight is the Colt Master Sight, which was introduced in 1953. The rear sight blade is enclosed in and protected from bumps by a solid piece of steel. The entire sight structure is fully adjustable for elevation while the blade insert is moved within the “steel sandwich” for changes in windage.
Unlike the High Standard, the Colt has a slide stop on the left side of the frame that locks the slide back after the last shot is fired from the magazine. And in keeping with the American style, the magazine release button is located on the left side of the frame behind the triggerguard. Bluing wear is roughly comparable to that on the High Standard (but with fewer “goobers”), which is okay because both guns will be traveling with me to places and pastures much more fun than a typical range. The only puzzle is the set of grips on the gun. The Blue Book said that all these models had one of two kinds of plastic grips, yet my new Colt is wearing a pair of nicely grained walnut grips. No problem; I still like wood, particularly when there’s an opportunity for showing off. Nor would it have mattered had I known these details at the store. The presence of blue steel and wood along with the absence of plastic are things I can’t resist. Throw in the fact that the gun hasn’t been produced in over half a century, and there was no way I was walking out of the store unencumbered.
It was probably my imagination, but when I packed the guns and headed for the indoor range, there seemed to be an extra spring in my step. This trip wasn’t about training myself to handle a life-threatening situation; it was simply about having fun, the same emotion that hooked me on firearms many decades ago. Nor was this range visit a serious data collection endeavor but rather a trip back in time to capture some moments I’d missed. I placed both guns and a 100-round box of CCI Green Tag ammunition on the firing line table, ran the target to 50 feet and proceeded to shoot off hand.
Years of defensive pistol training and a few thousand magnum handgun loads on steel silhouettes had wiped away any ability I might have once had shooting one-handed in the classic bullseye stance. I established a firm, two-handed grip, leaned my hips into the table for extra steadiness, and began shooting. Those two classic handguns hadn’t lost a step in the half-century since they were built. Although my eyes no longer do well in the dimmer lighting of an indoor range, five- shot groups typically ran from 1.25 inches to just over 1.5 inches from both guns with the High Standard’s best group being less than 0.9 inches and the Colt turning in a group just under an inch.
I don’t normally hold a sight picture at the bottom of the black bullseye, but this old target shooting technique does provide a white background, which makes for a brighter sight picture. The smallest groups with both guns resulted from the use of this technique. Upping my firing rate to something like one round per second still produced groups between 2 and 2.5 inches. Oh, the joy of shooting a .22 rimfire with its minimal recoil!
The only hiccups were brought on by my own inexperience handling of the guns. Specifically, when inserted into the gun, the base of the Colt magazine is slightly recessed while the base of the High Standard magazine is flush with the frame. Bumping the magazine bases with the heel of the support hand did not always fully seat the magazine, particularly on the Colt. An upward push with the off- hand thumb solved the problem, and while this might be regarded as a disability on a self-defense pistol, I consider it a non- issue on these particular guns. Both guns have excellent, crisp trigger pulls with the Colt being about a pound lighter than the H-D. Measured on my Lyman scale, the H-D averaged 3.6 pounds while the Colt measured 2.4 pounds. I could feel the difference when switching from gun to gun, and in fact preferred the Colt’s trigger, but I’d be happy venturing forth with either.
While I still have much to learn about my new treasures and their abilities with other brands of .22 ammunition, one thing is crystal clear. Both guns will accompany me on next summer’s outing to the Spur Ranch in Wyoming, my all-time favorite varmint-hunting destination. Between now and then, I’ll check out some of the newer, high velocity .22 rimfire ammunition to see how well these old timers handle it. But whether the results are good or bad, there will be some CCI green in the truck to ensure the trip is successful. I also need to test some of the new generation of lead-free .22 ammunition that is now required for ground squirrel hunting in the California Condor areas. Yes sir, one way or another these two new/old guns will see some fun field duty.
You probably figured out early in this dialog that this latest acquisition of mine was neither well planned nor well thought out. Upon seeing those two guns in the display case with their precisely fitted blue steel components and wood grips, I simply lost control. Did I acquire two serious collector items? No, but I did acquire two classics that had escaped me for years, and not only will we shoot together, we will share new adventures and build memories. It is said that opportunity only knocks once, but for me it not only knocked twice, it knocked twice in one day.