Most of the reviews I write for this site are done within a fairly short time of purchasing a new replica. However, I sometimes find that my initial impression changes over time. So this is the first of an occasional series where I take a look at a replica after I have owned and used it for a longer period of at least one year. Has my initial impression changed? Does it still work OK? Any problems or wear or tear? And probably most importantly, once the first excitement of ownership has worn off, is this a replica that I still shoot regularly or does it spend most of its time gathering dust at the back of the gun cabinet?
For the first in this series I’m looking once again at the Umarex Buck Mark URX which I purchased back in August 2020. You’ll find a link to the original review at the end of this one, but in brief, this is a break-barrel, single-shot, pellet shooting replica of the Browning Buck Mark target pistol produced as a licensed replica by Umarex.
The Story So Far
When my Buck Mark URX first arrived, I was impressed by its good weight and solid construction. I was less impressed when I tried to pull the trigger: straight out of the box, the pull weight was a fairly hefty eight pounds. With use, this rapidly reduced to between four and five pounds. Better, but IMHO, still a bit heavy for accurate target shooting.
I then tried a few things to try to reduce the trigger pull weight (you’ll find a link to that article at the end of this one) and it did improve, a little, though I still feel that it’s heavier than ideal.
The most important question is: do I shoot the Umarex Buck Mark URX often compared to my other replicas? And the answer is yes! I still like the same things that attracted me to this replica in the first place: i.e. I don’t need gas or CO2 and this replica is virtually unaffected by cold weather. Some of my Green Gas replicas get a bit breathless when the weather turns chilly so, over the winter, this is often the one I go to when I want a bit of paper-punching relaxation.
6 shots, 6m, freestanding, Gamo Match pellets using iron sights. Given that this is a replica rather than a specialist target-shooting air pistol, I’m happy with this group of just over 1” and I can replicate it regularly.
And it’s a satisfying target shooter. It still shoots about 1” above the point of aim at 6m, even with the rear sight adjusted as far as possible, but it’s spot-on for windage. I have also tried it with a Swiss Arms Red Dot sight fitted on the top rail, and using that optical sight it’s possible to get the point of aim and the point of impact to coincide precisely. Still feels a bit like cheating though…
The trigger pull feels much better and far lighter than it did when this replica first arrived. Now, it’s possible that is due to the changes I made, or it may simply be that the trigger action has lightened over time or it may even be that I have got used to it. Whatever, I find I can regularly put 6 pellets in or touching the black target centre circle at 6m, and that’s not something I can do with most of my other replicas.
OK, there is no blowback here and you have to load and shoot each pellet separately, but all I can say is that I find that after more than 18 months, I still enjoy shooting this one.
Wear and Tear/Technical Problems
Zip. No problems, no issues and the finish still looks almost new. There is a tiny wear point on the tip of the manual safety where the silver alloy is showing through, but it’s so small that it’s difficult to see in a photograph. The locking mechanism for the barrel is still working at 100% efficiency and nothing feels loose or worn.
I did read on another site that polishing the alloy sear can lead to accelerated wear that may cause this replica to fail to cock or to even to shoot when the safety is released. Well, I polished the sear in an effort to improve the heavy trigger pull, and I can report that mine is still working perfectly after (and I’m guessing here) somewhere between 750 – 1,000 shots since I improved the trigger pull.
Have I changed my mind since the original review?
Not really. I still feel that if the trigger pull was lighter, this would be even better. After an extended bout of shooting, I do sometimes suffer from an aching index finger. And the front sight is right where you want to grip the barrel to cock, though fortunately the barrel is long enough that you can cock it by gripping only the three inches or so between the sight and the break point.
Probably the most surprising thing for me over the last 18 months is how much I shoot this replica. I think the main factors here are accuracy and consistency. With a rifled barrel and shooting pellets, this is actually a fairly accurate air pistol. With the trigger pull improved so that it is no longer a factor, the main thing I need to address is my shooting technique. With the red-dot sight fitted, it’s all too obvious just how much the point of aim wanders around on the target. That forces me to work on my shooting technique in order to produce tighter groups, and that’s a different sort of challenge and one that I consistently enjoy.
So, would you want one?
This is an inexpensive replica and it’s just way more accurate than most BB shooters, which makes it very satisfying for target shooting. I mostly shoot at a range of 6m, but I believe that this replica would be perfectly adequate at 10m or longer range. It has been completely reliable in the eighteen months that I have owned it and is showing almost no signs of wear or distress.
After eighteen months of use, this replica still looks almost like new…
Being a break-barrel, single-shot air pistol, this is just never going to be able to replicate the functionality or feel of a firearm in the way that a CO2-powered, multi-shot replica with blowback can. However, if you are willing to accept its limitations, this is a fun shooter without the faff and fuss of CO2 or gas and it will shoot very nicely no matter how cold it is outside.
The Browning Hi Power pistol has been in continuous production for more than eighty years. During that time it has been used by military and law enforcement agencies in more than eighty countries and by both sides in World War Two, various Arab- Israeli wars, the Falklands War and the First Gulf War. No-one is certain precisely how many have been produced (especially if you include clones and copies) but there must certainly be an awful lot of Hi Powers out there. By any measure, this is a classic handgun.
What’s in a name?
Before we start talking about the Hi Power, I do want to quickly clarify what it’s actually called. Some people seem certain that it’s “Hi Power” while others are equally vehement that it’s “High Power”. In fact, both are correct. When this pistol was first offered by FN in 1935, it was sold as the “High Power”. When it was first imported into the US in 1954, it carried “Browning Arms Company” markings and was sold as the “Hi Power” to avoid confusion with the “High-Power” hunting rifle also sold in the US at that time. Since then, this pistol has been generally known as the “Hi Power” and that’s how I’ll refer to it here. Though it has also known by a bewildering array of other names: versions of the Hi Power have been identified as the P35, HP-35, FN Model 1935, GP35, Pistole 640(b), BAP (Browning Automatic Pistol) and L9A1 depending on which country they were being used by.
John Moses Browning with another of his creations: the M1917 machine gun
Prolific US gun designer John Moses Browning began work on the design of what would become the Hi Power in the early 1920s. This work was undertaken in response to a French military requirement for a new service pistol, the Grand Rendement (“High Yield”) or Grande Puissance (“High Power”) pistol. This referred not to the shooting power of the pistol but to its magazine capacity – the French requirement specified a pistol with a magazine capacity of at least ten rounds of 9mm ammunition, a higher capacity than that offered by any contemporary semi-automatic pistol. Browning’s intention was to design a full-size military sidearm that would replicate the rugged reliability of the Colt 1911 whilst addressing that pistol’s most serious shortcoming – a magazine capacity of just seven rounds. Browning died in 1926 before completing the design, but a US patent for the new pistol was applied for in 1923 and registered in 1927. The rights to the design were passed to the state-owned Belgian firearms manufacturer FN Herstal who used their Chief Designer, Dieudonné Saive, to refine and complete Browning’s initial work.
Dieudonné Saive with another of his creations: the FN-FAL Battle Rifle
The first prototype of the new pistol featured a locked-breech recoil system and a double column, sixteen round magazine. Saive continued to work on the design in the early 1930s, paying particular attention to making the grip as slim as possible. By 1931 the revised design incorporated a thirteen round, double-stacked magazine and a trigger mechanism which ran up into the slide area in order to avoid increasing the width of the grip. Ironically, the pistol was not adopted by the French Army whose requirement had first inspired the new design but, in 1935, when it was finally completed, the pistol was adopted as the principal sidearm of the Belgian Army as the FN Model 1935 Pistol.
An early Hi Power with tangent rear sight
The first production model of the Hi Power had a 4.65” barrel, weighed 35 ounces, was 7.75 inches in overall length and had a magazine capacity of 13, 9mm rounds. A small manual thumb safety was provided on the left side of the frame and a lightweight ring hammer was fitted. The pistol was single-action only and there was no grip safety as seen on the 1911, but there was a magazine disconnect safety – the pistol could not be fired if the magazine was removed. Grips were checkered wood and the rear of the frame was slotted to accept a detachable wooden shoulder stock. The front sight was a standard blade but the rear was an adjustable tangent type with graduations to allow shooting to a range of 500 meters (the very first models had graduations to 1000metres!). Many of these early Hi Powers were produced with a distinctive and attractive glossy black corrosion-resistant finish which involved applying black enamel paint over a phosphate base finish.
Early Hi Power tangent sight graduated to 500 metres. Which seems more than a little optimistic. I don’t know about you, but I can barely see a target at 500 metres, let alone attempt to hit one with a handgun.
For a pistol which has proved so popular over the years, the original version of the Hi Power had a number of serious flaws. First, the trigger action: due partly to the magazine disconnect safety, the trigger was nasty. It was heavy, the release point was indistinct and there were pronounced stages to the pull. The magazine disconnect safety also meant that on many Hi Power pistols the magazine would not drop free cleanly when the release was pressed. Reliability wasn’t great either. Until 1962, the Hi Power was produced with a tiny internal cartridge extractor which was prone to breakage. In fact, when subjected to the pressures of military grade ammunition, both the slide and frame of early Hi Powers were prone to cracking. The thirteen round magazine was one of the main selling points for the Hi Power, but users quickly came to realise that fully loading the magazine could lead to jamming and that it was actually better to load just twelve rounds.
Hi Power with shoulder stock
Add to this a hammer that was so light that it had difficulty in firing some military cartridge types, a short tang which could lead to hammer bite, a small, imprecise and difficult to operate manual safety and fixed sights which were small and difficult to read and you may be wondering why this design has lasted so long? There are probably two main answers to this. The first is obvious: magazine capacity. Compare the thirteen rounds available in a Hi Power magazine to other World War Two era service pistols. You got just six rounds in the British Webley Revolver, seven in the US Colt 1911A1 and eight in the Russian Tokarev TT-33, the German P-08 (Luger), its replacement the Walther P-38 and the Japanese Nambu. That gave the Hi Power a distinct firepower advantage over most comparable service pistols in the 1930s and 1940s and it wasn’t until the 1970s/80s that other semi-automatic pistols began to catch up in terms of magazine capacity.
The other reason that the original Hi Power proved so popular is a little more difficult to define: Feel. The word “ergonomics” wasn’t being commonly used when John Moses Browning was designing handguns, but he and Dieudonné Saive certainly understood what it meant. Pick up a Hi Power (or a decent replica) and I think you’ll see what I mean. It feels perfectly balanced and the grip will comfortably fit almost anyone with average-sized hands. Because of this, the Hi Power is generally recognised as one of the easiest to control semi-automatic 9mm pistols. It’s also one of the only true single action 9mm semi- automatic pistols available and field stripping and re-assembly are as simple as they are on the 1911.
Hi Power Mark III
Despite its shortcomings, production of the original Hi Power continued up the early 1980s. However, there were numerous minor changes during that time – the ridiculous tangent rear sight and the slot in the frame to take a shoulder stock were dropped as standard fitment immediately after World War Two (though Hi Powers with tangent rear sights were still available up to the 1980s). From 1962 the fragile internal extractor was replaced with a more robust external unit and from around 1965 the ring hammer was replaced by a heavier, conventional spur hammer. In the early 80s the Mark II version appeared which had polymer grips, a larger, ambidextrous manual safety and easier to read three-dot sights. In 1988 the Mark III was released which also had a distinctive glossy black, epoxy finish and a firing pin safety.
If you want a little more bling, what about a Hi Power Renaissance, hand-engraved in the FN Factory
There have been a number of variations on the basic Hi Power design over the years including the HP-DA which shoots in double as well as single action, versions chambered for .30” Luger and .40” S&W rounds and a lightweight version with an aluminum alloy frame. However, only the standard steel framed Mark III in 9mm is still being manufactured and it continues to sell more than eighty years after this pistol was first introduced.
Initial production of the Hi Power was done at the FN factory in Herstal from 1935 and around 35,000 were produced by the time World War Two began in September 1939. In 1940, Belgium was over-run by German forces and more than 300,000 Hi Powers were manufactured while the Herstal plant was under German control.
An Inglis Hi Power with fixed sights – note the “hump-backed” slide
In 1940 licensed production of the Hi Power also began in Canada at the John Inglis and Company plant in Toronto. Inglis produced two versions of the Hi Power: one with the tangent rear sight and shoulder stock mounting (mainly for a contract to supply Nationalist Chinese forces) and one with more conventional rear sights and without the shoulder stock slot. The latter version of the Inglis Hi Power incorporated a distinctive (and ugly) hump-backed slide, the only version of the Hi Power to have this feature. More than 150,000 Hi Powers were produced by Inglis in 1944 and 1945.
Assembly of Hi Powers at the Inglis plant
After the end of World War Two, production continued at the FN works in Herstal in addition to licensed production in Argentina and unlicensed copies were produced in a number of other countries including Hungary, Israel and Indonesia. No- one is quite certain how many have been manufactured over the years – most estimates suggest the FN factory alone produced over 1.5 million Hi Powers with unknown numbers of copies and clones being produced elsewhere.
An FEG Model PJK-9HP, a Hungarian copy of the original Hi Power
The Hi Power is still being manufactured and sold by Browning in the US. Two versions are currently available: the Mark III with black epoxy finish and plastic grips and the Standard with a polished, blued finish and walnut grips. The Standard is available with either fixed sights or that 500m tangent sight.
Waffen-SS Panzergrenadiers in 1944. The soldier second from the right is holding a Pistole 640(b)
The first use of the Hi Power as a military sidearm was by the Belgian Army in 1935. German airborne and Waffen-SS forces also used Hi Powers manufactured while the Herstal plant was under German control as the Pistole 640(b) during World War Two (though it was also known in German service as the P35). British airborne forces used Inglis Hi Powers in 1944/1945 as did special forces units such as the British SAS and the American OSS.
Even Russian forces used the Hi Power during World War Two. Here a group of partisans are being trained in the use of the Hi Power.
In 1954 the Hi Power was adopted as the standard sidearm of the British Army (as the L9A1) and by the army of the Republic of Ireland (as the BAP). Many more countries began to adopt the Hi Power during the 50s until it became virtually the standard sidearm of European NATO forces. By the sixties it was easier to highlight armies which didn’t use the Hi Power – more than eighty (some sources say ninety) countries officially adopted this pistol during this time.
A soldier of the Parachute Regiment holding an L9A1 around 1960
It wasn’t until the 80s and 90s that use of the Hi Power began to decline as newer semi-automatic pistol designs finally began to adopt high capacity, double column magazines as standard. Even then, the Hi Power remained in use in some parts of the world, as it still does.
Hi Power replicas
WE 6mm Inglis Hi Power
Given how popular the cartridge firing version is, it’s surprising that there aren’t more replicas of the Hi Power. WE make a 6mm, gas powered, blowback replica of an Inglis Hi Power, complete with hump-backed slide, 500 yard tangent sight, imitation wood grips and a frame slotted to take a shoulder stock. This does seem to be a surprising subject for a replica – Inglis Hi Powers with tangent sights and shoulder stock slots were produced in limited numbers and mainly for China. If you’re going to the time and trouble to produce a Hi Power replica, why not go for one of the far more common later FN versions? The WE Hi Power is a functionally and visually faithful replica, but it has been around for some time now and it isn’t as accurate a shooter or as reliable as more modern WE replicas. I owned a WE Hi Power many year ago and it didn’t shoot particularly well and was prone to both leaking and jamming.
Tanaka 6mm Hi Power Mark III. Looks superb and is a great functional replica but not such a good shooter.
I also owned a beautiful Tanaka 6mm, gas powered, blowback replica of a Mark III Hi Power which was visually and functionally spot-on, but was constructed mainly of plastic and shot with little power and indifferent accuracy (the same as most of the Tanaka replicas I have owned in fact). Given Tanaka’s somewhat haphazard approach to production, you won’t be surprised to learn that it’s also very difficult to find one of their Hi Power replicas. Tanaka also produce a blowback replica of an original Hi Power complete with tangent sights and imitation wood grips, but I have never actually seen one of these so I can’t say if it’s any better as a shooter.
Umarex Hi Power Mark III. A powerful and accurate 4.5mm steel BB shooter but it’s mainly plastic, the slide is fixed and that CO2 loading tab is pretty ugly
If you fancy a 4.5mm Hi Power the most popular option is the CO2 powered Umarex Hi Power Mark III. This has pros and cons. It’s a licensed replica which includes Browning Arms Company markings, it’s a decent visual replica and the ambidextrous manual safety works as per the original. It’s also fairly powerful (over 400fps is claimed) and very accurate for a BB shooter. However, construction is mainly plastic so it’s rather light, the slide does not move and the slide release is moulded in place and has no function. The look of this replica is also spoiled somewhat by the large plastic CO2 loading tab in the base of the grip.
Chrome version of the EKOL ES66
If you’re lucky (or unlucky) you may be able to find an EKOL ES66. This is (or was – I don’t know if these are still made) a Turkish manufactured, CO2 powered replica which shoots 4.5mm steel BBs and looks a little like the Hi Power, though it’s not a precise replica and like the Umarex version it has a visible CO2 loading tab in the base of the magazine. The ES66 is available in chrome and black finish, is of mainly metal construction and has good weight and balance. The slide moves (though only with the magazine removed) but this isn’t a blowback replica and the slide release catch is non-functional. Another notable feature of the ES66 is that it doesn’t have a manual safety – what looks like an ambidextrous safety is actually just a de-cocker. And as a shooter, it isn’t very nice at all. Claimed power is around 350fps but accuracy is truly awful – groups of 10”and over at 6m are not unknown.
Once again, we have a popular and influential handgun which is very poorly represented in terms of replicas. All of the Hi Power replicas mentioned above have issues and we lack any good, recent blowback replicas of the later versions of this pistol. Given how many replicas there are of various iterations of the 1911 and Beretta 92, it seems very surprising that there aren’t more Hi Power replicas around.
Another view of my Tanaka Mark III – a blowback Hi Power replica as good as this that also shot well would do very nicely, thank you.
So, come on someone (KWC, I’m looking at you!), what about giving us a decent, reliable, accurate, blowback replica of this popular and long-lived handgun. I know I’d want one!
When Browning offered Colt the design for what would become the FN 1910, they turned it down, presumably because it was felt to be too similar to the existing Colt 1903/1908 Hammerless Pocket Pistol. Browning then offered the same design to FN who readily accepted it. Unlike the Colt Model 1903 which it resembled, the 1910 incorporated an internal striker, similar to that used in the FN 1906/Colt 1908 Vest Pocket Pistol. Like those earlier pistols, it also had a manual safety on the left side of the frame (which could also be used to prop the slide back), a grip safety and a magazine release in the heel of the grip. The slide did not lock back when the last round was fired and no slide release was provided.
When it was first offered for sale, this model was simply described as the New Model Browning Automatic Pistol (to distinguish it from the existing FN 1900 which became known as the Old Model), and the designation Model 1910 wasn’t introduced until the 1920s. The 1910 was initially offered in .32ACP (7.65mm) calibre though a .380ACP (9mm Short) version was added soon after. Both versions were externally identical. Several versions of the 1910 were produced. Most lacked conventional sights, being provided only with a wide groove milled in to the top of the slide, though some models produced after 1922 had small, fixed sights similar to the sights on the Colt 1903.
Spanish Danton Pistol, very similar to the FN1910
Its small size and the lack of a hammer or sharp edges made the FN 1910 a popular concealed carry weapon and it was used by a number of European police forces in the period up to the beginning of World War Two. This pistol was also scaled up to produce the otherwise identical FN Model 1922. During the war, the FN factory was occupied by Germany and large numbers of FN 1910/Model 1922s were produced and used to equip German armed forces. Production of these models continued after the war up to 1975 and around 750,000 were produced in total. The popularity of the 1910 led to the production of a number of copies, including the Bufalo and Danton pistols in Spain, the German DWM, the Bayard and Melior in Belgium and the Praga in Czechoslovakia.
FN Model 1922, basically a scaled-up FN Model 1910
This pistol became famous (or perhaps infamous is a better word) when a young Bosnian Serb called Gavrilo Princip, used a .380ACP FN 1910 to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro Hungarian Empire and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo. One month later, this event led directly to the outbreak of World War One. The FN 1910 was also used in the fatal shooting of French President Paul Doumer in 1932 and was said to have been involved in the killing of US Presidential hopeful and Governor of Louisiana Huey Long in 1935.
There is, as far as I am aware, only one shooting replica of the FN1910 and that’s the spring powered, 6mm Smart K-17. Not a great replica, but not terrible either despite having a conventional sights and a pivoted rather than a sliding trigger.
Colt Model 1911
Classic. Seminal. Iconic. Choose your superlative – you won’t be wrong. Browning’s Colt Model 1911 was so clearly right in every way that it had a huge influence on subsequent semi-automatic handgun design and virtually every semi-auto that followed was no more than a variation on this original theme. But, here’s the thing: If you have been following this series of articles, you’ll realise that this design wasn’t the result a single flash of inspirational genius, it was a logical progression from Browning’s earlier designs and a direct response to the rejection by the US Military of the Colt Models 1900 and 1902.
This World War Two poster features a GI with a Colt 1911
The purpose of the new design was to win trials at which the US Army would be choosing a new sidearm, so it was targeted very specifically at meeting army requirements. The army had felt that the Models 1900 and 1902 were underpowered, so the new pistol would be chambered for the more powerful .45” ACP round. The army had felt that the 1900 and 1902 were clumsy, heavy and unbalanced, so the new pistol would be smaller and better balanced. The army had felt that both earlier models were too prone to accidental discharge, so the new pistol would be provided with both a manual and a grip safety. The army had insisted on the Model 1902 Military having a mechanism that locked slide back on empty and a slide release, so the new pistol would have both of these features. The army approved of pistols that could be stripped without tools, so the new pistol would have the removable barrel bushing from the Model 1902 Sporting Model.
An early M1911
The US Army also had a significant number of cavalry units (as did virtually every other contemporary army) and this raised further requirements. A cavalry trooper must be able to use a pistol with one hand, so all the controls on the new pistol had to be operable while holding the pistol in the right hand. A manual safety high on the left side of the frame had been used on several previous Browning pistols and this can readily be operated by the thumb of the right hand, so that would be used on the new pistol. Cavalry pistols also needed to be drop-safe, even with the safety disengaged, so the new pistol would incorporate the grip safety first seen on the Model 1903 Hammerless.
A later M1911A1
The requirement for one-handed use also led to the only really new feature of the Colt 1911, the button style magazine release on the left side of the frame. All previous Browning designs had used a magazine release in the heel of the grip which required the use of two hands but the new style of release could be operated with just the thumb of the right hand. This wasn’t something completely new – the Parabellum P08 (Luger) pistol already had a similar arrangement, but it was a first on a Browning pistol. So, you can see that the Colt Model 1911 wasn’t so much something entirely new as a synthesis of the best features of previous Browning designs. However, it was the first time all these things had come together in a single pistol and the result revolutionised semi-automatic handgun design.
US soldiers in World War One proudly display their Colt 1911s
A great deal has been written about the success of the 1911, so I’m not going to go into too much detail here. It was adopted by the US Army and remained the principal sidearm of that organisation for seventy-five years. It became very popular in civilian hands too (at least in the US) it it’s still possible to buy something very like the original 1911 now. The reasons for its success are easy to understand: the 1911 was easy to use, simple, rugged, powerful, its slim grip suited a range of hand sizes and it was relatively inexpensive to manufacture. Was it perfect? Of course not. The magazine held just seven of the fat .45” ACP rounds, some people found the stretch to the trigger to be too long, the sights were rather small and hammer bite was an occasional issue for unwary shooters. However, all of these things (with the exception of limited magazine capacity) were addressed in the refinements seen in the M1911A1 introduced in 1927.
Something a little different – one of the few photographs of the planned FN Grand Browning, a scaled-down version of the Colt 1911
The Model 1911 didn’t make John Moses Browning famous. He was already famous when this pistol was released. But it did assure him of a place in the pantheon of truly great designers. And it made Colt a very great deal of money. Oddly, the 1911 didn’t sell particularly well outside America, probably because the .45” ACP round just wasn’t so popular elsewhere. FN had plans to introduce a pistol called the FN Grand Browning, basically a 7/8th size copy of the 1911 chambered for a new 9.65mm round. However, production was limited to a few prototypes and plans to introduce this pistol were abandoned completely during World War One.
Umarex Colt Government 1911A1
Unlike all the other pistols discussed in this series of articles, there are simply so many versions of the Colt 1911 available as replicas that it’s impossible to list them all here. You can have a vintage replica air pistol based on the 1911 or if you’re looking for something more current you can have a CO2 powered pellet shooting version (The Umarex Colt Government 1911A1), many, many gas and CO2 versions in 6 and 4.5mm, with and without blowback and even spring powered versions. Virtually every model of the 1911 from the original M1911 to modern Hi-Cap and railed versions are available as replicas. You’ll find links below to some 1911 replica reviews on this site.
The Colt 1911 was the final semi-auto pistol designed wholly by John Moses Browning. However, before he died he was responsible for the initial design work on two more pistols which would achieve lasting fame.
Colt advertising from early 1915 drawing attention to the release of a new model.
Even as the Colt 1911 was being accepted by the US Army, Browning was working on a quite different design, this time for a .22” semi-auto target pistol using rimfire LR cartridges. Up to this time, no-one had been able to make a semi-auto which reliably fed the tiny .22 rounds. The problem was that these rounds had a pronounced rim and, when they were stacked in a magazine, the rims tended to interleave, catching on one another as the top round was fed to the breech. Like all the really great ideas, Browning’s solution to this problem was so simple and obviously right that it seems incredible that no-one else had thought of it before. All Browning did was to design a magazine that was slanted at an angle of around 25°. This meant that the rim of each round was slightly in front of the rim of the round stacked below, allowing reliable feeding.
An early Sport Model
Browning sold the design for this pistol to Colt in 1911. His initial design was then refined by two Colt Engineers, F.C. Chadwick and G.H. Tansley, and the new pistol went into production in 1915 as the Colt Automatic Pistol Caliber .22 Target Model (the name Woodsman wasn’t applied to this model until 1927). The pistol was single action only, had a grip slanted to match the ten round magazine, a short slide which ended above the trigger, a manual safety on the left side of the frame and a magazine catch in the heel of the grip. Both front and rear sights were adjustable. This wasn’t a hammerless design – like the Colt Model 1903 Hammerless Pocket Pistol, a hammer was hidden inside the rear of the slide. The new pistol was sold in three variants: the Sport Model had a 4½” barrel, the Target Model had a 6” or 6½” barrel and the top-of-the-line Match Target Model had a much heavier, flat-sided 6” or 6½” barrel.
Series 2 Target Model
The new pistol was an immediate commercial success for Colt who went on to produce three distinct series, each incorporating minor improvements (the second series, for example, made from 1947 – 1955, had a slide release and a button style magazine release on the left of the frame) until production finally ended in 1977. Around 700,000 examples of the Colt Woodsman were produced in total. The majority were civilian sales though during World War Two examples were used by the OSS (the forerunner of the CIA) who were to experimenting with the use of sound suppressors.
As far as I know, there are no current gas or CO2 powered replicas of the Colt Woodsman of any kind. A great pity because this is another of those Browning designs which I’d love to see as a fully-functional blowback replica. If you like vintage air pistols, there was the Plainsman, a BB shooting, CO2 powered pistol manufactured from 1969 – 1980 by US Company Healthways which was (sort of) a replica of the Woodsman. In the 1980s a Japanese company called Falcon Toy made a 6mm, metal, spring powered, shell ejecting 6mm replica of the Woodsman Series 3 Match Target Model, but very few of these are still around today.
I have also seen photographs of what I think is a current Chinese, spring powered Woodsman Series 2 or 3 Sport Model replica, but I have never actually handled one of these and I know nothing about this replica at all.
A Chinese, spring powered Colt Woodsman replica. Probably.
However, there is a neglected and, in my opinion, undervalued replica which comes close. This is the Umarex Buck Mark URX, a pellet shooting, single shot, break barrel springer. It’s a replica of the Browning Buck Mark target pistol which is itself a .22” LR development of Browning’s original design for the Woodsman. The Umarex URX isn’t especially powerful (295fps is claimed) but it is very accurate and satisfying to shoot though it does have a very heavy trigger. Until something better comes along, this is as close as replicas shooters can currently get to the Woodsman experience.
By 1926, seventy-one year old Browning was tired. That was unsurprising. He was travelling regularly from Utah to Liege in Belgium. Nowadays, that might take a day or so, but back in the 1920s the return journey by land and sea could take anything up to twenty days. Browning made this gruelling trip 61 times between 1900 and 1925, spending the equivalent of almost three years of his life travelling between Europe and the US. On November 26th, 1926 Browning was working at his desk in the design office in the Herstal factory. He had been complaining of chest pains for several hours and when he started to feel faint, he went and lay on a couch in a nearby office being used by his son Val. “Son, I wouldn’t be surprised if I am dying”, he said. Tragically he was right and within minutes John Moses Browning was dead.
An early Browning Hi Power
Before he died, Browning had presented FN with two prototypes of a new pistol design he was working on. This was an attempt to produce a military sidearm chambered for the 9mm round which would overcome one of the main drawbacks of the 1911 – its limited magazine capacity. After his death, these designs were worked on by Dieudonné Saive (Browning’s assistant who later went on to become Chief Designer for FN) and developed into the Browning Hi Power in 1935. I won’t go into too much detail here about that pistol because I have already written a separate article on the development of the Hi Power – you’ll find a link below. It’s probably enough to say that the Hi Power was developed over the years to remove some early problems and went on to become a very widely used military sidearm which is still in production today.
There are a few Hi Power replicas available. Tanaka and WE produce gas powered, blowback 6mm versions and Umarex and Turkish EKOL produce CO2 powered 4.5mm, non-blowback versions. However, none of these are without issues and given the vast range of 1911 replicas, it’s surprising that there aren’t more replicas of the Hi Power.
A reciprocating slide incorporating an ejector and an ejection port and which locks back when the last shot is fired. Field stripping without the need for tools. Double column magazines. These are just some of the things that we now take for granted in the design of semi-automatic pistols but they can all be traced back to the work of John Moses Browning and most were produced during a burst of creative energy that spanned a twelve year period at the end of the Nineteenth Century and the beginning of the Twentieth.
John Moses Browning (and Mr Burton of Winchester) examine a Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) in 1921
Three of Browning’s pistol designs (The Colt 1911, Browning Hi Power and Colt 1903 Pocket Hammerless) are still in production and still being used today. Genius is a grossly overused term nowadays, but I don’t think anyone could object if you called Browning both a genius and the person single-handedly responsible for the way that modern semi-auto pistols look and function.
One of the things that writing this series of articles prompted me to think about is the range of currently available replicas. There are certainly far more shooting replicas now than there were, say, ten years ago. But these, and especially blowback replicas, seem to focus on variants of a relatively few models (mainly the Colt 1911, Beretta 92, Sig P226 and Glock) and there are still notable gaps. I think many replica collectors and shooters would welcome new replicas and especially replicas of historic pistols – just look at the popularity of existing replicas of historic pistols such as the Colt SAA, Makarov and Luger for example. Let’s hope that in the future, replica manufacturers start to look beyond the 1911 to give us replicas of some of John Moses Browning’s other classic semi-auto pistol designs. What about a blowback Colt Model 1903 Hammerless? Or a Colt Model 1900? Or an FN Model 1910? Or a blowback Colt Woodsman? Hell yes!