The famed Colt Woodsman lives on in this classic .22 semiauto pistol.
Browning Buck Marks are affordable, high-quality .22 handguns. Introduced in 1985, they’re accurate and fun to shoot. Recently, I brought a 5 1/2-inch bull-barreled Buck Mark Target pistol to a Montana prairie dog shoot. I planned on switching to the Buck Mark when I grew tired of gunning rodents across the county line with a pair of .223 and .22-250 varmint rifles.
The Buck Mark Target pistol sports a full-length rib resembling a Picatinny rail, making it easy to mount a Bushnell Holosight. With the Holosight attached and fired from a sandbag rest, the Target Pistol regularly printed five-shot groups measuring just under an inch at 50 yards.
My test gun sported a crisp 2 3/4-pound trigger and had absolutely no feeding problems with Winchester Power-Point or CCI Mini Mag loads. The Buck Mark/Holosight combo counted coup on several prairie dogs incautious enough to show themselves at reasonable rimfire range.
During that shoot, I’d set my rifles aside for an hour or two each day. This gave me a chance to get rid of the crick in my neck caused by spending too much time hunched over a rifle stock. Walking and stalking provided a welcome respite from mornings spent at the bench.
It took both time and patience to get close enough to plink a prairie dog with my .22. I’d casually edge toward one standing on its mound until it got nervous and popped into its hole. As soon as one did this, I’d hurry forward until I’d shortenend the range to 30-40 yards or closer.
Then I’d take a comfortable seat, rest the Buck Mark on a Steady-Stix bipod, and quietly wait for the dog to reappear. Curiosity usually coaxed the rodent out of its hole within 10 or 15 minutes. I had to shoot quickly, before the critter realized it wasn’t alone.
This tactic paid off maybe 60 percent of the time. Failures occurred when the dog’s reactions were quicker than mine. Once the animal disappeared for a second time, I’d move on.
The Browning Buck Mark has a long, classic heritage. In 1914, John M. Browning invented the Colt .22 Automatic Target Pistol, which was renamed the Colt Woodsman in 1927. Browning’s .22 pistol featured an innovative blow-back design sporting a half-length slide that cycled rearward from a fixed barrel. More than 690,000 of these famously slim, trim pistols were produced before the gun was discontinued.
Bruce Browning incorporated some of the features his grandfather developed when he announced a new Nomad pistol a half century after the Colt Woodsman first appeared. Made in Belgium by Fabrique Nationale, the Nomad became so costly to manufacture, it was eventually dropped.
John Val Browning, then company president, replaced the Nomad with the Challenger, a gun that could be produced at considerably less cost by using investment castings and other modern manufacturing methods. The Challenger II and Challenger III incorporated additional changes, including an alloy frame that further reduced weight and production costs.
In 1985, Browning’s chief designer, Joe Badali, now retired, created the first Buck Mark pistol. This wasn’t an entirely new design, he pointed out, as it was closely related to Browning’s original Woodsman.
Not an import, Buck Mark pistols are manufactured to tight Browning specifications by Arms Technology Inc. in Salt Lake City, Utah. Frames are CNC-machined from a solid block of aircraft-grade aluminum. Chamber uniformity is maintained by hand reaming, and sears are stoned for smoothness. Triggers are designed to operate creep-free.
Badali designed a new sight for the Buck Mark. Made of sintered metal, the sight is tougher and more durable than the one it replaced. In addition, windage and elevation adjustments feature 33 percent more clicks per revolution for extra precision. The sight is mounted on a rib extending from the top of the receiver, and remains stationary as the slide cycles during feeding and ejection.
I’ve used many Browning Buck Marks over the years. All have been extremely reliable and exceptionally accurate. New versions appear almost every year. No fewer than 24 different Buck Marks are listed on Browning’s website, including three new Buck Mark Plus UDX models featuring finger-groove grips and Truglo/Marbles’ easy-to-see fiber-optic front sights.
Today’s Buck Mark pistols range in price from the $300 matte-blue Camper model to the Buck Mark Bullseye Target Stainless, which lists at a hefty $656. Weight varies from the 25-ounce matte-blue Challenge, to the 39-ounce Bullseye URX and Target Stainless.
A Buck Mark Standard Model I’ve been using produces 1 3/8-inch five-shot groups at 25 yards with Remington target loads. These groups were fired over open sights (a challenge to my aging eyes), with the pistol rested two-handed over my upraised knees.
My current favorite is the Buck Mark Lite Splash 5.5 URX Browning introduced in 2006. This model features a steel barrel inside a lightweight aluminum sleeve. Both sleeve and receiver wear a matte-black finish along with distinctive “gold splash” anodizing that really sets this handgun apart.
This gun’s trigger breaks crisply at an even 4 pounds. That’s a little heavy for serious target work, but just about right for a field gun used for plinking and hunting small game.
Like other Buck Mark pistols I’ve used over the years, the Lite Splash sports a slide that’s scalloped and grooved along its upper portion. This was intended to provide a no-slip grip when you manually cycle the action. This didn’t work all that well on early Buck Marks I tried. Unless I concentrated on gripping hard, my fingers would slide off before I finished yanking back the slide. Browning has now added a pair of “ears” that project on either side of the slide, immediately behind the slotted groove. This has made a world of difference in ease of operation.
Accuracy is on a par with other Buck Marks I’ve owned or used — in other words, it’s a real tack driver. The original Colt Woodsman was famed for its “pointability” and exceptional reliability. The Buck Mark includes many of its ancestor’s features. I’d love to own an original Woodsman, but the Buck Mark is a worthy replacement.
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This article was first printed in the November 2007 edition of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine. Subscribe today to have GunHunter delivered to your home.