June 14, 2022
The .22 semiauto pistol has always had an outsized place on the American shooting scene, one far out of proportion to its bore size. This applies whether you’re talking about small game hunting, plinking, informal target shooting or serious competitive endeavors.
In fact, many of America’s most storied gun guys—shooters most often associated with the big stuff—used them. Ernest Hemingway was a fan of the Colt Woodsman and owned several, so was legendary African professional hunter Harry Selby. Jeff Cooper liked the Walther PP in .22 Long Rifle.
These men appreciated the field advantages of a good .22 pistol: a relatively low noise signature; no recoil to speak of; small-game-getting capability with minimal meat destruction; and the obvious advantage of a 50-round box of .22 ammo that took up little space and weighed far less than a 20-round box of anything of the centerfire persuasion.
Like any successful concept in firearms, .22 semiauto pistols ran the gamut from relatively inexpensive “field models” to serious competitive items capable of amazing groups. Colt had its Woodsman, Smith & Wesson had the Model 41, and Ruger made hay with its Standard. And then, of course, there were the products of the late, lamented High Standard.
High Standard History
From 1926 to 1984, this company was revered for its .22 pistols, although by no means was that the extent of its product line over the years. Most of High Standard’s top-end target pistols were in the Supermatic series, including the Supermatic, Supermatic Citation and Supermatic Trophy and the .22 Short-chambered Supermatic Olympic. All featured removable barrel weights, fully adjustable sights and match-grade triggers. And they weren’t inexpensive. In 1982 the suggested retail price on the Trophy was $332, putting it in league, at the time, with S&W’s Model 41.
As impressive as these paper-punching classics were, what I was most interested in were the company’s less-expensive field models. These were generally fixed-sight guns, albeit drift adjustable for windage, that were far more packable yet were still accurate enough. Actually, as I found out at the range, they were more than accurate enough for small game, plinking and informal target work. I borrowed a pair of vintage specimens from my shooting buddy John Wightman. One was a 4.5-inch Model 103 Sport King, which was introduced in 1950 and discontinued in 1976. The other was a 6.5-inch Model B, which was introduced in 1936 and discontinued six years later.
Both fit the definition of a trail gun, namely a handy companion for the small game hunter, hiker or angler—as well as the recreational shooter. They are lightweight, no-frills rimfires designed for informal target practice and small game. Tracking down the dates of manufacture of various High Standard models and series is no easy task, but Steve Schrott of the High Standard Collectors’ Association dug up the following info for this article. The Model B—the company’s seminal hammerless design—was a prewar gun, although a few leftovers were sold after 1945. This particular specimen made it out just prior to Pearl Harbor in October 1941. The gun’s lines are simple, slender and, for lack of a better term, graceful.
The tale of the Sport King is a bit more involved. Here’s what I learned from the collector group. It is a Model 103 or Series 103 and was considered a field pistol rather than a target gun because it has no trigger adjustment, no rear-sight elevation adjustment and the straps were smooth. This particular specimen was shipped on February 16, 1962.
Interestingly, by 1970 the suggested retail on the High Standard Sport King was $65, still a few bucks below the $72 price tag on a Colt Huntsman and a couple bucks above the $59 sticker on a Ruger Mark I Target.
The Sport King’s styling is more “modern” than that of the Model B and is more in keeping with current iterations of the Ruger Standard Auto. It is stamped “Hamden, Connecticut” and is a blued steel model (there were alloy versions as well) with a 10-shot magazine. The sights are large and easy to acquire, and the grips are brown plastic.
It’s a bit hefty but reasonably compact—certainly more so than any .22 rifle you could mention—and handles very well. The pointability is unsurpassed. When dealing with vintage classics, it’s inevitable that you’re going to play favorites. Me? I kinda liked the Model B. It’s old-timey, slim and graceful. Just handling it makes you want to go squirrel hunting or pop tin cans.
The other two guys who shot the pistols, John Wightman and Thomas Mackie, preferred the more compact and, for lack of a better term, more up-to-date Sport King. Of course, there’s little question the shorter barrel on the Sport King would give it the nod from the packability aspect.
At the range, both guns proved their sights were pretty much on the money with everything we could come up, 36-grain hollowpoints and 40-grain standard velocity ammo in this case. In terms of 25-yard rested groups, the longer-barreled Model B took top honors using Federal 40-grain Gold Medal Match ammo. The trigger pulls on both the Sport King and Model B were fabulously “un-lawyerly” and darn near identical at a hair under two pounds. It’s worth mentioning that magazine interchangeability between models was not a strong point of High Standard’s product line. Original mags can be pricey and hard to find. So before plunking down your cash to get a nice used specimen, it’d be a good idea to check out the spare magazine situation.