Failed Good Intentions: S&W’s Straight Line Target

Introduced in 1925 as a major change to the target pistol market, the Straight Line Target used an automatic-style straight grip instead of the traditional revolver frame. S&W had been a market leader in this  sort of single shot competition .22 pistol, but was under pressure from the popular new Colt Camp Perry model and wanted to try  something fundamentally new. Unfortunately, S&W misjudged their customers’ willingness to accept a significantly different design, and the new Straight Line Target  didn’t actually give any particular radical advantage. Most shooters, used to  the revolver type grip, found that they shot as well or better with the old S&W Olympic Models than with the new pistol. Just 1,870 Straight Line Targets were made, and it took until 1936 to sell them all. This made it the least popular .22 target pistol S&W had ever made, much to S&W’s dismay.

23 Comments

  1. Very well made pistol but it might be made; With a shortest striker fall for shooting stability and longest rotating diameter for preventing case rim bulge or, the rotating axis might be taken to the side for same purpose… IMHO…

  2. An interesting choice for today’s firearm. With the price of ammunition at levels that make it impractical for most people to practice their skills with traditional centerfire ammo, I think it would be both interesting and useful to do a series on “forgotten” .22lr handguns and rifles. There are guns out there that are not quite forgotten, but have been ignored for a long time, such as the Colt Woodsman and the Winchester 63. Anything you could do to stimulate the use of rimfire guns at the moment would be very productive.

    • Yes, please.
      I collect .22’s, mostly rifles, and mostly not the un-forgotten expensive ones. I would LOVE to see some of them on this channel.

      • Prior to learning to handload, most of my shooting was done with .22lr’s. This was a great experience for multiple reasons. I got to do a lot of shooting when a brick of .22s cost less than $10, so I got to shoot a lot. Additionally, flinching is never an issue with shooting .22s, and that is a big thing. I don’t know how my potential shooters gets turned off because big, strong, he-men take out there wife or girlfriend and stick an .44 magnum in their hands, turning them off for good. I assume that .22s are sitll much cheaper than centerfire ammo, which is extremely important these days. You can’t learn to shoot if you don’t shoot something. Finally, lots of really great guns have been made in .22lr, or even longs or shorts. Today, lots of replica AR-15’s and other modern guns are made in .22 versions, which opens up a whole new type of shooting. I love the classics, but shooting a .22 lr opens up the sport to many new people. These guns are inexpensive and fun to shoot. I am waiting for someone like Ian to start up shooting competitions for modern replica “Assault Rifles” built to shoot .22’s to find their way into shooting competitions, if it hasn’t all ready been done. I love some of my 100 year-old .22s, but see all sorts of possibilities opening up for .22 shooters of all sorts. I truly hope Forgotten Weapons or InRange gets behind this and turns people on to the joys of rimfire shooting.

        • I usually reload everything, but because small pistol primers are non-existent, I’ve been buying .40s & 9s from my various LGS’s. I make the rounds & can usually pick up 100-200 rounds of something each week. And at reasonable prices – I’m not paying ridiculous gouger’s prices online. I have not seen any .22lr on the shelf – they’ll only sell you 2 boxes if you buy a .22lr firearm. I haven’t shot a .22 at all this year.
          But yes, I agree – there’s tons of interesting & unique .22s out there & it would be nice to see a few more of them here. Although, most are neither mechanically ingenious or historically significant so maybe that’s why they’re under-represented.

          • Perhaps I am making an assumption here–that most shooters have at least several bricks of .22’s sitting around somewhere. Especially after what we went through several years ago when .22’s disappeared for a long time, I would have thought everyone could at least afforded stockpiling a few thousand of them. If you are able to find 9’s and .40’s at reasonable prices where you are, you’ve got a leg up on me. I was in a store last week that was charging $75 for a box of 50 9’s in a brand I had never heard of before.

  3. Quite an elegant and beautiful pistol.
    Even too much for cattle killer. The “Straight Line” apparently meant an express to a better life. 😉

    Dementia seems to have nestled on the SW earlier than it seemed.
    Make such a hand drill in a toolbox…
    With non-adjustable grip, trigger and sight…
    And call it “Target”…
    Targets, at best, might be cans and backyard rats.
    But I suspect that this is an unreasonably expensive toy for plinking.

  4. Even .22 is hard to find these days and haven’t seen a 100 rd brick in a while, all 50

    But yes, when possible all the rimfire you can stuff in here

  5. Just to be fair, according to Mr. M’s own video on the subject, it took Colt from 1920 to 1942 to sell all of 2,600 or so Camp Perry pistols in several iterations before it, too, was discontinued. Barely outselling Smith by 1.5 to 1.

  6. S&W might have done better to market the Straight Line exclusively as an Olympic-type “free pistol” in .22 Short. That way, it could have been done as essentially a “custom” item, generating a bit of “halo” effect for their other products.

    Its unusual action might have appealed to the small but relatively influential Olympic bullseye competition clique’ due to the fact that it had no “rotational” action when seared off. Shortening the firing pin movement would probably have helped, as well.

    Even Martini-action free pistols have some off-bore-axis torque due to firing pin movement, and free pistol shooters were and are in favor of anything that minimizes that sort of thing.

    Just an observation.

    cheers

    eon

  7. I am fortunate in that I have shot this very fine pistole. My grandfather acquired his in the late 20’s in Philly. I am not sure how often he shot in matches back then, but Earl did shoot at Camp Perry and State matches even into his 90’s. I was in my late teens and early twenty’s when I shot it. They balance very nicely and pointe without having to think where you are looking. The trigger break is very good. They were and are very fine example of what S&W could do.

  8. These are very accurate pistols and rare indeed. The rear sight is adjustable for windage and they were test fired to determine the front sight height for elevation.
    Since the front sight is pinned a taller or shorter one could be supplied by S&W.
    Being a Smith and Wesson collector I envy anyone who owns one of these (or even fired one, which I have). I wish I had bought one years ago before they became so collectively valuable. More forgotten weapons of these old .22 target pistols would be
    of great interest to many. All makes/ models included.
    I have an even more unusual Smith and Wesson .22 single shot. I do not have a way
    to send a photo. The only well know S&W collector to ever see it was the late David
    Chicoine. I have had this pistol for about 35 years. It appears to be a 2nd model .38 S.A. frame (strain screw for main spring and two screws on the sideplate) with the spur trigger. It has a 1st model single shot barrel, with a patridge (not a paine
    target blade) front sight. 10 inch barrel, with extended walnut grips without the
    medallion. The top of the barrel says; SMITH AND WESSON SPRINGFIELD MASS. USA,
    second line, PATENTED OCT. 8, 01, FEB. 8, 06, SEPT. 14, 06. The left hand side of the barrel says 22 LONG RIFLE CTG. These inscriptions have the S&W “three sided iron cross”looking mark on each end of the markings. No “MADE IS USA” or S&W monogram on the frame. The frame has no serial number but the barrel has a serial number 107XX under the latch. This indicated a 1st model (model of 1891) barrel. Windage adjustable rear sight (loosed a screw, tighten a screw) as do all of the single shot S&W pistols I have ever seen. About 90% of the original blue is still intact. Some have thought it may have been made from parts from a S&W employee’s lunch box. No one else has ever seen one like this (spur trigger).

  9. Friends,
    I have the great good fortune to have a Straight Line Target pistol.
    I think of it as a matching piece to a Winchester Model 52.
    Both old, beautifully made and more accurate than I need.
    But: a joy to admire and shoot.
    Q

      • I agree. I have a pre-war model 52, 1927 made (72XX), that my father bought (used) and gave to me when I was 13, 60 years ago. It has the Winchester speed lock conversion and appears to be all original. It has a Unertl 10X scope which according to the SN it was the first scope made by Unertl in 1951. I shot in many .22 matches with it when I was a
        teenager and won a few. Hunted squirrels with it in the 1970’s and 80’s; deadly accurate

        • A friend of mine has his fathers 1929 vintage 52. He also has the paperwork from John Unertl when he accurized and mounted his scope in 1954. This rifle still out shoots his Anschuts. I’ve been trying to talk him out of it for thirty years. I’ll have to out live him.

  10. There is a good saying.
    “For someone who has never seen candy, carrots are the sweetest.” LOL

    SW could have avoided this shame if they had taken the trouble to at least ask real athletes what they think about it.
    High-quality steel and high-quality finish will never replace correct ergonomics and mechanics.
    And both the first and the second, below any criticism.

    This sample has made every possible mistake that could have been.
    Intermediate thrust strikers are generally not suitable for sports tasks, since they have very mediocre characteristics that cannot be controlled.
    There is no shneller mechanism.
    Sights are too shallow and not replaceable.
    The handle is too large and no fit the orthopedic one.

    Ergonomics are not thought out at all. Loading is baggy, because it forces you to commit a lot of unnecessary actions. Which, moreover, disrupt the preparation.
    In addition, it is also too heavy.

    This is not a bad dumbbell or cattle killer
    But not an arbitrary pistol.

    And the fact that there are so many of these pistols and in such good condition suggests that they were not used very actively.

    • @Stiven, not this isn’t a Free Pistol (arbitrary = Free in English shooting terminology), but the US (and other countries) have domestic target shooting programmes outside International Shooting Union rules. This pistol was made for US NRA matches. These include a 0.22 and centrefire stages. The centrefire stages were for .38 revolvers and .45 autos, so a 0.22 with match ergonomics was an advantage.

      Of course it could be used for 50m International matches, and of course it would not compete with pistols specifically made for that match. The same could be said for contemporary US rifles: Winchester 52 and later Remington 37 rifles were sub-optimal for the 50m Free Rifle (3 Position) match, but did very well in the 50m+100yd Prone match for which they were designed.

  11. @Stiven,

    I’d say Target marksman means a competition target shooter.

    The 50m Pistol match was included in the 1896 Olympics and 1900 World Championships. It really doesn’t matter when it became known as the Free pistol match.

    Your offensive comments aside, merely because this pistol (or its predecessors and domestic rivals) was less specialised than contemporary European designs doesn’t make it a “lame moron”. True Free pistols were, and still are, a very niche market. S&W wanted sales.

    Was Winchester equally stupid for not making European style Free Rifles in this period? Their sales and success suggest otherwise. Now, not offering better International models hurt their sales in the 1960s, but that’s another matter.

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