Nearly identical target models from Mitchell and High Standard bear the same model name and design. But which one is better?
The original High Standard Mfg. Co. was founded in 1926. During its corporate lifespan, its products were made in at least four different manufacturing facilities in three different cities within the state of Connecticut, but I believe that most arms historians will agree that the Hamden plant they occupied between 1951 and 1976 was the site of their greatest achievements in gunmaking.
In particular, it was the .22-caliber target pistols made in the three decades prior to the firm’s demise in 1984 that made the company a favorite among competitive pistol shooters of the period. Though there were a few shooters who used the High Standards in the Olympic ISU match format, pistol competitions for civilian and military shooters in those days were, for the most part, limited to what is commonly known as bullseye matches, but more properly were called the National Match Course. There were many competitors who relied upon such products as Colt’s Woodsman, S&W;’s Model 41, and Ruger’s Standard Model for the smallbore phases of these matches, but the standard by which all of these were judged was the performance of the High Standard. That firm’s pistols dominated the American target-shooting circuit, particularly the Victor. Most Victors were utterly reliable precision paper punchers with ammo and magazines they liked. These pistols were so well thought of that it was seldom that a High Standard target pistol was seen on the used market.
Today, two companies are making Victor-style pistols based on High Standard designs. In 1993 Mitchell Arms began making pistols patterned on the original High Standard blueprints, and during that and the following year actually labeled them as High Standard pistols, using the same model designations as the originals as well. At the same time, High Standard Mfg. Co., Inc., was reformed and relocated in Houston, Texas, with many of the original employees from Connecticut. There followed some litigation regarding the rights to the High Standard name and trademark. Because most of the original patents now are in the public domain, that factor was not a part of the dispute. These matters are now settled and Mitchell continues to make its version of the pistols, but without the High Standard name rollmarked into them. Their various model designations remain the same, but with the Roman numeral II following.
But the similarities between products from High Standard and Mitchell naturally raises a question: Which guns are better? We decided to find out in a head-to-head comparison of guns from the two firms—Mitchell’s $675 Victor II and High Standard’s $532 Victor.
Hitting The High Points
In assessing how these guns performed, we had to recognize a change in shooting habits. In recent years the National Match and Olympic ISU courses have ceased to be the only games in town. In fact, one of the fastest-growing segments of competitive handgun shooting is Action Pistol, which is no longer exclusively the province of the high-capacity centerfire pistols. There are are courses of Action fire specifically designed for the .22 rimfire shooter, and if the buyer has an interest in participating in that sort of shooting, he will need to consider slightly different priorities than a bullseye shooter.
However, both paper punchers and steel bangers share concerns about several areas, including the quality of finish, sight quality and the ability to mount sight systems, barrel configuration and quality, trigger adjustability, and other factors. Below, we compare the most important areas of the two pistols on a head-to-head basis.
The most obvious difference between products of the two makers is the materials of which the pistols are made. High Standard’s are blued carbon steel, while the Mitchell Arms pistols are constructed of stainless steel. The profile of the test pistols provided differs in that a full-length ventilated rib, made of structural aluminum, with an integral Weaver-style mounting system for an optical sight, comes on the Mitchell Arms pistol. Also, adjustable iron sights are built into it, so that the user may use either system. The pistol can also be had with a conventional sight system, sans scope mount base. The pistol provided for test was one of the last made before the court settlement, and still bears the High Standard rollmark on the left side of the slide.
The High Standard pistol is equipped with an add-on Weaver-style base that can be mounted to it quickly and easily using a hex-wrench included in the factory package. Because accuracy tests would be done from a firm sandbag rest of a type that provides support at the sides as well as the base, to determine comparative group sizes, mounting optical sights to them wasn’t considered germane to the result.
The quality of finish is about equal on both pistols, we thought. The mirror-bright polish of the original Hamden products is a very time consuming and expensive process that adds nothing to the shootability of the pistol. Most observers would term that of the current offerings from both firms to be a “satin” finish. Corners and edges of the Mitchell Arms pistol are slightly rounded. Those of the High Standard are sharp and well defined.
Rollmarks on the stainless Mitchell pistol are gold filled. Those of the High Standard blued one are plain and have no filling. In keeping with the practice started in Connecticut, the triggers, safeties, slide releases and magazine releases on both pistols are gold plated. Some buyers will consider that to be a nice aesthetic touch indicative of the quality for which the originals became known. Others will be indifferent to such decorations on a target pistol that will see demanding use.
The test pistols being of the same fundamental design, the location of their controls is identical. The slide stop is on the right side, just below the slide, within easy reach of the trigger finger of most shooters. Most will find that it can be released without changing the position of the hand on the pistol. Both are serrated to prevent slipping. The safety is on the left side, easily reached by the shooter’s thumb. Pushed up, it blocks the trigger mechanism. When down, the trigger functions normally. The slide may still be locked to the rear while it’s engaged. These pistols are not meant to be carried afield, so the only time the user is likely to actually use this feature is when clearing a misfired round. That of the Mitchell Arms Victor II is a mere 1 millimeter wider than the High Standard’s, but that seemingly insignificant difference actually makes it easier to operate, because the shooter’s thumb engages it more readily. It was a bit stiff to lift on the High Standard, but moved freely on the Mitchell.
Magazine releases on both pistols look identical. They’re operated by grasping between the thumb and index finger and pulling forward. On the Mitchell it worked best by pulling forward and releasing it. The magazine moves slightly down when the release is pulled and drops about an inch more when it retracts. It may then be pulled the rest of the way out of the magazine well. The High Standard’s magazine fell freely from it with the outward movement of the release mechanism.
Both pistols have heavy 5.5-inch barrels. A barrel weight is attached to the High Standard pistol. The Mitchell Arms barrel is drilled and tapped for such an accessory, but it was not included in the package.
The gripframes of both pistols are generously stippled, fore and aft, to prevent them from slipping in the hands during shooting. The style and pattern are virtually identical on the two handguns.
Sights on both pistols are designed to provide a standard Patridge-style sight picture. Both provide a sight radius of 8 5/8 inches. The Mitchell Arms front sight is a conventional blade with a 6-degree rearward angle measuring 0.128-inch in width. The rear sight notch has a 0.134-inch width, which permits plenty of light to show on either side of it when the front sight is viewed in aiming.
The rear sight blade has a 4-degree rearward angle and is serrated horizontally until the lines reach the base of the notch. The rest of its face is smooth. The slight cant of the sights to the rear prevents light from reflecting back directly in line with the shooter’s eyes.
Stainless-steel screws on the right side and on top allow for adjustment of windage and elevation, respectively. Positive clicks are felt at each step in their adjustment. Sight adjustment on the Mitchell product is maintained by relatively heavy retention springs that are meant to prevent jarring them out of alignment.
The High Standard’s front sight is a straight post 0.124-inch in width, while the rear sight notch is 0.115-inch wide. Less light is seen on the sides of the front sight, but this appears to make errors in sight alignment more obvious. The rear sight is angled to the rear in the same fashion as on the Mitchell Arms Victor. The blade has no serrations, and its color is a deep purple instead of the satin black of the rest of the pistol. The adjustment screws are larger and also adjust with an audible click, both of which are advantages, in our opinion. Both pistols sights are clearly marked to indicate the direction of travel to adjust point of impact on target.
Both triggers are equipped with an Allen screw through their centers, to be used to adjust overtravel. They have the same curvature and length, but the Mitchell’s is curved at the tip and the High Standard’s is squared. Both are fully adjustable for weight of pull by means of a set screw accessed at the back of the frame.
As received from the factory, the Mitchell’s trigger released its sear engagement with a weight of 1 pound 14 ounces. This is too light to meet match requirements. The minimum weight allowable is 2 pounds for the National Match course. Olympic ISU rules require at least 2.5 pounds of pressure. One full turn of the adjustment screw inward brought the Mitchell’s weight of pull up to 2 pounds 2 ounces. The character of its release was slightly creepy.
The High Standard’s trigger is very crisp and broke cleanly at 2 pounds 4 ounces. In both instances the results were consistently repeatable.
The stocks of both pistols are made of nicely figured walnut with a well-rounded curve for comfort in the hand. Those of the Mitchell are much lighter in color than the High Standard’s. The left panel on both has a well positioned thumb rest. The Mitchell Arms pistol seemed to feel a bit thicker in the hand, and this proved to be true when we measured it. Its stock panels are 6mm thick at the apex of the curve, while the High Standard’s are 5mm through the middle.
Checkering on the Mitchell is 16 lines to the inch. That of the High Standard is more coarse, 12 to the inch. Personal preference and hand size will dictate choice in matters of thickness and the character of checkering. Both are purely subjective characteristics. In any event, most serious competitors will eventually opt for custom stocks.
Target pistols routinely require a break-in period before they begin to function at their best. Accelerating the process by running a few hundred rounds of inexpensive high-velocity cartridges through the pistol saves time and frustration and will reveal mechanical problems, if they exist, quickly. Each of the test pistols had 300 rounds of CCI Blazers put through them, followed by cleaning, prior to recording accuracy results and malfunctions.
For several decades it was axiomatic that best results in competition pistols would be realized using standard-velocity ammunition. Improvements in cartridge components and bullet design over the past decade or so have changed that. Ammunition selected for accuracy testing included Eley Tenex, Winchester’s new Power Point and Silhouette brands (both high velocity), and Remington’s Target and Subsonic rounds (both of those rounds are standard velocity).
An Uncle Bud’s Bulls Bag sandbag rest, which can be configured to hug the pistols closely during firing to maintain consistency, was employed. Five 10-round groups were fired with each ammo variant through both pistols from a distance of 25 yards. Detailed results are shown in the accompanying table, but the High Standard offering was clearly superior in terms of accuracy. It shot every offering more accurately, on average, than the Victor II, and the High Standard’s smallest groups were equal to or better than the Mitchell product’s performance in every case.
At the conclusion of the accuracy tests each pistol had digested 550 rounds of ammunition. At this point it could be expected that they’d be well broken in, so an additional 100 rounds was expended in function testing.
Two magazines are provided with each pistol. In the matches for which these pistols are designed, each stage is fired in two strings of five rounds each. Therefore, each magazine was twice loaded with five rounds of each of the test brands, then shot as quickly as the trigger could be pulled. The Mitchell Arms pistol experienced several stovepipe jams with Remington Subsonic, but there were no other failures. There were two failures to feed Winchester’s Power Point, which has a wide hollowpoint bullet, and one failure to extract Eley Tenex in the High Standard Victor.
To further demonstrate the level of reliability that can be expected, a second test consisted of loading each magazine to full capacity with ten rounds, mixing both types of ammo from Winchester and Remington.
The Mitchell Arms pistol went through this exercise without a bobble, but the High Standard experienced one stovepipe and two more feeding failures with the Power Points.