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There’s a unique appeal to a truly original firearm. While the Coonan series of .357 autos are clearly derived form the single action family tree, they are unique. These guns are big. They’re a bit boxier than a 1911, and they punch above their weight class.
And now the Classic Coonan comes in a smaller package. The compact is a beast, and one that offers the firepower of the Classic Coonan for those who want a serious concealed carry gun.
- .357 Magnum
- Linkless Barrel 4 Inch Barrel
- Recoil Operated
- Pivoting Trigger
- Extended Slide Catch and Thumb Lock
- 4 Inch Barrel
- Fixed Night Sights
- 2 Magazines (6+1)
One of the most amusing ad slogans I’ve come across in the firearms industry belongs to Coonan. “Looking for your first pistol?” the ad begins. “This isn’t it.” Too true. But more on that later. Let’s get into this thing a bit.
The Coonan line is built on the strength of the .357 round, which is a rimmed round not typically associated with semiautomatic pistols. Rimmed cartridges are typically harder to stack. The Coonan magazine has a channel that flares out the back and top of the magazine. This allows the magazine walls to support the rounds like a typical 1911 mag, while the rims clear the narrow walls as they stack up and feed.
While there are identifiable elements of the classic Browning 1911, the Coonan moves away from the early 20th century modernist aesthetic. Most of the curves are gone. The 1911 is built on clean lines and delicate curves. The Coonan is more linearly angular. Even the frame and slide have a more slab-sided look.
The compact takes an inch off the classic Coonan. This 4 inch version is designed for more practical concealed carry. It isn’t a subtle gun, in any way, but it is more compact than its bigger brethren. This one has a black DuraCoat finish. Coonan can do a variety of finishes, from garish pink camo to stainless, and everything in between.
Taking the Coonan apart will baffle the beginner. It has a bushingless bull barrel, and a reverse recoil plug. The linkless barrel slides off easily, but then you have to push the guide rod out the front far enough to pin it in place, which holds the spring pressure. After that it is easy.
Assembly may be more tricky. The first time I put it back together, the guide rod was protruding too far. I took it apart, looked at it again, and made another attempt. After monkeying with the rod, it clicked into place and the gun went back together perfectly.
Shooting the Coonan
So what does a .357 do out of a 4 inch automatic? We put the 125 grain Hornady Critical Defense through the chrony and got some consistent results. The Hornady ran under 1,500 feet per second–between 1,450 and 1,490. That’s still smoking for a 125 grain bullet, and put the .357 close to the performance you’d expect from a lighter 10mm.
That’s the closest thing I can think of to describe the experience. It is very similar to shooting a 10mm. The Compact has a good bit of muzzle rise, which is seems natural for a gun this size that has this much power. With that rise comes a loss of follow up speed. I can’t hit double-taps with nearly the same split time that I can with a 9mm. It is impossible.
Is that a fatal flaw? Hardly. I frequently carry a .357 revolver, and it isn’t lightning fast either. There are fast pistols chambered in easily controlled calibers. 9mm. .45 ACP, even. .40 S&W. But not .357 or 10mm. But what you lose in speed you gain in power. That makes the Coonan a solid choice for personal defense.
We ran a variety of .357s through the Coonan. .38 and .38+P works, too, but reliability isn’t what it could be. The Coonan and its recoil spring is designed around the punch of the .357, and the .38 just doesn’t move the slide as fast. Springs are available for the .38. I’d consider them for live fire range time, but never for carry. If you are hesitant about the .357 in a compact carry gun, this isn’t the pistol for you.
Accuracy was reliable. As this isn’t a target gun, I wasn’t expecting to see super tight groups. After the first few magazines, I couldn’t complain. I found myself dropping a round or two from each mag, which would destroy a tight group, but that wasn’t the Coonan’s fault. I blame fatigue. This is a gun that will wear you down. I like to shoot a hundred rounds or more through any of our review guns before I ever begin making decisions about how much I like it or dislike it. And after 100 rounds of .357 (on top of whatever else I’d been shooting at the range that day), I was feeling the recoil.
That alone may be reason enough to keep the Coonan out of the hands of the timid. Recoil aversion. I shoot a lot. I pull the trigger too hard sometimes (o.k., frequently), but I don’t shy away from recoil. Yet by the end of the first range day I could feel myself tightening up in anticipation of the coming shot.
All of which is to say that this is shaping up to be a badass carry gun. It is also a gun I’d want to practice with regularly. I’ve had the Coonan in house for a month now, and I take it to the range every time I go. The round count is growing steadily, but more slowly and methodically than is typical for me.
Did I mention that the Coonan is a bit boxier than the 1911? If you look at the grip, you’ll see how it looks less trapezoidal. The grip maintains its width instead of having a flared base (like a traditional 1911). This is due, in part, to the length of the .357 cartridge. That round is longer than a .45 ACP. It is thinner, too, so the single stack mags have a different feel.
The grip itself feels slightly larger than that of a 1911. Yet the grip is somewhat rectangular, and not fat/round like some big double-stack grips. This helps with point shooting, or so I’m told. With wide flat sides, there’s no confusion about which way the gun is pointing. This is a bit hard to describe, and I’ve never tested the concept. The idea is that the flat sides on a gun like the Coonan point the way toward the target, and you pick up on that (however unconsciously) the moment you grip the gun.
And the gun kicks more. If you have really small hands, this gun is going to feel challenging. I’ve got smaller hands for a man my size, but they’re certainly not small. The Coonan fits me like a glove. The width of the grip is ideal for controlling recoil.
What would help? This one doesn’t have checkering on the front strap. It feels very good without it, but a good checkering would make this gun even easier to control. The teeth in the milled aluminum grips are fierce, though, and that provides a sufficient grip. I’ve not shot a Coonan with checkered straps–and I could see how more aggressive texture would keep you from being able to move your hand around the wide flat grip to reach the slide drop or mag drop. So perhaps it is a compromise.
The trigger on the Coonan is crisp, though it too is a departure from the traditional 1911 design. Most 1911 triggers slide straight back. This one is hinged, and rocks back and up. There is a very slight take-up before a 4 pound break. In keeping with the design, that 4 pound pull is just heavy enough to keep you from dropping the hammer accidentally. As this is a gun meant for defensive use, I can imagine a scenario where my finger was on the trigger before I’d decided to shoot.
The safety and slide drop are over-sized very easy to reach. The beaver-tail safety doesn’t have a huge bump at the base, but it doesn’t need it. There’s no way to grip this gun well that doesn’t disengage that safety.
The big questions
I’m going to anticipate some of the big questions that will surely crop up in the comments below. So here we go…
#1. Is it reliable? Yes. The Coonan is recoil operated, and there’s plenty of recoil. Extraction was enthusiastic. Shells were kicked clear. During the entirety of this review, we only had one stoppage, and it was a failure to extract.
#2. 6+1? Most snub-nosed revolvers hold at least 5 rounds. The Coonan mags hold 6. With one in the chamber, you’ve got a bit of an advantage over your average revolver. The real advantage comes from the extra mag. While there may not be an overwhelming ammo supply, mag changes are as easy as they are on any single action. If you do have to reload, the Coonan has a distinct edge.
#3. Control? This is where we come back to that slogan. Looking for your first pistol? This isn’t it. I’m not going to suggest that Coonan is exploiting the gratuitous nature of the .357–but they’re not shying away from the fireballs, either. Their site prominently features images of flames exploding from the barrels. The Coonan is loud. It makes a big fat ball of fire. It kicks. But it is controllable. I wouldn’t suggest it for anyone who is just learning the ropes. I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone with diminished hand strength, or small, delicate hands.
#5. Is this thing just a Novelty? Far from it. I had a long discussion this morning with another one of the GunsAmerica writers and he (somewhat lovingly) called the gun a novelty. Then he quickly retracted the statement. True, the Coonan is a beast. Shooting the .357 from the short 1911 platform is something of a novelty at first. But this isn’t that different from the 10mm, and I’d never call those novelties.
In the end…
I’m a fan. This is my first date with the Coonan. And after more than 500 rounds, I don’t have anything to criticize that isn’t based entirely on personal preference. I’d change out the rear sight–but I think that’s pretty much the only thing I’d mess with.
I’ll tell you what I expected. I thought sure I’d have more consistent failures as the Coonan tried to extract the rimmed cases. I thought I’d find the kick of the .357 so sharp that I wouldn’t consider this for practical concealed carry. Not so. The reliability was excellent. The kick is intense, but manageable. And now, having roughed it up a bit, I’ve got to find a perfect holster and carry this thing.
The Coonan Compact has an MSRP of $1,975.00. It sells for a bit less. There are numerous custom options available. Almost anything you could think of for your traditional 1911 platform. And Coonan sells lighter springs for those who want even more reliable performance from the .38. Check them out. It is worth a trip to the Coonan page just to see some of the available paint jobs.