The Best Revolver Ever Made: /blog/best-revolver-ever-made-colts-python-review/
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Coonan the Barbarian: /blog/coonan-barbarian-coonan-compact-review/
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Comparing a Coonan .357 Magnum to an old Colt Python may not seem like a logical paring. The Coonan is in production now. The Python is not. And in this specific case, I’m looking at a compact Coonan and a stretched out Python. Clearly it isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison. The only similarity is the .357 Magnum round. Every other aspect of the guns is markedly different. At stake here is something much more than the Coonan V Python question; this is the revolver pitted against the automatic.
So let’s delve a bit into the philosophical underpinnings of this article. Odds are, if you’re over 40, the first handgun you shot was a revolver. It is not a universal truth, but shooting skills are taught from generational experience–passed down. And through most of the 20th century, revolvers dominated the civilian market. My father taught me to shoot with an old Iver-Johnson 5 shot .38. Even though I grew up in the age of GLOCK, I was much more familiar with the function of a wheel-gun.
For the generation below me, pistols carry more significance than revolvers. The market is now dominated by slim single stacks that are only marginally more concealable than their plastic framed counterparts. Yet the revolver went through a massive period of decline. Neglect, even. Nothing says “1970s” like a big-bore, large framed, cold blue revolver.
What I’m seeing now is a big resurgence in the revolver market. One indicator is the skyrocketing prices on the Colt Snakes. But there’s been more innovation from companies like Smith, Ruger, and Taurus. And that’s why I’m here, now, waxing poetic about the venerable .357 Magnum. A few months back, I lucked into a Python. The old Colt is a shooter, not a presentation piece–though it is a handsome gun. It has renewed my affection for revolvers. More importantly, I’ve fallen in love with the .357 round again. I’d all but sworn allegiance to the 9mm. But then I shot some .357, and I was reminded just how impressive the round is. The terminal ballistics are intense. And I respect that. But as much as I love the round, I’m more apt to carry automatics.
Which brings me to the second contender in this match: The Coonan. I’d arranged this review back at SHOT in January, and the gun didn’t disappoint. I’ve carried the Coonan a bit since then, especially when I had the coat to cover it up good. It is a beast of a gun. My initial review of the pistol took the gun at face value. I did my best to keep from comparing it to other 1911 platform guns, and other .357 revolvers. The Coonan is neither, really–though the logical comparisons are inescapable. Comparing the Coonan to other 1911s seems logical enough, and such a comparison would really dwell on the central (and obvious) difference: the Coonan is built around the .357 Magnum cartridge. It pretty much writes itself.
But the revolver pitted against an automatic–much more complicated.
Let’s start with the .357. While it is by-no-means the heaviest bullet available for pistols or revolvers, it packs a tremendous punch. Revolvers lose a little pressure where the cylinder meets the frame. If the gap is wide, they lose a lot of pressure. The Python locks up tight. From the 6″ barrel, the Python pushes a 158 grain bullet at 1,200 FPS. If we were to drop that barrel length down to 3″, we’d expect to see a loss of 250-300 FPS, give or take.
The Coonan, with its 4.25″ barrel, actually shoots marginally faster. A rough average would put it about 50 fps faster. That varies, though, so the difference isn’t enough to really make one gun stand out. But the actual power itself is only one factor. It is meaningless if you can’t hit what you’re aiming at. Read more about .357 Ballistics: http://ballisticsbytheinch.com/357mag.html
And here the Python wins. Hands down. Double action, single action–doesn’t matter. This is one of those guns that spoke to me. I shoot so many guns (I know… rough problem to have…) but very few of them truly sing. The Python, even before I shot it, had a glowing aura and a low hum that drowned out the rest of the buzz inside my head. Then I pulled the trigger and the heavens broke open and a choir of angels burst forth in cacophonous rapture. It was that kind of good.
The Coonan is no slouch. It packs a mean punch, but–try as I might–I can’t put a full mag into a hole the size of a quarter. To be completely fair about this, the Coonan isn’t meant to shoot one clean hole. This is not a target pistol. The Coonan has higher aspirations. It is not a paper puncher.
You shouldn’t aspire to shoot tight groups in a defensive situation. Point of aim accuracy is much more important, and you vary the shot placements to create maximal damage through distinct wound channels, exsanguinating your attacker (which is an efficient way to guarantee the elimination of the threat).
Coonan wins. The automatic action is faster than a revolver in the hands of the average man. Jerry Miculek may be able to dump a revolver pretty quick, and I’ve seen some old codgers at the cowboy matches rocking though six shots (and hitting what they’re aiming at, too), but I can’t do it. The Python kicks. While the heavy barrel helps hold down muzzle rise, I’m still not as fast with follow-up shots as I am with the Coonan. I’m roughly three times faster with the Coonan.
Why is it so speedy? The weight of the gun is one factor–but both are heavy. I think it has more to so with the return of the slide pushing the momentum back forward. If I were in a situation the required multiple rounds on target, quickly, I’d rather have the Coonan. And, perhaps more importantly, the Coonan is easier to feed.
Where have revolvers faded from popularity? You could argue that it is capacity. I think it is both capacity and the speed of reloads. The GunsAmerica crew was talking recently about the scarcity of ammo, and why we can’t find .22LR in big old bricks. One hypothesis is that we’re shooting more. Rimfire used to be a single shot game. Now we’re blowing through bricks in single range trips. Want to know who’s to blame? Ruger. Their BX25 mags for the 10/22 make shooting rimfire rounds easy.
I always shoot less from a revolver than I do from a pistol. Habit, I guess. I’m a bit lazy that way. I like the convenience of a solid magazine. Still–ask anyone who knows anything about pistols and almost everyone will say the same thing. Most malfunctions start with a magazine issue. And if it isn’t a magazine, it is likely a technique problem. You can’t limp wrist a revolver.
But with proper care and attention, regular maintenance, etc., you can keep a reliable set of magazines. They’re easier to conceal than speed loaders, too.
But what about that reliability question? The Coonan is a pistol that is more prone to failure than many existing designs. Why? It starts with the very nature of the round. There are a lot of different .357 loads. A revolver will shoot all of them, so long as there’s enough pressure to push the lead out the end of the barrel. Pull the trigger again, and it will fire a second one. Drop in a .38 and it will still work.
A pistol has to be engineered to withstand pressure, eject the empty case (without smashing itself to pieces in the process), and have enough pressure to pick up the next round. This isn’t easy with rounds designed for pistols. Some manufacturers make no bones about the fact that their guns work best with specific rounds.
In all of the shooting I’ve done with revolvers, I’ve never once had one fail. I had a Uberti Colt Army that I broke by repeatedly dropping when I was trying to learn how to spin it, but that doesn’t really count. The Coonan doesn’t care for .38s, at all–though there are springs that should fix that problem. Overall, it has been reliable and free from malfunctions.
I had one hangup during the shooting for this head-to-head comparison. I’m 99% positive it was user error. As in my fault. In an attempt to hold down the Coonan, I pushed the slide stop up with my left thumb and the slide locked back. It is the type of malfunction that takes fractions of a second to fix.
That is up for debate. I think it the question is this: what do you intend to use it for? For concealed carry, the Coonan wins. For open carry, especially where the speed of a draw or reloads isn’t important, the Python is my choice. There’s not a lot more to say on this topic, except this. Every option that exists for carrying the Python exists for carry the Coonan. The reverse isn’t true.
In the end, I’m going to put the Coonan on top for everyday carry practicality. It does the job. It is easier to reload. It puts rounds on target–maybe not the center of the target, but close enough. And with the .357 round, close still counts.
How would this contest have ended if I had a Colt with a barrel length close to that of the Coonan? If the Python was as easily concealed as the Coonan, would the outcome be different? I still think it would be close. There’s one thing the Coonan offers, for me and many others, that the Python can’t: speedy reloads. As much as I’ve worked with speed loaders, I’m still faster with a mag change. Maybe this is generational. Maybe a learned behavior. I clearly do much more work with pistols than I do with revolvers.
Still, if we’re just looking at the completely subjective cool factor, I have to hand it to the old Colt. The Coonan is badass. The Python is arguably more badass. And I feel like a badass when I’m carrying it.
At the end of this process, I’m still fascinated by the question. The Coonan offers a unique opportunity. As more and more 9mm revolvers make it onto the scene, this question will become more relevant to some. If the .357 Magnum is too much for some to handle, and the .38 doesn’t seem to pack enough punch or have enough in the way of options (I’m not sure I buy either of those arguments), the 9mm will fill the gap. And in the revolver package, the performance will be even more reliable.
Consider all of the hype surrounding the GLOCK 43. Most single-stack 9mms offer the same round count as a revolver. The only advantage I see in that comparison is the speed of reloads.
Maybe the Coonan should have gone head to head with a revolver with a 4″ barrel. I still think the Coonan would come out on top. As I break it in good, and habituate to the feel of the grip, I’m growing attached to the Coonan. I trust its accuracy. The reliability is sufficient for every day carry.
There’s a nagging question, though. A bigger issue. When comparing the Coonan to the Python, or the limited capacity pistol to the traditional revolver, I can declare a winner. But there are not just two guns we have to choose from. There are more. And if I knew I was walking out the door into a potentially deadly situation, I’d likely opt for more capacity. This is the heart of the single-stack debate. Is six rounds of .357 enough? Is seven or eight rounds of .45 ACP better? Would I rather have three times as much 9mm in one mag? I would.