Colt Python Review
But it was Col. Colt’s most significant invention that still kept hundreds of skilled workers busy—as they had been for more than a century. This was revolver country. For a time, the company name itself was synonymous with that product. And despite strong competition, Colt remained a force in revolver development and production.
When the company announced another wheel gun that year, it is unlikely that it knew the new model would not only enhance its reputation for quality but wildly expand it. Its name was Python, and for the following 50 years, it would reign as the classic “snake gun” of all time.
No regular-production handgun ever got so much detailed attention as did the Python. It was put together by the most skilled technicians in the Hartford factory. These were experienced Yankee craftsmen who took a bare frame and carefully fitted together oversized parts—made in house—using the files and stones on their benches.
Before applying a finish of deep, lustrous blue, the premium revolver’s frame and barrel were polished on special walrus-hide wheels. All things considered, the 1955-vintage Python was a superb firearm that earned a great reputation for quality and appearance. It always commanded a hefty price tag, but, as the years wore on, the guys who built it gradually faded into retirement—and they were next to impossible to replace.
The original Pythons went out of production in 2005, and remaining examples in mint condition have gone for crazy prices at auction. The advent of online auctions has driven prices even higher, so much so that current enthusiasts are advised to not fire a “minty” specimen. The old Pythons have become icons, or, in the vernacular of the gun community, “safe queens.”
Inside the new Python, most components will be familiar to a Colt enthusiast, although many have been substantially strengthened. One obvious difference is the separate cylinder-stop mechanism (arrow), which is more reminiscent of a Smith & Wesson design.
I’m sure that Al Gunther, Al DeJohn and the other Colt gunmakers of the 1950s would be flabbergasted by this turn of events. They were not trying to build a tribute to the Colt revolvers of days past or to guncrafting in general. They were after the best possible working revolver they could build, and they intended it to be fired a lot.
I believe they succeeded admirably. Look at it this way—only a small percentage of original Pythons are involved in this crazy market of perfect, unfired guns. The majority are still in admittedly limited use or have permanent homes with handgunners who simply keep them as a matter of personal choice. They might have the dents, dings and scratches from hard use, but they still hit what their owners aim at.
As much as the extreme Colt aficionado might deny it, though, the most appealing aspect of the Python was its style. Much of that appearance is in the barrel. A straight-taper tube with full-length cylindrical underlug, the Python barrel has a gracefully angled ventilated rib on the top side. It’s a handsome arrangement, and the muzzle end of the gun has a pugnacious appearance that visually smacks of serious business.
But style is one thing, and commercial viability is another. We simply can’t afford to build revolvers by hand in this enlightened age. But the good news is that we now have more accurate and less expensive ways to manufacture a fine handgun—even one worthy of the name Python.
So that is what Colt’s Mfg. Co. has done in this 20th year of the 21st century. Just before the SHOT Show in January, the great American gunmaker announced the return of its storied revolver—remarkably in the same size, and intended for the same roles as the original. The Colt Python was back!
Paul Spitale, the energetic honcho at Colt charged with the Python’s rebirth, pondered the legendary .357 Mag. revolver’s re-introduction for several years before his engineers worked through the process of how to build a true Colt Python that retains that classic style, but avoids some of the same common problems associated with Colt’s early double-action revolvers.
The all-stainless steel guns are now produced in two barrel lengths. The 6″ revolvers are dimensionally nearly identical to the earlier guns. And, in order to accommodate Canadian regulations, the shorter model sports a 4¼” barrel rather than the original four-incher. Colt Python Revolver
It is obvious that every dimension and contour on the new gun closely follows what was used on the original. I would guess that maybe one guy in 50 could tell the differences between the two stainless Pythons and originals from across a room. I can also confidently state that the newest version feels virtually the same as the 1955 model.
There are small differences in several places. The top, front corner of the frame, where the lines of the barrel flow into it, are a little different. On the hammer, the cocking surface is laterally serrated and not checkered. And the muzzle crown is a little different.
Although the Python was never seen as flimsy, the engineers added some 30 percent more steel at the topstrap, apparently in anticipation of today’s high-performance ammunition. Also, the stocks are a bit different. They’re laminated wood, light brown in color and with a checkering pattern like those used on early guns, termed “Type 2” by collectors. Interestingly, the new stocks will swap with the old—I personally confirmed as much. I also have it on good authority that both versions share holster compatibility.
Pythons are rather heavy handguns, and a glance at the gun’s profile will tell you something about how the weight is distributed. The heavy barrel underlug shifts the weight forward. That feature, combined with a sweeping curve to the gun’s butt section, makes the new version one of the more pointable revolvers ever offered. As I examined it, I found it to be a fine-handling wheelgun—and my curiosity as to how it would shoot increased as the time to take it to the test range neared. Colt Python Revolver
But before I share those results, we need to look at the one problem that has bedeviled every handgunner who ever subjected a double-action Colt to heavy service. For most of the 19th century, Colt revolvers were simple single-action designs in which the user thumbed the hammer back and then pressed the trigger to fire. From Paterson to Peacemaker, it worked very well.
But when the company began to see the basic shape of battle in what would turn out to be a very tumultuous 20th century, it began to look for an improved model. In 1889 it introduced its first widely distributed double-action, solid-frame revolver. A whole series of related guns followed in various sizes—Pocket Positive, Police Positive, Police Positive Special, Official Police and New Service. All of these guns used scaled variations of the same double-action trigger system.
It was not really a first-rate trigger system, and it had a tendency to go out of time. This means that the alignment of each of the six chambers with the breech end of the barrel was not perfect. When fired in such a condition, things tended to get worse—quickly. The gun might shave lead off the bullet, and accuracy suffered. Colt Python Revolver
For an adept and well-equipped armorer/revolversmith, it is possible to correct such a problem. But for every guy who can do Colt double-action trigger jobs, there are two dozen who can’t. It proved to be a thorny problem for anyone who used old-style Colt revolvers. The best revolver guy I know, Hamilton Bowen, once referred to an action job on a double-action Colt as a “Gordian Knot” of complexities.
But that was then, and this is now. According to Spitale, “It wasn’t just about bringing back a Python, it was always about improving the consumer’s experience with the new Python. We wanted it stronger, we wanted a better and smoother action. Our ability to work with and cut steel has improved greatly since the Python was first introduced in 1955, and we wanted our customers to see and feel those improvements.”
Removing the sideplate from the Python reveals those improvements rendered in metal. While the action’s components are similar in shape and location relative to original Pythons, they are noticeably larger, polished and free of tooling marks. The mainspring, especially, appears to be incredibly robust and makes the original’s component look anemic by comparison, like a clothes hanger or large paper clip had been pressed into service.
One distinct difference in the new Python is the inclusion of a separate cylinder-stop mechanism, which resides above and just forward of the trigger, similar in design to those of Smith & Wesson’s revolvers. Finally, shooters will certainly feel Colt’s improved machining as they pull the trigger; the lockwork and engagement surfaces are manufactured to much tighter tolerances than were possible in the older hand-tuned guns, and the new Pythons exhibit remarkably smooth trigger pulls that are consistent from chamber to chamber. Colt Python Revolver
I received two new Pythons to review for this story and, indeed, both had excellent (maybe outstanding) triggers. The single-action pull is a bullseye shooter’s dream. With the hammer cocked, the shooter builds pressure to just under 3 lbs. Nothing disturbs the sights—there is no perceptible motion from the gun at all. The break is perfectly clean—it’s really sweet.
But the double-action trigger is likewise impressive. Here, the rearward stroke is extremely smooth, with no stacking of pressures and no glitches, bumps or squeaks. Shooting informally in double-action mode, I felt that the two new Pythons were as good as any Python I had ever fired and better than most of them. It will take some hard use with magnum loads to find out if the action retains its new-gun feel. I really like the system and I hope it holds its superior edge.
Back in the ’70s, we had a great PPC league in California, and many police officers traveled all over the state for weekend matches. The cheapest way to get a match-quality competition wheelgun (nobody used semi-automatics then) was to buy a Python barrel (about $35) and graft it onto a K-frame Smith & Wesson .38 Spl. frame. The result was called a Smython.
They shot with great accuracy, and I am sure that most of these guys who used them didn’t fully understand why. All Colt Pythons have a barrel with a 1:14″ twist, which is just about perfect for long-shank bullets at low velocity. Colt’s 2020 Python revolvers have a current-production version of that barrel.
For the purposes of making as thorough a comparison as possible, I borrowed two original Pythons, a six-incher from 1968 and a 4″ from 1979 to shoot against their respective new versions. Both of the old guns were made of blued carbon steel and exhibit very little wear. Everything I fired through them I also fired in the shiny new guns.
The results are tabulated nearby. Frankly, I was a bit startled. While I have always had great respect for the accuracy of the Python, I did not expect the 2020 models to shoot so well. No group went over 2″ and a few were under 1″. That is excellent accuracy and comparable to that of the earlier guns. Colt Python Revolver
Colt took a bold step when it developed today’s Python. It is not a hand-fitted or hand-finished revolver as were the originals. Therefore, there is an unfair comparison implied in anything I have to say about the quality and performance of new versus old. Regardless, the new Python is a fine revolver that shoots as well as it handles. It is indeed a handgun worthy of its progenitor’s name. In fact, it’s a handgun worthy of two of the biggest names in the world of handguns—Colt and Python.
Review: Colt Python Revolver in .357 Magnum
In the world of handguns, many people regard the old Colt Pythons as true classics. Even before Colt ceased production of these revolvers, thus turning them into collector’s items, a lot of us “old guys” considered the original blued Pythons to be the most beautiful double-action revolvers ever built. I managed to hold onto my two 1980-vintage Pythons until a couple of years ago when prevailing prices promoted the guns from “shooters” to “serious investments.”
Although I loved shooting the originals, for the last 30 years I was concerned with the revolver’s fragility when using full-power magnum loads. Still, once the two Pythons and I parted company, I wasn’t prepared for the overwhelming feeling that there was a void in my life, and I sought consolation elsewhere, primarily in the acquisition of a couple of other discontinued, but still affordable, Colts. Colt Python Revolver
While it was not a surprise when Colt began manufacturing some of its old double-action revolvers, I had expected the Python to be the first model offered. Fortunately, it wasn’t too long until the factory announced two versions of the Python: one with a 4.25-inch barrel, the other with a 6-inch barrel. Since Shooting Illustrated focuses on the tactical/practical use of firearms, I chose to examine the shorter barrel with its history as a duty- or service-oriented handgun.
For the first showing of the new Python, Colt held a preliminary “test” event at Gunsite using some pre-production guns. In attendance were a few writers, several staff instructors and some Colt company personnel. We all signed non-disclosure agreements promising silence until Colt had a number of production guns ready for distribution. I had no problem keeping my mouth shut since my editor likes test reviews on production guns.
The event posed both risks and rewards for Colt. The risks included possible premature leaks on the new gun and some harsh comments on any potential problems that appeared before the Python went into production. The rewards included instant professional feedback from Gunsite’s world-renowned staff of instructors and hopefully enthusiastic support from the magazine writers if the session went well. For the writers, it could also provide some guidance on what to look for during future testing of production guns
There was only one problem that surfaced at the Gunsite event, and that was an occasional soft strike that failed to ignite the primer. Every time I experienced this failure, a second strike successfully fired the gun regardless of whether I was shooting double or single action. I mention the double-/single-action element because the hammer fall distance is noticeably less when shooting double action as opposed to cocking the hammer. Colt Python Revolver
A longer fall means a harder hit. Obviously, being surprised by a quiet click instead of a loud bang is an unacceptable condition on any handgun that may be used for self-defense, but it’s not too alarming when discovered on a pre-production gun. That’s why all products go through test programs. It’s also the kind of problem that’s easily fixed at the factory with an internal adjustment. And judging from the production gun I’ve been testing, it was fixed.
Externally, my 4.25-inch production test sample looked exactly like the guns fired at Gunsite. Removing the grip panels didn’t reveal any obvious changes internally, although Colt says there is 30 percent more steel compared with the original Pythons, and Colt Product Director Justin Baldini confirmed the new Python’s mainspring had been changed slightly in response to the soft-strike issues experienced at the industry event. The robust metal parts were assembled to the same basic design, and I couldn’t tell what, if any, alterations had been made to individual parts.
While re-installing the grips, I stripped the last two threads on the end of the screw that retains the grip panels on the frame. I’ll take most of the blame for this since I’m prone to using “gorilla tactics” when working on guns, and this isn’t the first time I’ve stripped the threads on a gun screw. That said, judging from the fact that slightly less than two threads had been stripped from the end of the screw, perhaps a slightly longer screw might be advisable.
Baldini said this had been shared with Altamont Grips (the company that furnishes the grips and screws to Colt). On the positive side, the grips fit the Python frame perfectly, so there was no movement or loosening of the laminated wood panels throughout subsequent shooting and handling sessions. Colt Python Revolver
In my opinion, the grips looked much nicer than the clunky wood blocks on the older Pythons, plus they appear slightly smaller and slimmer. Despite that, they’re still too bulky for controlled double-action shooting by persons with short fingers or small hands. The panels extend more than a quarter-inch beyond the base of the grip frame and continue to follow the outward flare of the backstrap.
When firing heavier loads, my shooting hand slides around the right panel, and I can’t maintain my firing grip from shot to shot. No problem with .38 Spl. ammunition up through lighter .357 Mag. loads like CCI Blazer, but I was constantly struggling to regain control with heavier loads. This is not a criticism of the gun; it’s a personal fit issue that the individual shooter may need to address. Colt Python Revolver
Colt has made a couple of good changes on the sights. The front ramp has a plastic orange insert, which I like on a handgun that may be needed during reduced-light conditions. The orange enhances visibility of the front blade, while the 90-degree corners still allow a precise sight picture when combined with the square notch in the rear sight. The black, adjustable rear sight (another strong preference of mine) fits nicely into a slot in the topstrap.
The sight is not rock solid like a dove-tailed fixed rear sight; it maintains its position under spring tension. If you press on it with a thumb, it will move slightly before returning to its last setting, hence the name “adjustable sight.” Additionally, the top outer edges of the rear-sight blade feature a short, 45-degree corner rather than the sharp, 90-degree corner I seem to recall on older Pythons. I carry most guns strong side in an open-top holster, and I can’t remember how many times my wrist or forearm has been gouged by pointed corners while simply moving about—not a problem with the new Python.
My test gun arrived at the same time we began the suggested/recommended/dictated quarantine caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Getting range time where one could set up a chronograph, run group tests and shoot rapid fire became difficult. The .357 Mag. packs a punch, and accuracy-testing requires serious concentration and steady hands for 100 or more rounds. Rapid fire requires a less demanding level of concentration, but greater endurance. In other words, I needed two separate range expeditions. Fortunately, Firearms Training Associates offered its outdoor range.
My shooting was done single action for both the accuracy tests and velocity measurements. There were no malfunctions (all rounds went bang) of any kind. However, the wear and tear of more than 100 rounds of carefully fired magnum loads left me with no desire to ring steel. Plus, I wanted some input from an experienced trainer with larger hands. Thankfully, Bill Murphy, owner of Firearms Training Associates, worked the steel targets firing double action. He ran the Python like they were old friends and gave it his blessing. Colt Python Revolver
The situation had changed by the time I could arrange the next shooting session. Specifically, the quarantine was much more formal, and a number of gun stores and ranges had been classified as “non-essential,” (i.e. shut down). Fortunately, North County offered the needed range time and is owned by two gentlemen who had or still have original Pythons and were interested in a comparison between old and new.
Since the session would involve pounding 250 to 300 rounds of ammo through the new gun, I was eager for some trigger-time assistance from a couple of experienced Python guys. In addition, the internet had some rather hostile reviews on new production Pythons. Apparently, some shooters had experienced difficulties with light-primer strikes, damaged muzzle crowns and cylinder-rotation failures. I needed to take a close look at the Python’s performance under more tactical, less gentle circumstances. Colt Python Revolver
Before the second shooting session, I cleaned my Python’s muzzle (but not the rest of the gun) and verified the crown was flawless. I doubt there’s a production factory on earth that hasn’t inadvertently released a cosmetically flawed product at some time or other. It’s an inconvenience for the consumer, but as long as the company covers the expenses of making the product right—and Colt is doing that—there’s no reason for hysteria. It happens.
Over the course of roughly 2 hours of range time, we ran about 250 rounds through the Python. Ammo included all the brands shown in the test table plus some leftover Super Vel .38 Spl. +P and some cast-bullet handloads. At one point, the Python became uncomfortably hot and was briefly set aside. The Python was not cleaned at any time during the shooting session other than a couple of muzzle wipes to check the condition of the crown. Some of the cast-bullet handloads were quite old and produced a lot of gunk that affected the trigger pull, making it slightly sticky, but still manageable. Colt Python Revolver
In the course of the afternoon, there were zero malfunctions of any kind. The cylinder rotated every time the trigger was pulled. Likewise, a round fired every time the trigger was pulled. I didn’t keep an exact count, but the range owners fired about 20 to 30 rounds, a few of which were single action; the rest of the 250 rounds were fired double action.
The Internet comments had mentioned the Python’s side-plate screw coming loose, which failed to keep pressure on the hand, thus allowing it to “skip” over the cylinder ratchet causing cylinder-rotation failure. Because of that comment, I checked the side-plate screw prior to the indoor range tests, but never touched the screw at any time the gun was in my possession. There is a barely visible seam where the side plate joins the frame right where the side-plate screw enters the frame. It served as an index mark to see if the screw had moved during the firing session. The screw did not move a fraction of an inch.
A phone call to Colt revealed that the proper torque settings for installing the side-plate screws on production guns have been confirmed, and Colt is considering putting thread-locking compound on the screw threads. These will likely be hard patches rather than liquid Loctite. And again, the grip panels remained tightly in place (despite having no retention screw) and showed no play at the end of the day. I tried to manually wiggle them, but the fit was too good.
Interestingly, both owners of the Shooting Center were less than overwhelmed by the new Python compared with the older, blued versions. They acknowledged the stainless guns were more rugged than the discontinued models, but lacked the classic beauty of the 6-inch-barreled older gun. They also commented that the new gun’s trigger, while decent, wasn’t nearly as smooth as the originals. I agree with their aesthetic assessment; the old 6-inch blued Python is something special to behold. Colt Python Revolver
But, while I’m emotionally moved by blued gun steel, my practical side quickly acknowledges the advantage of stainless steel, whether it’s meant for concealed carry or an outdoor adventure. The classic blued Pythons have mostly evolved into coffee table beauty queens, whereas the new stainless guns were designed for the workplace.
I also think the store owners were correct in their trigger assessment. My older Pythons had spectacular triggers that have occasionally been rivaled by the work of custom gunsmiths, but not by handguns received directly from a production line. Having said that, I think it needs to be put in context. While Colt made the new Python to look like the originals, the objective was for the new guns to survive and thrive in the kind of adverse environments that proved too harsh for the older guns. The trigger on my test gun was not spectacular, but more than up to the task.
Colt specifications dictate a trigger that will help you survive a fight, not make your shooting buddies gasp in awe when they dry-fire the Python in your living room. After having fired more than 400 rounds without being cleaned, my test gun’s trigger pull weight measured an average of 9 pounds, 6 ounces double action. I can’t address issues I didn’t experience, but my production-line Python confirmed that Colt met its objectives.