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C&S Python .357MAG

By Rich Grassi
Originally Published in Combat Handguns May 2005

My first centerfire handgun was a Colt Python. It was the early 1970s and I was a soldier at Fort Benning, Georgia. There was a classified ad announcing the sale, from another troop as I recall. I trekked to his location, off the post, and looked the revolver over.

It was blue, a deep blue you could fall into. I'd never seen anything quite so striking in my life. The 6-inch barrel had a full-length underlug into which the extractor rod fitted. Atop the barrel was a ventilated rib, a handy place to catch dust. It made the gun look wicked, though I don't know what the practical effect of it was. A ramp front sight and Colt Accro adjustable rear sights completed the barrel-frame treatment.

The stocks were the Colt target style and the owner had taken a wood rasp to them to make the 1968-69-era wheelgun smaller for his bride. It didn't work and he bought aftermarket stocks of some kind of faux ivory. They were smaller and didn't fill in the space between the front of the grip frame and the rear of the triggerguard.

It still didn't fit, hence the sale.

I paid a lot of money for it, a sum which today seems a pittance. The gun made its way back home with me after my reasonably uneventful military service. I shot it some but not a lot.

When I wandered into police work, I took a long look at the Python and decided against it for uniform duty. The finish was still superb, as it is to this day. I got something rougher, not as smooth or as accurate, but dependable enough.

During my short career as a town cop, I "tried out" for what passed as a pistol team on my small department. The gun I used for bull's eye was the Python. The others all seemed to use K-38s, fine guns in their own right. I joined the team in time for one match at the Spring Conference for our state's peace officers association.

I shot next to an able troop who was in my police basic class. His agency issued him an S&W Model 52, a single-action semi-auto in .38 Special. A real wadcutter gun, his agency also gave him factory wadcutter ammo. The combination was deadly accurate. I provided my own, none-too-precise reloads for the double-action revolver that I had to cock for each shot.

I shaded him by a little, very little, in slow fire. His score exceeded mine some in timed fire and I got skunked in rapid fire. The Python's accuracy gave me enough of a lead in the slow fire component that I beat him out for the "novice" award.

 

Colt Revolvers

 

As I recall history, Colt manufactured a few double-action revolvers in their history. The "E- and I-frame" double-action revolvers included the Official Police, Commando, Officer's Model Match, Colt 357, the original Trooper (first in .38 Special and then in .357 Magnum) and the Python. They share the same frame and, largely, the same action. Unless I'm mistaken, the Colt 357 was the first to feature the target hammer and the first to have a frame mounted (not hammer-mounted) firing pin. The Python took those assets with it.

The barrel of the Python doesn't taper rear-to-front like the 357's, and has added weight in the form of the underlug. Unlike the previous effort, a vent rib graces the top of the Python tube.

While the frame bespeaks of strength, the action takes some tending to. It was built in the day of the craftsman and required a fine hand for proper fitting. Competing 20th century double-action revolver designs required somewhat less care in that regard. It was certainly easier to get an action job done on them, but the Python started out so much better. Unlike certain of those competing designs, the Colt's cylinder turns clockwise. It requires no front lock for the extractor rod because the cylinder is turning into the gun.

In fact, the Colt doesn't "pre-time"; that is, the Colt locks at the instant of ignition, not when its hammer is at full cock. Colt Pythons have the reputation of having timing problems, particularly if shot at very high speeds. Any DA revolver shot a great deal at high speeds will take a beating. The only problem is that there are so few Colt smiths around these days.

 

Gun Details

 

At the risk of being labeled as a retro-geek, I admit again that I have an ongoing relationship with revolvers. I started out with them, tried to get away from them and ultimately returned. The result of this was the award of a used Colt Python, 4-inch barrel in nickel, for a recent birthday celebration.

As this was a special gift, given by the most special of people, I set about getting the gun right. The sights were the standard Colt Accro and ramp front. I had trouble picking up the ramp when I was spry, so a Patridge blade was needed. Gun partner Mike Rafferty just happened to have a front sight that had originally been destined for an Officers Model Match in his toy box. He passed it on to me. I committed a relentless search for a Colt Elliason rear sight. It was fruitless.

The stocks were Pachmayr "Grippers." The Professional Model, these usually fit me best on most revolver frames. Unfortunately, due to the unique grip frame and trigger reach of the Colt Python, the Grippers don't really work for my small hands.

Colt smiths are few and far between. I sought counsel of one of the best gunsmiths available, one who just happens to be close as well. Bill Laughridge, proprietor of Cylinder & Slide, was up to the task. He'd take the used Snake in for an exam and action job. While the action was good on the Python, I'd never had the opportunity to take full advantage of the Colt's silky action. Back in the revolver days, there were a few hot smiths who took the Colt revolver into the "gee-whiz" class with actions so smooth and light they had to have defied laws of physics.

Bill and C&S have a great reputation, and I felt comfortable with them taking the new baby in for a checkup and tuning. I complained that there were no Elliason sights to be had and Bill told me to check with Keng's Firearms Specialty. Also known as Champion Gun Sights, they fabricate a range of front and rear sights. One of them is Part Number 860-301, a "Drop-In Replacement Sight for Colt Elliason and Accro Sights." They are made to fit any handgun that has the sight channel cut for either of those original sights. The units are wire-EDM cut from 4140 chrome-moly bar stock. I asked for a unit for the project Python. The rear sight was supplied with replacement hinge pin and elevation springs.

Mike Rafferty, Jack Morgan and I shot the Python as it was, before shipping it to Cylinder & Slide. When the gun went out, the single-action trigger measured at 5.75 pounds. Double-action was at 10.25 pounds, a good DA trigger weight. Like other Colts of my experience, the new stable mate stacked, or became heavier, at the end of the trigger stroke.

The gun was quite accurate with the ammunition tested. Black Hills 125-grain JHP .357 Magnum put the best three into 2.5 inches at 25 yards, hand held and unsupported. Winchester 148-grain match wadcutter put five slugs into 2.25x1 .25 inches double-action unsupported! It didn't like Federal Match wadcutter, which is usually very precise stuff.

The Python went into the bubble wrap with the new sights and off to Nebraska it went. Returned in short order, I got the news.

The timing was slow and the cylinder had end-shake. The headspace was oversize at .013 (should have been .007-.008) of an inch. The hammer was striking the rebound lever. In spite of these shortcomings, the gun had still been as accurate as our test team could shoot it.

The Cylinder & Slide wizards removed the end-shake and retimed the cylinder. They also increased the firing pin protrusion to make up for the open headspace A "Super Action Job" was done and they corrected the hammer strike on the rebound lever.

The Champion Gunsights and the original Colt Patridge front sight were installed. Bill noted that the crown on the barrel was slightly crooked, but didn't correct due to original nickel finish. The gun was test fired with two boxes of Winchester ammunition, 158-grain JHP (which yielded an extremely tight group) and 125-grain JHP (which was shot during sight-in). Both groups were fired double-action.

My new-old Python came back with a 3.5-pound single-action pull, down from nearly 6 pounds. The double-action trigger exhibited no stacking, and pulled straight through smoothly at 7.25 pounds, an even three pounds less than original.

A selection of Magnums was fired to see if there were any light hits and failures to fire. None were noted.

The gun was then re-wrapped and shipped to Pat Hogue to be fitted for new stocks. Meanwhile, leather goods artisan Mark Garrity set about producing a showy holster for the newest magnum in the stable.

Finished Product

 

The holster got back before the gun did. There was a considerable surprise when my Frau opened the package from Garrity's new home in Arizona. She was quite impressed to see the holster he'd made-faced in real python-hide!

The holster was his "Enforcer" Belt Scabbard. Made with the 1-1/2-inch belt loops my belts require, the exterior front of the holster is genuine python. Flashy looking, Mark told me that shark or stingray is more durable. Nothing would do for the gift Python like a holster of python!

Shortly thereafter, the Python returned with its "new pants."

Pat Hogue installed a smooth stock made of Goncalo Alves. The precision-fitted Monogrip had an "accent stripe" separating the contrasting butt cap from the rest of the stock. The "Monogrip" was smooth, devoid of any grip enhancing checkering. The lack of checkering will be favored by my coat linings. The finger grooves fit up to my hand well. The Hogue hardwood stocks were precision inlet on modern computerized machinery (CNC) then hand finished on my actual revolver frame, assuring a proper fit. They were hand polished to a non-slippery sheen using natural Carnauba wax, something that isn't prone to crack and peel. The high quality kiln dried Goncalo Alves, a perennial favorite from the house of Hogue, is hard and durable. The famous Hogue "orthopedic hand-shape" form fits my hand as does the finger grooves. The stocks are cut for speed loaders.

The Monogrip one-piece revolver stock was designed and patented by Guy Hogue. A retired LAPD shooting instructor and armorer, he spent 10 years of making conventional two piece grips. He found that a one-piece stock, which fits up from the bottom, was the way to go. The fit was better, both to gun and shooter.

Mounted from the bottom, using a "stirrup," the stocks don't shoot loose like typical screw-on two-piece stocks can. It is a stock of striking appearance and unparalleled utility all in one. Putting it all together, the Half-Century Python is the finest of the fine.

Garrity's holster is nicely fitted to the frame, cylinder and 4-inch barrel of the Colt Magnum. The "Enforcer" works well for casual concealment and rides at just the right altitude to avoid straining the limited mobility of my shoulder. A rising light in the world of holsters, Mark is one of the top providers of combat gunleather in the country. I can't recommend him enough.

Demi-Centennial

The Half-Century Python was about the greatest gift an old revolverero could get. Combining the superb Colt product with the careful aftermarket ministrations of Bill Laughridge and his crew at Cylinder & Slide, the "almost Elliason" sight from Champion Gun Sights, the custom fit Goncalo Alves stocks from the House of Hogue and the fancy, "Bar-B-Que" python-skin holster from Garrity Gunleather, made this the most personally valuable piece l own.

Prices in this article are reflected at the time of printing. Prices are subject to change.


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