Wrestling with a Python! Colt’s Most Famous Snake

by Dave Workman
Senior Editor

They call the Colt Python the "Cadillac" of Colt's handgun line, but they're wrong.

It's the Mercedes Benz of .357 Magnum revolvers; a firearm that became almost an overnight success when it was introduced in 1955, and is today, nearly 50 years later, a double-action wheelgun that still makes devoted handgunners tingle.

Hand-tuned at the factory, and originally designed to be a heavy target revolver, the Python is Colt's original snake. In its wake, Colt eventually introduced other handguns with names including Diamondback, Cobra, King Cobra and Anaconda. I've fired them all and hunted with a couple of them. Of the bunch, the Diamondback was designed to look like a smaller-sized Python, with lines more closely resembling the bigger magnum. Chambered in .22 Long Rifle or .38 Special, these were accurate little revolvers. No longer available; if you can find a good used one, buy it and baby it.

However, the Python is still king. Colt historians know a lot more about this revolver than I do, and as might be expected, there will probably be some disagreement about the details in the life history of this model as it approaches its Golden Anniversary.

All I know for certain is that whoever at Colt made the decision to chamber this magnificent sixgun in .357 Magnum should be memorialized as a genius. Whether Colt will introduce a 50th Anniversary commemorative next year remains a mystery, but the gang at Colt should consider this a hint: Gold-plated hammer and trigger, gold plastic insert on the front sight, presentation box, the words "Golden Anniversary" engraved on the frame or barrel with gold inlay. In deep polished blue only, with scrimshaw ivory polymer grips!

Naturally, if one were offered to me as a memento, I'd just have to accept. Yeah, right. Fat chance of that ever happening!

Over the years, the Python has been offered with barrel lengths ranging from 2.5 to 8 inches, with the most common being guns with 4- and 6-inch tubes. For a short while, there was a 3-inch Python, and there are some rare models chambered in .38 Special, made in blue steel only with the 8-inch bore that are true collector's items.

According to the Blue Book of Gun Values, there were some Pythons chambered in .256 Win., .41 Magnum and .44 Special, though I've never seen any such specimens. The 2.5-inch Python was discontinued in 1994, and the standard model was discontinued entirely in 1996. Nowadays, the Python is a Custom Shop offering only with 4- or 6-inch barrel options.

It's been available in blue, Royal blue, nickel, and either brushed satin or highly-polished stainless steel. It's been a long time since I saw anything other than a 6-inch model. Some months ago, at a gun show, I ran across a guy who had a few 2.5-inch replacement barrels for sale, but I saw no reason to go messing with my prized piece.

Author's Python
Mine is a 6-incher, and it is finished in a deep polished blue that is still in very good shape despite having spent time in holsters on many of my hunting and camping excursions. Some time ago, I replaced the factory walnut grips with a set of ivory polymers from Ajax that have been painstakingly shaped to better fit my hand. That was after I'd had a set of Pachmayr black rubber grips on the gun for some time. The original walnut grips vanished from these guns in 1991, to be replaced by Hogue rubber grips thereafter. Today's Custom Shop Pythons have those wood grip panels, however, said Colt's Mike Reisig.

What I paid for that revolver is almost a crime. Years ago, when I was working at Fishing & Hunting News, the company took in several Colt revolvers on an advertising trade. That shipment included six Pythons. I got the pick of that litter for a bargain basement price, and have never lost a moment's sleep feeling any guilt.

That was way back in the 1980s, and a couple of weeks later, I happened to be visiting my uncle and mentioned, "Hey, I got a Python. It's out in the car. Want to see it?" His eyebrows raised immediately, and I can't think of a visible difference between the expression on his face and that on the face of a kid turned loose in a candy store for the first time.

For the next couple of hours while we visited, he sat in an easy chair and just held it, occasionally working the silky-smooth action, cocking it and then carefully lowering the hammer. I nearly had to pry it from his grasp when we left.

From the beginning, the Python was an eye-catcher. Its profile immediately identifiable on the big and small screen, it became one of those sexy movie guns.

The barrel has that distinctive vent rib with a ramp blade front sight and click adjustable rear. A full-length underlug on the barrel gives the Python its distinctive profile. One look at this revolver and you just know it was built for serious business.

Enhancing that appearance is the muzzle, which projects slightly beyond the end of the lug. That muzzle also contributes to the Python's inherent accuracy, as my experience over the years has proven time and again.

My revolver's finish is almost like a mirror even now, nearly 20 years after I bought it. When not in use, it sits quietly and secretively inside a converted fishing tackle box on a soft cloth. In the trays are accessories, including a small screw driver, cleaning rod, patches, speed loaders, 30 rounds of .357 Magnum handloads and 15 rounds of .38 Special handloads (more about this in a moment), plus a couple of fully-loaded ammo wallets from MTM Case-Gard (PO Box 13117, Dept. GWK, Dayton, OH 45413; phone: 937-890-7461; on-line: www.mtmcase-gard.com).

Years ago, I had the old Lawrence Leather Company build me a 30-loop cartridge belt that still looks like new today. The loops are a little looser than I'd like, but I still pack that revolver along in the Fall on occasion when I'm hunting grouse.

The holster is one from the old Smith & Wesson (S&W) leather line, built, presumably, to hold an L-Frame Smith. That revolver was S&W's answer to the Python, without the vent rib.

I've also carried the Python in a Keith-model holster from Lawrence, but I never quite liked it as much as that S&W leather. For a while, I packed it around in a Safariland shoulder holster, too. I may one day get around to building a new belt rig, but since there's really nothing wrong with what I have, that project may wait a while.

What gives the Python an edge over other wheelguns is that when the revolver is at full cock, just as the trigger is pressed, the cylinder locks up tight for what amounts to a nano-second, but it simply will not budge. Other revolvers have a hint of looseness even at full-cock, but not this snake. The gap between the cylinder and forcing cone is very tight, further aiding accuracy and velocity, and when the revolver comes out of the box, it shoots as though the barrel has been lapped. There's no break-in necessary.

After a few thousand rounds, the gun remains tight as the day I brought it home.

Loaded for Game
Make no mistake, the Python is more than just a pretty gun designed for shooting holes in paper. Admittedly, I've used that revolver in competition, racking up some good scores.

But that was then and this is now, and the Python has taken its rightful place on my hip in the field. There is nary a rabbit in sight that is safe, and I've managed shots at coyotes with it when the opportunity was there.

While my Colt has had a pretty good diet of factory ammunition, its chambers are not strangers to the products from my loading bench. Over the years, it has been pretty well-established that the Python likes at least two .38 Special loads, and a pair of .357s that I crank out.

In .38 Special, I use a Speer 158-grain lead semi-wadcutter over 3.5 grains of HP-38 for target work and even light hunting (it will conk a rabbit decisively), or a 125-grain Speer or Nosler JHP over 4.7 grains of HP-38. I've also gotten good results with the hollowpoints, pushed along by 10 grains of 2400, though the latter load will burn kind of dirty, even when ignited by a magnum primer.

In .357 Magnum, I stick with the 125-grain JHP-whether made by Speer, Nosler or Hornady-pushed along by 17.5 grains of 2400 or 19.5 grains of H110. The latter load burns cleaner, but I've got plenty of 2400 available, and it produces accurate results.

Best Shot
It was with the 2400-charged loads that I made what was probably the best offhand shot I'll ever manage, and while it impressed the hell out of witnesses, it frankly surprised me. We were at a hunting club outside of Centralia, WA, several years ago and after returning to the clubhouse, the owner/operator started plinking at a couple of duck decoys in a pond way down the hill in a valley bottom. We were shooting, mind you, a .300 Win. Magnum at these rubber duckies.

I asked how far away the dekes were, and the guy told me 225 yards. I retreated to my truck, retrieved that Python with a handful of cartridges, and using a two-hand hold, blew the fake mallard out of the water on the second shot. Naw, you won't see me trying that again!

On a recent trek to the range with my younger son, Josh, who had never before fired this revolver, he managed to whack a couple of tin cans decisively and also put together some good groups on paper. Likewise, I bounced the cans around a bit and satisfied myself that the Colt, even after having been put away for several months from last hunting season, still shoots true.

In many states, including my home state of Washington, the .357 Magnum with proper loads is legal, and quite lethal, for deer hunting. I'd recommend at least a 158-grain JHP for that kind of work, and a lot of serious range work prior to the hunting season.

Scope It Out
Earlier this year, I did a piece on scoping a hunting handgun. Thanks to the Python's vent rib barrel, several companies have produced scope mounts that take advantage of the rib. Some years ago, I put such a mount, from B-Square, on the gun just long enough to test it out with a long eye relief handgun scope.

I found then that I didn't care for a scope on this revolver. While it was accurate, I had no holster that would handle the setup, and I come from the "old school" that demands a standard-sized sixgun be carried in a hip holster. Call me a Neanderthal if you must, but I just prefer to have my handgun on a belt.

That doesn't apply, of course, to monsters like that .44 Magnum Taurus Silhouette model I tested last year, or the single-shots from Thompson/Center. But it most assuredly applies to my Python.

But don't let my poor example be any cause to not try scoping your Python. Indeed, the 8-inch Python Hunter was developed specifically for hunting, and shooting with a scope on top. It came as a package, with a 2X Leupold and mounts, and it was fitted with neoprene grips. The Python Hunter was remarkably accurate, according to acquaintances of mine who bought them. Alas, my salary at the time was pretty well taken care of with raising a young family.

If you like a scope on a hunting handgun of medium caliber, the Python will deliver.
They tell me that new Pythons are available these days only through the Colt Custom Shop. A pity to be sure, but when one considers that this revolver is Colt's flagship double-action, that might almost be expected.

Some people tell me that the Python should not be fed a strict diet of magnum loads, though I have seen no evidence to suggest that lots of magnum shooting will hurt this gun. My specimen has, as noted earlier, digested quite a few full-house magnum rounds in its nearly two decades of service, and not skipped a beat. I haven't even had to replace any parts.

As for .38 Special loads, I think the Python could shoot them forever, even the Plus-P stuff, and not need any maintenance beyond a normal cleaning after a shooting session. In this writer's humble estimation, the Colt Python is far sturdier than some folks give it credit for being, and there is no doubt in my mind that it will long outlast me.

It is this sturdiness, combined with accuracy, a finely tuned action and just flat out good looks that have made the Colt Python one of those "benchmark" firearms that come along once in a generation. There are lots of handguns out there, many with superb reputations.

There is only one Colt Python, and it is a legend.

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