by J. B. Wood
About 15 years ago, Beretta engineers were experimenting with the design of a compact pistol that used an interesting locking system, a turning barrel. It emerged in 1994 as the Beretta Cougar. Serious Beretta collectors will know that the name had been used before, on the post-war .380 of 1934-pattern.
A turn-barrel system requires a rotational groove and a locking 1ug above and below, so the slide and barrel could not have the traditional Beretta “look.” The shape of the grip frame is particularly notableergonomically, it is just about perfect. The deep inward sweep at the top fits it to almost every hand.
In auto pistol design, using a turning barrel to lock the action during that instant of high pressure goes way back. In 1905, Elbert Searle used it in the Savage pistol that was marketed in 1908. Across the ocean, in Austria, Karel Krnka also thought of it, and used it in the 1907 Roth-Steyr. Fifteen years later, Josef Nickl of Mauser used it in a pistol he designed for Czechoslovakia. The most recent use was by MAB of France, around 1970, in the PA-15.
Beretta made the original Cougar for about 10 years. By 2004, the marvelous new PX4 was in production, and the Cougar was ... well, not “discontinued,” but was simply no longer in full production. A couple of years went by; then someone had a brilliant idea: Let’s bring back the Cougar under the Stoeger name. Let’s buy a factory in Turkey, and ship the original tooling there, and produce it at a really affordable price. And so, it was done. Stoeger, well-known now as a publishing house, was in earlier times a source for many fine imported guns. Beretta owns Stoeger.
The “suggested retail price” of the Stoeger Cougar is just $370, a little less than half of the original with the Beretta name on it. So, is the new version just as good? Oh, yes. Parts will interchange (after all, it’s made with the same machinery!). And, it has every feature of the original Cougar. For those who may have arrived late, perhaps we should go over those items.
The Cougar is a true “mid-sized compact.” Here are the features: Lengthjust a hair under 7 inches. Height5.5 inches. Width1.3 inches. Barrel3.6 Inches. Weight33 ounces. Magazine capacity15 rounds in 9mm, 11 rounds in .40S&W. The pistol shown here is the 9mmI am not a fan of the “10mm Lite.”
The sights are square-picture, with three white dots. Both front and rear are dovetail-mounted. The manual safety has levers on both sides, and in the last part of its arc it drops the hammer to at-rest position. Its mechanical system is classic Berettamoving the lever downward to on-safe turns a separate rear section of the firing pin to vertical, making a hammer-strike impossible.
Separately, inside, there is an automatic firing pin block that is cleared only in the last fraction of the trigger pull. Keeping the manual safety down in on-safe position also disconnects the trigger bar from the sear and hammer. I am glad to report that there is no “magazine safety”if a magazine is inadvertently lost during some serious endeavor, the Cougar will still fire.
So, it’s up to you to remember, or check, for a round in the chamber. Anyone who is not capable of this should not be fooling around with firearms. There is, of course, on the right side of the slide, “WARNING: RETRACT SLIDE TO SEE IF LOADED. FIRES WITHOUT MAGAZINE.” These lawyerly warnings are necessary. Still, I have always thought they assume the idiot who mishandles the gun can read.
Like the manual safety, the other two controls are in easy reach of the thumb. The serrated end of the slide latch extends into the top front of the left grip panel, and the magazine release is at the rear terminus of the trigger guard. The release button is reversible. The takedown for routine cleaning is simple and easy, and rather than take up space here, I’ll refer you to the well-written instruction manual.
The polymer grip panels have good moulded checkering, and the grip frame has vertical grooving at front and rear. For the few people who still use that strange hold, the front of the trigger guard is recurved and has cross-grooves. The perfectly shaped trigger has a smooth surface, with no annoying vertical grooving. The DA pull on my pistol is quick and easy, and the SA pull is a crisp 4.5 pounds, with minimal over-travel.
I tried out the Stoeger Cougar at 25 yards, using a two-hand hold and no rest. Four different loads were used: Federal 9BP, 115-grain, JHP; a full-jacket 123-grain NATO load from Yugoslavia; the 100-grain Plus-P Pow’RBall load from Cor-Bon, and a 124-grain JHP from Black Hills. All of these worked flawlessly.
The groups averaged around 4˚ inches. All had two or three rounds in the 5˚-inch black center of standard Outers/Champion targets. If any of these were super-imposed on the center-of-mass area of a regular combat silhouette, the performance would be judged effective.
Reloaders take note that the Cougar will toss the empty cases into a neat little area about 7 feet to right rear for easy gathering. Well, okay, it did fling those Plus-P Cor-Bon cases a little more distant, but that’s to be expected. With all of the loads, the felt recoil was mild.
If you or your local gun shop need to contact the source, here’s the information: Stoeger Industries, 17603 Indian Head Hwy., Dept. GWK, Accokeek, MD 20607; phone: 301-283-6300; website: www.stoegerindustries.com. Some of you may have liked the Cougar a lot when it first appeared, but were deterred by the substantial Beretta price-tag. Well, now you can afford one.