In my last entry here, I reviewed Colt expert Gurney Brown’s beautiful book “The Seven Serpents.” Here, I present his follow-up, an homage to the most widely recognized of those Colt “snake guns,” the Python.

It was, in its time, the flagship of the Colt fleet and widely recognized as the “Cadillac of Revolvers.” It earned a reputation for exquisite accuracy, in part because of the small engineering marvel of tapering the bore by 0.001” toward the muzzle, driving the lead deeper into the rifling…partly because its rifling twist of one turn in 14” stabilized 148 to 158 grain bullets better than the 1:18.75” twist of its arch rival Smith & Wesson in the same caliber…and partly because its “second cylinder hand” design locked the chamber dead nuts solid in line with the barrel as the hammer fell.

The book dedicated to it is “Colt’s Python,” subtitled “King of the Seven Serpents” by Colt scholar Gurney Brown. As lavish a coffee-table book as its predecessor, this one delves deeply into the history of this fine gun.  Only Colt’s most seasoned polishers were allowed to apply its famous Royal Blue finish, using polishing media as fine as talcum powder. Only their most experienced craftsmen hand-honed the actions of every single one of them, giving the Python its famously sweet trigger pull.

Perhaps one reason I enjoyed this book so much is that I have some ego invested in it. I shot my first PPC match with a Colt Python borrowed from my late friend Tom Stackpole.  Back in the day, I managed to nail a running ram at 76 yards with a Python I borrowed from the late Hal Swiggett, and did so double action thanks in large part to its sweet action by master gunsmith Jerry Moran. After that, I went home and ordered my own and sent it to Jerry. I own it still, having worn it as a uniform police service revolver and sometime off-duty gun.  It won a bunch of matches for me including a few state titles.  It was joined by others.  I own them today in four of its five barrel lengths – 2.5”, 4”, 6”, and 8” and hope to one day own one of the uber-uber-rare 3” models.  I am also happy that Mr. Brown chose to include a chapter of my three-part magnum opus on the Python in his book; you can catch the original here.

Thus ends my Python ego trip, now back to a great book. The photography is awesome. Mr. Brown has put in lots of details on special production runs of this gun.  You can salivate over the engraved and gold inlaid variations depicted.  Price? Suggested retail will kill a good part of a C-note, but if you go to www.gundigeststore.com, you may just find some happy discounts there  . 

I enjoyed heck out of Mr. Brown’s Python book. It is a salute to American workmanship and ingenuity, and a little bit of a time capsule of a special chapter in the history of guns.

27 COMMENTS

  1. I think my biggest complaint about the new Pythons is that stainless steel just doesn’t match the beauty of the blued and nickled snakes of old.

  2. Oh man…memories abound. The referenced article in AMERICAN HANDGUNNER caused me to sell my S&W Model 66 (which did lock up with magnums) and buy a new 4″ Python for duty use. At the time, I was a 6-year police veteran near Houston and picked up the Python for $250 (half a months pay at the time.) I retired in 2007 and gave the Python to my son when he graduated from Texas A&M. Oh, and I saved that copy of “Handgunner”..it’s a piece of history in itself. Thanks Mas.

  3. Where would the Python rank on a list of the best off-the-shelf/out-of-the box, American-made, non-custom handguns? (As always, outstanding article and review.)

  4. As both a machinist and someone who toured the Douglas Barrel plant (and asked a lot of questions), I’ve always doubted that tapered bore claim. About the only way I can think of to do it would involve hand lapping the bore of each individual barrel. That would be a monumental pain and expense and very hard to keep uniform. I’d like to see someone prove it with pin gauges, I’m always willing to learn something new.

    OTOH, I’ve a ragged copy of Charlie Askin’s book on pistol shooting. He included what was supposed to be all the specs of Colt & S&W revolvers. Both the Official Police and the Python had bore and groove specs that looked a lot like what you’d see for 9 mm. IIRC, the minimum groove diameter was 0.354 in, maximum should have been about 0.356 in. This is a couple thousandths tighter than usual for .38/.357 which generally run 0.356-0.358 in. This might be the origin of the tapered bore claim.

    • @ WM Moore – If the specification for a Python was as tight as 0.354 inches, then it would seem that Colt did tighten it up for that model.

      I have a Colt Police Positive Special revolver that pre-dates the development of the Python. It was shipped from the Colt factory in December of 1923. It is, of course, chambered for the .38 Special cartridge.

      As near as I can measure, the bore is 0.357 inches in diameter while the cylinder throats measure 0.360 inches. All of which is fairly typical for a .38 special revolver (of any make) and looser then the specification you gave for the Python.

      Despite being almost a century old, the gun shoots quite well. Given its age, I only shoot standard pressure ammo in this revolver. I still have some Federal 125 grain (standard pressure) Nyclad Hollow-points in my stockpile. So, I loaded up the old Colt and fired off three shots of this ammo at a “Shoot and See” target. The range was 10 yards and I shot the group off-hand. The revolver printed a nice triangular group just about 1 inch to the right of the bullseye. Since I am left handed, I probably pulled the group in that direction.

      The group measured about 5/8 of an inch center to center. It could be easily covered with a quarter. At that point, I declared that the gun shot fine and quit while I was ahead! 🙂

  5. Again, uncle Mas, I’m remembering an old Cop Talk article. Specifically, you were referring to a new hire named Rick who had been a paramedic before joining your then department. In it, you were talking about how you were rolling out a very special Python instead of the standard issue S&W 13 because young Rick was a very special recruit. I have wondered ever since what happened to both Rick and the Python in question, you really do have a way with words that sticks with the reader.

    PS. A 3″ Python? If I ever find one it will be a display item only!

  6. Shooting a running ram at 76 yards, double-action! That’s quite a feat. Reminds me of Jeff Cooper’s stories about the 1911 shooting down a Japanese Zero, and the Swiss rifleman shooting trap with a bolt-action rifle, hitting the disc with his second shot. The Python you used had a scope on it, right? Either way, it sounds like a Hollywood shot. Amazing!

    I just have a Ruger GP 100 with a 6-inch barrel, but I love it. It’s wonderful to live during a time when engineering marvels are possible and commonplace.

    • It was regular adjustable sights on a 6” blue Python tuned by Jerry Moran and borrowed from my friend Hal Swiggett. I was so impressed with it I went home and immediately ordered one with the optional Elliason adjustable sights. Still have that gun. We had quite a history together.

    • Roger, I hope you have taken a file to those numerous sharp edges inside your GP100. Those Ruger revolvers are super tough, but watch out when the cylinder is open. I have worked on many Rugers and currently own two, a GP100 in 10mm and a Super Redhawk Alaskan in .480 Ruger. They are smooth on the outside, but open the cylinders and risk being cut by sharp edges everywhere, especially the area of the crane and hand window.

      The 10mm GP100 would be one of two choices I would pick if I had to carry a revolver for defense. The other is my S&W 625 Mountain Gun in .45 ACP with no infernal lock. Both guns use moon clips and the Ruger can fire .40 S&W ammo too with them. The clips for the 10mm Ruger holds the cartridges too loosely for fast reloading as one needs to jiggle them to insert into the cylinder. However, they are easier to snap in the cartridges and remove them. Hopefully an aftermarket company will make a metal full moon clip for the Ruger GP 100 in 10mm which grips the cartridges more tightly with less play.

  7. The first handgun I ever shot was my Dad’s Colt Police Positive in .38 s&w. Great handgun. He even used it to discourage someone from entering the farmhouse. Dad was not sure if he hit him or not. They declined to stick around to discuss the deficiencies of the under powered .38 s&w cartridge, and sped away in their “broke down” car. I remember shooting a Python years ago – smooth like buttah! Three fifty seven magnum. It was powerful enough for me. Buttah! Accurate buttah, to boot. Beautiful handgun. Unparalleled, deep, rich blue. Absolutely iconic!

    Honey, it’s Mother’s Day, and I have a surprise for you. I know we had planned a nice dinner out, but you will love this change in plans. I have a gift for you, a token of my love. Let’s go! I’ll get your bouquet from the trunk, and we can grab a Big Mac on the way to the range…

    • Dave, you can save money by picking some flowers at the range. By the way, where do we send the flowers to your funeral? 🙂

  8. Hard not to be reminded of the unfortunate Newhall, CA incident, where two of the slain officers were carrying Colt Pythons. An article on Newhall from American Handgunner written by Mas is on the Internet. I would maintain that the Pythons themselves did not lose the Newhall battle, and are exceptional tools yet for anyone who doesn’t mind carrying a little extra weight and prefers extreme, pick-off accuracy. They make great clubs, too. Reduced-load .357 ammo equivalent to .38 Special +p in power is hopefully available now. Very light, compact semiautos can be had for backup weapons. The masked Lone Ranger always carried two firearms. I don’t remember faithful Tonto in open carry. Was he?

  9. Oh, yeah. Tonto at least sometimes carried a single action revolver on a gun-belt on the right, and a knife at the left. I don’t think that his pistol was shiny, or that he carried flashy silver bullets. I will look again. I somehow associate Tonto most with the knife, rather than shooting the gun out of an outlaw’s hand, like Kemo Sabe, or “THE BIG GUY.” The SAA Colts, if that was what they were, still maintain a practical accuracy status second to none. Putting up a Colt Peacemaker against a Python in a target shoot might prove interesting. Now I am wondering if our Army’s George Patton used a Peacemaker in the Olympics, where he supposedly put two shots through the same bullet hole, and came in behind.

  10. Here’s a wonderful (soundless) British Pathé video of General Patton shooting a revolver at an indoor range in Sweden during the early 1940s. He clearly was enjoying himself, as were the other shooters taking part in the competition.

    https://youtu.be/CnWukul9cyg

  11. Here’s another fantastic (soundless) British Pathé video of General Patton awarding medals to soldiers in the field in the European Theatre of Operations during 1944.

    Note the cased rifle strapped to the jeep adjacent to Patton’s seat by one of Patton’s aides. Note the historically unique single action revolver carried by Patton. Note also the M2 .50 caliber heavy machine gun mounted on Patton’s jeep. Patton was an unabashed warrior who was beloved by his soldiers of the Third Army.

    In the politically correct Pentagon of 2020 where hand wringing, “Nervous Nellie”, sycophantic senior officers scurry to curry favor with leftist Bidenista civilian political appointees, one has to wonder if any generals or admirals at all carry their individually assigned semi-automatic pistols in open view at all times to set an example for airmen, coast guardsmen, Marines, sailors and soldiers to follow?

    https://youtu.be/CnWukul9cyg

  12. I asked for a Colt Python in the shiny nickel finish for my college graduation. The movie “Electra Glide in Blue was my inspiration. I used it for 50 yard bullseye competition and shot a 97 in practice once. Still have it, still love it.

  13. I may the odd person out there who thinks the older Colt Python was highly overrated. I have owned two of these revolvers, both blued models in 4″ and 6″ versions. The first was the 4″ Python purchased new for $265 back in the mid 1970’s when I couldn’t find a 6″ barreled model. The second was gotten a year later for $300 new. My mother had to sign for them as I wasn’t 21 at the time. Both revolvers shot well, especially the longer barreled one which allowed me to hit a 12 ounce soda at 100 yards with 5 of 6 shots from a braced sitting position. My eyesight was much sharper back then. I put thousands of medium powered handloads through the 6″ gun and had to replace the hand twice. I have never had a S&W with timing issues, even after thousands of rounds.

    I had also worked at three of the largest sporting goods stores locally and sold over a dozen Colt Pythons, mostly blued 6″ models and have handled about 30 of them including a Colt Python Hunter with 8″ barrel and factory mounted Leupold scope in an aluminum case which a friend of mine bought. That gun would shoot 1 1/2″ groups at 100 yards with good ammo. That said, I have seen several Pythons with muzzles cut at an angle, dull finishes which are almost a matte blue and none of them have great actions, including my two guns until I worked them over. In my humble opinion, a stock S&W 586/686 has an action equal to or better than a Python out of the box and they are much easier to work on than the Colts. I have never messed with the Mark III or Mark V Troopers.

    Hollywood helped the Python along with movies like Magnum Force and Sharky’s Machine, and TV series like Starsky and Hutch. Incidentally, the actor David Soul was in Magnum Force playing a dirty motorcycle cop packing a 4″ Python, then a few years later starred in Starsky and Hutch who used a blued 4″ Python for a few episodes before switching to a blued 6″ model carried in a shoulder holster which was never fully concealed under his very short leather jacket. I sold all my Colt revolvers but kept most of my S&W guns, none of them having the dreaded “Hillary Hole” or what I call the “infernal lock”, and I will never own one of them. I would like to have a blued 6″ Colt Python for nostalgic reasons but will not pay the ridiculous prices asked for one now.

  14. Mas, your memory is correct. Patton used a .38 Army COLT (here again!) Revolver in the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm. He shot a record-level score in practice, but wasn’t given credit for a probable bullseye on competition day. He sure went a long way in life after not being able to read very well as a kid, or master mathematics in his first year at West Point. I have known people who knew Patton pretty well in WWII, and he generated some widely disparate reviews all right, but General Ike Eisenhower said confidentially that even if Patton was arrogant, and he was, he was absolutely needed as a combat commander. Patton no doubt knew something about competition accuracy and pistols if he chose a .38 over a .22.

    • Strategic Steve,

      Bevin Alexander is a military historian. In one of his books he wrote that he believed Patton had the right idea about what to do after D-Day. Patton wanted to go straight to Berlin ASAP. Bevin believes if they had done that the war could have been shortened. Patton wasn’t listened to because he was sidelined a bit after slapping those two soldiers.

      Criticisms of Patton tend to be that he drove his men too hard. He believed that the harder our side fought, the sooner the war would be over, and fewer men would end up dying, as opposed to a longer war. I’m sure he drove his men hard during the race to Bastogne, but that was a rescue mission, and haste was justified. Whatever the truth about Patton’s style, he knew how to win battles, and that is the most important quality in a general.

      • Friend Roger Willco, you are right that Patton wanted to drive right to Berlin, and that he knew how to win battles. His casualties sometimes seemed excessive due to haste, to some people. Remember that the big boys in Washington, D.C. called most of the shots, and that Ike had to rein Patton in to conform to the wishes of the Big Political Bosses in D.C. A Tech Sergeant great uncle that I never saw was one of Patton’s drivers until killed in an “accident” in Germany in February 1945. A private from the same company died the same day, Patton’s most known driver was a Master Sergeant named Mims, appearing in in many newsreel shots. My great uncle Sam, 37 years old, was possibly the Sam mentioned in Patton’s “War As I Knew it,” who brought Patton’s pistols from stowage for the North African campaign against Rommel.

      • Roger:

        I have read many books on WWII strategy and weapons and in one of them, it was written that Patton had reached the Rhine River in the area of the Sigfried Line which at that time was lightly manned as the Germans had moved most of the personnel and weapons to locations which needed them more. However Patton could not cross the river and easily overrun the Sigfried Line and drive into Germany because Eisenhower had diverted his supplies to help the incompetent Bernard Montgomery whose forces were still stuck in the Ruhr pocket and could not break out. Patton had to watch as the Germans moved men and equipment back to the Sigfried Line and and built up it’s defensive positions during the following weeks and when his supplies were finally resumed, it took more effort and costed more American lives to achieve his objective. Thanks to Eisenhower’s poor decisions after D-Day, thousands more American soldiers lost their lives unnecessarily in combat. Patton, with his superior knowledge of strategy and tactics, should have been put in charge of all Allied forces in Europe and Eisenhower should be in charge of logistics as he was more suited as a bureaucrat than as a military leader. WW II in the ETO would have been over by the end of 1944.

        FDR wanted the Communists to take Berlin as a favor to his buddy Joe Stalin. The excuse was that it would cost too many American lives to take Berlin, so let the Russians do it instead. The Germans would fight to the Russians to the last man because they knew how barbaric the Soviets would be to the German people. However, the Germans (except for Hitler and some Nazis) would have gladly surrendered to the American forces if it would prevent the Russians from setting foot on German soil and if Patton was headed to Berlin, he would have faced light opposition along the way. FDR and Stalin wanted to play God and divide the world between them, which they did at Yalta much to Churchill’s disgust.

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