July 17, 2023
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The Colt Python, from its introduction in 1955, has always been one of the classic modern handguns. It had, and has, a lot of sex appeal and style. As with many firearms (i.e., Dirty Harry’s Model 29), it has acted as a signal on screen that its users were the real deal. Among film appearances that stand out for me are the python-using motorcycle cops/death squad in Magnum Force, John Wayne in McQ, and Burt Reynolds in Sharkey’s Machine among others. Motorcycle cop “Big John” Wintergreen played by Robert Blake uses both blued and nickeled Pythons in Electra Glide in Blue. I saw this film with a girlfriend who was a movie reviewer for the St. Louis Post Dispatch; her press pass got us in to see it for free.
I gave her a short tutorial on the Python’s “aura,” but I don’t remember if she used it in the review. French flic (cop) films often featured the Python, most noticeably, in the hands of Yves Montand in the eponymous Police Python .357. He’s even seen concocting handloads for it! The Python was discontinued in 2005 after being produced for 50 years, but it became iconic once again in the hands of Deputy Rick Grimes of The Walking Dead who used a six-inch Python. Exposure in this popular TV series inflated prices for used Pythons, as the revolver was out of production, and arguably helped bring back the Python in 2020 in its current incarnation.
When I acquired my first .357 Magnum revolver in the late 1960s, I was aware of the Python from reading Shooter’s Bible cover-to-cover multiple times. However, the Python, selling for $135 at the time, was out of my price range. Instead, I bought a used Colt .357 for about $60, which was built on the same medium Colt E-frame as the Python. It was a good revolver, but as soon as I found a S&W Model 28 “Highway Patrolman,” built on the larger N-frame, I replaced the Colt .357. In addition to feeling comfortable with heavier hand loads in the Model 28, it had a better double action pull.
I shot the Python a couple of times over the next few years, and admittedly admired the ones I shot; but I didn’t buy one. Then, in 1985 or 1986, I agreed to co-author a book titled Great Combat Handguns with Rene Smeets, editor of AMI, the premier Belgian gun magazine. The plan was that I would do my pick of the 25 best modern American combat handguns and Rene would do his pick of the best 25 from the rest of the world. Obviously, one of mine had to be the Colt Python. I used part of my advance for doing the book to purchase a blued, four-inch Python.
I found it accurate with a comfortable oversize grip. Its single action trigger pull was excellent, but the double action pull left a lot to be desired. The sights were good, but the rear sight was squared off and could impede a draw from beneath a jacket. The sight wasn’t as large as that of the Manurhin MR73, but I felt it would be hard on the lining of a jacket. Akin to the S&W Combat Magnum (AKA M19), the Python was built on a medium rather than a large frame as with the S&W Models 27 or 28. Most of all, the Python was a handsome revolver and one that felt good in the hands. Nevertheless, a few years after finishing the book, I traded the Python for something, but I don’t remember what. Once again, I was sans Python.
I’d always liked nickeled Pythons, but I’d owned some nickeled guns in the past that tended to show wear more than blued guns. However, in 1984 Colt introduced their “Ultimate Stainless” (AKA “Bright Stainless” finish, which looked like nickel but lasted like stainless. I was assigned an article on one of the new “Ultimate Pythons” and requested one with the 2½-inch barrel. I’d always thought the short-barreled Python looked especially business like so was happy when the new silver snake arrived. I was going to a friend’s place located along the Cuivre River so took it along to do some testing with it. He had plates hanging from a tree across the river at about 50 or 60 yards and I started shooting at them with the snub Python—and hitting them virtually every time—with a 2½-inch barreled gun! Later, when I shot the revolver on paper, it grouped well. As had been my prior experience with Pythons, the single action pull was quite good, the double action not so much. Still, I liked the gun enough that I had Colt bill me and bought it, and almost 40 years later I still have it.
A few years later a friend who had purchased a four-inch “Ultimate Python” decided that he didn’t like the DA pull and offered to trade it to me or sell it. My favorite Python barrel length had always been the four-inch so I bought it, then added Ajax stag grips and Tyler grip adaptors to the pair. After the Python was discontinued, prices of the revolvers rose, with the Ultimate stainless examples bring a premium, especially the scarce 2½-inch version. I really wasn’t tempted to sell, though. I had the Pythons I had always wanted. They were shiny, but also durable and both shot well, especially the short-barreled one.
I have a Galco Combat Master holster for the four-inch gun and a DeSantis Thumb Break Scabbard for the 2½-inch gun so on the rare occasion I carry one of them, it is secure and fast to bring into action. I’ll also admit that I can be OCD sometimes, at which point I start telling myself I need to get a six-inch “Ultimate Stainless” Python,” but then I look at the price. And, although the longer necked snake looks cool, I’ve stuck with the easier to carry barrel lengths. The reincarnated Python of 2020, especially the three-inch version is appealing, the extra half inch allowing better extraction of empty .357 Magnum cases, but so far I’ve resisted.
Though the two Ultimate Stainless Pythons have been my keepers, carriers, and shooters among the Colt Snakes for approaching 40 years, I did own two others during that period for a time. One day, I was at a local gun shop when the widow of a STLPD officer came in to sell his two revolvers—a four-inch blued Python and a two-inch S&W Model 12. Both showed a career of usage. The Python, though, was a classic STLPD revolver as it had oversized wood grips with a heavy brass base plate of the type made by a local furniture builder for area police. He also made custom nightsticks.
I didn’t bicker and gave her what she wanted—she deserved it. I eventually sold the revolver to a police collector friend who recognized the grips, as I knew he would cherish it. I still have the Model 12. Then, my same friend who had sold me the four-inch Ultimate Python” offered me a Factory Class D engraved four-inch blued Python. He caught me the same week I got in a royalty check for one of my books that had been optioned for a TV series. I really should have banked the money, but the Colt was gorgeous. It was so gorgeous that I decided it should be with a Colt collector, and at one New Year’s Eve at a party I worked a trade with a friend for three guns he had which I really wanted.
So, that’s most of my tail of Colt Pythons. I still own my two “Ultimates”; they were out of the safe, and I was due to write an article for Firearms News. That means a shooting test was required. I decided to do all of my shooting with the four-inch “Ultimate.” I fired groups with three different types of ammo off hand at 25 yards. I also fired at plates and pepper poppers both DA and SA. I had forgotten that, while my 2½-inch “Ultimate Python” has white outline rear and red insert front sights, my 4" one does not. As I mentioned earlier, I have always shot exceptionally well with the 2½-inch barreled revolver; I think the sights have been an aid. Nevertheless, I was satisfied with the accuracy of my four-inch revolver.
I was shooting three different types of ammo and did not adjust the sights to fit the load, so groups did not always impact at the same point of aim on the Thompson Target silhouette targets I was using. As usual, single action trigger pull was very good, while double action was heavy. I should also note that I tailored both of my “Ultimate Pythons” to my taste by adding Ajax Grips stags and a Tyler T-grip. Those who have not used well-made stag grips may wonder if they abrade the hand with recoil, but my experiences using them on magnum handguns has been they give a good gripping surface but do not abrade. What can I say? I have the two Colt Pythons that fit my wants and needs. They’re shiny, stylish, and accurate. I do understand the mystique of the Python.
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