The 3" Colt Python

Maybe A White Buffalo Is Next?
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Nickel and ivory classic Detective Special (bottom).

Introduced in 1955 and advertised as the Cadillac of revolvers, the Colt Python became something of a cult gun to my generation of handgunners. It began as a 6″ barrel target gun, sort of an über-Officers Model Match .38 Special, chambered in .357 Magnum almost as an afterthought. It became a prestige gun in the law enforcement community as well, and accordingly Colt produced a 4″ version they originally called the Police Python. A 2.5″ barrel came later, by limited if not popular demand.

And, along the way, Colt produced a relatively small run of 3″ barrel models for one distributor, Lew Horton. A .41-frame all-steel gun with a heavy barrel, it wasn’t popular for concealment but the rarity of the 3″ sent collectors on a hunt for this variation. Some surplus barrels were sold to a parts distributor, resulting in “fake” Pythons that had been so re-barreled.

Too expensive in terms of specially skilled labor to manufacture in modern times, the Python was sadly discontinued, at which time prices of existing samples soared to Rolls Royce levels — and the 3″ versions simply went out of sight.

In 2020, Colt re-introduced the Python with a re-designed mechanism: Modern CNC machining allowed the sort of smoothness-friendly tolerances that required highly skilled hand labor in days of old. The “Rolls Royce” element of being literally hand-built was gone … but with a highly polished finish and a wise retention of most of “the old ways,” the “Cadillac” element remains. Colt is selling 2020 Pythons as fast as they can send them out of the shipping room. MSRP for the 3″ is $1,499, a fraction of what originals the same length sell for to Colt collectors at auction today.

I remember talking with Colt’s Justin Baldini after the 2020 Python came out and telling him that if they made one in 3″, I’d buy it. He smiled confidently. Now I know why.

And, yes, you’re damn right I bought it.


The Python Mystique

It wasn’t just the beautiful high-polish finish that sold the Python; Smith & Wesson had the equivalent with the Bright Blue of their original 1935 .357 Magnum a score of years before the Python came out, and maintained it with the Model 27. The solid balance of the weighted underlug barrel and the full-length ventilated rib made the gun hang steadier, and except for the venting in the rib, was copied by Smith & Wesson in the L-Frame and by Ruger in the GP100, both hugely successful in their markets. The double-lock mechanism secured the cylinder absolutely motionless in line with the barrel before the firing pin hit the primer, and 1:14″ rifling versus the standard 1:18.75″ sealed the deal, making the Colt just a tad more accurate than its counterparts. Both of those elements remain in place in the 2020 Pythons. Try one at the gun shop, with the dealer’s permission: Triple check it’s empty, dry-fire it and hold the trigger back, and check the cylinder for movement. There won’t be any. This is a Python Difference. Then … and now.

But with Python fans, “then and now” is a discussion with different dimensions.


The new 3" Colt completes Mas’ set of each Python barrel length.

The 2020

The original Python had a very light trigger pull, both single- and double-action. The DA trigger stroke was longer than its arch-competitor, Smith & Wesson. This gave it more mechanical advantage, with a relatively lighter pull. However, the S&W was uniform in resistance to the trigger finger from the beginning of the pull to the break of the double-action shot — “single-stage,” as it were — while the Colt was “two-stage.” As its V-shaped mainspring closed its lines at the bottom of the “V,” there would be added pressure at the very end of the Colt’s stroke, known as “stacking.” The two-stage pull, “trigger-cocking” in its truest sense, allowed the shooter to bring the hammer back almost to break-point, and then apply the last bit of pressure like a single-action pull. NRA’s definition of rapid fire in bullseye, the only competition shooting game in town when the Python first came out, was five shots in 10 seconds starting with gun already on target and finger already on trigger. In serious shooting as perceived today, which goes much faster, trigger-cocking just doesn’t cut it: The revolver shooter really needs the straight-through double-action pull.

The 2020 Python is more one stage than two in its DA pull. There is a very slight, barely perceptible increase in pull weight toward the end of the stroke, but you feel it gradually, not in the distinct second stage of the original Colts.

This new generation of Pythons (and Anaconda .44 Magnums, in my limited experience with them) have heavier single-action pulls than their predecessors. The 3″ test sample, serial number PY 235731, ran a little over 5 lbs. single-action pull weight on average as measured on a Lyman digital trigger pull gauge. It’s way more than Pythons (and other target-grade Colt revolvers) of yore. On the other hand, the double-action pull weight measured a little over 9 lbs., in a world of service revolvers where 12 to 14 lbs. is the typical pull weight.

Some perspective is in order here. Most of us who used Colt Pythons in double-action shooting events like PPC or Bianchi Cup/NRA Action had the actions customized to single-stage double-action. My 2.5″ Python was done by the late, great Reeves Jungkind in Texas, and my 4″ and 6″ Pythons by the legendary Jerry Moran, who is thankfully still with us as far as I know. My 8″ is my only one that’s still two-stage; it was modified by the Colt Custom Shop, which to my knowledge was never allowed to build single-stage double-action Pythons because it might be seen as an admission of original design inferiority for the purpose. I don’t know of anyone currently tuning 2020 series Pythons, with their different actions; if anyone does, please let me know in care of this magazine.


At 25 yards, Black Hills match 148-grain .38 wadcutters —
the best three exemplify Python accuracy.

At 25 yards, the 3" Python and Speer Lawman 158-grain +P .38 Special.

On The Range

I bench-rested the test 3″ Python with loads across the range of .38 Special/.357 Magnum versatility. The 3″ barrel equals “defense gun,” so for the .357 Magnum I used the load most famously successful for that, Federal’s 125-grain SJHP rated for 1,450 foot-seconds from an inch-longer barrel. The five-shot group measured 4.15″ but the best three, a measurement that factors out enough human error to roughly equal what can be expected for all five from a machine rest, was a more pleasing 1.8″.

The 158-grain .38 Special +P in Speer’s Lawman training load gave two tight doubles and one lone bullet hole, measuring 2.15″ total and 1.35″ for the best three.

Black Hills’ red box 148-grain .38 Special Match wadcutters printed five shots in 2.10″ and the best three well under an inch, 0.85″. Now, this is the accuracy that endeared the Colt to us Python fans, shortened sight radius notwithstanding.


Perks & Quirks

A six-shooter weighing 38.10 oz. on my calibrated scale, unloaded, does not exactly fulfill current standards for weight vis-à-vis defensive firepower. However, weight absorbs recoil. The day I spent carrying it in a Cordovan Galco Yaqui Slide holster reminded me the Python is a .41-frame revolver and I have a K-Frame body, but I was also reassured by the thought of 583 foot-pounds of energy per shot with the 125-grain Magnum hollow point. I did the research back in the day, and can assure you its legendary stopping power was not a myth. The heft of this gun is reassuring: If nothing else, it reminds you that you are formidably armed.

The checkered stocks, a modern interpretation of an old design, allowed HKS PY speedloaders to work with Magnum rounds but weren’t my favorite: not enough curve to fill the palm, and esthetically, the blonde line down the line of the right side panel of brown hardwood was just downright “fugly.” All my working Pythons wound up with aftermarket grips anyway. This one will be no different.

I don’t like the new Colt adjustable revolver sights at all, not on the Python and not on the Anaconda. On our test sample, as you’ll see in the photos, the rear sight leaf came out of the box offset to the right, and this is where it sent its shots. This sight is a pain in the butt to adjust. On most of my own Pythons, I used the then-Colt Factory optional Elliason sight, which was and is much better. It’s now produced by Kensight (Google will get you there) and while the old style sight won’t fit the new Python, demand may have created one that does by the time you read this.

Bottom line: I bought the test gun. I bought it because original 3″ Pythons go for crazy money, and dammit, as a long-time fan whose old Pythons made me shoot better than usual, I wanted the complete collection of barrel lengths. And the current MSRP of $1,499 is a helluva lot cheaper than one of the super-rare originals. The DNA may not be exactly the same, but it’s finally a white buffalo I can afford to bag.

If I can’t afford a Rolls-Royce, well, I’m okay with this 3″ Python Cadillac.

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