One Cool Cat


Stoeger packs a Big .45 punch in its economical Cougar pistol.

The new Stoeger Cougar 8045 pistol is remarkable for a number of things. First, and remarkable for a .45 as we enter the second decade of the 21st century, it isn't a 1911. Second, it uses a rotating barrel to lock the breech, and third it is made in Turkey.


Turkey has been making small arms for a century now. While the local market is somewhat small and specialized (I've seen Turkish hunters with shotguns more expensive than the cars they drove, but that isn't really unusual now, is it?), the skill of Turkish manufacturers is not to be dismissed lightly. By having the Cougar made in Turkey, Stoeger is able to provide us with a well-made, reliable and durable pistol at a very reasonable price.

As a non-1911, the Cougar (the name for the line of pistols in 9mm, .40 S&W and now .45 ACP) offers a hand-filling grip without being too large, while the controls are in the expected places. The sights are your standard, fixed, three-dot sights that look for all the world like they came right off of a Beretta M9.


The safety is an ambidextrous hammer-dropping safety mounted on the slide, one that stays down when you rotate the lever. The trigger is a traditional double-action/single-action; that is, you can trigger-cock the hammer on the first shot, and then the slide cocks the hammer for single action on each subsequent shot. The magazine catch is on the frame behind the trigger guard, and the magazine drops free when the button is pushed.

The slide is stainless steel, given a proprietary Bruniton finish, and the frame is aluminum alloy, anodized black. The barrel is given a black phosphate finish, so there aren't any bright spots to shine or glare on the Cougar. New in the Cougar line--only on the .45 so far--is an accessory rail machined into the frame for mounting lights or lasers.

Basically, if you are familiar with the Beretta M9/92, you will know exactly how the controls on the Cougar operate. There will be no surprises there.

The advantages of this rotating barrel are many. For one, barrels can be quickly, easily and precisely turned on automated lathes. And without the geometry of a tilting barrel to worry about, designers and manufacturers can produce a pistol with tighter tolerances that are easier to fit, thus potentially increasing accuracy.

The lack of a tilting barrel also makes designing the feed path easier, as the slide is pushing the cartridge to a known and consistent chamber location. In making a line of pistols, changing calibers in such a design is a matter of changing the breech-face dimensions on the slides and installing different barrels. The last part means it is a simple task to change over production from one caliber to another, especially if the magazine well is not altered between calibers.


What you might find a surprise is the mechanical design. The use of a rotating barrel in a locked-breech pistol is not a new idea. It first saw common use in the Austrian part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, when the Steyr M1912 was a competitor of the then-new Colt 1911 pistol.

The idea is simple: You machine camming lugs on the barrel that cause the barrel to be rotated by the slide as it cycles, via the barrel lugs riding in slots machined in the slide.

As a mechanical boost to the system, the barrel cams typically rotate the barrel counter to the torque imparted on the barrel by the bullet striking and being rotated by the rifling.

This isn't actually new for a .45 handgun as the Savage 1907 pistol--competitor of the Colt for the U.S. military pistol trials--was chambered in .45 and also used a rotating barrel system.

The advantages of this rotating barrel are many. For one, barrels can be quickly, easily and precisely turned on automated lathes. And without the geometry of a tilting barrel to worry about, designers and manufacturers can produce a pistol with tighter tolerances that are easier to fit, thus potentially increasing accuracy.

The lack of a tilting barrel also makes designing the feed path easier, as the slide is pushing the cartridge to a known and consistent chamber location. In making a line of pistols, changing calibers in such a design is a matter of changing the breech-face dimensions on the slides and installing different barrels. The last part means it is a simple task to change over production from one caliber to another, especially if the magazine well is not altered between calibers.

The Cougar 8045 has a hand-filling grip with a lightly grooved backstrap. The front of the trigger guard is squared off and serrated. The Cougar's controls include an ambidextrous hammer-dropping safety. The double-action trigger pull is smooth with no hard spots or stacking.

On the Cougar, it apparently is not. While I don't have a 9mm/.40 magazine to compare it to, the magazine on the .45 Cougar is clearly a double-stack tube that has been altered to properly feed .45 ACP cartridges. As a result, while it looks like you might be able to stuff more ammo in it, it holds only eight rounds.

While it would be possible to make a design that holds more, any attempt at doing so would run into two problems. One, by altering the design so much you'd lose the advantage of parts commonality and thus ease of production. Two, you'd also make the grip a lot bigger, which would be a shame, as the grip is nicely proportioned as it is. While it feels a bit blocky in the hand, it is not at all oversized, and I never felt as if I was trying to shoot good groups with a "2x4 grip" in my hands.

The grip shape and size made the recoil of .45 ACP ammo pretty easy to bear, as the hand-filling proportions of the frame provided a lot of surface area for the recoil to push on. At no time in shooting did I feel as if the middleweight Cougar was pushing me around.

The short barrel and slide mean a short rail, and you will have to select a compact light or laser in order to fit it onto the rail. I had an Insight M3X on hand that locked in place perfectly and allowed the dual-switch to hang back around the trigger guard perfectly.

Now, a light or laser that projects past the slid

e end or muzzle is not going to be damaged by the muzzle blast because modern lights are quite durable. But hanging a big light on a medium-size pistol negates some of the handiness of the Cougar. Get something compact for your illumination needs.

If you simply look at the numbers for the trigger pull, you'd think the Cougar was afflicted with an awful trigger. Not at all; the trigger pull in both modes was smooth and clean.

The double action reminds me of the factory revolvers of a couple of decades ago when revolvers were still common in police holsters. It's smooth, without any hitches, catches, hard spots or stacking. The single action is clean and crisp, without creep or drag. Once your trigger finger gets used to the seemingly slightly heavier weights, you'll be able to work the trigger just fine.

The alloy frame of the Cougar means that the typical cam tracks on a rotating-barrel system cannot be employed. Aluminum would not stand up to the shearing forces of the camming, and the barrel lug would quickly wallow the track in an aluminum frame into a vague path, destroying the serial-numbered part of your pistol.

The Cougar design uses a separate cam block, machined out of steel, that rests in the frame. The block has the cam track, and the frame simply has to withstand the thrust force of the block when pressed back by the turning barrel. The design means very little to nearly nonexistent wear on the frame and also permits Stoeger to simply install the caliber-appropriate cam block when building a particular pistol in a given caliber. The cleverness of this design is quite appealing.

You'll see all this when you disassemble the Cougar. Lock the slide back and make sure it is unloaded. Drop the magazine. Then rotate the disassembly lever on the left side of the frame. You can now slide the entire upper assembly off of the frame.

The angled slot rotates the barrel during cycling. The slot mates to a steel cam block that rides in the frame, a design that prevents wear to the alloy frame and simplifies manufacturing.

When you do, the slide, barrel, recoil spring and its guide, and the cam block, all come out. The first few times you do this, you'll want to pay close attention to the relationship between the block and barrel. The block, barrel and recoil spring guide rod have been designed to fit only one way, so if you're putting it back together and things don't seem to fit, that is probably why. Don't force it; start over.

A drawback of the separate cam block design combines with one of the attributes of rotating-barrel designs to create an interesting effect in recoil. First, the block causes the barrel to ride a bit higher above the axis of your hand than it might otherwise, increasing the leverage the pistol has on recoil.

Second, rotating-barrel pistols do not soak up recoil as much as other designs do. The typical rotating barrel weighs just a bit less than a tilting-barrel design, and thus the locked slide-barrel combo doesn't require as much force to get moving. The end result is that the Cougar, while soft in recoil, seems just a bit "bouncy."

Now, muzzle rise in recoil is not a big deal. In fact, a lot of competitive shooters aren't bothered by it. The great Brian Enos, who co-owned practical shooting back in the 1980s with Robbie Leatham, once remarked "I don't care if my front sight lifts and signs my full name during recoil, as long as it drops back down into the rear sight at the end."

While the Cougar front sight may not be signing any names, it does indeed drop back down into the rear sight. You won't have to spend time hunting for it on the next shot. Felt recoil is soft, and the whole effect is a lot of movement but not much fuss. Someone watching might think that you were having an awful time of it, but in shooting you really don't have a problem.

One effect of a rotating barrel is that only pistols that use it have primary extraction. In rifles (the common arm featuring primary extraction), the rotating bolt drags the expanded cartridge as it rotates, initially breaking the frictional bond between case and chamber wall. Handguns, since they typically use a tilting barrel, do not have the initial extraction and simply snatch the case straight back out of the chamber.

The Cougar, with its rotating barrel, has to have some primary extraction going on, but the few cases I managed to find in the weeds didn't show obvious evidence of it. However, the chamber appears to be quite smooth, and unless I were to use +P or hotter ammo, I'm not sure the marks of primary extraction would show. The empties were reliably and consistently thrown to the right and a bit forward, landing in a relatively small area.

Accuracy of the Cougar was an up and down experience. Many pistols have definite preferences as to what ammunition they like or don't like. For some, it is reliability, for others, accuracy.

While I cannot fault the Cougar on the matter of reliability, if yours is anything like this one, you will definitely benefit from trying different ammunition in it.

Note as an example the chart listing accuracy delivered with Wolf ammo. Ouch. In all fairness to Wolf, that is the exact same production batch of ammunition that I used at the 2009 USPSA Single Stack Nationals, where I had no problem shooting "A" hits at 35 yards on swinging targets. This particular pistol clearly doesn't like that batch of ammo.

It also wasn't too happy with Winchester ammo, so there is no placing the blame on steel-cased ammo. So what? It likes other ammo just fine.

It's like the old joke of "Doctor, doctor--it hurts when I do this." "Then don't do that." If you find your Cougar (or any other handgun) doesn't like a particular brand or load, don't use it. Move on and try some other ammo.

Where does all this leave us? The Cougar is a slightly bulky (compared to a 1911 Commander) .45 ACP with accessory light rail and a traditional double-action/single-action trigger system. If you want a basic reliable big-bore pistol that will be easy to use, this will do.

The frame in the grip area is big enough to soften recoil without seeming to be bulky. The felt recoil, while bouncy, is not at all oppressive. While it may be a bit large for many as a carry gun, the Cougar in .45 seems to me to fit the slot of "house gun" to a T.

Once you've test-fired it and found the proper defensive ammo that it likes, put a light on it, load it up, lower the hammer and put it in the bedside safe. Each night, pull it out and leave it where you'll have it handy. In the morning, put it back. For something with a suggested retail under five Benjamins that will provide you peace and safety for, well, the rest of your life, it's a hard bargain to beat.

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Handguns stories delivered right to your inbox.