August 15, 2022
By Keith Wood
In 2020, revolver enthusiasts rejoiced when Colt reintroduced the much sought-after Python. The classic double-action revolver had been discontinued nearly 20 years earlier, but nostalgia-fed demand had increased steadily after, and Colt finally gave the shooting public what it was demanding: a new Python.
This release was part of Colt’s broader move back into the double-action sixgun market, with new examples of both the King Cobra and Anaconda re-emerging in recent years. Barrels of 4.5 and 6 inches—both in stainless steel—were offered on the reimagined Python. For 2022, Colt took things a step further, adding a stainless Python with a three-inch barrel to the mix. The first production Pythons left the factory in 1995. The original list price was $125. Most Pythons were chambered in .357 Magnum, although Target models were produced in .38 Special. Various other chamberings saw limited production over the years.
By the time the 1990s came around, though, the gun-buying public increasingly favored semiautomatics. And so, like many of the great sixguns, Python production ceased. That was in 2004. Around the same time, I was a young prosecutor working in my hometown’s courthouse. The judge’s bailiff, a retired New York state trooper, carried a four-inch blued Python with custom ironwood grips. I coveted that gun. But when I finally came up with enough cash to buy my own, they had disappeared from the market. I wasn’t the only one who wanted a Python. Prices for vintage examples rose significantly in the years that followed. Finally, 16 years after Colt had discontinued production, the new guns were born.
While the new Pythons are faithful to the originals in many ways, they are not clones. The new Pythons are compatible with holsters designed for the original, so size is nearly identical. Also, the one-piece forged vent-rib barrel and recessed crown—classic Python design elements—were maintained. We have seen many manufacturers switch to a two-piece barrel arrangement on revolvers to cut production costs, but that’s not so on the new Python. Vintage Pythons are considered some of the finest double-action revolvers ever made. They’ve reached almost mythical status in recent years, but as nice as the original guns were, they had shortcomings.
Pythons came of age during the Bullseye era, where light .38 Special loads were the most likely ammunition choice. The gun earned a reputation as being a bit on the fragile side when full-power .357 Magnum loads were used in great quantity. It wasn’t uncommon for Pythons to go out of time, and some guns even blew up at the topstrap—a well-documented occurrence, according to Jerry Kuhnhausen’s shop manual on double-action Colts. To address these problems and to create a stronger and more durable revolver than the original, one of the first things Colt did when it redesigned the .357 Magnum-chambered Python was to beef up the frame. For starters, parts were built from 410-series steel, which is stronger than what was used on previous versions. Also, 30 percent more steel was added below the rear sight, the usual failure point in the vintage guns, to ensure the new Pythons will stand up to whatever abuse they encounter.
Colt also simplified the complicated action, removing some of the working parts from the design. Ultimately, nine action components were eliminated. These changes made the revolver easier to build and therefore more affordable. One major internal design element did remain the same. The Python uses a leaf mainspring, just as the original did. There’s more good news. Colt is machining the action parts, including the hammer and trigger, out of bar stock rather than going down the less-expensive MIM (metal injection molding) route.
Vintage vs. New
Actions on vintage Pythons have the reputation as being smooth as silk, so this gun had a lot to live up to. The trigger pull on my test sample was on the heavy side but very clean. The double-action trigger broke right at 12 pounds while the single-action break was 5.1 pounds. There was no noticeable creep on either the double- or single-action pull. The face of the trigger is grooved deeply, and the hammer spur is serrated laterally. The stainless steel six-shot cylinder is fluted and chamfered at the forward edge, just as the vintage guns were. The distinctively Colt latch is drawn to the rear to release the cylinder. The long cylinder-notch leads, another Python attribute, are also present. These no doubt aid the revolver’s excellent double-action trigger pull by minimizing the friction of the bolt head as it drags on the rotating cylinder. The cylinder rotates clockwise.
When measuring the barrel-to-cylinder gap on this Python, I could just fit a .005-inch feeler gauge between the two components. Some sources list .005 inch as the “ideal” cylinder gap for a Python, so this revolver was very much in-spec from that standpoint. The knurled ejector rod facilitates extraction/ejection and is shrouded by the barrel’s underlug. Other than the matte sections on top of the frame and barrel, the finish on the stainless steel is of a higher polish than vintage stainless-steel Pythons, which usually had a satin look to them. This Python falls somewhere in between Colt’s traditional brushed and high-polish stainless steel finishes.
The Rampant Colt logo, complete with two spears, is engraved into the left side of the frame. The machine-engraved “PYTHON .357” on the barrel, flanked by a pair of stars, is authentic to the markings found on many of the original guns. The markings on the right side of the frame and barrel are more contemporary in nature. The overall fit and finish of the gun is quite good. The sights on the new Python are very well executed. A red ramp front blade fits into the barrel’s integral rib and is secured by a hex screw above the muzzle. This arrangement not only is sturdy but also makes the front sight user- interchangeable. Any front sights designed for the new Cobra and King Cobra models, including red fiber-optic and tritium versions, are compatible with the Python.
The plain black rear sight was altered slightly to accommodate the beefier frame and is roll-pinned and screwed into place. It is adjustable for both windage and elevation. The final piece of the puzzle are the Python’s laminated wood grips. These functional and, to me, comfortable grips fall in between the classic walnut grips and the synthetic stocks offered on some of the Python models of yesteryear. The grips combine the looks of wood with the durability of a laminate. Both grip panels are checkered, and Colt medallions are inset.
Colt’s choice to introduce the new three-inch Python is interesting, given how few were produced between 1955 and 2006. Though some three-inch royal blue examples were built, they were extremely rare and command five-figure prices today. Before the 2022 model was introduced, three-inch stainless steel Pythons were even more unique. According to the book Colt’s Python—King of the Seven Serpents, only 13 three-inch barreled stainless steel “Combat Pythons” were ever built. These rare guns were never cataloged and did not appear in Colt’s 2003 price list. Considering the mystique surrounding those guns, I doubt the reintroduction of this rare barrel length is a mere coincidence.
3-inch Barrel Performance
The three-inch barrel makes for a very handy revolver. One dedicated to the task could certainly carry this handgun concealed, and I suspect some folks may do so on principle. The barrel length is a nice compromise between duty-sized four-inch barrels and 2.5-inch snubnose guns—a bit more velocity and sight radius than the snubby but more manageable to carry than the four-inch revolvers. Even with the three-inch barrel, the Python still generated impressive velocities, including 1,202 fps with the 158-grain American Eagle jacketed hollowpoint .357 load. For comparison’s sake, I have seen averages right at 1,400 fps when testing similar ammunition in the new six-inch Python.
Overall, I believe Colt did a nice job of paying tribute to the original while making a gun that is stronger and more cost-effective to produce. Making revolvers is significantly more expensive than building semiautos, and this gun had to be a viable product in terms of profit in order to make it into Colt’s catalog. The new Python reminds me of some of the retro-influenced cars built in recent years that paid homage to the muscle cars of the 1960s. They’re not exact reproductions of the originals, but they are close enough to make them attractive. A bit of trivia: The redesigned Colt was called “Operation Ford Mustang” by the internal design team. Clearly, they shared my automotive comparisons. In some ways, this is a better—or at least a stronger and simpler—gun than Colt ever made during the Python’s golden age.
My first centerfire handgun was a stainless steel double-action .357 Magnum, so shooting the new Python was a familiar exercise. Thanks to the gun’s weight, recoil is not much of a factor, even with hot magnum loads. With .38 Special ammunition, recoil was even more manageable. This gun/load combination might be a great choice as a defensive firearm option for someone who is sensitive to recoil. Accuracy was good and fairly consistent. Due to this handgun’s barrel length, it was tested at 15 yards rather than usual 25 yards. Most groups were tighter than listed but with a single flier that opened things up considerably. This is often the case with revolvers, where some of the cylinder’s chambers better align with the bore than others.
Revolvers are no longer the first choice of most law enforcement and civilian users for self-defense, but that doesn’t make them obsolete. Many individuals are more comfortable with the simplicity and reliability of a revolver while others, me included, simply enjoy shooting them. This new Colt Python is a powerful revolver in a handy barrel length. For the revolver fans out there, it is certainly worth a look.
My hat is off to Colt for recreating this classic American revolver. What really sold this gun for me is that Colt chose machined internal parts and a one-piece barrel, despite the increased cost of both. No, it’s not exactly the same as the Pythons produced in past years, but it is nonetheless a well-built revolver. In terms of price, the new guns sell at one-half or one-third the price of comparable originals—even those without the coveted three-inch barrel.
Colt Python 3-Inch Barrel Specs
- Type: Double-action revolver
- Caliber: .357 Magnum
- Capacity: 6 rds.
- Barrel: 3-in., stainless steel (tested)
- Weight: 40 oz.
- Construction: 410-series stainless steel
- Grips: Checkered laminated wood
- Sights: Red ramp front, adjustable rear
- Trigger: 12 lbs. (double-pull), 5 lbs., 1 oz. (single-action) (tested)
- MSRP: $1,499
- Manufacturer: Colt Manufacturing Company