A handgun I wanted to shoot for decades was the Coonan 1911-style .357 Magnum. This combination of power and function is uncommon in a relatively compact package. Recently, I finally had the chance to fire the Coonan. The Coonan isn’t a lightweight handgun but it is far more compact than the Desert Eagle .357 or a six-inch barrel revolver, as an example.
A .357 Magnum self-loader is pretty interesting. The .357 Magnum in its full-power loading is a powerful loading with excellent wound ballistics. The .357 Magnum is useful for personal defense, hunting, and recreational use. Wedding a rimmed revolver cartridge to the self-loading action isn’t an easy feat. It has been done with the .22 LR and the .38 Special, but the .357 Magnum’s recoil brings a host of other problems.
The 9mm Luger in its +P+ variants nips at the heels of the .357 Magnum, at least in the usual four-inch barrel variants, and the .38 ACP Super is even stronger than the 9mm by perhaps 100 to 150 fps with the best class of loads. However, none equal the legendary 1,400 fps 125-grain JHP .357 Magnum load.
After years of attempting to get the .38 Special and 9mm Luger small bore cartridges off their feet, we finally had a loading with excellent wound potential and penetration in the 125-grain .357 Magnum. The Federal 125-grain JHP is still a great all-around duty and personal defense load. The problem with the load is that weapon wear takes its toll on small parts in the revolver. The load also kicks a lot.
The Coonan is designed to accommodate the .357 cartridge and does so with reliability and accuracy. The handle is longer than the .45 ACP 1911 because the .357 Magnum cartridge is longer than the .45, but it is also thinner. The grip should not challenge most hand sizes.
The pistol isn’t as heavy, long, or tall as it first appears, and only a bit larger than the .45 ACP 1911 Government Model. The pistol weighs 42 ounces. The extra weight of the Coonan helps control the recoil of the .357 Magnum cartridge. The pistol is well finished, with stainless steel construction and excellent overall fit of the slide to the barrel and barrel to the slide.
The controls are straight up 1911, with the slide lock, magazine release, and slide lock safety operating crisply. The grip safety properly locks the trigger and when depressed releases its hold on the trigger about midway into its travel. The sights are high visibility types that offer a good sight picture. The stainless steel magazine holds seven cartridges. The Coonan is a robust design that resembles other 1911 handguns and some of the parts interchange. The long ejection port of the Coonan is very distinctive. The trigger isn’t a standard straight-to-the-rear 1911 type but hinged in a manner similar to the Browning High Power.
I have fired the Coonan extensively and find it an impressive handgun. I have fired the Federal Cartridge Company 125-grain JHP and the 180-grain JHP as well as the 158-grain Hydra-Shok. Results have been good. Firing from a solid bench rest at a long 25 yards, the pistol has exhibited several 2-inch five-shot groups. The Hornady Manufacturing 125-grain Critical Defense has also given good results.
The five-inch barrel makes it shorter than a six-inch barrel revolver, but there is no cylinder and barrel gap. As a result, the Coonan develops higher velocity than expected. This velocity gain is a great advantage over the revolver.
The .357 Magnum Coonan demonstrates greater velocity with the same bullet weight than any .357 SIG loading—with the same weight bullet and load, it will outperform the average six-inch barrel .357 Magnum revolver. As an example, I have a medium-power loading I use often consisting of the Hornady 125-grain XTP bullet and a modest charge of Titegroup powder. This loading breaks about 1,250 fps in a four-inch barrel revolver with modest recoil. It is a good practice load.
While powerful, it isn’t as powerful or hard hitting as the full power 1,450 fps load. In the Coonan, this load exhibits 1,450 fps with modest recoil. So, we are getting the legendary Magnum performance with approximately .38 Super recoil. On the other hand, a handload using a heavier charge of medium-burning powder easily breaks 1,550 fps from the Coonan.
The Coonan isn’t just a .357 Magnum self-loader; it brings back the performance of the original .357 Magnum. If you are a hunter, the Federal Cartridge Company 180-grain load breaks 1,200 fps from the Coonan, an excellent choice for deer-sized game. For boar, load the Hornady 180-grain XTP to 1,200 fps for deep penetration.
For personal defense, the Coonan is about as fast into action as a Government Model .45. Practice is demanded, and so is careful load selection. Leather selection is important. For home defense, no handgun is too large to fight with, and the Coonan is an excellent handgun for those willing to master the piece.
The Coonan really shines as a field and hunting handgun for those that appreciate an instant second shot and the fast handling of the 1911 design. The pistol is fast on target to the first shot, but recoil is such that fast follow-up shots are not in the class with the .45 ACP. And that is ok. The Coonan is a specialized handgun that is not for everyone. But for those willing to practice hard and master the piece, it is a formidable handgun. As for myself, I am glad I had 30 years of experience with other 1911 handguns before tackling this one.
Have you ever owned or fired a Coonan .357 Magnum? What was your experience? Share your answers in the comment section.
Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooters Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.
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