Master Blaster: Coonan Classic .357 Magnum Pistol

Most handgunners are familiar with the 79-year-old .357 Magnum revolver cartridge and that Messrs Elmer Keith, Phillip Sharpe and Colonel D.B. Wesson of Smith & Wesson were responsible for its design and development. To this day, it enjoys a reputation as a reliable man stopper. Its vaunted 125-grain JHP (Jacketed Hollow Point) at 1,400 to 1,700 feet-per-second (fps) has been given a 90+% “one-shot stopping-power index” by those who delve into such matters.

It is primarily considered a revolver round and more suitable to that platform because of its rimmed case, which dictates a limited-capacity single-stack magazine. However, its antecedent, the .38 Special caliber SW M52, proved to be an extremely accurate target pistol that reliably fed and launched wadcutter bullets from a single-stack magazine.

Digital camouflage finish on Coonan Classic


SIG Sauer created the .357 SIG in an attempt to duplicate the 125-grain revolver load … and came close. The necked-down .40 S&W case has a good anti-personnel reputation and is employed by the U.S. Secret Service and Federal Air Marshals, but it does not rival the performance of the wheelgun’s .357 when launched from a four-inch barrel.

Revolver loadings also span a host of bullet weights, from 32 to 200 grains. Bullet designs are widely diverse as well, and rounds can be selected for hard target penetration or soft tissue expansion.

Trio of Coonans in various finishes

PERSISTENCE PAYS OFF

In the past, a few attempts have been made to adapt the revolver round to a semiautomatic pistol, but most were unsuccessful or just not popular with the shooting community. Coonan Arms was one that failed to catch on, and went through a sale, bankruptcy and lengthy hiatus. But its designer Dan Coonan never gave up on his dream to mate the “best” handheld man-stopping round with the “best” pistol, and in 2009 formed Coonan, Inc., which is currently producing the very successful “Classic.”

Caveat: Coonan states at the outset that this is not a gun for beginners, although various videos show slim and comely females happily pounding away at paper and steel with this launcher of substantial fire and lead. For four years, the Classic has been produced in one format.

As shipped, the Coonan is protected by a semi-rigid nylon carrying case that contains (depending on the model) from one to multiple magazines, a “loading pin,” red hollow key-fob tube containing soft ear plugs, vial of FP–10 lubrication, illustrated manual, and cable safety lock.

TECHNICAL STUFF

SAAMI specifications are 35,000 PSI for the Magnum, which is the same for 9x19mm and .40 S&W calibers. As mentioned, the Coonan is quite a flame-thrower, which indicates that an appreciable amount of propellant is wasted in these barrel lengths. From a carbine, the.357 almost doubles its muzzle energy because of increased propellant burn time efficiency.

The Coonan has a tight lockup but can be disassembled and assembled without tools. Its barrel bushing can be rotated with fingers even when the barrel is fully seated in the slide. Disassembly and reassembly are typical 1911.

Dan Coonan fires his creation. Coonan Classic is a flame thrower.


HOLSTERS

Coonan carry systems are available but quite limited. When it comes to acquiring a scabbard for exotic or less well-known handguns, I turn to Lucas DeBrul, owner of Black Flamingo Tactical, for one of his custom Kydex holsters.

DeBrul uses the finest materials and he produced a body-hugging pancake-style “Trifecta and Lil Friend” sheaths with FBI rake, and a single “Versamag” magazine pouch for the Coonan. These are Level I carriers, but their fit is so glove-like that retention is excellent.

Due to word of mouth only, a number of detectives and Secret Service agents in our neck of the woods are now packing their pieces by one of three different carry methods. Flamingo holsters and magazine pouches can be worn outside or inside the waistband and are tuckable. They are also adjustable for drop. Lucas can customize to meet your individual requirements to include lights, lasers and other accessories. His products carry a limited lifetime warranty. In future, Coonan will list Flamingo Tactical as an approved source for holsters.

Digital camouflaged Coonan Classic with Duane Dieter CQD designed Blackhawk CQD Mk 1 Type E folder. Note pivoting trigger and extended slide release.


TOP SHOT ALL-STAR IMPRESSIONS

William Bethards had recently completed his return to the History Channel’s Top Shot competition as an All Star and generously acquiesced to test the Coonan Classic.

Besides being a real gentleman, the former U.S. Marine master sergeant was double distinguished in rifle and pistol and as the Corps’ 1994 Top Pistol and Rifle Shot and received the coveted Lauchheimer Trophy. In 1996, Bethards was the NRA’s National Service Pistol Champion. He is a former Virginia state trooper and is currently employed by the FBI.

Coonan Classic .357 pistol cocked and locked. Magazines hold seven rounds.


SSG RANGES

We took the Coonan and a passel of Buffalo Bore 180-grain hard-cast lead magnums to SSG (Special Services Group) Tactical part-owner Curt Sebastian’s private ranges. At 1,400 feet per second, the round would challenge any shooter’s grip, stance, recoil control and gun handling. The flat-point bullets and propellant emitted a good deal of smoke in the air, which was heavy with heat and humidity.

Its “snappy recoil,” which Bethards judged to be a few notches above that of the 1911, surprised him and initially he had to regrip the pistol. Inadvertent contact with its extended slide release, which he thought was “overkill,” caused its slide to lock back when he broke the first shot. He eliminated the problem by riding its safety with his thumb. He liked its ergonomics, and the grip’s girth caused his hand to be slightly more open or farther out, and therefore weaker. Conversely, it also permitted the support hand to be more fully integrated and involved (stronger) with the grip.

Coonan Classic pistol with additional seven-round magazines, loading pin and .38 Special recoil spring. Vial of FP-10 lubricant is included.


Bethards explained it this way: “With the 1911, you essentially have only one hand on the gun, but with the Coonan’s more elongated grip, you now have two hands fully in contact with the steel.” He advised that, although 1911 shooters will “readily adapt to this handgun, everything—like cycling and target re-indexing—happens more quickly with the Coonan.”

The smooth backstrap was comfortable, but the pistol torqued a bit. Aggressive fore and aft checkering or skateboard tape would alleviate this. Nevertheless, the Coonan behaved well, and Bethards reported his one-handed shooting grip felt almost as good as his two-handed grip. He agreed with the manufacturer that this is not a gun for the beginning marksman.

Coonan Classic field stripped, showing linkless barrel with one lug and external extractor. Red cylinder holds magazine loading pin and earplugs.


AUTHOR’S RESULTS

Depending on the load, right rear ejection ranges from a hit-you-in-the-face dribble to a brisk 24 feet. From the bench, the Coonan with hotter loads will escape your two-handed grip.

But standing offhand, it was a different matter. The pistol is quite lively, but comfortable to shoot without any flinch-inducing pain, and I had no problem with gun torque. Controlled pairs and six-shot saturation shooting are slightly more challenging than the 1911. Muzzle flash is propellant dependant, but a few loads really light up the shooting line. Plus P .38 Special would not cycle the pistol without a recoil spring change.

For this particular sample and the way its sights were set up, accuracy was adequate for hunting and personal defense, although all rounds tested shot well below point of aim (POA) at 25 yards.

Top Shot William Bethards breaks 180-grain, 1,400 fps Buffalo Bore .357 as Coonan Classic recovers from shot break, then in full recoil with brass exiting and fresh round being chambered. Pistol requires re-gripping if shooter is not prepared for recoil. Heavy smoke is from hard-cast flat-point lead slug and high humidity. Presentations were from Black Flamingo Trifecta holster.


Although the manual advises that the pistol is factory sprung to function with 125- to 158-grain jacketed ammunition, the Coonan successfully digested everything I put through it with consummate reliability.

Surprisingly, the lightest MagSafe round impacted the closest to my POA and registered 1.98 inch for the tightest group. At a highest individual round velocity of 2,043 fps and 714 foot pounds of muzzle energy (fpme), it had the most negligible muzzle rise. It is a shallow penetrating round, but multiple shots can be delivered much more quickly than other conventional .357 loads.

The least hand-wrenching conventional cartridge was Remington 125-grain BJHP at a peak velocity of 1,352 fps. At a high individual velocity of 1751 fps, the Buffalo Bore 125 grain generated a whopping 851 fpme. Cumulative recoil over several days caused stock panel screws to loosen up.

Coonan Classic and magazines inserted in Black Flamingo Trifecta Kydex holster and magazine pouch. Rake is FBI. Holster can be worn OWB or IWB, and is adjustable for height and also tuckable.


CONCLUSIONS

The .357 Coonan reminds me of the 10mm cartridge. Performance is similar, with the ten throwing heavier bullets a bit faster than the magnum.

Being rimless, the ten can be loaded into staggered box magazines for double-digit stored kills, and it handles higher chamber pressures. However, fore and aft grip lengths and other elongated features prompt my comparison.

If you like the feel of the Glock 20 or early high-capacity Para-Ordnance receivers, you will feel right at home with the Coonan.

SSG Tactical owner Curt Sebastian takes Coonan on a run. Brass has barely cleared port and another is running up the feed ramp.


This is a specialized piece of ordnance in a hefty body of old fashioned steel that combines 1911 features with the Browning Hi Power. It’s a heavy gun that will serve as a hard-hitting self-defense weapon and will take medium-sized game with good bullet placement.

The Coonan is very well made with the finest materials, and 100% reliable with a vast number of available bullet weights and designs. It’s the kind of handgun and caliber combination that could easily develop a cult following. It’s eligible for action shooting competition but might be more competitive when firing .38 Special to reduce recoil dwell.

In my opinion, the Coonan is a firearm for someone who wants something different and has enough disposable income to pay for that desire.

SOURCES:

Coonan Inc.
(763) 786-1720
www.coonaninc.com

Buffalo Bore
(406) 745-2666
www.buffalobore.com

Double Tap Ammunition
(866) 357-10mm
www.doubletapammo.com

Federal Cartridge Co.
(880) 323-2506
www.federalcartridge.com

Hornady Mfg. Co.
(800) 338-3220
www.hornady.com

MagSafe Ammo, Inc
(407) 834-9966
www.magsafeonline.com

Remington Arms Co. LLC
(501) 676-3161
www.remington.com

Winchester Ammunition
(618) 258-3609
www.winchester.com

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