The Stoeger Cougar is one slick piece of hardware, and that’s partially because it did not take the same design path as other semi-automatic pistols. The Cougar is a unique, enduring and reliable design that stands on its own.

You see, most semi-automatic pistols use a short-recoil, locked-breech system where the slide and barrel lock and recoil together after a shot is fired, traveling rearward before the barrel disengages from the slide and tilts upward on a link or lugs as the slide continues rearward. Nearly all modern pistols use this system—1911s, Glocks, Sigs, CZs, Hi-Powers, S&W M&Ps, Rugers, some Walthers—name a pistol, and it probably uses this system. The Cougar, however, uses a rotating-barrel system. There’s no tilt in this cat. As a round is fired, the slide and barrel move rearward before the barrels turns about 30 degrees counterclockwise to unlock. The barrel has a curved slot milled into it, and it rotates inside the slide on a lug protruding from the center block. As the barrel moves back under recoil, the slot in the barrel engages the lug to rotate it. The center block also holds the recoil spring in place inside the slide. The affect of the rotating barrel means the barrel is always fixed, which, in theory, aids accuracy, and the smooth rearward movement means less muzzle flip and less felt recoil.

The rotating-barrel system has been around for quite a while, and the Stoeger Cougar in particular has a direct bloodline to Beretta. The Turkish-made Stoeger Cougar’s Italian background began in the mid-1990s, when Beretta debuted the Model 8000 Cougar, a pistol that offered better concealability than Beretta’s venerable 92 series of pistols. As the popularity of polymer-framed pistols gained momentum, the Model 8000 evolved into Beretta’s polymer-framed Px4 Storm series, which uses features and parts from both the Model 8000 Cougar and the 92. Of course, Stoeger is part of the Beretta Holding Group, which shipped the Model 8000 machinery to Turkey for production. The Stoeger Cougar is nearly identical to the Beretta Model 8000 Cougar except for the grip panels and the markings on the slide and frame. This is a well-made pistol worthy of the Beretta lineage.

Cougar Compact

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The scaled-down Cougar Compact holds 13+1 rounds, making it a good option for concealed carry.

The Stoeger Cougar Compact I got my hands on for testing has a shorter grip than the Beretta 8000 and the standard Stoeger Cougar. This semi-automatic pistol features a traditional double-action/single-action (DA/SA) trigger system with an exposed hammer.

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The Cougar Compact features a light metal alloy frame with a slim, ergonomic grip despite the fact that the pistol uses 13-round, double-stack magazines. The grip is straighter and thinner than, say, the Beretta 92. The Cougar Compact’s grip fit my average-sized hand well, and the magazine floorplate offers a finger rest to support my small finger. There is no accessory rail, which gives the Cougar a sleek look and suits its concealed-carry mission.

Lightweight at 28.8 ounces unloaded yet substantial enough for soft shooting and easy handling, the Cougar Compact is perfect for self-defense. On my test pistol, the smooth DA pull measured 12 pounds on average. The SA pull weighed about 5 pounds on average, and the trigger was crisp in both DA and SA modes. I also like that the pistol’s second-strike capability allows you to pull the trigger a second time if the firing pin falls on a faulty cartridge primer. The triggerguard has the curved look of a Beretta 92’s, and the front- and backstraps have vertical serrations. Those serrations, along with the checkered polymer grip panels, gave the Cougar Compact plenty of traction when unleashing 9mm rounds in a variety of bullet weights.

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The slide of the Cougar Compact is beveled to reduce weight and ease reholstering.

The Bruniton-finished slide is sculpted to relieve extra metal while providing a chiseled look that is smooth. Since the exterior is snag-free, this cat is suitable for concealed carry under garments without worrying about shirttails and jackets. The hammer on the cougar is exposed, but it is low profile, knurled and rounded. It’s also easy to cock if needed.

The slide serrations are toothy enough to provide a good grip. Racking the slide does not take an arm wrestler’s strength because of the rotating barrel. It is very smooth. Since the slide serrations are close to the ambidextrous safety, make it a habit to flick the safety up to “fire” or down for “safe.” You want to be sure the safety is in the mode you want it to be in so the Cougar is always ready to pounce when needed. The safety is similar to that of Beretta 92F/92FS pistols.

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Note the three-dot sights.

There is also an automatic firing pin safety; the trigger must be completely pulled rearward for the firing pin block to move out of the way and allow the firing pin to move forward. On the topside, the pistol’s three-dot sights offer a good sight picture without being too tall or prone to snagging.

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Other controls consist of the slide release and magazine release. The slide release has enough of a footprint to make it easy to operate without sticking out too much. The polymer magazine release button is reversible if you needed to change it.

The Cougar field-strips like a Beretta 92, which is to say that it’s incredibly simple. Press the button on the right side of the frame and rotate the takedown lever on the left side. The slide can then be pulled off the front of the frame. The magazine is made of steel with a polymer basepad, and it has witness holes to let you see how many rounds are left. I found the magazine easy on the thumbs when loading, even to the very last round.

Letting It Run

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The Cougar Compact’s rotating barrel helps reduce muzzle flip, as the recoil comes straight back toward the shooter, unlike other similarly-sized 9mm pistols.

I tested the 9mm Cougar Compact (.40 S&W and .45 ACP standard-size models are available) with ammo from Hornady and Winchester in a variety of bullet weights and types. As mentioned, the pistol’s felt recoil is different. I had another similar-sized 9mm pistol with a tilting barrel on hand just to see if there was substance to the claim. The Cougar Compact recoiled straight back, and though all pistols have some muzzle flip, I felt that the Cougar had less. I could get on target quickly, and even though the gun is compact, it offered the feel and control of a full-sized pistol.

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At 25 yards, my five-shot groups averaged about 1.5 inches while using a rest. The Cougar Compact particularly liked the 115-grain XTP bullets in the Hornady American Gunner ammo. My best group with this ammo was 0.95 inches. Shooting from a ready position—muzzle angled down and resting on the bench top—I fired in DA to get a feel for the trigger. I like that I could stage the trigger and break it just when my sight picture resolved. This cat ran exceptionally well, and at this price point, it’s a damn good bargain for a defensive pistol.

The economical, concealable Stoeger Cougar Compact offers a lot of firepower when your claws need to come out.

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