The year 1999 marked the end of an era. One of the most beautiful revolvers to have ever been manufactured went out of production. The legendary Colt Python would be no more, save a very limited number coming out of the Colt Custom shop until 2005. Was this the end of my hunt for a 3-inch Colt Python? As luck would have it, no.
The Colt Python 3-Inch
The lure of the Python is strong. Since its birth in 1955, it became one of the most coveted revolvers ever produced. Sporting a barrel with a heavy underlug and sexy ventilated rib on top, oversized combat grips, high polish, royal blue or mirror-like nickel finish, and a hand-tuned action, the Python was the epitome of American craftsmanship.
Unfortunately, it was beauty that killed this beast. The amount of handwork required to build each Python pushed the cost of the revolver too high. As a result, Colt couldn’t sell it for a price that shooters were willing to pay.
Smart shooters seized on this unfortunate event as an opportunity to make a wise investment. While every original Python is valuable, there are some variations that collectors will pay a premium for. One of which is the Colt Combat Python—a special run of 500 units produced for firearms distributor Lew Horton in 1988. This Python featured a 3-inch barrel.
At the time, Colt produced Pythons with 2.5-, 4-, 6- and 8-inch barrels. So, the 3-inch barrel set the “Combat Python” apart from all of the rest. When found, these ultra-rare guns usually go for three to four times as much as a Python with a standard barrel length. I own a 2.5-, a 4- and a 6-inch Python, but the 3-inch has always alluded me. Until now!
To the delight and surprise of many, Colt reintroduced the Python in 2020. Colt’s Product Innovation Team was tasked with reimagining the Python and literally spent years on this project.
Strength and durability were critical foundations of the new revolver. For this reason, Colt claims the new Python is machined from stronger stainless-steel alloys. Likewise, it boasts a new rear sight design, allowing for a 30-percent increase in the thickness of the top strap. This adds strength to the frame, as well as recoil-absorbing weight.
With today’s modern CNC machinery, tighter tolerances mean less hand fitting. During the re-design, the Product Innovation Team was able to eliminate eight internal parts. This gives the Python a robust action and a lighter, more consistent trigger pull in both single- and double-action modes.
Colt initially offered the new Pythons with 4.25-inch and 6-inch barrel lengths. If you’re wondering why they went from 4 inches to 4.25 inches, it seems that little quarter inch helps them significantly with international sales.
The barrel itself is machined from one-piece, stainless steel barstock. Like the old Pythons, the new guns have a recessed target crown and oversized walnut combat grips. However, the new models have a front sight that is user-changeable with retention via a single Allen screw.
To Be or Not to Be?
In mid-December of 2021, an image of the stainless-steel Python with a 3-inch barrel leaked. Rumors abounded. Was it a hoax, or was this going to be the new Python barrel length to be offered?
I sent an email to my contact at Colt that said something like, “If this is real, can you put me in line for a test and evaluation sample?”
A couple of minutes later, I received an email confirming that the 3-inch model was indeed real and that I was on the list for a sample.
As luck would have it, I received my test gun just before a trip to Gunsite for a Dick Williams event. Dick is an old SureFire executive and has two or three gatherings a year at Gunsite for gun writers willing to travel on their own dime.
Our theme for this gathering was Survival; Urban or Rural, What Will You Pack? Among the ten gun writers, all of us brought along some sort of big-bore revolver. I had ample practice with the Python during the three-day event on the range and in the shoot house. I also got to fire it on a field course called the Donga.
My first shots through this new Python were on the firing line. Lew Gosnell and Dave Hartman were our instructors for this event, and we started at the 10-yard line to check our zeroes. Point-of-aim and point-of-impact were close enough that I didn’t bother to make any sight adjustments during these draw-and-fire exercises.
Last year, I bought a quantity of CCI Blazer aluminum-cased 158-grain JHPs from an estate sale. I used these rounds for most of the exercises at Gunsite. They performed well, though they were a bit sticky on extraction and ejection. I’d often have to pick a stubborn case from the extractor.
Hornady’s Critical Duty 135-grain FlexLock rounds and Remington’s 165-grain Core-Lokt JHPs were both hotter and generated much more energy than the Blazer rounds but are loaded in brass cases, and they both extracted flawlessly.
What really impressed me was the smooth double-action trigger the new Python possesses. My test sample’s trigger broke at just over 8 pounds without any stacking. In fact, it is much smoother than my three older Pythons. What this means for accuracy is that I was able to keep my sights on target all the way through the double-action pull.
Oddly enough, the hottest load I tested, Remington’s .357 Magnum 165-grain Core-Lokt JHPs, produced the tightest group with a cluster that measured just .93 inches. This load, by the way, produced a whopping 544 foot-pounds of energy. It’s a load that’s hot enough to shake the fillings from your teeth. Yet the size and shape of the Python’s walnut grips made it almost comfortable to shoot.
Colt’s National Match 125-grain FMJ Flat Point .38 Special rounds, manufactured by DoubleTap Ammunition, was also especially accurate, producing a five-shot .95-inch group.
Based on the results of the ammunition I tested, I would probably load my Python with Hornady’s 135-grain Critical Duty FlexLock ammo. It, too, produced a sub-one-inch group at 15 yards and churned up 464 fpe.
Testing the 3-inch Python in single-action mode made me appreciate the serrated hammer. It’s big and wide like a beaver’s paddle and can easily be drawn back to full cock with the support hand thumb.
The Python’s V-shaped mainspring made cocking the hammer effortless. Normally on my defense revolvers, I have the hammer spur removed to make them less painful to carry. But the Python just wouldn’t look right without the big paddle hammer spur.
I also like the rear sight that is adjustable for both windage and elevation. There’s a small set screw for the windage that will keep the sight blade from wandering.
Colt outfits the Python with a red insert front sight that, in ideal light conditions, is very easy to pick up and makes a nice sight picture. But, in less-than-ideal lighting, the ramped angle of the sight reflects light, and it becomes very difficult to see.
For my 63-year-old eyes, a Patridge-style sight with a gold bead would be ideal. And at some point, I’ll replace the front sight. Colt offers a fiber-optic front sight, tritium night sight, and a gold bead sight, all retained by a simple Allen screw.
Colt serrates the Python’s trigger face, and while it really didn’t abrade me during the three days of shooting, I’m going to have Dave Fink, the gunsmith at Gunsite’s Gunsmithy shop, remove the serrations and polish the trigger face for double-action shooting.
For range exercises at Gunsite, I used a custom Eldorado holster that Rob Leahy, of Simply Rugged Holsters, built for a custom Colt Officers Match revolver with a 3.5-inch barrel. And because both guns share the same frame size, it worked well.
But I wanted a new holster built expressly for my 3-inch Colt Python and contacted Doc Barranti at Barranti Leather and ordered a Carry Confidence CCR Holster. The CCR features an adjustable retention screw and an FBI butt-forward cant. In addition, it holds the gun close to the body and feels perfect when located just behind my right hip.
The short 3-inch barrel made driving comfortable with this rig. Barranti also built me one of his Spares to hold a speed loader on the belt and thoughtfully embossed the holster and Spare with the Gunsite Raven. It’s a handsome rig for a handsome revolver and worth every penny.
Surpassing The Legend
Colt’s Product Innovation Team was given the difficult task of designing a gun that could meet the high standards set by the legendary Python.
In many respects, the new Python is a better gun than the old guns. It is stronger and less likely to shoot out of time, even with magnum loads. It possesses an outstanding double-action trigger pull and renowned Python accuracy. Its 3-inch barrel length, which is the perfect compromise between concealability, sight radius, and velocity, provides the shooter with a beautiful balance.
My three days and 400 rounds of shooting experience at Gunsite made me a big fan of the newest Colt Python 3-inch revolver. This one won’t be going back to Colt.
For more information, please visit Colt.com.
Colt Python 3-Inch Specs
Caliber: .357 Magnum/.38 Special
Barrel: 3 inches
Overall Length: 8.5 inches
Weight: 40 ounces (empty)
Sights: Adjustable rear, ramped red insert front
This article was originally published in the Combat Handguns July/August 2022 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions at OutdoorGroupStore.com. Or call 1-800-284-5668, or email email@example.com.