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    Marksman wag1911's Avatar
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    Jun 2008

    Review: Coonan .357 Magnum Automatic

    Background: I was curious about the design of the Coonan, how well it operates, if it is reliable, and just how accurate it is. I will make some comparisons between the Coonan and an L-framed S&W 686. My curiosity was spurred on by an earlier post by Michiana - Having done some business with him previously, I asked if we could meet up and put a few rounds down range for the break-in, and he agreed. So thanks to Michiana for his generosity.

    Be aware, that one short range session is not really enough to fully evaluate a pistol. I encourage others who have extensive experience with this pistol, to chime in and offer more insight I may be missing.

    Design & Features: The frame of this northern Minnesota built handgun is only slightly heavier than that of the stainless steel 1911 Government model. About a half pound more than most 1911s. It features a standard grip safety, a manual safety (right handed only), an extended slide release/stop, and a skeletonized hammer. Coonan offers various grip styles and sight options, and the one I test fired had black checkered polymer grips with adjustable serrated ‘double bar-dot’ night sights.

    Internally, the deviations from the 1911 design become more noticeable in the use of a linkless 5” barrel. Attention to detail is apparent with the tight fitting of the barrel and bushing and that seems to be the prime reason for the accuracy of this pistol, even with plinking ammo.

    Interestingly enough, the Coonan is designed to handle the 38 Special & 38 Special +P cartridges as well the .357 Magnum. However, because reliability would be affected, you cannot mix them in the magazine. I.E. you must shoot either all .357 or all .38. If you choose the weaker .38s, you need to disassemble the gun, in the same way you would disassemble a 1911, and replace the 22 lb. recoil spring with the 10 lb. recoil spring. For this test we stuck with .357 Magnum rounds to get a baseline on accuracy and to break this puppy in a bit more quickly.

    As with virtually all 1911 style handguns, the trigger pull is very crisp with no creep and has a very short reset. Unlike some 1911s, the overtravel is non-adjustable, though I didn’t feel it was really necessary for this gun anyway.

    The sight options appear to be all Trijicon models, which have proven to be of good quality. However, the sights on this gun are not shown on their website, though they are obviously available. This pistol was upgraded with an adjustable serrated night sight that utilizes a tritium ‘double bar-dot’ configuration (dot being on the front sight):

    What struck me was that the windage is adjustable with a screwdriver rather than having to use a sight pusher to move the whole sight in the dovetail. Handy and more precise than the method normally used on 1911s!

    The single-stack magazine holds 7 rounds + 1 in the chamber and is quite a deviation from a standard 1911 magazine as you might imagine. Given that these were brand new magazines, the springs were quite stiff after half the magazine was filled. In order to more easily load the magazine, Coonan provides a small key rod to compress the spring. I also noticed something a bit unique in that the spring tends to angle sharply toward the rear of the floorplate as more rounds are loaded.

    The slide serrations allow for good purchase, but the 22 lb. recoil spring makes it a bit more difficult to ‘rack’ than other most other semi-autos. A few more rounds down range should make this a little less of an issue for those with arthritis or diminished grip strength.

    I found out very quickly that a full magazine with new springs will not easily seat all the way up the magazine well on a closed slide like a standard 7-round 1911 magazine. This too will cure itself over a period of time. In the interim, the easiest way to load the gun is to pull the slide back and use the slide release/stop, then push in the magazine. Once that is done I recommend that you sharply rack the slide back and let it slam forward. If you do not rack it sharply, it can misalign a soft-nosed bullet into the top of the of the chamber and then you’ll have a jam. We should have used the recommended FMJ-TCs to break it in, but alas, we had none available.

    You can also push down the slide release/stop to chamber the first round, but it can be more prone to jamming as the slide rails get gummed up with burnt powder. This should cure itself after the break-in is completed and the slide rails are operating more freely. In my estimation, a coating of Militec would make this a non-issue altogether.

    Recoil/Muzzle Flash:

    If you are like me, you are probably wondering how the recoil & muzzle flash is compared to a revolver.

    In this case, the comparison was with a S&W 686 with a 4” barrel. The recoil of the Coonan was moderately negated by the absorption of energy through the rearward movement of the slide, and it’s lower bore axis. However, there is no denying that it’s still a Magnum, and your 80 year old grandma isn’t likely to call this her favorite gun.

    When watching 6birds fire the Coonan and then the 686, two things stood out to me. One, the muzzle flip of the Coonan was actually more than the revolver, and two, the muzzle flash from the Coonan was not more pronounced than the 686. We are not comparing oranges to oranges, but I suspect the muzzle flip is more due to the polymer Coonan grips, whereas the 686 has a Pachmayr rubber grip the makes it pretty easy to control the elevation of the muzzle. If you were to put aftermarket Hogue 1911 rubber grips on the Coonan, the issue would be solved in quick fashion. To me the ‘felt’ recoil is comparable to 9mm compact like a Glock 26 or a S&W M&P 9c.

    My initial thinking on muzzle flash is that the Coonan would have a lot more than the 686. Note, we are not counting the flash the 686 puts out jumping from the cylinder to the barrel – just the muzzle flash. Though the conditions were not dim enough to get a true measure, it seemed that the Coonan did not have significantly more muzzle flash at all. In fact, the extra inch of barrel and tighter fit of the projectile to the grooves probably did quite a lot to reduce the flash from the Coonan.

    Accuracy: Ahh, now were getting to the meat of the matter. This is where the Coonan makes a shooter look good. We initially zeroed the Coonan at 10 yds and that was a snap as it was only a couple of clicks off for Remington 158 gr JSP rounds. Then we took it out further and honed the windage zero in a bit more. Note that the targets below were before the windage adjustment. We also put some Remington 125 gr JSPs just to see if the point of impact would be lower. In fact, the point of impact was higher by a ½” at 10 yds which I didn’t expect. I pretty much shot 158s the rest of the day and here are the results, all off-hand.

    The shot groups even with a couple flyers at 10 yds were better than I expected with plinking ammo. I have no doubt that I am culpable for screwing up a bit, especially at 10 yds. This pistol really shined at 25 yds. I fired a 7/8” 3-shot group @ 25 yds w/plinking ammunition aiming for center circle. As you can see this was before I honed in the windage and when my arms were still fresh! The Coonan is definitely more accurate out to 25 yds than the 686. I now wished I had done some shooting out to 50 yds as well, but we didn’t have all day!

    For one last test, I like to take a pistol out to 100 yds and use a ballistics table to account for the bullet drop for a 10 yd zero. Note that it is best to do this with a pistol already zeroed and having it be your first shots of the day to reduce the inevitable ‘shake.’ I fired about 10 rounds with four being off-hand, and another six from a bag at a ‘Marvin the Rapist’ target that I created. It’s basically a standard sized human head and upper torso target printed on 3 separate 8.5x11” pieces of paper.

    Off-hand, one shot was just above ole boy’s left eye, which probably sent him to hell very quickly. Remember a 158gr bullet traveling 1,240 fps has more kinetic energy than a 124gr 9mm round at point blank range (395 ft-lbs vs. 345 ft-lbs). The other three hit the shoulder, clipped the left ear, and one dropped below the target to the belly button.

    At that point, I determined that the shooter was screwing up too badly and proceeded to use a sandbag rest for the next 6 shots. It definitely tightened up the group with 4 of the shots, but I still had two flyers which were actually more devastating and impacted the chin and forehead! Two witnesses can confirm this. Better to be lucky than good right? The other three would have unleashed a fury from Marv’s bowels. Ok, so maybe that was too graphic even for mature audiences!

    In hindsight, the ammunition I was firing was not what I typically fire and I did not have it in my ballistics tables. I should have accounted for this better as 225 fps less velocity is quite significant to the trajectory of a handgun bullet. In fact, the belly shots were all aimed at the center of the head and so I misjudged the drop more than I care to show you on paper!

    A Few Other Random Thoughts & Impressions:

    This gun is needs to be handled firmly to prevent misfeeds. I intentionally loosened my grip on a couple occasions and it immediately caused the slide to jam the very next round into the front of the ejection port. While this pistol does not have a lowered or flared ejection port, the issues were absolutely user induced from ‘limp wristing.’ Wedging a long handgun cartridge with a soft lead tip between the slide face and the ejection port is not easily cleared. Jacketed bullets could help the situation in case you do not get a perfect grip, but the solution is incumbent upon the user, not the pistol.

    One thing I think is a definite plus, is the number of parts that are interchangeable with a standard 1911. That being the case, many customizations that fit a standard 1911 Government model should also fit this gun. Run of the mill accessories such as grips and sights, but certain other aftermarket parts like bushings and slide levers should also be able to be used.

    I really liked this pistol and was more than impressed by the accuracy it showed. In my opinion, reliability is the most important part of an EDC gun (everyday carry) and I don’t have enough experience to determine how reliable this gun is over the long haul. I do know that if I was going to carry it everyday, the slide stop would have to be replaced with a standard one that rests closer to the frame as it would surely poke into a holster and cause discomfort over long stretches of time. I do think that it could be a serious home defense gun after it gets broken in.

    Much depends upon how well it functions after the break-in period with the proper ammunition and some practice clearing malfunctions. To me, it is just a very well-made gun that I wouldn’t get tired of shooting.

    More specific information can be found here, including a PDF manual:,5

    Comments welcome!

    Original thread here:
    Last edited by esrice; 05-11-2011 at 07:54.
    The 1911 was the design given by God to us through John Moses Browning that represents the epitome of what a killing tool needs to be. - Col. R.J. Coates, USMC
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