Gun Review: Stoeger Cougar .45 ACP

The Stoeger Cougar is a continuation of the now-defunct Beretta 8000 (a.k.a. Cougar). Ironically, Beretta discontinued the 8000 during the same year that Desperate Housewives hit the airwaves (2004), a show that gave new prominence to the two-legged definition of the word “Cougar.” Just as the the new meaning reinvigorated an old stereotype, the Stoeger Cougar looks set to bring the gun name back into fashion. Not high fashion. More like the Mercury Cougar, a car known for its budget glamor and performance. For some, that’s a highly appealing proposition . . .

Just in case you’re a lineage freak, the Beretta Cougar owes its genesis to the Beretta 92FS: a DA/SA semi-auto with a decocker, slide mounted safety and double-stack mag. I’ve shot the Beretta 92FS numerous times. Your one sentence takeaway: it’s friggin’ huge. Especially for a 9mm pistol. Picking up the Beretta 92 is like trying to palm a basketball. With the Cougar, I anticipated another thick-grip experience.

When I opened Stoeger’s grey-blue plastic box, my initial thought: dang, that’s one fat little son of a gun. Thick. Stout. Chunky. Never mind the adjectives, feel the heft. Unloaded, the 9mm and .40 Stoeger Cougars weigh-in at around 32 ounces. That’s slightly more than two pounds in a pistol package that’s only seven inches long and fractions over five inches tall.

TTAG’s .45 caliber tester packed extra junk in its trunk: a Picatinny rail under the barrel for laser or light attachment. It’s an extremely useful feature given that the Cougar’s weight pretty much relegates it to home defense duty. Even without a target acquisition accessory, peekaboo producer or eight rounds of .45 ACP in the magazine (plus one in the chamber), holding the gun sent an image of a grinning Oddjob swimming across my brain.

Also noteworthy: the words “Read manual before use” printed on the right side of the frame. (RTFM would take up less space.) Above that: “Warning: Retract slide to see if loaded. Fires without magazine.” On the other side: “Made in Turkey Imported by Stoeger Industries. Inc. Ackk. MD USA” I looked on the back strap and the trigger guard for “It was the best of guns, it was the worst of guns,” or “Call me Ishmael.”

An editor and his testing and evaluation model’s manual are soon parted. So I was left to figure out the Cougar using a combination of experience, exploration, guesswork and trial and error. (I’ve still got dial-up.) I soon found the takedown lever stop on the right side, just above the edge of the trigger guard, and that funky, roundish, spinning Beretta takedown lever on the left side. One quick push and a spin and whoosh, the slide slid right off the frame.

Breaking the gun down was monkey-simple. But then, looking down at the disassembled pistol, I felt strange, like somebody had offered me cannoli stuffed with Turkish Delight along with a big shot of vodka. The Cougar’s insides are blocky and big and squared-off. There’s a big lug on top of the barrel and a groove near the chamber for another lug on a block of metal to slide into.

The gun was so simple to take apart, so filled with fat lugs of metal and corresponding grooves, that I felt like I was looking at a weapon designed by a Soviet tank mechanic, not a remake of an Italian pistola. Which brings us to the Cougar’s rotating barrel. According to American Rifleman, “as opposed to a tilt-locking pistol, the Cougar’s rotary barrel locking system maintains the barrel in one plane while cycling, theoretically increasing accuracy. Additional benefits include reduction in felt recoil and muzzle flip.”

I grabbed a bunch of Federal 230 grain .45 ACP ammo (thanks boss) and headed to my backyard range to put the theory to the test.

For the first 50 shots, I didn’t get it. It was just another .45 pistol. Somewhere through the second 100 rounds, it began to dawn on me. I’m not sure if it was the gun’s weight, its rotating barrel or the fatness of the Cougar’s grip spreading the recoil forces across more of my hand, but this gun is fun. As in ergonomically sound, not at all painful and plenty damn accurate.

As is the fashion, the first double-action trigger pull is heavier than the subsequent crisp, clean and light single-action pulls; a few of my first shots dipped a little. But I soon put a 50-shot group into an area about as wide as the Cougar is long from 10 yards. And that was shooting as fast as I could reacquire the sight picture out of recoil. A seven-inch spread for 50 shots at 10 yards in rapid fire is plenty good for a self-defense pistol.

On my backyard range, I shoot things like bowling pins, plastic jugs full of water, and old computer monitors. A perforated plastic jug lay on its side near the paper target on which I had just fired the 50-shot group. I lined up the Cougar’s sights on the blue plastic lid of the old cranberry juice jug and neatly popped it off from ten yards. The Cougar was starting to impress me.

I backed up to 40 yards. I could consistently hit about five out of nine shots on a 16-inch wide by 12-inch tall steel ram silhouette. As advertised, the Cougar remained pointed at the target throughout the shot cycle, enhancing accuracy. I cannot remember shooting another handgun with a 3.7 inch barrel that inspired such confidence from that distance in just a couple of days shooting. More reps, more accuracy (less crime).

The Stoeger Cougar was boringly reliable. It functioned flawlessly for 450 rounds. Despite my initial misgivings—based on first impressions—I fell deeply in like with the Cougar. Unfortunately, the Cougar didn’t always like me back. When I gripped the pistol, a little flesh in the web of my hand bunched up. During those 450 rounds, the Cougar bit me three times. I probably deserved it for judging the gun based on appearances, and my thick, fat palms have been bitten by Berettas, Glocks, Sigs, Brownings, Rugers, Colts, and a host of other pistols.

The Cougar offers a firing system that didn’t get much respect, that should have. At $499, it’s a budget .45-caliber (in this case) home defense gun that ticks all the right boxes: accuracy, reliability, comfort and practicality. What more could you want? Yeah, well, pay for it then. Otherwise, consider yourself lucky the someone at Stoeger understood the value of the original. And the one before that, too.

SPECIFICATIONS:

Caliber: .45 ACP
Barrel: 3.7 inches
Overall Length: 7 inches
Weight (unloaded):32 ounces
Grips: Black synthetic
Sights: 3-dot.
Action: DA/SA
Finish: Matte Matte black
Capacity: 9
Price: $499

RATINGS (Out of Five):

Style * * * 1/2
Plain matte black that’s nicely done, but not flashy or showy. I would prefer a little more war and a lot less War and Peace, but this gun is all business.

Ergonomics * * * *
The grip made shooting a whole lot of .45 ACP a joy and a pleasure. The only knock was the hammer bite; it’d be worth checking your genetic compatibility before buying.

Reliability * * * * *
No failures of any kind.

Overall Rating * * * * 1/2
An unbeatable value proposition that loses half-a-star for a lack of brand cachet. That could change.