I recently received an email from a gentleman named Anthony who works at a gun store out in Tennessee called Lucky Gunners to inform me that their blog recently did a piece on Rick Grimes’ weapon of choice, the classic .357 Magnum Colt Python. I was excited that they messaged me because I’m a total gun enthusiast as well as a TWD fan. I can say from first-hand experience that these bad boys pack a major punch! For a TV show set in modern times, wouldn’t Deputy Grimes carry something more along the standards of a Glock or a Sig Sauer? However, the .357 Magnum is an iconic firearm piece used by icons like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood you feeling lucky punk? Lucky Gunners did a fascinating article piece not just on the Colt but also the pros….and cons….of using such a fine firearm during a zombie apocalypse. – Jane
I was wrong.
The first time I saw Rick Grimes with his old-fashioned Colt Python on AMC’s “The Walking Dead”, my first thought was, “Great, another show with lots of guns written by people who don’t know the first thing about guns”. While subsequent episodes have not changed my mind on that specific point, as the plot has unfolded, I’ve questioned my initial assumption that Grimes’ signature revolver is an ignorant and impractical choice of weapon. If you have a short attention span like me and you want to get the history and technical part over with, here’s a quick summary of the Colt Python’s background and capabilities:
What follows is a summary of the history, factors, and circumstances that changed my mind. For many shooting enthusiasts, I know this is a hard sell, but bear with me and let us know if you change your mind, too. For those of you who already “get it”, well… you were a few steps ahead of me. Initial Skepticism
Remember, it’s a Television Show
Like most firearms enthusiasts, I frequently find myself resisting the urge to yell at the screen any time a movie or TV show commits some kind of gun-related “mistake”. I definitely had that urge when I saw the pilot episode of “The Walking Dead”. There’s our hero, Deputy Sheriff Rick Grimes, joining his fellow officers to try and apprehend a couple of criminals in an intense standoff. The other cops are wielding heavy-hitting 12 gauge shotguns and period-correct Glock pistols, both currently among the most common law enforcement firearms in the United States.
Then, Rick draws his gun to join them and what does he have? A beautiful six inch stainless steel .357 magnum Colt Python.
After I spent about half a second ogling the sleek lines on this timeless classic, I reverted to ravenous shouting gun-fanboy mode and spat off a dozen reasons why that character should not and would not be carrying that particular firearm. Not only did cops stop carrying revolvers back in the 90′s, but who brings a six-shot antique with them to fight off the countless shambling hordes of undead?
Don’t worry, I’ve had a couple of seasons to get over it. If you can look past the obvious anachronism, the Python is, symbolically, a fitting weapon for our protagonist. It’s large and intimidating and makes a powerful statement. The expertise with which Rick handles the large gun shows that he is in complete control.
The revolver’s tradition and history make it a nearly perfect fit for Rick Grimes’ persona.
“Rick is John Wayne writ modern. His trusty hand cannon of a Colt – along with his gold star, big ol’ hat, and grim determination to do what’s necessary over what’s good – make him the 21st Century Duke. Rick picks up any number of different weapons over the course of his zombie killing career, but, like every classic Western hero, will always go back to his revolver,” Alex Brown, writer and reviewer of “The Walking Dead” for Tor.com said.
Despite his occasional emotional volatility and quest to cling to some kind of morality in a devastated new world, Rick’s symbol of leadership is still embodied in his larger-than-life sidearm. The short time that he doesn’t have it by his side is when he loans it to Otis; a time when Rick was absent as a leader, focused on his dying child. In early episodes, Rick is still getting his bearings and in many cases shows a desire to cling to a now outdated model of civilization.
His old-fashioned six shooter reminds us that Rick is at risk of becoming an obsolete relic of a bygone era. But Rick adapts, and his Colt remains his weapon of choice. At the end of the show’s second season, Rick gives his famous “this is not a democracy” speech, the Python at his side reinforcing that he’s still the man in charge.
The Colt Python Stands the Test of Time
Top of the line when introduced; Today, a collector’s item
This vintage advertisement run during the Colt’s introduction to shooters in 1955. (Image Courtesy: Colt)
The Python makes a great symbol, but for folks like me and my gun nerd pals, that fact by itself is just not gonna cut it. A wheel gun is still a sub-optimal choice for the apocalypse, so why am I willing to forgive the show for equipping its hero so poorly? Because the Colt Python is just plain awesome, and here is why:
The Python was first introduced in the mid-1950′s; a time when revolvers were king in the US handgun market, and the Python was developed to become the king of the revolvers. With each gun being hand-fitted by expert craftsmen at Colt, the new revolver was made to be a “premium-grade” target pistol. It was an instant hit with citizens looking for a self-defense gun, and more important for its long-term success, cops loved it too.
The four and six inch barreled versions of the Python could soon be found in the holsters of police officers all over the country. The high price tag meant few police departments placed contract purchases for their whole force, but many officers carried their personally-owned Pythons on duty; a status symbol to mark a lawman with more sophisticated taste than the average beat-walker.
Colt also produced an eight inch barreled version of the Python that was specifically designed with hunters in mind, and shorter 2.5 and three inch models for easier concealed carry for plainclothes cops and permit-holding civilians. In the latter decades of the 20th century, America’s police force traded in their revolvers for semi-automatics that could hold three times as much ammo before reloading. Revolver sales steadily declined and by 1999, Colt stopped regular production of the Python.
Still highly regarded today, Pythons command a premium on the used market, and are prized by both collectors and serious shooters. Colt priced the Python around $125 in 1955. In today’s dollars, that’s about an $1,100 investment, making it tough on the wallet to begin with. But the last few years have seen an increase in prices on the secondary market and a used Python will run you anywhere from $1,500 for a well-used model, up to $6,000 for some of the more scarce variants.
The Python’s Mystique
To shoot the Python is to love it
The Colt Python .357 magnum revolver. (Image Courtesy: Steve Z/Flickr.com; some rights reserved).
The revolver was highly revered in its day and in many ways still is. But what makes the Python so great? Companies like Smith and Wesson and Ruger also made excellent revolvers in the same time period, many of which are still in production today and have their own loyal following. But listen to a fan of Pythons and they talk as if firing it is a transcendental spiritual experience.
Even Andrew Lincoln, the actor who portrays Rick Grimes, has a genuine appreciation for the Python. In an online Q&A with AMC, he said of the Python,
“I love my cannon… The Colt Python is like a Rolex: It will never fail you… It’s become part of my body. I had to wrestle with the props department when they took it back the last time.”
See what I mean? It sounds like the man has a romantic– maybe even religious relationship with the Python, and he doesn’t even get to fire live ammo. Handgun experts echo this kind of praise. Colt historian and author RL Wilson described the Colt Python as “the Rolls-Royce of Colt revolvers”.
According to popular opinion, there are a few characteristics of the Python that have lead to its mythical status in the world of firearms. Beyond the previously-mentioned high standard of craftsmanship, there is the caliber of ammo the Python fires: .357 magnum.
Ever since it was introduced in the 1930s, American shooters have had a love affair with the .357 magnum. There have been several larger and more powerful handgun cartridges available for many years, but .357 revolvers boast a superior balance of effectiveness, size, and controllability. All revolvers chambered in this cartridge also have the added benefit of being able to fire the weaker .38 special ammo. With significantly less recoil and lower cost, .38s are great for practice, and they aren’t half-bad for self-defense either. This adds a huge practical advantage for .357 revolvers that most other guns do not share.
But there are dozens of .357 magnum revolvers on the market; even a few whose fit and finish rivals that of the Python. The secret to the Python’s success is one that can only be appreciated by actually firing it. Any revolver shooter will tell you that of all the characteristics that distinguish a good revolver from a great one, the trigger is the most significant. A stiff, heavy, or gritty-feeling trigger will ruin an otherwise perfect revolver.
The Colt’s trigger is not only smooth, but light too, so that it requires minimal pressure from the finger to fire. This means the gun is more likely to stay on target and it’s easier to hit what you’re aiming at. The late Col. Jeff Cooper, another notable fan of the Python and grandfather of modern handgun technique, had this to say about the Python’s operation:
“Its single action release is usually superb, combining with its weight and fine sights to provide excellent controllability. The Python is expensive, and it should be.”
Other Famous Characters
Before Rick Grimes and “The Walking Dead” on Television
Rick Grimes, the protaganist in the hit AMC show The Walking Dead, stares down the barrel of a Colt Python during an episode in the show’s second season. (Image Courtesy: AMC)
The Colt Python has been showcased in film and on television before but maybe never in as bright a light as what “The Walking Dead” offers.
Denzel Washington was nominated for a Golden Globe while carrying the Python in the 2007 movie “American Gangster”, it has been featured in numerous blockbuster video games like “Resident Evil”, “Call of Duty”, and “Counter Strike”, and is a common star on television programs like “CSI: New York”, “Chappelle’s Show”, and “Starsky and Hutch”, according to the Internet Movie Firearms Database.
The iconic appearance of the Python makes it a media darling in addition to its superb real-world performance.
Colt Python Performance
Disadvantages in a Walking Dead situation
Even with its mythic status and superior handling characteristics, the Python still has several disadvantages for someone in Rick Grimes situation. But those shortcomings may be offset by a few less obvious advantages. The most apparent problem with revolvers is their low ammo capacity. Not only are you limited to six rounds with the Python, but it takes much longer to reload than a magazine-fed semi-automatic. When facing an encroaching pack of hungry undead, that’s a pretty significant problem. For purists or fans of The Walking Dead comic book series, the reloading process for a revolver would be particularly difficult for Grimes. The deputy sheriff loses his right hand in Issue #28.
Grimes, at the bottom of the image, loses his hand as part of the comic book series. Whether he’ll pay the same price in the television series is yet to be known. (Image Courtesy: Walkingdead.wikia.com)
The Python is built slightly differently than most revolvers. Internally, the Colt is much more complex, which is both a burden and blessing. The complexity leads to improved performance, fantastic when facing a life-or-death situation. However, the Colt is one of the worst revolvers to own when it comes to the accessibility of spare parts. The complicated mechanics of the firearm can be more susceptible to problems than simpler and more rugged revolver designs. Certainly in an apocalyptic situation, spare components would be tough to come by and the expertise of an experienced gunsmith would also be a rare find.
Revolvers generally require very little cleaning and lubrication compared to other options, but if you neglect regular maintenance for too long, the results can be catastrophic. If you’re shooting a semi-automatic pistol and something goes wrong, you have a good chance of being able to clear the failure in a matter of seconds. Some types of problems are easily cleared in a revolver too. But if, for example, you’ve been too busy burying your dead-undead-former best friend to clean your guns, the next time you go to blast a couple of walkers, your revolver’s cylinder might lock up due to powder fouling, and you’re going to need time and tools to get it up and firing again. For someone that puts himself in situations like Rick Grimes, any malfunction could mean death, or zombification.
The Python, like many revolvers, typically does not require as much cleaning and lubrication as pistols. (Image Courtesy: Steve Z/Flickr.com; some rights reserved)
But let’s give Rick the benefit of the doubt and assume for a moment that he’s an absolute prodigy with the Colt Python. Perhaps he rarely misses and can reload with unlikely-but-still-humanly-possible Jerry Miculek-like speed. The low ammo capacity is still a problem, but certainly less-so when the revolver is in the hands of an expert. When you consider that the combo of the .357 magnum cartridge and the Python’s six-inch barrel gives the revolver an effective range and practical accuracy that approaches twice what you’d get out of the average 9mm pistol, the revolver begins to look like an attractive option for keeping walkers at bay. A semi-automatic rifle with a 30+ round magazine would be the best choice for survival, and a modern semi-automatic pistol provides the most rounds in the smallest package. But Rick’s Python is more portable than a rifle and more deadly at long range than the pistols and shotguns the other characters use.
Also consider the versatility of ammunition, especially in times of survival, when ammo is a hot commodity and the ability to fire anything is vital. Assuming Rick has both .357 ammo and .38 special ammo, he can adapt the gun to different situations. For picking off walkers at long-range, the magnums are ideal. When he’s expecting a close-range threat, .38s will do just fine. If stealth is required, again, .38′s provide an advantage because they make a little less noise, and if Rick has to fire, he can reduce the risk of alerting more walkers, or anyone else nearby.
Despite the availability of more modern firearms, the Python turns out to be not such a bad choice for hunting the undead.
Ultimately, a good signature weapon is more than a practical tool for the hero. It helps to define him. Whether it’s James Bonds’ sleek and sexy Walther PPK, or Dirty Harry’s “take-no-prisoner’s” .44 magnum, the notable weapons wielded by our favorite heroes help to tell their story. Over time, I think Rick Grimes’ Colt Python will become as much an icon as these other classics and they will be remembered as the man and the gun that survived the end of the world.