If you're looking for a new compact semi-auto and have less than $450 in your wallet, the stark truth is you're not going to find many options. While there are a host of pistols that can be described as good values, such assessment is relative, and purchasing one still requires many of us to tighten our budgets. But before you resign yourself to eating instant noodles three times a day for the next two months, check out the Stoeger Cougar 8000. It's a pistol with a little bit of history that has an MSRP of just $449.
Go back 10 years and you'll remember Beretta had a compact with the same name. It introduced the Cougar—first chambered in .40 S&W, then in 9 mm and finally in .45 ACP—as a smaller counterpart to the Model 92. Though the Beretta Cougar was announced with much fanfare, it had a price tag of nearly $700 and never really caught on, fading into discontinuation shortly after the turn of the century.
Enter Stoeger Silah Sanayi AS, which was formerly known as Vursan and has been making shotguns at its Istanbul, Turkey, factory since the 1980s. The company became a subsidiary of Beretta in 2002 and three years later secured a pistol manufacturing license from the Turkish Ministry of Defense. Recognizing the perfect opportunity to give the Cougar another shot, Beretta sent all the tooling to Istanbul, and the Stoeger Cougar 8000 was born.
What does this mean for the guy who wants to buy a new pistol without remorse? You can get a Beretta-developed product at a Stoeger-reduced price. The Cougar is the same gun, only it costs a good $250 less.
Chambered in 9 mm and .40 S&W, the aluminum-framed Cougar utilizes a rotary barrel locking system like that of its flashier, pricier Beretta Px4 cousin. Disassembling the Cougar reveals a steel central block positioned beneath the barrel near its breech. The central block encircles the guide rod and recoil spring assembly, and has a small, hexagonal tooth that projects upward to travel in a cam track cut into a rectangular lug on the barrel's bottom.
Under recoil, the slide and barrel travel rearward together a short distance until the camming action imposed by the tooth riding in the track causes the barrel locking lugs to rotate out of their recesses in the slide. After about 1⁄4 inch of movement, the barrel's rearward travel is stopped by the central block, and the slide continues on to eject the case while compressing the recoil spring. As the slide returns to chamber a cartridge from the magazine, it engages the barrel, which is rotated back into lockup by the central block.At the heart of the Cougar's design is a rotary barrel locking mechanism. It employs a central block with a tooth that travels in a cam track machined into a bottom barrel lug.
Compared to conventional tilt-locking pistols, the Cougar's mechanism keeps the bore axis more in line with the hand throughout the action cycle. Primary benefits are a reduction in felt recoil and muzzle flip.
The Cougar has an ambidextrous decocker/safety lever. Flipping the lever downward decocks the pistol and renders the trigger inoperable. There is no magazine safety, and the reversible magazine release button is slightly recessed into the front edge of the checkered, black polymer grip panels.
To gauge the performance of my sample Cougar, chambered in .40 S&W, I first ran through several magazines at the 5- and 7-yard line. The pistol pointed naturally, functioned flawlessly and produced accuracy that was more than adequate for self-defense. However, the double-action trigger pull was long and heavy—12 pounds, 5 ounces. On the bench over sandbags, the single-action pull weight was more manageable at 5 pounds, 1 ounce, and most five-shot groups from 25 yards measured within 3 1⁄2 inches. The best five, five-shot group average was 2.6 inches, obtained with Remington's 165-grain Golden Saber load.
The Stoeger Cougar 8000 may not offer all the bells and whistles of the latest compact pistols, but it is an attractive option for shooters watching the bottom line. Reintroduced as a bargain, this is one cat that has a lot of life left.