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REVIEWS

New Life For An Old Cat

Stoeger's new Model 8000 Cougar delivers excellent reliability and accuracy--for less than $400.

Stoeger's new Series 8000 Cougar 9mm and .40 S&W pistols are a resurrection of the aluminum-frame, Italian-made Cougars that Beretta originally introduced in the mid-1990s. The difference is that the new Cougars are manufactured in Turkey and again available to the American market--at a remarkably low price.

The lineage is not as indirect as it might seem. Stoeger has been a wholly owned subsidiary of the Beretta Holdings Group since 2002, and after adding new manufacturing capability to the Stoeger factory in Turkey that has been making shotguns since the 1980s, Beretta obtained a pistol manufacturing license for Stoeger from the Turkish Ministry of Defense in 2005.

It then shipped all of the machinery for Cougar production from Italy to the new location. So the newly branded Stoeger Cougar line is essentially identical to the original Beretta Cougar line, under the same overall ownership, manufactured with the exact same tooling, with the same high, Beretta-grade quality. The only real difference is the name stamped on the side of the guns.

Best part? The recommended retail price for a new Stoeger Cougar is a mere $349. Ten, count 'em 10, years ago, the recommended retail price for an identical Beretta-label Cougar was $697.

Beretta developed the original Cougar line to provide a more compact alternative to full-size Beretta M92-series pistols. The basic Cougar platform was designed as a .40 S&W (Model 8040), then retro-chambered for the 9mm Luger (Model 8000) and later adapted for the .45 ACP (Model 8045) by modifying the front-to-back dimension of the magazine well to accommodate the geometry of the longer cartridge. All chamberings were available both in conventional double-action F models and in double-action-only D versions, plus more concealable Mini-Cougar versions with shortened grip frames.

European-market variants of the Beretta Cougar were also briefly available in 9x21mm and .41 Action Express, as well as with a matte gray Inox (stainless steel) frame finish.

The initial new Stoeger-brand Cougar models are being offered only in black-finish conventional double-action 9mm and .40 S&W chamberings (both designated as Model 8000), but I will not be at all surprised to see a .45 ACP version coming along not very far down the road, considering the continuing appeal of that cartridge in the American market.

Mechanically, the Cougar 8000 series pistols are recoil-operated, locked-breech semiautomatics. They employ a rotating barrel locking system in which the barrel rotates on recoil to unlock itself from the slide. The rotating motion of the barrel is controlled by a stud on its bottom that follows a cam track in a steel frame insert. To decrease peak recoil and stress to the aluminum frame, the insert is mounted on the recoil spring and is buffered. The 3.6-inch barrels are cold hammer-forged and the bores are hard chrome-lined.

Other Cougar features include rounded edges for snag-free drawing, matte black finish, checkered matte black polymer grip panels, ambidextrous decocking safety, grooved-front "two hand" trigger guard, dovetail-adjustable (replaceable) three-dot rear and front sights, rapid rotary-lever takedown, last-round slide-lock lever and fitted plastic case.

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