Beretta’s Rotating Barrel Pistols
By R.K. Campbell

The use of a rotating rather than a tilting barrel for pistol lockup isn’t a new concept by any means. John Moses Browning patented one such design prior to 1900, showing that his active mind was considering alternate means of harnessing the energy of a pistol cartridge and using this energy to function a self loading pistol. Browning’s tilting barrel locked breech design became the most common type of lockup in the world but the rotating barrel has enjoyed some success. In recent times, the SIG produced Mauser M2 used such a design, and there were turn of the century designs from Savage and Steyr Hahn that utilized a turning barrel. The French MAB PA 15 is a 1970s design that coupled a rotating barrel with delayed blowback action. The Mexican Obregon, a modified 1911, also used a rotating barrel and stands as an advanced design for the time. When done correctly, the rotating barrel works fine. While not the most inexpensive means of manufacturing a pistol, the rotating barrel design has been tamed by Beretta in terms of economical manufacture and reliable function. The Beretta Cougar and the Beretta Storm each use rotating barrels. Part of the reason Beretta used the rotating barrel is to attempt to produce a pistol comparable to the Beretta 92 but more compact. There has been a caution in the past that turning barrel pistols need more lubrication than conventional designs. I cannot confirm this concern as this was a limited test program but it is always a good idea to keep your pistol clean and lubricated. The Cougar and the Storm should be as reliable as any other Beretta when properly maintained.

A decade and a half ago, Beretta introduced the Cougar self loading pistol. The Cougar was a result of years of development in a rotating barrel and a different locking concept. The pistol was to offer an alternative to the Beretta 92. Compared to the open slide Beretta Model 92, the Cougar features an enclosed barrel and it is also more compact. Some argue the Cougar is more ergonomic as well. The rotary or turn barrel system uses a rotational groove and a locking lug both above and below resulting in a considerably different look than the Beretta 92. The grip frame was amended after considerable research into a more ergonomic design than the Beretta 92. With a pronounced step in the grip’s backstrap, most feel that the Cougar is a more attractive design than the Beretta 92. While comparison to the ’92 is invited, the pistol can stand on its own merits.

The Cougar was dropped from production a few years ago. The Cougar was expensive, at well over $650, a limiting factor compared to competitive handguns. While many police agencies purchased the Beretta 92, the Cougar was often stalled by the low bid polymer frame competitors. Beretta made the move to ship the original tooling to Turkey and has the pistol produced there. As a result the pistol is marketed at about $460 retail. The pistol is now known as the Stoeger Cougar. The Cougar is smaller than the Beretta 92 but it is not a compact pistol. The pistol is best described as a short service pistol, shorter than the Beretta 92 but larger than a Glock 19. The Cougar is about seven inches long, with a height of 5.5 inches. The width is 1.3 inches, the weight is 33 ounces and the barrel is 3.6 inches long. The pistol is available in both 9mm Luger and .40 Smith and Wesson. The test pistol was chambered for the .40 caliber cartridge. The 9mm version has a fifteen round magazine capacity. In common with the Beretta 92 the Cougar takes a hit in magazine capacity in .40 caliber Smith and Wesson, with the magazine capacity specified at 11 rounds. Our pistol was supplied with two magazines and either would hold only ten rounds although they were marked for 11. Some of our raters are stronger than average and the magazine still accepted 10 rounds for them. A ten shot .40 is respectable. The magazine release is the typical Browning type button and plunger. Beretta 92 magazines are not interchangeable.
The firing system is typical Beretta double action. The pistol uses the double action trigger and external drawbar first used on the Walther P 38. A long press of the trigger both cocks and fires the pistol. After the first double action shot, the slide recoils and cocks the hammer for subsequent single action shots. To lower the hammer, a decocker is mounted on the slide. Some practice is needed to quickly actuate the decocker/safety. The pistol may be carried either safety on or safety off as preferred. If you carry the pistol safety on some practice is mandatory to quickly manipulate the safety. A strong thumb forward action is recommended, and with practice you will be pretty fast but the slide mounted safety is never as rapid to manipulate as a frame mounted safety. The double action first shot breaks at about fourteen pounds and reasonably smooth. Single action trigger compression is five pounds and crisp with minimal take up.

Field stripping is also typical Beretta, with a caution. There is a take down lever on the left side of the frame. Clear the pistol of both ammunition and magazine and lock the slide to the rear. Move the take down lever to the proper position and remove the slide from the frame. At this point be prepared to capture the slide, recoil spring and action block. There is a steel block that helps the rotating barrel actuate properly. This block will fall off of the slide as the pistol is disassembled. The recoil spring is captured in this block.

In preparation for the firing test, we collected necessary range kit. This included a Pro Tech fabric holster and a good supply of ammunition as well as Law Enforcement Incorporated targets. Contrary to popular belief, the .40 is straightforward to handload and there are many economical combinations. My combination consisted of handloads using the Rainier 180 grain bullet over enough WW 231 powder for 900 fps. This would prove to be the star loading for both economy and accuracy. In factory ammunition we used the Black Hills 180 grain hollow point and Winchester’s 180 gr. USA loading. All gave good results. Beginning with a lightly lubricated Cougar and magazines full of handloads targets were faced at 7 yards. Drawing quickly, moving to the Weaver stance and carefully pressing the long trigger, the reward was a hit in the X ring. Proceeding with a standard double action first shot pistol drill, drawing and firing, then decocking and firing again, always practicing the first shot hit. Then moving on to double taps, attempting to master the transition from double action to single action fire. The Cougar proved capable. The first shot is long and heavy but smooth. The Cougar is as effective as any double action first shot pistol at moderate range. Some prefer a double action pistol and it is obvious the Cougar is a pistol with many good points. Moving to 10 yards, X ring hits were slower and more difficult to come by, although our local military intelligence officer managed better than the author. But then he has time in with the Beretta. Past 10 yards, it is necessary to cock the hammer for a single action press for precise shooting. In the single action mode the pistol was controllable and capable of good accuracy. Control was not an issue. The combination of good heft and weight and a well designed grip strap gave good results. One of the raters familiar with the Beretta system helped the author evaluate the pistol. This military intelligence officer felt that the Stoeger version is not as smooth as the Beretta pistols, even worn military issue pistols. His personal 1990’s Beretta 92 is smoother and considerably more accurate. The Beretta 92 9mm is well made of good material and accurate. Debate the action type and the caliber if you wish but the pistol is reliable. The Cougar should be reliable and the Cougar as tested chambers the hard hitting .40 caliber cartridge. Accuracy is not sensational but adequate for the task, with most groups fired at 25 yards settling into four inches or less when the shooter does his part.

The factory ammunition tested is the standard 180 grain loading, generating 900 to 950 fps from the Cougar’s 3.6 inch barrel. These loads are easy to control and offer a good combination of penetration and expansion. While there are hotter loads and light weight loads as well, they increase recoil. The .40 is a bit snappy and one of the reasons we choose the .40 over the .45 is controllability and magazine capacity. The energy of the 180 grain .40 caliber load approximates the energy of a 185 grain .45. This is not a bad place to be. The power factor or recoil factor is similar as well. Accuracy results at 25 yards were obtained by firing from a barricade position. We find equal results come from this type of shooting compared to a bench rest. We prefer to stay in touch with reality and do not use a machine rest. A machine rest does nothing to inform us about a rough trigger or sharp edges.

Accuracy results/ 5 shot groups/ 25 yards

Rainier Bullets/WW 231 Powder/900 fps:     3.5 inches

Factory ammunition
MagTech 180 gr. FMJ :     5.0 inches
Wolf 180 gr. FMJ / steel case:     4.25 inches
Winchester 180 gr. FMJ USA:     3.75 inches
Black Hills 180 gr. JHP:     3.65 inches

There were no failures to feed, chamber, fire or eject. The Stoeger Cougar is a reliable handgun well worth its modest price.

Beretta Px4 Storm

The Beretta Storm is a pistol that serves two purposes. It offers an alternative to the Beretta 92 for those that like the action type but prefer a lighter and more compact pistol for concealed carry. The Storm also offers a .45 caliber option. The Storm is intended to compete in the lucrative if low bid polymer frame market. Police sales and civilian personal defense sales are the target of this polymer frame handgun. Beretta claims the Storm is among the most advanced expressions of technological and aesthetic features. While marketing types sometimes wax poetic there is some truth to this supposition. The Px4 Storm is definitely a distinctive pistol with good features.

The pistol is intended to offer better ergonomics than other handguns. The action is basically Beretta 92, the rotating barrel is taken from the Cougar or Beretta 8000 pistol and the operating principles are proven. The confluence of design comes off well. Beretta pistols are noted for reliability and the Storm is maintaining that reputation.

Manufactured in 9mm, .40 and .45 caliber, the Px4 Storm uses an exclusive Beretta designed innovative locked-breech with a rotating barrel system. The light frame employs modern thermoplastic technology through the use of technopolymer reinforced fiberglass. Modular structure and the availability of three sizes of grip inserts for different hand sizes make for versatility. The Storm also uses an integral Picatinny Mil-Std 1913 rail for attachment of tactical lights and laser aiming devices. The pistol also features a firing pin block. The front part of the firing pin is blocked from any forward movement until the trigger is pulled completely to the rear. The block is located rearward, far away from the fouling and debris of the breech face. Since the block is visible, the user may ascertain its proper operation at any time. Even if the pistol falls and strikes the ground muzzle down, the firing pin will not strike the primer. The ambidextrous safety lever is spring loaded so it’s either positively “on” or “off.” The safety lever also functions as the pistol’s decocking lever. When pushed down, the rear part of the firing pin (striker) is rotated out of alignment with the front part of the firing pin. These features are a counterpoint to the striker fired Glock pistol. The finish is the battle proven Bruniton finish. It should be noted that despite the advantages of the rotating barrel, the compact size Storm pistols use a tilt barrel. The take down levers are familiar to anyone that has used a Glock pistol.

The Storm was tested in .45 ACP caliber. Despite an ammunition shortage, the author has more .45 ACP ammunition than anything and a considerable amount was expended in testing this pistol. The Storm weighs but 29 ounces, considerably lighter than the Colt 1911 .45 or the Beretta 92 9mm. The bore axis is higher than the 1911, which means that recoil levers the barrel higher in the air. Not a difficult pistol to control, but there is a difference. The Beretta 92 is docile in comparison but it is a 9mm not a .45. You may take advantage of the wound ballistics of the .45 ACP with the PX4 Storm in .45 ACP. The pistol torques more noticeably than the Cougar. Barrel rotation is counter to the torque of the bullet engaging the rifling. The barrel will rotate right and the torque pushes left as an example. An anomaly of the design is that higher velocity ammunition definitely proved more accurate. While muzzle flip is noticeable the pistol is comfortable to fire. A ten shot .45 caliber pistol that is reliable and accurate enough for most chores is an attractive investment. The Beretta rotating barrel pistols have made the grade and offer a viable alternative to competing designs.

Accuracy results, PX4 .45 caliber pistol, 5 shot groups at 25 yards.
Rainier 185 gr. FMJ/Titegroup Powder/980 fps:     4.0 inches

Factory Ammunition
Winchester White Box 230 grain FMJ:     4.25 inches
Winchester 230 grain PDX:     3.8 inches
Black Hills 230 grain RNL:     4.5 inches
Black Hills 185 grain JHP:     3.2 inches
Black Hills 185 grain TAC +P:     2.9 inches

This article first appeared in SmallArmsReview.com on June 21, 2013


Comments have not been generated for this article.