I recently had the rare privilege of shooting the what some consider to be ‘ultimate survival handgun’, the Phillips & Rodgers Medusa revolver. Like many, I’ve kicked mentally kicked myself for not buying one when they were in production. However, a long time friend of mine recently purchased the one pictured below and was kind enough to let me shoot it.
As many of you know, this innovative multi-caliber handgun is capable, according to the manual, of shooting 25 different cartridges (all in the .353. to .357 cal. range; Ex: .380 ACP, 9x19mm Parabellum, 9x18mm Makarov, 9x21mm, 9x23mm, 38 Super, 38 Colt, 38 Long Colt, 38 Special, .357 Magnum, etc.). Beyond what the manual recommends, it can actually fire 104 different cartridges from around the globe. It is capable of doing so mostly due to its unique extractor that allows headspacing of both standard rimmed (most revolvers) and rimless cartridges (most semi-autos). Other features to accomplish reliability and safety across so many cartridges include special steels, a patented firing pin design, and individual forcing cones in each chamber.
The extractor has what are best described as spring loaded ‘fingers’ that exert slight outward pressure to grasp the extractor groove of a rimless cartridge to keep it from falling deeper into the cylinder and away from the firing pin, maintaining proper headspace. Because there is a channel under each extractor, when a standard rimmed cartridge is inserted that chamber’s extractor compresses into the recess allowing the cartridge to headspace on the rear of the cylinder like any other revolver. Due to this design, every round loaded does have to be pressed into place because of the friction of the extractor that rides along the cartridge until it literally snaps into place. Rounds do not drop into place and you won’t win any speed contests that require reloads. Another consideration is that semi-auto cartridges that usually headspace on the case mouth may hang up on the extractor and may have to be tilted into the chamber one at time to avoid putting undue stress on the extractor tabs.
An interesting feature of the Medusa is that since the chamber’s extractors can flex independently of each other, it is possible (in a pinch) to mix ammunition within the same cylinder - but I don’t recommend it. Here’s why: before shooting it I did a bit of research on the gun. Being out of production, I wanted to know if there are any special considerations to adhere to when using one. As it turns out, there are. After reading two excellent articles about the gun (here and here). I stumbled across an auction on Gunbroker.com for another Medusa that had two of the extractor tips broken off. While the rest of the gun is built like a tank (the cylinder even uses the same steel as F16 gatling barrels), care must be taken to protect the extractor. The auction description speculated that the extractor fingers might have been damaged because the owner did not adhere to the owner’s manual that states that longer cartridges should be fired before shorter ones when mixing ammunition at the range.
I am certainly glad that I read that! I wouldn’t want to damage this unusual (and borrowed and out of production) gun. Although the auction’s description of the manual’s recommendation is not entirely specific – the manual’s intent is that when shooting different types of ammunition during the same range session, begin with cylinder-fulls of the longest cartridges being shot that day before loading and shooting the shorter rounds [i.e. work longest to shortest]. This allows the fouling to stay ahead of the casings and therefore prevents excess friction required to extract the brass, reducing strain on the extractor. To be on the safe side, we did not mix cartridges in the cylinder. That way I knew the position of the fouling to be consistent.
So how did it shoot?
Superbly. However, no eldritch lightning or other mystical energy leaped forth from the barrel to smite the target. If you’ve shot a Smith and Wesson .357 mag revolver, the sensation is familiar. The Medusa does have more of a rock solid heft that is quite comforting and the lockwork does move with precision. Even closing the cylinder is reassuring as one feels it lock tight as a bank vault. The trigger is nearly ‘glass rod’ crisp when firing single action and smooth in double action. Take note that the Medusa does not have a ‘competition’ action / trigger pull (nor should it, this is a working gun); it is full weight as it must to be able to reliably ignite any primer from any cartridge that it chambers. Some of the perceived weight of the trigger pull is lessened by the old-school wide and grooved trigger.
That said, with the Medusa’s heft, full lug barrel and crisp trigger, shooting it is very comfortable. Our distance for sighting in was 20 yards and when dialed in for .357 magnum, the gun only shot about 2 inches low at the same distance when using .38 special and 9×19 mm. When we were careful, groups ran about two to three inches across all loads, shot offhand. At 15 yards, I had no problem quickly running down a line of bowling pins. All ammo fired during the outing was factory loaded. I am certain that from the bench (or in the hands of Jerry Miculek), better accuracy would be realized.
We started with .357 mag ammo and moved to .38 special and then to 9 mm Para. Late in the session a cylinder of .38 special found its way into the gun and slightly sticky extraction was evident due to the fouling from the previous 9mm’s. After careful extraction of the spent brass, a little spray of CLP loosened things up again. The intricacy of the cylinder and extractor assembly would seem to warrant some addition care in cleaning this firearm.
Many consider the Medusa the perfect survival (or CoMWeC, SHTF, TEOTWAWKI, etc.) handgun and they may be right, but there are considerations to observe when using one. Even then, it’s still a handgun. For my part, I particularly admire the ingenuity of design, excellence of execution and exceptional utility that the Medusa offers. Someday I hope to add one* to my collection. It was truly ahead of its time.
[*P&R also made Medusa replacement cylinders for Ruger single action .357 mag revolvers – one of those would be sweet!]