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Colt King Cobra Review

Colt's 357 Magnum Concealed Carry Revolver Returns

This article originally appeared in CONCEALMENT Issue 13

Photos by Kenda Lenseigne

Although introduced at SHOT Show 2019, the Colt King Cobra revolver traces its lineage all the way back to 1908 with the launch of the Colt Police Positive. Immensely popular in law enforcement circles, the 38 Special, six-shot revo dominated concealed carry markets for decades, a fixture in the lives of lawmen, citizens, and outlaws until 1995, when declining sales killed it off.

Eventually selling over three quarters of a million units, the Police Positive spawned offshoots such as the very first snubnose belly gun, created as a custom proposition by Colt employee John Henry Fitzgerald in the 1920s. The Fitz Special chopped the revolver’s barrel to 2 inches, shortened the ejector rod, and bobbed both the grip and hammer spur — but the most noticeable feature, that of its open trigger guard, was always more of a conversation starter than a practical modification. After a couple of hundred Fitz Specials were moved out of the New Haven factory, Colt’s management decided to formally add the custom gun to their catalog, minus the hammer and trigger guard mods, and thus the Detective Special was born.

In 1950, an aluminum-framed version of the Dick Special was introduced and christened the Cobra. While dimensionally identical, the new gun shaved 6 ounces from its predecessor’s weight, while retaining its advantage over its nearest domestic competitor — Smith & Wesson’s diminutive J Frame was a tad smaller, but the Colt offered a six-round payload.

If 38 Special was good, then 357 Magnum must be better, right? Yes, but…
In order to handle increased pressures, erosion, forcing cone wear, and frame stretching from the Magnum round, Colt abandoned their “D” frame, instead looking to the slightly bigger “V” frame found in the Trooper lineup. Thus, the King Cobra was born. No aluminum version was offered, and the King Cobra had a production run from 1986 through to 1992.

Colt King Cobra ejection of empty cases

Ejector rod is sized for a 2-inch barrel and sacrifices full length stroke.

The 1990s were not a happy time at Colt. Over reliance on military contracts, labor disputes, and management short-sightedness forced the company into bankruptcy, an event which for the past few decades seemed to occur like the emergence of cicada swarms. As an overarching strategy, pissing off your customers by advocating for federal restrictions on civilian firearms ownership is not exactly a winning formula, yet Colt’s CEO at the time managed to bring down the wrath of the American consumer by doing just that. Fortunately, their current management are dyed-in-the-wool gun guys, rather than corporate suits.

Production of the D frame guns was restarted, then stopped, as was their V-framed counterparts, which enjoyed a second run from ’94-98. As a last hurrah, Colt introduced their final DA revolver in 1999. This was known as the Magnum Carry, based on a slightly shrunken version of the V frame, but with a thicker top strap. Confused? You should be, as it was in production for just a few months until October of that year, when Colt was forced to kill off their entire revolver line. It’s this gun that forms the basis of the newly resurrected King Cobra.


The new King Cobra is offered as a one-variant model, following the Henry Ford philosophy of, “You can have any color you like, so long as it’s black.” Or in this case, stainless. As non-choices go, it’s hardly a drawback and the revolver’s classic lines don’t suffer too badly — yes, there are plenty of people (myself included) who wax lyrical over the Royal Blue found on the Python, but it was never a good option on a carry gun, and the King Cobra is aimed squarely at the concealed carry market.

Colt King Cobra revolver frame and barrel detail

Despite using modern production methods (there’s a few MIM parts here), the King Cobra still has plenty of classic design touches, such as the chamfered transition between barrel and frame.

Evidence of this can be found in the barrel specs, which split the difference between the concealability of a 2-inch pipe and the ballistic advantage of a service-length 4-incher. 357 Mag from a short barrel is attention-getting at both ends, but there’s a very good reason to put up with the increased concussion and blast, versus downgrading to a 38 Special. Put bluntly, as a defensive round 38 Special sucks. Despite offering advantages of almost universal availability and a compact form factor in the typical J-frame sized package, 35 caliber bullets are highly velocity-dependent when it comes to performance, and most fail to expand when propelled at the sedate muzzle velocities achieved from a 2-inch 38. Step up from 850 fps to 1,200, and it’s a different story.

Colt King Cobra top strap and hammer

Old school brass bead front sight adds a touch of class to the Partridge blade.

In order to mitigate some of the inevitable recoil penalty, the King Cobra’s barrel incorporates a full-length underlug, which also serves to protect its ejector rod. It would appear that Colt has plans for additional models in the lineup, as the ejector rod is sized for a 2-inch barrel, and as a result sacrifices the ability to dump empty cases cleanly. Despite hitting it hard enough to leave welts on the shooter’s palm, cases still had to be plucked out, which means the reload time scale slips from glacial to geological.

Opposite its underlug, the barrel is ribbed for her pleasure and drilled to accommodate a removable front sight, which in this case is patridge-style with a very old-school brass bead — classy indeed. Should you wish to step into the modern era and swap it for a fiber-optic or tritium insert, then so long as you can turn an Allen wrench, you’re in business. At the other end of the 4.25-inch long sight radius is the end of a channel milled into the top strap, which forms the King Cobra’s rear sight. It’s as basic as dirt, but functions just fine and allows for headbox shots at 15 yards with every 357 mag load we tried.

Colt revolver cylinder latch

Hogue Monogrip is comfortable — or at least as comfortable as it’s possible to make a 357 snubbie.

If you needed more evidence that additional King Cobra models were part of Colt’s plan for its reintroduction, then removing the Hogue Monogrip provides it. With the soft rubber grip in place, the pistol has a round butt profile and provides enough room for all four fingers. Undo one screw and you’re looking at the revolver version of Taylor Swift — small, square, and with little to hang on to. Add a set of diminutive stocks, chop the barrel, and you’re in S&W 640 territory, but with one extra BB, should you like the idea of a minimalist carry gun. We’d be inclined to keep the larger grip in place, as it provides much better control and at around 25 ounces, you probably won’t carry this thing in a pocket.

The King Cobra’s lockwork is powered by a V-shaped leaf spring, with the upper leg driving the hammer and the lower acting as the trigger return spring. While it may seem that using one component to control two separate and distinct functions would result in either a heavy trigger pull or light strikes, the opposite is true — we’re used to somewhat clunky J-frame double action triggers, and the King Cobra’s is light years ahead. There’s a tiny bit of stacking towards the end of the stroke to let you know it’s time to fix your sight picture, but otherwise the pull is smooth as silk and breaks right at 9 pounds. The single-action trigger is of a similar level of quality — 4.25 pounds and like the proverbial glass rod, with no clue as to when the sear is about to slip, with barely 1/16th inch of overtravel.

Rounds Downrange

For a while now, we’ve used a simple metric to quickly figure out whether any particular handgun is worth spending time with. Without any preparation, pull the pistol out of its box, load up with quality ammo, hang an MGM Targets B/C steel target at 50 yards, and empty the mag, or in this case cylinder. If it won’t reliably ring steel at distance, then there’s likely a problem with its mechanical accuracy, or the way in which it interacts with the shooter — and you can then get to narrowing down the reasons why. If it passes this initial test, then it’s time to move onto El Pres, X and Bill drills, to get a feel for how it handles at speed.

357 magnum revolver recoil

357 Mag from a short barrel is attention-getting at both ends.

Despite the sight radius imposed by its 3-inch barrel, the first six bullets impacted our 50-yard target with plenty of room around its edges, a testament to the quality of the King Cobra’s DA trigger. Once could be a fluke, but the next three cylinder loads confirmed it — the little gun can shoot.

If we were to tell you that the subsequent 182 rounds of 158-grain factory 357 Mag were a pleasant experience, you’d rightly raise the BS flag. While firing heavy-recoiling rounds like the 375 H&H, 12-gauge slugs, and 44 Mag from guns designed to handle them is refreshing and life-affirming, full-house loads from the King Cobra is downright nasty on both ends. There’s a sharp slap to the palm which will eventually induce a flinch, so — feel free to question our manhood here — after confirming that the little revolver would run fine on hi-test, we switched to more sedate 38 Special ammo. Depending on the load, we found this would group around 3 to 4 inches low at 25 yards, but as you’d expect it was way easier to shoot.

Colt King Cobra revolver speedloader

Safariland Comp II works well for reload duties. Pro tip — when auditioning for a job as a hand model, schedule it for before you do a brake job on your truck.

As far as practical accuracy goes, Colt's King Cobra does everything you could expect of a product with a 111-year history. It’s a classy recreation of the most advanced revolver Colt ever produced, and while for some that may be akin to buying the world’s most awesome film camera, both categories of consumer goods have their advocates, even if they’re dwindling in numbers. Your particular set of circumstances might lead you to conclude that a revolver is a worthy addition to your arsenal, and if you’re limited to six rounds in a compact package, you may as well make them the most effective ones available. Or you could step up to a bigger bullet entirely, such as the 10mm.


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