I’m a Colt fan. Part of that is because of the history of the company, but no doubt the bigger part is because my dad kept a stainless Colt Python by the bedside. I grew up in awe of that big wheel gun, and like my dad, had supreme confidence in its capabilities. Since then, I’ve shot every one of the Colt snake guns, and owned six of the seven.
When I heard that Colt was re-introducing the King Cobra earlier this year, I ordered one as fast as I could. I’ve spent the last six months putting it through its paces.
One of the first things to comprehend about the King Cobra is its size. More specifically, its lack thereof. If you just saw photos of the revolver, with its shrouded ejector rod and full under lug, you might think this is the first step toward a new Python. Or maybe you read “heavy duty frame” and thought of something along the lines of the Ruger GP100. This gun is neither of those.
On the ever-popular Smith & Wesson frame scale, the King Cobra sits right in the middle between the J-frame and the K-frame guns.
For those of you more familiar with Ruger double action revolvers, the six-shot Colt King Cobra revolver weighs in at a grand total of 1 oz more than the five-shot SP-101. At 28 oz, it’s much lighter than the GP100, or the S&W Model 10, Model 19, or the “Combat Magnum” 66.
With its 3-inch barrel, Colt has clearly released the King Cobra as an everyday concealed carry revolver. Carry guns are certainly the most popular market segment these days. I’m not sure carry revolvers are, but if they demand the same attention as the smaller semi-auto pistols it would be no surprise.
After all, going back more than 150 years, the only model that was more popular in America than the Colt Navy was the smaller and more easily concealed Colt Pocket models.
As a carry magnum revolver, the King Cobra is about perfect in size. Like the GLOCK 19, the King Cobra strikes a Goldilocks-like balance of a gun that’s easy to carry, easy to handle, and easy to shoot.
The original King Cobras were offered in multiple barrel lengths. None of them, however, were 3 inches. The contemporary King Cobra only comes in a 3-inch barrel. This is, once again, due to the market segment Colt is going after. With a .357 Magnum, I would have much preferred a 4-inch gun.
With most rounds, the .357 Magnum takes a pretty steep dive in the velocity and corresponding energy department in short barrels. There’s a significant difference in energy levels, 10-15% between 3″-4″.
That extra inch wouldn’t give up much of anything in carryability, especially in an already light revolver, but it would gain in accuracy, power, and controllability. I hope the new King Cobra does well enough to warrant future models with longer barrels.
There are many holster options for the old King Cobras. Manufacturers have been making them for a lot of years. No so much with the new 3-inch gun.
I have not been able to find any major holster maker that offers either leather or Kydex (the horror!) rigs for this gun. I called Colt, and the representative I talked to told me they have sent samples to Bianchi and Blade Tech. I called both of those companies and their reps told me there were no plans to stock a holster for the new King Cobra at that time.
I have heard of holsters being made for this revolver from Simply Rugged as well as Kramer Handgun Leather. I happen to wear a Simply Rugged belt every day and I have a couple of their large frame revolver holsters.
I also have a Kramer Leather 1911 holster and I would heartily recommend either to make you a custom holster for your 3” King Cobra. Otherwise, you can go choose an old model leather holster that’s either too big or too small.
When I got the King Cobra, I noticed a bit of cylinder end shake. End shake is nothing more than the forward and backward movement of the cylinder. Many folks consider the ideal end shake to be zero. I’m a little wary of that on a defensive gun of this size, but still, it should be minimal.
What “minimal” is depends on the revolver. Some are more than other. As this revolver is a new model, I’m not exactly sure what the end shake tolerances should be. However, if it were like most of the original double action Colt revolvers, we’d like to see no more than .003″ of movement.
Using a feeler gauge, this revolver came out of the factory with .003″. With the end shake at what I think the limit should be right out of the box, I’ll keep a special eye on it during the life of the gun.
Beyond a little more end shake than I was expecting, my Colt King Cobra also has some play in the rotation of the cylinder during lock-up. Colt’s revolvers are famous for two things: stacking triggers and a “bank vault lock-up.” There isn’t much cylinder movement at all in the new King Cobra, but it’s there.
The heart of any double action revolver is its trigger and the King Cobra ships straight from Hartford, Connecticut with a great trigger. Like every double-action Colt, it has just a bit of stack right at the back of the trigger pull (and I do mean right at the very back). Some folks are good at staging this trigger, but I’m not one of them.
Maybe this one is a little better than the old Colts, but it easy to pull straight on through as I would a Smith & Wesson J-frame. Whether you like to stage the trigger or not, this trigger is just as good, if not better than any modern double action revolver on the market.
The double action pull is at an average of 8 lbs 10 oz, and the single action trigger is an easy 4 lbs 4oz. I’ll tell you this, that single action pull feels a heck of a lot lighter than that. I’m not sure what it is, but I find a 6 lb trigger on a GLOCK unacceptable while the greater part of 9 lbs on a revolver like this one feels light and easy.
Double action revolvers have a lot going on in the trigger. They don’t reset like semi-automatics. The King Cobra has three distinct clicks before the trigger is fully reset and ready to turn the cylinder and cock the hammer again.
Those of you unfamiliar with revolvers may have an issue with this, but anyone who’s worked with the wheel gun will find this perfectly acceptable. Watch old videos of Patrick Sweeney, or any of the great revolver shooters out there. You’ll see them slapping the inside front of the trigger guard with their trigger finger when they’re shooting fast. Reset isn’t an issue.
The King Cobra has a transfer safety bar, making it completely safe to carry with the hammer down on a live round. The manual describes how the transfer bar works in detail:
In either mode the functioning sequence is similar, when the trigger or hammer rotates rearward, the trigger unlocks the bolt from the cylinder, while the trigger lifts the hand to rotate the cylinder clockwise, the trigger also moves the transfer bar up behind the firing pin.
When the hammer is approximately halfway to its cocked position the bolt is released from the trigger and rides on the outside of the cylinder. The cylinder continues to rotate until the bolt drops into the next cylinder notch assuring proper alignment of the chamber, barrel, and firing pin before the hammer is released.
Once the hammer is released from the trigger, it rotates forward striking the transfer bar transferring energy to the firing pin to ignite the cartridge in the chamber. Once the trigger is released, the trigger will rotate back to its at rest position, pulling the transfer bar down from behind the firing pin, leaving a gap between the firing pin and hammer. Without the trigger holding the transfer bar up behind the firing pin there is no way for the hammer to contact the transfer bar or firing pin.
At the time of this writing, all Colt King Cobras come from the factory with a brass bead insert front sight. I’m a big fan of the brass bead front sight, as long as it’s well-polished and shiny. Unfortunately, this one isn’t.
The front sight on the King Cobra is quite dull and flat. A little metal polish and a minute of careful work with the Dremel tool makes all the difference.
The standard brass bead insert is interesting. Currently, even on the owner’s manual, it states, “The front sight is interchangeable, standard model comes with a fiber optic.” It clearly does not come standard with the fiber optic insert, and the only ones available from Colt, still listed on the same website immediately next to the manual, include the brass bead. The lack of attention there by Colt does not breed confidence.
When I bought the revolver, there were no other sight options available. Although I like a shiny brass bead, I like a tritium front sight a whole lot more, and would very much like to replace my brass bead with a Tritium or fiber optic insert.
A front sight you can actually see, and see quickly, is a must have for a defensive-minded handgun. You need to know where the front end is pointed, and with a 3-inch barrel, very small changes at your end make a big difference down range.
I’m not sure why they aren’t offered on Colt’s website, but Brownells now lists the inserts for sale on their website. Of course, now that I know they have them, they’re sold out, but Brownells usually re-stocks quickly. I’ll keep checking back.
The only factory grip option at this time is the one-piece Hogue OverMolded soft rubber grip. This is a fine, functional grip and many folks replace their factory revolver grips with the Hogue grips. That swap is especially common with magnum caliber revolvers.
I don’t prefer these grips at all, and will replace them with wood or laminate stocks as soon as I can.
After a bit of digging I found that .38 Spl +P chambered 2017 Colt Cobra revolver stocks from VZ Grips will fit the 2019 King Cobra as well. I can’t verify that all the versions from other manufacturers of the new Cobra stocks will fit the King Cobra, but it’s pretty likely they will.
Currently, the King Cobra only comes in stainless, with their brushed stainless finish. But man, what a “brushed stainless” finish. None of the major manufactures do a factory finish like Colt. It’s not a mirror shine, but it’s close. That polish is even throughout the gun, from the barrel to the frame to the cylinders.
The top strap is flattened from the barrel to the rear sight channel, and all that is beautifully polished as well. Opening the gun up, you’ll find no chattering or rough parts hiding in the lock work. Push the ejector rod and look at the cylinder face…it shines.
The rear sight channel is lightly honed so that there are no shiny stops along the sight path. Every surface, whether round or square, has an even depth and shine. Really, Colt just made a beautiful revolver here. I can only image how good it would look blued.
The overall fit and finish of the King Cobra hearkens back to the days when Colt was known for their quality, and specifically for the quality of their finishes. Of course that renown was for their blued guns, especially the “royal blue” high polish of the early Pythons. If we can’t see a Python now, a Python-like finish would be almost as good. With one exception.
My supreme disappointment with the Colt King Cobra lies just under the top strap. There are a series of deep gouges there, just beyond the edge of the forcing cone.
When I first saw this, after shooting a bit, I though it was extreme flame cutting. After cleaning the gun, I quickly realized it was tool marks. They exist, to some extent, on every one of the new models I’ve found. This is likely the result of cutting in the thick top strap during the making of the barrel channel.
These cuts are not surface scratches. They are thick, deep gouges in the steel. They collect powder residue and are difficult to clean, but likely provide no significant structural weakening of the firearm.
They are simply unsightly, and ruin the look of an otherwise aesthetically pleasing revolver. It’s the kind of thing I’d give a pass to on a budget knockoff made in Manila, but not on Colt’s current flagship double action revolver.
Take a look at that mainspring in the photo above. This spring design is a change from the traditional plunger-type spring you can see in the diagram below. Perhaps some of the gunsmiths out there can let me know why they think this change was made in the comments. I can see no reasons against it, and so far, after six months of shooting, so good.
Unless I’m just out of commercial rounds to complete the review, I don’t usually use my own hand loads in review guns. Since I had already purchased this one, I went ahead and fed it a very steady diet of my own reloaded rounds. Since I got the King Cobra early this year, I have at least 500 full pressure .38 Special rounds through it, and another couple hundred .357 Magnums.
Most of the .38 Spl rounds are reloads and all of the .357 Magnums were commercial ammunition. Beyond my own reloads, I shot rounds from SIG SAUER, Hornady, Buffalo Bore, Barnes, Federal Premium, and American Eagle. I shot 125, 143, and 158, and 180 grain bullets.
I did not clean the gun until the shooting portion of the review was over and I was ready to take photos. I fully cleaned the gun prior to shooting it and lubed it with CLP, which is the lubricant Colt recommends in the manual.
At no time did I have any round fail to fire. The cylinder never bound, never failed to smoothly turn. Only one of my hand loads, a recreation of the Skeeter Skelton .38 Spl +P+++ load, ever had any trouble ejecting from the cylinder, as long as I gave the ejector rod a solid press.
As I’ve been shooting the gun for almost six months now, I got to shoot the gun in the cold with gloves on. I shot it in the monsoon rains we had earlier this year, and now that it’s summer I got to shoot it again in the 100-plus degree heat.
I’ve shot it two-handed and one-handed, right and left. I’ve had a new shooter try it with a 125 gr starting load in .38 Spl, which is so light you’d think it was a blank round. I’ve shot it with the 180 gr Buffalo Bore bullet moving at 1,300 fps. That one was stout.
At no point did the revolver fail in any way. (By the way, after shooting 700 rounds, I cleaned the gun and measured the end shake and found no discernible difference than when I pulled it out of the box.)
Since this wasn’t a T&E gun and I was a little less worried about destroying it, I played around with quite a few different recipes for hand loads. One was a load I’ve read about for decades, but never duplicated.
For those of you who’ve never read Skeeter Skelton, get your life right. I think I’ve read everything he ever published in Shooting Times and I have a couple of his collected works.
Skeeter was pretty fond of the .38 Special round, but he had his own “special” Special recipe. Skeeter crimped his 158gr bullet to the bottom groove and ran the bullet up to 1,200 feet per second. This was recommended only in .357 Magnum-rated guns, as well as some S&W N-frame .38/44s.
Those of you who know your loads will recognize this as a legitimate .357 Magnum load, actually producing higher pressures than many commercial .357 Magnum cartridges. With the easy availability of .357 Magnum brass, there’s absolutely no practical reason for this loading, but I still like it.
The King Cobra, however, does not. Ol’ Skeeter’s load scored groups triple the size of other loads. At 3 inches, it was far outside every other round, and recoil was stout.
I got a legitimate 1100+ fps from the bullet, which is about 75 fps more than the math told me I’d get with a 3-inch barrel, perhaps because it was 100+ degrees outside. No matter what the ballistic performance was, the precision was poor enough in this gun to keep that round relegated to history.
Beyond my reloading experiments, I got to shoot quite a few different rounds from commercial manufacturers. As with all guns, you can make a great gun perform bad with the wrong round, and all kinds of good with the right one.
At 25 yards, shooting seated off a bag in single action, most commercial .357 Magnum ammo shot right around the 2-inch mark as an average of 5 rounds over 4-shot strings.
One particular round shot much, much better. The Barnes 140 gr VOR-TX .357 Magnum cartridge shot legitimate 1-inch groups from the same set up. Averaged over the entire 20-round box, it scored at 1 1/4″. No other commercial round scored better than 2-inch groups. Given the 3-inch barrel and relatively short sight radius, this level of precision surprised me.
What also surprised me is how much I still like this gun. Considering its relatively light weight, recoil in .357 Magnum is very manageable.
Don’t get me wrong, 20 rounds of that 180 gr Buffalo Bore load had me needing to take a quick break. But a .38 Spl load matching every bit of the energy from the 124 gr 9mm NATO round? I could do that with this revolver all day long. Loaded with a hot .38 Spl and with two .357 Magnum reloads, I would never feel under-gunned.
This has been one of a couple of revolvers that make me seriously reconsider carrying a semi-automatic pistol. I ended up shooting this gun very well single-handed, which I expect will most likely be how I get the first round out of any handgun in a defensive gun use. It’s also easy to use when held against a body, either mine or my assailant’s, another key advantage of a revolver.
Beyond all that, its light weight and design makes it easy to carry close to the body and still draw quickly. In everything I need a defensive firearm tool to do, the Colt King Cobra does it well. It also packs a punch powerful enough to take out a deer or a feral hog at closer ranges.
The new Colt King Cobra deserves its place among the pantheon of Colt’s snake guns. More importantly, like my dad’s Colt revolver, it deserves its place by the bedside. Save those semi-hand-made Pythons, the new King Cobra is as good as any of the standard production double action revolvers Colt has made. Quick and powerful, it every bit lives up to its namesake.
Specifications: Colt King Cobra
Caliber: .357 Magnum, .38 Spl, .38 Spl +P
Barrel Length: 3 in. , rifling 1/14 LH twist
Capacity: 6 rounds
Sights: Brass bead front
Frame Material: Stainless steel
Frame Finish: Brushed stainless
Grips: Hogue OverMolded
Weight: 28 oz.
MSRP: $899 (retail about the same)
Style and Appearance: * * *
This should be five stars. The gun is really good looking, with great style and a brushed stainless polish done better than anyone in the business. The standard grips take a star away, and the tool marks under the front strap knock it down another big peg.
Customization: * *
From Colt, nothing. You can now swap out the front sight from Brownells, if they restock. Some grips from some manufacturers for the Cobra may work on this gun. Those are limited as well. I can find no major holster company fitting this gun correctly at this time. No other finish options are offered.
Reliability: * * * * *
Welcome to where revolvers rule. Multiple weights, velocities, types of bullets, and two different cartridges. Seven hundred rounds, six months, zero issues.
Accuracy: * * * * *
Even the heavy .357 Magnum round shot well. Getting 1-1.25” 25-yard groups from a smaller double-action revolver channel rear sight is truly impressive.
Overall: * * * *
A wood grip option and getting rid of those tool marks would make this a solid 5-star gun. The lack of options from the factory is pretty disappointing. But man, this gun handles well. It’s easy to shoot, accurate, and looks beautiful. Colt currently lists these guns as “Out of Stock”. Let’s hope they go the same direction as the earlier .38 Spl +P Cobra and re-release multiple version of the gun. I hope for a 4-inch barrel, but I’m praying for one in Royal Blue.