There are few firearms that have excited me like the new Colt King Cobra. Though it stretched the budget, I listened to Mike’s advice and purchased my T&E sample, and I’m so glad I did. This three-inch, “Goldilocks” .357 has become one of my favorite handguns period, and certainly my favorite carry revolver. Colt has expanded the King Cobra line with the 2″ King Cobra Carry, a 2″ DAO model and the subject of this review, the Colt King Cobra Target.
I conducted this review in accordance with our Field Report Standard Operating Procedure. I did deviate from our S.O.P. slightly; again, for want of a holster, I was unable to carry the Colt King Cobra Target, and am thus unable to report upon this aspect of this revolver.
Colt King Cobra Target
The Colt King Cobra Target is very similar to the previously-released King Cobra, but with some noticeable differences. The frame is the same modified D-frame, it is still stainless steel, and chambered in .357 Magnum. The most obvious differences are the King Cobra Target’s longer, 4-inch tube and its adjustable sights. Also like the King Cobra, in-depth media coverage has been scant; we are again proud to give the King Cobra Target our undivided attention here!
The King Cobra Target’s 4″ tube features an underlug that runs its entire length. While the tip of the 3″ King Cobra’s underlug is relieved to ease its entrance into a holster, no such accommodation is made here. A hefty rib also runs along the top of the barrel, adding additional, nose-forward weight. The muzzle crown is deeply recessed and the front sight sits atop a comparatively lofty pedestal. The front sight on the Target model is a replaceable, red fiber optic. I will address sights in greater detail further down the page.
Both the top of the barrel and the frame’s top strap are conspicuously flat and unadorned. they combine to form a single, long slab of metal that scans as a bit inelegant, though I admit that after handling it for just a couple of weeks I hardly notice it. This is just one of those cosmetic choices that will appeal to some and not to others, and that is ultimately secondary to function. The top strap and top of the barrel are subdued to reduce glare.
The rear of the topstrap is milled to accept the adjustable rear sight, which I will detail further along in the review. The “small” frame is consistent with the remainder of the King Cobra line. It boasts a 6-shot, .357 Magnum cylinder which is opened via Colt’s rearward-activate cylinder release latch. The trigger guard is enlarged to accepted gloved fingers, and the grip frame is the same small grip frame found on the standard King Cobra. I like this as it allows almost infinite flexibility in grip size.
With it’s higher sight line and larger grips, the King Cobra Target is almost a dead ringer for a K-Frame revolver. This is an excellent size; while technically designated a small frame, it handles and shoots like a “real” revolver.
The King Cobra Target ships with wooden grips. I will admit they’re quite handsome and extremely well-fitted. The fitment of the seam is so tight that I had to look a couple times to ascertain that yes, there are two panels. The tops of the panels are deeply relieved and accommodate speedloaders nicely. Both sides bear a silver Colt medallion. I found that the two medallions on my exemplar did not line up with each other, with the one on the left being tilted about 1/8th of a turn forward, relative to the one on the right.
Though this is a good looking grip, I did have some issues with it. First, the stippling seems to be mostly decorative. If it covered more (much more) of the grip’s surface it might offer some purchase but as-is, this is a slick grip. Secondly, the shape of the grip is not ideal, at least for me. The lower portion of the grip offers a notable, palm-filling swell that feels quite good.
However, the upper portion of the panels narrow significantly. I found that while shooting my hand had a tendency to drift higher and higher on the “neck” of the grip. By ‘tendency’ I mean that no matter how tightly I held on, my hand still ascended up the grip. This resulted in my index finger at a fairly severe angle in relation to the trigger. This made pulling the trigger a “up-and-to-the-rear” proposition rather than straight back to the rear. If your hands are sized differently than mine this might not be an issue, but I found it to be intolerable.
I did find that the grip felt very good when grasped near the bottom. This placed my trigger finger in in near-perfect relation to the trigger. Unfortunately, this grasp is takes a somewhat deliberate effort, and one I doubt I could reliably replicate under pressure. Nor, as I mentioned earlier, can I maintain this grasp under even mild recoil. Further, it leaves the hand low on the grip frame, unnecessarily raising the bore axis.
This style of grip may be intentional as this is a “Target” model that is perhaps intended for a good deal of single-action shooting. However, I feel the utility of the King Cobra Target extends well beyond the target realm and it will doubtlessly be used as a home defense, trail defense, and possibly even concealed carry revolver. Were I to use it in one of these roles replacing the grip would be imperative. I swapped the Hogue Monogrip from my King Cobra onto the King Cobra Target early in the first range session. It stayed on for the remainder of the shooting portion of this review.
In my review of the 3″ King Cobra I bemoaned the lack of adjustable sights. On the upgraded Target model, Colt has certainly delivered. The front sight on the King Cobra Target sports a fiber-optic rod. The front sight post is held on via set screw above the muzzle. It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of fiber optic sights, but the visible portion of the rod is a very clean, red circle that I found it be be perfectly usable in spite of my prejudices. Fortunately, I got the opportunity to discover that the brass bead front from the 3″ King Cobra works on this revolver, as well!
After I fired the first Dot Torture iteration I withdrew my target carriage back to my position. I recovered the target, filled in the marginal data, and stowed it. After stapling another target to the carriage I grabbed another box of ammo and loaded up. As soon as I presented the gun I knew something was drastically wrong. Then it hit me: the front sight is missing!
The set screw had loosened so much during the first 75 rounds of fire that the front blade had gone flying. With MacGyver-like ingenuity, I pulled the brass bead front sight off of my King Cobra and tightened it onto the King Cobra Target, and shot that way until I found the AWOL part. When I got home a dab of blue Loctite on the set screw solved the issue.
I was very interested to note that the shorter King Cobra’s brass bead worked just fine on the King Cobra Target. Sight regulation wasn’t drastically altered, and the blade was an appropriate width for the rear sight, though just a tad wider than the OEM front sight. The timing with loosing that sight is also interesting: did I really lose it on the very last round of the Dot Torture drill, or did I shoot a few rounds with no front sight†?
The rear sight is fully adjustable for windage and elevation. It provides a very nice, clean sight picture. Elevation is adjustable by loosening and tightening a screw on the top of the sight assembly. A spring forces the sight up as the screw is loosened, making for some “play” of the whole assembly; if the rear of the assembly is pressed down, it will pivot on the roll pin holding it into the frame.
Windage adjustments are made via a screw on the right side of the assembly. In some of the groups recorded below you will notice printing to the left. Initially I did not realize that there is also a set screw to lock windage adjustments in place (the generic owner’s manual is silent on the adjustable rear sight).
The set screw is atop the assembly and just forward of the rear blade. Without this set screw tightened the rear sight blade travels very easily. Not realizing this, during some firing the blade managed to walk several “clicks” to the left. Interestingly, the rear sight also has some positional indicators for a hasty zero; there is a single dot on the traveling portion of the windage assembly, and three coarser dots on the stationary portion.
This gun was such a fun shooter I exceeded our typical 500 rounds. I fired a total of 569 rounds in three range sessions from the Colt King Cobra Target. Of this I fired ammo ranging from 90 to 180 grains, from very mild .38 wadcutters, all the way up through Buffalo Bore hard-cast lead flat noses. Aside from the sight issue mentioned earlier and some minor extraction issues discussed below, the King Cobra Target functioned perfectly with everything I deigned to put through her. My range sessions broke down as such:
04 November 2019
– 100 rounds Remington 110-grain SJHP, .357 Magnum
– 5 rounds Hornady Critical Defense 110-grain FTX, .38 Special +P
– 14 rounds Winchester Defender 130-grain JHP, .38 Special +P
– 12 rounds Federal 130-grain HST JHP
– 5 rounds Speer Gold Dot Short Barrel 135-grain JHP, .357 Magnum
– 6 rounds, Buffalo Bore 158-grain JHP, .357 Magnum
– 12 rounds Buffalo Bore 125-grain JHP, .357 Magnum
– 20 rounds Super Vel Super Snub 90-grain JHP, .38 Special +P
Total: 174 rounds
08 November 2019
– 126 rounds GECO 158-grain FMJ, .38 Special
– 14 rounds Remington 125-grain Golden Saber, .357 Magnum
– 25 rounds Fiocchi 148-grain wadcutter, .38 Special
Total: 165 rounds
12 November 2019
– 150 rounds GECO 158-grain FMJ, .38 Special
– 50 rounds Remington 110-grain SJHP, .357 Magnum
– 20 rounds Speer 135-grain Gold Dot Short Barrel, .357 Magnum
– 5 rounds Speer 125-grain Gold Dot JHP, .357 Magnum
– 5 rounds Buffalo Bore 180-grain LFN, .357 Magnum
Total: 230 rounds
Function: Extraction & Ejection
One mistake I believe Colt has made with their current line of revolvers is in the ejector rod. I got a lot of questions about this on the last review, but at the time I had yet to experience the issue: the stuck ejector rod. The tip of the rod is knurled, and is every-so-slightly wider than the rod itself. This extra width can get worn down just enough to become stuck inside the ejector rod channel when “slapping” the ejector rod in a way that is conducive to positively extracting fired brass. This issue presented itself immediately with the King Cobra Target.
I have found that this issue is correctable, however. Simply file the knurling down to a diameter small enough that it doesn’t get stuck in the channel. Obviously I could not do this to the King Cobra Target as it was a T&E loaner, but I would recommend this mod to anyone purchasing either of these guns for serious use. Not only does it correct the sticking issue, it also improved ejector rod throw from .860″ to .910″ in my King Cobra.
Ejector rod throw with the King Cobra Target was .860″ which is on par with other revolvers from the King Cobra line. Extraction and ejection were positive with nearly all ammunition fired. The sole exception were the few rounds of Speer’s full power, 125-grain Gold Dot and Buffalo Bore’s very powerful 180-grain LFN. There is no mistaking the Buffalo Bore’s ammunition – it is a magnum’s magnum. I found that brass could get a little sticky with these, and had to pluck a couple pieces from the cylinder. Notably, these were fired after 350+ rounds with no cleaning, which may have had something to do with it.. Otherwise I had no issues at all, despite performing no maintenance at all for the entirety of this test.
I followed our Revolver Testing Standard Operating Procedure for testing accuracy and handling. This SOP specifies firing some groups for size. Since this is a 4″ gun with adjustable sights and since its moniker is as a “target” gun, I fired groups at a full 25 yards.
Handling is assessed via the Dot Torture drill, which we fire twice: once within the first 100 rounds, and once within the last 100 rounds. While we do realize that Dot Torture is not intended as a handgun test, it does demonstrate something about accuracy, transitioning the gun from target-to-target, firing multiple rounds, firing with both hands, together and individually. Because I did not have a holster that fit this revolver, all drills called to be fired from the draw were fired from a compressed ready. Reloads were conducted with a HKS 10 speedloader.
The first iteration of Dot Torture was fantastic! On my first range trip I fired four cylinders (24 rounds) through the King Cobra Target to adjust the sights and get a feel for the gun. Then I jumped right into the drill with a middle-of-the-road .357 Magnum load: Remington’s 110-grain SJHP. I managed to pull a 49 of 50 possible at four yards Not bad at all!
My second iteration of the drill was fired from five yards. I’ll be honest with you guys: it was not my best work. I would ask you to lay the blame on me, where it belongs, and not on the gun. My final score 46 out of 50, this time shooting at 5 yards. I thought about re-shooting because this clearly was not the gun’s fault, but I felt weird about that, too.
I found the King Cobra Target to handle well. The heavy barrel places just a bit of weight toward the muzzle, but not overly so. The gun is still well balanced and points well.
With regards to recoil: one definitely feels .357 Magnum ammo. On my scale the King Cobra Target came in at 34.8 ounces, a bit light for the heavy stuff. I fired ammo along the power spectrum, from full wadcutters all the way up to Buffalo Bore 180-grain LFNs, and about every “level” in between. The King Cobra Target is comfortable with everything with a “.38” stamped on it. Once you dip your toe into the “Magnum” realm things get a bit more sporty.
With the lighter Magnums, namely the Speer 135-grain Gold Dots and Remington Golden Sabers, recoil was manageable. I wouldn’t be mad at an experienced shooter choosing to carry these for defensive purposes. I found the full power Magnums (Speer Gold Dots and the Buffalo Bore fodder) fairly unpleasant to shoot, and had to cajole myself into firing a second cylinder of Buffalo Bore 125s for a group.
For accuracy I wanted to test this gun as near as possible to its most probably use-case(s). Being a small-framed (but medium-sized) revolver with a 4″ barrel, it’s safe to assume this gun will be used for some defensive purposes. I recorded two defensive .38 Special loads, two defensive .357 Magnum loads, and just for grins (or grimaces) a full-on, top-end Magnum load. All groups were fired from standing at 25 yards, in double-action. All groups were also fired with the OEM, fiber-optic sight.
Just for the sake of curiosity, I fired one more group, this time in single action. The double action groups were pretty good, so I wanted to see what I could do in target mode with a target load. With Fiocchi’s 148-grain wadcutter in single action I was able to produce a 2 1/4″ group.
I was extremely pleased with the accuracy of this revolver, which is enabled by the phenomenal trigger and upgraded adjustable sights. As readers have pointed out in previous reviews, these groups could certainly be tightened by resting the gun and firing in single-action, but I don’t feel that test reflects how the gun will be used and am far more interested in practical accuracy.
The Target model’s hammer and trigger are the same narrow hammer and trigger found on the standard King Cobra, as well. Again, I was somewhat disappointed by this; on a “Target” model I had hoped to see a wide hammer spur and more importantly, a better trigger.
Normally when I say a revolver needs a “better trigger” I mean that the internals operated by the trigger need polishing, tuning, or outright replacing. Here, though, I literally mean the trigger. The trigger common to both variants of the King Cobra with which I am familiar is narrow and square-edged. The edges are beveled, but are nothing at all like the curved trigger found on most modern double-action revolvers.
I draw such a hard line because north of around 175 or so rounds the gun becomes painful to shoot. I mentioned a “tingling” in my trigger finger when reviewing the 3″ King Cobra. After all sessions with the King Cobra Target the pad of my right index finger was a bit tender. Colt is probably playing the smart odds that most owners won’t fire 100 rounds in the gun’s lifetime. For the rest of us, I do feel that this gun needs wider trigger. If not as an OEM part, I would at least like to see one made available as an aftermarket option.
On to the good news: trigger weight and pull! I measured six single- and six double-action pulls with the King Cobra Target. I was duly impressed. Double-action pulls averaged a beautiful, silky-smooth 9.25 pounds. Weirdly the single-action pull was heavy, both proportionally and absolutely. It clocks in at five pounds, over half of the DA pull. Despite its weight the single-action trigger is incredibly crisp. There is no creep, no mushiness, no grittiness – just a solid wall, then a break. The King Cobra Target’s trigger is every bit as smooth as the 3″ King Cobra had primed to expect, and allows one to make full use of its excellent sights.
How Good Is the Trigger?
I saved the trigger stuff for last for a reason. I wanted to come up with a way to quantify just how awesome this trigger is, so I conducted two informal comparisons. Since I also have two S&W revolvers on loan (reviews coming soon!), a 10mm 610 and a .22 Magnum 648‡, I decided to press them into service for comparison. First, I wanted to see how much difference was made by using single versus double action. I feel shooting in single action goes a long way toward “norming” the triggers of various revolvers.
Test #1: I shot five-shot groups with both the 610 and the 648, in both single-action and double-action. I measured them and compared the group sizes. Then I averaged ALL of my double-action groups with the Colt King Cobra Target (including all fliers) and compared it to my sole single-action group.
The average double-action group size with the King Cobra was 3.775 inches. Shooting in single-action I was able to shoot a 2.25-inch group, an improvement of 40.4%. With the 610 my single action group was 3.125 inches, and my single-action group was only 1.5 inches, indicating an improvement of 52% when using single-action. With the 648 my double-action group was 4″ and my single-action group was 1.8125 inches, an improvement of about 55%.
What does this mean? It means there’s still something to gain from using single action with the King Cobra Target, but that gain isn’t quite as big because the Colt’s double action trigger gets much closer to single-action capability. I actually consider this test successful; the Colt’s DA trigger is capable of some serious work.
Test #2: I wanted to shoot as fast as I could shoot accurately and see if any differences emerged. I only did this test with the King Cobra Target and the 648, mainly because the 648 was the only other gun I had with me when I thought of this test. I loaded up both guns. At three yards I fired them as quickly as I could and recorded my time. My target is below.
What can we learn from this target? Unfortunately not much; my results here weren’t as definitive as I had hoped they’d be. Let’s take a look anyway. My overall time with the King Cobra was 1.73 seconds. My overall time with the 648 was 2.76 seconds. Now, that’s apples-to-oranges because I fired eight rounds from the 648, and it doesn’t take into account my differing lags between the buzzer and the first shot (which I dropped from the averages), so let’s look at the splits.
The average split for the King Cobra Target was .262 seconds while the average for the S&W revolver was .298 seconds. With the King Cobra Target loaded with .38 ammo I can fire splits of roughly one quarter of a second, while the best I could manage with .22 Magnum 648 was about one third of a second.
There’s nothing definitive in this last test, unfortunately. The difference between .262 splits and .298 splits? Yeah, no one is going to notice or care unless you are competing at the absolute highest levels. And that is the difficulty in trying to explain a magnificent trigger from an OK one; I’m just trying to take a physical feeling and find a way to turn it into numbers. I’m not sure I succeeded to my own satisfaction on that count, however. Hopefully you got something out of this, even if it was just a chuckle at my misguided attempt!
The Bottom Line
I was – and remain – absolutely smitten by the 3″ King Cobra. It is an almost perfect concealed carry revolver, at least to my eye. The King Cobra Target is every bit as good as its smaller incantation. Of my two complaints about this gun, one is old and one is new. Like the older 3″ King Cobra, I wish this revolver featured a wider, more comfortable trigger. Unique to this model is a grip that places form over function, but that problem is easily rectified. Ok, three complaints: there should be some Loctite on that sight screw, too.
The newer King Cobra Target is a phenomenally accurate and shootable gun. I am extremely happy to see that same, amazing trigger present on the the Target variant, and the adjustable sights are a very welcome addition. I was surprised by some of my own groups with this gun and wish I’d had the opportunity to stretch its legs just a little more. If I were in the market for a mid-sized revolver, the King Cobra Target would make a fine trail or camp companion, bedside revolver, perhaps a light game hunter, and of course, a target revolver.
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†I realize that firing successful stages on Dot Torture without a front sight seems implausible. . . and most likely I had a front sight for the whole thing. However, I’ve twice seen competitors shoot an entire stage without a front sight and have excellent runs. This wasn’t on purpose; in both instances the sight had fallen off at some point in the previous stage. The brain had taken over by putting the gun where it needed to go…as long as they didn’t think about it too much.
‡It is important to point out that I am not beating up on the 610 or 648. I actually like both more than I thought I would. However, the double-action triggers on both of these guns are four and five pounds heavier (respectively) than that of the King Cobra Target. Interestingly, both of their single-action triggers are also about a pound lighter than the King Cobra Target’s.