Revolvers hailing from Colt’s Manufacturing Company are a class of firearm for which I’ve traditionally exhibited only the faintest interest. It’s not because they aren’t fantastic guns; To the contrary, it may be because they’re too fantastic! Since going out of production, Colt’s revolvers have become collectable and priced well outside my reach. With Colt’s re-entrance into the revolver market, wheelguns bearing the Rampant Colt Pony are once again on dealer shelves. Colt’s was kind enough to loan us one, and this Field Report will detail my experiences with the new Colt King Cobra.
I tested the Colt King Cobra in accordance with our Revolver Testing S.O.P., with one exception that will be explained below, and corrected as soon as possible. Before diving into the results of of the RT-SOP, I will cover the features of this revolver. After concluding the Field Test results I will offer my personal conclusions.
The New Colt King Cobra
The Colt King Cobra is a stainless steel, double action revolver built on a modified version of Colt’s D-Frame. Though released earlier this year there has been precious little in-depth media coverage on this gun, and we’re proud to take an early – and long – look at it here. Let’s start at the nose and work our way backward.
The new Colt King Cobra sports a three-inch barrel that is dressed up with a pleasing full underlug. The muzzle crown is deeply recessed, which both protects the crown and presents a certain aesthetic appeal. Atop the barrel sits a front sight post that I will address separately, further along in this review. Below the barrel is what I consider to be a partial length guide rod with a sharply knurled tip that is shrouded by the underlug. The right side of the barrel is adorned with the words “KING COBRA” in stylized script, along with the classic cobra’s head. These rollmarks are actually applied with the original King Cobra tooling. Below it is a very tidy, “.357 MAGNUM”. The left side of the barrel bears Colt’s serpentine logo along with the city, state, and country of manufacture.
The barrel blends smoothly into the curvature of a conspicuously thick top strap. It is thicker than those of the slightly older Cobra and Night Cobra models to handle the more powerful .357 Magnum cartridge. It is also perhaps thicker than it absolutely needs to be to accommodate the rear sight groove that runs its length.
The mid-sized (technically “small” in Colt nomenclature) frame of the Colt King Cobra supports a six-shot .357 cylinder. True to Colt form (and somewhat confusingly to a Ruger/S&W guy) it rotates clockwise. The cylinder is held in place by Colt’s distinctive rearward-activated cylinder release latch. Aft of the cylinder is a spurred hammer with sharp cocking grooves that conceals a transfer bar safety system.
The trigger guard of the new Colt King Cobra, like those of the new Cobra and Night Cobra, looks as though the gun was dropped on it. Rather than a smoothly swept oval, the trigger guard has a noticeable stutter, appearing right below the tip of the trigger. Colt marketing materials indicate this is to increase the size of the trigger guard to facilitate gloved firing.
Having no opportunity to shoot the King Cobra while wearing gloves, I found this made no difference for me. Aesthetically I’d prefer the trigger be smoothly rounded as decades of looking at revolvers have taught us a trigger guard should look. I did find that after a couple of weeks of daily handling I ceased to notice this little distinction.
The trigger itself is narrow and smooth. The left side of the trigger bears an unsightly circle from the MIM mold where this component was born. The Colt King Cobra ships with an enlarged, pebbled rubber grip from Hogue. The Hogue handle bears a subtle Colt serpentine logo on each side and encloses the backstrap of the revolver. If you don’t like the factory grips, excellent aftermarket grips for the Colt King Cobra are available through VZ Grips.
A Note on Markings: The right side of the frame bears two markings that do not appear in photos here: the gun’s serial number and a QR code. Both of these have been edited out of the photos that appear here for my own privacy. For exact location of these items, please see the King Cobra owner’s manual, page 36 [opens to .pdf].
Fit and Finish
I’m not one to engage in hyperbole (I generally consider it to be the last resort of the poorly-lettered), so take my word at face value when I say, the fit of this revolver is absolutely superb. I was slightly surprised by this, since I was generally unimpressed with the fit of some early production new Cobras that I saw. The King Cobra represents a massive refinement over the early Cobras, however.
I initially noticed the near-perfect mating of parts in the interaction between the frame and the cylinder crane. The interplay of these two components is one that is easy to overlook, but on the King Cobra it is a thing of beauty. Upon closing the cylinder the leading edge of these two parts mate perfectly, and the photo below doesn’t begin to do it justice. One also notices the fine fit in the action of the trigger, when cocking the King Cobra’s hammer, and when spinning its cylinder. The cylinder feels as if it is spinning on ball bearings. Unfortunately no photograph can illustrate this. You simply have to feel it.
The exception that proves this rule is one little imperfection that sticks out like sore thumb. The sideplate and frame are ever-so-slightly misaligned. The edge of the sideplate is recessed under the frame by a few thousands of an inch. In a lesser revolver this would hardly be noticeable. On the Colt King Cobra, where nary another unintended sharp edge exists, it is almost glaring.
The King Cobra’s finish is a near equal to its fit. All exposed surfaces, minus the cylinder release, hammer, trigger, and front sight, are a mildly polished stainless steel. This is in contrast to more common bead-blasted finishes (as seen on the new Cobra) and is rather handsome, if a bit more difficult to keep free of visible fingerprints.
A Note on the “King Cobra” name: Unaccustomed and emotionally unattached as I am to Colt Revolvers, I brook no complaint with the re-use of the “King Cobra” designation. I understand that some might. To those I would say the following: don’t let sentimentality for a couple of words trick you into overlooking this fine defensive revolver.
The Colt King Cobra fills a notable niche in the defensive revolver market: the medium-sized revolver. Regular readers here may remember back to only a couple of years ago when I lamented the absence of a meaningful, mid-sized, current production, carry revolver. For years individuals wishing to carry a revolver for defense have had to make the same miserable choice. They could accept the discomfort of carrying serious iron and opt for a large-framed revolver like S&W’s L-Frame line or the Ruger GP100. The alternative was to content oneself with carrying a J-Frame/SP101-class revolver with a reduced round count.
Revolvers between the five-shooter and full-sized revolvers were few and far between. Perhaps the best fit in this gap was (at the time) the S&W K-Frames, but even these are fairly large for concealed carry. The Colt King Cobra slips easily between these two classes of firearms and even though Colt’s considers this a “small” frame I find it to shoot and carry much more like a medium frame gun.
I believe that Kimber also saw this gap in the market when they released the 3″ K6s and perhaps Colt’s sensed the same void. The Colt King Cobra is small and light enough for comfortable, all-day carry. My specimen weighed in at 1 lbs, 12.2 ounces (just 0.2 ounces over an advertised 28). It’s also large enough for real shooting. The large, comfortable grips and trigger (which I will expound upon shortly) are contributors, as are the gun’s size and heft.
This review found me sorely wishing I’d purchased the Yonkers-born wheelgun for direct comparison purposes, but suffice to say, both of these revolvers will probably appeal to the same potential buyers. I believe, due to the slightly larger frame, the Colt’s revolver would edge out the Kimber in a head-to-head comparison for best middleweight round gun.
The Colt King Cobra’s front sight is one borne of thoughtfulness. It is a steel front blade with an inset brass bead. By loosening a single screw just above the muzzle, the end-user can replace it with a tritium or fiber-optic front sight. This is a feature that is sorely lacking in many modern defensive revolvers, and a vast improvement generally over integral front sights.
The rear sight on the Colt King Cobra is more traditional, consisting of a milled groove in the top strap. This sighting arrangement is doubtlessly familiar to revolver shooters. In light of the accuracy results below, I don’t dislike this setup as much as I otherwise might. Still, I found myself longing for a version of the King Cobra with an adjustable (at at least better) rear sight, like the original King Cobra. I believe the current rear sight artificially limited the accuracy potential of this standout revolver.
The sight picture is fine for close-in work (of, say 15 yards and under) but difficult to refine at distance. The rear notch is not sufficiently deep to allow one to see the entire front bead. Combined with the sloped outer edges of the rear sight notch, the overall sight picture ends up coming out with a somewhat rounded apex (I tried, numerous times, to photograph the sight picture one sees when the gun is at full extension. I failed.). This hampered efforts at precision at distances exceeding fifteen yards. I understand that the Colt King Cobra is probably not intended to be a forty-yard gun, but a better rear sight could take what is already a good trail companion and turn it into a great one.
Having never fired a Colt’s revolver, I was naturally curious about the storied Colt’s trigger. Everyone and their brother seems to have an anecdote about the beautiful, glass-like trigger of the legendary Python. I was excited to try one of these triggers, but also had to wonder if some of the hype was the result of inflated memories of, or nostalgia for, yesteryear.
And I have to say, I was impressed. The Colt King Cobra’s trigger was incredibly smooth. It’s difficult to quantify that but it was on par with the smoothest revolvers I’ve ever shot, and is the first time the word “buttery” has made any sense to me in regards to a trigger. The Colt’s trigger famously exhibits “stacking” and becomes gradually heavier as it moves through it’s rearward cycle, but I didn’t find this to be detrimental in any way.
The double action pull weight as measured on my Timney Trigger gauge averages a very reasonable 9 1/4 pounds. This relatively light and incredibly smooth trigger no doubt contributed to the accuracy I was able to squeeze out of the Colt King Cobra. The single action trigger consistently and cleanly broke at an even 5 pounds.
There are a couple minor negatives about the Colt King Cobra’s trigger. The first—it seems to induce what I termed a “premature reset response.” When one completes a cycle of the trigger and releases it, there is an audible and tactile “click” and accompanying drop-off in return-spring tension about 2/3rds of the way through the trigger return. I was wont to arrest the trigger’s forward travel at this point and begin pulling it through its next cycle, only to find the trigger locked up. This didn’t happen often mind you, but enough times that were I adopting the Colt King Cobra as a carry gun I would work hard to overcome this.
I contacted Mike and asked if this trait was peculiar to Colt. Mike allowed that he had experienced this, but believed it to be caused by a surfeit of work with short-triggered semi-automatics. Initially this explanation sounded good, but then I realized I haven’t had this problem with any of the other revolvers I shoot consistently, which include the GP100, 686, 640, and some others I’m testing. I also observed this issue with my girlfriend. She is far from being a seasoned shooter, but at least 95% of her lifetime shooting has been done with double-action revolvers. The first time she dry fired the Colt King Cobra she locked the trigger up in this fashion.
Mike later confirmed that two older Colt’s revolvers exhibited this same trait. This isn’t “no-go” criteria for me, but I do believe it merits mentioning. If you intend to use the King Cobra for defense of life and limb, mastering its trigger should also mean mastering the trigger’s full reset cycle.
The second minor problem is that the trigger is a bit too narrow. This wouldn’t be an issue in a self-defense situation, but during long range and dry practice sessions it is. It placed a lot of pressure on one particular point in the distal joint of my trigger finger. Initially it was a bit painful; by the end of the session the tip of my trigger finger would be slightly tingly. . . and not in a good way.
Function: Extraction & Ejection
As expected, there were no major issues with extraction and ejection but I do have two minor notes. The first is that the user’s interaction with the ejector rod needs to be vigorous. I found that when “administratively” ejecting brass, one or two chambers wanted to hang on to their brass. This was never an issue if I exerted an appropriate amount of force on the ejector rod. This issue is not peculiar to the Colt King Cobra, as one could expect it with any revolver.
I do bring it up because of the second issue, however. The tip of the ejector rod could be better. The ejector rod’s tip is only scantly larger in diameter than the rod itself (and I believe what our friend Greyson would call a “cigar cutter” format). This creates a natural disincentive to slap the rod with gusto as it tends to cause a lot of pressure to concentrate itself upon a very small surface area on the user’s palm. I’d love to see this revolver refined ever so slightly to include a larger ejector rod tip – again, like the original King Cobra.
I have run across two reports, one firsthand and one secondhand, of the Colt’s ejector rod tip becoming lodged in the channel when depressed vigorously enough. As a user of the Universal Revolver Reload I was on the lookout for this. I didn’t happen during my first range session so I attempted to induce it. With the power my two hands could muster (and all the punishment the heel of my right hand was willing to endure) I could not replicate this malfunction. That may not fully put the problem to bed, but those are my results.
Function & Reliability
I followed our RT-SOP here, firing 500 rounds of ammunition from at least three different manufacturers, over at least three range sessions. My range sessions with the Colt King Cobra broke down thusly:
- 25 March: 150 rounds, no malfunctions of any kind
- 100 rounds Winchester “Service Grade” .38 Special 130-grain FMJ
- 50 rounds Remington HTP .357 Magnum 110-grain SJHP
- 27 March: 150 rounds, no malfunctions of any kind
- 100 rounds Winchester “Service Grade” .38 Special 130-grain FMJ
- 26 rounds Remington HTP .357 Magnum 110-grain SJHP
- 12 rounds Speer Gold Dot .357 Magnum 135-gr. Short Barrel JHP
- 12 rounds Speer Gold Dot .357 Magnum 125-gr. JHP
- 6 rounds SuperVel .38 Special +P 90-grain JHP
- 03 April: 150 rounds, no malfunctions of any kind
- 100 rounds Prvi Partisan.38 Special 130-grain FMJ
- 18 rounds Federal .38 Special +P 130-grain HST Micro JHP
- 6 rounds Speer Gold Dot .357 Magnum 125-gr. JHP
- 6 rounds Hornady Critical Defense .38 Special 110-grain (standard pressure)
- 8 rounds Sig .38 Special +P V-Crown 125-grain JHP
- 6 rounds SuperVel .38 Special +P 90-grain JHP
- 6 rounds Remington HTP .357 Magnum 110-grain SJHP
- 04 April: 50 rounds, no malfunctions of any kind
- 50 rounds Prvi Partisan.38 Special 130-grain FMJ
The Colt King Cobra functioned at 100% with everything I deigned to put through it.
The confluence of features found in the Colt King Cobra make a gun that is exceedingly pleasant to shoot comfortably and accurately. The weight of this revolver contributes to both factors, absorbing some recoil and helping one steady it at arm’s length.
Though I do have a disinclination toward grips with finger grooves I found the factory Hogue extremely pleasant. Its enlarged circumference placed my trigger finger perfectly on the trigger and permitted an exceptionally strong firing grip. The soft rubber perhaps cushioned recoil somewhat, but more importantly prevented slipping of the hands under the forces of recoil.
Recoil was extremely manageable with .38 Special and .38 +P ammunition. With a firm grip it was possible to lock the gun in place and run it about as fast as I’d run anything. I’m surprised by this only a little. Though I repeat myself, I attribute this to the gun’s large grip and 28-ounce heft.
Recoil was a bit more spirited with .357 Magnum ammunition. Some softer-shooting Magnum loads were comfortable, and dare I say, even controllable. Loads of this ilk are the 110-grain Remington SJHP and the Speer 135-grain Gold Dot Short Barrel loading. I didn’t have the stomach for much of the heavier Magnum offerings, and limited my shooting of them to under two dozen rounds. While not painful, recovering from recoil is a fairly lengthy affair.
That beautiful trigger, lengthened sight radius, and the ability to acquire a firm, comfortable grasp permitted accuracy beyond what one typically expects of a small revolver. I fired the prescribed two iterations of Dot Torture. The first was fired at three yards with rounds 50 through 100. I managed to score a 48 out of a possible 50.
The accuracy testing iteration sparked an internal debate. I debated on what distance from which to test the accuracy of the Colt King Cobra. Our RT-SOP specifies a distance of 10 yards for concealed carry guns and 25 for field/duty-sized revolvers. With it’s medium size and 3″ barrel, shooting at a mere ten yards made me feel like I was doing the gun a disservice. Nonetheless, I fired the first test string at 10 yards using the Speer Short-Barrel Magnum load (135-grain). The photo below illustrates that group.
The group was so good, I decided to push the distance out to 15 yards. When I ran the target back in I almost couldn’t believe my eyes. With the exception of one shot (the first one, and completely my fault) the group was almost as good at fifteen as it was at 10.
I didn’t know what to make of that. I almost considered shooting all successive groups at fifteen yards. I might have, had the very next load not been the Federal .38 Special +P 130-grain HST Micro. The King Cobra did not like this particular load†. My first two groups at the fifteen-yard line were both at least five inches in diameter, so I moved the target back to ten and stayed there.
In addition to not particularly caring for the premier load from Federal, the Colt King Cobra seemed to demonstrate a preference for the other two .357 Magnum loads I grouped: the Remington 110-grain semi-jacketed hollowpoint and the full power (and I mean FULL power) 125-grain Speer Gold Dot. Excluding fliers that were almost certainly not the fault of the gun, the worst of the .357 Magnum groups were tighter than the best of the .38 Specials††. Below are the six other loads for which I recorded groups.
The Remington HTP 110-grain SJHP load (above) was loved by the King Cobra. I shot 82 rounds of this loading and all of them grouped surprisingly well, though this is only one I photographed. This load produces a mighty roar and a massive muzzle flash, but isn’t otherwise intolerable to shoot.
Despite the intense muzzle flash, noise, and recoil generated by Speer’s full-on 125-grain Gold Dot, the King Cobra seemed to like it.
This group is by far a “best of three” with the Federal Micro HST .38 Special, which performed somewhat erratically for me.
Dot Torture session two was also impressive. Instead of firing it at the same three yard where I’d fired the first iteration, I backed up to a full five yards. I pulled of a 47 out of 50. I know I dropped a point from the first Dot Torture session, but I’m OK with that considering the increase in distance. By comparison I only managed to pull off a 44 at three yards the last time I shot my 640, a gun with which I have many times the rounds and hours on.
Carrying the Colt King Cobra
The sole RT-SOP criteria that I was unable to complete prior to publication was the concealed carry portion. This was due to unavailability of leather in time to get the requisite hours in. Not very many holsters are being manufactured for this revolver just yet, but Kramer Leather did step in and provide us a holster. Despite the shortcoming in our field report, Mike and I made an editorial decision to get this review out as quickly as possible.
The Colt King Cobra is very similar in size to my daily carry pistol. I foresee few issues with carrying the King Cobra, but we’ll test it just the same. When we do we will post that as a separate, followup article that will be linked here. Speaking of follow-ons, stay tuned because I’ll be hanging on to this gun for a bit longer and I’ll make you guys aware of anything else I find out while using it.
The Bottom Line
This revolver fills an important role in the RevolverGuy’s battery, somewhere between his full-sized shooting iron and his snubby. My personal hope is that the Colt King Cobra (along with a couple others) are the vanguard of a trend toward revolvers in this class; small enough for daily concealed carry, but big enough to shoot comfortably and well.
The Colt King Cobra isn’t perfect. If I had my ‘druthers I’d ask for a couple minor modifications: higher profile and/or adjustable sights, a wider trigger, and a friendlier ejector rod, in that order. Oh, and maybe a bobbed hammer. I’d also ask for the market to get on board with this excellent revolver and provide us with holsters and inline-operated speedloaders.
Despite these shortcomings, the Colt King Cobra is one of the best revolvers I’ve ever shot. My exemplar proved itself capable of extremely good accuracy within the confines of its sights, and it is pleasant with all but the heaviest Magnum ammo. The overall quality is one that is seldom seen these days. The trigger is outstanding, and the sixth shot is certainly a welcome addition. And of course, the three-inch, Goldilocks barrel and the beefy frame really make this revolver something special.
To paraphrase myself, revolvers will work if you’re willing to make them work. This one will probably work better than most, and it probably won’t take quite as much work as most. Though reports were mixed on the “new model” Cobras, the King Cobra is truly a phenomenal fighting revolver. The Colt King Cobra has an MSRP of $899, and I see them going for about that on Gunbroker. Honestly though, my exemplar seems to punch well above that weight class. If I didn’t know better you could tell me this gun cost a third more than that and I’d probably believe you.
The bottom line is that this is a damn fine revolver. Had the King Cobra been an option when I initially entered the revolver market I daresay it would have been at the top of my list, provided aftermarket support made it a feasible carry option, and there’s a good chance I’d still be carrying it today.
†We have heard some anecdotal reports of poor accuracy with this load, and will be conducting some further testing of the .38 Special HST in the future.
††Because of this disparity, Mike and I have some additional testing planned to explore the accuracy differential between .38 Special and .357 Magnum loads from .357 Magnum revolvers. The questions raised in this footnote (and the footnote above it) probably merit benching the guns and doing some true inherent accuracy testing.