Colt King Cobra — If You Could Only Have One (Wheel) Gun

The big news for revolver fans in 2019 was the return of the Colt Python—a gun regarded by many as an almost perfect double-action. While this snake receives most of the love, there are other vipers in the pit. The Cobra, a compact concealed carry .38 is an underappreciated wheel gun, and the King Cobra, the .357 version, may be an even more versatile design.

As the medium-framed Colt, the King Cobra offers the best of both worlds: run the .357 for defense or the .38 Special for practice. Carry it IWB for ease and simplicity in concealed carry, or carry it OWB in the woods for an effective do-it-all sidearm. The King can do just about everything you’d want a revolver to do.

The Remington UMC runs like .38 should. It is a solid performer and readily available.
The Remington UMC runs like .38 should. It is a solid performer and readily available. The jacketed ball is great range ammo.

King Cobra Specs

  • Barrel Length: 3 in.
  • Capacity: 6 rounds
  • Sights: Brass Bead Front
  • Frame Material: Stainless Steel
  • Frame Finish: Brushed Stainless
  • Grips: Hogue Overmolded
  • Action: Double-Action
  • Weight: 28 oz.
The cylinder on the King Cobra swings out to the left. It rotates clockwise.
The cylinder on the King Cobra swings out to the left. It rotates clockwise.

Snakes Abound

So why isn’t there more love for these Colts? They’re hardly neglected. Those that like wrist-snapping rounds have the Anaconda to carry. I’ve never liked the .44 Magnum as a round. I prefer the faster follow-ups of well-placed shots from a .357, and I tend to do better (psychologically) with rounds that don’t generate that kind of this-is-going-to-hurt anticipation.

And the biggest threats I tend to face in this neck of the south are small-ish hogs and the two-legged snakes you hear so much about. And for those threats, the .357 is ideal. The King Cobra weighs in under two pounds, making it as easy to carry as it is to shoot.

Colt King Cobra cylinder catch
The cylinder catch on the left side of the frame is easy enough to operate one handed. Even so, reloads don’t happen fast.

Why the King Cobra?

When you’re the King, you get an additional caliber. While the Cobra is a .38, the King Cobra is a .357. This adds some versatility.

This is the 3″ version, but there’s a 4″ barrel and two shorter 2″ versions (one with a hammer and one that’s DAO). The 4″ version is called the Target and has an adjustable rear sight and a fiber optic front sight. The two shorter versions are built more for concealed carry.

The King Cobra's hammer hits a transfer bar that acts as a safety between hammer and the pin when the hammer is in the down position.
The King Cobra’s hammer hits a transfer bar that acts as a safety device between the hammer and the pin when the hammer is in the down position.

Why limit yourself to .38? That’s a different quandary. The .38 peaked years ago. There’s still some ammo development being done, and plenty of rock-solid options for .38 Special ammo, but most of this seems to be geared to the lighter range loads or the self-defense crowd that wants a handgun that performs well and doesn’t kick too hard.

Running .38 Special through the King Cobra is easier on the hands than the equivalent load in a Cobra. The extra mass on the larger revolver helps to hold things in check—but we’re splitting hairs. The Cobra weighs in under 25 ounces—the king Cobra weighs 28. That difference isn’t as noticeable as the additional real estate on the grip.

barrel and bead sight on Colt King Cobra
The shine of the stainless is tempered by the flat-top approach to the brass bead front sight, which cuts out almost all of the glare.

There’s a bit more barrel, too. The King Cobra has a three-inch barrel. Still easily concealed, but large enough to shoot accurately, too.

Shooting the Smaller .357

The .357 in this gun, though, provides the expected increase in recoil. It is jumpy.

shooting Colt King Cobra one handed
While some revolvers, like the Python, are big enough for two hands, I find it hard to get a second hand on the Cobras. As such, I do most of my shooting one-handed.

The Python, by contrast, almost manages itself. It is so smooth, even under an increase in pressure. Still, I don’t know anyone who goes target shooting with .357—or not exclusively. The .357 is more of a working round.

And that makes the King Cobra a solid do-it-all gun. As a .357, it is a hard-hitting gun. At three inches, the revolver is still easy to conceal. If you need a concealed carry revolver for some reason, this is a gem.

Six shots, one handed, at 25 yards with Colt King Cobra
Six shots, one-handed, at 25 yards. I’m holding decent groups of two, even though I’m hitting a bit low of my intended mark on this torso plate.

The King Cobra is also a great option for the woods or the trail if you don’t mind the stainless finish. While the .357 is a bit anemic for really big bears, it is solid for most other hunting tasks. I’m always surprised when I find hunters who go into the woods without a handgun.

The King Cobra is ideal for OWB carry, in almost any position from small-of-back on around to cross-draw. Yet it may be best suited for wearing on a chest rig.

Colt logo, the rampant pony. He's holding a broken spear, defending--the rumor goes--a fallen knight.
The rampant pony. He’s holding a broken spear, defending—the rumor goes—a fallen knight.

Can you smell the nostalgia?

I had an interesting conversation about the role of revolvers in concealed carry recently with a venerated name in firearms training circles. His outlook was simple—he has a hard time taking them seriously.

His considered opinion stems from hands-on work with the best-of-the-best semi-autos. Their capacity, reliability, and functionality have all relegated revolvers to an entirely new sub-par tier for EDC. Hell, in one brand alone, the P365X-Macro has the same capacity as the larger P320.

The barrel lug on Colt King Cobra
The barrel lug is thinner than that on some revolvers, but still protects the plunger well and adds some mass under the barrel.

I agree. I don’t carry a revolver much these days—not for concealed carry. My father did, before he passed. So did my mother. Neither of these folks had much enthusiasm for active training, and neither carried religiously.

Both preferred revolvers. I think it was generational. I could have handed either of them the King Cobra and they would have been most proficient.

The hammer on the King Cobra rocks back with modest pressure in double-action mode--somewhere north of 7 pounds.
The hammer on the King Cobra rocks back with modest pressure in double-action mode—somewhere north of 7 pounds.

I grew up in the transitional era. As such, I see revolvers differently. Some Smiths still seem like classics to me—as does the Python. Yet the King Cobra looks like the 1970s. There’s an irony here, as the King Cobra was first produced in 1986.

1986-1998, with a short gap in 1992. Compared to so many other American revolvers, that’s a really short run. It was reintroduced in 2019.

The Colt King Cobra trigger, in single-action, has a crisp break. The pull is between three and four pounds.
The trigger, in single action, has a crisp break. The pull is between three and four pounds.

Maybe it will really take off now, as more and more shooters who grew up with plastic-framed pistols find the simple pleasure in something that isn’t simply made but crafted.

Colt King Cobra. This is where the magic happens.
Can revolvers fail? If they do, the problem—unless we’re talking about a squib—will be with these parts here and how they drive the cylinder. As they say, timing is everything. I had no issues with this snake.

This 3″ version has an MSRP of $899. This is a chunk of change, but a good investment. Historically, these revolvers don’t dump their value like autos, and the Colt name still represents a level of quality that is hard to match in production wheel guns.

David Higginbotham is a writer and editor who specializes in everyday carry. David is a former backcountry guide in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and Boundary Waters Canoe Area who was a college professor for 20 years. He ultimately left behind the academy for a more practical profession in the firearms industry and was (among other editorial positions) the Managing Editor for a nascent Mag Life blog. In that Higginbotham helped establish The Maglife's tone and secure its early success. Though he went on to an even more practical firearms industry profession still, he continues to contribute articles and op-eds as time and life allow.

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