Colt’s snake guns are nothing if not legendary in the gun world. Whether you enjoy revolvers or not, those seven models have come to stand for all that is amazing and high-quality about them. It really comes as no surprise that Colt’s been re-releasing modern versions of those guns, considering their popularity. After all, aren’t the snake guns the guns that basically built the modern revolvers we know and love?
Why Snake Guns?
It was the 1950s when Colt decided to launch a line of serpent-themed revolvers. Various rumors and reasons for this choice float around the gun world, one of them being that the company’s owner at that time specifically wanted a line of guns bearing the names of venomous creatures. Whatever the reason was, revolver lovers everywhere probably rejoice in Colt’s decision.
There are seven revolvers in Colt’s snake line, including the Python, Anaconda, Diamondback, Cobra, Boa, King Cobra, and Viper.
What was the first Snake Gun?
The first snake gun was the Cobra, which was launched by the gun maker in 1950. There were two models of the Cobra made, each of which had different features. The original Cobra enjoyed a 21-year run—from 1950 to 1971—and was a reasonably lightweight 15-ounce pistol with a two-inch barrel.
Although the gun was made with a D-frame similar to that of the Colt Detective Special, it has an aluminum alloy frame, so it’s a lot lighter weight than the steel-framed Detective Special. The second run of the Cobra was made from 1972 to 1981. Those Second Model Cobras are easily identified by their shrouded ejector rods and Baughman ramp sights.
Revolver aficionados weren’t limited to Cobras with two-inch barrels. Over the years, the Cobra was made with 2-inch, 3-inch, 4-inch, and 5-inch barrels, although certain barrel lengths did depend on the caliber the gun was chambered in. For example, Cobras chambered in 22 LR were only offered with a 3-inch barrel. Available calibers included the 22 LR, 38 Special, 32 Colt New Police, and 38 Smith & Wesson.
Why is the Colt Python so popular?
Second in the snake gun lineup was the Colt Python, the gun that’s gotten the most attention of them all. Released as a target pistol in 1955, the original Python was chambered in 357 Magnum with a 6-round capacity and was made in a variety of barrel lengths.
During the Python’s first run between 1955 and 2005, it was offered with a 2.5 inch, 3.0 inch, 4.0 inch, 6.0 inch, and 8.0-inch barrel. It was made with a blued finish known as Royal Blue or a polished nickel finish at first with a Royal Coltguard, or Electroless Nickel, finish being used later.
From its crisp trigger to the smoothness of its cycling, the original Colt Python was a beautifully designed and made revolver. There are many gun owners who feel no other revolver will ever equal the original Python’s quality, feel, and accuracy, and they might be right. After all, there is a difference between assembly-line guns and those hand-fit by gunsmiths.
In 2020, Colt announced the return of a modernized Python, which was met with a great deal of excitement. And while nothing is like the original, the second run of the revolver produced well-made guns with good triggers and reliably performance.
What was Colt’s third Snake Gun?
Third in the running for Colt’s snake gun line was the Colt Diamondback. This was another smaller-framed revolver. In fact, the Diamondback was similar in size to the Cobra, but it had features from the Python. It was produced in both 22 LR and 38 Special in quite a few barrel lengths, including 2 ½ inch, 4.0 inch, and 6 inch.
The overall weight of the Diamondback varies by barrel length and chambering. Like its predecessors, the Diamondback was available with either a blued or nickel finish (it is worth noting those finishes were not the exact same as other revolvers).
Like the Cobra, this revolver was made using Colt’s D frame. Features included a serrated hammer, ventilated rib, and adjustable target sights. The Diamondback’s production ran from 1966 to 1988 and Colt has yet to resurrect it.
What’s the rarest Snake Gun?
There’s some debate as to whether the most sought-after snake gun is the fourth or fifth from the serpent-themed line. That’s because both were limited runs and are difficult to find.
In 1977, the Colt Viper joined the line as the fourth in the series. It was a six-shot revolver with a 4.0-inch barrel and checkered walnut grips that was chambered in 38 Special. The Viper was a variation of the Cobra. Production only lasted a single year for the Viper, leading it to be incredibly popular among collectors.
Fifth in the snake gun series was the Colt Boa, another revolver that’s hard to find today. Made in 1985, the Boa was a 357 Magnum designed and produced as a limited run for the Lew Horton Distributing Company. 1200 Boas were made; 600 of the models had 4.0-inch barrels and 600 had 6.0-inch barrels. According to firearms historians, the Boa is not just another version of the Python, but a cross between the Python and the Colt Trooper Mk V.
Which Colt of these two is the most highly prized among collectors? We supposed that depends on your perspective, but here are a few details that might make it clear. When a Boa in excellent condition was found and sold by the Rock Island Auction Company in 2017, it went for $17,250. Somehow the same auction house got their hands on a boxed pair of Boas in 2022 that sold for a cool $42,063. Rock Island also auctioned off a Viper in 2021 that fetched a final price of $8,625.
The Colt King Cobra
Released in 1986—so just a year after the Boa’s brief run—the Colt King Cobra was a modified D-frame, 357 Magnum revolver. At that point, Smith & Wesson had attempted their own versions of the ever-popular Python with their Model 586 and Model 686, and apparently Colt decided to go ahead and make the King Cobra in response.
The King Cobra was a medium-sized defensive handgun that was reasonably priced. It enjoyed a somewhat brief run from 1986 to 1992 before being discontinued by the gun maker, which brought it back in 1994 for four years. After the second time, it was dropped from production in 1998, the King Cobra didn’t re-appear again until 2019, when Colt launched what turned out to be a beautifully designed modern revolver.
Side note: In 2022, Colt announced the King Cobra Target, a model chambered in 22 LR.
This gun was a latecomer to the serpent line. The Colt Anaconda was launched in 1990 as a large frame, double-action revolver that was meant to be a direct competitor to the existing 44 Magnums on the market (Smith & Wesson Model 39 and Ruger Redhawk, to be specific). It ended up being a little late to the snake gun party, though; the Colt Anaconda never gained significant popularity in those early years. Colt discontinued its production in 2006, waiting until 2021 to launch a new version of it.
The original Colt Anaconda was made from stainless steel, unlike the carbon steel used in the Ruger Redhawk, and had some seemingly minor issues that hurt its chances for popularity. The gun maker made the Anaconda available with either a 4-inch, 6-inch, or 8-inch barrel (there was also a limited run of a model with a 5-inch barrel). It wasn’t only made in 44 Magnum, either; the revolver was also made in 44 Special and 45 Colt. The six-inch barrel Anaconda weighed 53 ounces, empty, but many sources who have had the opportunity to run this particular gun say it isn’t well-balanced.
Will there be more snake guns in the future? Only time will tell. In the meantime, tell us which one’s your favorite in the comments section.