Colt King Cobra: Revolver Test and Review

The reintroduced .357 Magnum lives up to the original's reputation from the golden age of Colt wheelguns.

WHEN CAPT. SAMUEL WALKER of the Texas Rangers moseyed into Samuel Colt's shop and asked for a six-round handgun, easy to reload, with enough power "to kill a man with a single shot," the close-combat weapon of the day was the Bowie knife.

Handguns of the 1830s and ‘40s were typically small-bored flintlocks—expensive, inaccurate as well as difficult and slow to reload. A man with a big knife and sense of purpose had a better chance of remaining bipedal than any pistolero. Handguns were for sophisticates and their duals. Blades were for survivors. Colt changed all that.

Colt’s first revolver, the Paterson in 1836, was a failure. When Captain Walker said his gun needed to be easy to reload, he meant not like the Paterson, which damn-near had to be taken apart to do so.

In 1847, Colt delivered 1,100 Walker Colts to the Texas Rangers. They carried the Walker Colt in the Mexican-American War, and in the Indian wars along the frontier. Though it had its problems, the revolver loaded fast (relatively) and hit hard. It was considered a practical weapon out to 100 yards, capable of dispatching man or horse. That old saying, "God created men equal. Samuel Colt made them so," well, he first did that with the Walker.

colt king cobra barrel
Colt released the new King Cobra this year after re-releasing the Cobra in 2017.Michael R. Shea

Colt didn't really invent the revolving action, as many have claimed, but rather improved Elisha Collier's patent on a revolving flintlock. In 1855, he founded Colt's Manufacturing Company, and within two years they produced 150 guns a day.

The next 150 years are filled with some of the greatest hits in revolver history for Colt: the Dragoon, the 1851 Navy, the 1860 Army, the Peacemaker, the Police, the Python. Then, things slowed down.

a colt king cobra revolver and boxes of handgun ammo.
The Colt King Cobra is a double action revolver chambered for .357 Magnum/.38 Special.Michael R. Shea

The firearms business is volatile, and in the ups and downs of the past 20 years, Colt quit making revolvers. (In no small part because the polymer-crazed customers quit buying them.)

Then, in 2017, the company released their first revolver in almost 20 years, the Colt Cobra in .38 Special. This year they went bigger with the .357 magnum King Cobra. It's a thoroughly modern revolver, with echoes of that great history stamped in the steel, sized for concealed carry.

The Seven Serpents

three colt handguns
From the top: The Colt Anaconda in .44 Magnum, the Colt Python in .357 Magnum, and the Colt Viper in .38 Spl, which was a 4-inch variant of the Cobra made in the 1970s.Wikipedia

Colt Revolvers, specifically, the “snake guns,” are a modern incarnation of the rich Colt company history—really a piece of American history.

The best book out there on them is Gurney Brown's Seven Serpents. For the unfamiliar, the snake guns are the Anaconda, Boa, Cobra, Diamondback, King Cobra, Python and Viper. (For a neat visual gallery of these revolvers, visit Mythic Armory.)

Col. Jeff Cooper said the .357 Magnum Python—made from 1955 to 1999 with Custom Shop varieties available through 2005—was the finest factory revolver ever made. Elvis collected them. Now everyone, it seems, collects them, too. At least the prices reflect that.

rick grimes holding a colt python in the walking dead
Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) has used the same Colt Python to wipe out zombies on TV's The Walking Dead for the past decade, possibly contributing to a resurgence in interest in Colt's snake guns.imfdb.org

Snake guns are among the hottest items on the collectors market. Reasons for this are many, but I blame Rick on The Walking Dead, who dispatches zombies and sociopaths with his trusty Python in every episode.

In 1986, Colt released the medium V-frame King Cobra in .357 Magnum. With Python looks and a reasonable price point, it should have done well, but it had a short run to 1992, came back in 1994, then was dropped again in 1998.

Available blued or in matte stainless, barrels ran from 2 to 8-inches with adjustable sights. After the successful launch of the .38 Special Cobra in 2017, Colt reintroduced and updated King Cobra this year in a new configuration: burnished stainless, 3-inch barrel, fixed sights. It’s a helluva gun.

Concealed Carry and Features

a colt king cobra and boxes of handgun ammo
We tested the Colt King Cobra with a number of defensive loads from various ammo manufacturers.Michael R. Shea

I’ve carried the King the better part of six months. It wears well in the Galco Combat Master for the Ruger SP101 3-inch. The transfer safety bar makes the gun safe to carry with a round in all six chambers chamber and the hammer down. It conceals well, too, under and jacket or vest.

The pebbled Hogue Overmolded grip is comfortable to shoot even with hot loads, yet looks rather plain Jane. I wish it had the gold Colt medallion of yore. Altamont recently released aftermarket oversized grips in a silver-black laminate, grey/black G10, super walnut, and rosewood, which look very promising. They require an included grip pin, as the stock Hogue is fitted to the revolver with a flat-head screw in the pommel.

The heavily textured VZ Grips Colt Cobra grips, available four styles and six colors, also fit this King.

Working up, the trigger guard is oversized for a gloved hand. It has a noticeable “bump,” almost like it was dropped. It’s roomy, and with big loads my finger doesn’t slap forward or hit it. The trigger itself is slender with a circular mark on the port side from the MIM mold.

My test model breaks at 9.25 oz. in double action and 4.25 oz. in single action, according to my Timney Trigger gauge. But it feels very much lighter than that.

The trigger is really first rate. By my ability, there is zero detectable transition between cylinder rotation and the hammer dropping. It’s incredibly smooth. That smoothness comes from the new leaf spring design, which was described to me as an “opening up” of the classic Colt V-spring.

Better hands than mine can reportedly "stage" the trigger—pulling through the double-action until the cylinder locks into the bolt, then realigning the sights before completing the trigger pull and firing.

One potential drawback is the reset, especially if you’re moving to this gun from a Smith & Wesson, Ruger, or a striker-fired semi-auto. As the trigger is released forward after the shot, there are three distinct clicks to the reset. Pull back after the first or second click, and the trigger locks up, and needs to be taken back through the “three clicks” to fire. For the record, this never created an issue on the firing line, but was something I noticed while dry firing.

Reloading a colt king cobra revolver
The author got roughly 2 inch groups from the revolver at 20 yards and the best group was 1.24 inches with Hornady 125 gr. XTPs.Michael R. Shea

The frame is heavy duty, but not large. On the Smith & Wesson scale, it sits between J-frame and K-frame guns. It’s smaller than the old medium-framed King Cobras. Colt has called this an “oversized small-frame gun.”

The burnished stainless finish is very well done and harkens back to the satin stainless of the Python Elite. The full-length lug protects the ejector rod, plus adds some weight and that distinct Colt look. At 28 oz. empty, it’s not a heavy revolver. It’s 1 oz. heavier than the five-shot Ruger SP-101. The six-shot S&W Performance Center Model 19 Carry Comp weighs 34 oz.

The fluted cylinder rotates clockwise, like all Colts, and opens with a rearward pull cylinder release.

The top strap is heavy duty, flat with a baked-in trench rear sight. It comes with a bright brass bead front sight. It's removeable with a 0.050-inch Allen wrench and Colt has Fiber Optic and Tritium options available. The muzzle is deep-crowned, which looks good and protects accuracy.

With the .357 Magnum loads, this one shot at or around 2 inches in single action at 20 yards with Hornady 125 gr. XTPs, SIG 125 gr. FMJs, and Speer Gold Dot 158 grs; as well as Federal HST 138 gr. JHPs, and Gold Dot 135 gr. in 38 Special +P. The Hornady’s laid down the best group at 1.24-inches followed closely by the .357 Gold Dots at 1.38-inch.

side view of a colt revolver
Also this year, Colt released the King Cobra Carry model with a bobbed hammer and a 2 inch barrel.Colt

In an age of micro 9mms, a hard-hitting six shooter might feel a bit historic. But with Colt, for me, the history is part of the appeal. The new King Cobra lives up to that storied past, but in a modern, concealable package.

If you need something even smaller, Colt has recently released the King Cobra Carry, with a bobbed hammer and 2-inch barrel. That's a lot of snake bite in a small package, but for all-around shoot-ability, I'm sticking with this 3-inch model. I've come to like it on my hip—a low-profile equalizer the likes of which Captain Walker couldn't even have imagined.

Colt King Cobra SPECS

side by side view of colt king cobra
The Colt King Cobra weighs in at just 28 oz.Colt

Colt King Cobra Specs

Action: Double Action Revolver
Caliber: .357 Magnum and .38 Special +P
Barrel Length: 3 inches
Capacity: 6 rounds
Sights: Brass Bead Front, Rear Frame Sight
Material: Stainless Steel
Frame Finish: Brushed Stainless
Grips: Hogue Overmolded
Action: Double-Action
Weight: 28 oz. empty
MSRP: $899