Fans of the double-action .38 Special snub-nosed revolver will sadly remember 1995 as the year that the Colt management team, driven by pressure from gun-control advocates as well as cost, eliminated the last of the compact D-frame Detective Specials.

The D-frame Colts were great handguns. So in 2017, after a 22-year production hiatus, Colt introduced a 21st-century version of the Detective Special — renamed the Cobra — to an entirely new generation of defensive shooters.

Night Cobra Upgrades

The original Cobra was a lightweight, aluminum-frame handgun weighing in at a mere 15 ounces, making it great for all-day carry. However, the new Cobra is an all-steel handgun weighing in at 25 ounces. And while the new Cobra is about as good as it gets for a basic defensive snub, the Night Cobra version is a cut above.

Colt Cobra Colt Night Cobra
  • Stainless steel
  • Hammer spur
  • Redesigned angular trigger guard
  • Stainless steel with DLC finish
  • Spur-less hammer = snag-resistant
  • Redesigned angular trigger guard
  • G10 grip for comfort
  • Steel square front sight with Tritium
MSRP: $749 MSRP: $899

The Night Cobra, like the standard Cobra, features all-stainless-steel construction. But one of several things that sets it above the standard Cobra is its matte-black diamond-like carbon (DLC) finish. This makes the Night Cobra one of the most corrosion-resistant revolvers out there.

Some matte coatings are kind of rough-looking in terms of feel and appearance; not so with the DLC finish. While DLC is not the old Colt Royal Blue finish — which was not rust-resistant — it is an attractive, smooth finish that enhances both the appearance of the Cobra and its functionality in high humidity or harsh environments.

Eye-Catching Features

Another feature that caught my eye and made me want to test the Night Cobra is the spur-less hammer. Without the hammer spur, the Night Cobra is more snag-resistant than other models.

The lockwork has been modified so that, unlike other revolvers with bobbed hammers, the Night Cobra can’t be made to fire single-action. A word of warning: If you try to start with the hammer back and then lock it to full-cock position on the Night Cobra, the hammer won’t stay in position at the rear. If the hammer moves forward with the trigger held to the rear, it will fire. Don’t mess around; if you want a Cobra capable of single- and double-action fire, get one of the four other models currently available.

The Night Cobra features the redesigned angular trigger guard of all new Cobras (thanks to newer, more efficient manufacturing methods like computer numerical control (CNC), which requires less hand-finishing and machining). Because of this, and a slightly different barrel profile, the new Cobra will not likely fit in holsters designed for the original version.

The other feature that drew me to the Night Cobra was the steel square front sight with a Tritium insert surrounded by a white outline. The rear sight is a square “frame trench.” There is no Tritium at the rear, and it isn’t needed. I don’t care for fiber-optic sights on a combat pistol. This is a close-quarters battle (CQB) handgun; at CQB distances, all you need is that front-sight dot plastered right in the center of the threatening blob in front of you — you know, center mass.

Oh, by the way, the new Cobra trigger is superb. I was impressed by its smoothness as soon as I took it out of the box. Colt worked on re-engineering the new Cobra series trigger mechanism with the intent of making it feel more like the legendary Python trigger, and I believe the company succeeded. The trigger is smooth-faced and slightly wider than the original Cobra’s.

In looking over the Night Cobra, I checked the cylinder lockup. As has been the case with previous Colt double-action revolvers of all types, the Night Cobra locks up bank-vault-tight, with zero play when the trigger is held back. In fact, there is next to no cylinder play with the trigger forward, proving that even though the outside appearance is somewhat different, the Night Cobra is still a genuine Colt revolver through and through.

The new G10 grip is hand-filling and gives great control. It also prevents clothing from hanging up on it, unlike rubber.

Night Cobra on the Range

I went to the test range with a couple of boxes of Colt Defense .38 Special ammunition, manufactured for Colt by DoubleTap Ammunition. The .38 Special load — which is not rated as a +P round — launches a 110-grain JHP bullet at 1150 feet per second from a 2-inch Cobra. This delivers 323 FPE at the muzzle, which is right up there with 9mm loads fired from full-sized autos.

From about 30 feet in a light misting rain, I easily produced fist-sized groups on a full-sized silhouette target. This showed me that the Night Cobra was regulated for modern high-velocity .38 Special ammo with lightweight bullets rather than the old 158-grain round-nosed lead .38 Special loads that travel at a more sedate 700 feet per second or so from snub-nosed revolvers.

I started firing first using a two-handed unsupported grip. The Colt Defense Ammunition barked with authority, and I could tell by the feel that the velocity quoted by DoubleTap was accurate. I found that the Night Cobra was quite controllable using a one-handed combat shooting stance as well.

The G10 grip shape prevented the knuckles of my middle finger from being rapped by the trigger guard, which is what happens when shooting a vintage Cobra with the original wood grips. The G10 is not a cushioning material, however; the feel is just like one would get with wood grips of the same size and configuration. Fortunately, the all-steel Cobra’s weight helped negate the recoil in and of itself.

In addition to the Colt Defense ammo, I fired a small quantity of Winchester 158-grain LSWCHP +P ammo that at one time was the premier .38 Special duty load for law enforcement officers. The recoil impulse was similar to that generated by the Colt Defense ammo due to the Winchester’s heavier bullet weight and lower 800 feet-per-second velocity.

As an old-time Colt revolver fan, I’m glad to see Colt bring back the D-frame revolvers. And it is obvious the company is committed, long term, to snub-nosed revolvers with its lineup of four other Cobra variations.

MSRP of the Night Cobra is $899.

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