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Colt Detective Special: The Best Snubnose Revolver Ever?

Colt Detective Special
Colt Detective Special

Colt may not be the dominant American firearms brand in actual sales figures and market share, but they are almost certainly the most famous.

Theirs is a name so emblematic it sounds almost generic, from the Colt “Peacemaker” (Single Action Army) to the “Colt .45 automatic” (the M1911 pistol) and the Colt Detective Special.

The latter gun’s name is virtually synonymous with snubnose revolvers harkening back to the many decades in the 20th century during which the double-action revolver was the standard for American police forces and dominated private markets, before eventually giving way to the semiautomatic pistol.

Let’s now take a deeper look at the iconic .38 Special caliber Colt snubby. 

Colt Detective Special History & Specifications

To rehash what I wrote last year:

“First introduced in 1927, this wheelgun went through three separate initial production runs before being brainlessly discontinued in 1986…But what a glorious 59-year run it was. As stated by the NRA’s American Rifleman staff, ‘The Colt Detective Special became a favorite carry option for law enforcement as well as armed citizens’…Luckily for fans of modern classics, Colt’s marketing wizards came to their collective senses and resurrected the Detective Special from 1993 to 1996, and today it’s produced in a slightly tweaked version called the Colt Cobra.”

Indeed, some police departments around the world, such as the Myanmar Police Force, reportedly still issue the Detective Special to this day.

The Colt Cobra, for its part, is a member of the company’s Snake Gun series that also includes the legendary Python .357 Magnum revolver, along with the King Cobra .357 Magnum revolver – a sentimental fave of mine – and the Anaconda .44 Magnum

Specifications for the original gun were a barrel length of 2 or 3 inches, overall length of 6.75 or 7.75 inches, and a weight of 21 ounces (just over half the weight of another famous Colt product, the Government Model .45 ACP autopistol). While full-sized revolvers are often referred to as sixguns, snubbies are frequently five-shooters, omitting one round of capacity for the sake of additional compactness and ease of concealment. However, the Detective Special remains a true sixgun.

Impressions of Fellow L.E. Veterans/Gun Writers

Self-defense guru and former New Hampshire police captain Massad F. Ayoob is one of the most renowned firearms experts in America, and his book In the Gravest Extreme: The Role of the Firearm in Personal Protection, though published way back in 1980, is still considered one of the best books ever written on the subject of armed self-protection. Here’s what Mas had to say therein about the Detective Special:

Colt’s Detective Special. This is the best .38 snub-nose available. It is only slightly larger than the most compact models, has excellent sights and a full-length ejector stroke, and holds six shots. Two complaints: the fixed sights on the current guns tend to be out of line. This will be repaired by the factory or franchise dealer without charge, but it’s an unnecessary annoyance.”

Mas considered the Detective Special to be superior in multiple ways to the Smith & Wesson Model 36 Chief’s Special, even though the latter was a more popular seller among cops and private citizens alike and has consistently remained in production for 72 years. 

Christian D. Orr has 33 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011.

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Written By

Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).