Pocket Snakes From Cobra


The first pocket-sized, 5-shot .38 Special arrived in 1950 when it was unveiled as the Smith & Wesson Chief’s Special at a national gathering of chiefs of police from around the United States. Prior to this time if one wanted a Smith & Wesson pocket revolver it had to be the I-frame chambered in the less powerful .38 S&W. Today the J-frame concept continues not only from Smith & Wesson but in versions from several other manufacturers as well.

As a firearms writer for nearly 45 years now (how’d that happen?) I’ve shot and continue to shoot just about every handgun imaginable. I have favorites for hunting, for everyday use, for target shooting, for long-range shooting and for concealment.

Possibly the most valuable firearms Diamond Dot and I have are our 5-shot .38 Specials; in fact the first gun I ever bought for her was a 5-shot .38 Special in 1960. She keeps one in her purse, one by the bed and another at her desk. I have one in my winter jacket pocket, one in my vest pocket and one in my denim jacket pocket. So no matter which piece of clothing I select it’s already “loaded.” Then there is my always, ever-present J-frame in the front pocket of my jeans. I just can’t imagine functioning without 5-shot .38 Specials.

Cobras from top right counterclockwise include 5-shot .38
Shadow, 10+1 shot 9mm Patriot and 6+1 shot .45 Patriot.

A pair of Cobra Shadows with 10 rounds of
hollowpoint .38 Specials.Who says you couldn’t carry two?


The latest version of the little 5-shot .38 Special is from Cobra Enterprises of Utah. It’s a leightweight, double action only, hammerless, or more correctly concealed hammer, 15 ounce .38 Special rated for +P loads, with an MSRP of $425. The frame is aluminum, while barrel and cylinder are stainless steel.

The front sight is a serrated ramp style while the rear sight is a typical fixed channel cut into the top of the frame. For my eyes I could use a deeper rear notch. Grips are checkered, finger-groove rubber and appear to be made by Uncle Mike’s. They go a long way to help in controlling felt recoil.

Although rated for +P loads shooters who do not have a lot of experience, especially those who are purchasing their first firearm for concealed carry, would do well to stay with standard loads. There are virtually dozens of .38 Special loads available, and one of the best for minimum recoil with excellent accuracy is the 148-grain Target Wadcutter load from Winchester. This round clocks out at 825 fps from the 17/8″ barrel of the Shadow and puts four shots in 1″ at 10 yards, shooting double action of course.

Moving up the defensive ladder from the Cobra Shadow we have the double action only semiauto Patriot 9mm. Features include a black polymer frame with integral molded checkered grip panels and a stainless steel slide and barrel. Sights on this example are also fixed, however they are much easier for my eyes to see even though they are both integral parts of the stainless steel slide. They do give a large square sight picture. With its 3.3″ barrel, double-stack magazine capacity of 10 rounds, and shortened grip frame accommodating two fingers while the third is under the bottom of the magazine, the Patriot 9mm is small enough for hiding in a large pocket.The magazine release is on the left side and while I could reach it with the thumb of my firing hand I could not get enough leverage to release it but rather had to use the thumb on my offhand. For my eyes and hold this little 9mm shoots about 2″ to the left, while grouping 115- and 124-grain loads at 1,025 to 1,090 fps in 2″ or less at seven yards. MSRP is $367.

The Shadow was tested with a variety of factory .38 Special ammunition.
This shows the versatility of a .38 Special revolver.

The Patriot

That brings us to the Cobra Patriot .45 ACP which is one dandy little pistol, especially when you consider its MSRP of under $390. This is also a double action only pistol with a black polymer grip frame and stainless steel slide and barrel. Grip panels are integral molded with checkering on both sides, stippling on the backstrap, and smooth finger grooves on the frontstrap. The area behind the triggerguard is relieved allowing two fingers to fit comfortably in the finger grooves with one under the grip frame. Anyone with smaller fingers can probably get all three fingers around the grip, and if I squeeze a little, even I can manage a two and a half finger grip.

Magazine capacity is six rounds, giving a 6+1 round capability. The magazine release is located the same as on the 9mm and I have the same difficulty trying to release it with my firing hand. The top of the stainless steel slide is flat and grooved longitudinally. Sights are excellent, with a square front sight molded into the slide matched up with a black square rear sight set in a dovetail.

I found the larger .45 easier to shoot than either the .38 Shadow or the 9mm Patriot. Its larger size takes it out of the standard pocket pistol category, however it will certainly fit in a jacket pocket. Accuracy was exceptional for a 19 ounce relatively inexpensive .45. I tested it with 230 grain bullets at 800 fps as well as 200 grain JHPs at 870 fps, with all three averaging just barely over 1″ at seven yards and it shoots right to point of aim for my eyes and hold.

The .38 Special Shadow showed decent accuracy at 10 yards.

The double-action .45 Patriot proved to be an
excellent shooter at self- defense distance.

Affordable Alternatives

All three of these Cobras are less expensive options than some of the “bigger” makers, and for those on a fixed budget they can provide a lot of social security without having to give up other necessities. I believe it was Jeff Cooper who said buying a gun does not make a person armed, anymore than buying a guitar makes one a musician. Practice, and in most cases proper instruction, is necessary — and especially so with pocket pistols.

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