Range Report: Cobra “Big Bore” .38 Special Derringer - THR

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Old June 3, 2009, 05:21 PM   #1
Low Budget Shooter
Join Date: January 2, 2003
Location: Texahoma
Posts: 160
Thumbs up Range Report: Cobra “Big Bore” .38 Special Derringer

Dear Revolver Shooters,

A while back, I gave up trying to carry a J-frame revolver in the pocket. My profession has me standing in front of groups of people, and despite an excellent Myka pocket holster, my front pocket was always yelling, “Gun!” A small revolver is great for carrying in a belt holster, but I shoot my k-frame revolver so much better, that if I am going to belt carry, I want the larger gun. (Want to do the best shooting of your life, try an old Smith k-frame!)

Once the j-frame had sat unloved for a while, I sold it to a very nice gentleman and went in search of something I could truly carry in the pocket.

The small .32 and .380 semi-auto pistols are obvious choices that many people use and recommend. I read up on these, handled them at the gun show, and decided against them. Why?

First, there is always the issue of money. I have a steady job, for which I am thankful to God, but with kids at home, and prices high, not much of the paycheck can go toward shooting. If I have to add .32 or .380 to my reloading bench, that’s money. And although the little pocket autos are not running more than about $250-$350, that’s money, too.

Second, there is the issue of, well, uh, how do you say it? Is there any way to express the feeling a revolver guy gets when he picks up a little plastic semi-auto pistol, or even a steel-framed model? It’s something like a boy being told he has to kiss his sister. Or maybe it’s more like eating old lettuce when it is starting to get reddish-brown and gooey. Even though I don’t know exactly how to say it, you revolver guys know the feeling.

Naturally I had a look at the NAA mini revolvers, especially the .22 magnum model. They seem very good, and I would recommend them. I thought about buying the model with .22 mag and .22 LR cylinders, so I could practice cheap and then carry .22 magnum. The amazing story our South African friend has told about his use of one almost swayed me. Why didn’t I go with that? I don’t know. Maybe if there had been one for sale nearby, I would have. Maybe I should have.

But what I decided on was a Cobra “Big Bore” derringer in .38 special. Why? Well, it was inexpensive, it fires a substantial cartridge, and Kenny Rogers carried one in The Gambler. Those are all good reasons, aren’t they?

Once I had bought one, I ran over to the home of my closest friend and shooting buddy, who let me shoot at his range and served as my partner for an initial test of the new toy, uh, er, I mean, tool. Here is my first try at a range report, based on our experience.


The Cobra derringer was $145.99 from a local gun shop that had advertised on gunbroker.com. I reload for .38 special already, so the cost was kept to a bare minimum.


The grips on this model are the “rosewood” ones, which look and feel very nice. The finish is chrome, which looks cheesy but has no obvious flaws. The gun, except for the barrel liners, is not made of steel. I don’t know what the alloy is. The general quality seems good, and everything works like it is supposed to work. In short, the gun is cheap but not junk.


The derringer is significantly smaller than a j-frame revolver, especially in the lack of a cylinder bulge. It is shorter, too, enough so that it fits in a jeans front pocket or back pocket without sticking out. It is enough thinner and shorter than a snubbie as to make it work for pocket carry.


My friend stapled up two silhouette targets, and we gave the derringer a try. We initially stood at 10 feet, and then backed up to 7 yards. When my brother tried shooting .410 shotgun shells in an old .45 derringer several years ago, he had worn two pair of gloves and an oven mitt (good thing, too), but we felt safe enough with just our eye and hearing protection.

The controls on this derringer are a bear to operate. Because of how the firing pins rest right up against the primers, you need to carry it at half cock with the push-button safety on. This means that when it’s time to draw, you have to pull the hammer back and push the safety off. Neither one can be done one-handed without shifting the gun very awkwardly in the hand for each operation. My buddy worked on doing this, and it was slow and difficult. I used a two-handed method, which worked much better, with the caveat that it takes both hands. I would draw with the right, reach over with the fingers of the left to click off the safety, then rotate the left into a standard support position while pulling back the hammer with the left thumb. This motion is not all that much different from firing a single-action revolver two-handed, or from drawing a standard gun and meeting it with the support hand on the way to a firing stance. The third method we tried was to push off the safety and cock the hammer while the derringer is still in the pocket. This works, but is also slow and awkward. To summarize, this gun is slow and difficult to bring into action.


Test ammunition was very mild reloads---2.9 grains of HP38 (Lee .3cc dipper) with a 158 grain LSWC bullet. This load is below specs for .38 special, but still shoots accurately out of my 4-inch revolver. This mild load contributed to the pleasant shooting experience we had with this derringer. The manual states that no +P should be used. I recommend using the mildest ammunition you can reload or buy.

The trigger pull on this revolver is horrendous! For one thing, you are supposed to pull both down and back. But the main thing is that the pull requires who-knows-how-many pounds of force. My friend and I developed two solutions to this. My technique was to pull with the index finger of both hands, one over the other. This worked, but the finger underneath (my right) got sore after only a few shots like that. My buddy’s approach was to point the index finger down the barrel (it doesn’t quite reach the muzzle) and pull the trigger with the middle finger. We both adopted this as the better method. Something about the structure of the hand makes pulling that stubborn mule of a trigger much easier with the middle finger than the index finger. This method also allowed for true point shooting.

This hard trigger pull is, according to the product manual, a safety feature. In my opinion, needing a brazillian pounds of pressure to pull the trigger doesn’t leave you very safe when confronting a bad guy or bad dog. But I promise that this trigger will not be pulled accidentally! Later in the evening, my 14-year-old tried it and was able to pull the trigger, but my 8-year-old twins could not get it to release, even with both hands and all their might. So I loaded it and gave it to them to play cops-and-robbers with in their room. (Just kidding!)


The little gun shoots very straight. With either barrel, we consistently hit center horizontally. At 10 feet we hardly missed center by an inch, and at 7 yards only by a few inches at most. The gun’s sights are very small, but they are well aligned left and right.

The vertical is another matter entirely! The barrels are not regulated, so the top barrel shoots higher than does the bottom, by a few inches at 10 feet, and several inches at 7 yards. Both barrels shoot above the point of aim, as the front sight is too short. Using extreme care, we could generally get a hit near the center of the target, but this required holding under the target, and trying to remember which barrel was about to fire! After the shooting session, each paper bad guy had about 20 holes in him, in a vertical line from his belly button to his forehead!


I’m hooked! For a low budget shooter, who is already set up for .38 special, this little gun is great. Much practice will be needed to master the rather complex procedure of drawing and firing. I intend to keep carrying my revolver most of the time, but I think this derringer will be with me when the larger guns cannot be.

Please indulge me while I ascend onto my soap box for a moment. I was next door at the original post office shooting, I know the lady whose parents were killed in the Luby’s cafeteria shooting, and I was in seminary down the street at the time of the Fort Worth church shooting. These things happen close by, not far away. I believe that when God said, “You shall not murder,” He also meant that we should not stand idly by while other people are murdered. I hope that pulling a gun out to confront a murderer will never be necessary, but if it happens, I think that with this derringer I can get off two decent shots instead of having to hide under a table.

Thanks for your time, and I look forward to reading your comments.

Low Budget Shooter
". . . and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked." Nehemiah 4:18
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Old June 3, 2009, 06:17 PM   #2
Join Date: October 9, 2006
Location: Colorado Springs
Posts: 1,580
Pocket carry

Next time you get a J frame, and stand in front of people, put it in a rear pocket.
RCBS Pro 2000
I like it.
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Old June 3, 2009, 08:00 PM   #3
No Quarter
Join Date: May 8, 2003
Posts: 273
Low Budget Shooter.

Nice review. Thank you for posting it. You are not glossing over any of the gun's challenges and are facing them square on to get proficient with the gun despite these challenges.

I have a Bond Arms Derringer in .44 mag that I like to carry. No need for safety or half-cock due to the design. I like 'em.

Don't pay any attention to the soon-to-arrive naysayers that will denigrate the derringer here shortly. Most, but not all, are only going to repeat what they have read, not what they have experienced.


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Old June 4, 2009, 06:28 AM   #4
Join Date: December 29, 2002
Location: Athens, AL, and Louisville, KY, USA
Posts: 1,495
I second the choice of the Bond Arms derringer. I have three barrels for mine: .22 LR, .357 Mag, and .410/.45 Colt. The .410 barrel is what I use for snakes, the .22 is what I use for practice, and the .357 is just because I could.

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Old June 4, 2009, 07:36 PM   #5
Join Date: December 11, 2005
Location: South Central Pennsylvania
Posts: 1,150
Unless the grip of the snubby stuck out of your pocket, nobody knew you were packing. That was all in your head, I think...

Good luck with the derringer...never saw much use in them myself.
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Old June 6, 2009, 10:58 AM   #6
Join Date: March 14, 2008
Location: las Vegas NV
Posts: 119
Good report your experience is similar to mine, tried a derringer in 22 and 38. Both shot to different points vertically and the 38 (an American Derringer CO.) was not fun to shoot with hot loads. The all steel American Derringer was heavy at 18 oz, so have gone back to other guns for CC. Good luck and enjoy your cobra: Bill
The best gun is the one you have when you realy need one
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Old June 6, 2009, 09:28 PM   #7
Join Date: December 27, 2002
Location: Lewis County, WA
Posts: 441
I had a Davis D-38 (same gun before it was made by Cobra). Carried in my front pocket at work and found it to be very concealable. I have large hands but found that with a little practice I could push the safety off with my index finger and thumb-cock the hammer without shifting the gun much at all.
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Old June 6, 2009, 10:12 PM   #8
Join Date: February 3, 2004
Location: outback Kentucky
Posts: 5,634
I tried a 38spl derringer years ago Decided a 38spl J frame was a much better idea. Good luck I would have stayed with the J myself.
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Old June 6, 2009, 11:17 PM   #9
Join Date: November 15, 2008
Location: Pacific North"Wet" Coast of Canada
Posts: 7,342
I'm sorry but the issue with the point of impact of the two barrels puts this item into the "junk" category. Never mind regulating the bores. For a gun such as this an owner could happily live with the upper and lower bullets hitting vertically spaced by the amount of the bore offset. To hear about the difference you have with this one is not pardonable in any way at all.

The other things you found I could live with given the intended use. But to not even be able to make the barrel bores come out parallel is just not acceptable even with an inexpensive gun.

It's too bad too as the .38Spl seems like an ideal size and power for a small SD gun such as this derringer style.
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Old August 8, 2015, 09:57 PM   #10
Doc Holliday69
Join Date: August 8, 2015
Posts: 1
On Cobra derringers. I like to carry mine as safe as possible. Load one round, bottom barrel only. I set it up with the top firing pin protruding into the top barrel, see and feel it. With the hammer down, safety cannot be engaged. Load one round in lower barrel.
It is a simple draw, cock and fire. Fast and simple.
Loaded with one round only, this gun is safe, you can drop it off a building, even if it lands on its hammer it will not fire.

As for accuracy, this is a design across the table top gun. A few feet is it. Inches is better, as close and fast as possible.
This is a cheap gun, antique design, that you can carry easily.
The situation is you are probably not going home tonight, but you have this .32 or .38 special with you.

The legacy is the old Remington .41 derringer, 52 foot pounds,425 feet per second, 130 grain bullet that up close, sometimes worked. I was just reading Phil Spangenberger, who fired a old .41 short rimfire from ten inches distance, penetrated thirteen inches in thick clay. How much better is a .32 or .38special.
People were saved with the old High Standard .22 magnum derringer two shot. Fast and close.
I like the NAA Black Widow and Pug also. I carry only four rounds in them, the hammer on an empty chamber. Safe and easy to load and unload.
In todays world you do not want your firearm to go off by accident, you are legally bound to keep it safe priority one. Thank You.
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Old August 9, 2015, 02:33 AM   #11
Join Date: November 19, 2011
Location: Kansas
Posts: 2,815
I'd love a .38 special derringer that was actually concealable.

Let's face it, the Bond Arms guns are positively massive for what they are. I've heard these Cobra derringers are flat out junk, though they smaller than the Bond Arms guns. Interesting to read this mostly positive review... they are somewhat interesting guns.
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Old August 9, 2015, 09:33 AM   #12
Join Date: February 24, 2005
Posts: 1,413
I have a derringer that I enjoy, an American Derringer .45acp. I have to keep reminding myself not to let my fingers get ahead of the muzzle when handling it.

In all fairness though, a KelTec P3AT is a far better carry gun in every respect. Smaller, thinner, lighter, six shots, a reasonable trigger and usable sights. If it can't disappear in your front pocket, nothing will.

I ain't givin' to any charity that calls it a "tragedy".
I'm only givin' to charities that call it an "attack".
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Old August 9, 2015, 10:49 AM   #13
Driftwood Johnson
Join Date: December 18, 2011
Location: Land of the Pilgrims
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Don't pay any attention to the soon-to-arrive naysayers that will denigrate the derringer here shortly. Most, but not all, are only going to repeat what they have read, not what they have experienced.
Excuse me very much, but I have one of these things. I have not gained my opinion about it from reading anything, my personal experience with it has proved to me that they are junk.

I bought a 38 caliber Davis derringer (the name of the company that made them back before Cobra took over the production) a bunch of years ago. I bought it pretty much as a lark, and it proved to be just about the poorest designed and poorest manufactured handgun I have ever owned. The frame is made from pot metal, the barrels are steel inserts in the pot metal body of the barrel assembly.

But the real shortcoming is the trigger pull, which as the OP stated, is horrendous. Yes, you do have to pull back and down, because that is the way the trigger pivots. If you try to pull it straight back you are fighting the geometry of the trigger. And the angle on the sear/hammer notch is too positive. Watch closely as you are pulling the trigger and you will see that you are actually wedging the hammer back slightly as you pull the trigger. That means you are fighting the hammer spring as you pull the trigger. Yes, all firearms have a slightly positive angle on the sear/hammer engagement, to keep the sear in position, but the Davis/Cobra has excessive angle. I too found the only way I could pull the trigger was to use both hands, my trigger fingers in this case, to pull the trigger. That is nuts! Nobody should have to use two hands to pull a trigger. In my book, the Davis/Cobra derringer is pure junk.

Second, there is the issue of, well, uh, how do you say it? Is there any way to express the feeling a revolver guy gets when he picks up a little plastic semi-auto pistol, or even a steel-framed model? It’s something like a boy being told he has to kiss his sister. Or maybe it’s more like eating old lettuce when it is starting to get reddish-brown and gooey. Even though I don’t know exactly how to say it, you revolver guys know the feeling.
I am a revolver guy. No, I do not like modern plastic semi-autos. I don't even like most modern revolvers that are being manufactured today. But there are lots of much better options than the Davis/Cobra derringer if you want something flat and easily concealable.

I do not feel like I am kissing my sister when I handle a Colt Model 1903 or Model 1908.

Another option is the Colt Government Model 380. Very concealable and much more potent than a two shot pot metal derringer. And not as expensive as the two pocket pistols in the first photo.

And there are plenty of other quality concealable pocket semi-autos on the market today.

Remember, if you cheap out on firearms, you get exactly what you paid for.
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Old September 26, 2015, 06:17 AM   #14
Join Date: September 26, 2015
Posts: 1
Hey Little Cobra

Dear Low Budget
I enjoyed your article very much. My family has been in the gun business since 1957 selling new and used guns and doing repair and custom work.
This is what I did to fix my trigger on my Cobra .38...Note ! The mod voids the Cobra warranty and lessons the intentional safety factor Cobra Ent. builds into their product...So Don't try this at home! I found that when I pulled the trigger, the hammer moved back a few micro degrees before releasing, In effect, the trigger was compressing the hammer main spring before let off. To fix this we used an oil stone to smooth the full cock notch, and slightly changed the angle of sear engagement. Next, we replaced the trigger spring with a much lighter one. The Cobra trigger spring was made out of the same gauge wire as the main spring...Last I changed the contour on the face of the trigger where my finger has contact, I gave it a profile that matches the Elliot patent/Remington style that provides a natural "downward arc " motion. I also rounded off the sharp facets on the outer edges of the trigger face and gave the whole thing a rounded surface, The half cock notch was left factory original. It now breaks clean at 5 lbs. As this was my own gun and not a customers gun I took full responsibility for any potential risk my modified arm may pose, and I will not offer this gun for sale . But It sure is fun to shoot now. If you can find a competent gun smith who is willing to do the work :then go for it at your own risk....God Bless
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Old September 26, 2015, 06:27 AM   #15
357 Terms
Join Date: October 8, 2010
Location: Indiana
Posts: 849
Six years later, I'm wondering if the OP still has this Cobra.
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Old September 26, 2015, 09:56 AM   #16
Deaf Smith
Join Date: February 7, 2004
Location: TEXAS!
Posts: 3,512
Dunno if he still has it but I do say, from the review, it's a good gun for my opponent to have.

If only street thugs packed such armaments I'd feel so much safer.

“We can evade reality, but we cannot evade the consequences of evading reality” Ayn Rand
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Old September 26, 2015, 07:23 PM   #17
Join Date: March 26, 2011
Location: Mesquite, TX
Posts: 32
I thought about a Cobra, but eventually went with a Bond Arms Rustic Ranger. It came with a 4.25" .410 .45LC barrel. I have since added a 3.5" .38/.357 barrel, and a 3" 9mm barrel. My next addition to it will be the 22LR. It is my go to pistol while driving on trips, mainly due to the Bond Arms Driving holster that came with it.

4.25" Bond Arms .410/45 LC Rustic Ranger
Ruger GP100 4" .357 blued
S&W 642 PC Talo Edition
Ruger LCR .22LR
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Old September 26, 2015, 09:44 PM   #18
Hondo 60
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Join Date: September 6, 2009
Location: Manitowoc, WI
Posts: 4,703
I have a Cobra big-bore as well.
The 9mm barrel just plain ain't fun.
Even with padded gloves on.
Plus it shoots about a foot high at 10 yards.

The 32H&R barrel is better - less felt coil & shoots a bit high, but not as bad as the 9mm.

I reloaded some 32 S&W Long - 2.2gr of Bullseye with a 93gr LSWC
Now those are fun! Still kicks just a bit, but no where near like the 9mm.

Bond Arms derringers are nice if you can afford one.
$500-$600 or so plus other barrels.
And it seems you have to start with a 45Colt/410 -
I'm not interested in firing such a large caliber in that small of a gun.

Here's a pic I found on the net - not my gun , but looks just like it.
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Last edited by Hondo 60; September 26, 2015 at 09:52 PM.
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Old September 27, 2015, 02:39 PM   #19
Hoppes Love Potion
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Location: Florida
Posts: 555
I consider the Magnum NAA revolvers to be the superior choice over a 2-shot derringer, especially one of the larger ones such as the 2" Black Widow or 2.5" Sheriff.
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Old September 27, 2015, 02:52 PM   #20
Join Date: August 15, 2015
Posts: 354
The only derringers I've been interested in were those that fired .410 and .45 Colt. Both Cobra and Bond Arms make one, but they're both priced around $350.

I just can't find a reason to pay $350 for a two shot gun with a range of maybe 7 yards. Now, if Cobra made a dedicated .45 derringer for the same price as what Low Budget Shooter got his .38 Cobra, I'd be all over that.

So, it sounds like Cobra makes decent derringers, maybe not as high a quality as Bond, but at a price most can afford. Thanks for the review dude.
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Old September 27, 2015, 09:19 PM   #21
Join Date: November 19, 2011
Location: Kansas
Posts: 2,815
I personally like the idea of a high-quality derringer in say .38 special, that is smaller than the Bond Arms guns. From what I've read, the Cobras really are pretty much junk so I avoid them, but I sure wish someone could make a decent and reliable truly small .38 derringer.
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Old September 28, 2015, 03:41 AM   #22
Join Date: January 26, 2011
Location: Prescott Valley, AZ
Posts: 1,524
I have two 38 special derringers, a Rohm that I bought new back in the mid-1960s and an EIG (Italy I think) that I bought used maybe ten years ago and is almost a carbon copy of the Rohm. Both have been reliable at the range and will shoot 4/5 inch groups at 5 yards. They may be only two shots v. an NAA 22, but, at least to me, would have a more deterrent effect than a 22 if needed.

It’s also nice that they fit nice and snug in the watch pocket of a pair of jeans.
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Old September 28, 2015, 10:37 AM   #23
Join Date: June 11, 2006
Location: North Central Florida
Posts: 3,178
I had a little .38 SPL that I suspect was a Rhom or RG but could find no such ID on other than "Made in Germany"

Remarkably the bottom barrel shot point of aim at ten yards, though not the top. I liked firing the bottom barrel first as the recoil when firing the top barrel, so high above the hand, caused the gun to point upward after firing for slow recovery.

I fired a few of my warm 158 gr SWCs in it and it was not that bad......I just decided that I would rather carry a DEWC at a little lower velocity to make that zinc frame last a bit longer. I also carried it when berry picking and such with a Speer shot cartridge in the upper barrel and the hammer set up for upper barrel first.

It was more a novelty than a carry gun even if it was smaller than my others back then.

The only mechanical safety was the half cock. You DID NOT want to carry it hammer down on a loaded barrel. The firing pins were then resting on the primers, one of them under pressure from the hammer and with a little room between the hammer and the firing pin bushing. I proved this to myself by having loaded a primed case from my wax bullets load in it and smacked it, so I can honestly say it would go off if dropped or bumped hard.

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