Cheap Guns: The Cobra Derringer – Pocket Power on a Budget

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Buy a Cobra Derringer on GunsAmerica

Some guns just scream out, “BUY ME!” And I have to say, over about $300, I can resist the urge (well mostly). Under $200, not so much, but these days there are very few guns even close to that price range. Derringers have always had a particular BUY ME appeal for me. A Davis derringer was my first daily carry gun, and it is tough to walk into a gunshop these days without running into at least one Cobra brand derringer. They are generally well under $200, though I see them online a lot for upwards of $250 in custom finishes. Do they work? Do they keep working? Are they safe to carry? In generally, my answer to those questions is yes, but watch the video, because I did find some unexpected hiccups in one of the guns.

I feel like the derringer option is outside of most concealed carry discussions. This is of course GunsAmerica, so most of you will prioritize your carry budget higher than Cobra derringer. The point of this article is for when a friend who works at Starbucks asks you how cheap they can carry. Do you answer $300-$500 for a Taurus revolver? $250 for a Kel-Tec? Or do you answer just over $100 for a Cobra derringer? Here is a pretty good list of pros and cons, starting with the cons lol.

Cons:

  • There is not much barrel at all beyond the cartridge, so though I didn’t chronograph this gun at all, I’m sure there is a significant hit on velocity.
  • What barrel exists has very shallow rifling, so the bullet is prone to tumble.
  • Derringers never hit to point of aim, so beyond a face to face encounter, you are required to **not aim** at your target by a great deal (see the video).
  • You have only two rounds.
  • Each has to be cocked.
  • Reloads are cumbersome, almost irrelevant.
  • It’s a cheap gun, so even the best ones can be buggy, and will eventually break.

Pros:

  • A Cobra derringer is about as cheap as you can get into concealed carry with a gun that reliably works.
  • You are buying a new gun, not an old gun that is probably someone else’s problem gun.
  • They don’t pull down your pants wearing shorts.
  • If you carry the gun in half-cock like I showed in the video, in some ways having to cock the gun is a plus. You are not so far away from firing that you have to rack a slide, but you don’t have to be as aware of trigger protection or a manual safety as you would with a gun that is 100% read to fire.
  • If my kid dumps a bucket of sandy, salt water on it at the beach, I’m not going to feel like my daily carry gun is eroding out from under me no matter how well I clean it.
  • For me the Cobra derringer points and fires naturally. I can shoot it quickly with one hand as well as slowly with two hands.

For those of you in the choir here, if you don’t already own a Cobra derringer, I’m sure you have considered one. They really do scream out BUY ME, even if purely from a historical curiosity. There are real, robust personal carry options in a derringer, from Bond Arms these days, but those cost as much as a real gun. My personal carry gun is the original Springfield XD-S in .45 ACP, post factory recall mod. For many years I carried a S&W revolver, and I’ve also carried a Para-Ordnance P-10, a Beretta PX4 Subcompact, and for a while after Hurricane Wilma I tried a full time belt gun in a full sized Para P-14 LDA.

But I said in the video, my first long term daily carry gun was a Davis derringer in .32ACP, which is the same gun as the Cobra. If I remember, Cobra originally bought the toolworks of the Davis company, though I have no idea whether the guns are made on that same equipment today. More importantly, as I explained in the video, there is a lifetime warranty on Cobra firearms. If you ask your local gun dealer candidly how many of them come back, they will tell you that a certain percentage have issues. In my experience, most of those issues are from repeated dry firing, and you don’t want to dry fire these guns *AT ALL* because it work hardens the firing pin. That is double true for the rimfires, any rimfire for that matter.

One of the two guns I purchased had occasional failures to fire. It was the rimfire, and in my experience, it is almost always the rimfire that will give you trouble first. In a Cobra derringer, I would stick to the centerfire options. I can hit a pie plate reliably at across the bedroom distances with the .38 you see here, even though I have to aim a foot plus low. Oh well. That’s a cheap gun. Just remember the Cobra derringer option when your friend who works at Starbucks asks how cheap they can get into concealed carry. And don’t be afraid to buy one for yourself. I’m in Key West this weekend, and my XD-S pulls down my shorts, so guess what’s in my pocket?

{ 24 comments… add one }
  • dusty October 22, 2016, 10:21 pm

    Oops! Forgot the “u” ! Buy.
    Ill say one more thing, i hope never to use this in self defense. But i trust it, backup, on on the job as primary, i trust it will perform.

  • dusty October 22, 2016, 10:14 pm

    Wow! Ive owned, carried, and fired my 38spl cobra for over 6 years. Never a problem. I fire factory, reload, and blanks, ( for cowboy action). I would recomend it, and i would by another.

  • peter bum June 2, 2016, 8:24 pm

    All true, however there are ways to make this little ear piercing gem much more fun to shoot. I have and still do own the Cobra derringer in both 22lr and 22 mag. If you dry fire these rim fires, the firing pin will hit and dent the barrel breach, causing extraction of empty’s to be very hard. if your cobra does this all you have to do to fix it (yourself) is get out your dremmal tool and being ever so careful, grind that inward dent to the breach out. The trigger can be slightly sanded and polished to make a huge difference…but please study the trigger and thoroughly understand how it works before attempting any trigger work that could result in a very unsafe firearm. …And lets be clear, this is NOT a defense gun period! At best it is an offensive gun as in Lincoln style. But more than anything it can be a fun gun and a great conversation piece. One more thing NEVER load a Cobra rim fire derringer before placing the hammer in the half cocked position! I am not a gun smith and I am in no way giving gun smithing advise or any advise for that matter! This is just my opinions and two cents worth of personal experience.

  • ROGER May 31, 2016, 8:21 pm

    I have one of the cobra derringer in 22mag. It’s the biggest piece of crap I’ve ever owned. The trigger is horrible, the cases stick in the chamber and when I do get it to go off you can’t hit the broad side of a barn. I can’t even get rid of it because no one will take it on trade. I would rather use a knife for self defense than that thing.

  • Cheng May 31, 2016, 2:28 pm

    Bought a new Cobra .38 Spl. recently. The first disappointment was to discover it will NOT chamber .38 shotshells as I’d imagined it primarily as a snake gun when hiking light. While attempting to get 50 rounds through it a very small pin behind the trigger worked loose and I noticed it when it was almost completely clear of the frame. Had it dropped into the grass it would have been a “gone pecon.” The loose pin very likely accounted for a lot of the trigger pull difficulties and perhaps for the large number (about 20%) of misfires. With other similar small guns I’ve had some success using my middle finger on the trigger. However the need to pull down and to the rear (as previously noted and pointed out by the literature accompanying the gun) makes it very difficult for me so I went back to the conventional forefinger. The notes also stressed the dangers of dryfiring to the firing pin and advised against + P. According to a local gunsmith one or more of the internal parts are plastic. Accuracy for me was acceptable for a fight in a phone booth or slightly more. A gun like this requires a lot of familiarization and practice because it’s single action, small, etc. Better do most practice with snap caps as it probably won’t stand up to a lot of live fire. I may keep mine as a novelty or a classroom aid but not for self-defense. To add to the article’s comments the Bond derringers in similar calibers cost three times as much or more and are considerably larger – to the point that you might as well have a “real” gun with a more suitable action, grip and capacity.

  • Les Jones May 31, 2016, 12:28 pm

    Cobra is not what you want. if small is the criteria get a North American arms 22 Mag , 5 shots . simple . cock and pull trigger , repeat . Plus they have many different Bbl. lengths etc. I Carried one in 22 and 22 mag for 32 years never a problem Much more reliable. and a lot safer

    • Jim B January 16, 2017, 8:30 am

      Only problem with those NAA pistols is one fall from waist height, even on safety notch, and the only in public accidental fire I’d ever had occurred. Figure those safety notches are not all that secure, a bounce and it bounces out of the safety and onto a live round.

  • TRU-BOOST May 31, 2016, 12:19 pm

    let me say i always was drawn to these little derringers. as impractical as i always knew they were, there is just a certain cool factor to them. do a google search for cobra derringers and read the reviews. they are not good. 75% negative. last year i went out on a limb and said….screw it. i bought one in 22mag. what a mistake. OMG giant piece of crap. Whats that u say…lifetime warranty. LOL….good luck. THE FIRST time i sent it back it took 5 months to return. my gun wouldnt fire from 1 barrel. the 1 that would fire had the casings swell up so bad they had to be beaten out. when i got it back it still wouldnt fire from the upper barrel half the time. sent it back again. 4 months later it came back. guess what? its still a POS. most useless crap i ever purchased. buy a slingshot. u will inflict more damage to your target and at keast know it will work.

    • David December 14, 2016, 9:56 pm

      I’ve never had any problems with 3 of the 22lr versions, and one 22 mag version. Maybe I was lucky.

  • les jones May 31, 2016, 12:10 pm

    One comment , He said cocking every time if carried on half cock means not racking a slide or worrying about a manual safety,
    WRONG, WRONG ,WRONG ! I speak from experience , Had a 9MM cobra in split belt holster, was at a flea mkt. selling gem stones and Jewelry so was armed . Had the weapon on half cock Safety off ( was hard to operate ) Sat down on a folding chair and my check book pushed the derringer up and out. It dropped approx. 18 inches to the floor landed on the hammer and went off, scratching my hip and entering my arm about 3 inchs above the wrist .on the underside slid around under the skin and stopped on the top of my arm about 2 inchs higher . Lucky it was a 9MM Jacketed round nose . NO real damage . BUT DO NOT TRUST THAT HALF COCK ONLY ! personally I bought a charter arms under cover 38 spcl , Not a lot more weight , fits in jean pocket , and uses JHP Plus P which has a lot more stopping power, Got it a gun show for $200.00. Lot happier and Safer

    • Ron September 17, 2016, 12:55 am

      It’s the gun’s fault that you were carrying it in an unsafe manner? Not only did you have the safety off, but you sound like you were pocket carrying with no holster and other items (check book) in the same pocket. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad you are okay, but that entire incident is 100% your fault.

  • David Evans May 31, 2016, 12:08 pm

    I carry an American Derranger I 45/410. I have carried this weapon daily, one barrel with 45 Colt the other 410 with 000 buck. The weapon was priced at $345 but has never failed and is good to 20 feet. If you buy a derranger don’t be cheap buy the best. Fire it so you know how it works, and carry with confidence, American Derranger made in Waco, TX is great.

  • David Evans May 31, 2016, 12:08 pm

    I carry an American Derranger I 45/410. I have carried this weapon daily, one barrel with 45 Colt the other 410 with 000 buck. The weapon was priced at $345 but has never failed and is good to 20 feet. If you buy a derranger don’t be cheap buy the best. Fire it so you know how it works, and carry with confidence, American Derranger made in Waco, TX is great.

  • bison1913 May 31, 2016, 12:01 pm

    It would be great if you used the term “Cheap” for quality and “Inexpensive” for low cost.. or budget guns.

  • Curby May 31, 2016, 11:05 am

    I have had the .380 version for two years. I carry it often and feed it every time I go to the range. Yeah, it’s not very accurate, but it’s good enough for close encounters. And, it’s fun to shoot. Everyone wants to try it. It gets more attention than my Kimber. My next one will be the .410/.45 colt.

  • VGS May 31, 2016, 10:48 am

    Nice review and video. I was at a gun show a few weeks ago and found myself holding one of these sexy little things. Yes I said “sexy”because they come in all kinds of colors and configurations that are bound to appeal to one’s inner-Masterson. So for not much more than a wrinkled C-note and a chance at unlimited conjuring of all sorts of Wild West saloon poker-playing. whiskey swilling, card-sharp dealing historical connection to those heady days, I too became a Cobra derringer owner….all black in .38 special. So I bought it home, cleaned it and took it to the range last weekend to get some “real-life” experience. Well, as usual, real-life trumps (no pun intended) fantasy and so with the Cobra .38. First off, there’s no printed manual in the box Just a little note telling you, the new owner to follow the link online and get your owner’s manual. Yet another chance for the company to do some not-so smart marketing of its products to new owners….but I’ll forgive them….it’s strictly business, keeps the carbon footprint small and saves money. Then, as I started cleaning the gun, I noticed that several of the screws were a bit loose so I got out my precision screwdrivers and tightened those up. After that, I read the manual….online….. and off I went to the range. When I got there I set up my targets at 10-15 or so feet. Loaded up with a double dose of 38 special ball ammo, cocked it, off went the safety (its both cumbersome and a bit hard to push), I pulled the trigger and……….nothing. I pulled again…..nothing. Gun was still cocked….wouldn’t fire. I’ll be damned if my inner-Hickok didn’t turn into mush as several onlookers began snickering at my seemingly worse-than-newbie gun handling. But then after several hushed expletives, I remembered something I read, again online, about the trigger. There was a picture with arrows pointing down…..yes you got it right …..down and back instead of straight-back when you go to pull that trigger. So after fumbling a little more, I got the trigger pull right and the thing actually went BANG. Not only did it go bang but it went bang with each subsequent shot I took and the bullet actually found it’s way to pretty much what I was aiming at. So recoil….about what I expected for a minuscule gun in a respectable caliber. Another words, it kicks. Accuracy, not bad for a minuscule gun with virtually no rear sight a small front sight. Reload…..well, just be comfortable with a double barrel that will be pointing at you or your friend along the way as you reload and don’t count on the small extractor being a part of this weapon when you really need it…..it’s kinda flimsy. So I’ll conclude by saying that this gun should only be used by experienced shooters of which I thought I was after 50 years of shooting guns until I pulled that Cobra trigger the first time. I’ll also say that as a self-defense piece, it’s a total LAST RESORT gun and barely better than no gun at all. I would never recommend this gun to a new shooter under any circumstances. It’s too dangerous and difficult to control for self-defense. But having said all that I’m still left where I started. It’s a heck of a sexy gun, a connection to our more sordid and violent history and a great conversation piece. It’s also cheap and even goes BANG. What more can you ask for, for so little money?

  • Chris Wagner May 31, 2016, 10:30 am

    Extremely ineffective firearm. I don’t understand why people saddle their wives with a pile like this. Aren’t they more important than that to you? I do not stock these any more after having too many of them come back with problems. One poor customer fired two rounds and the trigger literally fell out the bottom… You probably wouldn’t buy a product comparable to this in workmanship anywhere else in your life, don’t do it when your life is on the line.

  • Bill May 31, 2016, 10:19 am

    A Cobra Derringer shoots about a 10 foot group at 10 feet. You might shoot your eye out kid. Or yourself. Caviat Emptor.

  • Rick May 31, 2016, 9:27 am

    The company also states to only shoot lead round nose bullets out of it. I have one that’s a thirty eight special caliber since I wanted at centerfire rimned round for best extradition and loading ease. Mine is for fun but could be for minimum concealed carry if desired, however for my minimum concealed carry I have either a keltec 380 or a North American arms 22 mag. My regular concealed carry is a ruger lc9. In the winter I move up to my sig 220 in 45acp.

  • Zach May 31, 2016, 8:44 am

    He was able to feed both the revolver round and the rim fire round straight in. A 9mm auto round was a little different. I had to lay the gun on its side and feed the lip of the auto round onto or into the extractor.Otherwise the barrel wouldn’t close. The round stuck out blocking the closure.A rapid reload is out of the question.Also the gun is incredibly loud.I really believe it is louder than a 30.06.After 4 rounds shot with a bare hand, I let someone else shoot it,so as to look for a glove as not to tear up my hand further.The Davis is not my favorite carry.

    • Administrator May 31, 2016, 8:49 am

      You probably weren’t loading the gun on half cock. There is no difference with rimless cartridges.

  • Dock karr May 31, 2016, 5:28 am

    Want the smallest for My wife to Cary in her bag

    • Mongo May 31, 2016, 3:25 pm

      Don’t waste your time or money, not a very user friendly gun for the ladies, my wife ditched the .32 & .38 and went to the NAA .22 revolver. She loves it, she shoots it and most importantly, carries it everywhere.

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