My Affair with the Colt Detective Special

My affair with the Colt Detective Special
By Mike Sampson

Becoming fond of revolvers began in St. Louis in the mid-1950s when my parents bought me a Nichols Industry, Inc. Stallion 38 toy cap sixgun that featured removable cartridges using small, round paper caps that fit behind a removable “bullet” in a metal case. Wish I still had that piece of memorabilia and the holster that came with it.

Owning a Real Revolver

I waited for my “real” revolver until I was 20 at the University of Missouri in Columbia, MO, and worked part-time in a hardware store. The store owner took a liking to me and put me behind the firearms counter often enough to give me a decent exposure to rifles, shotguns and only a few handguns. I talked my parents into getting a Missouri permit to buy a Ruger Single Six with a .22 Long Rifle and a .22 Magnum cylinder. The store owner sold it at his cost, so a great deal. At least I had the good sense to hang onto that revolver, and it has seen a lot of hip carry over the past 50 years in multiple states.

From there I graduated to a Smith and Wesson Model 10 .38 Special with a four-inch barrel, that I bought from a friend in Kentucky in 1971. That revolver I still have too, along with the black leather holster that went with the $75 deal.

In early 1994 while living in Idaho in a rural area, I found myself face-to-face with a large fellow unhappy with me. I The Colt Detective Special continues to be a great carry gun for Author Mike talked myself away from his raised tire iron, but shortly after I went to the local sheriff’s office and related what had happened. The sheriff asked if I was OK with handguns. I said “Yes,” and he said, “Get your license to carry.” I did and began some research, settling on a new Colt Detective Special in .38 Special with a 2-inch barrel and picked up the revolver from a local gun shop in mid-1994. I wanted a smaller revolver and my uncle had a Smith and Wesson Model 36 that I liked. The Colt seemed like a fair choice and the price was right.

Today, 26 years later, I carry the snubby almost daily. I live in Arkansas and got my concealed-weapons license after moving here in 2015, although I’ve held CCWs since 1994 in several states. I typically carry the Detective Special on my right side in a Wilderness Tactical Products Safepacker holster I’ve had for about 20 years. I’m a skinny, bony guy and do not like inside-the-waistband holsters. Buying pants two inches bigger in the waist translates to “too big” in other places.

History of the Colt Detective Special

The history of the Detective Special, as with most any firearm, is fascinating. Colt introduced the revolver in 1927 after a The Colt Detective Special with Wilderness Tactical Safepacker holster.Colt employee, John Henry Fitzgerald, shortened the four-inch barrel of a Colt Police Positive to two inches, perhaps to meet the needs of law enforcement for a more concealable backup weapon. Colt made models in both .32 and .38 Special chamberings.

Obviously a hit, the Detective Special saw four series of production with improvements along the way. Colt offered blued and nickel finishes on most series with two-inch barrels and square walnut grips. A literature review shows Colt produced some models with three-inch barrels in the second and third series, but I’ve never seen one. A rounded butt appeared in 1933. Plastic grips showed up from 1947 through 1955, and most series featured minor frame and grip design changes through the years of production.

The first series ran from 1927 to 1946, the second series from 1947 to 1972, the third from 1973 to 1986, and then Detective Special production stopped, as Colt noted, because of slow sales and increased production and labor costs. As some may recall, Colt filed for bankruptcy in 1992, completed reorganization and restarted building the Detective Special in 1993, with a black wraparound, finger-grooved composite grip, and only with a two-inch barrel.

Unfortunately for Detective enthusiasts, production of the fourth series ceased in 1995. I looked up my revolver’s serial number on Colt’s site, CLICK HERE, and discovered in the short fourth production series my handgun came to life in 1994. Colt does offer a letter of authenticity for their firearms and one can access that site from the link just mentioned, with letter samples you can see. Costs for the letters vary, but a neat piece of history. For my revolver, the letter would set me back $75.

Why Not a Semi-Auto?

Although I own, use and occasionally carry semiautos from Smith and Wesson, Beretta, Glock and Sig Sauer, my first Mike Sampson loves a sem-auto gun, but loves his Colt Detective Special. love is the centerfire revolver, particularly for reloading. I know the revolver may be not as popular as the semis, but every revolver I’ve used has felt good in the hand and on the hip. And every one goes “bang” when the hammer drops on a round. My Detective Special weighs 25.9 ounces with six rounds chambered, so not a lightweight compared to some semis.

Accuracy what one would expect from a snubby and the sights are minimal. With that said, I can put several rounds in a decent group in a B34 target from seven yards and feel confident with good hollowpoint loads. I have HKS DS speedloaders, but don’t carry one on my belt. Always figure that could be a problem in a bad confrontation. When wearing a jacket or sport coat, a speedloader goes in a pocket. One always is in the center console in the car too.

As an aging firearms carrier, I more than ever appreciate the revolver’s simplicity and double-action trigger or single-action with cock of the hammer.

For a quick and informative reference on the Detective Special, take a look, CLICK HEREThat’s where I found some of the history. Although the Detective Special is in the past, Colt has similar revolvers in the Cobra series and other firms offer multiple snubby choices too. ~ Mike


Mike Sampson
Mike now calls Northwestern Arkansas home, but has lived and worked in several states. He has been an independent contractor and consultant since 2006 specializing in risk management, emergency management and training. In addition to work as a law-enforcement planner and technical writer with the Boise, Idaho, Police Department, he has experience in journalism, crop and animal agriculture, dryland farming for 20 years in western Kansas, plant and animal diseases, pandemic influenza, agroterrorism, bioterrorism, food safety and healthcare marketing.

Growing up in a Missouri fishing family, Mike’s in tune with the outdoors and enjoys camping, kayaking, canoeing, shooting, reloading and gardening. He has been a Hunter Safety Instructor in Wyoming and was an outfitter’s guide for two years in Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton Wilderness in the Wind River Mountains.

As a rifle hunter, he’s taken mule and whitetail deer, elk and antelope with his .270 Winchester handloads. Mike has raised and trained Brittany spaniels and favors upland game and turkeys with his 20-guage over and under. His main firearms hobby now focuses on handguns.

He has a journalism degree from the University of Missouri and has newspaper and agency writing and editing experience. At Washington State University in Pullman, he earned a master’s degree emphasizing adult education and communications, with minors in mourning dove, chukar partridge, pheasant and mountain quail on the breaks of the Snake River.

While living in Lander, WY, Mike provided photographic coverage of the One Shot Antelope Hunt for three years, and got to meet and accompany folks such as Chuck Yeager, Carroll Shelby, Buzz Aldrin, Dale Robertson and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf on their hunts. 

In addition, Mike is a Federal Emergency Management Agency certified instructor and has worked and taught for state and federal agencies. He has responded to seven presidentially declared disasters, including Hurricanes Irma and Maria when they struck Puerto Rico in 2017. He also has worked and taught in Africa and Southeast Asia. Check his website at