Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Guest Post: My Time with a True Detective

C.S. is back with another Guest Post for Revolvers Only! Last April, he sent me a write up which became Competing with the Smith & Wesson Model 66-8. That post was very well received, so I asked him to start working on another!  This review details his experiences with a Colt Detective Special. I am more than happy to share his work with everyone here on Revolvers Only. Enjoy!


My Time with a True Detective

The full name of course is the Colt Detective Special if you’re not into the whole brevity thing.
This model came off the line in 1957 and sports aftermarket grips to preserve the older originals.
The most desired features in a carry gun (light weight, easily concealed, comfortable to carry) are the features that make it a pain to shoot. Practicing with a carry gun, especially a sub nosed revolver, is a chore — and I’m not afraid to admit it.

However, there is an exception: My Colt Detective. While it’s easily categorized as a carry gun or a “BUG”, it is still a blast to shoot. No one chooses a carry gun because it’s cool but this gun makes me nostalgic for a time that only existed in Hollywood movies. The Colt Detective is the gun you see pulled on good guy and scum alike for “talking wise” or staring at your favorite girl's gams. You expect to see the Colt Detective held by a fedora wearing Humphrey Bogart or flopping around in the shoulder holster of some overweight police captain yelling at a cop who plays by his own rules.

Alright, you get it. I think it’s cool. But does that make it a pleasure to shoot? Well, no. All coolness aside it is still a fun gun to shoot. Here’s why: a grown man can fully grip the Colt Detective and its full steel frame tames the recoil of even the hottest 38 special loads. Despite the 2 inch barrel groupings of 6 will easily shoot “minute of soup can lid” at 12 yards for those familiar with snub noses. The gun’s action, worn in after over 60 years of use, makes for a smooth double action pull and a single action pull similar to the click of a mouse. I don’t want to oversell it but I’ve never had the desire or ability to shoot 500 rounds in a single session with a snub nose until I shot this Colt Detective.

Despite my glowing endorsement this was not an easy horse to tame (pun intended). When first shooting this revolver it had a nasty habit of putting the group in the left shoulder of a silhouette when aiming for center mass. For an embarrassingly long time my father and I could not understand why this was; it wasn’t until I was taking a brass brush to the crown that I noticed that this revolver had a terrible cant! It was nearly imperceptible when looking down the sights but when looking down the unloaded business end the problem was as plain as day.

Unless I’m fighting pirates, specifically the parrots that sit on the left shoulder of a pirate,
 I need a better gun.
My father called up Colt to see if it could be repaired and he learned that apparently when a gun gets to a certain age, Colt will not readily accept the gun to repair. They will however allow you to mail a letter requesting an estimate, then wait for a letter from Colt for permission to mail the gun, mail the gun, then wait for an estimate by mail. Even as a retired man my father didn’t have that time to waste. There was talk of “just selling the damn thing” as we couldn’t take it to the gunsmith down the road. Unfortunately, my father passed before he got an opportunity to either repair or sell the Detective. I made it a priority to see that my father’s last project gun would reach its logical conclusion.
The severe cant in the barrel couldn’t be seen when aiming but from these angles it’s clear as day.
I reached out to Frank Glen who, if you’re reading this blog, know is one of the best Colt revolver ‘smiths in the world. I sent it off to his workshop. Once it arrived, he also noticed the timing was a bit off as well. The total repair was $245 (including return shipping) which isn’t terrible for two extensive repairs on an antique that no one else wanted to take a look at.

Once I had the gun back, I was eager to see if those tight groups the revolver is capable of would land in the bull when I actually aimed at the bull. I packed my bag with some 130 grain American Eagle FMJ and some Atlanta Arms 148 grain plated wadcutters. 

These plated wadcutters leave a very satisfying hole in paper targets.
The mild recoil, even in a snub nose, make these go down smooth

I put the target out to 12 yards and shot two cylinder’s worth of the 148 wadcutters in double action. 11/12 of the shots stayed in the 9 ring, with the flyer being the fault of the shooter, it was quite clear that the revolver was back into fighting shape.

That’s a lot better.
After boring out the 9 ring of my target with a box of 50 rounds, I brought out my timer to see how well I could shoot it under the stress of time. I brought the target into a more realistic 7 yards and ran what I’ll euphemistically refer to as a “‘Prepared’ Bill Drill”. The drill is like a normal bill drill but you begin with sights on target and the first shot on single action. I put 6 aimed shots in a 3.75 inch group in 7.75 seconds. Quite embarrassing when you consider I can draw and shoot six rounds from my ICORE gun in less than half that time. 

I ran a second Bill Drill, still at 7 yards, but at a low ready, double action only. Running this drill I was able to put the six rounds in a ~4 inch group in 4.78 seconds. Again, not perfection but much more acceptable. (As a side note, if you’re running a IDPA/USPSA/ICORE type Bill Drill and you’re reacquiring the sights in between shots like I just described, you’re not performing the drill correctly).

The mirror finish on the bluing certainly gives weight to the belief that
“they don’t make ‘em like that anyone.”

As much as I enjoy shooting the Colt Detective, it’s not going find itself in my carry gun rotation. Ignoring the fact that it’s an antique, it’s much too heavy to carry in the muggy South. Additionally, while it still has 20% more capacity than most snub nose revolvers, I can carry a whole lot more with modern carry guns. Now, if I were to start up my own detective agency...


I hope everyone appreciated this quick review of the Colt Detective Special! In addition to running local ICORE matches, C.S. is in the midst of his own wedding planning. If this post gets as many likes as the last one, I'll try to talk him into another one later this year. Thanks for reading!

As always, if you have any suggestions for future posts or would like to share your experience on the current topic please post below!