Bitten by a Diamondback


The legendary Colt Python (top) — this one dates back to the early 1980s — and the Diamondback for size comparison.

Steve McQueen carried one in “Bullitt” and used it to shoot a bad guy dead in the final scenes of that classic film.

John Wayne packed one in “McQ” and again in “Brannigan,” and in both films he put down the villains decisively.

Yeah, I had to have one, but back in the days when those films were produced, my budget just couldn’t justify the expense, especially for a wheelgun that could only fire standard-pressure .38 Special ammunition. I already owned a deadly-accurate 6” Model 19 Smith & Wesson, which handled .357 Magnums. So, the ownership of a Colt snake gun that seemed to be a beefed-up Detective Special — with a Python-like full-underlug barrel featuring the eye-catching vent rail on top — went to the back burner.

Some people wait months, maybe a few years, to satisfy an urge. I waited decades.

As bad luck would have it, my opportunity came in the summer of 2010. I got tipped off by a buddy that a fellow in Oregon had posted one for sale and I immediately reached out via e-mail and a telephone call.

The fellow was selling off a gun collection and this 4” Diamondback was among the firearms in the estate. It had gathered dust in a gun safe for several years, and when he told me how much he wanted — a ridiculously low figure, considering I’d seen the same model fetching more than twice as much at Seattle-area gun shows — I said “Deal.”

An hour later, I had arranged for an FFL pal to take care of the legalities on my end. He hooked up with the FFL in Oregon who was assisting the Beaver State gent to stay out of trouble on his side of the Columbia River.

Less than an hour after that, my excitement was bludgeoned by a phone call from an emergency room physician explaining how mom had suffered a massive heart attack and was being stabilized as best as possible, which soon became obvious was wishful thinking. It was about 50 miles to the Tacoma hospital from my office in a different county. I called home, called my brother and hit the road.

In retrospect, it may have been the Diamondback transaction that helped me keep things together. I spent a long day at the hospital. When my brother showed up, we called my sister in another state. She was on the road within a couple of hours.

And then I remembered the revolver. There may be nothing better than a personal distraction to help someone walk through a family emergency. Others may react differently, but this one provided a calming influence.

I overnighted a cashier’s check to the Oregon FFL, telling him the situation, and asked him to coordinate with my guy. In the firearms community, you run across some of the nicest people.

The Diamondback’s firing pin is on the hammer, which doesn’t show up very often in modern double-action revolvers.

Colt capitalized on the popularity of the full underlug barrel and vent rail
that appeared on the Python to add some glamour to the Diamondback.
Models in 2 ½- and 4” have appeared in films

Here’s a good combo for the trail — a Diamondback revolver,
spare cartridges and a tough leather holster.

Quite a History

Colt introduced the Diamondback in 1966, designing it to capitalize on the popularity of the Python. Versions became available in 2 ½-, 4- and 6” barrel lengths, in either .38 Special or .22 Long Rifle.

A friend of mine owns a 6-incher in .22-caliber, and I once walked away from the purchase of the snubby model in .38-caliber.

Built on the “D” frame, it uses the same speedloaders as the “Dick Special,” and with an adjustable rear sight and ramp front sight, plus the right ammunition, it’s capable of pretty good accuracy. My 4” model scales at just over 28 ounces, making for a comfortable all-day carry gun. I read somewhere that some police departments apparently armed officers with the Diamondback because they purposely didn’t want their street cops using .357 Magnums.

The firing pin is on the hammer, where the Python’s firing pin is in the frame. After discharge, the hammer retracts so one can carry six cartridges without fear of an accidental discharge.

While it’s not recommended for use with +P ammunition, I worked up a load using a 125-grain JHP over 4.7 grains of HP38, and later discovered a slightly speedier load 6.0 grains of CFE Pistol that has some promise. A few years ago, I came into possession of about a thousand 110-grain JHP bullets, and will be working on loads with CFE Pistol and AutoComp to see how they perform. Hopefully, I’ll be able to conk a cottontail or maybe even a big blue grouse or a coyote with this handgun, which may seem like an oddball intended use but I spend a fair amount of time outdoors so any wheelgun I’m packing better be able to perform.

While some folks suggest the Diamondback is a delicate revolver, that hasn’t been my observation at all. Heftier than the Detective Special, about which I’ve never heard anyone complain, mine has accompanied me occasionally on the trail.

All of the Diamondback models I’ve ever seen have had a blue finish. There were some produced with a nickel finish but they must have gone elsewhere.

I read a short history on Wikipedia and learned Saddam Hussein apparently collected Diamondbacks.

Dave put this pancake-type holster together for the purpose of carrying
the revolver concealed under a longer cover garment.

Dave built this Threepersons-style belt holster for field use and the Colt Diamondback seems right at home.

Holsters, Grips

By the time my Diamondback arrived in Washington, my mom had passed. She had, a few years earlier, made arrangements and left a “living will” that spared us a considerable amount of grief, on several levels.

I actually forgot about the Colt and only a phone call from my FFL to remind me brought things back to ground level.

When I finally was able to go pick it up, fill out the paperwork and discover it was in slightly better condition than anticipated, it was time to ease back into some semblance of normality. I grabbed a bunch of ammunition and headed to the range one afternoon, where the Diamondback displayed some pretty good accuracy. I allowed recent loss to take a time-out while I lost myself in punching holes in paper targets, playing cards and chunks of clay disks out to ranges of 25 yards.

I knocked together a pancake-style holster for concealed carry under a long vest or parka and later built a traditional belt holster patterned after the Threeperson’s design.

For winter use, I found a Pachmayr rubber replacement grip that fits my hand rather well. While the factory wood grips are nice, I got a set of Herrett’s replacement stocks that are simply superb.

I like the Diamondback’s wide hammer spur, which makes cocking for single-action shots much easier. And the double-action trigger press isn’t at all unpleasant.

Colt discontinued the Diamondback in 1988, and I am waiting to see whether an updated model will appear, as did “new-and-improved” versions of the Python, Cobra and King Cobra have done over the past few years.

Every time I handle the Diamondback, it reminds me that acquiring this sixgun at the time it became available probably helped me through a difficult couple of weeks. You can’t gauge something like that, and only time can ever put it all in a perspective that ultimately seems to make sense.

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