Classic Carry Corner – The Colt M1903 Pocket Hammerless

It’s interesting to see how the Colt M1911 developed, and one pistol that was clearly an inspiration for the design was the Colt M1903 Pocket Hammerless. The Little Colt was developed and designed by John Browning. It shouldn’t be confused with the M1903 Pocket Hammer, even though it was also developed by the same man and Colt produced it. It’s a classic concealed carry weapon and the first in our classic carry corner series. 

The pistol began life in 1903, as the name implies, and ended in 1945. The M1903 was produced in both .32 ACP and .380 ACP. The .380 ACP versions were called The M1908 Pocket Hammerless pistols. These guns were called hammerless, but they certainly had a hammer. It was a single-action-only design that was concealed by the slide and frame. 

The M1903 was extremely popular with police and military forces as well as private detectives, bodyguards, and more. The United States military adopted the weapon during World War 2 to issue to General Officers. The OSS famously used these pistols across the world during the same time frame. Even criminals like Al Capone and Bonnie and Clyde 

Inside the Colt M1903 Pocket Pistol 

The gun seems large at first glance to call a pocket pistol. It bears mentioning that men’s fashion was a bit different then, and the gun could drop into a coat pocket of the era with ease. The M1903 was small for the era. Remember, this was a time when most handguns were big revolvers and larger automatics like the Luger. 

There are several variations of the M1903. The first variation had a four-inch barrel, and each subsequent option offered a three ¾ inch barrel. The variations incorporated various small differences, including magazine safeties, various barrel bushing designs, and different sights. The guns ranged slightly in size depending on the variation, with the longest being seven inches long and the shortest being 6.75 inches long. 

The weights varied just slightly, but 24 ounces is the accepted weight of these guns. They were 1.2 inches at their widest and 5.5 inches tall. Overall, for the era, they were fairly small and compact. All around, they feel light and thin, downright svelte, to be honest. 

The M1903 handguns used a very simple straight blowback system. It’s about as simple as a semi-auto can get. They used single-stack magazines that held either eight or seven-round magazines, depending on caliber. 

Shooting the Colt M1903 

The wee little Colt M1903 is a fun little gun. Mine is a .32 ACP variant and is a 1st variation gun. These guns do feature a Browning style single action trigger, so it’s quite nice. This leads to good and consistent accuracy. The little .32 ACP rounds go where you want them. While the gun is quite accurate, it does have a little problem in that department. 

Primarily this comes from the sights. They are extremely small. Barely more than a tiny, thin front sight and a very small notch as a rear sight. It’s quite standard for the era. If you’ve ever heard someone declare that you won’t see your sights in a gunfight, it’s because of guns like the Colt M1903. 

I’m not even joking. The Shanghai Municipal Police and men like Sykes and Fairbairn used guns like the M1903 and M1911, and the sights were merely impossible to see normally. That led to the birth of the above motto. 

Going Bang 

My example is over a century in age, and it surprisingly works very well. I’ve not fired it extensively or tortured tested it, but I’ve thrown some lightweight .32 ACP downrange without a single malfunction. It fires and ejects with ease. Quite the testament to American craftsmanship and design. 

Additionally, with .32 ACP, the gun provides very little recoil. It doesn’t beat your hand up by any means. The recoil is quite minimal, and the gun can be fired quickly with decent accuracy and control. A modern two-handed hold makes it easy to shoot and handle the gun. 

After a good bit of shooting and cleaning and beyond, I found the gun to be quite nice for its age. There are some safety concerns with carrying a gun this old, but if I absolutely had to, I wouldn’t feel under gunned. The old gun shoots well, shoots straight, and always goes bang. 

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Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record-setting 11 months at sea. Travis has trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines, and the Afghan National Army.

He serves as an NRA-certified pistol instructor and pursues a variety of firearms-based hobbies.

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5 thoughts on “Classic Carry Corner – The Colt M1903 Pocket Hammerless”

  1. Great story about a cool gun 120 years later still doing what it’s supposed to flawlessly brilliant article 👏 thankyou, also you just increased my infatuation with 1911’s 10% thanks for that too

  2. My 1903 .380 serial number dates to 1938. In beautiful condition – likely not a combat in the field veteran. Perhaps was a General Officer personal pistol. Would like to know who it was issued to – is such info available? It shoots like a perfectionist would want it to: 100% and a trigger any marksman would insist on. So glad it’s mine.

  3. Just bought a Ruger .327 Mag revolver. Beautifully made. Want to buy an in-pocket holster to hide the “print effect” as much as can. Am 5’5” and 150#, so little size in my front pants pocket is my look-for holster. Please let me know your recommendation – of a CrossBreedHolster, of course. Thank you. Ian Hunt Sevierville Tennessee [email protected].

  4. My grandfather purchased a Colt Model 1903 when he returned from France as a corporal in the infantry in 1919 after the Great War. As a businessman in the 20s and Depression years of the 30s, he carried it with him between his office in Washington, DC and home in Chevy Chase. During World War II he was called back to active duty – as a warrant officer to serve in the DC area. My mother, then a teenager, was given access to the Colt to carry when she went horseback riding in Rock Creek Park, and later inherited that and my grandfather’s 12ga Lefevere side by side in 1954. As a boy, I remember my mother keeping that Colt for protection between work and home while my dad carried his .38-200 Smith & Wesson (Lend-Lease) service revolver that he had when he served in North Africa and Europe.

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