The Charter Arms company’s claim to fame is its line of small frame concealable revolvers designed for personal protection with the Bulldog being its flagship handgun since the gun was first released in 1973. While the gun and the company itself has gone through various incarnations ever since the spirit has remained the same. Former Ruger employee Doug McClenahan envisioned a one piece framed snub-nosed revolver with fewer moving parts and a big bore punch while retaining the small frame revolver dimensions so trusted by law enforcement and civilians at the time. While the original version with an exposed ejector rod, blued steel finish, and wood grips is still currently offered as of 2014 the newest version features a satin stainless steel finish, a full neoprene grip, and a 2.5 inch barrel protected by an under-lug. The guns are available in either 44 Special or 357 Magnum. The initial testing was done between Aug. 2013 and Feb. 2014. I am happy to give this firearm my blessing. Here is why.
I went to the local big chain retailer whom will remain nameless and browsed along the gun counter and saw a young employee flick his wrist and shut a beautiful stainless steel 44 Bulldog in a way that could break the gun. Offended, I asked to see it. I checked the timing and found it to be great so I told him immediately wanted it and before I brought it home I gave him a real scolding. I got home and set it next to my Smith and Wesson Chief’s Special, a gun the Bulldog was designed to compete with. The cylinder of the gun is just 1/4 inch thicker than on the .38 cal Smith and Wesson but housed a much bigger cartridge. While the .38 Special cartridge is no slouch, the bigger and wider bullet of the .44 Special gives more comfort to the shooter and both rounds are excellent target rounds but these are guns designed for self defense. The .357 Magnum version of the Bulldog also may fire .38 Special cartridges. The 44 Special’s parent, the .44 Russian may also be fired in the 44 caliber version of that gun but ultimately I ended up testing two defensive hand loads.
This was in the middle of the ammo shortage of 2013 and Double Tap sent me a couple boxes of their 44 Special 200 grain hollow point bullet for me to test. These are hot rounds with an advertised muzzle velocity of about 1000 fps out of the Bulldog with about 530 pounds of energy. Easily doubling many 38 Special loads in power. The second load, tested in February was 190 grain PMC ammunition. Bullet weights vary from 160-250 grains in the 44 Special and most Bulldog owners agree that lighter faster bullets are more accurate in this model.
My first outing with the 44 Bulldog lead to about 100 rounds going downrange that day. At the very best I was able to keep five shots in a 6 inch group from a typical self defense distance of seven yards. The standard Bulldog model has an exposed hammer but cocking the hammer for a lighter trigger pull did not help with accuracy. Blast was impressively fiery but the full Neoprene grip dampened recoil very nicely and it was a pleasant gun to shoot. A complaint I found on the first outing was that the fixed sights shot quite low. Perhaps a heavier grained bullet would raise the point of impact on target? I never got to find out. When testing resumed using 190 grain PMC the results were a little better with all shots just below the bullseye target. Either one of these groups is adequate for self protection at close range. As intended. It is not a sniper’s weapon.
In conclusion I believe the Charter Arms Bulldog as made today is a fine gun for self defense. The size is concealed in the waistband with ease and open holsters are also available should you want the Bulldog with you during a wilderness walk. Snake shot and solid lead loads are available for that purpose. The caliber is comforting and leaves nothing to be desired in terms of power. There are obvious reservations though.
1) The neoprene grip is comfortable but may be too big for concealed carry but this can be remedied with other Charter grips.
2) Buffalo Bore warns against use of most of its self defense loads in the Bulldog so be sure to check the box on Buffalo Bore 44 Special ammo before using it. Major brands of ammunition and judicious hand loads may be used though.
3) The ejector rod used to dump the empty cases from the gun to reload is far too short. But that is true with all snub nosed revolvers. The barrel is short so the ejector must be too. This means the cases are not fully ejected but extracted. Gravity allows the cases to fall but sometimes a case might need to be manually pulled even when extracted.
But even with these reservations I full recommend the Bulldog and there is a variant out there for you. The stories of Charter Arms guns being junk are due to prolific killings using Charter Arms revolvers, poor quality control when the successor companies after Charter Arms made them but now Charter Arms is back under original ownership and is making their guns as good or better than before. I would stay away from Charco or Charter 2000 versions however. But if you find a new Charter Arms gun or an old one. Do not be shy. Buy it. It just might save your life.