Like many readers, I spent a significant portion of my youth poring over the pages of every issue every other gun and hunting magazine I could find. I spent countless hours studying every page and coming up with lengthy, seemingly unobtainable wish lists. One gun that always made my list was Charter Arms’ stubby little Bulldog revolver.
The Bulldog first hit the market in the early 1970s. It was designed by former Ruger, Colt and High Standard gun designer Doug McClenehan, who founded Charter Arms in 1964. He designed the powerful belly gun as a follow-up to the Undercover, his first lightweight, ultra-concealable revolver. The small-frame, double-action revolver was noteworthy because it was chambered for .357 Magnum and.44 Special, both of which were far more powerful than the .38 Special, the dominate snubbie cartridge of the day.
The Bulldog sold very well through the 1980s, but the rising popularity of autos cut into its sales and internal strife hit the company. Charter Arms had to shut its doors for a brief period in 1998, but Nick Ecker, son of a former owner Dave Ecker, resurrected the company with the help of two partners just before the turn of the century as Charter 2000. By 2002, Charter was doing well enough that Nick was able to buyout his partners and change the name back to Charter Arms. Today the company is still producing its line of compact revolvers in six calibers and multiple configurations.
All Charter Arms revolvers share some key, common features such as Charter’s rugged, one-piece frame that is forged from aircraft-grade 416 stainless steel and a unique sideplate design. Unlike other designs that use screws to secure both sideplates, the right side of the frame is integral and only the left sideplate is attached with screws. The design makes the little guns exceptionally strong. Threepoint cylinder lock-up makes them even stronger.
Charter’s innovative hammer-block transfer-bar safety system is also standard. The internal safety transfer bar won’t allow the gun to fire until the trigger is pulled fully to the rear. It’s a wonderful design that is now copied by virtually every major revolver manufacturer.
Charter Arms’ barrels have eight button-cut rifling grooves and are threaded securely into the frame. The ejector-rod shroud and front sight are machined as integral parts of the barrel for extra strength. The integral shroud protects the ejector rod and gives the gun a sleeker, sexier look.
Other features include a smooth, rounded trigger that won’t pinch your finger; fast locktime; rubber grips to help reduce felt recoil; and simplicity of design, as fewer moving parts help Charter’s revolvers keep on ticking. Despite their lengthy list of standard features, Charter Arms’ revolvers are also darned affordable.
Their low price, good looks and my own childhood desire to own a Bulldog led me to order examples of three of Charter Arms’ latest offerings for testing.
Charter’s Patriot is pretty much a standard 2.2-inch-barreled double-action smallframe revolver with one interesting twist:
It’s chambered in .327 Federal Magnum, allowing for considerable punch and a sixth round, all in a compact package with less recoil than the .38 Special. The .327 Federal wouldn’t be my first choice for a defensive cartridge, but it’s a pretty good one, and it is proving quite popular with recoil-sensitive shooters.
The second test piece was Charter’s .357 Magnum Pug. The five-shot .357 Magnum has all the usual Charter Arms features such as rubber grips; smooth, rounded trigger; and snag-free design. In an interesting departure, it has six ports drilled atop its 2.2-inch barrel-three on either side of the front sight-to reduce felt recoil. It’s a good thing, because the .357 Magnum is a real handful in a compact package. But if you want lots of stopping power in a fist-size package, the Pug’s the gun for you.
The Bulldog .44 Special is my sentimental favorite. Save for the stainless finish, bobbed hammer and shrouded ejector rod, the newest version is very similar to the Bulldog I fell in love with more than 20 years ago. It retains the menacing appearance and gaping maw that have made the Bulldog so popular for so long.
The test guns are all pretty nice overall. There are a few less than perfectly finished spots here and there, but they don’t detract from the guns’ overall looks or function. The rubber grips feel particularly good in my small hands, and friends with bigger mitts found them just as comfortable.
Their corrosion-resistant stainless steel construction is ideal for belly guns, which are often carried very close to the body. Their frame size and light weight are also just right for concealed carry. The .327 weighs 23 ounces, while the Pug and Bulldog weigh just 21. That light weight doesn’t help manage recoil, but you’ll carry these guns a whole lot more than you’ll ever shoot them.
All three guns are pretty much devoid of sharp edges, making them ideal for deep concealment. The Bulldog’s bobbed hammer and double-action-only trigger are features I’d like to see on all three revolvers. However, the hammers on the Patriot and Pug are shorter and more rounded than most revolver hammers. I could live with them in a belt or ankle holster.
My only issue with the guns is their triggers. The .327 and .357 required more than 12 pounds to break their doubleaction pulls. The .44 Special Bulldog’s 10-pound, nine-ounce pull is considerably smoother than that of the other two guns. The Patriot’s trigger pull was rough and had a definite hitch about halfway through its travel. The .357 Pug’s pull was smoother and not nearly as halting as the .327’s, but not as nice as the Bulldog’s. I’m not sure if its improved trigger is due to luck of the draw or the fact that the DAO Bulldog doesn’t have a single-action cocking notch, but its trigger is the best of the three.
Because of the short barrel/sight radius, I did all my work with the Charter Arms revolvers from the seven-yard line. I tested various loads through each revolver and focused on getting an idea of each gun’s combat accuracy.
I started with the .327 Magnum Patriot and Federal’s 85-grain Low Recoil load. I was immediately impressed with its low recoil, despite the fact that the 85-grain Hydra Shok averaged 1,245 fps from the 2.2-inch barrel. The doubleaction trigger didn’t make it easy to shoot good groups, but I had no trouble making fatal hits on silhouette targets at speed.
To get a feel for its accuracy, I fired several single-action groups with the 85-grain Hydra Shok and Speer’s 115-grain GDHP. Both loads grouped under two inches, with the Federal load usually grouping around 11h inches. Recoil with both loads was similar, in my opinion, but one of my training partners and my 10-year-old son, Cole, felt that the Federal low-recoil load did indeed kick less. Both loads shot a couple of inches low for me but were well centered.
The .357 Magnum Pug was the least fun to shoot when stoked with magnum or +P .38 ammunition. Thanks to the barrel porting, muzzle flip was minimal. However, recoil has to go somewhere, and the Pug’s ports send it straight back into your hand. Federal’s 140-grain Barnes load at an average velocity of 1,205 fps was brutal, while Hornady’s mild 158-grain .38 Special XTP load at 687 fps was downright fun. Recoil with Federal’s 129-grain .38 Special +P load at 904 fps was tolerable, and it proved very accurate.
All three loads were pretty well centered and shot under two inches at seven yards. Were I to carry this gun, I would train with .38 Special ammunition and carry it with hot .357 Mags for their superior stopping power. That versatility has always been the .357’s greatest asset.
I fired the Bulldog last. I only had two .44 Special loads on hand-Winchester’s 246-grain lead RN at 646 fps and Blazer’s 200-grain JHP at 791 fps, according to my Shooting Chrony-but those loads usually shoot pretty well for me and I felt confident the Bulldog would like at least one of them.
The Bulldog’s smooth double-action trigger didn’t take me long to get used to, and even my first group showed promise. The Blazer load hit a bit low, but it shot right at an inch-and-a-half. The Winchester load hit right on and consistently grouped right around an inch, easily the best accuracy of the three revolvers. Recoil was noticeable, but it wasn’t uncomfortable, and the little Bulldog was quite controllable in rapid-fire strings.
With my accuracy testing out of the way, I worked on some presentations from the holster and rapid-fire strings with all three guns. Once again, the Bulldog’s great trigger and manageable recoil made it my hands-down fayon e. The .357 and .327 performed well, too, but their rougher trigger pulls resulted in larger groups downrange.
Overall, I was quite pleased with the latest offerings from Charter Arms. Their stainless steel construction; smooth, snag-free lines; and compact size make them ideal for concealed carry. Their reasonable price makes them a good value and keeps them within reach of a great many shooters, including this one. In fact, I have a feeling the box I ship back to Charter Arms will be one gun light.
(see attached files at bottom of article for specs)