The Charter Arms brand has been in and out of production for decades. They come and go, and when they come, they bring the star of the show, the Bulldog. The Bulldog wasn’t the first Charter Arms gun, but it’s their most famous. This big revolver chambers the famed .44 Special and first hit the market in the 1970s. Throughout the 70s and 80s, it was immensely popular and well-known for its big-bore firepower in a relatively small package.
The Bulldog is a modern double-action revolver with an exposed hammer for manual single-action shots. The design was originally intended for concealed carry and defensive use. The barrel was 3 inches long, and the gun featured a fairly small frame. It holds five shots of .44 Special and offers revolver fans a big bore option at an affordable price point.
In the 1970s, most modern defensive revolvers were either .38 Special or .357 Magnum. If you wanted Big Bore, you were stuck with the magnums of the era, which weren’t appropriate for defensive use. The Bulldog offered a big, mighty mean round in a controllable, compact package. The gun was carefully designed to get sharp edge free and to have melted lines and angles for an easy draw.
Even with all these features, it was the .44 Special round that drew the most attention.
The Bulldog and the .44 Special
The .44 Special has an interesting history. It ties back to the .44 Russian round, which was the first bullet to use an internally lubricated projectile. The .44 Russian was a black powder round that was fairly popular in and out of Russia. At the turn of the century, the calibers that started with four dominated the defensive handgun market.
Smith and Wesson created the New Century revolver and wanted a modern, smokeless powder cartridge that started with four to introduce it. Thus the .44 Special came to be. The case of the .44 Russian was too short to make effective use of smokeless powder, so they used the same case but lengthened it slightly.
The .44 Special became a hit and was quite successful. A group of hand loaders and enthusiasts championed the round, and eventually, these men and a couple of companies created the famed .44 Magnum. Sadly as the 80s gave way to the 1990s, the .44 Special fell out of favor. Rounds like the 9mm began dominating duty guns, and .38 and .357 reigned supreme. Plus, if you wanted a .44, you went with .44 Magnum.
At the Range
The Charter Arms Bulldog is a bit of a beastly gun. My example had these large grips that admittedly make it tougher to conceal. The good news is that they make it much easier to shoot. My example wears a nice stainless steel finish that makes it eye-catching. The big gun fills my hand, and it’s a heavy one.
With a box of pricey .44 Special, I went to the range to see how the Bulldog performed. It’s big and mean, so the name fits. I started with some single-action slow fire to gauge accuracy. At 25 yards, I rested the gun on a bench and fired slowly and carefully. My worst group was about 2.3 inches, and my best was a hair over two inches.
The single-action trigger is rather crisp and nice. A slight tug and the gun goes bang. The double action is fairly impressive. This is a first-gen Bulldog, and the trigger is likely well-worn. It glides rearward smoothly and consistently without any drag or grinding. In a more combative type of drill, I fired double taps at 15 yards on a steel IPSC target. Both collided perfectly with the chest of the target.
Across the top, we have a great big sight that makes alignment easy. Put the sight where you want it ad go. You’re throwing big, disruptive bullets that hit hard. It’s evident by the way the target clangs and swings after it gets hit that the .44 Special is no slouch.
The Charter Arms Bulldog pushes back with every shot, much like a .45 ACP. It’s not a great snappy thing, but a roll of force rearwards. The recoil is evident, and you can’t miss it. It’s not so much to take you off target, but enough to remind you this isn’t some slouch .38 Special. I wouldn’t advise it for beginners unless they were under careful instruction.
The big grips do make it nice for shooting. They provide a nice full grip on the gun. The controls are simple, with just a trigger, hammer, and cylinder release. Accessing the cylinder is easy, and the heavy .44 Special shells come out with ease. If one sticks, the rod punches it out with ease. Releasing the cylinder is plenty easy.
The hammer is easy to reach, and you can easily cock it into single action without disturbing your grip.
An Old Solution
The Charter Arms Bulldog is a sweet-shooting, big-bore, compact revolver. It’s a big beastly gun that, with the right grips, could be easily carried. It’s admittedly tough to carry a five-shot revolver when guns like the P365 exist. The Bulldog is still old-school cool with lots of oomph, power, and a nice big bore to throw those chunky .44 Specials.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
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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