Charter Arms Bulldog .44SPL

Reliable, safe, affordable it’s your 5-shot personal protector!

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There are a number of options available today for two-gun carry: primary and backup or what I prefer to call the big gun and little gun. This concept allows you to carry both guns at the same time or, depending on the situation, seasonal clothing styles, or operational necessity, you might carry just the big one or (more likely) only the little one. Two guns give you a lot of flexibility and a definite Plan B. I prefer my big gun to function and handle exactly the same way as my little gun.

Once upon a time, I needed a reliable, concealable fight-stopping capability that could be used at arm’s length to grappling distance. In this scenario, given the probable lack of time and distance, I believed that I would have little chance to reload or clear a malfunction. A second gun seemed like better insurance, so I put my faith in two five-shot revolvers, one in .44 Special and the other in .38 Special, both from Charter Arms.

I carried these two revolvers everywhere on a daily basis comfortably concealed for several years and never felt compelled to change my decision. Fast forward to the summer of 2008; I was in the local pawnshop and they had a stainless Bulldog .44 Special in the showcase. Looking at it I suddenly realized it had been way too long since I’d spent time with an old friend. 

I talked with Charles Brown of MKS Supply, who is responsible for the sales and marketing for Charter, and asked if he could provide me with a double-action-only (DAO) Bulldog .44 and a DAO Undercover .38 Special. While waiting to receive the guns for this article I used the time to catch up with today’s Charter Arms. I found their website to be most informative, especially the section titled “Community.” There you will find an especially good write-up on the virtues of the revolver with more educational information than I would usually find in a single source. 

It is also important to note that the website clearly states what a Charter revolver is and what it isn’t. They build a gun that offers “reliable, safe, affordable personal protection.” They do not recommend the exclusive use of +P ammo in the Undercover, but rather suggest that you practice with standard velocity loads and save the hot stuff for your personal protection needs. It is a gun to be carried often but seldom shot.

Gun Details
I learned the that the Charter Arms Bulldog .44 Special has a faithful following. A surprising number of people feel comforted these days with an easy-to-carry revolver stuffed with big bullets close at hand. This brings up a fact many of us learned back in the day: that lightweight revolvers built on service revolver frames were a handy firearm indeed. To this day people swear by their Colt Agents and Smith & Wesson Model 12 M&Ps. 

While the Bulldog is often compared to S&W J-frame revolvers, in actuality it is almost exactly the same size as the Colt Detective Special with a slightly longer barrel. With a cylinder that is about K-frame size, the Bulldog weighs in at 21 ounces empty and therefore, when carried, can be comfortable.

My early Bulldogs had great grips and good sights. The Bulldog I’m holding now has great grips and the best fixed sights on the market. The front sight is big and the rear sight notch is squared off with a groove in the top strap big enough to permit your eye to pick up the front sight in a hurry. Sight acquisition is quick even for old eyes. The front sight is not pinned so if you feel the need to highlight it you’re going to have to paint it. I discussed this with Claude Werner and Dave Spaulding and received a short course in front sight painting. 

Put on a white base coat of appliance touch-up paint and let it dry. This may be as far as you need to go. If you need another color you have a variety to choose from at either the hobby shop or anyplace that sells nail polish. My youngest daughter is a cosmetologist so she helped me pick out a tough chip-resistant bright orange nail polish. During drawing and firing tests all of Claude and Dave’s suggestions worked like a charm and my front sight highlights are staying on far better than anything I have tried in the past and I can actually see them, not crystal clear, but good enough to get the job done.

And the really good news is that Crimson Trace is now offering a Lasergrip for the Bulldog. It appears to be an almost exact copy of the standard Bulldog rubber grip, which is well designed to fit your hand for good pointability and recoil control. Even better news is that one size fits all. The grip you buy will fit both the Bulldog as well as the Undercover. In fact, the Charter Lasergrip fits all of their revolvers except for the Dixie Derringer. 

A Few Favorite Holsters
For holsters I had Alessi’s Talon and their Bodyguard shoulder holster that I purchased from them for my first Bulldog. Twenty years later they’re still fit for duty. I am a real fan of the old Roy Baker pancake holster and I learned that Rob Leahy makes an excellent copy. His company is called Simply Rugged, which is not a claim you make lightly if your shop is in Alaska. I was to discover that Leahy is also a confirmed Bulldog fan and calls them the “Pocket 29.” 

Leahy says, “They pack almost as well as a J-frame but pack the punch of a service revolver.” The pancake holster Leahy makes for the Bulldog (as well as other handguns) is called the Sourdough. With the three belt slots and removable belt loops, it allows you to carry your Bulldog in a variety of ways. He got the crossdraw angle exactly on the dot, which is the real trick in designing this holster.

Range Time
As for reloading, I confirmed what I had learned 20 years ago. For me the best reloader for the Charter Bulldog .44 Special is their Undercover .38 Special. The HKS Speedloader available for the Bulldog doesn’t have any extra frame clearance. It is just a shade larger in diameter than a K-frame speedloader. It works like a champ when the left grip panel is removed. The Crimson Trace grip panel is as thin as possible where the speedloader contacts it. 

The problem is not making the grip thin enough but to make sure there is no portion of the grip in that confined space directly to the rear of the cylinder at all. Maybe someone makes such a grip; at present, however, it remains a work in progress for me. I discussed this problem with Brown and he is going to send me a set of the original Bulldog wooden grips to see if they work better with the speedloader.

In the meantime, Leahy passed on to me an unusual idea that he and his dad discovered. They found that a stripper clip for either the Mosin Nagant or Lee Enfield rifle ammo will hold five rounds of .44 Special. You may have to tighten it up a bit with pliers but it works. Leahy carries one in a Belt Pouch he also makes. For those of you who are familiar with Speed Strips this should be a natural, in part due to those big .44-sized charge holes. In addition, you can actually grasp the sides of the clip for good control and because the stripper clip is rigid instead of flexible, you don’t have to baby it. 

As for ammo, when I carried the Bulldog you had two choices, the 200-grain Winchester Silvertip (which I carried) and the 200-grain Federal lead hollowpoint. Today there are a bunch of choices. In conventional ammo I had, in addition to the Federal JHP and the Silvertip (which I believe is now in its third generation), CorBon 200-grain DPX and their 165-grain JHP, plus the Speer Gold Dot 200-grain load. In exotic ammo I had both MagSafe and Glaser rounds in a variety of weights.

I did some slow fire of the various loads at 7 yards before starting the rapid fire testing. In the conventional loadings the Bulldog pretty much kept them all in the same place and didn’t show a preference. However in the exotic loadings it really liked the MagSafe Defender round and Glaser Silver load. The weather wouldn’t cooperate but before I was rained out I had a chance to shoot some but not all of the rounds using the drill that I prefer for snubby testing, which is five shots at 5 yards as fast as you can fire, all shots must be in an 8-inch circle. 

Just so we are perfectly clear here, you are shooting hopped-up .44Spl loads in a lightweight revolver. The recoil is not as bad as you might think, however it must be managed. By way of comparison, I think you might find the Charter Bulldog with full power factory loads much more controllable than a small lightweight .357 snubby with .357 ammo. I should add also that all of these rounds are truly serious-looking defensive loads with big deep hollow cavities in the front end. 

Final Notes
Skeeter Skelton was a huge fan of the .44 Special and in his book, Good Friends, Good Guns, Good Whiskey, he tells us, “The everyday man who holsters a handgun for come-what-may eventualities cannot improve on a .44 Special revolver.” 


 

  • Joseph Loveland

    I have an older model UnderCover Charter Arms revolver. I enjoy carrying this particular piece but I have to stay with either 130 gr. FMJ ammo or 158 gr. Lead ammo. Is it possible to carry +P’s in this wepon without any outset to the revoelver?
    Any info will be greatly appreciated.

    Joseph

  • gwalchmai munn

    Just picked up a 1st generation Bulldog in .44SPL today. I’m very impressed with it, and the sight of those four visible charge holes filled up with 240gr Keith SWCs should make any BG think twice. To the range tomorrow for some fun time.

  • http://Att Randy Hogue

    I am trying to find a leather holster which has a
    strap that comes over the back of the trigger guard, and can be carried in a crossdraw position.

  • http://touchuppaintsystems.webs.com/ Touch Up Kit

    I’ve been searching for this precise information on this topic for a long time.

  • Sherman Reinius

    I have a SS Bulldog with the 2.5″ barrel. Its a great handgun. Recoil is not objectionable and accuracy is remarkably good for such a short barrel. Simply Rugged(http://www.simplyrugged.com/) makes a great pancake holster with three slots for either strong side or cross draw. A strap going over the trigger guard is available. I use it cross draw. Simply Rugged also sells speed strips for .44 cal, which are much better than Speed Loaders. My next purchase will be the Crimson Trace Laser Grips.

  • Dick Barnett

    I have a Charter Arms stainless Bulldog Pug. I bought a pair of Brazilian Rosewood grips to replace the rubber grips that came on it. This a handsome snub nose revolver. I keep it loaded with Hornady’s 180 gr XTP’s. At night it is on desk with in reach of where I sleep. There is something about a 44 snub nose revolver that is mighty assuring.

  • http://yahoo .357Magnum.

    I just picked up one of these today and I am very impressed. I own all smith and wesson/ ruger firearms (.357 magnums and a 460 magnum) so I am used to a high grade of quality. I give the fit and finish a B+ (very good for the money). The cylinder locks up tight (3-pt) and the DAO trigger is relatively smooth. I will be using Corbon 165 grain JHP .44 spl for self defense and Grizzly Cartridge 260 grain WFLGC for trail protection. I look forward to shooting this little 44 caliber gem! This gun has close to the same build quality as a J-Frame and delivers 44 special knockdown power for CCW.

  • Jerry Sweitzer

    What’s not to like – bigger bullets in the same size snubbie as a .357 mag. And YES, you can plainly see those really LARGE .44 cal. hollow points. Still wondering when/if they’ll produce a version in .45ACP to compliment my M1911

  • Dean

    Look at Tuff Products for speed strips for a .44 cal.

  • Lee Lexington, SC

    Just ordered the new Charter Bulldog Gunblaster Series in black and grey tiger stripe that we saw at the NRA Show.
    Can’t wait to pick it up!

  • .44 Associate-Alaska

    Have had experience with a few different .44 Bulldogs of the 3″ bbl. type and one early 4″ target model. Have carried one daily, and use my own reloads for them. The adjustable rear sight of the 4″ model fell off during dry firing. They all could have used a DA trigger job, and the trigger smoothed and rounded. Especially for the 3″ models that will be shot DA for self-defense. It is worth the cost.

    One must constantly monitor the pins and screws for movement & looseness, otherwise don’t bet your life on one. Some staking of pin holes and blue Loctite for screws helps. Every one I’ve had checked has forcing cones on the large side. I’d suggest only a steady diet of lead bullets, and keep the jacketed ones to a minimum. Polishing, only, of the forcing cone is suggested for lead bullet use.

    Hardness of the lead bullet used for reloading may be an issue as every one I’ve checked has had shallow rifling more suited for jacketed bullets. I need to do some experimenting here. In my limited experience, group size increases out of proportion after 15 yards. It seems good up to 15 yards ( consistent 1.5″- 2″ for five shots using the noted load below from Hornady ). This may be related to bullet weight and hardness. From my limited research, I suspect that a bullet around 200 gr. weight is optimum for the Bulldog. I’d guess most people will find a load using 6.0 grains of Unique with a 240 gr. lead bullet the most recoil they want a steady diet of and maximum for rapid DA fire control.

    Besides manufacturing cost control, I suspect that the factory is trying to keep pressures down using a large forcing cone and shallow rifling. I believe the cylinder chamber holes may tend to be cut on the long side too, but have not yet verified this with a pistolsmith.

    The preceding does not mean I do not like the Bulldog, but I do not recommend one for an undisciplined person that cannot compensate for its shortcomings. Hopefully the newer production ones using modern CAD/CAM production, etc. do not suffer from these faults. With the discontinuance of the S&W 696 we have fewer choices and cannot afford the loss of the Bulldog from poor sales.

    For whatever this may be worth.

  • TexasArmed

    I carry an older Charter Arms 44 Spl 3″ Bulldog, loading it with 200 Gr 44 Winchester Hollow Points. I love this weapon, and carry a S&W 38 Spl as a second weapon. Own another 38 Taurus 851. I too don’t like the idea of carrying a semi-automatic that might have a malfunction and put my faith in two five shot revolvers. It came with a nice leather holster with a strap but I carry it in a left handed galco speed paddle holster, which also fits a J Frame S&W 38 Spl
    snub revolver as well. Only problem I have is getting plenty of practice ammo for it, the self defense hollow points are available, just expensive. I really love my CA Bulldog.

  • http://none ron.oliveri

    dear sir i have the .44 spl pug bulldog.i use 180 gr xtp for home protection.i never feel i’m out gunned.i have shot the hornady 180 z xtp.this round will do the job,four legged or
    two legged.good gun good round sencerely ron

  • Vince

    I just received my brand new Bulldog back from the factory. It had a sticky ejector rod and a hammer screw that kept coming loose when you would pull the trigger. The replace the cylinder with what looks like a factory second or third. I’ve never seen as many machine marks on a firearm. I haven’t shot the gun yet, I’m almost afraid to fire this thing now. They also replaced the hammer. That appears to be fine. My Bulldog now looks like a Saturday night special. Whatever resale value it had is now gone because of their shabby repair. Remember, this was a brand new gun. I got zero support from the dealer and begrudging support from Charter, who made this an unpleasant, but to be fair, quick repair process. The ejector rod no longer sticks, but still isn’t all that smooth. The hammer screw no longer tries to get away. I hope this sucker doesn’t blow up in my face. I was really pulling for Charter, too. This was like a disrespectful slap in the face.

  • Vince

    Tell me if this is what you expect to see in the notches and fluting on a cylinder of a new revolver?

    [IMG]http://i1158.photobucket.com/albums/p615/pokeyoakey/IMG_0238.jpg[/IMG]

  • http://tactical_life.com ron

    I own a bulldog pug Got it brand new Love it The only problem side screw gets loose Gona try the lock tight Normaly after use I just tighten um down when cleaning. Other then that We all good to go.

  • Jim Skelton

    I bought my .44 Pug 2 years ago, reluctantly, but with a last name like this, what can you do??

    Now I’m in love with it. Not a single problem and I’ve put about 1000 rounds down the tube, most of which are my handloads.

    I’ve settled on the 240 gr, SWC in front of 6.5 grains of Unique and believe it or not, I hit a 3 foot high, steel silouete at 100 yards, 2 of 5 shots! The other three scared it pretty bad.

    At 15 to 25 feet, I can cut a pretty 3 inch cluster in any target, any time.

    One thing is for sure, it is the most comforting litte sidekick in the world. There is just something about that bowling ball sized hole in the end that says “I ain’t yo momma’s girly gun!!”

  • Lanny Weaver

    I was fortunate enough to own back in the 70′s (1975) , I think , a blue .44 Spl Bulldog as my first handgun . I’ll never forget how hard I thought it kicked ! LOL ! As often happens in life the good things usually get away from us . I ride a motorcycle now as my primary means of transportation and was surfing around for a reasonably priced revolver for concealed carry . I was very pleased to discover that my old friend was still out there !! Sure it kicked , but not that bad !! A new one, with a bobbed hammer is on order . If I ever run across a person who can take 4 or 5 of those big slugs and still keep coming at me I probably somewhere I don’t need to be anyway ! LOL !

  • Al

    My bulldog arrived broke….sent it back to be repaired…Shot it today for the first time…It is going back for repair again. Cylinder locked up and the hammer would stick halfway. NOT IMPRESSED!

  • Crays,E

    I have a Bulldog 44 SPL and use a TAGUA gunleather holster. It’s a little loose but wont fall out. I also carry two HKS speed loaders. The holster is an outer carry but a button up shirt covers nicely. Also I cut the left side rubber grip to allow the empty shells to fall out and speed loading to go more smooth.

  • oldranger

    Charter Arms .44SPL Bulldog is a great piece, and getting better every year as manufacturing methods and materials improve.
    Finally got my first one about a year ago, and I couldn’t be happier with it.
    I keep a range of bullet weights and styles available for it, for changeable conditions and situations.
    The Bulldog + the .38+P for everyday carry with 2 speed loaders for each provides a very comfortable feeling of adequate firepower for most any defensive situation.
    I’ve owned MANY handguns in my 58 years, and this is my favorite revolver of all of them.

  • jim robert

    I bought my stainless bulldog pug a couple yrs ago slightly used, and cheap. Upon diassembly, I wasnt impressed. Took half a day to tune it up to a reliable state. Fit was not good, and the bore is off center about 1/16″! also the chambers are (were) rough. It is now a reliable, light, and accurate little gun, and I carry it every day. 5.5 – 6 gr. unique with 240 g. cast is preferred. Pachmayer grips help, but harder to conceal.I too hope the later guns have better QC!
    Jim