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.
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.
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.
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.”