Range Report: Charter Arms Classic Bulldog — Iconic Conceal Carry Revolver

By Robert Sadowski published on in Firearms, Range Reports

The Bulldog Classic is Charter Arms’ iconic revolver that was first manufactured in 1973. It looks old school with the tapered 3-inch barrel, exposed ejector rod, and checkered walnut grips. What I like about this revolver is its compact size and .44 Special caliber.

Man holding a revolver

The Bulldog was compact and offered just enough grip for controllability.

If you have ever seen one of the old school Bulldog revolvers you may have noticed the color of the finish was a purplish blue. This is because the finish of older revolvers changes over time due to the alloy frame. It turns a purplish color while the barrel and cylinder stayed a dark blue. The Classic had a bit of a purple hue to it from the get go, when I placed is against a matte black Charter Arms Pitbull.

In hand, the Classic is lightweight and feels a lot like a .38 Special except for the fatter cylinder which holds five rounds of .44 Special ammo. The nicely shaped wood grip goes well with the Charter Arm medallion. The rest of the revolver has a nice polished look. The wood grip was just large enough to help dissipate recoil into the palm of our hand, yet still be very concealable. The checkering was fine and offered a secure grip.

The DA trigger had a pull weight of about 13 pounds—SA was about 3.2 pounds. The trigger was grooved, so even in recoil, my finger stayed put. In DA mode, I felt a bit of stacking, but since the cost of this revolver is more than reasonable, I’ll ignore it. The serrated cylinder latch slides forward to open the cylinder. You can also pull forward on the ejector rod to gain access to the cylinder’s chambers—a feature I really like. A slight ring appeared around the cylinder after dry firing and testing. Bulldogs are made to be used and should not be safe queens.

Opening the cylinder on the Charter Bulldog and ejecting the shells

Note the empty case is hung up on the outer edge of the wood grip. This increased reload time.

A safety feature on the revolver was a safety transfer bar. This system prevents the hammer from striking the firing pin, unless the trigger is pulled fully to the rear.

At the range, the Bulldog felt surprising small and compact to hold five chubby .44 Special cartridges. Using a rest at 15 yards, I was pleasantly surprised to get on average 3-inch groups with 5-rounds with all ammo. The 15-yard accuracy test is much farther than the distance you would typically be expected to use this revolver, but I wanted to push the limits of this iconic snub nose. With the Hornady Classic 180-grain XTP round, I was able to shoot a 2.2-inch, 5-shot group using a rest. That was excellent considering the revolver was compact and had fixed sights.

At closer ranges, I was able to get some excellent groups. The full and slightly fatter grip made the Bulldog pleasant to shoot. Remember, this is lightweight revolver, so there is not much weight to help absorb recoil.

Charter Arms Bulldog Classic, Model 34431, 44 Special, MSRP $436.00
Action Type Revolver DA/SA
Overall Length 7.5 in.
Barrel Length 3.0 in.
Overall Height 4.7 in.
Maximum Width 1.4 in.
Weight Unloaded 20 oz.
Weight Loaded 22.7 oz.
Capacity 5 rounds
Finish Black
Grip Checkered wood
Front Sight Ramped blade
Rear Sight Fixed groove
Trigger Pull Weight (DA) 13 lbs.
Trigger Pull Weight (SA) 3.2 lbs.
Safety Internal transfer bar
Warranty Limited lifetime warranty
Made In U.S.A.

To add versatility to the Bulldog, I fired some CCI 1/4-ounce, #9 shot cartridges at six feet. That is about as close as you would want to get to a copperhead or cottonmouth, and found I could get a pattern of about 8-inches across—about the size of a paper dinner plate. Moving farther away, the pattern grew increasingly larger, so much so that at twice the distance at 12 feet the pattern was not very dense. We would use the CCI shot loads only on snakes and perhaps rats. On larger vermin, the rounds would not have the desired killing effect.

Charter Arms Classic left and Pitbull right

Note the purplish hue of the Bulldog Classic (top) compared the matte black finish of a Charter Arms Pitbull (bottom).

I found that when ejecting empties, if I pressed the ejector rod fully out, one of the empty cases would get trapped by the edge of the grip. Not a show stopper since this snub nose is more of a get away weapon, allowing you the fire at close range and get to safety so a fast reload may not be required. As much as felt good in hand, this could be a liability, so I’d take a Dremel tool to the factory wood grip and fix it. There are plenty of aftermarket grips for the Bulldog if you want to go in that direction.

One thing Charter Arms got right was the point of aim. Fixed sight revolvers can be an issue requiring the shooter to resort to Kentucky Windage. This is not the case with the Bulldog. It hit to point of aim.Bullet weight measured in grains, velocity in fps, and average accuracy in inches for best five-shot groups at 15 yards.

Performance: Charter Arms Bulldog Classic
.44 Special Velocity Energy Best Accuracy Average Accuracy
Hornady Classic 180-grain XTP 746 222 2.2 3.1
HSM 200-grain RNFP 722 232 2.6 3.2
Hornady Critical Defense 165-grain FTX 930 317 3.3 3.7

I used a holster designed for a S&W J-frame to tote the Charter Arms around and found the size and weight of the Bulldog was comfortable and comforting.

The Bulldog is a compact, accurate, and inexpensive defensive revolver that offers excellent concealability for a revolver chamber in .44 Special.

Performance: Charter Arms Bulldog Classic
.44 Special CCI 1/4 oz. #9 shot 6 yds 12 yds
8 inches 18 inches

Have you fired the Charter Arms Bulldog Classic? Did you experience match the author’s? Share your answers in the comment section.

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Comments (17)

  • karl

    |

    I wonder whether a S&W Mountain Gun in 44Mag[use 44Specials] or 45Colt might be a light weight equivalent?
    For “breaking bones”,the 4″Redhawk 45 Colt will amply serve,regardless of the ammunition energy level !

    Reply

  • karl

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    I’d be concerned with the Bulldog[and any other revolver]ejector rods failing in a conflict.A semi-bobbed hammer would make for better pocket carry too.

    Reply

  • J begley

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    I bought a .44 spl bulldog pug in 1983
    Still have it.
    Put this gun through the ringer.
    It never let me down.
    I have a lot of hand guns, and like most of them.
    The bulldog stays loaded and accessible.
    24/7 365

    Reply

  • Harry Hydro

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    I bought the Bulldog when it first came out and loved the knock-down power of the cartridge. I later upgraded to the stainless model with the low-profile hammer. The low-profile hammer made for an easy draw from a back pocket because the normal spur was gone. The stainless also came with an excellent rubber grip. Crimson Trace now has a laser optic in a rubber grip that makes target acquisition absolute.

    Reply

  • karl

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    The proof will be in the autopsy resolts.Get a copy of Evans& Marshall:”Handgun Stopping Power”.They used actual autopsy,1 shot,center of mass hits for stopping power.Yes the data may[or not]be considered obsolete and that the 357Mag 125 JHP has the highest 1 shot stops[albeit horrendous muzzleblast and muzzle FLASH [my emphasis]in short barreled handguns].If I’m carrying for human defense,I’ll carry factory 38+P 158gr lhps or 357Mag 158gr jhps,for 44 oand 45 cola[44Spec or 45 Colt]>=200gr jhps.Note I said for human defense,for critters I’d consider heavier projectiles-even reverses hollow base full wadcutters.

    Reply

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