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)

  • VieteranGunsmith

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    The reason for the color difference between the original and the later model bluing is the steel alloy in each one is different. I have restored a lot of WInchester 94’s and the receiver would quite often show up markedly different than the barrel and other parts – this same purple-ish tone. Apparently Charter Arms frames are a different alloy than they used to be, OR the bluing salts formula has changed over the years, OR there is a possibility that the orginal gun was reblued and the barrel versus frame steels have reacted differently to the bluing chemicals.

    Reply

  • J

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    .44 Special is no joke for self-defense. Though the ammo is somewhat costly, tests showed .44 Special hollow points expanded consistently at self-defense ranges even when fired from a snub barrel.

    Reply

  • Louis

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    I have a “modern SS version.
    After being returned to the factory MORE than one (twice or three times, forget now) I threw it into the back of the safe some time ago and still cuss it any time I read of a Bulldog.

    Reply

  • Steve

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    I have one of the tiger stripe bulldogs and I like it except for one thing. The grip frame is angled more for shooting from the hip than aiming from shoulder high. I am a left hander as well. One other thing I found is the bore and rifling were fairly rough as if it was done with a dull tool. I have soothed that out some with valve grinding compound and a bunch of patches and many strokes with a cleaning rod. It carries well in cool weather clothing and is a pocket cannon.

    Reply

  • Marshall

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    I was able to obtain one of the very first Charter Arms .44 Bull Dogs in 1973, and it was a traumatic experience. I quickly learned some hard lessons. My reloads containing a 7.5 grains of Unique and a 240 grain hard cast bullet gave the little gun a ferocious kick. I expected that, and, being experienced and competent with the .357 magnum and .44 magnum, I could handle recoil. What I could not handle was the carnage. I was a bullseye shooter and shot revolvers bullseye-style with a high thumb lying alongside the frame and hammer. At every shot the cylinder latch gouged big divots out of the knuckle of my thumb, and the sharp rear corner of the cylinder sliced the ball of my thumb. I used to wrap a handkerchief around my thumb to keep from bleeding on the range. The cylinder could be opened by pulling forward on the ejector rod, and some shooters removed the cylinder latch to avoid the bloodshed.

    The worst problem, though, was accuracy; it was abysmal, Hard cast bullets sized to .431 were not stabilized, and many went through a target sideways at 25 yards. Factory Western .44 Specials with the soft swaged 246 grain bullet gave modest recoil and better accuracy, but only just “usable.“

    The accuracy problem was traced to the barrels. Early bore dimensions were eccentrically oversized. If memory serves, the groove diameter was around .444. In addition to the odd bore, the early production barrels were torqued into the frame too tightly forming a narrow place in the barrel shank. Little wonder accuracy was poor.

    I wrote a long letter to Charter Arms outlining my problems, got no response, and soon sold the gun with full disclosure to the buyer and instructions to use only the 246 grain factory lead.

    Notwithstanding all that, I really liked the design, especially the big, wide, highly visible sights, and the well shaped grips. The sights on mine shot left and the grips were a loose fit. I filed enough off the front sight to center the groups, and used a wad of paper to wedge the grips in place. I would have tolerated the recoil, but I cannot tolerate poor accuracy.

    I am certain Charter Arms worked out all the problems long ago, but I still cannot bring myself to get another .44 Bull Dog.

    Reply

  • Kevin Griffin

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    Hello,

    Can you provide me with information on your prices for both the Charter Arms Bulldog 44 Special and the 45 Colt?

    Thank you

    Kevin Griffin

    Reply

  • OldProf49

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    New grips are too large and not suitable for left handers. Original boot grips were better. Splinter grips with a Tyler T-grip is even better. Years ago I used one that had been modified to be a Fitz Special, including a 2 inch barrel. It was very fast and concealable. The 13 lb. trigger might need an action tune. These are great little guns at reasonable prices.

    Reply

  • Randy Donk

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    I do not own the classic, but I do own a stainless bulldog. it is awesome, and the only complaint I have about it is the grip frame is aluminum, and there is no stainless upgrade available for it, it shoots and points well, has no spent case ejection issues, and loads well with a speedloader. accuracy is far better than necessary and recoil is surprisingly light. mine is well built, and has held up well. I highly recommend them to anyone wanting a small, light, large caliber revolver for a carry piece.

    Reply

  • John1943

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    My wife acquired a .38 Charter Arms stubby from her first husband, and I have always wanted the .44 Bulldog version. I can’t really justify buying one on my retirement income, and I already have eight handguns on my CCW and even more in the safe, so I might have to win the Lotto first,

    A pity, this looks to be a nice useful stubby, perhaps replacing my Grendel .380 as an ankle holster backup for the 1911 I usually carry.

    Reply

    • VieteranGunsmith

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      John, I have one thing to say to you – Happy wife, happy life.

      Capisce?

      Reply

  • karl

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    I recall that this was infamous “The Son of Sam”serial killer’s handgun back then.Too bad they kept him alive in prison,would have been better dropping him off the Throgsneck,Whitestone or TriBorough bridges with a concrete block tied on his neck..
    Were I interested in this piece,I’d like to see the following changes:
    -semi bobbed hammer,for better pocketing of it
    -enclosed ejector rod
    -large tritium front sight
    -matte stainless steel
    -possibly in 45Colt
    -perhaps Hogue Monogrip-I have a large left hand

    Reply

    • Merle

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      you are in luck – they are now available in .45 Colt.

      Reply

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