Firearms

Charter Arms Boxer .38 Special Revolver

Artistic noir pic of the Charter Arms .38 Special revolver, speed loader and 35mm Pentax camera

For decades, Charter Arms has supplied Americans on a budget with affordable and reliable revolvers. The Undercover .38, several .32s, .357 Magnums, and the famous .44 Special Bulldog have gotten into their share of defensive encounters. For ease of use and carry, these handguns carry light and are simple to use.

Swing the cylinder open, load the chambers in the cylinder, close the cylinder, and press the trigger to fire. Carried in a holster or pocket or as a bedside gun these revolvers shine.

Charter Arms .38 Special Boxer in front of a box of Federal American Eagle ammunition
The Boxer is a nice-looking well-polished stainless-steel revolver.

Charter Arms History

Charter Arms revolvers were introduced during the Vietnam war. Gun goods were scarce, and Charter Arms filled a real need. There were a ton of cheap junk revolvers flooding the market at the time. These Saturday Night Special revolvers were far poorer quality than the many Spanish revolvers imported during the 1930s. These guns were foisted upon an unsuspecting public.

I have had these show up in my shooting classes within the decade. They are pretty good — if kept put away and never fired. The Charter Arms, while affordable, is also good quality.

When the scarce Smith and Wesson Chief’s Special was offered at $108, and RG Rohm revolvers at $35, the Charter was $74.50. Not a bad price for something that was on the shelf. Today, with an average price of less than $400, the Charter Arms Boxer is a good buy.

Charter Arms revolvers feature lightweight frames. While much of the revolver is aluminum, the frame itself is steel. This makes for good strength. The Undercover .38 is a 5-shot revolver with a two-inch barrel. By deepening the frame, Charter designed a 5-shot .44 Special revolver.

Like the Undercover, the Bulldog features an ejector rod that locks at the rear but not the front. This modern revolver features a transfer bar ignition system. This is the safest of revolver systems.

Charter Arms .38 Special Boxer with Lyman speedloader
Lyman’s modern speedloader is a good fit for the Charter Arms Boxer.

Charter Arms Boxer Features

The Charter Arms revolver isn’t a copy of any existing revolver. It was designed to use modern manufacture and design to offer an affordable quality revolver. They succeeded in this goal. Modern CNC machinery makes for exact manufacture.

The new Boxer revolver is a six-shot .38 Special. While it compares favorably in size to 5-shot .38 Special revolvers, the 6-shot Boxer is approximately the same size as the 5-shot .44 Special. .44 Special ammunition is downloaded considerably in order to be safe in the Bulldog’s light frame as well as vintage revolvers.

Wound ballistics are not impressive with most loads. .38 Special loads are mild and easy to control. However, there are pretty impressive .38 Special loads that offer good ballistics. Truth be told, the .38 Special is about all the power the occasional shooter may effectively handle.

Blackhawk! inside-the-waistband leather holster with a revolver inserted
The author chose a Blackhawk! inside-the-waistband holster for daily carry.

A 6-shot .38 Special revolver makes a lot of sense. I headed to the firing range with the Charter Arms Boxer and a good mix of ammunition. I expected the usual good performance from Charter Arms.

The revolver is reliable. The action isn’t smooth — in the sense that vintage Colt and Smith and Wesson revolvers are buttery smooth. However, they are comparable to anything offered today. The smoothness and short trigger come as a result of good design. The trigger arc (travel) is short.

The Charter Arms Boxer features excellent rubber grips. These grips eliminate contact between the hand and frame. The result is that recoil doesn’t hurt. Control is enhanced by these grips.

Two-inch barrel of a Charter Arms Boxer revolver
The Charter Arms Boxer heavy barrel helps dampen recoil.

The revolver features a fiber-optic front sight. This is an advantage over the usual difficult-to-see, small, revolver front sight. I began firing at 7 yards using the Federal 158-grain RNL loading. This is a mild and accurate loading. Press the trigger smoothly to the rear as the sights line up, allow the trigger to reset in recoil, and fire again.

Good shooting was accomplished. I shot as well with this .38 Special as any revolver in its weight class. Practice getting on target, pressing the trigger smoothly to the rear, and getting a hit. It doesn’t matter if the sight wavers a little, you cannot hold it completely still at all times. But concentrate on keeping the front sight on target as the hammer falls. Stop the wobble just as the hammer falls.

As for absolute accuracy, the revolver will put five shots into a single ragged hole at 7 yards. I aim where I want to hit. I am not a six o’clock-oriented shooter! The Charter Arms revolver fired to the point of aim with 158-grain loads. I also fired a few rounds braced against the Yoder with good results.

The Boxer will keep five shots into 2 to 3 inches at 15 yards. It would make a fine field and trail gun when hiking or spelunking if the threat isn’t too big. Something larger would be indicated for bear, but the Boxer is reasonable for protection against human assailants, feral dogs, and the big cats.

Animals attack quickly. Often, the victim is bowled over. A revolver may be pressed into the threat and fired repeatably.

two five-shot groups in the head of an orange silhouette target
The author held center for a double-action group at 5 yards, and then held on the ear for the group. The Boxer is smooth enough for good shooting.

Load selection is critical. The 158-grain RNL is a fine target load. Accuracy is excellent. A round nose bullet simply slips through the flesh. The Federal load breaks at about 630 fps.

The old RNL standard in police use was the reason the .38 Special earned the nickname the ‘Widow Maker.’ This is a very poor defense load. It is offered as an affordable target load. I moved to the Federal 129-grain Hydra-Shok.

This loading breaks at about 840 fps — about all that can be expected from a two-inch .38. I also tested the Buffalo Bore lead semi-wadcutter hollow point. This is a heavy load but controllable in the Boxer. Velocity is 953 fps. This is a stout loading that gets the .38 Special off its knees.

Specifications

Action: Double action
Capacity: 6 rounds
Caliber: .38 Special
Barrel length: 2.2 inches
Finish: Stainless steel
Weight: 16 ounces

Conclusion

For carrying the Boxer .38 concealed, I selected a Blackhawk! inside-the-waistband holster. This is a well-made leather holster with a strong steel belt clip. I also pocketed a Lyman speedloader when carrying the revolver. The Charter Arms Boxer is a good defensive revolver. Compact, easy to use quickly, simple, and reliable. It is well worth its price.

Affordable and dependable, the Charter Arms Boxer is a no-brainer when looking for a revolver. A speedloader or two is also a good idea. What is your favorite revolver and speedloader? Share your answers in the comment section.

For more information about the photographer of the article’s lead image or to see more of his firearm photography, please check out rangehot.com.

  • two five-shot groups in the head of an orange silhouette target
  • Bob Campbell shooting the Charter Arms Boxer .38 Special offhand
  • Front quartering view of the Charter Arms Boxer .38 special revolver in nickel
  • Artistic noir pic of the Charter Arms .38 Special revolver, speed loader and 35mm Pentax camera
  • Top to bottom: Smith and Wesson roundbutt K frame with six-shot cylinder and a four-inch barrel, Charter Arms Boxer .38, and a 5-shot Smith and Wesson J frame revolver.
  • Two-inch barrel of a Charter Arms Boxer revolver
  • Blackhawk! inside-the-waistband leather holster with a revolver inserted
  • Man's hand holding a .38 special Charter Arms Boxer
  • Charter Arms .38 Special Boxer with Lyman speedloader
  • Charter Arms .38 Special Boxer in front of a box of Federal American Eagle ammunition

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.


Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Handloader
Rifle Magazine
Handguns
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns



Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (17)

  1. I went to the range today to put my Boxer through its paces with both 125 gr. LSWC and 132 gr. FMJ-RN standard pressure ammo. After 40 rounds the gun cylinder would not cycle in DA mode and would not SA cock either. I wiped the recoil shield and the cylinder face and it still refused to cycle with great pressure. Ejected the rounds and set the unfired cartridges in other charge holes and got the two remaining rounds to fire. I was using good, clean ammo and surmise that the issue is in the action, not a fouling of the piece. I’ll have to field strip this Charter Arms revolver and do a thorough inspection, cleaning and re-lube to see if this solves the issue. Same for the 9mm PitBull I shot at the same session. It siezed up after 30 rounds. I won’t carry either with doubt as to the this reliablity issue. Anyone else have the same problem with Charter Arms guns ?

  2. Bob, I have enjoyed your reviews over the years, but it’s time to get a fact-checker to proof-read before publishing….

    The Charter Arms Boxer cylinder FRAME is ALUMINUM, and most of the other parts are STEEL. You have it backwards. The only parts that are not metal is the “grip frame”, which on this model is polymer. The Charter Arms “grip frame” is a separate piece from the cylinder frame (unlike the S&W in which the grip is part of the fabricated frame). The Charter barrel, cylinder, hammer, trigger and internal parts are STEEL.

    The ejector rod of the Charter Arms does not lock only at the rear. It locks in TWO places – at the rear and at the cylinder yoke. The S&W locks at the rear and the front of the rod. The Charter Arms system is technically better.

    While the Boxer is a .38 Special, the .44 Special is not “downloaded” to be safe in the Charter Bulldog. At it’s inception – over 100 years before the Charter Bulldog was invented – it was loaded as low-pressure round. Experimenters like Elmer Keith uploaded it in heavy frame guns, and the result was the .44 Magnum with a longer case. The major factories have never “uploaded” the .44 Special.. There is no SAAMI-approved “+P” .44 Special ammunition. Any .44 Special ammunition which meets SAAMI spec is perfectly safe in the Bulldog.

    The Lyman speedloader looks nice, but there is not model for the Charter Arms Boxer. My experience has been that any speedloader for the S&W K-frame 6-shot .38/.357 will fit the Charter Boxer or similar Charter Police Undercover.

  3. I shot and carried a 70’s version of the 44 Special Bulldog five shot until the top strap fractured from repetitive shooting. I wonder about the lighter weight five 44 Special and the “downloading” of ?all? 44 Special ammo for use in one gun? Loved that 44 Special and found it to be a great carry gun except for the weight.

  4. The Boxer frame is aluminum, not steel. It’s basically an aluminum framed version of the the Police Undercover with a fiber-optic front sight.

  5. I purchased a boxer .38 sp 2.2″ b and was told that I could not use .38 p ammo. Is this true?? also can I use hollow point ammo?? Thanks

  6. My favorite revolver is the Taurus 856 .38 special stainless steel 2″ snub nose. It’s all steel construction and beefy rubber grips help me control recoil well. I carry it in a leather Bulldog belt slide holster. My favorite defensive load is Federal Premium .38 special +p 130 grain HST JHP, I also carry 2 speed strips with this as spare ammo. I like the looks of Charter Arms revolvers and am thinking of getting one in .44 special.

  7. Have an older mode .38 Special S&W model 38 Bodyguard Airweight been carrying on nd off at least 3 decades. Sometimes as backup to Kahr 9.Nowadays it gets carried when I need a pocket gun. Mine is wee bit bulky due to the slightly longer Crimson Trace laser grips, with plenty room for the pinky to grip. I find the much better control of a full grip well worth the small size increase.I really like the hammer shrouds pocket carry and choice of single or double as well as the light weight. The laser provides excellent quick aiming for old eyes. Ammo is any 125 grain hollow point, though not +p. It has never failed to fire.

  8. For”serious use,I’ll go with a bigger caliber or a Ruger GP100. re the 32 S&W try finding factory ammo. For anti-human defense stick with factory ammo only,lest the lawyers/courts/juries have more reasons to crucify you.-

  9. My choice is the S&W 66-3 in .38 special/.357 Magnum. Excellent carry weapon and very accurate. There are some .38 Special +P loads that are very performance oriented but don’t hammer the K-frame. Continual use of .357 Magnum will (allegedly) cause problems in the K-frames. There is an updated model from S&W now and there is always an L-frame for updated “heavy” use.

    I will not sell my K-frame. Bill Jordan would be mad.

    JX

  10. I have a 70’s Charters Arms .38 special police bulldog that I purchased way back when and I absolutely love it – its a 6 shot and is totally reliable. In fact, every time I take it shooting with some buddy’s of mine, one of them always shoots it and wants to buy it! Never ever going to sell it! Not sure of Charter Arms quality now but the 70’s one I have has shot more than 500 rounds and never had an issue.

  11. nice article. I noticed the finish for the cylinder and barrel are different than the frame. Is frame stainless steel? And the other 2 some type of alloy?

    THX

  12. My Covid Relief subsidy payment was earmarked for a new CCW carry Pistol.
    After considering the Charter Arms “Undercover” in 38 Spl I decided instead for the “Undercoverette” chambered in 32 H&R Magnum.
    I’m already a devout fan of this caliber and when stoked with my 60 Gr. Speer “Gold Dot” Handloads I feel well served by this light accurate 6 shot.

  13. I had the choice of the Charter Arms and the Taurus. I went with the Taurus 856 in blue. Other than the 2 finger grip that I upgraded with Hogue. The Taurus action was much better. I felt it was just better quality. Decent accuracy at 15yrds withe the 2 inch barrel.

  14. I own a older J frame S&W in 38 spl and always wanted a bull gig however lately there is a scarcity of 38 spl ammunition and when found it is the 158 gr lead. Yes there is p,entry of +p but my two 38’s don’t run +p. I hesitated buying another 38 because of the ammo situation. Niwadats seems like the only pistol round readily available is 9mm.

  15. IF I were going for a Charter Arms snubbie,it would be with a semi-bobbed hammer in 45Colt or 44Special-bigger hole in the target,less muzzleblast! or the CA southpaw.I’ve had HydraShoks for decades.Your 129gr version sounds the original HydraShok
    Alternatively consider factory 148gr full wadcutters.

  16. As a long time S&W “J” Frame fan, and with several family members having worked for S&W, I do have to say the development of the Transfer Bar system by Charter Arm was a major deal. Up until then, revolvers had a hammer with the firing pin attached to it. Note – this is the reason why most revolvers needed to be carried with an empty chamber under the hammer. Reason I have only a single (.44 Bulldog) CA revolver is that they are so hard to find. Do also like that CA also uses rubber grips rather than the skimpy grips typically found on S&W “J” Frames. If and when there is a 4″ BOXER version available, will have to track one down.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your discussions, feedback and comments are welcome here as long as they are relevant and insightful. Please be respectful of others. We reserve the right to edit as appropriate, delete profane, harassing, abusive and spam comments or posts, and block repeat offenders. All comments are held for moderation and will appear after approval.

Discover more from The Shooter's Log

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading