Throwback Thursday — Review: Charter Arms Bulldog

Charter Arms Bulldog revolver with ammo

As many of you have noticed when doing these Shooters Log reviews, the firearms I use most often are not new guns or loaners, but personal guns I have experience with. Some are long serving. I do not write about anything I do not have personal experience with—even if the experience is a hard test compressed into a few days. In this case, I have well over 30 years experience with the Charter Arms Bulldog. I have seen the revolver carried as a backup or primary handgun by experienced individuals and also when used in personal defense.

Charter Arms Bulldog revolver compared to a snub-nosed revolver
Compared to a snub-nosed .38 revolver, the Bulldog isn’t that much larger a package and only weighs a few more ounces.

The Charter Arms Bulldog isn’t a go-anywhere do-anything handgun like a 4-inch barrel .44 Magnum or a Colt Government Model .45, but it is a great defensive sidearm. The first Bulldogs were developed about as soon as we had cartridge revolvers. The British Bulldog revolvers were typically small-frame revolvers with five-shot cylinders firing the .450 Adams cartridge, and later, the .455 Webley. Back when the British were free people—ironically they are less free now than under a monarchy—these revolvers protected Brits the world over. The American Sheriff’s Model revolvers did not quite fit the bill, as most were six-shot revolvers on a large frame. A true Bulldog should be relatively compact.

Charter Arms made a name for itself with the introduction of a lightweight steel-frame revolver in the 1960s. Good guns were scarce, and the Charter Arms revolvers were available. In 1973, it introduced the Bulldog revolver. The frame of the Charter Arms Undercover .38 was lengthened, and the revolver fitted with hand fitting grips and a 3-inch barrel. The new Bulldog sold well. The design featured an ejector rod that locked at the rear but not the front, and the finish was not on a par with the old-line makers. However, the modern revolver featured a transfer bar ignition system.

Close up highlighting Charter Arms' Bulldog revolver sights
The Bulldog’s sights are excellent examples of combat sights. Note the painted front sight for visibility.

The Charter Arms design is intended to allow inexpensive manufacture, but not cheap manufacture. It isn’t a copy of an old-line revolver made to sell more cheaply; rather it is designed to offer a reliable, but affordable option. The company designed a good handgun. The .38s are good guns as well, however, the Bulldog is my favorite of the Charter Arms revolvers. The new Bulldog revolver features a shrouded barrel and ejector rod, tall front sight, and is available in stainless steel. The modern grips are superior to the ones on my handgun. I have cut out the grip to allow easy ejection of spent cases. The modern grip works better on factory guns.

The .44 Special cartridge is a good choice for a Bulldog revolver. The .44 Special, introduced in 1907, was intended as a mild and accurate big-bore cartridge. The .45 Colt was the man stopper and the .44-40 the outdoors cartridge. Attempts to “hot rod” the .44 Special have worn out many good revolvers. With a 246-grain RNL bullet at 750 fps, the .44 Special compared closely to the .455 Webley at 650 fps with a 265-grain bullet. Both have a good reputation in personal defense.

The .44 Special is a better choice than the .38 Special +P as the .44 really doesn’t kick much more in a similar weight gun. However, the bullet leaves the barrel at a true 0.429-inch with good bullet mass. The .357 Magnum loses a lot of velocity in a short barrel, but the primary drawback to the .357 Magnum is its tremendous muzzle blast. The Magnum also kicks a lot in small-frame revolvers. The .44 Special just seems the ideal Bulldog cartridge.

Charter Arms Bulldog revolver wood grip
Note: The author’s revolver features grips that have been relieved for proper ejection of spent cartridge cases. This isn’t necessary with modern Bulldog revolvers.

The Bulldog does have a kick, and some practice is required to master the revolver. It isn’t hurtful and not as sharp as the .357 Magnum, simply heavy and steady. I have used a number of good quality practice loads with the .44 Special. These include both the traditional 246-grain RNL load from Winchester and the new 240-grain flat point load. Both average about 755 fps from the Bulldog’s 3-inch barrel. The Fiocchi Cowboy load has also proven pleasant to fire.

At 15 yards, these bullets strike the center of the target with the six o’clock hold. Recoil is easily controlled. For some time, the standard defense load in the Bulldog among most that carry this pug has been the Winchester 200-grain Silvertip. This load averages about 780 fps. I have also used the Hornady Critical Defense loading. The Hornady offering features a 165-grain bullet at a true 900 fps. This one demands the dead-on hold.

Charter Arms Bulldog revolver with ammo
The Bulldog digested every load without complaint.

Hornady also offers a 180-grain XTP for those needing greater penetration. The Bulldog would not be a bad choice for carry, for defense against feral dogs and the big cats. Firing off the bench rest, single action, taking my time, the Bulldog averaged 2.5- to 3-inch groups with these loads at 15 yards. That is more than adequate for personal defense.

When practicing with the Charter Arms Bulldog, the goal is to press the trigger smoothly and get a center hit, recover and press again. A small group on the target with 10 or 15 rounds clustered never saved anyone’s life. Groups do not do the business in personal defense. A fast solid hit with a credible defense cartridge will save your life. I like the .44 Special Bulldog. The power-for-ounce factor is high, the piece carries light and is reliable. It is a classic defensive revolver appreciated by those that understand the reality of personal defense.

Click Here to Start Shopping Online at Cheaper Than DirtAre you a wheel gun enthusiast? Share your thoughts on the Charter Arms Bulldog in the comment section.

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Comments (35)

  1. When I was a kid, Skeeter Skelton made me fall in love with the .44 special cartridge – then the Bulldog came along and I had a gun to fall in love with along with the ammo. Sad thing is – I always had a priority, and never could afford to buy one. Dang I sure miss ol’ Skeeter – makes me cry just thinking about those good old days. :’-(

  2. Thought I would do an update on my Bulldog. See my original May 9, 2016 comment above. I’m still carrying my S.S. Bulldog. I had to change my reload formula that I use for practice because I noticed that some rounds would “keyhole” on the target. My new formula still uses 180 grain semi-wad cutter lead bullets, but a little faster, and a cleaner-burning powder. I also ported the barrel, copying the factory porting in Charter’s little .357 magnum revolver. The porting really helps with the recoil. Of course it resembles a flame thrower at dusk. Also, the Bulldogs made in recent years have a 2-1/2 inch barrel instead of the 3 inch barrels of the early guns.

  3. I have a 80’s bulldog pug back in the good years before charco or charter 2000. it’s the 44 spl and is super light, loaded with 5 200gr bullets it only weighs 23.5oz and that is 5 big bullets for that weight. I love mine and wouldn’t trade it for nothing it is a mini pocket cannon. I don’t think the recoil is bad at all, really about the same as a ruger lcp in 380 to be honest. mine has the factory bobbed hammer also. get one and you wont ever look back in regret.

  4. I too owned a Bulldog in .44 Special in the early 90’s, and as another commentor noted, it was too small to shoot comfortably with my 2XL meathooks, so I traded it in gor a S&W model 60 for my wife. Now, there’s aftermarket grips that would’ve addressed the issue, but back when, there wasn’t a lot avaiable.

  5. I first owned the traditional ”ugly” 3 inch barrel .44 Bulldog in the 1980’s as defense in our woods and exactly for feral dogs. I had one for travel in my car in the Marines along with a Detonics Combat Master. I shot the aluminum case, 200 grain Speer Gold Dot ”flying ashtrays” in the Bulldog even singlehandedly. Recoil is technique. I was also an M60 machine gunner. I traded and collected along the way, last owned my original Bulldog in the Navy. In the late 90’s I came across another original 3” Bulldog. Evevn though the grips were now Pachmyr, I got it. It was shaving a little at the forcing cone-likely some idiot swinging it shut hard like the movies. I ordered a used, near mint yoke and cylinder for $15 and it’s great now! For those who don’t know, the Speer can drop the most vicious of feral dogs-just like 00 12 gauge buckshot, a softpoint round from an AK-47 or variant and a +P+ 9mm JHP. I don’t mention anything .223/ 5.56mm, the caliber was designed to wound and a feral ran uphill after a JHP and finally landed at my feet from a solid chest shot, face to face, 20 yds away.

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