Firearms

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.

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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.

  6. I used to have the stainless version of the bulldog .44 it was a great little gun and 1 i deff regret ever selling now but if i were to buy another revolver for self defense i would have to go with the taurus judge now in 3 inch .410/45 LC. Just much more useful in todays world to me if i had to carry a wheel gun but i carry autoloaders now for self defense i hunt with wheel guns at times big bores.

    1. I use fobus for semi autos but for 44 Spl recommend Baramy Hip Grip. If you use a 16 inch “Limbsaver” tactical wrap over the Baramy, it will present easily and feel like a soft 9mm or heavy 22!

    1. I was very happy to read your thoughts on the Charter Arms Bulldog .44 revolver. I bought mine in probably ’73 or ’74 as it was a new gun at the local Gun Shop. I have always shot it with Remington 246 gr. lead bullets. Back in the early 80s I got with a gunsmith who shortened the Bbl,R&R’d the front site, lowering the height by filing after shooting for ‘effect’. Removed the hammer spur and gave it a “sumpin Cote” finish on it. I got replacement Pachmayer? soft grips, they really took the ‘bite’ out of shooting it. My rev. has the ejector rod that ‘hangs’ in space under the Bbl. I use it to unlock & swing the cylinder out to empty it. The Bbl is so short the it reads”dog” instead of ‘Bulldog’. Less than 2″ Too bad I can’t send pictures to show what it is. Oh, BTW, it fits nicely in a shoulder holster intended for a S&W .38 Spl.

  7. I have been considering a CA revolver. The .44 Spec. caliber CA revolvers sounds like a really good personal defense weapon. However, I am a big fan of the .45 ACP round, and CA has recently come out with a .45 Pitbull. How does the .45 ACP compare the .44 Spec., in a small revolver, 2.2 to 2.5 inch barrel?

    1. I have not personally had my hands on a Charter Pitbull, but I expect it to be a lot like the Bulldog physically (only slight differences in the cylinder). Also, the Pitbull is made in 9mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP. Now, finding a dealer with one may be challenging. I checked on the distributors I am setup with, and none of them had any actually in stock. You might try gunbroker.com. Also, I saw a number of comments about the “awful” recoil. Well, it isn’t a plinking gun–it is made to be easy to carry and effective at personal defense. I found the Hornady Critical Defense rounds to be controllable, and not painful to shoot. I have worked up some hand loads that feel about the same for practice. I have shot 100 rounds in a single practice session with no ill effects.

  8. the bulldog pug kicks a lot and I mean A LOT. I had one and even my dad hated it and he was tuff. my girlfriend really hated it.

    the big giant fireball which comes out of the barrel is impressive. compared to my colt detective special, its horrible and has 1 less round

  9. I like my Charter Arms 40 S&W PitBull a hell of a lot and it’s my carry gun around the house and constant companion. Yes it does have a bit of a bite but not bad compared to others. No moon clips needed. Worth checking out,

  10. Bought one in stainless 3 or 4 years ago and never looked back. It is my less expensive carry gun I carry most of the time when I do carry and keep in the vehicle when not carrying. I used the exact ammos listed in the articles like the Hornadys but mostly keep the Winchester Silver Tips in the cylinder. Easy to shoot and maintain not to mention the quality and value.

  11. I’ll stick with my 357s. I have a 2″, (2)3″ and a 6″. The 2″ Taurus 605 handles high velocity Double tap 125s quite well as does my 3″ model 60
    S&W. My other 3″ is a wiley clapp ruger 6 round it is much heavier than the other 2 at 36 ozs. Those other 2 weigh in at about 25oz. All 3 provide devastating power with the GP100 Clapp 3″ (being a ful size revolver) providing as much pop as any 4″ barrel and a whole lot more control.. Yeah they kick but target acquisition is plenty fast as the reasonable recoil of all three has no effect on my shooting. My 6″ puts a 158 Double tap out at muzzle of 1540 and is even more gentle at 44 oz. Bottom line between the 125 gr and 158 grain selections I use the lighter in the lighter guns and the heavier in the more meaty ones. A 44 is just too slow for my tastes as I want to shoot the fewest rounds possible at any target and 1 is enough in nearly all cases with this caliber if you do your part and not whine about a little more felt recoil.

  12. I have a SS Bulldog and while I like it and it shoots very well it’s frankly just too small for my hands, And for all you folks wishing you hadn’t sold yours I intend to sell mine on Texas gun trader, look for it there.

    1. Pachmayr makes a couple different grips that fit the Bulldog, both of them larger than the factory grips. If you like your bulldog, you might want to try these grips. I got a pair to use on my Bulldog to better handle some 180 grain reloads I had made up for a Ruger Supper Redhawk. I have since made up some milder loads that more closely feel like the 165 grain Critical Defense loads I normally carry.

  13. I’ve owned two Bulldogs, and had the same problem with each: when firing double-action, and sometimes when pulling the hammer back to fire single-action, both guns would often tie up and the cylinder would not rotate. I wonder if Bob had the same experience? I thought it was a timing issue. I sold both guns since I figured a gunsmith would cost too much and was told by two ‘smiths that they wouldn’t even work on a Bulldog. I was very disappointed because I really liked the size and feel of the Bulldog and I’ve always loved the .44 round, either as a Special or a Mag. Thoughts?

    1. @ Leadfoot

      My Bulldog did that too…caused by bullits unseating in the cylinder, even with quality factory ammo. Re-seating and a heavier crimp solved my problem and might solve yours….worth checking out.

    2. You need to get a capable gunsmith. The problem you described sounds like a timing problem. And, it would be easier to cure than on a Colt. There is only one difficult item to contend with when reassembling the Bulldog; the trigger spring. Once a person learns to conquer that, they are pretty easy to work on.

  14. During my years as a peace officer, we were allowed to carry any sidearm in any caliber. I was assigned to our felony fugitive squad and I chose to carry a S&W Model 29, 6″ barrel, and loaded some relatively hot .44 Special rounds. It was a potent combination and it saved my butt several times.

    But I needed a backup handgun and decided to carry the Charter Arms 44 Bulldog, sometimes in an ankle holster and sometimes in a crossdraw rig. The Bulldog was loaded with those same hot loads but remained controllable. It did require a bit more practice and I primarily used standard 44 Special ammo to keep from beating it to pieces, but fired enough hot loads to maintain proficiency.

    The Bulldog was amazingly accurate at reasonable distances (up to 15 yards or so) and was a reliable, lightweight companion. I wish I had never let it go.

    Maybe it’s time for another one!

  15. I have a 4″ target Bulldog in 44 spec.that I have had for 20 years. I have carried and shot mine a bunch over the years and it’s one of my favorite pistols. And the 44 special can get the job done!

  16. The .44 Special round and Charter Arms, have long been overshadowed by their more famous and flashier counterparts, the .45 Colt cartridge and S&W & Colt revolvers. Too, I’ve always been a fan of British Bulldog revolvers, whatever their caliber and have owned more than one at one time or another. Owned a Tarus, hammerless in .44 Special, once, never felt like it wasn’t enough gun for all occasions. Never owned a Charter Arms, but knew people who did. They seemed satisfied with their choice of weapon.

  17. I wonder if this is a good gun for the ladies. I’ve been looking for a revolver with a hammer as a house gun. It would not necessarily be a concealed or travel gun, just a gun that would be nearby when she sleeps.

    1. Ross,
      This gun kicks. If she can handle a .39 +P — and handle it well– then the Bulldog with the Critical Defense load will work.

      This gun needs an experienced shooter, overall.

  18. i use to own one of these in stainless with the rubber pachmeyer grips .I wish i had never sold it many times over now and would love to have it back i got mine when they were less than 250 bucks brand new and stainless the 44 special is an excellent self defense round it has a big 44 cal bullet moving slow but with enough energy to get the job done with 1 shot most times and is a great back up gun i wish i still had to back up my colt officers stainless 45 80 series in my ankle holster but i like the polish radom in 9×18 with buffalo bore hp’s i use to back it up now that is pretty much a walther ppk in most all aspects and i know it will fire 7 shots accurately very fast and will always work .Still regret every selling my 44 bulldog one i wish i could go back and rethink on before selling it.

  19. I have an early 4 inch target bulldog that I have used since 1978. It provides a lot of comfort for such a smaii package. I load it with Federal 200 gr LSWC-HP and have never felt undergunned. Anything it won’t handle probably requires a rifle!

    Merle

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