Wednesday, September 19, 2012

MArooned Product Review: Charter Arms Bulldog

When the good folks at Charter Arms sent me the Undercover that I reviewed a few weeks ago, they also sent along one of their big bore revolvers, the Bulldog:

The Charter Arms Bulldog is a five shot, 2.5" barrel .44 Special revolver. It's got an steel frame, brushed stainless finish, rubber grips, and weighs 21 ounces - about as much as a sub-compact 9mm. Instead of offering 10 - 12 rounds of 9mm, though, it has five rounds of .44 Special, a round that's been around since 1907 - a relative newcomer compared to 45 ACP (1902) or 9mm (1904). And yeah, to get it out of the way, the Bulldog gained notoriety in the 1970s when one was used by the Son of Sam killer to murder his victims.

While pocket .45s have lessened the overall allure of a big bore pocket (kinda) revolver, I've been a fan of the .44 Special round for a long time. I had a Taurus model 431 as the second gun I ever bought, and carried it intermittently for a few years as a winter carry gun. Five rounds of even a moderate .44 Special round are nothing to brush off, and looking down the cavernous barrel - and seeing the silvertips at the ready - is a deterrent factor all its own.

Or so I thought when I bought it, mind you. Over time, the heft (the 431 was larger than the Bulldog and certainly heavier) of the gun and the cost of shooting it (even before ammo prices went through the roof, .44 Special was routinely north of $20 for a box of 50 rounds) had me shelve the big Taurus. After a few years of languishing at the bottom of the gun safe, I sold it to fund other purchases, but always held a special place in my safe for another big bore snubbie.

Enter the Bulldog.

Charter's Bulldog is arguably their most famous (some would say infamous) firearm, and with good reason. There are only a handful of companies that make revolvers any more, and even fewer out of that group make something in .44 Special. Taurus offers a handful of revolvers in .44 Special; neither Smith & Wesson nor Ruger list any. The Bulldog stands alone as an American made .44 Special revolver.

The size of the Bulldog puts it somewhere between a Smith & Wesson J-frame and a K-frame, meaning it's a compact(ish) size a little too large for pocket carry but a decent size for IWB carry. It will fit into holsters designed for the K- or L- frames:

I wouldn't rely on any of these holsters providing a lot of retention, though. While the Bulldog is close in size to the guns after which those holsters are modeled, there is still a slight bit of wiggle - certainly not a knock on either the holsters or the Bulldog, just stressing the importance of matching the holster to the gun. Either Dennis or Michael could certainly craft a custom holster that would fit the Bulldog perfectly.

I carried the Bulldog a few times; it's smaller than the S&W model 242ti which I have carried frequently, so it's a good size for a carry revolver; even more impressive in a big bore as opposed to a six- or seven- shot .38 Special. On a personal level, I'd rather carry the smaller J-frame Snubbie from Hell™ with the 125 grain .357 Magnum screamers, but the Bulldog is a lot easier on the hands to shoot. Which, naturally, leads to a discussion of...

Shooting the Bulldog.

Shooting the Bulldog was a lot more painful than I thought it would be - insofar as finding and paying for .44 Special ammo. It hasn't gotten any cheaper since I divested of the Taurus, and has gotten a great deal more rare. The local gun shop had exactly 40 rounds in inventory when I went to pick the Bulldog up, and hasn't had any in stock since. I was able to scrounge another 150 rounds, so the test firing consisted of nearly 200 rounds only. The only issue noticed in all of the shooting was removing all the spent casings - the ejector is shorter than the cylinder, so if you don't pop it just right they don't all come out. This is very common and has happened with every short-barreled revolver that I own.

Even though the revolver only weighs 21 ounces, recoil is supremely manageable. .44 Special is no slouch in the velocity department - 165 grain Corbon rounds routinely clock upwards of 1100 - 1200 FPS. One thing that I did notice, while firing the Bulldog at my club's indoor range, was that there's an impressive fireball that comes out of that 2½" barrel under lower light conditions. It wasn't blinding or "donut of death" like, but it was something to be aware of. The trigger pull is long in double action and still somewhat long in single action, but is clean and uniform throughout.

Accuracy was surprising, given the short barrel, low weight, and long trigger pull:

This is a representative target shot double action at 25 feet. With the exception of one flier (caused by a nasty flinch on the last of 10 rounds), everything's well within the grey area. Followup shots are easy to make; recoil is noticeable but easy to handle; keeping the gun on target is simple and straightforward. The weight to recoil ratio on the Bulldog is excellent - while it's light enough to carry, it's not so light that shooting it is painful.


For a big bore, lightweight, small-to-medium frame revolver, it shoots and carries well. The finish is spartan, meaning that it's no BBQ gun - but it's not intended to be such. With an MSRP of $426, it's an inexpensive - but not cheap - alternative to the .38 Specials in relative abundance. I found the Bulldog to be decent to shoot (albeit pricey!), more accurate than I am, and rock-solid reliable. It's got a kick and a muzzle flash, and that's what I like about it.

You could say this is one Bulldog whose bark is almost as impressive as its bite.

That is all.


Bubblehead Les. said...

Historical Footnote: It's my understanding that, when the first Air Marshals came into being during the late '60s/early 70s, that the Bulldog was the weapon of choice because it wouldn't "Over Penetrate."

But I think that Charter Arms (like many Gun Companies) has some "Institutional Inertia." You know, they've been making the same thing over and over, in spite of the fact that there is a diminishing market for the product. I can't recall the last time I saw .44 Special Ammo outside of a Gun Show.

Now, IMHO, if Charter Arms would just stretch the Frame of the Bulldog a bit, make it DAO with a Concealed Hammer, and make it into .45 Long Colt (which is MUCH more readily available because of Taurus), I'd think that would be a great Deep Woods/Winter Parka Gun.

Oh, BTW, I'll send you some pictures of Stretch's MHI Revolver in Action from the Shoot this Weekend.

Laura said...

Michael already has a holster available for the Bulldog. Looks nice, has fantastic retention. Chris has a lot more to say about it in that link. :)

Ed said...

Do you really want to move 165gr. at 1100-1200fps? Get yourself a .40S&W SIG P229. Winchester rates their Ranger Bonded JHP (LE equivalent of their PDX1, but at a price of $32 per box of 50 instead of $22 per box of 20 for the PDX1) 165gr. load at 1140 fps and 476 ft-lbs muzzle energy from a 4" test barrel. That P229 not concealable enough for you? Get a shortened frame SIG P224. The P224 will hold 10+1 rounds with the ability to use the P229's 12 round magazines and the P226's 15 round magazines.

Try reloading that Bulldog quickly while someone is trying to seriously hurt you and your life depended on it, not a sunny day at the range, even with speedloaders or speedstrips. I would much rather carry the P224 with 11 rounds and two spare magazines of 10, 12 or 15 rounds each.

Think that the double stack magazines of the P229 and P224 are too thick for you? Get a single stack SIG P239, and get the +1 adapters for the standard 7 round magazines. 8 or 9 rounds in the pistol ready to go (use the standard magazine to carry as it is a fraction of an inch shorter) and 8 rounds each in the spare magazines.

Each of these choices is better than the Bulldog and more concealable.

Laura said...

I think Ed just missed the point of the Bulldog. :P

Anonymous said...

I own a Bulldog and with ammo as expensive as it is I bought some new brass from Starline. The first batch I loaded standard with 240gr LFN bullets. I almost lost an eyebrow firing those. I finally settled on 200gr JHP and the recoil is more reasonable but still much more than a 1911. This is one of those that Tam calls "brisk but manageable". I love shooting it because it looks mean and draws notice at the range. I wouldn't want to stare down the wrong end of it.


Ed said...

The point I am making is that there are substantial reasons why demand has greatly diminished for .44 Special snub nosed revolvers and the ammunition for them. The need is now met by more concealable, higher capacity, faster and easier to reliably reload semi-automatic pistols that somehow still manage to generate a big "BOOM!!!" at the range to impress your friends while delivering a 165gr. projectile downrange at 1100-1200 fps.

Firing .40 S&W Fiocchi Extrema XTP JHP rounds through a SIG P239 at an indoor range, the shooters of a 12 ga. shotgun in an adjacent lane thought that I was also shooting a shotgun. The Speer Gold Dots that I fired afterwards did not make as much noise and flash, but are probably more effective for their intended use yet less impressive to the bystander. The 165 gr. GDHP round is rated at 1150 fps and 485 ft-lbs of muzzle energy from a 4" test barrel.

If customers still demanded short barreled .44 Special revolvers and the ammunition to feed them, manufacturers would gladly produce more to meet that need and dealers would spend the money to briefly stock them on their shelves, selling out as fast they could be delivered. Ain't happenin', and nostalgia won't change that. There is a reason why the M1911 pistol was adopted by the Army replacing the revolver back in 1911.

On the other hand, Florida wild hog hunters justifiably love long barreled .44 Magnum revolvers, so they are still in demand, new and used. The .44 Special 200gr. GDHP is rated at 875 fps muzzle velocity and 340 ft-lbs of muzzle energy. The .44 Mag 240gr. GDHP is rated at 1400 fps muzzle velocity and 1044 ft-lbs of muzzle energy. Florida, like most states, does not restrict Internet ammunition sales, so as long as someone in the continental U.S.A. has a low demand ammunition load in stock, UPS will deliver in a few days. Massachusetts could have the same system, but you really do need to work with the Legislature on that and other related issues. Beacon Hill does have the bad habit of working hard to keep the "fun" in dysfunctional. Be safe despite them.

Anonymous said...

Jay, FYI: Ruger does offer a couple versions of their medium-framed Flattop Blackhawk single-action sixgun in .44 Special as a catalog item (I have two of them).

--Wes S.

william niles said...

I have owned many different handguns over the past 35 years (S&W, Sigs, Berretta, Ruger, Glock, and Charter Arms. I have owned a total of 7 different Bulldogs, both stock and custom, and I have never had a malfunction with any of them. The bottom line is getting that first shot off quickly and on target. Getting hit with one or more 44 specials is comparable to 45 acp ballistics. Nothing to slouch at, especially with revolver-type reliability. Like I said, getting that first shot off and accurately, up close and personal, is the most important factor in self defense.

william d. niles said...

In addition to my aforementioned comment, the most important aspect of self defense with a firearm is the users mindset, familiarity with his firearm, training/skill, and tactics. As long as you have an adequate level of these then it doesn't matter if you're carrying a revolver or semi-auto pistol. They both shoot bullets. As long as you do your job, the end result will be the same.

Unknown said...

You must be a bad shot or have lots of people as enemies. 5 shots is plenty to protect my family. I don't want stray bullets flying around. My bullets hit their targets.