Monday, September 5, 2016

Charter Arms Bulldog .44 Special

The Original Charter Arms Bulldog
Dear Friends,

So, where do you start when talking about an excellent firearm, especially a fantastic firearm that is as efficient for its purpose as one can get? How about we first talk about the company the makes it and go from there.

Charter Arms is a firearms company that started in 1964. It was founded by gun designer Douglas McClenahan, who had previously worked for Colt, High Standard, and Sturm Ruger. His mission was to produce a quality handgun that was both reliable and affordable.

His first pistol was a .38 special, five-shot revolver called "The Undercover." And at just 16 ounces, the new gun was the smallest, lightest steel-framed revolver in the world with the fewest moving parts. A unique hammer block safety system gave gun owners what still is unparalleled protection against an unintentional discharge.

The Undercover's high quality, lightweight, and reasonable price impressed law enforcement professionals and civilian gun owners alike. It became the basis of Charter Arms' success. Its design was the platform on which Charter Arms produces its line of affordable and reliable firearms.

The Bulldog was a top-selling gun during the 1970s and 1980s in the United States. By the mid-1980s, more than half a million had been produced, and nearly 37,000 were being manufactured every year. But Charter Arms had to stop producing the Bulldog a few times since 1992.

That was the year that Charter Arms, the original Charter Arms, went bankrupt. And as with any business that tries to right itself and gets back on its feet because of financial problems, the Bulldog has been produced by four different companies since it was released.

The first descendant company of Charter Arms was called Charco. That company also filed bankruptcy, and the models produced during that time were said to be of less quality than when they were under the original Charter Arms. Then Charco became known as Charter 2000. And yes, that company also failed because of financial troubles.

But while Charter 2000 did fail, it should be noted that it did improve the Bulldog's design by engineering a one-piece barrel, front sight, ejector-shroud assembly. Then in June of 2007, a Bulldog with new features began to be produced by another company named Charter Arms operated by the Ecker Family.

Douglas McClenahan and his lifelong friend David Ecker became 50/50 partners in Charter Arms in 1967. And so today, the Ecker Family makes certain that Charter Arms revolvers are again produced with unquestionable American craftsmanship, quality, and affordability in a line that includes models made of stainless steel, with and without hammer spurs, and even with lasers, to name a few options. While the "Classic Bulldog" can be had with wood grips, I believe these days must come with rubber grips.

Charter Arms is today marketed by MKS Supply. As firearms marketers, MKS Supply is known for the quality of firearms they market, the services they provide, and the value they provide to the manufacturer. MKS Supply insists on marketing high-quality, reliable firearms as Charter Arms are, in fact, that. And yes, from what I've read about MKS Supply, they insist on guns that are easy to own and service. But most of all, they are known to insist on value.

By partnering with MKS Supply, Charter Arms has joined forces with a partner who has over two decades of gun marketing and merchandising experience. MKS Supply has established a proven, successful, nationwide distribution network that allows Charter Arms to concentrate on producing quality firearms while they focus on marketing. Yes, this sounds like a win-win situation which means Charter Arms can keep making the guns that we want.

Now, back to the Bulldog! 

The Charter Arms Bulldog is a 5-shot double-action revolver that was introduced in 1973. The Bulldog has been available in a .44 Special and even a .357 Magnum. But for me, I like the .44 Special. It is a boomer, and just the roar we make an assailant think twice.

Like most Charter Arms weapons, the Bulldog is still relatively inexpensive yet is a quality firearm what one would refer to as a "no-frills snub-nosed revolver." It can be easily concealed. Yes, very easily because of its relatively small size. And because it has a grove trench-style rear sight, it has no sharp edges to contend with when carrying the weapon in a holster or in a pocket, and there's nothing to snag on clothing either.

Its trigger pull, in both single and double-action modes, is pretty light. While there are some critics of the Bulldog because it's not a double-stacked Glock with 15 rounds, I believe that the Bulldog is great for self-defense. This is more true, especially when considering that usually no more than 3 shots are fired in a close combat situation. Which of course, most gunfights are just that.

As for the transfer bar, when the gun is fired, the hammer does not actually strike the firing pin. The transfer bar is raised as the trigger is pulled, placing it into a position between the firing pin and the hammer itself. The hammer strikes the transfer bar, which in turn strikes the firing pin, which discharges the weapon.

So if the trigger is not being pulled when the hammer falls, the transfer bar will not be in position, and the weapon will not discharge. And friends, that's why you can load all 5 rounds and not have to worry about leaving the hammer on an empty chamber as they used to have to do with Colt Peacemakers in the Old West. 

In the Old West, the hammer of a revolver of the time would be kept on an empty chamber so that it wouldn't fire accidentally when bumped or dropped. Wyatt Earp learned about that very thing. He actually experienced a dropped-gun accidental discharge, and it was reported in the January 12th, 1876 edition of the Wichita Beacon, which read: 

"Last Sunday night, while policeman Earp was sitting with two or three others in the back room of the Custom House Saloon, his revolver slipped from its holster and falling to the floor, the hammer which was resting on the cap is supposed to have struck the chair, causing a discharge of one of the barrels (sic). The ball passed through his coat, struck the north wall, then glanced off and passed out through the ceiling. It was a narrow escape, and the occurrence got up a lively stampede from the room. One of the demoralized was under the impression that someone had fired through the window from the outside."

With the transfer bar safety on the Charter Arms Bulldog, one never has to worry about carrying a live round under the hammer of your revolver. And by the way, Charter Arms was the first to come up with the transfer bar safety.

As for the accuracy of the Bulldog, I find that it is very accurate for a snub nose. I can hit center mass on a silhouette target at 30 feet with it. And frankly, I've been known to hit a beer can with it at 40 feet. So, all in all, I'm sure at the 3 feet to 7 feet that most defensive shooting is done, it will be very accurate to get the job done.

All Bulldog models have a cylinder of 5 shots. And because most ammunition for the Bulldog has a muzzle velocity between 705 and 1000 feet per second, it is a man stopper with almost any .44 Special ammunition. But for self-defense, I read where some like to use the Blazer 200-grain Gold Dot as a load choice for the Bulldog. The 200-grain load is potent and has strong penetration, and yet the recoil can easily be handled. 

Five models of the Bulldog have been produced with overall lengths of 7.2 inches and 6.7 inches with barrel lengths of either 2.5 inches or 2.2 inches.

So why choose a Charter Firearm Bulldog for self-defense?

Well, they are some of the smallest and lightest snub nose pistols around. But they are a one-piece frame. So that does make them stronger than screw-on side plate designs. Fewer critical moving parts for simplicity of design make for a trouble-free operation which we all want -- especially in an emergency situation.

There is also the positive of all the barrels at Charter Arms line of pistols are machined with eight groves instead of six for higher velocity, flatter trajectory, and better accuracy. All barrels shroud the ejector rod.

Of course, the completely blocked hammer safety system cannot fire unless the trigger is held in the full rear position. That makes it the safest revolver design in the world. In fact, Charter invented the hammer block transfer bar safety system used by almost every revolver manufacturer out there.

For me, I like the wide trigger and hammer spur. And of course, I really like the fact that Charter Arms are 100% American made, using 100% American parts, and the company is 100% American owned.

Since most threats take place at a range of 10 feet or less, you need an effective response. Charter firearms offer rugged, reliable, and affordable personal protection. And frankly, I can attest to its reliability and its durability.

There is no wonder why the .44 Bulldog is considered Charter Arms' trademark weapon. The Charter Arms Bulldog in .44 Special is known for its rugged reliability and stopping power. It is versatile in that it can be used for personal or home protection, camping and fishing, hiking, or atop a horse in the backcountry looking for cattle.

Now about my Bulldog! 

Yes, I own one. In fact, I've owned a Charter Arms Bulldog in .44 Special since 1979. Yes, almost 40 years now. It looks a lot like the one in the picture above with wooden grips. OK, so I'm really Old School. Oh well, you have to be who you are!

For me, my Bulldog has been a companion in the city and in the mountains, camping, out four-wheeling back in the day, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, out finding cattle, and even on road trips into some very unfriendly places. Heck, I even chased a bear off with my Bulldog.

When I bought mine, I was working in the security field, and I had just been asked to do bodyguard work. Yes, what today they call "executive protection" work. Most of the others who I worked with carried small 9mm pistols, and of course, small .38 snub-nose revolvers. Remember, that was 1979.

From what I hear today, those working "executive protection" are armed to the teeth -- all ready to face full-fledged fire-fights like what they see on television. While that might or might not be the case today, back then, we carried -- we only carried a couple of speedloaders or an extra two magazines to back up what we were packing just in case things did get crazy.

But all in all, we were simply not as armed as they are today. The idea back then was not to shoot it out and have a lot of gunplay where the person we're guarding might get hit. Our goal was to get our charge to safety, but that subject is for another day.

As for the company that hired me, they gave me a choice of using a few different service pistols that they had on hand or use one of my own. They offered me a Smith & Wesson Model 10 in .38 Special and a Model 28 in .357 magnum, aka the "Highway Patrolman" model.

While I loved both guns, I tried the Model 28 under a suit, and that big Smith & Wesson stuck out like a sore thumb. As for the S&W Model 10, I gave that great pistol a lot of thought since I've been familiar with it for many years.

I knew the S&W Model 10 Military & Police revolver had been around for a very long time, since 1898, and it is known for its simplicity and reliability. But frankly, I wanted something with more punch than a .38 Special.

As for my personal handgun at the time, I only had my .45 Colt Series 70. Yes, that's my 1911 that has been my never-fail handgun. That is the weapon that I was going to go with. And since I had received extensive training with a 1911 in the Marine Corps, I've always felt extremely confident in its reliability and knowing how to use it.

Friends, allow me to sidetrack for one moment and say that that's a big deal when carrying a weapon of any sort. Whether your choice is a Glock, a PPK, an MP Shield, a Ruger, a Berretta, a 1911 from various makers, a S&W Bodyguard, a Charter Arms Bulldog, or some other pistol, being familiar with your weapon means you will be more confident in knowing how to use it during an emergency. And frankly, familiarity with your choice is of the utmost importance at the moment you need it.

That sort of familiarity only comes with shooting your weapon a lot. If it's a semi-auto, then shooting it a lot will help you know how to transition magazines and load on the fly and resolve jams if that does occur. If shooting a revolver, shooting it a lot will help you learn to load and unload easier, use speedloaders easier, transitioning between an empty chamber and being hot again, and even manage trigger pull. And all of the familiarization comes with training and spending time on the range shooting your weapon of choice.

As for how I got my Bulldog? I was about to opt for using my 1911 when a friend told me about a smaller, easier to conceal revolver used by the U.S. Federal Air Marshals at the time. Yes, that was the Charter Arms Bulldog in .44 Special.

My friend told me about how he used the Charter Arms Bulldog in .44 special on duty before leaving the agency as a former Federal Air Marshal. He talked about its stopping power and the fact that it was extremely lightweight. So since I was contemplating using my 1911 at that point, something smaller and lighter without sacrificing knock-down power was something that I was interested in.

I soon contacted a friend who owned a gun store, and he allowed me to test-fire a Bulldog in .44 Special for myself. To be fair, another friend wanted me to look into getting a Colt Python for the job, and I found it to be as bulky as the Model 28. And yes, I did look into getting a S&W Model 13 in .375 Magnum.

Now let me just say that I was amazed at how light the Bulldog was compared to a S&W Model 36 Chief's Special snub, a Colt Detective Special snub, or, say, a S&W Model 13 is one of my favorite pistols ever made. I was genuinely surprised that even with the bigger .44 Special rounds loaded in the Bulldog, just how remarkably light it was compared to those great guns that I compared it to. In those days, quite a few bodyguards carried snubs like the S&W Model 36 Chief's Special and Colt's Detective Special.

After checking out its ballistics, its stopping power, and then actually shooting it there at my friend's gun store, I was so impressed with the way it handled that I bought it right then and there. It was a buy that I've never regretted. For me, I would trust my life to my Bulldog. And friends, that's saying a lot!

I'm sure you can hear my enthusiasm regarding the Bulldog. And frankly, it's all for a good reason. Friends, a .44 Special in a pistol with only a 2.5" barrel makes the Bulldog one of the largest caliber small revolvers for safe, reliable, effective concealed carry. I don't know of a small package that carries that much punch as the Bulldog when it comes to being a man stopper. And frankly, that's why I won't sell mine.

Yes, that's just the way I see it.

Tom Correa


  1. I own a 44 spl. bulldog. while shooting at the range my trigger guard came apart, right behind the trigger. I am having a hard time finding out if a 38 trigger guard is one in the same as 44 spl. the reason for the question is they are selling many 38 trigger guards on E-bay. the trigger guard has two pins. the one nearest the trigger most have fallen out, while I was shooting, causing it to break.

  2. Great article. I would like find one.

  3. Charter Arms, you folks are guaranteed a stay around my home. A 38 special, a .44 special or..... .41 magnum. Never leave home without one.

  4. There is something special about relatively compact big bore revolvers. It's sad there aren't more companies marketing small-medium frame big bores, but at least we still have the classic Bulldog from Charter Arms.

  5. 30, 2021 at 8:17 AM

    Admired the Bulldog for years and a couple of months after getting my CCL in 2016, stumbled on a dealer who had two brand new Bulldogs for $325 apiece. I purchased one and my brother purchased the other and neither one of us has regretted it. It is my EDC 98% of the time with 2 speedloaders on my hip. Sometimes it's in a holster at 3 o/clock, but most times in a pocket holster. Hardly know it's there. Great article. Keep safe and hope and pray that 2022 is better than 2021.

  6. I have used .45 1911s and have 3 .357 snubbies and like them. A few years ago I looked into .44 Special and really liked them. I proceeded to then get 3 “Bulldog” types (3” barrels, 5 shot compact .44 revolvers). I got a Taurus 431, a S&W969 and a CA Bulldog. They are all great but the CA Bulldog is the lightest, smallest and easiest to carry. In a world of plastic autos, I trust my life to the .44 Special.

  7. David Berkowitz, AKA The Son Of Sam, used a Charter Arms Bulldog to hunt down his victims in New York in 1977 so no wonder the gun is so popular. If I found out that the very gun I was gonna buy from a gun show looked like the one he used, it would haunt me for the rest of my life. But I do love classic revolvers and would definitely buy this one if I had the money. What a beauty!


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