December 24, 2013

Charter Arms Bulldog No. 14420 44 Special

Gun Tests Magazine recently reviewed the Charter Arms Bulldog. Here's what they said:

Many of us like to carry a 38 or 357 snubbie in the pocket as a backup to a larger gun. They’re not a bad selection either, with good loads, some of which (specifically, Buffalo Bore) put out 158-grain bullets at 1000 fps. However, some of us prefer bigger, heavier bullets for self-protection, and for that purpose, enter the Charter Arms Bulldog. For years that model was the only viable small 44 Special, but since the advent of the Bulldog around 1973, S&W came out with a similar five-shot revolver called the Model 296, now dropped from production. The Charter Arms website (CharterArms.com) today lists 11 varieties of the 44 Special Bulldog, as well as many other revolvers in 22 LR and 22 Mag., 32 H&R, 38 Spl., 357 Mag, a delightful rimless revolver in 40 S&W that doesn’t need moon clips, and the 44 Specials. For this test we chose the model 14420 standard Bulldog with 2.5-inch barrel and matte-blue finish (MSRP $414).

It is a five-shot conventional revolver, with both SA and DA modes. The gun had excellent DA and SA pulls, which was something of a surprise to our test crew. It had rubber grips and external hammers and shrouded ejector rods. The frame on the Charter was blackened stainless. In light of our recent experiments with firelapping, we measured the gun inside and out and found some surprises and mistakes that were borne out on the targets.

Because it was difficult to obtain factory-loaded 44 Special ammo, we tested with three handloads and three factory loads, one of which showed up on the UPS truck just as we were concluding our chronographing. The handloads were five grains of Bullseye behind a 250-grain Mt. Baldy (MtBaldyBullets.com) cast Keith bullet, the same powder behind a 240-grain Speer JHP, 7.5 grains of Unique behind the Keith bullet, Black Hills cowboy loads with a 210-grain cast RNFP bullet, Remington 246-grain lead RN, and the late-comer, Speer 200-grain Gold Dot Hollow Points. Here’s what we found.

Charter Arms Bulldog Model 14420 44 Special, $414

This is the latest version of the popular Charter Bulldog. It was evenly finished in matte black, with black-rubber finger-groove grips that fit our hands well. We thought the overall workmanship was very good, with no visible problems anywhere. There were some little touches that we appreciated, like the beveled front edge of the cylinder and the rounded chin of the barrel shroud, and also the angled-rearward front edge of the front sight, all of which make holstering easier and less damaging to a holster — or your pocket if that’s how you carry it. Another touch was the beveled crown that makes the hole in the front of the barrel look that much bigger.

With no embellishments, and none needed, the Charter Arms Bulldog was Gun Tests' pick. They liked its tight lockup, slim grip, flat-black finish, and its performance. They'd like even smaller grips for concealment, but fatter ones for heavy loads.

The gun felt a touch on the just-finished side in that all the movements were slightly scratchy, waiting for a little use to smooth them up. We anointed the gun (both guns, actually) with some NanoLube with its tiny round diamonds and worked this in until the gun was smoother. This will happen naturally with normal wear, but we wanted to speed the process. We noted the lockup was dead tight with the hammer and trigger in the firing positions. This beat the Taurus badly, as we found out later.

The Charter website claims there are three lockup points, with an arrow pointing to the front end of the ejector rod. But there is no lock there, just the security of the shroud. (The first iteration of the Bulldog didn’t have a shroud.) However, the lockup was mighty tight with the back of the cylinder secured by the axis pin slipping into a hole in the frame, and the ejector sleeve slipping into a notch in the crane just below the rear of the barrel.

We thought the sight picture was excellent. The front sight is a serrated steel ramp, integral with the steel barrel, and it’s devoid of any red or gold inserts. The rear sight was cut into the frame and was wide and deep enough to give good, fast sighting, far superior to what was on the Taurus. The recessed rear of the rear sight caused it to be in the shadow in most light, which greatly increased the clarity of the sight picture. Those wanting a red front sight can resort to the old standard of nail polish, or if skilled, cut a notch and solder in a brass insert.

The chambers were well polished, but the button-rifled barrel appeared to be quite rough. This gun appeared to be a grand candidate for firelapping, we thought, especially after we saw how our cast-bullet handloads leaded the barrel. That led us to do some measuring. We found the barrel diameter to be 0.4305 inch, with a tight spot at the rifling. The cylinder throats were 0.453, suitably larger than the groove diameter. After most of our accuracy testing we did some modest firelapping, 50 rounds using both NECO and Beartooth products, and succeeded in reducing the tightness at the threads and giving the barrel a great shine that made lead removal much easier. Rechecking most of the ammo previously tried indicated distinct grouping improvement in all cases. For example, the reported average with our 240-grain JHP handload is 3.2 inches. Post-lap groups averaged 2.1 inches. With the Black Hills cowboy loads, average groups went from 2.4 to 2.0 inches. With Speer’s Gold Dot load, they dropped from 3.3 to 2.5 inches. Our reward for our firelap efforts was so good we decided we’ll continue the process at a later date to remove all traces of tightness at the thread area.

The Charter Bulldog with a set of original wood grips Gun Tests bought on eBay gives a small profile that's ideal for concealment or easiest pocketing. There's a version of the Bulldog without the hammer spur that makes this comparison even closer. The 2.5-inch barrel on the Charter makes it a bit bigger than the 38 Airweight, and it does weigh a bit more, particularly with heavy bullets, but it's their first choice for a backup gun. Downside: Recoil with those wood grips and the heaviest handload was horrendous.

The trigger pulls were very good, we thought. The DA pull was smooth and took about 12 pounds. The SA pull was a delight at 3.8 pounds clean. We repaired to the range and began with our jacketed-bullet handload, to maybe slick up the bore a bit. To our consternation, each succeeding group was worse than the last, beginning at 2.5 inches and getting larger from there. We don’t know why this happened, but it went away after the fire lapping process. We switched to our light Keith-bullet load, and our first group was 1 inch for five shots. But the somewhat rough barrel leaded, and the groups got worse. Next was the Black Hills cowboy load, which averaged 2.4 inches, though it struck 4 inches low and 2 inches left. We shot the Speer Gold Dot load, and it struck 5 inches low and gave groups of around 3 inches. Finally, we tried the soft-lead Remington roundnose load of 246 grains, and to our wonder, they went into 1.8 inches. Another group stunned us by making a one-hole cluster that measured 0.7 for five shots, this from a barrel we had not cleaned other than to shoot some jacketed bullets. We would have bet the soft-lead RN bullets would have caked the bore, but it was completely clean. Clearly the Charter will shoot with loads that suit it.

The big disappointment was that all these loads developed only 620 to 675 fps, the latter for the Speer Gold Dot hollowpoints. We doubt even the huge cavity of the 200-grain Gold Dots would open at that speed. We fired the Speer Gold Dot load through a 4-inch barrel and got only 695 fps. In desperation we developed our own personal carry load, which uses 7.5 grains of Unique with the 250-grain cast Keith bullet — which does not need to expand — and it came out of the Bulldog at a whopping 870 fps. This load gave us 3-inch groups on average. We fired that load after all the other testing and after our modest firelapping. Slight leading was still there, but we were not too concerned because this batch of bullets was on the soft side. However, leading or not, for self defense we prefer this load over any of the others tried. Be advised, this load is not for those shooters unaccustomed to significant recoil. All the other test loads gave only modest recoil, we thought. We don’t like to use handloads for self defense, but in lieu of anything better we’d choose our handload over any of the other loads tested. Buffalo Bore makes an interesting cast “wadcutter” load for self defense, and it might be another good full-power option to carry in the Bulldog.

The Charter's hammer had only crosswise serrations, but Gun Tests found them to be entirely adequate. The Bulldog was as easy to cock as the Taurus, the test evaluators said.

The kicker, so to speak, was the Bulldog’s narrow rubber grip tended to twist in our hand from recoil of our heavy handload. The cure will be to get a set of Pachmayr Compac grips, which are fatter but smaller, and we suspect they will be best for this gun. Another good grip replacement would be to get a set of the original wood grips, commonly found on eBay. These do nothing to cut recoil, but do give the gun its smallest and slickest size for better concealment in the pocket. By the way, the trigger guard and grip frame are an aluminum alloy. There is not much need for the strength of steel in those places, and the light metal helps keep the gun’s weight to just 19.6 ounces empty. Shooting our heavy handload made the twisting gun jam our trigger finger into the sharp inner edge of the trigger guard, so we took a file to it, and now it needs a touch of black paint.

Our Team Said: We like the Charter a lot. With our heavy handload it vastly outshines any and all 38 Special or 357 Magnum loads for self-defense use, in our opinion. We don’t recommend shooting heavy loads in this gun all the time, because good practice can be obtained and the gun will surely last longer with lighter target loads. The full load can be reserved for serious carry purposes and will thus do the gun the least long-term damage. With a change of grips and more barrel polishing, this Bulldog will become the backup gun for one of our staff. Much as we liked it, little things nagged at us. There was nothing at all serious, just cosmetic. We found some spots devoid of finish on the recoil shield, and the ejector rod began to unscrew after 20 shots. The slight initial operating roughness would have put a few people off, but we thought it was acceptable. The barrel was not the finest inside, but then, this is not designed as a target pistol. We would have liked a slicker barrel, but that would run the cost up.

Comments (30)

I bought one of the new models 3 or 4 years ago. After loading it the cylinder wouldn't close so I had to send it back to Charter and get the chambers counter bored. It fired well after that with reasonable accuracy at 25 yards. After recovering one of the rounds from soft sand I noticed the striations had uneven depths and on one side of the bullet they were barely there. But, I bought it to stop an attacker at close range and I can promise all it will do just that.

Posted by: Joe Dan | January 8, 2014 2:00 PM    Report this comment

I've had the Bulldog since 1975, shot almost a thousand rounds thru it, most factory loads, or Rem Rnd nose. The gun has been used for a self-protection since it was purchased. Would be a great carry gun. I did use for a back-up when hunting Elk and Deer in WY every year for over 20+. I used it twice to dispatch wounded deer. But, whats the challenge of shooting a animal laying wounded on the ground between the eyes. I did kill 3 home grown steers, before they were butchered. All instances were one shot, between the eyes. No big deal, but always felt if faced in a defensive issue, I was more that guaranteed protection with one of two shots max. I have used it as the canceled pistol for the 5 years. It's light, the older model, and plenty of power.

Posted by: csanders41 | January 2, 2014 9:38 AM    Report this comment

I've had the Bulldog since 1975, shot almost a thousand rounds thru it, most factory loads, or Rem Rnd nose. The gun has been used for a self-protection since it was purchased. Would be a great carry gun. I did use for a back-up when hunting Elk and Deer in WY every year for over 20+. I used it twice to dispatch wounded deer. But, whats the challenge of shooting a animal laying wounded on the ground between the eyes. I did kill 3 home grown steers, before they were butchered. All instances were one shot, between the eyes. No big deal, but always felt if faced in a defensive issue, I was more that guaranteed protection with one of two shots max. I have used it as the canceled pistol for the 5 years. It's light, the older model, and plenty of power.

Posted by: csanders41 | January 2, 2014 9:38 AM    Report this comment

Well.....As the year 2013 draws to a close in only three days, when I look back over the comments made last March, I can't think of anything new to say, or anything I might say to change what I said back in March. Oh, yeah.....There is a change.....I took the Tarus M455 out of the car and put it on the mandrel of my bed frame. I replaced the M455 in the console with a Taurus PT 24/7 Pro in .45 ACP. I retired the Charter .44 Bulldog to one of my safes, since it still has some trigger hang-ups.

Posted by: canovack | December 28, 2013 7:09 PM    Report this comment

The actions of Charter revolvers have often seemed a bit "gritty" to me. With use, after several boxes of ammo, that gritty feeling trigger does smoothen out. On occasion, that gritty trigger has been known to hang up in the rearward position, so it pays to shoot the gun alot, in order to smooth things out. It also is wise to develop a set of emergency actions to be taken should the trigger hang up at an inopportune time.....like in a gunfight.

Posted by: canovack | March 6, 2013 11:23 AM    Report this comment

Great revolver at least the early ones are. I have one of the early ones and it is of first rate quality. Don't know about the new ones but know that Charter Arms has had "issues" over the years.

Posted by: kerazy1 | March 6, 2013 11:00 AM    Report this comment

Bought one in 2007, Had problems with screws and things coming loose but a little dab of silicone sealer cured that. It is always in my right front pocket. Not the best for a fast draw but it always there if I need it.

Posted by: nmgene | January 31, 2013 10:07 PM    Report this comment

I carried on of these as my check cashing policy in my computer store in Alaska. Gun never failed me and I didn't get many bad checks.

Posted by: Benwizard | January 10, 2013 11:54 AM    Report this comment

There's nothing wrong with a .40 S&W that a .45 ACP can't cure..... Now, having said that, I do own a couple of .40 S&W pieces.....compared to several in 9x19mm, .357 SIG, and .45 ACP, along with a number of revolvers in .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, .45 ACP, and .45 Colt. I am presently having a torrid love affair with pieces in .357 SIG, but I have, on occasion, carried .40s and .45s. It's really, pretty much, a matter of personal choice.

The Taurus Judge is a nice piece, and I always have one in my Jeep. In my opinion, though, the S&W Governor is a superior piece, since it is a six-shooter that handles .45 Colt, .45 ACP, and .410 shot-shells. If you handle one, you may not be able to put it down. I really love mine. Also, I have a S&W M325 Nightguard revolver in .45 ACP, and it is one hell of a nice piece. It is on the large N frame, but it is light and a joy to carry.

Posted by: canovack | January 7, 2013 5:48 PM    Report this comment

Canovak, thanks for the info. Unfortunately when I went to the Taurus website, they have stopped carrying the M455, and only have their 45's in the Judge models. I guess I missed my chance to get one. On the other hand, the .40 S&W is a pretty potent round, maybe surpassing the 44 spec.

Posted by: Tubatoad | January 7, 2013 4:35 PM    Report this comment

Tubatoad, I can't say with any certainty that Charter will come out with a revolver in .45 ACP. I asked them about it several years ago, and they basically told me it wasn't in the cards. Perhaps with new management, they might be swayed. Now, with all of that said, Taurus does make a five shot revolver chambered .45 ACP. I have one, and it fits very nicely in the console between the seats of one of my cars. It came with five-shot moon clips, and it is very easy to shoot with the proprietary "Ribber" grips that Taurus puts on some of their medium frame revolvers. It goes under the model number M455, and it is a very impressive piece when viewed from the business end.

Posted by: canovack | January 6, 2013 7:41 PM    Report this comment

Back in 1977 I gave my future wife a charter 38 w/3 inch barrel when she took a job in Atlanta. It came with the short "bulldog" grips, and I put pachymars on it. Good gun, well finished and shot well. The screw the hammer pivoted on tended to unscrew as it was shot, but just tightened it up every 50 rounds and it was fine. SWMBO later traded it in for a 1911, which was and is still her favorite handgun. The Charter fit the glove box of her Bug, legal then in GA. I'm waiting on Charter to make it in 45 ACP, like the .40 S&W they recently came out with.

Posted by: Tubatoad | January 6, 2013 7:02 PM    Report this comment

Well, yeah....Any and all of those general types of holsters only do the job half way. My box of holsters came to be, due to trading off handguns and keeping the holsters, figuring that I might find a use for them in the future.....and that has paid off, although I do continue to have a box of unused holsters, some of which will likely never be used again.....

Posted by: canovack | January 6, 2013 4:16 PM    Report this comment

canovack - that's what happened to me with the Bulldog. A "Summer Special" I'd gotten for my SP-101 also fit it, a touch tightly but it fit. Not a great fan of so-called 'universal' or one-size-fits-several holsters(mainly ballistic nylon) but they have a place once in a while.

Posted by: Tower gunner | January 6, 2013 3:58 PM    Report this comment

I know what you mean about holsters, Tower gunner. Sometimes we get a holster that we think will do the job, only to find something better, further down the line. I'd guess that's how a lot of us, who have been in this for quite a while, have drawers and/or boxes full of holsters. One thing about having all of those holsters, though.....Recently, I have found that after purchasing new handguns, I can often look through my holster box and find one that works quite well for each new acquisition, almost like it was just waiting for that new piece to come along.....:-)

Posted by: canovack | January 6, 2013 10:53 AM    Report this comment

Ebay dont sell firerarms, that been there policy for years now.

Posted by: drpepper | January 6, 2013 8:09 AM    Report this comment

CT dave: Can't really claim it & I don't remember where I heard it but it fits. The old 21 ft rule(perp w/knife rule has been expanded by my dept. to 35 ft as studies have shown that it was too close a distance when facing a knife. So I try to practice at 50 ft figuring anything closer I should hit reasonably well....that's how I define M-o-P! Luckily we're not restricted as to what we carry off-duty. The Bulldog doesn't seem any harder to conceal than any of my other carry pieces (I am a big guy, tho) but finding several holsters for different carry methods for it took time.

Posted by: Tower gunner | January 5, 2013 10:48 PM    Report this comment

LOL! 'minute of perp' - I like that expression, but you should probably copyright or trademark it, Tower gunner.

Posted by: CT dave | January 5, 2013 8:21 AM    Report this comment

Bought one this Spring as I'd always wanted one since they first came out originally(and it was on sale!). Had a problem with the hammer not hitting the firing pin initially but the dealer fixed it and it's rapidly becoming my primary off-duty weapon rather than the secondary. My Department issue is a Glock, but I was able to dig up our old revolver Qual course and maxed it with the .44 Spl. Not bad for a short barrel, fixed sights and a 61 yo trigger-puller with glasses. I'm using the CorBon 165gr JHP for carry with a 200gr lead RN 'Cowboy' load for practice. So far, it shoots minute-of-perp. Paired with a couple speedloaders in my pocket, it's good enough for me.

Posted by: Tower gunner | January 5, 2013 1:02 AM    Report this comment

Brakpanman, all subscribers are welcome to comment in this forum. Some of us have been at it for several years, and we never tire of sharing our experiences and opinions, so anything you might add or questions you might have will be welcome.....

Posted by: canovack | January 4, 2013 7:27 PM    Report this comment

I bought a stainless bulldog 2.5" spurless about 2 yrs. ago. I had thought about getting one occasionally for about 40 yrs. I liked everything you mentioned about the gun,except the rubber grips were too short for my hand. I bought a Wolf spring several boxes of ammo ect. When I first fired it I remarked that it had very little recoil. Then I noticed the yellow -orange flash between the cylinder and barrel. Long story short ,it had about .20 to .024 clearance. Dealer sent it back and was told that gun met specs! He called Charter and the owner said no one could measure the gap because of the final lockup coming when the trigger was cocked in.D/A.( All you had to do was have someone hold trigger in lockup up position) However he sent a replacement gun that he claimed to have personally checked. It had an exposed hammer and around .013 clearance . All these measurements were confirmed by 2 gunsmiths. I believe this probably the cause of low velocity and maybe the bad grouping some loads. The dealer refunded my money and stopped selling Charter Arms. A shame, I really liked the gun, but the owner has had issues for years. Thanks

Posted by: chuckee p | January 3, 2013 4:55 PM    Report this comment

Been carring one of these for several years. Put pac's on mine. gave daughter 38 for christmas.one of best revolvers out there

Posted by: Gilbert B | January 3, 2013 1:16 PM    Report this comment

Man.....Talk about run-on sentences!.....

Posted by: canovack | January 3, 2013 11:38 AM    Report this comment

I have had several of the old model Bulldogs, and I still have one, with which I will never part. It is rock solid, and five rounds of .44 Special speak with some pretty convincing authority. It has a permanent home on a mandrel that is attached to my bed-frame, and underneath the dust ruffle, it is invisible, but always there as a last ditch defensive piece should I be unable get out of bed in time to retrieve one of my other pieces that are close by in the bedroom, should the need arise.

Posted by: canovack | January 3, 2013 11:37 AM    Report this comment

Installed larger fatter grips, nice!!

Posted by: megabob | January 3, 2013 11:26 AM    Report this comment

Excellent pistol, for the buck. Carry everyday.

Posted by: megabob | January 3, 2013 11:24 AM    Report this comment

I had one if the early ones. In a moment of insanity, I let a friend talk me into selling it to him. I have regretted that since. I loved the gun. Absolutely no problems with it. Also, it shot as well, or better than any of my other big name revolvers. (And I have MANY!) Nowadays, I never sell any of my personal firearms. I do think I will get another Bulldog. I hope it is as good.

Posted by: Ridge Runner | January 3, 2013 10:42 AM    Report this comment

Too bad you got a rough bore. I have two of these, one of the early small gripped steel guns and a late model stainless like the test report, but with afermarket wood combat grips. Want real confidence building C. C. performance? Go to the Glaser Safety Slugs in either Blue or silver point. Fantastic.

Posted by: J J | January 3, 2013 10:07 AM    Report this comment

Too bad you got a rough bore. I have two of these, one of the early small gripped steel guns and a late model stainless like the test report, but with afermarket wood combat grips. Want real confidence building C. C. performance? Go to the Glaser Safety Slugs in either Blue or silver point. Fantastic.

Posted by: J J | January 3, 2013 9:51 AM    Report this comment

Do any of you have experience with the .44 Special in practical use? I'd like to hear about it.

Posted by: CT dave | January 3, 2013 9:29 AM    Report this comment

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