Charter Arms Pitbull 9mm No. 79920 9mm Luger, $465
We tested two 9mm and two 38 Special handguns in the March 2013 issue. Here’s an excerpt of that report.
The 38 Special revolver has long been a standard as a back-up and concealed-carry handgun. As part of our new Bargain Hunter series, we wanted to challenge the conventional notion that a wheelgun chambered in 38 Special should be the de facto winner of any boot-gun showdown simply because it has always won those battles in the past. In the same power range as the 38 Special is the 9mm Luger (aka 9mm Parabellum or 9x19mm), which has the added benefit of being loaded more widely, often at less cost per round, than the 38 Special. Also, many carbines are chambered for 9mm, which makes it a handy choice for a long gun/handgun duo, even if the handgun is a revolver. To be fair, the 38 Special is also chambered for long guns, primarily lever guns. On the 38 Special’s side is the fact that dozens of revolvers from Smith & Wesson, Ruger, Rossi, Charter, Taurus, and many others are chambered for the round, compared to a paltry few 9mms, some of which must use half-moon or moon clips to function. In this two-way test, we evaluated four handguns, three revolvers chambered for 38 Special and two revolvers chambered for 9mm Luger. Certainly, the best gun would win and earn our favor. But we also looked at the cost of consumables to see if, over time, one cartridge had an edge.
When we began researching this test, it seemed that economics put the 9mm squarely ahead of the 38. On a price-per-round basis, we found more 9mm ammo at a lower price than similar bullet weights of 38 Special. For example, one of the better deals we bought before the current troubles started were Brownells 500-round ammo bundles (both included MTM ammo boxes): Winchester USA White Box 9mm Luger 115-gr. FMJ Q4172 500-Round Ammo Can Bundle, $125/500 (Brownells #105-000-025WB); and Winchester USA White Box .38 Sp. Q4171 500-Round Ammo Can Bundle, $200/500 (Brownells #105-000-023WB). The price per round for the 9mm bundle was 25 cents, a whopping 38% less than the 40-cents-per-round cost in the 38 Special bundle.
But as we began shooting, the ammo market went nuts, and now, practically every retailer is periodically out of most brands, calibers, and bullet weights, and our old pricing comparisons are out the window. We can’t forecast when prices might return to pre-December 2012 levels, if they ever will.
Wal-Mart is the nation’s largest retail ammunition supplier, but because the firm doesn’t list prices online and because the transactions must be face to face in local markets where prices may vary, we instead looked to Cheaper Than Dirt! for comparative information of actual ammo for sale at the end of January. At Cheaper Than Dirt!, which industry sources tell us is the second-largest ammunition retailer in the country behind Wal-Mart, both 38 Special and 9mm appear in the “Most Popular” header of the company’s website, CheaperThanDirt.com. CTD (as of late January) offered 283 loads of 38 Special, with seven being in stock. Meanwhile, CTD offered 334 9mm loads, with just 12 being in stock. Both cartridges have a variety of bullet styles available from a variety of manufacturers, so there’s no significant advantage either way.
Of the in-stock ammunition, we compared the bullet-weight ranges and prices for everything CTD sold in 9mm Luger and 38 Special and still found a difference. The 38 Special rounds available today at CTD cost $1.17 each on average, with a low of 87 cents per shot for the Winchester Super-X Lead Semi Wadcutter X38WCPSV (see table). The available 9mm ammunition cost $0.89 each on average, for a 28-cents-per-shot difference (24%). The TulAmmo 115-grain FMJs were the low-price winner, coming in at 38 cents a round. In fact, six of the 9mm choices were cheaper than the Winchester rounds, the lowest-priced 38 Special. And the 9mm doesn’t come at any power penalty — in fact, it offers a power advantage. Our test samples of 9mm produced 378 ft.-lbs. of energy on average compared to the 38s’ energy figure of 305 ft.-lbs. So going into actual testing, our two 9mm revolvers, the Charter Arms 9mm Pitbull #79920, $465; and a discontinued Smith & Wesson 940-1, which often sells for a premium between $595 to $671, had advantages in operating costs and power. We pitted them against a Smith & Wesson Model 638 38 Special, $459, which we fired alongside a mint blued Model 38 Airweight, and a Charter Arms Police Undercover No. 73840 38 Special, $402.
Unlike the 940-1 Smith, the Charter Pitbull 9mm is notable for not needing moon clips to operate. The Charter Arms 9mm Pitbull revolver makes this possible by using a dual coil spring assembly in the extractor that holds a standard rimless 9mm round in place, then ejects it like any other standard revolver. This placed the Pitbull on the same level as the Charter Police Undercover and the Smith & Wesson Model 38, giving it a distinct advantage over the 9mm 940 that needed moon clips to successfully eject the rimless 9mm rounds. Here’s more on the Charter Pitbull 9mm.
Charter Arms Pitbull
No. 79920 9mm, $465
Charter has raised the bar for 9mm revolvers with this addition to the product line. The Pitbull is not perfect, but it is vastly superior to other 9mm revolvers we’ve tested. The spring-driven ejection system is essentially a built-in moon clip that clamps into the casing groove. This allows a shooter to use the more readily available and cheaper rimless 9mm ammo, if the ejection system works as it’s promoted.
But hold on. The ejection system is great if the pin is pushed quickly and the revolver is pointed up at an angle. We did have some spent brass that was less than cooperative, but, overall, the system worked well. We did notice that the front edge of the casing would occasionally catch on the ejector system when loading rounds, but either removing the round and reinserting it, or pushing harder at an angle would clear things up. Our final criticism of the system is that it takes away an advantage moon clips provided — speedy reloads. Without a speedloader, the ability to simply drop all the rounds in at once is lost with this system since we had to push each round individually past the ejection system. Another option is to load from a Tuff Quickstrip, but we didn’t try that in this test.
This criticism seems harsh considering how highly we rated the Pitbull, but this is essentially where the criticism stops. Charter produced the most accurate gun in the test by having clearer larger sights and a much larger grip. The Pitbull was easy to control and we enjoyed testing it, and we believe that as a range gun or training gun, it would be fantastic, though we feel it would be too large to carry as a back-up like the 38 Specials tested above.
Our Team Said: Our only complaint about the Pitbull is that the ejection system isn’t perfect, though as stated above, we also feel that it is a better option than having to load moon clips and having to worry about when the moon clip is going to break. Taking into account its lower operational costs, the Pitbull is worth considering ahead of the S&W 638. In particular, for the shooter who already invests in 9mm ammo, we’d pick the Pitbull rather than adding another caliber we had to support.