September 2006

Three Stainless Snubbies: We’d Pass On Charter’s Undercover

We liked Smithís M60 and Rugerís SP101 five-shooters, but Charterís Undercover bound up in double-action operation and was difficult to load quickly ó a definite Donít Buy.

Despite many competing autoloading pistols, the five-shot snubnose revolver still has lots of fans. In fact, some of those fans are among our test crew. Once limited to .38 Special, the snubby may now be found chambered in .357 Magnum. A small 2-inch revolver has a lot going for it in self-defense situations. Its irregular shape is often easier to conceal than the relentless slab of an autoloader. There are no magazines to fall out. As Elmer Keith put it, if you have any part of a revolver, you have it all. They are generally reliable for five shots, and can be recharged quickly with a speed loader. Despite what you see in the movies, most gunfights are over with the firing of only a shot or two. Though snubbies had pretty bad sights in the past, recent ones have excellent sights. The guns can be extremely accurate, though you may have to work to prove it. Of course a revolver will handle any level of ammunition, from primer-propelled wax bullets to the hottest loads. And there are no failures to feed. Not ever.

Many snubbies are made with hidden hammers, and we’ve looked at some of those over the past months, but it’s been awhile since we looked at the old standby with its protruding, easily cocked hammer. These may not work all that well out of the pocket, but work fine from a holster. With fixed sights and a short sight radius, these are not among the best plinkers, but well suited for self defense. The three test guns we acquired were the Ruger SP101 ($530), the Charter Arms Undercover ($325), and the S&W Model 60 ($623). All three are stainless-steel five-shooters with fixed sights.

The Smith and the Ruger handle .357 Magnum ammo. For this test we chose the Charter Undercover, which is .38 Special only. Charter makes a .357 version called the Mag Pug, which is similar to the Smith and Ruger, but is much heavier than the Undercover and has a ported barrel which we didn’t care for. So we gave the lighter Undercover a chance, with an eye toward easier carry. Because of the limitation of the Charter to .38 Special, we did most of our testing with .38 Special ammo, but did try some .357 loads in the other two. That doesn’t mean we stuck with light loads. Far from it. Our most interesting test ammo was the heavy-bullet Buffalo Bore load designed to be similar to the old FBI round with lead bullet, but this time featuring a soft, Elmer-Keith-type, 158-grain cast hollowpoint lead SWC with a gas check to prevent leading. (See sidebar.) These loads are put together with flash-free powder, and gave little visible blast at night from these snubby revolvers. We also tested with Black Hills cowboy-level cast-bullet loads, with Winchester’s Super-X 130-grain JHP, and — in the two .357s — Federal’s Hi-Shok 130-grain JHP. Here’s what we found.

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