Revolvers remain a solid choice for personal defense. Many citizens decide they need a handgun to protect the homestead or to carry concealed, and they often choose a simple revolver. Folks hiking and camping also like to have a handgun handy that has the utility to take on feral dogs and aggressive big cats. Not to mention the epidemic of crime along trails. For many who are unable to take an immersion class in handgunning, the revolver, with its simple manual of arms, is a good choice. But revolvers are not found only in the safes of beginners. Many experienced handgunners favor a revolver for certain chores. As a backup handgun, while camping, or for any day of the week, the revolver is a fine choice. Let’s find your best buy among three good handguns we recently tested.
Our first wheelgun was the Charter Arms Boxer 53620 38 Special, $349. Charter Arms rose to success during the Vietnam War by offering affordable but reliable revolvers at a fair price. Our research indicates it was either Colt or Smith & Wesson revolvers or cheap imports without affordable, reliable revolvers in the middle price range before Charter Arms came along. Charter Arms introduced what was then billed as the lightest steel-frame revolver. Charter accomplished this by designing a steel-frame chassis surrounded by an aluminum receiver, with aluminum used in the areas that are less stressed or that have reduced load bearing. Also, Charter Arms produced one of the first transfer-bar revolvers manufactured in America.
Next up were two revolvers chambered in 357 Magnum, but which also fire the 38 Special, the first being a Smith & Wesson Performance Center Pro Series Model 640 178044, $909. The Smith & Wesson 640 Pro is a concealed-carry double-action-only revolver. The hammer is concealed beneath the characteristic humpback frame. This revolver features a 2.125-inch-long barrel, yet it is heavier than the others at 22.5 ounces, mainly because of its stainless-steel frame and barrel.
The third gun of this trio and the second 357 Magnum is the Taurus Defender 605 2-60539NS, $467. Taurus has upgraded several of its revolvers to the Defender status. This is the same revolver as far as action, chambering, and capacity go, but with a 3-inch barrel compared to the shorter 2-inch barrel and with hand-filling grips. A tritium front sight is also added. The 856 six-shot 38 Special is the first of the Defender series, but the Defender 605 is a 3-inch-barrel five-shot 357 Magnum revolver with an exposed hammer. The revolver is more like the Smith & Wesson 640 Pro than the Charter Arms Boxer.
Before firing the handguns, we rounded up several choices of 38 Special ammunition. The majority of ammunition fired was Remington 130-grain full metal jackets. We also used Federal 158-grain Train & Defend, a standard-velocity lead hollow point. These are practice loads at low velocity, with low recoil. We also used two modern 38 Special defense loads, the Federal 120-grain Punch and the Hornady 125-grain XTP. We fired the Remington and Federal non-expanding loads in a combat course, using 25 rounds of each load in each revolver at 5, 7, and 10 yards. We fired for accuracy from a bench at 25 yards using the Federal 158-grain RNL load and the Hornady and Federal defense loads. Here’s what we thought of each handgun in more detail.
Gun Tests Grade: A
The revolver’s satin stainless finish is attractive. Unlike the highly polished Smith & Wesson 640 Pro, the Defender and the Boxer revolvers each use a matte finish. The Defender features rubber grips. There are options, including VZ grips, and different finishes are also available. Stainless is a good choice for corrosion resistance. These grips are designed for comfort and concealment and expose the metal back strap of the revolver. While this isn’t a problem with 38 Special ammunition, we did not feel this grip is as well suited to Magnum shooting as the Smith & Wesson 640 Pro’s.
|Action Type||Double action, single action|
|Overall Length||7.5 in.|
|Sight Radius||4.5 in.|
|Overall Height||4.8 in.|
|Maximum Width||1.4 in.|
|Weight Unloaded||17.4 oz.|
|Weight Loaded||22.1 oz.|
|Cylinder Gap||0.06 in.|
|Frame||Matte stainless steel|
|Barrel & Cylinder||Matte stainless steel|
|Frame Front Strap Height||2.1 in.|
|Rear Strap Height||3.4 in.|
|Grip Thickness Max||1.2 in.|
|Grip Circumference Max||5.2 in.|
|Front Sight||Tritium dot|
|Rear Sight||Top receiver groove|
|Trigger Pull Weight Double Action||13.6 lbs.|
|Trigger Pull Weight Single Action||5.5 lbs.|
|Trigger Span||3.0 in.|
|Safety||Internal transfer bar|
Firing with a mix of 38 Special practice loads on the range, the Taurus gave good results in fast double-action work. Our best results were hampered by a heavy, but smooth, double-action trigger press. We were always in control, and the trigger action isn’t heavy enough to be tiring, but it is heavier than the other two revolvers. The Defender’s longer barrel gave slightly better velocities than the other two handguns. The Taurus is capable in defense use, but it simply trailed the others a bit during fast firing. We also experienced the most felt recoil with the Taurus, but it was never uncomfortable with 38 Special loads.
Firing for bench accuracy, the Taurus came in almost neck and neck with the Charter Arms revolver. We feel that the Charter’s sights and 3.5-pound trigger, compared to the Taurus revolver’s 5.5-pound trigger, gave the Boxer an advantage.
Our Team Said: As a 38 Special, the Taurus gets an A rating because it was accurate enough, reliable, and was the easiest of the three to quickly unload by virtue of its longer ejector rod under a 3-inch barrel. The tritium front sight is a plus as well.
At this point, we laid the Charter Arms Boxer 38 Special aside and compared the two Magnum revolvers head to head. The Magnum option is interesting and allows a much stronger cartridge to be used for defense. We feel that the 357 Magnum is at its best in a heavier revolver, and our seasoned raters simply did not shoot well with these lighter revolvers firing Magnum loads. For close-range defense against a feral dog or one of the big cats, these are a viable option, with excellent weight-to-power ratios. For defensive use against bipedal threats, not so much. Shot-to-shot speed is severely curtailed, and even the most experienced shooters will develop a flinch.
We fired two 357 Magnum loads, a Remington 110-grain JHP that averaged 1344 fps and the Remington 125-grain Golden Saber at 1240 fps average. We found that 10 rounds of the Remington 110-grain JHPs through each revolver was plenty to confirm that this load was simply too much in these revolvers, even though the 110s are comfortable to use and fire in a 35-ounce revolver. The short barrels exhibited a great deal of muzzle blast from this load’s unburned powder, which was as disconcerting as the recoil. The Smith & Wesson was much more controllable with the 110s than the Taurus, primarily because of the superior grip design, we felt.
The Remington Golden Saber is designed as a medium-velocity load expressly for use in the defensive Magnum revolver. We found it to be much more useful. Recoil was strong, but not uncontrollable, and we feel that with practice, the Smith & Wesson 640 Pro and Remington Golden Saber combination are a viable combination. The Taurus, not so much, because the revolver twisted around in our hands too much.
38 Special Range DataWe fired five-shot groups at 25 yards from a benchrest position using an MTM Case-Gard K-Zone rest. We used a Competition Electronics Pro Chrony to measure velocity. The first screen of the chronograph was 10 feet from the muzzle of the firearms. The Charter Arms Boxer and Taurus Defender revolvers were fired single action. The Smith & Wesson is a double-action-only revolver and was fired DAO.
|Federal Train & Protect 38 Sp. 158-grain LSWCHP||Charter Arms Boxer||Taurus Defender 605||Smith & Wesson PC Model 640 Pro|
|Average Velocity||730 fps||777 fps||756 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||187 ft.-lbs.||212 ft.-lbs.||200 ft.-lbs.|
|Small Group||2.5 in.||2.75 in.||3.0 in.|
|Average Group||3.5 in.||3.7 in.||4.3 in.|
|Federal Punch 38 Sp. +P 120-grain JHP||Charter Arms Boxer||Taurus Defender 605||Smith & Wesson PC Model 640 Pro|
|Average Velocity||901 fps||1002 fps||934 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||216 ft.-lbs.||267 ft.-lbs.||231 ft.-lbs.|
|Small Group||2.3 in.||3.0 in.||3.1 in.|
|Average Group||2.8 in.||4.0 in.||4.4 in.|
|Hornady American Gunner 38 Sp. 125-grain XTP||Charter Arms Boxer||Taurus Defender 605||Smith & Wesson PC Model 640 Pro|
|Average Velocity||880 fps||891 fps||867 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||215 ft.-lbs.||220 ft.-lbs.||209 ft.-lbs.|
|Small Group||2.3 in.||2.4 in.||3.0 in.|
|Average Group||3.4 in.||3.5 in.||3.8 in.|