Gun Review: Charter Arms .357 Target Mag Pug Revolver

In 1989, Lexus trimmed its slogan from “The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection” to “The Pursuit of Perfection.” I reckon Lexus made the change out of sheer exhaustion. Manufacturing perfection is like trying to get the last word on the Bill O’Reilly show: it’s only possible in theory. I bet the head of the japanese luxury carmaker placed his briefcase on the desk one day and said screw it. Bling out a Camry, slap a Lexus badge on it and call it good. So what happens when a manufacturer can’t aim high? Ask Charter Arms, a gunmaker producing products whose potential perfection is restricted by the prices set by Smith & Wesson. As a result, Charter Arms makes most of its money selling brightly colored .38 caliber snub-nosed revolvers for women shooters more intent on style than marksmanship. And sells a Charter Arms .357 Mag Pug. Or not.

It’s shame. A shame that Charter Arms can’t show the world what [another] storied revolver maker can do when customers demand the very best—and pay for it. A shame that a customer who buys the .357 Target Mag Pug revolver in question has to aim a foot above what he or she wants to shoot. At five yards. After said owner has adjusted the rear sight to its maximum height, the point immediately before a screw smaller than an anorexic tick files off into the ether the moment you pull the trigger.

If we operate from the basic premise that a perfect handgun would do no such thing, that it would let you hit your target exactly where the sights indicate with every crisp, clean, predictable trigger pull, the Charter Arms .357 Target Mag Pug revolver is as far from perfect as you can get without wandering into the realm of perfect imperfection. Which, strangely, I did—by not using the Target Mag Pug’s sights at all. Point and shoot. Bullseye! What are the odds?

I had high hopes for the Charter Arms .357 Target Mag Pug. It’s an American-made handgun fashioned from American parts by an American-owned company staffed by documented American workers living in America paying taxes to an American government propping-up socialist countries whose inhabitants spit on our flag and mock our way of life.

Second, the Target Mag Pug is a gorgeous gun. At the risk of sounding like an oxymoron, the revolver is distinctively generic. With a four-inch barrel and a full-sized grip, the perfectly-proportioned weapon isn’t as massive as the big-ass L-framed .357 Smiths. But it’s equally appealing. To my eyes, the Target Mag Pug’s relatively compact dimensions make the handgun dainty in a macho sort of way, like, dare I say it, a certain NRA-loving martial artist from The Lone Star State I could name (but don’t have to, now).

Lastly, the target Mag Pug is not a Smith & Wesson. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a big fan of most of Smith’s 4,564 products. I traded-in the Charter Arms Target Mag Pug for a Smith & Wesson 686 this very day. But I’d like to own a wikkid Yank-built revolver from someone other than “the” name in revolvers—just to be able to say, “Actually it isn’t a Smith & Wesson. It’s a Charter Arms. Best revolver money can buy.”

Only the Target Mag Pug is not even the best revolver that $533 can buy. Or $480. Again, not if you’re looking for a gun that can hit what you’re aiming at.

“Sharpen your shooting skills with the Target Mag Pug,” the Charter Arms website urges, implying that the longer-barreled weapon’s better in the hitting shit department than their more popular (by a factor of a thousand) snubbies. TTAG’s in receipt of a Charter Arms .38 snub-nosed testing and evaluation model. We shall see. But if this is better than that, then that, and this, suck.

I’d like to point out that it wasn’t just me who found the Target Mag Pug one of the most ironically-named revolvers extent. The name redacted gentlemen firing .38 specials in the video topping this review is a seriously proficient law enforcement professional. Wayne from American Firearms also did the honors. The combat vet’s groupings are normally tighter than an X-rated threesome. And so they were—positioned well south of center.

As far as I can tell, there’s only one way Charter could “fix” the Target Mag Pug’s mission critical sighting problem: file down the gun’s front site. Unfortunately, it’s part of the frame. And what of the trigger? A none-too-inspiring scratchy sound accompanies the Target Mag Pug’s initial pull. Then, as the trigger reaches its final destination, there’s a bit of play in the action. That’s what we gun writers call “not good.” I mean “trigger creep.”

The Target Mag Pug’s action reminded me of taking off in the Concorde. When the plane was safely off the ground, the pilots would kill the afterburners. It felt like they’d shut them off. It was such a scary sensation the trolley dollies warned you about it before take-off, in their all-too-jocular sort of way. “Don’t worry, the engines won’t have failed . . .” Once over sea, the guys in the front would light ’em up again. Bang! Like hitting a wall.

It’s an excellent way to limit political fallout from an airplane that’s so loud you can hear the air ripping to shreds from several miles away. It’s a lousy way to rig a trigger. A revolver’s bullet button should feel more like driving a car into a wall. In the nicest possible way. For the shooter, anyway.

The Target Mag Pug costs less than a Smith, and slightly more than a Taurus. Whadjya expect? Which highlights a difficult problem for gen-you-wine American-made weapons.

As many U.S. gun makers have discovered, going toe-to-toe against similar weapons made with cheaper foreign parts and labor puts them on a hiding to nowhere. A “value-priced gun” is good value—but it’s not as desirable as the best and not as affordable as the cheapest. Call it the Buick conundrum. Competitors reaching down from above (BMW) AND reaching up from below (Toyota) kick your ass. In this case, used/lower priced Smiths and less expensive Taurus are squeezing Charter Arms’ positioning until it hurts.

As I mentioned before, Charter is keeping the pain at bay with its Pink Lady, Lavender Lady and new Cougar snub-nosed .38s. But color will only take them so far; there’s nothing to stop their competitors from brightening up their revolvers (or semis). As Devo might have said, crush that niche!

Charter could avoid destitution by building a small line of American-made, top quality, price-no-object weapons. Yes but . . . they wouldn’t sell. Not for a long, long while. Thanks to several disastrous administrations (not including the current one), Charter Arms has a widespread rep for low-quality workmanship (putting it nicely.) Customers are no more likely to buy a thousand dollar Charter Arms revolver than a $106,880 Chevrolet.

And yet, what about the Corvette ZR1?

True dat: the road from hell is paved with product. Charter has to claw its way into Smith territory with guns that are better than the market leader’s, at a lower price. How Charter Arms could finance a decade-long Lexus-like product push with a brand-building campaign, without a deep-pocketed Toyota backing them? What am I, a marketing maven?

I’ll tell you something for nothing: the Charter Arms Target Mag Pug represents the pursuit of de-evolution. In today’s import-laden handgun market, a good enough revolver isn’t good enough, for either it owner or its manufacturer. Perfection comes at a price. As does its opposite.


Model: 73540

Finish: Stainless

Frame: Stainless steel

Grip: Full

Barrel length: 4″

Capacity: 5-shot

Caliber: .357 Mag

Hammer: Standard

Weight: 25 oz.

Sugg Retail: $533.00


(Out of five stars)

Style * * * * *
We’ve seen this classic a million times. And for good reason.

Ergonomics (carry)
Too big too carry. And if you wanted to, you’d have to have a holster made for it.

Ergonomics (firing)
Useless sights and trigger creep do not a pleasant experience make.

Reliability * * * * *
No hitches in 200 rounds. It probably would keep going, but I gave up.

Customize This

Kept firing bullets in the approximate direction at which it was aimed, but I wouldn’t bet my life on one. So . . . what’s the point?