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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P1KfPP2c1WA

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.

SPECS.

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

RATINGS

(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
Nada

OVERALL RATING *
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?

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About Robert Farago

Robert Farago is the Publisher of The Truth About Guns (TTAG). He started the site to explore the ethics, morality, business, politics, culture, technology, practice, strategy, dangers and fun of guns.

28 Responses to Gun Review: Charter Arms .357 Target Mag Pug Revolver

  1. S&W isn't the only American manufacturer of quality .357s. Don't forget:

    - Colt Python – Dubbed "the best revolver in the world." Hey, if it was good enough for Elvis…

    - Ruger GP 100 (my favorite)

  2. avatarMartin Albright says:

    Good points all, Robert. I'm not sure if Charter's biggest competition is Taurus or the used S&W market. As a confirmed S&W bigot, I'd say the latter but that's just me.

    The used market for guns is even more devastating to the up-and-coming manufacturer than the used car market is for similarly situated cars. Cars wear out, and are constantly being improved/upgraded. A revolver, OTOH, is a revolver. Unless it's used for competition or treated carelessly, it will last a hundred years (my brother has an S&W .38 that is old enough to collect Social Security and it still shoots fine.)

    Speaking of planned obsolescence, am I the only one who sees the introduction of new calibers (like the .327 Federal Mag) as a lame attempt to sell old wine in a new bottle?

  3. avatarDavid Buckwitz says:

    Robert……Loved your writing. Anything you write, I'll read; I don't care what's it about! Thanks for your research. You saved me from making what looks like a costly mistake. Although I too think the Charter Arms .357 Pug is so good looking, had I bought it, I could have hung it on the wall as decoration. David Buckwitz,Hazel Park,Michigan,USA.

  4. avatarLarry says:

    I’d hoped to find an informative, unbiased review. Unfortunately I found this.
    For the life of me, I cannot see what the problem is here other than Robert feels some need to crucify this piece –”shoots a foot low at fifteen feet, terrible trigger, etc., etc.” My reaction was “So file the front sight down a bit.”
    Robert tells us, “but the front sight is PART OF THE FRAME”.
    What? I AM perplexed. I looked at the photos just like the rest of you and darned if the front sight doesn’t appear to be mounted in the usual place on the muzzle end of the barrel. Even taking into account the utter irrelevancy of this fact, why, I wonder, does this preclude filing the sight? Take a friggin’ file to it for thirty seconds and watch the groups move up to the level of the bull! Sure, this should have been done at the factory but is it really a reason to drop the gun from consideration. He says that overall, the piece looks very nice but… it shoots low, so let’s throw the baby out with the wash water for the sake of a moment’s kitchen table gunsmithing.
    At an MSRP a bit over four hundred and a real-world price HALF that of a five inch, adjustable sight, .357 model 60 Smith, it’d seem worth a serious look.
    We watched one shooter drop three rounds into a nice, tight cloverleaf with two others close-by — not a bad group — about two inches low and a similar number left (hardly “a foot low”). This was double-action (which most shooters find far more difficult than thumbing the hammer back first) AND in spite of a trigger that we are told is possibly the worst since the invention of the trigger. If we’re evaluating accuracy, why not shoot single action and see what this arm is really capable of? But then, clearly the point to this “review” was to trash the piece. Since this gun seems cabable of fairly decent accuracy I don’t understand the point of… Hell, I’m just wasting more time here. I already wasted enough reading this “review” in the first place.

  5. avatarDonM says:

    Some folks like a “6 o clock’ hold”. If you have one and like it, leave it be. If you don’t like it, the file is in order. Be sure to do something to the open wound if blued steel, or rust will start there.

  6. avatarThe German says:

    I was considering purchasing a pug may have to reconsider my future purchase.
    Money is tight here so possibly a rossi…thanks for the review.

  7. avatarDonnie Helmly says:

    I bought a Charter Arms Mag Pug. and it don’t shoot correctly by the sites. My Python and and my Dan Wesson are perfect. But I use my Charter Arms .357 is my carrie weapon. Having shape shooter staus. I adjust my aim and find it eazy to make the shot count. I shoot better adjusting with it than I do with my Air Weight S&W .38

    • avatarMartin B says:

      What “shape” do you shoot at? I ask in case I inadvertently wander by. BTW, I am in shape. Round is a shape.

  8. avatarsuboles22 says:

    i have the mag pug not the target but the short barrel. i could not be happier with the firearm. as far as accuracy i can hit a beer bottle at 15 feet EVERY time with no effort and im not a professional shooter just a hill billy with a hobby and a desire to be safe. i have shot several diffrent makes and models of snub nosed 357 including the s&w 640 the rugar 101 and many others and have found the mag pug to fulfill my every desire in a firearm so to bash a company like charter for being an American civilian priced firearm opposed to a s&w (which i own several) which are little pricey and being no diffrent i question the shooter and hope everyone else does the same

  9. avatarDon reid says:

    I guess the best way to sum up charter arms is that final inspection lacks,if they would spend just a little more time on buffing out machine marks ect. The guns would not get such a bum rap.but they are not trash guns and are miles above some of the imported guns that use cheap metals and plastic………

  10. I have a C.A. undercover 38 stratford I have shot many many rounds through it and still functions after all these years.
    My next purchase will be a C.A. pug .357 I’ll take my chances with an American made before foreign firearms.I have read many good reviews on the pug.Can’t afford a smith or ruger and do not want to purchase used.
    Born in the USA and gonna spend my cash on American made.

  11. avatarrst says:

    is the sight picture described in the owners manual unachievable in reality???

    a gun maker (people who know how sights are supposed to work on 4″ barrels) who makes deliberaly faulty or inoperable sights??? would they really do that???

    and even be a real company or just a collection of frauds????

  12. avatarrst says:

    sight adjustment of sights knowning ly desinged to fire way off of sight picture isnt a prerequisite of a lower priced revolver.

    so you are either a liar yourself ( a malicious one at that…if you lied about family probelms because you were molested or something i could understand) or charter arrms is a deliberatly fraudulent company…they are liars, iow.

  13. avatarrst says:

    if for some strange reason the front sight needed to be filed could one just find a another 4″ 357 revolver (smith or ruger, etc) with adjustable rear sights and measure the height of the front sights on those revolvers and adjust the rear sight accordingly???

  14. avatartheaverageshooter says:

    I just wanted to share my opinion of the Charter Arms 357 mag pug ss 2″barrel.
    I just bought it on 11/24/2011 for $325 otd. I was actually very excited about my first revolver. I cleaned it and took it to the range today and my first impression was pretty good, yes it shot about 8″low at 21 feet, so I lined up the rear sight in about the middle of the front sight and (boom!) hit right where I wanted to, that was until i got to about round 12 fired, then, the cylinder acted like it was gummed up and would not rotate. It would open but not rotate with either form of action. After close inspection and a few bad words I was wishing I would have just saved up and got a Ruger. My Ruger SR-9c has never missed a beat in a thousand rounds. I was very dissapointed, I was shooting Blazer 38 special 158 grain lead nosed rounds. While cleaning it at home I noticed alot of lead shavings/dust and powder build up, after cleaning it like it was a Ferrari, the cylinder rotated like new. hmmm, so, back to the gun range I went. I bought some Remington 38 special UMC Target 130 grain fmj’s. The peaple at the gun range said that the Blazer ammo was junk. And to my delight it shot perfect through 50 rounds. I was having a blast with it, I was killing the head and center mass of my target like I was a pro or something, flames and report where show stopping. FUN!. I am now a fan of Charter Arms. I even tried some +p 38′s and a couple of 357 Mags. Can you say HOLLY FLAME THROWER with the 357 Mags. Recoil wasnt bad at all, I couldnt get enough. So, lots of fun, and instead of saving up for the next 6 months I was out laughing, loving this little cannon.
    Fit and finish are not perfect, but, it does what it is inteaded for and does it well. My trigger wasnt bad at all, not as buttery smooth as a Smith but acceptible. I hope this review helps.

  15. avatarDonnie Helmly says:

    I shot my 500th round today from my CA .357 MAg PUG, and it hasn’t missed a lick. I’m very happy with the gun. It is my 7th revolver, and tenth hand gun. And I wouldn’t trade them for 100 Auto’s. I guess I am just old school.

  16. avatarMac says:

    Ok it a P.O.S what’s the deal with the whole car report??

  17. avatarRay says:

    I have a Mag Pug (2 1/2″), and had to machine down the front sight (on my milling machine) to get it to shoot accurately with a normal sight picture. Clearly, Charter has some problems responding to users, because this situation has existed for years. I didn’t care because I have machining skills. But others?

  18. avatarralph says:

    Gee Here in the real world….say it’s the middle of the night & you are awakened by intruders in your home, are you really gonna try to line up sights or are ya gonna point & shoot, gun a blazing?????? Point is this….. this gun gonna be a target pistol or put it all on the line & save you & your families butt gun?

  19. avatarDennis Tully says:

    This seems like a pretty convoluted bash/review… #1) the adjustable sight won’t, and #2) the trigger’s like a Concorde SST (HUH???). Oh, and previous corporate iterations had mediocre reputations. Yet the gun functions, and apparently hits consistently and intuitively, at a bargain price.
    It seems to me that the distinctions of this Charter in the market are the strength of its solid (no flimsy sideplate) frame, its reasonable weight (no one who’s fired one believes a 12 ounce .357 is reasonable), its “unbreakable” beryllium firing pin, and the steadiness and full velocity of its duty-length barrel. Those features are not addressed in this review. Seems like a good kit gun, non-bruin class, or a less-punishing small antipersonnel gun. If you want to compare it to S&W, compare it to a 3″ or 5″ .357 J-frame, at near twice the price. Compare it to a Ruger 3″ 101, at about a half-pound more. Or bring in the South Americans. BTW, what kind of warranty comes with a used S&W?
    Also, I’d be interested to hear what the factory said or did about the “sights-are-off” complaint. Guns are complex little precision devices, and it doesn’t take a huge screwup to release an occasional funky item. Does the manufacturer fix it, or didja just buy a five-C-note paperweight?
    I’d like to know if the below-the-sights loads were all light bullets… heavier (say, 158 grain) bullets might be what this thing was built for. Which might be a bad design decision, or should be made clear prior to purchase.
    In the same vein, I’d like to know more about the “why” of light bullets shooting below the sightline: I’ve variously heard that it’s because light bullets shed momentum sooner; the ballistic factor of the heavier/longer bullet doesn’t slow down and drop in the air as quickly; the heavier/slower bullet takes longer to get out of the recoiling/climbing barrel; the heavier/longer bullet has more bearing surface gripping the bore and so shoves the recoiling barrel higher… Each version smells okay, but which of these are really true?

    P.S. I like the Charter frame concept, and its rubber grip fits my large hand better than a J-frame with Hogues, but chose the (maybe) milder .44 Special Target. I got off exactly five shots, then the cylinder locked up. I never did find out why… but it really put the “funk” in “functional.” And, my fixed-sight two-ported-inch Taurus in the same caliber has always proven esier to hit with. Go figure.

  20. avatarMack says:

    Reading the responses is so much more informative than the review itself, it shows to what depths of mediocre the state of the country is in. These new Charter Arms products are not just unadulterated garbage but are an absolute insult to American manufacturing and ingenuity, the fit and finish of the revolver is like that of every other union owned manufacturer in the country, pure and utter trash, and the fact that some of you consumers are actually quite happy to accept this just goes to show how low this once great nation has sunk on the “striving for perfection scale”

    I bought one of the new Pugs in 357mag and could not believe my eyes when it arrived, the gaps in the seams of the revolver joins were so bad, so obvious and flawed I could not understand whether CA was using blind, stoned, or ex Chrysler drunk union workers in their QC department, the front sight top was so badly finished that it was angled to the side at 30 degrees, the cylinder walls were so bad that they acted as vice jaws and ejecting the spent cases without force was impossible. The overall finish was so atrocious one would have to be vision impaired or cerebraley challenged not to see it.

    I have been a gun dealer for over 30 years and have seen all comers and the way quality has gone on both CA and Taurus (which is not as bad) is truly a sad eppi for the American manufacturing heritage, but the fact that we are prepared to accept it and justify it through every form of excuse makes this position all the worse. Its sad to say that even STI has followed suite since being taken over by its union workers.

    Reading this review and its comments is an eye opener to just how much trouble this nation is truly in.

  21. avatarCMS says:

    I’ve carried Charter pistols since the early 70′s when as a child of 8 years old I fired my first Bulldog. Though crudely made, I’ve never stopped carrying their pistols. Each version I have purchased over the last 30 years has worked. Was it the most accurate gun I owned, not by a long shot. I will never forget the piece of mind I had traveling MARTA in Atlanta during the 80′s knowing I had a Charter .44 Pug under my waistband. Would it have worked- damn right it would have. As I got older and more advanced in my career, I bought better guns, but still carried a Charter. Let’s remember what they are…. A small, lightweight, easily concealable revolver packing a ridiculous punch. I bought a new Target Bulldog .44 in 2012. It ended up having a frame issue after 210 rounds fired. I contacted Nick Ecker at Charter. Mr. Ecker and his team stand behind their pistols. I was sent a new pistol in short order. First firearm of hundreds I have ever had to send back. I believe in Charter for what they are. I feel really safe having one next to me when I sleep, though I own choices double in value. Is it really a range gun, ummmm, probably not. Would I bet my life on it…. Yes, and have for years. I once read a quote about Charter, and perhaps it holds true for me… “carry it a lot, and shoot it a little”. I think this old man is better armed with 5 shots from my Bulldog than any modern day thug carrying a pocketful of glock magazines. All I need is 1 shot, and may God himself have mercy on the fool suffering the receiving end.

  22. avatarMack says:

    I have since replaced my CA 357 Pug with a S&W Mod 60 357mag, and for the $100.00 difference in price, there is a $1000.00 difference in product and quality, the S&W finish is excellent and the guns is dead on accurate at 20 meters, it is like day and night in comparison, the CA may go bang if you are lucky, but you would be better of taking it by the business end and using it as a blunt instrument as apposed to shooting it, this is how bad the CA is in comparison to any other product on offer out there.

    I was also very fortunate to pick up two brand new unfired medium frame oldies recently, a S&W 686 6″ combat special and a Ruger GP100 6″ stainless, now if you want to know how guns should be made, take a look at these bench mark firearms, its at this point you may come to understand just how low quality standards in the USA have sunk, I guess this is the Obamanation of the Americas, freedom has approached its twilight years and just like our education system, our soon to be health care system, and our governing system, we are pretty much done, so hang on tight to your bible and your guns, its going to be a rough ride, O’h and good evening to you gents in the NSA, I hope you are having a pleasant night.

  23. avatarWBH says:

    I have had 2 Charter Arms Bulldog .44s, for a year now. I like them. They do shoot low, but it depends on the ammo. I just shot some 200 gr Cowboy Loads, little bit to the right, not bad. Same day I shot my Single-Six with .22 win mag, Shot high. I recomend the AGI video by Bob Dunlap. I was having trouble with light strikes from the Cowboy ammo gumming up the Firing Pin Channel. Got in there and cleaned it up. I really like shooting those guns. I have a Ruger LC9, now that shoots low. I shoot at silouhette targets 15-21 ft. Now if you want to spend $990 On a S&W, it is a free country. I was looking at 5 reviews on a 625(which I would like to have.) 3 of the 5 had problems, but they all gave 5 stars.

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