Gun Review: Charter Arms Undercover .38 Revolver

Are you a gourmet gun owner? One of those enthusiasts who gets off on the satisfying snick of a cylinder slotting into the frame? A firearms fanatic who contemplates a trigger pull like a foodie savoring a radicchio and mozzarella pasta casserole? If so, the Charter Arms Undercover is not for you. The snubbie will leave your metaphorical tummy rumbling. If, however, you couldn’t give a damn about anything other than utility (i.e. shooting someone), the Charter Arms Undercover is a gun whose owners come hungry for self-defense, and leave satisfied that their attacker ate lead. Whatever else you can—or cannot—say about this mid-priced revolver, it’s one accurate gun of a son.

As a rule, I don’t worship at The Altar of Tight Groupings (great band). But a recent experience with the Charter Arms Target Mag Pug left me wondering if a reasonably competent shooter equipped with any of Charter’s products could hit the broadside of a barn. I’m pleased to report that the Undercover is one of the most accurate .38s I’ve ever fired. The collection of dots in the target’s center (at twenty feet) was so well-gathered that Adam at American Firearms School challenged me to repeat the feat using double action. Only I’d already punched the paper in double action mode.

The Undercover’s sights are bog standard. So all hail the revolver’s eight-grooved pull broach-rifled barrel.

The Connecticut company claims their mastery of the pull broach technique ensures that their revolver barrels are better than their competition at sealing the hot gasses created by the primer and gunpowder. They also say the manufacturing process leads to less bullet deformation. Combined with the revolver’s extra grooves, the Charter Arms Undercover delivers astounding accuracy at higher velocities.

True dat. The Undercover is a compact weapon of body mass destruction. BUT—

I have every reason to believe that the testing and evaluation Undercover .38 was out of time (i.e. the cylinder wasn’t lined up with the barrel). The little snub-nosed bastard was shaving lead and spitting it back at my face; my right cheek was signed by a spray of hot metal. Closer inspection revealed a not-entirely-unexpected, entirely unacceptable amount of cylinder wobble. Check it out:

Weebles may wobble without falling down, but revolver cylinders should [be] rock steady.

By the same token, a revolver’s action should be like driving into a wall. Zoooom . . . BANG! Not so here. The more you pull the Undercover’s trigger, the heavier it gets. Until the hammer finally, grudgingly, falls. The lack of trigger satisfaction doesn’t affect the handgun’s accuracy, but it makes range practice something of a chore. In the world of personal defense, that’s not a good thing.

I’m also not convinced about the Undercover’s three-point cylinder lock-up system: I went off half-cocked more than once. Pre-loading? Not an issue. I trained myself to check for full cylinder lock. Re-loading under stress? Issue. Failure to fire is not my friend. It’s a problem that speaks to the reliability of the Charter Arms Undercover, and I can’t say I like what I’m hearing.

Simply put, the Charter lacks qualm calming quality. You don’t have to be a gun expert to know it. Cylinder in, cylinder out. Spin. Cylinder in. Lock. Dry fire, single action. Dry fire, double action. NOW how much would you pay? Me? I assume that smoothness out of the box equals reliability down the road. I’d pay the extra $200+ for J-framed goodness.

That said, I used the Undercover to send some 600 rounds downrange without incident. I also cruised the web for Charter horror stories—and found plenty. But they were all pre-CEO Nick Ecker.

For their part, Charter reckons their .38s are built like a brick shithouse [parpahrasing]. For example, the revolvers’ side pates aren’t attached by screws like, say, Smith & Wesson’s. And the Undercover’s barrel is threaded into the frame for extra strength. And the company backs up its products with a lifetime warranty.

Yes, well, if anything goes wrong with your Undercover, the ensuing transaction is strictly between you and Mr. Ecker’s boys. Take a Charter Arms weapon to your local gunsmith for an upgrade or repair and you’re likely to be greeted with a Gallic shrug. Don’t get me wrong: the chances that the Charter Arms Undercover will fall apart at The Moment of Truth are less than the chances that the average white guy in Coon Rapids Iowa will need one for self-defense. So, call it good? Good.

If I was looking for a highly accurate concealed carry or home defense handgun, didn’t care about caliber or plan to fire thousands of round through it, wanted a revolver, had a strict budget and excluded used handguns from my shopping list, I’d buy a Charter Arms Undercover .38 revolver. How great is that?

The Charter Arms Undercover revolver is a meat and potatoes revolver from you local diner. Sure the food at Smith & Wollensky’s is better, but it costs more. Customers emerge from both establishments fat, happy and glad to be alive. And that’s all that matters, isn’t it?

SPECIFICATIONS:

Model: 73820
Finish: Stainless
Frame: Stainless steel
Grip: Full
Barrel length:2″
Capacity: 5-shot
Caliber: .38 Special +P
Hammer: Standard
Weight: 16 oz.
Sugg Retail: $407.00

RATINGS:

Style * * * *

Classic snubbie.

Ergonomics * * *

Feels right. Star deducted for ever-so-slightly cranky cylinder. And another removed for lousy trigger pull.

Reliability * *

The Undercover fired hundreds of rounds without not firing one. But the wobbly cylinder and lead shower were deeply worrying. If I’d bought this with my own cash, the gun would have gone straight back to the factory.

Customize This *

Crimson Trace laser grips are out of stock.

OVERALL RATING * *

Does what it needs to do, no more, and a little less.