Charter Arms Bulldog .44 Special revolver
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A little company called Charter Arms started life in 1964, producing affordable revolvers. As you might imagine, in 1964, revolvers were the hot business to get into. The founder, Doug McClenahan, had plenty of experience with six-guns after a career at Colt, Ruger, and High Standard.

The first gun produced by Charter Arms was the Undercover, a snub nose .38 Special. However, the gun they became most known for was the Bulldog.

Charter Arms wasn’t just copying other firearm designs, they were innovating. Doug McClenahan designed the transfer bar system that basically all modern revolver now use for safety’s sake.

Charter Arms also used one-piece investment cast frames. This created a lighter frame that was stronger. While the Undercover was a good (enough) gun, in 1971 Charter Arms introduced the gun they became famous for, the Bulldog.

The Bulldog was a .44 Special revolver with a five-shot cylinder and a three-inch barrel. The design was something different in a world dominated by .38 Special and .357 Magnum. The Bulldog name came from the British revolvers that shared similar traits. The British Bulldogs were small guns with big bore power.

These guns became big hits and fairly famous in the world of revolvers. They became one of the more popular choices with shooters concerned with personal defense. What we have here is often called a ‘first generation’ Bulldog.

The OG Bulldog

Charter Arms, as a company, has come and gone, time and time again. There seem to be at least three distinct eras of Charter Arms. The first-generation Bulldogs are typically easy to distinguish. On the side of the barrel, they will say either Charter Arms Corps, Bridgeport, Connecticut, or Charter Arms Corp, Stratford, Connecticut.

The first generation marks the era in which Doug McClenahan served as the big boss alongside his partner David Ecker. Doug eventually left due to health concerns and Ecker took over in 1978.

In 1988 the company was acquired by another owner and infelicitously renamed Charco. Charco closed its doors in 1998.

In 2000, the company was purchased by Nick Ecker and two other investors. It was known as Charter 2000, but eventually renamed Charter Arms some time later.

Charter Arms Bulldog .44 Special revolver
Where it’s manufactured is a good clue to its generational heritage. (Travis Pike for TTAG)

According to an internet legend, the original first generation guns remain the best generation. I have no experience with either the latest generation of Charter Arms or the middle generation. However, I do now have a good bit of experience with the first generation Charter Arms Bulldog.

My example is the stainless model, produced in Stratford with polymer grips. The gun features a 3-inch barrel and a fairly traditional DA/SA hammer design. It’s a big gun that’s surprisingly light for its size. The front sight is a big beefy raised blade, with a trench rear sight. The ejection rod is unshrouded.

The Bulldog has sort of an awkward look to it, but it’s distinguished, to say the least.

The .44 Special

The .44 Special cartridge is a round the casual enthusiast will likely never encounter. It suffers from a good dose of middle-child syndrome. Its older brother was the .44 Russian, a fairly popular and hot six-gun round first designed for the S&W Model 3. Its younger brother was the .44 Magnum, a round we all know and love.

Charter Arms Bulldog .44 Special revolver
.44 Special is no joke. (Travis Pike for TTAG)

The .44 Special is still a very capable round. It can push a 246-grain round at a bit over 750 feet per second. On top of that, there are much hotter loads available these days, as well as lighter, faster loads.

Much like the .41 Magnum, it’s just not popular for defensive use. It is fun to shoot. It doesn’t have the snap of a .44 Magnum, but it still lets you know you’re firing something that starts with the number four.

Ergonomics Oddities

The Charter Arms Bulldog is a fairly conventional double-action revolver. It seems that the various models wore a number of different finishes. The blued Bulldogs wore wood grips, but it seems the stainless models got a set of oversized rubber grips. The big oversized grips aren’t great for carrying concealed, but they give you a mighty good grip on the gun.

Charter Arms Bulldog .44 Special revolver
The grips keep one round from easily leaving the chamber. (Travis Pike for TTAG)

Those grips do make rapid ejection difficult. Cases will occasionally get stuck in their cylinder, requiring you to wiggle the cylinder when case gets stuck on the side of the grip.

The big grips also make this a gun well-suited for speed strips, but not speed loaders. I imagine a respected six-gunner would file down or swap the grips, but I’m not that. Also, while not exactly historical, the gun isn’t going to be a daily driver and is more of a collector’s item for me.

At the Range

With some Magtech .44 Special, I hit the range with a bit of curiosity. I’d never fired anything in .44 Special. I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I got was a fairly enjoyable experience. The recoil isn’t painful but a bit stout. The gun bared loudly, and muzzle blast and flash followed. I can see why Bulldog is an appropriate name.

Charter Arms Bulldog .44 Special revolver
The stainless Bulldog is a fine looking firearm. (Travis Pike for TTAG)

The trigger feels well-worn and moves smoothly. It reminds me why I enjoy shooting revolvers. (Of course, the price of .44 Special ammo reminds me why I don’t.)

That big front sight is stainless, easy to see and put on target. Even from a low-ready snapshot, it’s easy to put a .44 caliber-sized hole in a paper target quickly.

Charter Arms Bulldog .44 Special revolver
Tha beefy front sight is a nice touch. (Travis Pike for TTAG)

I didn’t measure groups, but in an unsupported position at 25 yards using the double action trigger, I could put five rounds into an 8-inch gong without breaking a sweat. I could even hit it as it swung back and forth if I timed it just right. At the same range, I could put two in the chest and one in the head of an ISPC steel target. It wasn’t as fast as me with a P365, but fast enough to end a fight.

Charter Arms Bulldog .44 Special revolver
The sound and fury. (Travis Pike for TTAG)

The Charter Arms Bulldog is just a cool gun and Bulldog is the right name for it. It’s kind of small, kind of ugly, and has a big bark followed by a very mean bite. It’s a different kind of cool and was a worthy challenger to the .38 and .357 supremacy of its day.

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    • It’s kinda interesting, but hardly an obscure object of desire. In a gun that size and weight, I’d much rather have 6 rounds of .357mag than 5 of .44sp. The .357mag blows away .44 special. Even 5 shots of .45acp with moon clips makes more sense (more common and economical ammo). For a 5 shot “snubby”, .38sp is good enough, and way smaller/more concealable.

      • Art, a five shot .45 ACP with moon clips? Have I missed something. I had a S&W 5″ 625 with a few full moon clips years ago. I’ve seen half moon clips. I think I remember reading about two round clips. What revolver are you referring to?

        • I was just speaking hypothetically. If one wanted the bigger bore caliber in a smaller frame like that, the .45acp would be cheaper and more common. I do not believe such a revolver exists and if it did, it couldn’t use the 3 shot half clips (like the 1917 Colt + S&W), or the 6 shot full moon clips. It would be something different.

          The .45.Colt would be another possibility,. for a traditional revolver cartridge, but that isn’t as common as the .45acp.

        • A Fritz conversion. From back in the day. When you could get in a gunfight with men and women that knew what they were doing. Nothing has really changed since then. It’s just a little flasher.

        • Charter arms has been making the pitbull line which includes .45acp for a while. They don’t take moon clips but do come in the 5-shot varient.

      • .44 Special isn’t “blown away” by .357 in a typical snubbie. My load is a 255 grain Keith at 1000 FPS. That’s more than sufficient. It IS a handloader’s caliber though.

        • I’ve got two Charter Arms Classics in .44 Spl. They are really good shooters, easy recoil, and make really big holes. Only drawback is the five round limitation per cylinder. Other than that, I would not feel undergunned. I do likes me some .44 Spl. Plus, I can shoot .44 Spl in my .44 Mag lever rifle.

  1. Have a Charter Arms .44 Bulldog, stainless, among my collection. Haven’t fired it much though, about five years ago I think was the last time I had it out to fire but I do see it when I go through my guns on their regular inspection and maintenance cycle. Now I want to take it out and put some rounds through it.

      • 1983, I bought a Bulldog Pug. They were all the rage back then. Seemed every gun mag had an article about it and all sang its Bobbed hammer, 3″ bbl., rubber (very hard) grips. Shot 50 rounds of standard RNL 200 gr.
        Blew up water-filled gallon jugs with great exuberance. When I finished, my palm was pulverized like no .44 mag after 50 rounds had hurt me. I’m talking PAIN. In addition, my trigger finger and my middle figer were bleeding, cut respectively by the trigger and trigger guard. Combat accurate at 10/15 yards. Took it back to the gun shop and traded for a Mod. 10 S&W. You mileage may vary.

  2. I’ve handled a few Charter Arms revolvers. Owned one briefly. An undercover. After the early ones I thought quality control was spotty. Even the early ones were a little rough, but entirely serviceable. .44 Spl. Be still my heart. If you’re going to carry a full size defensive revolver, you are hard pressed to find a better caliber than .44 Spl. Modern loads from Buffalo Bore, and others, means you are not shooting your grandfather’s .44 Spl. Hand loaders have understood this for decades. I’ve owned three .44 Spl. revolvers. All S&W. A 24, (stolen), a 624, traded away in a long forgotten deal, (still kicking my ass) and a Lew Horton 3″ 24 that I well remember the trade, (kicking my ass even harder). Enjoyed the article.

  3. ‘Son of Sam’ was a big fan of the CA Bulldog in 44Spl.

    I had a GF back in the late ’80s whose best friend’s Aunt was the first victim of that POS David B.

    • He lived in one of the buildings my father was managing at the time, 35 Pine St. #7E Yonkers NY. When the case was wrapped and the LLE done with the apartment I got a tour, apparently my father wanted to creep out 11 year old me with all the writing on the walls. I think that was the summer when my father started carrying full time.

      • I’ve known 2 people in my life that met John Wayne Gacy. Wow is all I have to say about their accounts, the hair stands up on the back of your neck.

  4. I occasionally fired .44 SPL in that Ruger SuperRedhawk I had years back.

    Very soft shooter with that 7-inch barrel…

    • My first .44 mag was the Ruger Super Blackhawk. A substantial piece of kit. I shot a lot of .44 specials through it because in those days the ammo was plentiful and a bargain compared to the magnums. Same reason I normally practiced with .38 specials in my .357’s.

  5. Always been a fan of big heavy bullets. With a well-placed shot, they ain’t getting up. The whole Charter Arms line is similar to Taurus in quality, features and durability. They aren’t up to S&W or Colt, not as bad as a few others.

  6. Those old British bulldog cartridges had fat, heavy bullets. But most of them had very short cases. In the range of a .380 case. Combined with black powder it made for some very slow rounds.

    • jwm, if had to shoot someone a fat, heavy bullet doesn’t sound like a bad idea. Even if it’s not going really fast.

  7. I’ve seen the charter arms bulldog in 44 special and their 4 inch barrel 22’s. in local gun stores all the time. However I’m more interested in their much newer model. A 7 shot revolver in 32 H and R magnum. With a 3 inch barrel.
    Their guns are very affordable.

    And they are hard to find. Same for the ruger LCR in 327 federal magnum. I’ve been asking for years now.
    very (sad)

    • I was thrilled to purchase a Charter Arms Professional 3″ 7 shot .32 H&R Mag in stainless back in ’20- it was EXACTLY what I love in a small(ish) carry wheel gun. Unfortunately, I had issues with light primer strike FTF with multiple different loads/brands, as well as severe POA/POI discrepancy (several inches low) from the very first outing to the range.

      It was returned to Charter under warranty and sent back to me with a new barrel and a nice trigger job. Unfortunately, again, it suffered random FTF due to light primer strikes, and it still shot unacceptably low. I was VERY disappointed because I LOVED everything about the gun except for those two issues… two issues that meant I could not stake my life on it.

      After some online research I discovered that the inaccuracy was a known problem, and that replacing the barrel could not solve the POA/POI issue because the front sight they chose created a height over bore issue- a problem that Charter Arms did not have a solution for. Combine that with the FTF issue, and I decided I had no choice but to sell it (with full disclosure to the buyer).

      I sincerely wish Charter had made that revolver better than they did…

      • That is very sad to hear. I did my own test firings of 32 Ammunition using my Taurus Judge and the caliber adapters that I purchased. That along with the videos from “Lucky Gunner” and “Gun Sam _Revolver Aficionado” on YouTube. Have convinced me that the 32 series caliber is the best option for concealed carry. And yes I know the ammunition is more expensive than 9 mm. But I don’t need to fire as much ammunition during practice in order to be accurate.

        Dry fire is King if you want to be accurate. I also purchased the Laser Lyte targeting system several years ago. And I think some form of laser trainer is going to be the future, for those of us we can’t afford to go to the gun range every week.

  8. This is a gun certainly in a “reloaders caliber.” If I owned one of these I’d be casting up some .44 bullets like mad and running my plinking ammo that way. At 750FPS you could run dead soft lead and never know the difference.

    Pressure wise this round is flat out sedate at 14K PSI, someone could probably make a nice 460 Rowlanding of it but someone would blow a gun up.

  9. I had a snub nosed bulldog in 44 Spcl. I loved the round, but I wasn’t overly fond of the revolver. It was a later model, and I had to do some substantial polishing on the internals to get the double action feeling smooth. I let it go in a trade, and while I really have no interest in another charter arms, I’d get another 44 Spcl in a heartbeat. I enjoyed loading it up to true its potential, and as a cartridge I always felt it was more conducive to warmer loads than the 45 Colt. I really wish Ruger had released their GP 100 in 44 with a six shot cylinder instead of the five that they produced. But, shit in one hand wish in another and all that.

    • When the Ruger GP100 in .44 Spcl came out, I was seriously debating purchasing one. I didn’t own any revolvers at the time and it seemed like something different. Looked at cost and availability of ammo and decided to pass. A year or so later after the guns release, some local stores had them on sale for under $500. That gun is no longer listed on Ruger’s website but it appears they offer a blued version of it as a distributor’s exclusive.

  10. I have never seen a Use Charter revolver that had all its pieces attached and in working order.

    At one time time they were a step above H&R. They are just not very good.

    My brother bought a new Bulldog in 1982. Before we had finished a box of Remington lead, the thumb piece flew away.

    Any gun is better than no gun – should probably be their motto.

  11. quote——————According to an internet legend, the original first generation guns remain the best generation.———-quote

    That statement made me laugh.

    In reality Charter Arms has always been known for making low budget firearm’s.

    I had a buddy who bought a charter arms revolver many decades ago and if memory serves me right it was a bulldog. He detailed stripped it for a look inside and was appalled by the shoddily made internal parts and some parts were actually synthetic. Its been too many years for me to remember which parts they were. Needless to say he dumped that P.O.S. at the nearest gun show for less than what he paid for it.

    Like most people I do like the .44 special but not in a Charter Arms gun. I shoot them out of my Smith .44 magnum. When you get older milder recoil is preferred for aging hands that often have arthritis in them.

    My favorite big bore revolver was an 8 3/8 in Smith .41 Mag in the blue velvet box I bought in the 70’s because I could not find a .44 magnum. When I found a .44 Magnum I sold it and regretted it ever since. The .41 Mag was the better gun as it did not self destruct like my Smith .44 mag did and the .41 was more accurate.

    Later in time just a few years ago, 10 years in fact, I ran across a more recently made 6 inch .41 Mag for a dirt cheap price and bought it but alas it is not as accurate as the older 8 3/8 inch Smith I had in the 70’s and such older guns are now worth a kings ransom. I would have to pay almost 3 times as much for one of those as I did for the more recent made .41 I bought.

    Today I would not buy anything Smith & Wesson makes as their use of two piece barrels and junk MIM cast internal parts are nothing more than a rip off, especially at the prices they ask for them.

    Although I just bitched about my current 6 inch .41 it’s still a Cadillac compared to the junk revolvers that Smith is making today with their MIM cast internal parts. The older style wood grips were much more beautiful than the plywood type and or rubber shit grips they put on their revolvers today.

    • The youngsters nowadays act like you’re lying when you say you could order guns straight to your house through the mail. Tell them that auto stores and hardware stores sold guns. I bought guns at a yard sale when I was 13. The student parking lot was full of pickups with long guns in the racks in the rear window.

      The indoctrinated youth don’t believe you. The modern education system will have to be burned down and rebuilt if the country survives long enough.

  12. My current daily carry alternate’s between my GP100 and my Charter Arms Pitbull 45ACP. The Pitbull is an interesting one, I decided on the 45acp because it’s ballistically similar to the 44sp, but ammo is so much cheaper and more available, and the choice of defensive ammo is vastly superior. I do still want a 3” Bulldog “classic” but for now the Pitbull is running strong. The new generation are tough and relatively well built for their modest price, can’t speak to the older ones.

  13. If you are considering buying one, don’t.

    I was on the fence for years. I had read all the internet bad stories from owners. But I just liked the idea if a compact lightweight .44 Special so much that I eventually rolled the dice and bought a Nitride finish model. It was 2018 I think. It had some nasty tool marks out of the box and the barrel wasn’t indexed correctly. It shot about 6 inches low and 2 inches left at 7 yards, even in SA mode. Before you say “shooter induced”, consider that I can put a 5 shot cluster in the 10 ring at that range in DA slow fire with my S&W 442. I should have sent the bulldog back, but decided to file the front sight down until it not longer shot low, at least. After the first 100 rds or so, the light strikes in DA mode started. Never in SA, only DA, and at least 10% of the time. Hammer shims fixed that for another 100 rds or so, then it started again. It’s gathering dust in my safe now. Maybe i’ll try to get it fixed someday, but the shine is off the apple so I’m just not that motivated.

    Buyer beware.

  14. I have Charters in .32, .38 and .44 and while they aren’t polished or pretty, they’ve been damn serviceable and were a reasonable price. My poor undercover .38 has been through hell, but still keeps ticking. the .32 Undercoverette is actually a pretty neat setup and mine has a very good trigger. The Bulldog is what I would say is an almost ideal size for a OWB holster carry gun – easy to shoot well, but also compact enough to carry easily.

  15. Bought a CA Undercover 5 shot 38spl for 80 bucks used at a LGS, needed oiled shoots fine. Same LGS just 2 years ago I picked up the CA Mag Pug 5 shot 357 NEW for 299.00 it also shoots fine. Would rather a CA than a Taurus any day.

  16. I’ve owned 2 CAs; both were ROUGH, tons of tool marks. Disassembled both to bare frames, cleaned them up – still nowhere near as refined as an S&W.

  17. I have three CA .44 Spl. Bulldogs, one 3″ blued, one 4″ stainless, and one 6″ stainless. All bought within the last 7 years. Guess I’m dealing with a different Charter Arms than all you other folks. All three of mine have excellent triggers out of the box, fit and finish is excellent, they shoot to point of aim (4″ & 6″ are “target models” so have adjustable sights). I didn’t pay over $475 for any of them and all were bought brand new by me. I also bought one of the Dirty Harry S&W Model 29-10 blued .44 Mag 6.5″ barrel in a wood case. The trigger on that S&W was so bad I had to take it to a smith and spend another $200 to get it feeling decent i.e., at least as good as what the Charter Arms revolvers came from the factory with, well OK, better actually.🥺 I keep the 3″ bulldog at the house loaded with Underwood 220 grain Extreme Penetrator ammo. When that thing goes off it will definitely get your attention.

  18. wondering why this article vanishes after a day while others with many less comments are above and below the fols, and some with almost no comments stay up for months.
    know your audience kids. above all we want to read and comment about guns.

  19. Travis, nice article. You’ve found yourself a gem in that Bulldog – Stratford era. The grips you have are not what came with the gun from the factory. The original Charter rubber grips are smaller and thinner. I’ve never liked them myself, but they still sell the same rubber grip even tyoday. Most swap them out for Pachmyer Compact grips, which are a big improvement and much smaller than the ones on your gun. The Compact grip is more concealable and make the gun comfortable to shoot. I’ve had several 3″ and 4″ “Target” Bulldogs over the years and could not begin to count how many rounds I’ve had through them. I can’t speak for the current ones, as mine were all Stratford production.

  20. I have a first gen bulldog, and must object to characterization of its being ugly. I find it to be well designs and classic. It is superb for concealment. I wish the many of todays offerings had as much class.


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