The 44 Special round was introduced in 1908. It was revived by Skeeter Skelton and made famous by Elmer Keith in the 50’s and as a direct result of his hand loading of the cartridge, the 44 Magnum was born.
The Charter Arms Bulldog was introduced in 1973. It quickly became a top seller throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s and for good reason, it put big bore power into a small light weight frame and it was inexpensive. The bulldog got some notoriety in the late 70’s when it was the weapon of choice for David Berkowitz AKA “The Son of Sam” and ” The 44 Caliber Killer”. He used a 3″ version.
Depending upon who you talk to the Charter Arms Bulldog is either a good firearm, or a cheap piece of junk. To shed some light on why it has gotten this reputation, one must first understand a few things, such as Charter Arms turbulent history and the hand loading history of the 44 special cartridge.
Charter Arms was actually four different companies. Below is compiled from the best of my abilities, the history of the company. My father did work for them as a quality assurance specialist in the 70’s. While some data may not be entirely correct, this is the best I could do with the data I was able to research:
1st Generation 1964 – 1991
CHARTER ARMS CORPORATION
Founded by Douglas McClenahan 1964
Purchased By David Ecker 1972
Bridgeport , Connecticut 1964-1974
Stratford, Connecticut 1974 – 1991
Identification by barrel markings:1964-1965 CHARTER ARMS CORP (no city marking)
1965-1974: CHARTER ARMS CORP over BRIDGEPORT CONN
1974 – 1991: – CHARTER ARMS CORP over STRATFORD CONN These were reliably made during this time frame. Noted issues included loss of the front sights, sharp edges on the cylinder releases, and weapon failures due to reloading the lighter big bore revolvers beyond what they were capable of. The company declared bankruptcy in 1991 and the company was acquired and reorganized as CHARCO, INC
2nd Generation 1992 – 1999CHARCO, INC. Acquired by Jeff Williams
Ansonia , Connecticut 1992-19999
Identification by barrel markings:1992-1999: CHARCO over ANSONIA CONN Note: There are apparently some old stock acquired after the bankruptcy marked CHARTER ARMS CORP over STRATFORD CONN that was completed and shipped by CHARCO during this time frame.
The quality control suffered dearly under this ownership and the firearms began to get a bad reputation as unreliable. The firearms during this time frame had a host of quality issues and are deemed unreliable. This was the ultimate undoing of the company and they closed their doors in 1999 due to poor sales and loss of revenue, ultimately declaring bankruptcy. Nick Ecker, son of David Ecker then acquired the company with other investors and opened it under the name CHARTER 2000.
3rd Generation 2000 – 2005CHARTER 2000 Acquired by Nick Ecker
Shelton , Connecticut 2000-2005
Identification by barrel markings:2000-2005: CHARTER ARMS 2000 over SHELTON CONN
The quality control stepped up under this ownership and the firearms were improved. Such improvements included: Fixed front sights (earlier versions were notorious for losing front sights), solid one piece barrels pinned to the frame, removal of sharp edges such as the cylinder release which used to be a knuckle scraper, and a one piece ejector. These firearms have regained their reputation for reliability. In 2005 Charter 2000 declared chapter 11 bankruptcy. It was reorganized as CHARTER ARMS still under Nick Ecker but in partnership with MKS Supply to provide sales, marketing, and distribution. In 2010 Charter took over these functions and ended their partnership with MKS Supply.
4th Generation 2005 – PresentCHARTER ARMS Still owned by Nick Ecker in partnership with MKS Supply
Shelton , Connecticut 2005-2010 Owned by Nick Ecker Shelton, Connecticut 2010-Present
Identification by barrel markings:2005-Present CHARTER ARMS over SHELTON CONN
These firearms have continued with their reliability and are currently in production today. All of the Charter Arms firearms manufactured in Shelton, Connecticut have a lifetime warranty.
You can visit their website here: Charter Arms
So now that you understand Charter’s turbulent history a little, now I would like to jump into the hand loading aspect of the 44 Special.
To start the 44 Special SAAMI limit is 15,500 PSI. I have read numerous times that exceeding 15,500 PSI in the Bulldog is what causes it to go out of time or fall apart.
This makes absolute sense seeing it is a sub 22 oz firearm. A lot of the bad reputation the Charter Bulldog has gotten is hand loaders trying to run full power “Keith Loads” which are 240-250gr bullets under shovels full of 2400 in these lightweight guns. These loads were running around 25,500 PSI, way more than the firearm was designed to handle. This obviously caused timing issues, frame stretching, cylinder failures, and a host of other issues with the revolvers.
Brian Pearce’s excellent article on the 44 special in Hand Loader Magazine puts the Bulldog in the mid range 22K thresh hold. According to the article 15.5k PSI is generated with 8.0 gr of power pistol under a 250gr bullet. The Keith loads pushed 25,500 PSI.
9.0 gr of power pistol supposedly duplicates Buffalo Bore’s Keith Load which they recommend NOT to use in a Charter Bulldog.
Buffalo Bore’s advice is for good reason. Individuals have been loading these and then shooting a lot of rounds out of their buldogs. So you can see how these light guns are failing. Or before they fail, they sell them and some unsuspecting individual purchases a used one, and it fails. Then of course the revolver gets the blame and it gets a bad reputation over time.
These loads were designed for the heavy duty revolvers such as Smith N frames and Rugers with 5″ + barrels. Not lightweight sub 22 oz revolvers with 2.5″ barrels. You really have to hand load to the firearm and not the other way around. I would fully expect my Bulldog to fail prematurely with a steady diet of these loads.
I personally feel keeping it around 15,500-16,000 PSI will keep it running true for many years to come. There are plenty of excellent loads that fall under this category. A few of mine will be listed below. There are many more listed in books, publications, and articles. The 44 special round is a very versatile, accurate big bore round.
Here is a collection of good articles on reloading the cartridge; 44 Special Handloading Articles and a good article based around the 44 Bulldog; Charter Arms 44 Special Bulldogs: Care and Feeding
The Charter Arms 44 Special Bulldog
Selections are limited in the snub nose 44 special category. There are Taurus offerings such as the 445 ultra lite, which is now discontinued , but in my Taurus 651 Review, I noted that I will never own one again due to their customer service. Used Taurus models are around the $400 range. But buyer beware.
If I wanted much better fit and finish I am always free to spend the money on a Ruger Super Red Hawk Alaskan 44 magnum upwards of $800, or a used Smith Model 24 , 29, 624, or 629. All hovering between $1000 and $1500.
My decision was easy really. The Charter Bulldog comes in around $400 and offers a lifetime warranty.
When I pulled the Bulldog out of the box, the first thing I noticed was it was a bit gritty.
The trigger, the ejector, the cylinder release were all gritty. This was to be expected. It is a sub $400 firearm.
I could have spent three times as much and gotten what I paid for. So YES, it was a little rough out of the box. I expected it.
The lockup was how I would describe as extremely tight. Just as tight as any new Smith I have purchased. Much tighter than the Taurus which had some end shake brand new.
I broke it down and cleaned it with de-greaser to remove the factory oil. Then I put a drop of SLIP 2000 EWL on the following spots:
Cylinder release latch
Then I worked it with snap caps for about 250 dry fires. I also released and re-latched the cylinder about 100 times
Then I took it apart again. Re-cleaned it with de-greaser .
Then I Lubed only the cylinder/crane connection and the ejector rod.
It operates very smooth now. All of the grittiness is gone.
I had to put in an entire 30 minutes of labor and time to get the revolver smooth enough to my liking.
It is a very lightweight revolver. I recorded the following weights:19.3 oz empty with factory grips 18.1 oz empty with factory wood boot grips 18.9 oz empty with Charter Combat Grips 21.6 oz empty with Pachmayer Compac Grips 21.7 oz with 200gr Speer Gold Dot JHP handloads and factory wood boot grips 22.5 oz with 200gr Speer Gold Dot JHP handloads and Charter Combat Grips 22.9 oz with 200gr Winchester Silvertips and factory grips 25.2 oz with 200gr Speer Gold Dot JHP handloads and Pachmayer Compac Grips The factory spec for the revolver is 21 oz In comparison my Ruger LCR 357 is 19.3 oz loaded with 135gr Speer Gold Dot Short Barrel 357 handloads and the bootgrip. The Cylinder width came in at 1.460″ compared to my LCR at 1.289″ right around 11/64 of a difference
The only other issue I will note is with the grip. I did not like the finger grooves and it appeared that the screw was too long and was pushing out the side of the grip. the grip also flexed under recoil and just seemed cheap. That was easily fixed however when I purchased the Pachmayr Compac Grips . The grip weighed in at 4.3oz which is 2.3oz heavier than the factory grips. They are about the same size as the factory grips, but they are more solid, provide a better grip for my hand, and handle recoil well.
Here is a size comparison to my Ruger LCR 357. It is a bit longer and wider but still very concealable:
It is light weight enough to slide into a belt less pair of board shorts and not sag. It carries well and conceals well. I feel it is a bit too long and too wide for pocket carry, but works great for IWB.
I also purchased a set of Charter’s combat grips for concealed carry.
They do not cover the backstrap, however, they were not bad recoil wise with my 200gr Speer Gold Dot’s. Of course I shoot full power 357 loads in my LCR so there is no comparison.
These grips only allow for a two finger grip rather than the full three finger grip offered by the Pachmayr and Charter factory grips. They also make it easier to conceal.
Here they are in comparison to my LCR
How the Bulldog rides in comparison to the LCR (first):
I ended up stumbling across pristine set of Charter Undercover wooden boot grips for it at a price I could not pass up. All Charters use the same grips which is a bonus. I put them on and fell in love with them. They are as small as the rubber combat grips, conceal just as well, but give it a great old school look that I love. I shot them with an extended range session with around 200 full power loads and it was not only manageable, but surprisingly it did not hurt my hand like the combat grips did. I decided to keep them on there.
The trigger started off gritty, but once I worked it out it became smooth, a little bit of stacking but not much at all. The pull was measured at 12.3 lbs out of the box, and worked to about 11.4 lbs after use and break in.
Shooting it was a breeze. It was accurate out to 15 yards with all of my hand loads and it had significantly less recoil than my LCR. The Pachmayr Compac grip absorbed a lot of it. The combat grips transfer more recoil due to the size and lack of backstrap coverage but were still manageable with full power loads and had way less recoil than a lightweight 357 and slightly less than shooting 38+p which helps for recoil sensitive individuals.
This made for enjoyable range sessions.
Here are some chronograph results from my few outings at the range where I decided to document it:200gr Winchester Silver Tip 44 Special Factory
Charter Bulldog 2.5″ Barrel
High – 856.6
Low – 736.1
Extreme Spread – 120.5
Standard Deviation – 45.02
Avg – 792 FPS – 279 ft lbs energy 200gr Speer Gold Dot 44 Special 8.6gr Power Pistol/Win primer/1.490″
Charter Bulldog 2.5″ Barrel
High – 1054
Low – 990
Extreme Spread – 64.88
Standard Deviation – 27.76
Avg – 1015 FPS – 457ft lbs energy 240gr Speer JHP 44 Special 7.8gr Power Pistol/Win primer/1.465″
Charter Bulldog 2.5″ Barrel
High – 953.8
Low – 920.4
Extreme Spread – (forgot to record)
Standard Deviation – 14.66
Avg – 939.6 FPS – 470ft lbs energy 180gr Hornaday XTP 44 Special 9.1gr Power Pistol/Win primer/1.480″
Charter Bulldog 2.5″ Barrel
High – 1117
Low – 1047
Extreme Spread – 70.04
Standard Deviation – 30.39
Avg – 1089 FPS – 474ft lbs energy 225gr Speer JHP 44 Special 7.7gr Power Pistol/Win primer/1.500″
Charter Bulldog 2.5″ Barrel
High – 966
Low – 908.9
Extreme Spread – 57.10
Standard Deviation – 24.59
Avg – 934.4 FPS – 436ft lbs energy Since the above I have recorded some more velocities of handloads in a little cooler weather. I assumed the hot weather affected the readings but I wasn’t sure how much. I also corrected the temp data above as only one was recorded at 95, the rest were at 105. Here is a summary : 200gr Speer Gold Dot 44 Special 8.6gr Power Pistol/Win primer/1.490″ 105 Degrees Avg – 1015 FPS – 457ft lbs energy 95 Degrees Avg – 993.3 FPS – 438ft lbs energy 86 Degrees Avg – 950.8 FPS – 402ft lbs energy 200gr Winchester Silver Tip 44 Special Factory
95 degrees Avg – 792 FPS – 279 ft lbs energy 86 degrees Avg – 770.8 FPS – 264 ft lbs energy 240gr Speer JHP 44 Special 7.8gr Power Pistol/Win primer/1.465″
105 degrees Avg – 939.6 FPS – 470ft lbs energy 86 Degrees Avg – 916.5 FPS – 448ft lbs energy upped 2 grains: 240gr Speer JHP 44 Special 8.0gr Power Pistol/Win primer/1.465″
86degrees Avg 927.8 FPS – 459ft lbs energy
During all of my tests, there were zero issues. The revolver fired, and ejected all of the cartridges without a single problem. It was accurate, easy to shoot, and handled recoil well. It offers a lot of bullet in a small package at an affordable price for revolver fans. With limited 44 special factory offerings, this little hand cannon would be more geared towards the hand loader who would benefit from the versatility of the cartridge. It conceals well, is lightweight, and offers a variety of combinations when hand loaded. I plan on documenting it’s long term reliability in the future.
I took it out for an extended range session with the new Charter Combat Grips and it wasn’t as bad as I had expected. Emptying a cylinder full of the 200gr Speer Gold Dots with one hand was controllable and accurate. The 240 and 225gr loads were a bit more and you could feel the backstrap in your hand. But nothing like my little 357 with full house loads. I definitely will use the Pachmayr’s for extended range sessions and for desert carry, and keep the Combat Grips on for concealed carry. Here is a video demonstration of recoil:
The accuracy at 15 yards one handed standing with my 240grain handloads was excellent:
I now have 450 rounds through it, all hand loads save about four cylinders full of 200gr Winchester Silvertips, it is definitely a fun revolver to shoot and worth a look. If not for the large bore caliber in a lightweight package, for the price alone.
I personally feel the Bulldog is a very versatile wheel gun. Allowing me to carry 200gr Speer Gold Dot JHP for home and self protection, 240gr Speer JHP for woods and desert carry and the ability to take care of any game threats encountered, and finally some shot for snake hunting forays out in the desert. All of this in a big bore caliber that is sub 23 ounces and inexpensive package. Topping it off with a lot less recoil than full house 357 magnum or 44 magnum loads. What is not to like about that?