Charter Arms is best known for their five-shot 44 Special
Bulldog revolver. Gun-savvy police officers have carried this big-bore
.44-caliber revolver as a backup gun or off-duty for the last few decades. The
Shelton, Conn. manufacturer has been producing American-made firearms since
1964. Their focus has been on snub-nosed guns in 32 Special, 38 Special, 357
Magnum, and 44 Special revolver calibers, priced favorably compared to their
The new Pitbull “charters” fresh waters—it chambers the 40
S&W auto-pistol cartridge. Since its
introduction in 1990, the 40 S&W has gained wide popularity with American
law enforcement and has become the clear caliber of choice for duty carry. Now
you can interchange the same ammo between the pistol on your belt and the
revolver on your ankle (or elsewhere).
The 40 S&W cartridge was a joint venture between Smith
& Wesson (the handgun) and Winchester
(the ammunition). The goal for the cartridge was to match the “medium velocity”
version of the 10mm cartridge, which kicked like a 41 Magnum. Using faster
burning powder, the reduced recoil version of the 10mm cartridge didn’t need as
much space for gunpowder as the full power version, which used slower burning
simply shortened the 10mm case to make the 40 S&W. As a bonus, the new,
shortened 10mm cartridge (now 40 S&W) would fit handguns already chambered
for the 9mm cartridge.
Revolvers have been able to fire semi-automatic cartridges
since the Colt and S&W 45 ACP models of 1917. These two double-action revolvers were
created to supplement the shortage of military 1911 auto pistols. Flat metal
stampings, called moon clips, were invented to hold two, three or six rounds of
45 ACP ammo. The moon clips prevented rimless semi-auto cartridges from falling
through the cylinder chambers.
This interchangeability of pistol and revolver ammo via the
use of moon clips also allowed easy extraction of the empty cases. The moon
clips also acted like a speed loader. Since the Model 1917s, various revolvers
have since been able to fire 9mm, 40 S&W, 45 ACP, and even 10mm rounds, but
they all still required the use of moon clips.
The new Pitbull eliminates the need for moon clips. The new
auto-pistol caliber revolver loads just like any other revolver. The Pitbull’s
innovative design incorporates a dual coil, spring loaded assembly in the
extractor, which retains each round. A slight push is required to load each
round and overcome the minimal spring pressure from the extractors. Once all
five chambers are loaded, the little clips keep the cartridges from falling
back out again, even if the gun happens to become inverted with its cylinder
The Pitbull is made from stainless steel and weighs 20
ounces unloaded. Its 2.3-inch barrel includes a shroud to shield the ejector
rod. Unlike some previous Charter Arms revolvers, the barrel is not covered
with a sleeve. It screws into the frame and the button rifled bore has eight
grooves to seal gasses better, which in turn provides more bullet
The front sight is machined as part of the barrel and is
smooth without serrations. Against a dark background, it was easy to see and
lined up well with the wide and deep rear notch sight cut into the revolver’s
frame. But, against lighter colored backgrounds, the front sight all but
disappeared from view. Serrations would help make the front sight more visible,
as would orange or black paint applied by the shooter.
The gun’s outer finish is a subtle matte silver color that
is very pleasing to the eye. The left side of the barrel carries the Pitbull
name, caliber designation, and a vicious-looking version of the handgun’s
namesake dog head. Some of the concealed inner surfaces showed rough casting
areas that did not affect the mechanical workings of the firearm.
The black rubber handles encompass the entire grip and the
rear area is generously thick to absorb recoil. The grip’s checkering pattern
provides a non-slip surface and felt outstanding. It was almost as if I formed
it myself by squeezing modeling clay until it conformed to my fingers. The
three front finger grooves fit several officers well, despite their various
The cylinder latch pushes forward on the left side of the
frame and opens the five-shot cylinder to the left on its crane. The crane is
retained by a screw at the front of the frame for stability. The small ejector
rod spins freely and does not have a knob at its end. Ejecting spent cases works easy enough with
the novel extractor system, but occasionally an empty shell will still catch on
the thick rubber of the grips.
A supplement to the instruction manual emphasizes special
unloading instructions for the Pitbull. The recommendation is the revolver be
pointed straight up to ensure proper ejection, stressing that gravity should be
used to your advantage. This maneuver prevents empty cases from jamming the
The Pitbull employs Charter Arms’ transfer bar safety system
in its action. The face of the hammer is comprised of stepped flat surfaces.
The firing pin is fully retained within the rear face of the frame. When cocked
manually or when pulling the double action trigger, the transfer bar rises up
between the hammer and the firing pin. This bar allows the kinetic energy of
the falling hammer to transfer to the firing pin, which then strikes the
Transfer bars have been around for over one hundred years.
The Charter Arms transfer bar allows the gun’s hammer to rest on a loaded
chamber with no fear of the revolver firing if it’s dropped or the hammer is
inadvertently struck. It also allows the hammer to be safely lowered from a
cocked position when the shooter’s finger is off the trigger.
The double-action trigger is designed with a radical
curvature to prevent the tip of the smooth-faced trigger from pinching your
finger against the inside of the trigger guard.
The hammer spur is easy to reach with your right thumb for single-action
The double-action trigger pull on the Pitbull averaged just
less than 12 pounds of pressure. There was some grittiness that smoothed out as
the gun was dry-fired and then shot. When manually thumb cocked, the
single-action trigger pull broke at just less than 4 pounds with no creep or
take-up and just a bit of over-travel.
Lots of Recoil
The felt recoil from the powerful 40 S&W from the light
Pitbull is significant. This is not a gun made for recreational plinking at the
range. This five-shot snubnose is made to save your life in a backup or
off-duty situation. Under this type of circumstance, it probably would not
matter if your palm was throbbing from punishing recoil.
Firing the Pitbull is similar to firing a 357 Magnum from a
2-inch barreled snubnose. The 40 S&W delivers a mighty kick. Shooting this
gun accurately is not for amateurs. There are officers who believe there’s not
much point in carrying any caliber unless it starts with the number four. The
44 Special Bulldog’s popularity with knowledgeable police officers followed
The 40 S&W also starts with the number four and is
obviously permitted to join the number four club. Ammo in 44 Special caliber
can be hard to locate for qualification and carry, but 40-caliber cartridges
are usually right in your department’s armory.
The Pitbull fired to point of aim at 7 yards. Hits on a
silhouette target at 15 yards were easy when utilizing the revolver’s excellent
single-action trigger pull. They were more difficult with the longer and
heavier double-action pull. The short sight radius does not easily lend itself
to 25-yard shooting. Of course, lots of practice with the Pitbull could lead to
more hits at that distance. The Pitbull is not uncontrollable and exhibited
very good accuracy for its intended purpose.
Some Velocity Loss
Several types of ammunition were fired from the Pitbull,
including factory solid and hollowpoint loads in 165-grain, 185-grain and
200-grain bullet weights. The heavier the bullet, the more the little snubby
will painfully thump your palm. Stick to the light bullet weights. These also
retain more of the intended velocity from the short barrel than heavier
loads…that means more reliable bullet expansion.
There is some loss of velocity and energy when firing the 40
S&W round out of a short-barreled revolver. The bullet must jump the gap
between the cylinder and the barrel and some gas will always escape through
that sliver of distance. The gunpowder used in the 40 S&W is designed
around a 3.5- to 5-inch barrel, like those used in duty pistols. Using a
chronograph, I found an 18–28 percent drop in velocity when firing 40 S&W
rounds first in an S&W M&P Pro with a 5-inch barrel and then in the
Charter Arms also offers the Pitbull chambered for the 9mm
semi-auto cartridge. It can share ammo with its 9mm pistol counterparts. With
more controllable recoil for the average officer, conceivably the 9mm version
would probably be more of a Puppy Dog.
The .40 S&W certainly measures up to its Pitbull namesake.
Steve Tracy is a 26-year police
veteran with 24 years of experience as a firearms instructor. He is also an
instructor for tactical rifles, use of force, less-than-lethal force and
scenario-based training. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.