Though I do have a couple of Glocks, I’ve always considered myself a revolver aficionado. I’d heard of Charter Arms, but honestly, prior to this purchase, I never actually had the opportunity to fondle a Charter Arms revolver. I did an exhaustive amount of internet research on Charter Arms and, with some trepidation, ordered my Pitbull from Davidsons, sight unseen. What follows is a rather lengthy review of my revolver in particular, and Charter Arms’ owner, employees, and company in general. To those interested in my impressions of the gun without a desire to read further…I LOVE IT! I think it is a fine quality revolver that will most certainly outlast me (and probably my children) with a reasonable amount of use and care.
But I feel the need to recount (in painstaking detail) not only my opinion of my revolver, but of the company itself. There are a lot of negative opinions about Charter Arms out there on the net. Since my experience has been extremely positive, I want to share it for those that might be considering a Charter.
So that you might have some context for my opinion, I have been a law enforcement officer for the past 24 years. I spent 10 of those years as a certified firearms instructor and have bought and sold more guns than I care to recount (since I have regretted nearly every one that I let go.) I began my career with a variant of the S&W 686 as a service weapon, and a Ruger SP101 as an off duty. I’ve had many snub nose revolvers (mostly S&W) through the years. I was one of the last to begrudgingly convert to a semi-auto, and only after my agency adopted the Glock. (Their first foray into the “wonder nine” world was the S&W 6906, which I held in low regard.) To this day I prefer revolvers and am elated that Charter has taken the initiative to develop and market a self-defense revolver that accepts rimless ammunition since that is what I am currently issued.
Despite that fact that there were a number of Charter Arms authorized dealers in my area, none had the PitBull in stock, and none indicated that were planning to order them. One of the unintended consequences of the Internet is that dealers seem to be restricting their stock to only the most popular firearms. This prevents educated consumers (like me) from “cherry picking” the best one in stock. With no alternative means of getting my mitts on a Pitbull, I ordered one from Davidsons and had it shipped to my local dealer.
I was pleasantly surprised when I picked up my new revolver. It was tight, locked up solidly, and exhibited much more of a quality “feel” than I had expected based on some of the internet information I had read. There were no machine marks or sharp edges, the revolver was finished well, and timing was flawless. One issue of immediate concern was that the ejector rod was very stiff. I chalked it up to the fact that the gun was brand new and needed a good cleaning and lubrication. Armed with “Davidsons Lifetime Guarantee” as well as Charter Arms “Lifetime Warranty”, I accepted the gun, hopeful that Charter would resolve any issues that might arise.
At my first opportunity, I sat down to do a side-by-side comparison of my new Pitbull with my Ruger LCR. (FYI, my LCR has about 150 +P rounds through her) Despite the fact that the Pitbull is a larger gun (most similar in size to the Colt D frame Detective Special), I think it is valuable to compare the Pitbull to the LCR since it appears to me that both are similarly constructed. Both the Pitbull and the LCR feature a two-piece frame, enclosed crane, and lack a cylinder stop. My admittedly unscientific observations are that the Pitbull is virtually identical to the LCR in terms of tolerances. Revolvers lock up tightly, there is no play in the cylinders when the trigger is held to the rear, the “hand” and “cylinder bolt” of each revolver appear to be proportionately sized and of equivalent strength, and the (very minimal) amount of “end skake” is the same in both revolvers. Those of you familiar with the LCR know that it utilizes a completely different trigger system, which I think is without equal. The Charter trigger was a bit gritty out of the box, but “smoothed up” beautifully after dry firing it a hundred times or so. One criticism I have seen about the Charter revolvers is that there is greater than normal “cylinder wobble” when the cylinder is opened and hanging on the crane/ejector rod assembly. This appears to be because the crane is narrower where the ejector rod passes through in order to accommodate the “slip collar” on the ejector rod, which slides into place to provide a locking point when the cylinder is closed. This may be difficult to visualize without handling the revolver, but I do not envision this being a problem. There is less “cylinder wobble” when the crane is open on the LCR, but the LCR locks up with a detent on the end of the extractor rod (like an S&W), allowing for more metal on the crane which I believe accounts for that difference.
The revolutionary feature of the Pitbull is that it allows the use of (so called) rimless ammunition without need of moon clips. This is accomplished by means of spring-loaded tabs that engage the cartridge rim when inserted. As a result, the rounds don’t just “fall” into the chamber when reloading since some force is required to push back the spring-loaded tab. One trick to reloading is to depress the extractor rod to lift the star, then placing cartridge on to the extended tab, allowing the round to “fall” into the chamber when the extractor star is lowered. I loaded and unloaded the cylinder about one hundred times to evaluate its reliability. Initially, one of the five tabs would stick and fail to engage the cartridge case. One drop of Militec oil (from a pin point oiler) solved that problem. I assume, much like the trigger assembly, the tabs need to wear in a bit. It is important to point out that the spring-loaded tabs serve ONLY to allow for the extraction of the spent shells. The cartridge itself is headspaced in the cylinder, so even without the tabs in place, the cartridges would seat properly and not fall through. The rimless system seems very robust and I think it will perform well long term.
When, after a through lubrication and cleaning, the ejector rod continued to bind, I emailed Charter Arms to arrange to return the gun for repair. Since I live in NYC (where it is unlawful to ship firearms except through an FFL) I had inquired as to whether or not I would be able to bring the gun to the factory (about 75 miles from my home) and have it repaired while I waited. Imagine my surprise when I received a call from Nick Ecker (Owner and President of Charter Arms Inc.) personally on a Sunday! Mr. Ecker told me that Charter would, of course, cover all shipping and handling in the event that I wanted to ship the gun to them, but he invited me to visit the factory for a tour while my gun was repaired. I was giddy at the prospect of a factory tour, and happily chose the latter.
When I arrived, I was greeted by Mr. Ecker who proceeded to take me on a step-by-step tour of his factory, which is basically a classic machine shop. All parts in a Charter revolver are manufactured within a 100-mile radius of the factory, with assembly, fit and finishing done by Charter. I got to meet many of his employees (there are just under 30) who (in addition to being extremely friendly) were proud to demonstrate their role in the manufacture and distribution of these fine firearms. I really got the sense that Charter Arms is a family. Mr. Ecker noted that his company has a “zero” attrition rate, and that most of his employees were there when he bought back the business back in 1999. (If you visit charterfirearms.com you can read about the full history of the company.)
It is also worthy of note that I asked Mr. Ecker how many of his employees were devoted to warranty repairs. In response he pointed to a cabinet containing about a half-dozen guns. He also volunteered that since 1964, approximately two million Charter Arms revolvers have been sold, and that cabinet was typical of what was “in house” at any given time for repair. There are no employees dedicated to warranty service since it is simply not necessary. All repairs are completed on the regular assembly line, and turn around time is normally five business days or less. In my view that speaks volumes about the durability, reliability, and over all quality of Charter Arms revolvers.
During my brief visit, I developed a tremendous admiration for Mr. Ecker. He, along with his employees, truly embody the traditional American values of hard work, pride, and craftsmanship. He is justifiably very proud of his company. All of us who cherish our Second Amendment rights owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Ecker (and others like him) who overcomes enormous regulatory and legal hurdles to bring their product to market.
On Wed 10/12/2011 I headed to the range for a quick test run. One thing that struck me right away is that the Pitbull seems perfectly balanced, points naturally, and has a very comfortable grip. I realize this is totally subjective, and not entirely unexpected since I have always regarded the old Colt Detective Special as the perfectly sized, weighted and balanced snub-nosed revolver. An added bonus is that I was able to squeeze the Pitbull into my old Cobra Gunskin H-35 paddle holster, which I regard as the best holster I have ever owned. For me it just feels right.
Due to time constraints, I was only able to fire 65 rounds (Federal 135 grain HST), but I can state that gun shot to point of aim and exhibited excellent combat accuracy out to 15 yards. Like most weapons I have fired…the gun is capable of higher accuracy than I am. There were no malfunctions and the revolver functioned superbly. Spent casings ejected easily, and the extractor tabs functioned smoothly. Three friends that were with me each test fired the Pitbull and were equally as impressed as I was.
This target is 20 rounds all aimed in at center mass (except for the two head shots which were aimed at the head). 5 Rounds from the 3 yard line, 10 rounds from the 7 yard line (including the two head shots), and 5 shots from the 15 yard line
In summary, I am happy to report that I am extremely satisfied with my Charter Arms revolver, due in no small measure to the company that manufactured it. Charter Arms revolvers have a decidedly different “feel” than either Ruger or S&W, but I would not characterize it as a feel of a lower quality…just different. I have no plans to torture test my personal weapon, but I read somewhere that tolerances in one of the initial Ruger LCRs remained within factory spec after 10,000 rounds fired (some with the crane screw removed) and I have no reason to believe that a Charter Arms revolver would perform any differently. Here is a link from the Charter Arms website to a “torture test” of 2000 rounds performed on one of their aluminum framed revolvers with favorable results http://www.charterfirearms.com/audio…ure%20Test.MP3 I have to imagine a steel frame would fare even better. I doubt my Charter revolver will see 5000 rounds until my grandchildren are using it, but I am confident that it could handle many more rounds than that, and if any issues did arise, they would be expeditiously resolved by the Charter Arms family.
I would like to close by urging any of you considering the purchase of a revolver to give Charter Arms a hard look. I own S&Ws, and Rugers…and I like them very much, but there is an intangible satisfaction that comes from owning and carrying a fine quality American revolver, made by a small company that does one thing and does it exceedingly well. I echo the sentiments of Congressman Ron Paul in that I consider myself a capitalist, NOT a corporatist. That is not a swipe at S&W or Ruger, nor is it meant to say that all large corporations are bad…but I do think that small businesses like Charter Arms are the backbone of this great Republic. Mr. Ecker is Patriot who manufactures an excellent product, and whom I am proud to support.
Thanks for taking the time to read my opinion. Written and Authorized by Peter Quaglia.