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Charter Arms Pitbull Review

by David Fortier   |  July 9th, 2013 4
Charter-Arms-Pitbull_001

Do you need a 9mm revolver to go with your 9mm pistols? Charter Arms thinks so, and so it now offers the Pitbull six-shot revolver in 9x19mm Luger.

Designed by Georg Luger and introduced by Deutsche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken in 1902, the 9x19mm is one of the oldest autoloading pistol cartridges in existence. It predates such classics as the .45 ACP, .44 Special and .357 Mag., and is only a few years younger than the old .38 Special.

What I find most interesting though is the popularity of this 111-year-old cartridge. Since its introduction it has gone on to become not just successful, but rather the world standard. Today it is issued not only to NATO and U.S. forces, but it has also been adopted even by Russia and China. As to be expected, it is also hugely popular on the commercial market. If you doubt that, go try to find some at Walmart.

Without a doubt it is a very well balanced cartridge for autoloading pistols. The question I have, though, is this; do we really need a 9x19mm revolver?

This isn’t the 1980s and I’m sure some will gruffly reply something along the lines of, “Revolvers? We don’t need no stinking revolvers.” To this I will readily acknowledge that revolvers have seen a sharp decline in popularity. However some still prefer the simplicity and utility of a short-barreled revolver.

So when Charter Arms announced it was introducing two new models chambered for popular autoloading pistol cartridges I took note. The Pitbull line now includes a model chambered for .40 S&W and one in 9x19mm. Both are very popular, and it only made sense to offer a revolver for them.

Chambering revolvers for autoloading pistol cartridges is hardly new. The problem was first tackled before World War I. Chambering a revolver cylinder for a rimless autoloading revolver cartridge is not difficult. You simply cut the chamber to headspace off the case mouth just like a pistol barrel.

The problem arises when you wish to extract and eject the fired cases. In a swing-out cylinder or top-break revolver there is no rim for the star ejector to grasp. Due to this lack of a rim, fired cases are difficult to remove. Smith & Wesson developed a simple solution to this problem around 1908. They developed the “moon clip,” which held six cartridges by their extractor groove. With this device you simply dropped the entire loaded clip into the cylinder.

After firing your six, the clip, along with the empty cases, was easily ejected. The only downside was these full moon clips could be bent fairly easily, distorting them.

Smith & Wesson also developed a half-moon clip that held three rounds. The half-moon clips were later adopted and fielded by the U.S. Army during World War I. The War Department purchased thousands of large-frame Smith & Wesson and Colt revolvers in .45 ACP to supplement the Model 1911 pistol. These Model 1917 revolvers would go on to see service in both World Wars.

While the Model 1917 revolvers are by far the most famous revolvers chambered for autoloading pistol cartridges, they are hardly the only ones. The Webley-Fosbery self-cocking revolver was made in an eight-shot version chambered for .38 ACP cartridges held in a full-moon clip.

Israel modified S&W Victory Model revolvers to fire clipped 9mm ammo in the 1950s. In the 1970s, Smith & Wesson developed the Model 547 in 9x19mm. This design is interesting in that it does not use a clip to extract/eject the cases. Rather it uses an extractor designed by Roger J. Curran with a horn-shaped extractor with small spring tabs. This allowed cartridges to be inserted/extracted normally, no clip required.

The Model 547 was intended for the French police market, and while it was an interesting feat of mechanical engineering, it was not a commercial success. Ammo for the 9mm was far less developed than it is today, and shooters saw no advantage whatever in using it in preference to the .357 Mag. that dominated at the time. The few remaining examples are now interesting collector’s items.

Smith & Wesson also produced traditional 9x19mm revolvers that took conventional clips. In the 1990s, S&W offered the J-frame Model 940. A five-shot piece intended for concealed carry, it was intended to be loaded using 5-shot full moon clips. It also did not prove a commercial success, and was discontinued.

While we have the pages of time turned back, I should also mention the short-lived 9mm Federal. This was a throwback to the old .45 Auto Rim concept developed in 1920 by Remington-Peters. The .45 Auto Rim is nothing more than the .45 ACP with a thick rim added. This allowed easy and trouble-free use in surplus Model 1917 revolvers without the need for moon clips. Introduced in 1989, the 9mm Federal was nothing more than a rimmed 9x19mm cartridge intended for use in revolvers. Like the .45 Auto Rim, it would work in a 9mm revolver without the need for moon clips, though it had a conventional rim rather than the thick .45 Auto Rim style.

Almost as quickly as it was introduced, it was withdrawn, since someone pointed out it could be chambered in thousands of old .38 S&W top-break revolvers. As you might suspect, firing a cartridge producing 9mm pressures in an old folder could be catastrophic. It also was offered in revolvers with cylinders long enough for .357 Mag. Had it been available in something with an abbreviated cylinder like the Colt Police Positive or Banker’s Special, it might have been more appealing, but the commonality with the .38 S&W doomed it.

The latest company to take up the rimless cartridge in a revolver challenge is Charter Arms. Over the years, Charter Arms has had a bit of an up and down history and is best known for their big bore .44 Spl. Bulldog revolvers. The company was originally founded in 1964 by Douglas McClenahan.

He, like many Americans, had the dream of owning his own company. After working as a designer for such notable firearm companies as Colt, High Standard and Ruger, he decided to form his own company. He developed a revolver design utilizing a one-piece frame without the weakness of a sideplate, plus a unique hammer block safety system.

His first model was a five-shot .38 Spl. he dubbed the Undercover. At just 16 ounces, it was the lightest steel-framed revolver in the world at the time. It also featured the fewest moving parts. McClenahan’s goal was to produce a reliable piece for personal protection that was also affordable to the average blue-collar worker.

In 1967 McClenahan took on his close friend David Ecker as a 50-50 partner. In the years that followed, the company had its ups and downs. In 1984 David Ecker’s son, Nick, joined the firm, running the manufacturing side of the company. Ultimately though, Charter Arms went bankrupt in the 1990s and was resurrected by the Ecker family. Production was moved from Stratford to Shelton, Conn., and work continued.

Some refinements were made to the original designs and new calibers were introduced. Today Charter Arms is owned and run by Nick Ecker. It currently offers models chambered for .22 LR, .32 H&R Mag., .38 Spl., .357 Mag., .44 Spl., .40 S&W and 9x19mm.

The story on Charter Arms’ 9mm Pitbull revolver stretches back to when it was first announced in 2008. Originally dubbed the Charter Arms Rimless Revolver, it was slated to be available in 9mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP. Patent issues seem to have repeatedly delayed its release until the first .40 S&W model finally entered production in August 2011. I found the concept interesting, but decided to wait for the 9x19mm model to become available.

Time went by, I became busy with other projects and then one day I remembered Charter Arms’ Pitbull. So I bought one to see how it would perform. As such, these are my thoughts as a customer.

It’s pretty obvious pulling this piece from the box what it was designed for. It’s not a target pistol and it wasn’t designed for hunting Cape buffalo. Rather, it is intended for self-protection and concealed carry.

To help prevent rust during prolonged carry in hot and humid weather, Charter Arms machines this model from stainless steel. It features the classic one-piece frame design and sports a clockwise-rotating six-shot cylinder. Fitted to the front of the frame is a 2.2-inch barrel. The barrel is machined with six groove rifling with a 1:10 right-hand twist. It also features an integrally machined shroud to protect the ejector rod.

The fixed sights are rugged, wide and easy to pick up at speed. The front sight on my piece showed evidence of being filed down at the factory to zero it. Black neoprene grips are fitted. These provide something useful to hang on to, while also reducing recoil.

This model is 6.5 inches long and 1.44 inches wide. It measures 5 inches high. Tossing it on my electronic scale revealed it to weigh in at 22 ounces. So all in all, the Pitbull is fairly compact and light, making for comfortable concealed carry.

Most might compare the Pitbull to S&W’s J-frame. I compared them side-by-side and found my old square-butt J-frame to be smaller all around. Keep in mind, while larger, the Pitbull also packs one more shot than the petite five-shot Smith. A better comparison would be with an old D-frame Colt. The most important thing to understand is that the Pitbull is small and light enough to comfortably carry day in and day out.

What sets this model apart from similar Charter Arms models chambered for a traditional revolver cartridge such as .38 Spl.? Good question. The voodoo of this design is contained in its special patented ejector system. At first glance, the star ejector system looks like a traditional design. However, closer examination reveals small spring-loaded stainless steel extractors for each chamber. When a cartridge is inserted, these are pushed out of the way towards the center of the cylinder.

As the cartridge seats in the cylinder, they pop back out into the extractor groove. A simple push of the ejector rod removes spent and live cartridges.

The downside to this system is the simple fact that cartridges no longer drop into place. Unlike loading a .38 Spl. revolver, where cartridges drop into each chamber whether by hand, speed strip or a speedloader, the Pitbull requires each cartridge to be pushed fully home into the chamber.

The spring-loaded extractor prevents the cartridge from dropping into place. That means a conventional speedloader will not work with this design. If speedy reloads aren’t a big issue for you, you won’t care, but if you are used to using speedloaders, you’ll probably prefer a .38 Spl.

When I picked my revolver up at my FFL, the counter people exchanged looks and rolled their eyes when they saw it was a Charter Arms. Now this is a hugely popular firearms store just off-post from one of the largest U.S. Army bases, Fort Riley. They see a lot of traffic and sell a lot of firearms, so I asked them what their eye rolls were for. They stated they had not had good luck with Charter Arms revolvers, with a number experiencing issues. Something else to keep in mind.

Out of the box my revolver looked good, except for one slightly damaged screw on the cylinder crane. The single-action pull was actually quite good, light and broke cleanly. Even the double-action pull was quite acceptable and on the light side. The cylinder latch operated properly and with it pushed fully forward, the cylinder could easily be popped out.

Out of the box the ejector rod was a bit on the tight side. However within a couple hundred rounds this broke in without issue. Cylinder lock-up exhibited just a bit of slop. I found the Pitbull comfortable in the hand and it appeared well suited to its intended task.

I had heard that some 9x19mm cartridges could be hard to extract, so I headed straight to the range with a variety of loads. The first I tried was Wolf Performance Ammunition’s 115-grain FMJ. This is a steel-cased load and it immediately didn’t want to extract. Basically, I had to poke the steel cases out one at a time with a punch.

I had the same issue with a Black Hills’ +P load, which acted identically. Once I dropped both of these loads from testing, though, I experienced no further issues.

I was left with four loads for testing. These consisted of American Eagle’s 124-grain FMJ, Hornady’s Custom 124-grain XTP JHP and their Zombie Max 115-grain ZMAX and MagTech’s First Defense 92.6-grain Solid Copper Hollow Point (SCHP). I proceeded to fire four 5-shot groups with each load from a bench at 25 yards.

Accuracy was quite acceptable for a snub-nosed revolver. Best accuracy was obtained using Hornady’s 124-grain XTP load, which averaged 2.9 inches at 1124 fps. American Eagle’s 124-grain FMJ load averaged 3.1 inches at a sedate 966 fps. Hornady’s Zombie Max load averaged 3.5 inches at 1022 fps, while MagTech’s 92.6-grain SCHP averaged 4 inches at 1195 fps.

Next I stuck a full-size Action Target B-27 silhouette up at 50 yards. The Pitbull had no issues putting six rounds of American Eagle ball on target. So I stuck the same target up at 100 yards. Firing single-action, I was able to keep all six rounds on the silhouette. Practical accuracy is not an issue.

Charter Arms’s 9mm Pitbull performed very well with these four loads. Cases extracted and ejected smoothly, just as you would expect. Punch the ejector rod and all six empties were flung clear of the cylinder. Function was flawless with zero issues experienced. Recoil was a bit harsher than expected though. This is by no means a hard-kicking wheelgun, but it does have more snap that a mundane .38 Spl. The gun was well regulated for windage and just a bit high when it came to elevation. This, of course, could be adjusted through load selection.

The main drawback to this concept seemed to be the slow reload. Fishing individual cartridges out of a pocket or pouch to stuff into the cylinder is a bit too 19th century for me.

So I tried something a bit different. I took one of my Glock 17 magazines and utilized it like an in-line capper for a muzzleloader. Basically I ejected empty cases normally and then, with the revolver held in my left hand, reached for a loaded Glock magazine with my right hand.

I then simply used my right thumb to push cartridges directly from the magazine into each chamber. You just have to make sure to seat each cartridge fully. The first couple times I tried, a few rounds hit the floor. But after just a bit of practice, I found I could reload quickly and smoothly in this manner. So not only can the Pitbull fire the same ammunition as my Glock, but I can even reload it using the same magazines.

I’m sure almost any 9mm pistol magazine would work just as well. Perfect? No, but better than stuffing individual rounds in.

Do you need a 9mm revolver? I don’t know, only you can answer that. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the 1898-vintage .38 Spl. It’s a fine cartridge that’s only gotten better with age. However, .38 Spl. ammunition is not as plentiful as it used to be. Plus I already stockpile 9x19mm ammunition. So I like the concept of having a simple snub-nosed revolver that will eat the same ammo as my Glocks.

The downside is the Pitbull will not eat everything my Glock will. You need to carefully test any load you plan on using to ensure it extracts properly. If you find a snub-nosed revolver in 9mm appealing, then you may want to consider a Charter Arms Pitbull. Suggested retail price on this model is $465. I will revisit this piece down the road and let you know how it holds up.

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  • David Bowen

    Fortier, once again a very well written, thoughtful and insightful article. Much like one you’ve probably forgotten about a 6.5 Swede rifle from some time back. Charter Arms may have had some ups and downs, who hasn’t, however, let those that roll their eyes know it signals current ignorance. We love our mid-80′s 3″ .44SP and have been waiting for this 9mm to arrive. Great tip on the mag reload; nice companion to our G17.

    • HiCap

      I picked mine up a week ago. The trigger was horrend0 rounds and some dry fire it smoothed out. I love it. 100+ rounds through it and a little learning of the trigger and I wouldn’t to be in front of me when I’m shooting. I find it is a lot softer shooting that a .38 spec, snub on the same weight and sixw frame, ie a Colt DS II.

  • disqus_xRDifJ7vnp

    It is good to hear a positive review about Charter; I live in Connecticut and heard an advertisement for job openings at Charter on the radio. This is good for our economy, contrary to our democrat controlled legislature and governor.

  • Ramon

    I owned one of these for about a year. I received one of the first ones that were available in the fall of 2012. When I first got it took it to the range and had a lot of problems. The main issue was jamming and it did not make any difference what type of ammo I used, the cylinder would still jam. Having owned it for all of 24 hours I sent it back to Charter for repairs. They basically rebuilt the gun and sent it back to me.

    Due to the cold weather I did not get the gun back out until late spring. I ran probably 50-60 rounds through it to make certain it worked properly and then put it aside. In late summer I had a friend who had never shot a revolver before with me and let him use it. After about 20 rounds the gun started keyholing and he couldn’t hit any where near his aim. I tried it myself and also couldn’t hit anything with it.

    Returning home I called Charter and told them of the problem and again sent it in. They had it for about a month and when I got it back they told me that they had to replace the barrel.

    So all in all I probably shot less than 200 rounds through it and sent it back twice. I finally sold it as it was the most untrustworthy weapon I ever owned.

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