In the world of defensive handgun shooting, there are several guns that stand out as being very useful tools. The “hammerless” revolvers are one of the constant favorites for many people.
The classic hammerless wheelgun is the Smith & Wesson 642. Like many other people, I’ve got one on my person almost all of the time. Working for my local police department, I’ve always got it strapped to my leg as a back up. Off duty, it is generally riding in a pocket holster from DeSantis or RKBA Holsters.
I’ve had mine for years, and I don’t think I’d ever trade it. But, I have come across another revolver that makes me consider leaving the Smith in the safe. That gun? The Charter Arms Off Duty.
The Off Duty is a classically styled snub-nosed revolver. It is a hammerless design, meaning there is not an external hammer to cock for single action shooting. Not having an exposed hammer means it can be carried in a pocket without fear of snagging during the draw.
The gun has a 2” barrel with a fixed ramp front sight. The rear sight is a notch at the rear of the top strap. Compared to the 642, I found the Off Duty’s sights to be a little larger, and easier to pick up quickly. Forget about replacing the factory sights unless you are handy with an angle grinder.
The frame is made of aluminum, while the cylinder and barrel are made of stainless steel. The unloaded weight is only 12 ounces, which is slightly lighter than the 15 ounce Smith.
The trigger pull on the Off Duty started off, and stayed, fairly heavy. The good news is after about 50 rounds, the trigger smoothed out and the heavy weight didn’t bother me a bit.
Initially, the trigger pull on the Charter Arms handgun was more than my 12 pound Lyman scale could measure. After shooting, the pull lightened up to about 11 1/2 pounds. All things considered, that isn’t too bad for a pocket gun.
The Off Duty is chambered for the ubiquitous .38 Special cartridge and the gun can handle +P pressures. Capacity is five rounds.
For me, the little Charter Arms gun filled my hand much better than the Smith & Wesson ever has. When shooting more than a few dozen rounds, the cylinder release on the 642 starts to eat into the top of my right thumb. I never had that problem with the Off Duty.
The grips on the Off Duty seem to be slightly wider than the S&W, filling my hand in a way the 642 does not. Combined with the lack of bite from the cylinder latch, the Off Duty is a much more pleasurable gun to shoot. Let’s face it: you are more likely to practice with a gun that is fun to shoot.
In a recent trip to the range, I ran six different loads through it, including some pretty hot +P loads. All of them functioned fine with no hint of any problem whatsoever.
Probably the heaviest-recoiling load, the Winchester 158 grain +P SWC-HP was a stout round to touch off. Yet, the round was controllable and proved to be very accurate. I carried this load for years, and would gladly do so again.
My current carry load is the Speer Gold Dot 135 grain +P HP made for short barrel revolvers. This load has a very good track record “in the real world,” and is the only .38 load my department authorizes for carry in backup guns. I found this load to be slightly less accurate than the Winchester mentioned above, but I was still putting holes in an 8” circle at 15 yards.
The easiest recoiling load I shot was the Federal Nyclad 125 grain HP. These standard pressure rounds use a soft lead hollowpoint that is coated with a polymer. The polymer keeps the bullets from leading up your barrel, but is soft enough to allow the relatively low pressure round to expand in tissue. While not my first choice, the Nyclad would be a good choice for someone who was recoil sensitive, but otherwise liked the Off Duty revolver.
Overall, I really like this gun. MSRP on the Off Duty is $411, and “street” prices tend to be a little under $400. Considering I would trust my life to this gun, I’d call $400 a bargain.