When Dirty Harry hit the scene in 1971, the .44 Magnum forever became pop culture’s most powerful handgun. But, when dealing in terms of self-defense, more power isn’t necessarily better. In fact, there are many people who argue the .44 Magnum is a poor choice for personal protection from a violent attack by a human due to the recoil and deep penetration associated with the cartridge. I believe the Magnum’s parent cartridge, the .44 Special, is a better choice for self-defense.
The .44 Special was developed by Smith & Wesson in the early 1900s to replace the .44 Russian cartridge. The .44 Russian was a respected blackpowder cartridge, but the case was too small to directly convert to smokeless powder. S&W lengthened the case of the Russian, made adjustments to the powder charge and used the same bullets as the Russian in the Special. The result was a cartridge that is widely regarded as being one of the most accurate big-bore handgun cartridges.
In a world of semi-automatic pistols, it is sometimes hard to find quality revolvers in calibers other than .38. Fortunately, one company is still committed to making good quality, big-bore wheel guns.
The Charter Arms Bulldog is a five-shot revolver chambered for the .44 Special. The gun was introduced in the early 70s and has undergone a number of improvements through the years. They are in full production, and unlike a lot of other guns, can be found in gun stores if you go looking for them.
The gun is small enough to be carried concealed, yet large enough to be effectively used in stressful conditions. Unloaded, the guns weigh about 21 ounces. The cylinder holds five rounds, not six, which helps reduce the bulk of the gun when carry it.
The Bulldog has a 2.5-inch barrel and a full length lug underneath. The lug shrouds the ejector rod, which helps prevent damage to it. A bent ejector rod can prevent you from being able to quickly reload the gun.
Current production models come with rubber grips that fill the hand and are just tacky enough to prevent them from slipping if your hands are slick with perspiration or blood.
Sights on the Bulldog are fixed. The upside is they are not going to be knocked out of alignment or broken without some major effort. The downside is replacing them with an aftermarket sight set is not a reasonable option. To me, the rear notch is fine, but I would prefer a different front sight. The plain front ramp is fine for target shooting, but I would like to have an XS Big Dot sight or perhaps a fiber optic sight for quicker acquisition. Having a gunsmith install a bright red or green insert in the front ramp would be an option.
There are several different models of the Bulldog. The standard configuration can be had with a blued or stainless steel finish, and comes with a fully exposed hammer. Other models include a partially shrouded hammer, double-action-only and custom finishes. Charter Arms announced the re-introduction of the original Bulldog with a tapered 3-inch barrel and exposed ejector rod. Suggested retail prices start at $414 and go up depending on the model desired.
I’ve shot the modern Bulldog revolvers and found them to be accurate and reliable handguns. It has been my experience that the double action trigger pull is a little heavy and a touch gritty when bought new, but that it smoothes out nicely after several hundred trigger pulls. That might sound like a lot, but between dry fire and range time, a shooter can quickly move past that number.
Recoil in the Bulldog is manageable with self-defense loads and very mild with the easy shooting cowboy loads. The rubber grips do an adequate job of absorbing recoil, though I do find that after an extended shooting session, the web of my shooting hand does get a little tender. A set of grips with a soft rubber cushion high on the backstrap would likely eliminate that problem.
If you need a reasonably priced, big bore revolver for self-defense, the Bulldog is worth your consideration.