The Charter Arms Pitbull .45 ACP:
Big Boy is in the House
We don’t do very many handgun reviews here at rifleshooter.com, despite the fact that some of us do more pistol shooting than anything else. The few reviews we post tend to start out with great fanfare and promise, slide into consternation, and end on a sour note. Such is life! Another excuse to add more wine to your diet, lowering one’s risk of stroke and heartache.
Of course the end results often depend on the reviewer, and some of us here at rifeshooter.com have more experience – and longevity – with handgun shooting than others. A few ill-advised purchases, coupled with limited experience, turned one of the staff into a 1911- hating glockaid imbiber. In contrast, the professional pistol-packer and gold medalist amongst us takes a more sanguine view of the vast field.
Here’s something new – the first .45 ACP revolver ever made that doesn’t use any kind of clips to hold the cartridges. Charter Arms introduced the Pitbull .45 ACP revolver this year.
Charter Arms hasn’t cut and run from Connecticut despite the anti-gun politics there. They are family-owned and operated company, with 50 years of roots, and aren’t controlled by portfolio investors and their resume CEOs. They sell American made revolvers that mostly retail for under Four Large… which is nice for the majority of folks that aren’t leasing a new Audi every 30 months.
Which isn’t to say that Charter Arms hasn’t had their share of ups and downs, as every gunmaker has had. In the past two years, a significant number of NIB (new in box) revolvers I have examined from the two big US makers would never have made it out of the factory 20 years ago. Seriously. Some you could shave with because the various edges were so sharp – unloading the cylinder would abrade your fingers (and I am well callused). Others would not shoot to POA – even with adjustable sights. Others had canted barrels, some were out of time, still others had horrendous trigger pulls. Get the product out the door, figuring only 10% of the market audience knows what they are doing and will notice, so fix/replace that 10% of guns via customer service and watch how that pile of beans grows via the other 90%!
Which is a rather sad statement on American Industry, and gun owners in general. Another reason to be careful at the public shooting range. Lots of clueless and careless yahoos and noobs out there.
And made even more outrageous by the greatly inflated prices that are charged for new revolvers. The S&W Model 360PD made partially of scandium and titanium alloy in .357 Magnum has an MSRP of $1019… folks that’s $89 an ounce (last I checked titanium was selling for about 15 cents an ounce). A ridiculous price for a ridiculous gun. Perhaps they should rename it “SCAMdium”.
Charter Arms introduced the Pitbull in 2011 as their entry into the semi-auto pistol cartridge in a revolver market. This market has existed since The Great War (look that one up kiddies, I know you don’t learn that in school anymore), to rectify the shortage of Lord John Moses Browning’s Holy Creation 1911 to arm our intrepid Doughboys (not of Pillsbury descent). Colt and S&W were requested to chamber their big frame revolvers for the nascent .45 Automatic Colt Pistol round. After that conflagration ended, the rimless cartridge in a revolver with half-moon clip thing sort of died down, and surplus guns of that nature were used by folks who couldn’t afford something else. S&W continued to make the gianormous Model 25 with 6.5” barrel for Very Old School bullseye shooters. In the 1980s, the idea was further resurrected: Ruger made a Speed-Six in 9mm using full moon clips, S&W made the Model 547 with a unique and problematic rimless retention system built into a retracting extractor star. Both were designed for overseas contracts – who else but the French could want that – but the guns were also sold here. In a reversal of the historical order, both guns were quickly crucified after their brief resurrection. S&W later made a Model 940 5-shot J frame in 9mm… it died too.
I had all three models when they came out, and quickly sold them once the novelty wore off. I should have waited until now as they are collectable… I’d be leasing a new Audi!!
As a review for the less learned reader, cartridges used in a swing-out cylinder or break-open revolver, need a protruding rim beyond that of the diameter of the body of the case, to function correctly when placed into the cylinder chambers, and to achieve correct headspace. Generally speaking, most semi-auto pistol cartridges use a rim design which is the same or less diameter as the body of the case, to function better in a magazine system. Exceptions include such oddballs and personal favorites as the .32 ACP and .38 Super.
Without a protruding rim, the case cannot be extracted from a double action revolver in the usual manner. The original method was to manufacture thin semi-circular spring steel clips which would hold three .45 ACP rounds each, snapping into their extractor grooves. Two “half-moon” clips would load into a 6-shot revolver cylinder, and the extractor would eject them by pushing against the clips. Those clips frequently bend from repeated use or carrying resulting in misfires, rust or get lost, and so the system has some drawbacks. The cartridges are also a PITA to load and especially unload from the clips. “Full moon” clips came out that proved to be more durable, but just as tiresome. They are popular with the get-any-edge-to-win crowd in IPSC and IDPA goofy games, firing .45 ACP in Gianormous Frame S&W heavy revolvers.
Uniquely bizarre, One Third Moon Clips hold two rounds each, in case you want to “top-off” your moonie gun during a lull in the action, or completely mess with your own mind and load your S&W .45 Colt/.45 ACP/.410 Shotshell Governor with THREE DIFFERENT LOADS at once!! Two buckshot first up close… then two .45 ACP in a moonie as the action opens up… and finish off with two heavy .45 Colt rounds in case I have to penetrate the bad guys cover!! Because with my magical powers I know exactly how a deadly force event is going to go down!!
BTW, why aren’t the 2-shot gizmos called Waxing Crescent Clips? In my humble experience they are the least reliable of these devices, which might get you… waxed.
Hey Jerry… when are we getting to the review of the Charter Pitbull?
Charter Arms for their Pitbull revolver, has chosen a route similar in final function to the ill-fated S&W 547 design, in that NO clips – Half, Full or Waxing – are required to load and fire and extract the “rimless” pistol rounds. However, Charter has vastly simplified the idea, with no loss in reliability. Introduced initially in .40, and then in 9mm, the 2015 version has arrived in .45 ACP. The 9mm and .40 versions are also still available.
As a distinctive marque, Charter now roll marks a picture of the dog your roscoe is named after right on the barrel. No need to be able to read, just know what shape ammo goes with what dog…
Historically, Charter has had only two frame sizes for their revolvers: small and large. Grip frames are the same size for both (so grips are all interchangeable), but the cylinder frame and cylinder diameter differs. The small frame is used in the Undercover .38 Special, Undercoverette .32 and Pathfinder .22 series. The large frame was used initially in the 5-shot .44 Special Bulldog series. Along the way Charter has used that large frame for 6-shot .357 and .38 Special Police Bulldog models. The 6-shot 9mm and 5-shot .40 Pitbulls also use the large frame.
The new 5-shot .45 ACP Pitbull uses a new extra-large frame, with a significantly larger cylinder diameter, in order to have sufficient strength and durability for the larger .45 cartridge. As with all Charter Arms, the cylinder bolt notches are cut between the chambers, not over them. Barrel length is 2.5” and the ejector rod is shrouded.
Consider the S&W Model 69 .44 Magnum 5-shot revolver built on the L frame: cylinder diameter 1.56”, top strap 0.195”, and minimum chamber wall 0.047”. Compared to those figures, I don’t think strength is an issue with Charter Arms guns, especially since the .45 ACP operates at 2/3 the pressure of the .44 Magnum.
The Pitbull is shipped in a blue vapor bag inside the standard Charter box, which is a nice simple plastic container with foam padding and snap closures. Included is a rudimentary trigger lock to comply with federal requirements, instruction manual and test target. Yes, a test target. What other maker does that anymore? Or ever? MSRP is $489, one of their more expensive offerings. Actual retail price will be somewhat less
The fit and finish on the new Pitbull is decent by any standards, and very good by Charter Arms standards. Get real: for this kind of money you’re not getting high polish, carry bevel meltdowns or checkered sight planes. On this example, the stainless matte blasted finish was even, the double action trigger pull smooth, the single action pull free of creep and with minimal overtravel, and no there were no razor sharp edges on the hard angles. The front of the cylinder has a nicely executed bevel. The outside front edges on the barrel would have benefited from some beveling, but again, note the price point.
The lines are familiar Charter styling, with the fixed sights having a wide serrated front and squared off rear notch in the topstrap. The sights are bold and easy to pick up and relatively precise in sight picture, with plenty of daylight on either side of the front sight. Cylinder rotates in the now rare clockwise direction (similar to the discontinued Colts DAs). Cylinder release is a familiar push latch (with no sharp edges), and the ejector rod is full length. Due to the ejector rod shroud, it cannot be used to release the cylinder.
Charter is a modular design, one of the first, and was intended to make fabrication easier and less expensive. The grip frame also contains the trigger guard and is a separate piece attached to the cylinder frame with pins and screws…in this model it is an aluminum part. The cylinder frame and most of other parts of the revolver are stainless steel, except for the “unbreakable” beryllium copper firing pin and synthetic grips.
Charter has a lot of confidence advertising the firing pin as unbreakable… once you do something like that it’s almost inevitable that the the thing breaks. In my 40 year reloading career I have broken three RCBS “unbreakable” Inertia Bullet Pullers, which RCBS gladly replaced – – I see they don’t advertise it as unbreakable anymore. In any event, I’ve never seen a broken Charter Arms firing pin.
The grips are an excellent shape and texture for shooting and carrying. They remind of the old “Sile” grips from the 70s and 80s. Both large and small hands can get a good grip with these, and the finger grooves and mild palm swell are not some outlandishly proportioned pop-art creation. They are just long enough for a good grip, and thin enough to conceal. The checkering and texture are excellent in all conditions, and slightly soft to absorb shock without being tacky and grabbing onto your clothing. The backstop of the grip frame is covered which aids in shooting comfort without adding much to the trigger reach. There are no steel inserts to add excess weight and eventually rust and discolor your grips. Unless you are into aesthetics, these grips are excellent.
Charter also sells a “boot grip” which is shorter as it ends at the bottom of the grip frame. However, the resulting grip leaves your pinky finger uninvolved, and the grips are actually wider than the regular grips, negating the concealment. Moreover, they leave the backstrap exposed. The attachment of the grip frame to the cylinder frame is not a seamless transition and the result can prove painful under recoil. I wouldn’t recommend the Charter boot grips on a gun with more than minimal recoil.
Speaking of which… the Pitbull .45 ACP felt recoil is about the same as the Bulldog .44 Special with equivalent loads. Manageable for experienced shooter, but the novice will be not be pleased. Factory 230 grain loads had free recoil of 9.4 foot lbs, By comparison, the free of recoil of a steel-frame .357 Magnum 4” bbl revolver is less at 7 foot lbs, and most instructors wouldn’t hand that to a inexperienced shooter. Also, the recoil velocity in the Pitbull .45 is about 50% greater than that of the steel frame .357 Magnum – it comes at you quickly.
However, the gun is fun to shoot and while the recoil is noticeable, it isn’t painful along the lines of a .44 Magnum, or one of the extreme lightweight .357 Magnum 2” barrel guns which seem to have flooded the marketplace. The muzzle rise and felt recoil is less alarming than a lightweight 1911 Officers Model, or the Springfield XDs. But most shooters will have had enough fun with the Pitbull .45 with less than 100 rounds per session
The extractor system on the Pitbull works very well. Each chamber has a spring-loaded extractor claw set into the ejector star, and this claw engages the extractor groove on the .45 ACP.
The cylinder is easy to load, although the cartridges don’t drop in unassisted due to the design, they must be pushed into the chambers until the extractor claw catches the case groove. One aspect of this design is that when loaded, the cartridges will remain in the cylinder if turned upside down. Ejection of fired and live cartridges is positive, even after extended shooting fouled the chambers.
“But is it accrit?” Here’s the rundown:
If you are looking for the Ransom Rest results, we don’t do that here. Your tester is an NRA Bullseye Expert, IDPA Master, international gold medalist and a firearms instructor of multiple certifications. Our handheld results at 15 yards are roughly equivalent, in our experience, to sandbag results at 25 yards.
The cylinder lockup on this gun, as with most Charter Arms, is incredibly tight. There is no play in the cylinder at the end of the trigger press. The design locks the cylinder in three places, including at the crane, where the ejector rod collar locks into a recess in the frame. Despite the modularity of the design, it is quite strong.
Point of impact with fixed sight guns can be iffy. The Pitbull .45 was acceptable for defensive use. Inside 10 yards, all loads shot right on point of aim. At 15 yards, elevation was 3” high at 15 yards with 230 grain loads, limiting the guns usefulness to 25 yards unless conscious point of aim adjustments were used. JHP loads using 185 grain bullets were better, being only 1” high at 15 yards. Of course, another example of the Pitbull might shoot differently.
We did some double action shooting to warm up before trying a qualification type course. The trigger is serrated – smooth would be preferred – but thankfully there were no sharp edges on it. The fatter heavier cylinder cannot be cycled as quickly as the smaller Bulldog or S&W J/K frames, but the gun is faster than the ponderous S&W N or X frames. That is the price you pay for shooting a .45 revolver, but it is certainly fast enough for defensive shooting. The double action pull is fairly consistent through it’s length, and in this example can be brought to cylinder lockup just prior to release. Trigger return is a bit weak in all Charter guns; a slightly stronger trigger spring would make the return more positive.
Spare ammo: speed loaders are a no go for this revolver, as no one makes one and as mentioned above, loaded rounds will not fully seat with gravity alone, they need to be pushed in. Enter the speed strip. Tuff Products makes a 5-round speed strip for the .45 ACP and it works well for this application. It’s not bulky and fits flat in your pocket, keeping spare ammo together. However, we found that the “load two at a time” method was a bit balky with the claw extractor system for the ACP rounds.
The fact that extractor claw system positively retains the cartridge in the chamber, led to some experimenting. Although the lack of gravity drop-into-the-chamber, slows reloading slightly, the upside is that now the revolver can be loaded without regard to cylinder orientation. The gun can be kept up just below eye level, and you can watch the threat area while you are reloading, just like with a semi-auto pistol. We tried this with the speedstrip using a “load one at a time” method, and found success.
Then it occurred to us that some wild-eyed folks who recently returned from the Fantasy Island Ranch, might consider this the Pitbull .45 a good “backup” piece to their Lord Almighty 1911 auto. (Frankly, if you are going to pack that much iron, a rifle or shotgun would be a better alternative to begin with… just sayin’.) So when your JMB Blaster goes down, switch to the “little” Pitbull for a backup in the same caliber. But hold on, ninja boy – all your spare ammo is in 1911 magazines. No problem, amigo:
Now some obstinate readers will be wondering about moon clips or the bizarre.45 Auto Rim cartridge in the Pitbull. No good. The cylinder is headspaced for neither the Auto Rim case, nor clips of any kind. Bare naked .45 ACP only in the Pitbull. In addition, the extractor system prevents use of Moonies or Auto Rims. BTW, I actually like the Auto Rim round… it has panache. But not in this piece.
On to some defensive style shooting. The Pitbull .45 is too large to fit into the Bulldog holsters. We scrounged up an old Don Hume 721OT holster made for the Ruger Speed-Six 2’3/4” barrel, and it fit perfectly. We really like Don Hume leather, they have an extensive catalog of quality at a good price. It’s a shame it’s so hard to find their holsters since they suspended direct ordering a few years ago – the distributors that advertise Don Hume generally only sell the 3 least expensive models, and only for a few popular guns. If you like the Pitbull, contact Don Hume and bend their ear.
We dug up this great Don Hume “Copy II” snap-on holster for the Charter Undercover. They still make it and catalog it – – good luck finding one since the distributors don’t carry it and Don Hume no longer sells direct.
Law enforcement agencies still using the revolver are far and few between these days so we had to dig deep into the archives to find a qualification course. The FBI Double Action Course was their last revolver qualification course, used mostly for small 5-shot revolvers before they were finally disallowed. Which is perfect for the 5-shot Pitbull .45. The 50-round course of fire (slightly modified) starts loaded and holstered. Scoring is 2 points per hit on the target, for a possible 100 and passing of 80.
For reloading during the course of fire we used a combination of the speedstrip and Old School pocketful of loose rounds on the dominant side front. It was actually a tad quicker to the reload the Pitbull from a handful of loose rounds than the speedstrip… although the latter keeps the rounds organized and protected in your pocket. Topping off the cylinder after firing less than a full load was an interesting endeavor: instead of plucking out the empties, it was more efficient to pull out the unexpended rounds, dump the empties and reload. Some experimentation will find the best way for each individual.
FBI Double Action Course results with the Pitbull .45 and factory 230 grain Ball.
We had no malfunctions over the course of the 300 rounds fired – and at least that much dryfiring. By the end of the test the trigger pulls had smoothed up considerably, and the cylinder still locked up like a bank vault.
The Pitbull .45 ACP is a solid revolver for an attractive price, chambered in a common and available caliber. The only additions I would make are some orange paint on the front sight (personal preference), and beveling the outside front edges of the barrel for smoother reholstering.
Where does the Pitbull fit into the scheme of things? Certainly it is not target gun, nor a plinker. It is a personal protection piece. As a .45 caliber concealed carry defensive revolver, it’s about the only game in town currently. The capable S&W Governor is gianormous, and the Taurus Public Defender is still a large gun. Other .45 caliber S&W offerings are large frame guns with 4” or longer barrels. While the Pitbull .45 is larger than the Bulldog, the cylinder width is the nearly the same as the medium S&W K frame. It is a concealable gun.
My personal preference – as a handloader – is the Bulldog .44 Special. Most factory .44 Special is badly underloaded, and judicious hand loading will improve performance considerably without causing undue wear on the pistol. Ballistically then, it is for practical purposes, the same as the Pitbull .45; yet the Bulldog has slightly smaller dimensions and lighter weight.
Charter Arms Bulldog (l.) and Pitbull .45 (r.)
However, if you do not handload, the Pitbull .45 is a far better choice in terms of cost and availability of ammunition, which can be had for about considerably less money than the price of factory .44 Special. The penetrating and tissue destruction ability of the .45 ACP is well known. There is also a much greater variety of loads available in .45 ACP than .44 Special. Even if you do handload, you may appreciate the larger bore, slightly bigger feel, and positive cartridge retention of the Pitbull .45.
What about the sub compact . 45 pistol vs the Pitbull revolver? The Pitbull is less costly to to purchase and doesn’t require any additional cost of magazines and regular spring replacements. Muzzle rise and felt recoil is less pronounced with the Pitbull, than lightweight Officer’s 1911 and the XDs, having fired all three models. Velocities are the same. The subcompact .45 ACP pistols are the flatter for carry, and hold 1-2 more rounds… but far less reliable. My take would be the Pitbull .45 over a subcompact. A fullsize steel frame 1911 is a different type of weapon entirely, and clearly more capable.
For High King and “trail” use, the compact size and weight and stainless construction of the Pitbull are pluses. The .45 ACP has plenty of power to deal with various miscreants of the two-and four-legged variety. The short barrel is accurate enough to 25 yards, but it demands more skill and ability than a 4” or longer barrel, and the fixed sights might require some conscious aiming offsets on small targets. However, CCI sells an effective #9 shot round if you want to shoot small pests and snakes around the campsite within 15 feet or less… and there are no functioning issues in the revolver. See this video on the shotshell: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GNKioE7gzyE
I know you are thinking about bear defense… stop, don’t push that hot button! Have a glass of wine instead. For bear hunting, I use a shoulder weapon of at least 2000 ft lbs of muzzle energy, and if hiking in aggressive bear country you should consider something similar, along with bear spray, which can be effective. But if you just need something for the off chance you might run into a beer, or he runs into you, in an area of low risk, and you can’t avoid the encounter…. if you are a competent shot, something less than 2000 ft lbs of muzzle energy in the way of a firearm will do. It’s not that difficult to kill a bear; they have been killed by LE officers, after attacks, with .38 Special and .40 S&W handguns. Many bears have fallen to the .45 Colt in it’s original blackpowder loading. And Colt used to advertise the dinky .38 Super 1911 as the “He-Man Gun” for the “Big Game Hunter”:
The Pitbull .45 will do at close range with a heavy penetrating load. Round nose shapes tend to deflect on bones and skulls and are not the best choice. A 230 FMJ flat point would be better. If you handload, a 225-250 grain lead flat point at 850 fps will certainly be better than a sharp stick or a broken bottle.
We like the Charter Arms Pitbull .45.