Shooting Impressions: Small Revolvers

Posted: August 16, 2009 in Reviews

From Left: Ruger LCR, Charter Undercover, S&W M-38; Charter Bulldog .44 Spl

Review by Steven Loban, Connecticut Shooters & Sportsmen

Fifteen years ago – many gun writers predicted the demise of the revolver as a viable firearm for self protection. Today, those predictions are proven wrong as revolvers along with firearms of all kinds have increased in popularity by a huge margin. New models of revolvers big and small have filled the pages of gun magazines and the display cases of dealers.

The small revolvers for practical CCW have also experienced a resurgence in popularity. They are simple, easy to operate, not ammunition sensitive and easy to carry and care for.

With this in mind, I selected four of my personally owned handguns, all purchased at retail – I am not a paid writer or advertising agent for any gun manufacturer. The guns used were: Ruger LCR, Charter Arms Undercover, S&W model 38 Airweight – vintage and a Charter Bulldog .44 Special. The other guns are .38 Spl.

Shooting the Ruger LCR
Shooting was done at 15 yards all done with five shot, rapid fire strings in double action only for all guns.

There were no malfunctions of any type experienced over nearly 300 rds fired over a 2 hour period at the Ansonia Rod & Gun Club pistol range. Weather was hot and humid about 90 degrees.

Here are my observations: The vintage S&W had the smoothest action and finest sights of any of the tested guns. The Bulldog in .44 SPL would be my personal choice – and often is – as a CCW carry gun due to its caliber. The Charter Arms Undercover .38 was light, and shot to
the point of aim but was hampered somewhat by a sticky trigger action. It needs some action work, but was otherwise reliable, comfortable and accurate.

The Ruger LCR is the newest and most interesting of the guns. It is a true lightweight and the easiest to carry and conceal. Its rubber grips had the best design of any gun tested and the ergonomics of the LCR were superior to the other guns. While shooting the LCR I realized the axis of the bore is lower in the hand than other revolvers of older, more traditional design. This enhances controllability and practical accuracy. I found the Ruger LCR the EASIEST gun to shoot rapidly and recover between shots with. It is the “mini-Glock” of modern revolvers! The LCR is a double action only gun with no exposed hammer. A mixture of polymer exterior and alloys with steel where needed – the LCR is reliable, smooth and well made. Its ejector was the smartest – sharply popping out fired empties and its chamber surfaces were very smooth.

Two criticisms of the LCR I can raise are minor. One is an obvious parts “rattle” inside the trigger mechanism when the gun is at rest. With the trigger pulled all the way to the rear and held back – there is no rattle. But in a holster, or dropped in a pocket walking around – the little “tink-tink” sound the part makes sloshing around inside its frame is annoying and obvious with each step I took while walking with the gun in a cargo pocket. The other criticism is my LCR does not shoot to the point of aim. It shoots high and left at 15 yards. About six to eight inches above point of aim and about four inches to the left. Holding on a paper plate stapled to a cardboard target frame at 15 yards – I found it necessary to “Kentucky windage” the gun at the 4 to 5-o’clock lower edge of the plate to center my hits. The Charter Arms and S&W revolvers shot to the point of aim. This flaw was also reported by another club member shooting an LCR of similar vintage. Apart from these criticisms, the gun was flawless.

The Charter Arms revolvers in .38 & .44 SPL caliber are solid, reliable and less expensive guns. Charter claims its unique 8-groove rifling system enhances accuracy. At 15 yards from a 2” barrel and shooting double action – I could find no advantage. Perhaps the greatest acknowledgement to the Charter’s design is validated by the Ruger LCR! The LCR uses Charter’s in-line crane that does not split the frame in half the way the S&W and Colt revolvers do. The Charters were stickier in operation compared to the Ruger or the S&W. Particularly the 2008 vintage Undercover. The Bulldog much less so, but that is likely from breaking the gun in with nearly 1,000 rounds over the past few years. Both the ejector rod operation and trigger were noticeably “gritty” in their operation on the Undercover. This is probably an easy fix and important to note that Charter has excellent, customer service particularly if you live in the Rte 8 corridor “Valley” area. I once had to send in my Bulldog for a crane replacement and got it back in less than an hour – test fired. An advantage to supporting locally owned and operated businesses! Both Charters however, shot to the point of aim, so Advantage Charter for real accuracy. The .44 Spl Bulldog is hardly bigger than the six shot Colt Detective special and shoots ammunition that is equivalent to .45 ACP in performance.

The Smith & Wesson Model 38 Airweight Bodyguard was the CADILLAC of them all! This late 1960s vintage gun I bought a while ago when you could still buy old ‘Smiths for under $300. Wearing rubber grips and a concealed hammer that still allows access for single action shots if desired, the Bodyguard had the smoothest action of all the guns tested, the finest sight picture which allowed tighter groups when deliberately aiming. While all the guns will certainly get the job done for CCW and home defense, the Bodyguard offered the extra “fun” aspect because I found you could cock the hammer and line up under a soda can and bounce it all over the 25 yard sand berm like shooting a .22 rifle! The coarse sights of the Charter guns and gritty trigger mechanisms resulted in shooting “around” the soda can but never hitting it! The Ruger with it’s off center barrel insertion, would let me hit the can, IF I remembered to Kentucky windage my shots enough.

Supporting the economy and feeding the guns with a well balanced diet from three major food groups: Remington, Federal and Winchester.
All in all, my recommendations would run this way: If you are a wheel gun fan, the vintage S&W is still THE BEST. Period. End of subject. The Charter Arms revolvers are definitely serviceable and worthy of consideration if on a budget. Plus, they have a local advantage for service and repairs for much of Connecticut. You can drive it to Charter in Shelton, drop it off, or wait 20 minutes and it will be fixed.

The Bulldog in .44 Special is the way to go with Charter Arms. If you are comfortable with .45 ACP performance and recoil in a package hardly larger than a .38 snub. The .44 caliber bullet offers a lot in return for that slightly harder bump in the hand during recoil. For the new shooter interested in a CCW handgun, go with the Ruger LCR. It is the easiest to carry and shoot and is almost as well polished as a vintage ‘Smith internally. And they are strong guns that are +P rated.
We won't be serving pizza on this paper plate!

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