Charter Arms 44 Special Bulldogs:
Care and Feeding

By: M.L. McPherson

Synopsis: While hard to find, these fine handguns offer unequaled power in a compact revolver and are definitely worth locating. These guns do present challenges for the handloader.

Charter Arms’ 44 Special Bulldog revolvers are compact and very well designed. At about 19 to 22 ounces, depending upon model and grips, these guns are a pleasure to carry; however, with most loads, these guns produce more recoil than the average shooter can or cares to master. Pachmayr offers several recoil-taming grip sets, which are helpful, but ammunition selection is the biggest issue.

I can identify three basic uses for these guns: target practice, self-defense and trail carry. The small size and low weight of these guns makes practice all the more critical. In the potentially tragic event of a self-defense use, terminal ballistics and accurate shot placement become all-important. Potential needs of those who use these revolvers as a hunting or trail gun are highly variable.

Practice Ammunition

First, consider practice ammunition. Here, cost, accuracy and recoil level are major considerations. I have done extensive target work with two 3-inch barreled standard model Bulldogs, a 2½-inch barreled Pug and two 4-inch barreled Target models - I have fired well over 10,000 rounds through these guns. With several factory loads and any of several tested handloads, most of these guns can routinely deliver sub-3-inch, five-shot groups at 25 yards, when the shooter does his part - which is not easy.

Those shooters concerned with cost are limited to custom handloads and reloads using cast bullets. Commercial handloads in the 44 Special usually come with 240-grain cast SWC bullets. Accuracy of such loads in the Bulldog depends upon the particular load and the gun. Recoil varies with gun weight and load velocity but if the load is fast enough to stabilize the bullet recoil is very high. Such loads have recoil that is similar to the factory 246-grain load - not fun for practice.

With the 240 SWC loaded normally, 6 grains of W231 or 9 grains of HS-6 gives about 800 fps in the average Bulldog. This is the minimum velocity that produces good accuracy with this bullet - too bad the rifling rate is so slow in these guns. These loads produce about 12 foot pounds of recoil energy. Perhaps more importantly, recoil velocity is quite high. While recoil is mild by magnum revolver standards it is far too heavy for extended practice is a small-framed, double-action revolver.

Accuracy depends upon gun and bullet but I have seen combinations that would make sub-3-inch, 10-shot groups at 25-yards. HS-6 tends to produce a bit better accuracy but it is quite dirty. This can lead to gun malfunctions with unburned powder collecting under the crane. On the other hand, 231 is more apt to produce barrel leading. (In recent years, I have discovered better powders; Power Pistol would be an ideal choice.)

One can sometimes find commercial cast 215-grain SWC bullets. These usually stabilize well at about 750 fps, which produces about 8½ foot pounds of recoil energy - much better. Such loads are noticeably more pleasant to shoot. A charge of 5.5 grains of W231 with one batch of these bullets has produced the bast accuracy of any load tested - consistent 2½-inch groups.

One can se the 205-grain 44-40 bullet (sized at 0.429-inch). This will stabilize at about 700 fps. A charge of about 5.0 grains of W231 will provide the required velocity and will only generate about 7 foot pounds of recoil energy. Now we are getting there.

As 180-grain TC bullets have become available, in response to the demands from Cowboy Action competitors, things have improved dramatically for the Bulldog shooter. A charge of about 4.5 grains of W231 or Clays runs these bullets out at about 650 fps and accuracy is quite good with less than 5 foot pounds of recoil energy. This load is quite manageable for almost any shooter. By seating this bullet deeper and crimping over the ogive, it is possible to get a particularly consistent combination using Clays.

While I have tested various JHP bullets, none has delivered comparable accuracy to that with the best cast bullet loads. Considering cost and accuracy limitations, it is hard to justify use of jacketed bullets for such loads.

If someone would offer a 160-grain WC, we would have an even better Bulldog practice bullet. Such a bullet would stabilize at about 600 fps. Such a combination would produce only about 3 foot pounds of recoil energy, which his quite mild. This would allow indefinite practice, without causing undue wear and tear on gun or shooter.

Self-Defense Loads

When considering self-defense loads, we have a better selection of good choices. Cost is not a consideration. Accuracy and terminal ballistics are significant factors and recoil level can be important to some shooters.

First, consider factory loads. (I have not kept track during the past half-dozen years so some of this data might be out of date.) Circa 1990, we had five standard factory loadings and two specialty loadings. Winchester and Remington have recently offered the old standby loading, a 246-grain hollow-base, round-nose lead. In the 4-inch Bulldog, this load manages only 684 fps and 255 fpe, similar to 38 Special +P energy. Almost certainly, this load seriously over penetrates, for most such applications. At 11 foot pounds, recoil is quite unpleasant. On the other hand, accuracy is quite good. Some lots shoot tiny little groups.

All three major manufacturers offer 200-grain loadings, which they designed to give superior performance in short-barreled revolvers. Winchester’s Silvertip offers spectacular expansion but minimal penetration - perhaps insufficient. Velocity is only 777 fps and energy is only 265 fpe. Recoil is less than 10 foot pounds and noticeably more manageable than the 246-grain factory loads. This load often makes 4-inch groups at 25 yards.

Federal’s 200-grain Lead HP produces a much better 850-fps, with 320 fpe. This load surpasses energy of most 38 Special +P loads by at least 10%. Expansion is dependable and penetration is 67% greater than the Silvertip. Recoil is similar to the 246-grain load but at least you get something for the pain! In all tested guns, accuracy is noticeably better than the Silvertip load. Barrel leading can be a slight problem.

Remington’s SWC managed 858 fps and 325 fpe - the most of any standard factory load (until the advent of the 44 Blazer loading from Speer, see below). Remington did not design this bullet to expand. It relies on a large flat nose to rapidly transfer energy to the target. Since bullet expansion absorbs considerable energy, non-expanding bullets can convert significantly more energy into useful work. Penetration is more than twice that of a Silvertip and recoil is high. Accuracy and ballistic uniformity were quite disappointing. Leading was a serious problem.

Circa 2000, the Blazer 200-grain Gold Dot is the load of choice for self-defense. I have separately tested this load for penetration and expansion. Similarly, Cor-Bon now offers several very impressive loads for the 44 Special. Their 160 JHP might be a real winner in the self-defense category. This load exceeded 1100 fps in the 3-inch Bulldog. These loads are far superior to any of those described above. Look no further.

The two nonstandard loads are the Glaser jacketed shot load and PMC’s 110-grain Tubular Hollow Point (now discontinued). Many shooters are familiar with the Glaser load. Glaser designed it to travel as a conventional bullet and to open into a shot charge after impact. Penetration is similar to the Silvertip and recoil is similar to other factory loads. Accuracy is not adequate for 25-yard shooting and point of impact is 14 inches below that for 200-grain bullets at that range.

The PMC THP was an interesting concept. This load features a plastic plug that seals the base of a hollow copper-alloy bullet. (Use caution when shooting this load at short range. This 8.8-grain plastic plug can rebound from the target with surprising force, as I should know, having caught one in the face.) The THP bullet will not deform at all on any normal target. Like Remington’s SWC, it can deliver 100% of the impact energy to the target. This load produces 1111 fps and 300 fps. Penetration is very consistent and similar to the 200-grain Federal load. Recoil is about 7 foot pounds. Accuracy is sufficient for short-range target practice. It might have been a good choice for the well-heeled shooter but 25-yard impacts fully 16 inches below that for 200-grain loads make it infeasible for most uses.

High-performance JHP handloads are easy to produce. Hornady offers two superior bullets, the 180- and 200-grain XTPs. Other available 44 JHPs are unlikely to expand at reasonable Bulldog velocities. It s feasible to load the 180 XTP to 1100 fps and the 200 XTP to 1000 fps in the Bulldog. Energy approaches 357 factory load levels. Recoil of such loads, at around 16 foot pounds, is quite harsh but should be manageable for the experienced shooter. The powder of choice is HS-6, about 10 grains with the 200-grain bullet and about 11 grains with the 180-grain bullet. These are top-end “use only in emergency situation” loads. No doubt, the newer Alliant powder, Power Pistol, will give superior results but I have no data for this.

Hunting and Trail Use Loads

This is an interesting category for the Bulldog. Since it is such an easy gun to carry, I often find myself with one in a pocket or holster or backpack or wherever, when I am out in the woods. For this application, again, cost is not a major consideration. However, accuracy, energy, and penetration are major concerns. Various factory offerings are good choices, depending upon perceived need.

Those looking for maximum power and penetration, and who can handle the recoil, should look no further than the 240- or 250-grain SWC in front of about 7 grains of Unique. About 14 grains of H110 or W296 will deliver about 1000 fps with moderate pressure. At 14 grins 4227 gives about 900 fps. Either of the latter will provide more recoil than the average shooter will want to handle; however, in any emergency, recoil might not be a major consideration. This 4227 load provides spectacular accuracy.

Several years ago I took a good Mule deer buck with the 200 XTP loaded to 1050 fps at the Muzzle. This bullet, impacting at 1000 fps, smashed a vertebra in the neck and lodged under the hide on the offside. Expansion and penetration were perfect for this application. A similar hit could well have taken a bull elk. However, I would hate to have to stop an enraged bear with such a load!

Ballistics, Accuracy and Terminal Performance

Data in the included table comes from considerable testing in various Bulldog revolvers with loads appropriate for each application. Accuracy reported represents best offhand five-shot groups at 25 yards. Velocity measurements are based upon 10-shot strings. Terminal ballistics testing represents average performance of three shots.

While I have complete confidence in the accuracy and velocity data reported here, expansion and penetration testing is problematical. We used a control - 22 LR solid - fired into each test stack to insure uniformity of the penetration medium, but other difficulties exist.

Therefore, I offer these terminal performance results only for comparative purposes. I believe these are representative but I do understand that actual performance on live targets can very greatly from anything that this table might suggest. I would like to test ten shots with each load in clay, ballistic gelatin and saturated telephone books. Unfortunately, this would take months. Preparing for this limited test took considerable effort and firing and documenting these results took two of us a full day!

Our conclusion was that the Bulldog revolvers are a viable choice for those looking for plenty of power in a small, inexpensive package. I hope those who are looking for the right Bulldog load will find this information useful.

Ballistics

We assembled the handloads represented in Table-1 using CCI-300 primers in W-W cases that weight 106 grains and trimmed to 1.147-inch. If heavier F-C cases are used, reduce all charges by 0.2 grains. If Fed-150 or CCI-350 primers are used, reduce charge 0.2 grains, I have not tested other primers for comparative results.

 

Table 1: Selected 44 Special Charter Arms Bulldog Loads

Load

Bullet Weight & Type

Powder Type Charge

Crtg. OAL (inch)

3" Bbl fps fpe

4" Bbl fps fps

Std. dev. fps

Approx. 25-yard Impact

25- yard Acc.

Exp. Dia.

Recoil Energy, Ft. Lbs.

Comments

1

Glaser Shot

- - - - - -

N.M.

1299 N.M.*

1410 N.M.

11

-14"

>10"

N.A.

B N.M.

Glaser Safety. Clean.

2

110 PMC- THP

- - - - - -

1.471

1039 263 *

1111 301

19

-16"

3"-4"

1.0

D 7.5

PMC, Ultramag. Plastic plug, 8.8 gr., hollow copper bullet, clean.

3

180 H-JHP

HS-6 11.5

1.455

986 394 *

1040 432

22

-4"

3"-4"

1.45

A- 13.8

Some unburned powder. Works with XTP.

4

180 H-JHP

HS-6 12.5

1.455

1065 453

1115 496

19

-4"

3"-4"

1.54

A 15.9

See Note 4. Fairly clean.

5

200 H-JHP

HS-6 10.0

1.455

834 309 *

895 355

16

0

4"

1.18

B+ 12.2

Much unburned powder. Works with XTP.

6

200 H-JHP

HS-6 11.5

1.455

965 413

1035 475

17

0

3"-4"

1.39

A 16.2

See Note 4. Fairly clean.

7

200 W-Stip

- - - - - -

1.508 (1)

729 235 *

777 267

11

0

3"-4"

1.64

C 9.7

Winchester Silvertip, Very Clean load.

8

200 F-LHP

- - - - - -

1.582

797 282 *

850 320

15

0

2"-3"

1.32

B 11.2

Federal Lead Hollow Point, Smokey but clean.

9

200 R-SWC

- - - - - -

1.463

805 287 *

858 326

35 (2)

0

>4" (3)

1.05

B 11.4

Remington SWC. Fairly clean. Disappointing load, see notes 2 & 3.

10

215 SWC

W231 5.6

1.350

750 268

800 305

13

+2"

2"-3"

1.0

C 9.5

Very hard, commercial cast bullet. Very clean.

11

240 SWC

W231 5.9

1.485

750 299

800 340

7

+7"

2"-4"

1.0

B+ 11.8

Harder bullets give better accuracy. Very clean.

12

246 W-LRN

- - - - - -

1.578

649 229 *

684 255

12

+8"

2"-4"

1.0

B 11.0

Winchester Lead RN, Remington similar. Clean.

13

40

- - - - - -

N.M.

18" Bb l 1215 130

10

N.A.

N.M.

1.0

N.A.

CCI 22 LR Mini-Mag Solid, control load, fired from Ruger 10-22

Key: N.M., Not Measured; N.A., Not Applicable; *, Estimated.

Accuracy reported: Best offhand 5-shot groups at 25 yards.

Expansion: Final diameter equals original diameter times this number (see expansion table).

Recoil: Subjective opinions of relative recoil: A, Severe; B, High; C, Moderate; D, Mild. Different shooters will have different opinions. Different holds can lead to varying impressions for the same shooter. Numbers represent calculated free recoil energy (Ft. Lbs.).

Notes:

Early loads had a different bullet shape and were 1.45-inch OAL. Early lot tested gave 825 fps in 3-inch gun!

2) One shot was 88 fps below mean velocity of other 12 measured. Editing that shot gave a mean velocity of 863 fps with a standard deviation of 20 fps.

3) One of ten shots was 8-inch high. Editing that shot puts accuracy in the 5-inch range. Two others appeared to be fliers and editing those put accuracy in the 3-inch range.

4) Loads 4 and 6 produce severe recoil and likely exceed SAAMI maximum pressure level. Use such loads sparingly and with appropriate caution.

 

Expansion Tests

We fired three shots with each factory loads and selected handloads into a test medium of saturated telephone books (all shiny pages removed). We did an additional Glaser load test by firing through a facsimile wall constructed of 3/8-inch sheetrock separated by a 3½-inch gap (standard interior wall construction) with test medium 4-inch behind this wall.

We fired all shots from a 4-inch barreled Target Bulldog at a distance of ten feet. Impacts were perpendicular to page faces. We fired control shots (13) to insure that all targets were similar. Reported penetration represents distance from front page to last broken page.

Expansion Test: 44 Special Target Bulldog

Load

Inches Penetration A | B | C

% Retained Weight A | B | C, % Original

Muzzle Velocity fps A | B | C

Average Diameter/ Std. dev.

Comments

1 (a)

4.25 | 4.75 | 4.50

N.A.

1393 | 1420 | 1419

N.A.

Glaser: Maximum Destruction at about 1.5"-3.0"

1 (b)

2.00 | 2.12 | 2.25

N.A.

1407 | 1398 | 1410

N.A.

Glaser: Facsimile wall interposed

2

6.25 | 6.00 | 6.00

109 | 107 | 108, 100%

1126 | 1132 | 1128

0.427 | 0

PMC 110: All resting at 30

3

5.38 | 5.50 | 5.50

176 | 175 | 176, 98%

1040 | 995 | 1009

0.622 | 0.05

Hornady 180 JHP

4

4.75 | 4.50 | 5.00

174 | 173 | 172, 96%

1132 | 1105 | 1119

0.659 | 0.05

Hornady 180 JHP

5

6.00 | 7.50 | 6.75

182 | 183 | 183, 91%

903 | 884 | 898

0.504 | 0.03

Hornady 200 JHP

6

6.25 | 6.50 | 6.50

175 | 174 | 180, 88%

1004 | 1035 | 998

0.595 | 0.01

Hornady 200 JHP

7

2.88 | 3.00 | 3.50

199 | 199 | 199, 99%

785 | 798 | 773

0.702 | 0.04

Win 200 Stip, resting at 80. B&C almost shed jackets

8

6.00 | 5.00 | 4.63

199 | 198 | 197, 99%

826 | 886 | 868

0.565 | 0.05

Fed 200 LHP

9

7.50 | 8.50 | 7.63

199 | 198 | 199, 99%

833 | 875 | 869

0.449 | 0.01

Rem. 200 SWC, A&C at 30, B at 0

10

9.00 | 9.50 | 9.63

100%

781 | 785 | 818

0.429 | 0

Cast 215 SWC, all at 90

11

10.0 | 10.38 | 10.25

100%

818 | 807 | 784

0.429 | 0

Cast 240 SWC, A&C at 90, B at 45

12

12.38 | 12.63 | 12.25

100%

679 | 652 | 675

0.429 | 0

Win 246 LRN, A&C at 90, B at 15

13

7.75 | 7.00 | 8.13

100%

1223 | 1210 | 1208

0.222 | 0

CCI Mini-Mag, 22 LR, A&C at 90

Note: Experts agree that 6-inches of penetration in this medium is about ideal for loads that might be use against two-legged vermin.

Expansion, Penetration and Weight Retention Tests: Averages

Test load

1a

1b

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

fps

1411

1405

1129

1015

1119

895

1012

785

860

859

795

803

669

Ave. Penetration Std. dev.

4.50 0.25

2.13 0.13

6.08 0.14

5.46 0.07

4.75 0.25

6.75 0.75

6.42 0.14

3.13 0.33

5.21 0.71

7.88 0.54

9.38 0.33

10.2 0.19

12.42 0.19

Retained Weight

N.A.

N.A.

108

176

173

183

176

199

198

199

211

235

245

% Original Weight

N.A.

N.A.

100

98

96

91

88

99

99

99

100

100

100

Average diameter Std. Dev.

N.A.

N.A.

0.43 0

0.62 0.05

0.66 0.05

0.50 0.03

0.60 0.01

0.70 0.04

0.57 0.05

0.45 0.01

0.43 0

0.43 0

0.43 0

 

charter1a.jpg (36834 bytes)

Bulldog Pug, 2½-inch barrel.
 Offhand, ten-shot, 25-yard group. 

 

charter1b.jpg (42803 bytes)

Target Model 4-inch Bulldog. 
Offhand, ten-shot, 25-yard group. 

 

charter2a.jpg (28471 bytes)

2½-inch Bulldog Pug with 
Pachmayr Compac grips
 installed. Shooter must be 
careful with thumb placement.
If it is too high alongside the
revolver the cylinder latch
will remove a surprising 
amount of hide.

charter2b.jpg (38979 bytes)

Left-to-right 
(description and 
4-inch gun velocity):

110 PMC, 
Tubular Hollow Projectile
1111 fps

200 Federal LHP
 850 fps

200 Remington SWC
 858 fps

200 Winchester 
Silvertip JHP
 777 fps

200 Hornady JHP 
Handload
1020 fps

215 Cast SW
 800 fps

240 Cast SW
, 800 fps

246 Winchester RN
 684 fps