If you want to have a big-bore defensive revolver for daily carry, the new charter arms in .45 colt is an absolute steal.
Not everyone is enamored of hi-cap pistols. Or 9mm pistols. Or even pistols. Some want revolvers, and they want big chunks of lead as the delivery system for self-defense applications. For a long time, Charter Arms was giving them that in the original Bulldog, chambered in the .44 Special.
Well, the original frame and cylinder size, made for the .44 Special, were just a smidge too small to be adapted to the bigger .45 Colt. So, Charter Arms designed and started making the Bulldog XL frame—one large enough to hold that classic cartridge. At around the same time, Charter Arms introduced the Mag Pug, using the same XL frame, chambered in .41 Magnum.
Now, I am a great fan of big-bore revolvers, but I’m here to tell you that I do not anticipate ever testing the Mag Pug .41 Magnum model.
Why? Simple: weight. Or rather, the lack of weight. The Bulldog XL .45 Colt model tips the scales at 22 ounces, and the Mag Pug .41 Magnum is 23 ounces. I’ve fired magnum revolvers in that weight class, and doing it back then was plenty good enough for me. The .45 Colt is a lot more manageable.
There’s also the matter of ammunition supply. I love the .41 Magnum and the .45 Colt, but you only have to peruse the ammunition shelves at your local big-box store or gun shop to notice that you have a lot more choices in .45 than in .41. Ditto for components, if you want to take up reloading. The gun shop that stocks reloading components will have so much in the way of .45 bullets that they might be using extra boxes of them as doorstops. The .41, not so much.
Which is why, when given a choice, I asked for the new Bulldog XL .45 Colt version. Shortly afterward, one arrived on my doorstep.
The Bulldog .45 Colt is a classic design of a double-action revolver. The cylinder latch is behind the cylinder, on the left side. Pressing it forward unlocks the cylinder, and you can then tip it out to the left. The ejector rod extracts the rounds, loaded or fired, and they can then fall out. The compactness of the Bulldog means that the ejector rod stroke can’t be long enough to fully lift the cases out of the chambers. That is often not a problem, because the .45 Colt operates at such a low chamber pressure that the empties will often fall out due to their own weight if you simply invert the open cylinder. But we’ll cover the best way to reload at the end.
The cylinder holds five rounds, and this is done for two reasons: First, making it hold six would require increasing the diameter of the cylinder just to hold the rounds. Second, the locking notch in the cylinder would then, simply due to geometry, line up with, or be very close to, each chamber. This means the cylinder has to be bumped up just a bit more in order to leave enough steel between the locking notch and the chamber.
With five rounds in the cylinder, each locking notch is offset and in between the chambers. You can then make the cylinder as small as geometry allows (with thick-enough sidewalls) and not have to worry about the locking notch.
Is this a real problem? In a word—yes. Back when I was gunsmithing, I saw more than a few .357s on which overenthusiastic reloaders had bulged the cylinder at the locking notch due to over-pressure ammo. Curiously, I didn’t see that problem with larger calibers, and I suspect it’s simply a matter of recoil. By the time you load, say, a .44 Magnum hot enough to bulge the cylinder at the locking notch, the recoil has become so onerous, you can’t stand to shoot it. But that’s not the case with the .357.
I also don’t anticipate this being a problem with the Bulldog in .45 Colt. Long before you could overwork the cylinder, you will quit due to recoil.
But, I digress.
The trigger is your classic double-action-revolver option. You can fire the Bulldog by either stroking through the trigger in one motion or by thumb-cocking the hammer first and then pressing the trigger. The first method rotates the cylinder and then drops the hammer. The second rotates the cylinder when you cock and then drops the hammer when you press. It might seem overkill to explain this, but a lot of shooters these days have only ever grown up with, and shot, striker-fired pistols with hi-cap magazines. A revolver could well be new to them.
Repeat either of these methods as needed, and once you’ve fired your five, open the cylinder, eject the empties, reload and repeat.
The ejection is simple, and you can do it one of two ways. The first (and, again, this is for the shooters new to revolvers; but it is also for any revolver shooter to get to the top of their game) is to thumb the cylinder latch forward and use your left hand to swing the cylinder out. Let go with your right hand (a left-hander’s reload is more complicated and would be an article unto itself) and clutch the Bulldog with your lefthand fingers through the open space in the frame, holding the cylinder. Use your left thumb to depress the ejector rod while you point the muzzle directly up.
The advantage of this method is that your right hand can be reaching for your spare ammo at the same time.
The second method is to hold the revolver the same way but use the palm of your right hand to slap the ejector rod down briskly, ejecting the empties. The advantage here is that there is no way any empty will stay put, even with the ejector rod stroke being shorter than the case length.
Reloading? Unfortunately, the classic reloading speedloader, the HKS, does not yet make a model for the Bulldog. This company makes one for the .44 Special Bulldog, but the rims of the .45 Colt are too large to fit into it. You can, however, use the Bianchi Speedstrips, which hold six rounds but work just fine with a five-shot cylinder.
CHOICES, SO MANY CHOICES
Shooting the Bulldog XL in .45 Colt was a bit of an adventure. We are, after all, talking about a standard bullet weight of 250 grains out of a 22-ounce revolver.
Just for giggles, I calculated what the comparable weight would be for a bullet out of one of my other .45 Colt revolvers—a S&W 25-5 Classic. That one tips the scales at 42.5 ounces, and I’d have to be launching 483-grain bullets to have the same weight-to-weight ratio. One shudders to think.
With that in mind, I was just a bit hesitant to touch off the first round. I needn’t have been. Oh, you’ll know you’ve shot something with a big-bore, but it won’t make you pay for the experience as do the big magnums.
When it comes to ammunition choices in .45 Colt, you have three options. You can first go with the classic load, one that has been putting bad guys to rest (and the occasional good guy, as well) for 145 years, and that is a lead bullet of 250 or 255 grains, sometimes with a flat point on it.
These are also known these days as “cowboy” loads, for Cowboy Action Shooting. The original load had a “book” value of more than 900 fps. Maybe, with the full charge of black powder in the 19th century, and from an SAA with a 7.5-inch barrel, it might have. But not today. I’ve had opportunities to chrono .45 Colt ammo in revolvers with longer barrels, and you really have to work with handloads to get the 900-plus fps of the old days. Most modern, defensive-oriented loads do a step better than .45 ACP in weight and speed, which is not a bad thing.
The second choice is the Hornady FTX. The FTX line is Hornady’s “good deed” to shooters. It uses the same bullet technology as in Hornady’s Critical Duty FlexLock, but it is not loaded “to the gills,” so to speak. This is the company’s Critical Defense line.
The desire by many to max out the score on the FBI ballistic test leads to top-end velocities. That is what it takes to make bullets perform their best in the FBI tests. Not everyone wants that recoil, and not everyone needs the barrier penetration it brings.
So, in the .45 Colt, Hornady loads the Critical Defense loads to less velocity—not because it is looking to sell those “extra fps” to someone else, but to save you the work of shooting more than you need. And, the FTX bullets are designed to expand at their velocities—not at the higher velocities of the Critical Duty loads. You get jacketed hollow-point performance without the extra recoil.
Last are the no-holds-barred defensive loads. These feature nearly full-weight bullets at the top velocity that the .45 Colt can deliver them. The old-school load here is the Winchester Silvertip, which has been around almost as long as I’ve been working in gun shops. It has an aluminum jacket over a lead core. The others are the SIG V-Crown and the Winchester PDX1. Both are designed with FBI ballistic/barrier tests in mind.
And yes, there is some recoil. However, do not let the apparently low velocities of the cowboy loads lead you to underestimate them. The Hornady and Winchester loads are accurate and relatively mild. Yet, they still deliver a 155 Power Factor (PF). In fact, a 255 at slightly more than 600 fps is the historical power of the .455 Webley (and the British maintained an empire on that cartridge). The Black Hills cowboy load has a 177 PF—the highest of the crew—and if you really think a 250-grain lead bullet at 708 fps is something to be ignored, you are mistaken.
If you want a jacketed bullet, and thus less bore and cylinder cleaning, the silvertip is a softer-in-recoil choice there. With a PF of “only” 153, it is not that hard to shoot.
At the upper end of power, there is the Hornady FTX, the SIG V-Crown and the Winchester PDX1. These are going to get your attention—and certainly the attention of whomever or whatever you award one of these tokens. They range from a 162 PF (the PDX1) to a 170 PF (the V-Crown), with the Hornady in the middle.
DRAGGING OUT THE GEL
Just out of curiosity, and not to start some sort of extreme .45 Colt ballistic test, I dragged a couple of blocks of Clear Ballistic synthetic gel to the range to test the Bulldog. I used the Hornady cowboy load, because it had the lowest velocity. I set up a block, took a shot and noticed an exploding clod of dirt on the backstop. The .45 Colt 255 lead bullet had gone clean through the 16-inch block.
I set up a second one behind it and shot again. Twenty-two inches is how far it penetrated. So, the mild-shooting, slowand-heavy bullet of the Hornady cowboy load will almost certainly put a .45-inch hole through and through on a miscreant. If that’s not good enough for you, you can move up in recoil if you wish.
(BIG) BANG FOR THE BUCK
Taking the Bulldog apart for cleaning is easy: Open the cylinder, unload it, and start cleaning. If you really have to take parts off, use a screwdriver to remove the grip screw. Then use a screwdriver to remove the crane screw, which is on the front of the frame. That’s it.
If you want to pack a revolver for defense (always a good choice), the Charter Arms Bulldog XL in .45 Colt is certainly a viable choice. Holsters will not be difficult to come by; and, with a couple of speedstrips in a pocket, you will have 17 rounds of emergency services at hand.
We do have one old bit of lore to dispose of: durability. I have read from time to time that “Charter Arms revolvers don’t stand up very well.” Hmm.
I’ve got a .44 Bulldog in the safe that came my way some 30 years ago. I can’t say that I have (as I’ve done with a raft of other handguns) shot a literal ton of bullets down the bore. But I have shot it, and I’ve shot other Charter Arms revolvers thorough the years. None of them ever quit on me. As a gunsmith, I saw a lot of busted guns back in the old days, and the number of Charter Arms guns that came in broken were notable by their absence. Darned few, in fact.
Can we expect a 22-ounce revolver chambered in .45 Colt and selling for a mere $433 to stand up to a lifetime of shooting? Perhaps not. But consider the value. Let’s perform a thought experiment, as Albert Einstein used to do:
Can you buy an equivalent S&W? No. You could, if you wanted, buy a 25-5 and then pay a gunsmith such as me to shorten the barrel and round-butt the frame. (In fact, I did exactly that 30-plus years ago.) You will not own that revolver for less than $1,500, and it will not weigh fewer than 35 ounces. For that money, you could buy three Charter Arms Bulldog XLs in .45 Colt and not have to carry almost an extra pound all the time.
With that said, if you want to have a bigbore defensive revolver for daily carry, the new Charter Arms in .45 Colt is an absolute steal.
TYPE: Hammer-fired, double-action revolver
CALIBER: .45 Colt
BARREL: 2.5 in.
OVERALL LENGTH: 7 3/8 in.
WIDTH: 1 5/8 in.
HEIGHT: 5 3/8 in.
WEIGHT: 22 oz.
FINISH: Matte stainless
SIGHTS: Notch rear and ramp front
TRIGGER: 3.5 lbs. (SA); 10 lbs. (DDA)
CHARTER ARMS CharterFirearms.com
Editor’s note: The full version of this article can be found in the November 2018 print issue of Gun World Magazine.