Gun Review: Charter Arms Pitbull

The Charter Arms Pitbull is a bit of a revolver oddity.  It was designed specifically for rimless cartridges normally found in semi-automatic pistols.

Most revolvers are designed for rimmed cartridges that allow the rounds to easily seat and extract from the cylinder.  A few revolvers are chambered for rimless cartridges that make use of thin metal clips into which the cartridges snap.  The rounds are then loaded and extracted en mass.

The Charter Arms Pitbull is different from other revolvers in that it uses rimless rounds but does not require the use of any metal clips to insert into or extract rounds from the cylinder.  How did they manage that?

Pitbull Technology

According to Charter Arms “…a dual coil spring assembly located in the extractor which allows for the insertion and retention of the .40 caliber cartridge in each chamber of the revolvers’ cylinder.  This patented system allows the shooter ease of ejecting spent cartridges for immediate reloading.”

Looking at the extractor star, a shooter will see small nibs protruding.  These nibs are spring-loaded and are pushed inward when a cartridge is inserted into the chamber.  Once the cartridge is inserted far enough, the extractor groove aligns with the nib, allowing the nib to snap back out and hold the cartridge in place.

Extraction of spent cartridges occurs normally, with the shooter tipping the gun up and pressing down on the ejector rod.

Smith & Wesson used to make a revolver with a similar design called the model 547.  The 547 came in 3” and 4” versions and used a visually similar extraction system to the one used on the Pitbull.  A little more than 10,000 of the S&W revolvers were made from 1980 − 1985. 

General Specifications

The Pitbull is a medium-sized revolver based on the company’s .357 Magnum frame.  It is a typical double-action revolver with an exposed hammer to allow for single-action shooting.  Capacity is five rounds.

The gun appears to be designed with an eye toward the concealed carry market as it has a relatively short 2.3” barrel.  The frame, barrel and cylinder are all made of stainless steel, giving the gun an unloaded weight of 20 ounces.

Using a belt holster, the Pitbull concealed and carried nicely on the hip.  I did not feel the gun was compact enough for ankle carry, as it made what I thought was too obvious a bulge on my leg.

Sights on the Pitbull are fixed with the front ramp being smooth and the same matte silver color as the rest of the gun.  The rear sight is a notch in the topstrap.  There is no easy provision to replace the sights as machining would be required.

The trigger pull was heavy and a little gritty out of the box.  As I have discovered with many Charter Arms guns, dry fire and range time will smooth out the trigger pull quite nicely.  The Pitbull wound up being the same way.  Double action, the trigger pull exceeded the 12-pound weight on my Lyman digital scale.

Range Time

Shooting the Pitbull was very similar to other Charter Arms revolvers I have shot.  That is to say the gun was reasonable accurate, was comfortable to shoot and the trigger smoothed out and improved with shooting.

Recoil from the Pitbull was a little harsher than I had hoped for, but it was not unexpected or uncontrollable.  The .40 S&W is a high-pressure cartridge and the rounds do have the potential of being much more snappy than an easy shooting 9mm or .45 ACP.  Even so, the gun was easily controlled – the .40 S&W is not a magnum cartridge.

As I previously mentioned, the double action trigger pull is relatively heavy, but it did smooth out with each stroke of the trigger.  After about 200 rounds, the trigger did not feel like a custom job, but it was more than acceptable for a self-defense firearm.

As this gun is meant for self-defense work, I spent most of my time shooting double action.  However, I did shoot the gun single action, and found the single action trigger to be fantastic with no take up and a clean break.

I shot a variety of ammo from Winchester USA FMJ to Speer Gold Dot and could not find any problems with any of the loads in the Pitbull.  The revolver shot each load as readily as the last.  No matter how good semi-auto pistols get, the ability to run nearly any load through a revolver will always be a wheel gun’s strong point.

The key question I had when taking the Pitbull to the range was will the gun reliably load and extract rounds using the new Charter Arms design.  The answer I found was mixed.

To efficiently extract the spent cases from a revolver, one tips the barrel toward the sky and smartly depressed the ejector rod.  This forces the extractor downward, pushing out the empty cases.  By tipping the barrel upward, the shooter is getting assistance from gravity in removing the cases, but no specific angle is necessary.
On the Charter Arms Pitbull, however, reliable extraction is very much dependent on following the literature included with the Pitbull when it is purchased.  According to Charter Arms, you should tip the barrel up, not exceeding 90 degrees, and “press the ejector rod slowly and firmly all the way down.”

Unfortunately, even following the precise directions included with the gun, extraction was not 100% reliable.  Carefully using a less-than-90 degree angle, I was still having problems with cases being ejected from the charge hole closest to the frame.  The case would be partially pulled from the chamber, but then it would hang up under the extractor star.

Failure of the case to extract happened about every third or fourth cylinder.  The case was easily brushed away, but it unnecessarily slowed down the reloading process. 

I find the required spent case extraction techniques to be incompatible with self-defense work.  Reloads under stress are done in a very hurried manner, and exaggerated movements due to the adrenaline in your system can easily cause you to exceed the 90 degree rule.

Final Thoughts

Generally, I like Charter Arms products.  The company manufactures handguns that are affordably priced, typically very reliable and are made in the United States.  However, the Pitbull is not a gun I can recommend for self-defense based on the gun I reviewed.

As a gun enthusiast, I like the idea of being able to run rimless cartridges through a revolver without the need for moon clips.  I was enthusiastic about the Charter Arms project ever since I first heard about it several years ago.  I sincerely hope they continue working on the guns and the technology becomes as reliable as the tried-and-true rimmed cartridge revolvers.