First Impressions: Charter Arms Pitbull .40S&W (Updated, AGAIN!)

No rims? No problem!

(Scroll down for updates)  I have been looking at bigger-bore revolvers for a while now.  Wheelgun reliability + bigger bullets sounded like a winner to me.

The lack of .44SPL ammo availability (and the anemia of the ammo I have seen tested) pushed me away from a Bulldog and towards the Pitbull.  5-shots, stainless steel frame, DA with exposed hammer.  And since it’s a revolver, the chamber is “fully supported”.  LOL.

I saw one in the case at the newest gun store in the area, Woodbridge Firearms, and I pulled the trigger so to speak.  A more complete review will be forthcoming, but here are my initial impressions after a box and a half of ammo:

(m0re)

The fit & finish seem acceptable.  The Charter Arms design is different than a Smith & Wesson, so the seams where the crane meets the frame are more prominent.  No sideplate; the guts go in from the bottom like a Ruger. The cylinder gap is tighter than any Colt, Ruger or Smith & Wesson revolver I own.  The grip is comfortable enough to hold, but too bulky to permit pocket carry.

The fixed rear sight offers a wide-enough aperture to see the front sight through.  The front sight ramp is too shiny, in my opinion, since it is not checkered or otherwise finished.  The inside of the barrel has some (what appears to be) pitting.  (Pictures coming…)

The DA trigger is on the heavy side but nowhere near as stiff as a Nagant.  It’s pretty smooth after several hundred dry-fires using snap caps, but still heavier than my J-frame S&Ws.  The SA trigger is very good.

I used the snap-caps to practice loading and extraction as well.  Loading requires a little extra force than a revolver user is accustomed to.  Extraction, as long as the cylinder is tilted to extract downward, worked well.  The only problems with extraction were when the cylinder was not tilted back, and one or two of the rounds would shift away from the tab on the extractor and fall back into the charge-holes.

The weather has been gloomy here so I don’t have chronograph data yet.  But when I tested 2 types of ammunition (American Eagle 165gr FMJ and Magtech 180gr FMJ), the recoil was pretty vigorous.  (The manual says standard pressure .40S&W ammo only).  Heavier than a steel J-frame firing +P .38 ammo but not as hard as a .357 magnum.  It wasn’t as hard on the web of my hand as a J-frame, but it raised a blister on the second pad of my trigger finger by the end.

Two issues arose from my range testing.  First, even in SA mode, this particular Pitbull (using those two types of ammo) is not a tackdriver.  It shot a little to the left, as well.  I will be testing more ammo very soon to see what the gun likes best (if anything).

The second issue was light primer strikes if I slowly staged the DA trigger.  Happened 6 times with the American Eagle ammo; one round would not fire even after the round was hit again with a fast DA pull.  This may be an ammo issue, but the same ammo worked fine in my Glock and my Ruger carbine.

More impressions of the Pitbull will be coming soon.

UPDATED:

While cleaning the Pitbull I noticed some things that bothered me.

First, the barrel.  After I cleaned the barrel and looked down it, I noticed some flaws.  One was a long series of divots that looked like pitting in one of the rifling grooves.  The other was some rough marks that ran across several lands and grooves:

WTF. Part 1

The second problem was the inside of the the cylinder, specifically the length of freebore at the end of each charge-hole.  It was very rough, grooved in a circular pattern as if it was bored out quickly without regard to making it smooth:

WTF, Part 2

Looks like it will be more likely to accumulate gunk and fouling, while being harder to clean.  And I doubt that it will help the Pitbull achieve maximum velocity.

Just to make sure I was not noticing something that is “normal”, I checked my Ruger, Colt and Smith&Wesson revolvers.  All of them were perfectly smooth from the end of the charge holes to the end of the cylinder:

The Standard

I have an assortment of 135, 150 and 155gr ammo to test in the Pitbull for accuracy as well as to chronograph (if there is ever any direct sunlight when I am at the range).  And I will be watching to see if there are any more light primer strikes.

I have to say that I am not very happy with this gun so far.  I want to give it a fair chance with a variety of ammunition to eliminate that as a factor.  But if the Pitbull can’t reliably deliver an acceptable level of accuracy (hopefully at a reasonable velocity), I will be selling it off on consignment.

UPDATED AGAIN:

I took the Pitbull to the range again, this time with some different ammo.  I went for lighter bullets to see if the recoil could be reduced.  I had some Speer 155gr FMJ, Federal Hydra-Shok 150gr JHP, Winchester Ranger 135gr JHP, Cor-Bon 135gr JHP and Cor-Bon Pow-R-Ball 135gr JHP.

None of them felt appreciably lighter.  I don’t know why, but this gun kicks worse than my stainless J-frame .357Mag.  It isn’t as “flippy” but it whacks my hand worse.

The circles in red are the 5 rounds of 155gr Speer Lawman, fired single-action at 50′ at this bullseye.  The blue circles are the 5 rounds of 135gr Winchester Ranger that I fired at the bullseye to the right of this one:

No “good” here, just “bad” and “ugly”

Ok, this was even worse than the 165gr and 180gr ammo I tried last time.  I loaded up the 150gr Federal Hydra-Shoks:

Ouch!

Again with the vertical stringing (these were also fired single-action).

Just to satisfy myself that I wasn’t going insane, and wasn’t simply having a bad day at the range, I broke out my J-frame and my Kahr CM9:

S&W 642 @ 50′ with Rem UMC 130gr MC

Kahr CM9 @ 50′ with Rem UMC 115gr FMJ

Alright, I was satisfied that it wasn’t my imagination, and that my skills hadn’t disappeared.  I took the gun back to Woodbridge Firearms and Mike said he would take it to Charter personally and see what he could do.

At Charter, the tech took the gun, put a target at 20′ and did this with (I was told) American Eagle ammo:

A conundrum…

So…not a great group for 20′, but also clearly not veering off to the left or in a ridiculous vertical string.  Is there some magic way to hold or shoot this gun to make it behave?

At that point, my mental block about this gun was too large to overcome.  Mike swapped me out even-steven for the 9mm version, which should be less punishing to shoot.  And the guys at Charter (who were not aware of this review, nor that I was the writer of it) said that if I had any issues, I could bring it right to their facility and they would work with me to make it right (or show me what the hell I was doing wrong).  I checked the gun out before leaving the store; the barrel was clean and free of the defects that I saw in the .40 barrel, and the freebore at the end of the cylinder was much smoother than the .40 as well.  I am cautiously optimistic.

So, stay tuned for our test of the 9mm Charter Pitbull…

I must extend my gratitude to Mike and to the people at Charter for going beyond what constitutes normal customer service to rectify the situation.  I doubt I would have received this accommodation at another dealer.

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One Response to “First Impressions: Charter Arms Pitbull .40S&W (Updated, AGAIN!)”

  1. Bill says:

    Wow, that barrel sure look rough. I know that Charter doesn’t make the barrels they buy them from jobbers. Looks like there is a tooling problem perhaps a dull tool to leave those burs. I have been through their facility several years ago, I was not impressed with their methods of fitting parts… you get what you pay for.