Revolvers evaluated (left to right): Charter Arms Ultra Lite Black, Goldfinger and Pink Lady Off Duty.
“What’s the best handgun for a woman shooter?”
“What handgun should I get for concealed carry?”
These questions are often heard in gun stores or read on the Internet. Likely as not, a majority of folks will give the same answer to both questions: a .38 snub-nosed revolver.
While I like revolvers, based on my experience, wheelguns—especially Snubbys—are actually about 20% harder to shoot well, excluding the more complex manual of arms of an auto-loader. That does not mean, however, that the Snubby is not still a viable weapon.
While I have no intention of boring you with a “revolver vs. auto” article, let’s take a moment and look at some of the advantages of a revolver.
- There are no malfunction drills to master—if the gun doesn’t go bang, pull the trigger again.
- Revolvers are not as dependent on bullet shape as most semiautomatics, digesting everything from full wadcutters to jacketed hollowpoints.
- Revolvers are usually reliable in the extreme.
- They’re possibly safer to handle for a novice shooter.
- Generally speaking, a revolver costs less than its semi-auto cousin.
Pink is the new tactical black. Having a layered self-defense strategy is a wise idea. Clockwise from top: Charter Arms Pink Lady Off Duty, Rat Cutlery Izula and sheath, Streetwise Security Products Hottie Small Fry rechargeable mini stun gun, and Kimber Guardian Angel PepperBlaster (formerly known as LifeAct) OC device.
Furthermore, when taking into consideration how one dresses, there are times when a Snubby may in fact be a very practical choice for a concealed weapon. Carried daily by both experienced pistoleros and novices, the popularity of the Snubby cannot be argued.
On the last day of the SHOT Show this year, I was making a final pass of the floor with my wife, Chris. Stopping at the Charter Arms booth, she began examining their wide array of revolvers, including a “Southpaw” version with the cylinder latch on the right side of the frame. The revolvers were displayed in an equally wide array of colors: blue, stainless steel, black/stainless two-tone, red, lavender, pink and gold/black.
During the flight home, we discussed how our daughter Ashleigh has a penchant for anything in tactical pink, and my wife suggested I order Ash one of Charter’s Pink Lady Off Duty (PL) revolvers. (We had already bought her a pink stun gun at the show.) Also, as long as I was at it, I might as well order Chris a black and gold two-tone Goldfinger (GF) revolver to go with one of the two Galco Holster Handbags she had purchased at the show.
Sensing an opening to pick up a new fire stick for myself, I remarked that I may as well order one of Charter’s Ultra Lite Black (ULB) revolvers and test all three at the same time. Success! The order for three revolvers was placed a week after returning home.
All three of the five-shot revolvers evaluated have frames made of aircraft-grade 7075 aluminum. Barrel length is two inches. All critical parts that are subject to wear/stress—barrels, cylinders, triggers, etc.—are stainless steel. For strength, the cylinders on all Charter revolvers lock up at three points—the front of the cylinder, the rear of the cylinder and the notches in the cylinder where it is engaged by the hammer pawl. Sights are fixed, with a blade front and square notch rear.
The ULB and GF are traditional single-action/double-action (DA/SA) revolvers with spur hammers and standard size stocks, while the PL is double-action-only (DAO) with a concealed hammer and small “combat” stocks. Weight of each of these wheelguns is a mere 12 ounces, and all three are rated safe to fire with +P ammunition.
With loose fitting trousers, pocket holster like this from Bianchi is viable choice for carrying snub-nosed revolver.
Fit and finish on the three guns were good, although there were noticeable machining marks on the inside of the cylinders—especially evident on the Ultra Lite Black. While somewhat distracting, the marks are not obvious and did not interfere with functioning.
The faces of the triggers are smooth and have a good contour that was conducive to good double-action firing. The double-action trigger pull was predictably somewhat stiff, but seemed less than other five-shot Snubbys I have fired.
The three Charter handguns were evaluated with four different loads from Black Hills Ammunition, ranging from a 148-gr. target wadcutter up to a 125-gr. JHP +P load. Also included were both 148-gr. wadcutter and 158-gr. semiwadcutter handloads.
Larger standard-size stocks on ULB and Goldfinger would not allow all shells to be ejected freely and precluded use of cylindrical speed loaders. Machining marks on cylinder walls are also visible.
While recording velocity is not of particular interest in many firearms, I felt it would be noteworthy with these two-inch revolvers. Coming out of the short tube, four of the five factory loads averaged more than 200 feet-per-second (fps) less than the published velocities. The 148-gr. target wadcutter had the least reduced reading, but even it was close to 100 fps slower.
I have always felt that the 148-gr. wadcutter is a good self-defense loading, and there are subject matter experts in this field who agree. And so, while the wadcutter loading was still slower than published information, it also exhibited less felt recoil and muzzle flash and is consequently easier on the gun.
The downside to wadcutters is that, due to their flat noses, they are more difficult to load into the cylinder, especially under stress. My general practice is to carry wadcutters in the gun and “pointy” bullets for a reload.
Depending on how chambers are positioned when cylinder is opened, sometimes two empty cases will not eject with standard-size stocks.
During the evaluation, it was observed that the Ultra Lite Black and the Goldfinger would not fully eject at least one—sometimes two—cases, as the standard grips would not allow the cases to clear. There was no problem encountered with the Pink Lady, which has smaller combat grips.
Similarly I found that while the PL would accept a cylindrical speed loader (the HKS model 36 works just fine in Charter revolvers), neither of the other two would, requiring the use of a strip loader or loading rounds singly.
If the revolver is carried as a backup gun, I place less value on carrying a reload than if it is carried as the primary. With that said, I will probably replace the standard size stocks on both the ULB and the GF with the smaller combat stocks, both to aid in reloads as well as for the smaller footprint the combat stocks provide.
Typical double-action group from 30 feet.
Accuracy is relative. You may be able to fire tighter groups than I can one day, and the reverse may be true the next. Suffice to say that it was no problem to keep ten rounds, fired double-action from 30 feet, easily within an eight-inch circle, center mass of the target. All of the duty loads from Black Hills proved to be every bit as accurate as the target wadcutters.
I used a Bianchi pocket holster while evaluating the Charter revolvers. Chris and Ashleigh used Galco Holster Handbags and a fanny pack.
On a side note, there is an old saying that goes, “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Analogous to that is that if all you have is a gun, everything becomes a shooting. Arming yourself with only a handgun and going gleefully on your way is not a particularly good idea. A better plan for anyone who carries a firearm is to have a layered defense strategy that includes unarmed techniques and less-than-lethal options. In addition to a SureFire handheld light, Chris and Ashleigh each carry a Kimber Guardian Angel PepperBlaster (formerly known as LifeAct) OC device in their purses. Ashleigh now carries her Hottie Small Fry stun gun from Streetwise Security Products as well. I carry a PepperBlaster in my vest pocket.
Ashleigh and Chris at the range with their Charter Arms Pink Lady Off Duty and Goldfinger revolvers. Ashleigh works from a TommyGun fanny pack, while Chris practices from her Galco Del Holster Handbag.
Among the three of us, we fired just over 1,000 rounds of .38 Special ammunition, the majority of it with 148-gr. wadcutter loads, over the course of four outings. Does the round count mean anything? Nope. This was not a “torture” test, and revolvers are known to be reliable almost to the point of boredom.
What it did do was give some quality trigger time with a weapon system that is frankly harder to shoot well than the handguns carried regularly by the Hansen crew.
It has been said that the Snubby is a gun that will be carried a lot but seldom fired. If that’s true—and I believe it is—the Charter revolvers were probably fired more in the initial test than they will be for the remainder of the year.
As tight after the evaluation as they were fresh out of the box, and costing considerably less than $500 each, Charter Arms revolvers represent very good “bang for the buck.”
281 Canal St.
Shelton, CT 06484
P.O. Box 9015
Temecula, CA 92589-9015
Black Hills Ammunition
P.O. Box 3090
Rapid City, SD 57709-3090
2019 West Quail Avenue
Phoenix, AZ 85027
Kimber Mfg., Inc.
One Lawton Street
Yonkers, NY 10705
RAT Cutlery Co.
60 Randall Rd.
Gallant, AL 35972
Streetwise Security Products
235-F Forlines Rd.
Winterville, NC 28590