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Charter Arms Pitbull Review

by David Fortier   |  July 9th, 2013 4

Do you need a 9mm revolver to go with your 9mm pistols? Charter Arms thinks so, and so it now offers the Pitbull six-shot revolver in 9x19mm Luger.

Designed by Georg Luger and introduced by Deutsche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken in 1902, the 9x19mm is one of the oldest autoloading pistol cartridges in existence. It predates such classics as the .45 ACP, .44 Special and .357 Mag., and is only a few years younger than the old .38 Special.

What I find most interesting though is the popularity of this 111-year-old cartridge. Since its introduction it has gone on to become not just successful, but rather the world standard. Today it is issued not only to NATO and U.S. forces, but it has also been adopted even by Russia and China. As to be expected, it is also hugely popular on the commercial market. If you doubt that, go try to find some at Walmart.

Without a doubt it is a very well balanced cartridge for autoloading pistols. The question I have, though, is this; do we really need a 9x19mm revolver?

This isn’t the 1980s and I’m sure some will gruffly reply something along the lines of, “Revolvers? We don’t need no stinking revolvers.” To this I will readily acknowledge that revolvers have seen a sharp decline in popularity. However some still prefer the simplicity and utility of a short-barreled revolver.

So when Charter Arms announced it was introducing two new models chambered for popular autoloading pistol cartridges I took note. The Pitbull line now includes a model chambered for .40 S&W and one in 9x19mm. Both are very popular, and it only made sense to offer a revolver for them.

Chambering revolvers for autoloading pistol cartridges is hardly new. The problem was first tackled before World War I. Chambering a revolver cylinder for a rimless autoloading revolver cartridge is not difficult. You simply cut the chamber to headspace off the case mouth just like a pistol barrel.

The problem arises when you wish to extract and eject the fired cases. In a swing-out cylinder or top-break revolver there is no rim for the star ejector to grasp. Due to this lack of a rim, fired cases are difficult to remove. Smith & Wesson developed a simple solution to this problem around 1908. They developed the “moon clip,” which held six cartridges by their extractor groove. With this device you simply dropped the entire loaded clip into the cylinder.

After firing your six, the clip, along with the empty cases, was easily ejected. The only downside was these full moon clips could be bent fairly easily, distorting them.

Smith & Wesson also developed a half-moon clip that held three rounds. The half-moon clips were later adopted and fielded by the U.S. Army during World War I. The War Department purchased thousands of large-frame Smith & Wesson and Colt revolvers in .45 ACP to supplement the Model 1911 pistol. These Model 1917 revolvers would go on to see service in both World Wars.

While the Model 1917 revolvers are by far the most famous revolvers chambered for autoloading pistol cartridges, they are hardly the only ones. The Webley-Fosbery self-cocking revolver was made in an eight-shot version chambered for .38 ACP cartridges held in a full-moon clip.

Israel modified S&W Victory Model revolvers to fire clipped 9mm ammo in the 1950s. In the 1970s, Smith & Wesson developed the Model 547 in 9x19mm. This design is interesting in that it does not use a clip to extract/eject the cases. Rather it uses an extractor designed by Roger J. Curran with a horn-shaped extractor with small spring tabs. This allowed cartridges to be inserted/extracted normally, no clip required.

The Model 547 was intended for the French police market, and while it was an interesting feat of mechanical engineering, it was not a commercial success. Ammo for the 9mm was far less developed than it is today, and shooters saw no advantage whatever in using it in preference to the .357 Mag. that dominated at the time. The few remaining examples are now interesting collector’s items.

Smith & Wesson also produced traditional 9x19mm revolvers that took conventional clips. In the 1990s, S&W offered the J-frame Model 940. A five-shot piece intended for concealed carry, it was intended to be loaded using 5-shot full moon clips. It also did not prove a commercial success, and was discontinued.

While we have the pages of time turned back, I should also mention the short-lived 9mm Federal. This was a throwback to the old .45 Auto Rim concept developed in 1920 by Remington-Peters. The .45 Auto Rim is nothing more than the .45 ACP with a thick rim added. This allowed easy and trouble-free use in surplus Model 1917 revolvers without the need for moon clips. Introduced in 1989, the 9mm Federal was nothing more than a rimmed 9x19mm cartridge intended for use in revolvers. Like the .45 Auto Rim, it would work in a 9mm revolver without the need for moon clips, though it had a conventional rim rather than the thick .45 Auto Rim style.

Almost as quickly as it was introduced, it was withdrawn, since someone pointed out it could be chambered in thousands of old .38 S&W top-break revolvers. As you might suspect, firing a cartridge producing 9mm pressures in an old folder could be catastrophic. It also was offered in revolvers with cylinders long enough for .357 Mag. Had it been available in something with an abbreviated cylinder like the Colt Police Positive or Banker’s Special, it might have been more appealing, but the commonality with the .38 S&W doomed it.

The latest company to take up the rimless cartridge in a revolver challenge is Charter Arms. Over the years, Charter Arms has had a bit of an up and down history and is best known for their big bore .44 Spl. Bulldog revolvers. The company was originally founded in 1964 by Douglas McClenahan.

He, like many Americans, had the dream of owning his own company. After working as a designer for such notable firearm companies as Colt, High Standard and Ruger, he decided to form his own company. He developed a revolver design utilizing a one-piece frame without the weakness of a sideplate, plus a unique hammer block safety system.

His first model was a five-shot .38 Spl. he dubbed the Undercover. At just 16 ounces, it was the lightest steel-framed revolver in the world at the time. It also featured the fewest moving parts. McClenahan’s goal was to produce a reliable piece for personal protection that was also affordable to the average blue-collar worker.

In 1967 McClenahan took on his close friend David Ecker as a 50-50 partner. In the years that followed, the company had its ups and downs. In 1984 David Ecker’s son, Nick, joined the firm, running the manufacturing side of the company. Ultimately though, Charter Arms went bankrupt in the 1990s and was resurrected by the Ecker family. Production was moved from Stratford to Shelton, Conn., and work continued.

Some refinements were made to the original designs and new calibers were introduced. Today Charter Arms is owned and run by Nick Ecker. It currently offers models chambered for .22 LR, .32 H&R Mag., .38 Spl., .357 Mag., .44 Spl., .40 S&W and 9x19mm.

The story on Charter Arms’ 9mm Pitbull revolver stretches back to when it was first announced in 2008. Originally dubbed the Charter Arms Rimless Revolver, it was slated to be available in 9mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP. Patent issues seem to have repeatedly delayed its release until the first .40 S&W model finally entered production in August 2011. I found the concept interesting, but decided to wait for the 9x19mm model to become available.

Time went by, I became busy with other projects and then one day I remembered Charter Arms’ Pitbull. So I bought one to see how it would perform. As such, these are my thoughts as a customer.

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