Throwback Thursday: Review — Charter Arms .38 Undercover

Charter Arms was once an upstart that rocked the industry. Today, it is an established old-line maker. Charter Arms offers good-quality revolvers at a fair price. While it offers calibers from .22 LR to .45 ACP, as well as the .357 Magnum, the bread-and-butter revolver it made its reputation on was the Charter Arms Undercover, a five-shot, swing-out cylinder, double-action revolver.

The Undercover .38 Special was the first offering from this company. When good handguns are hard to come by, those purchasing the traditional big names look elsewhere. In this case, they have found a reliable and useful revolver with good features.

Charter Arms Pit Bull 9mm
This is the Pit Bull 9mm, an interesting option.

The Undercover isn’t a cheap gun and never was. However, it is affordable and a new type of handgun in the supply chain. At one time, there were either expensive guns or cheaply-made guns, but little in between. The Charter Arms Undercover is a revolver made affordable by the use of the most modern manufacturing techniques.

Features and Specifications

The Charter Arms Undercover doesn’t use a side plate. The revolver features a combination of steel and aluminum, utilizing a steel frame and a lot of aluminum to make for a light, but strong, revolver. The revolver features a floating firing pin and a transfer-bar ignition system. This makes it more modern than any revolver of the same 1960s generation. While many revolvers use this system today, that wasn’t true when the Charter Arms revolvers were introduced during the Vietnam era. The revolver was chambered in the powerful .38 Special.

The only real complaint was that the grips were small — intended for deep concealment — and the revolver kicked more than its competitors. Later versions with hand-filling wood or synthetic grips solved that problem. The Charter Arms .38 is a light, useful, and concealable revolver. I practice enough with my snub-nose revolvers to maintain a degree of proficiency. They are not fun to fire, but with proper practice loads and the occasional duty load for familiarization, they are not bears to fire either. The grips supplied with modern revolvers make a great deal of difference.

The Charter .38 Undercover revolver features broad rear sights and a front post that makes for fast shooting and good accuracy. The action is smooth and cycles quickly. The exposed-hammer models allow single-action fire for precise accuracy, such as taking out a dangerous snake at a few paces or making a hit on a man-sized target to 20 yards or so.

There are also bobbed-hammer versions and even a concealed-hammer version. The humpback concealed-hammer version is among the few affordable revolvers of the type.

Charter 38 Undercover American Flag Cerekote
This bold special edition of the Charter .38 Undercover is among the author’s favorites.

Ammunition Selection

For practice, any lead wadcutter or RNL design is a good choice. Recoil is modest and the Charter Arms revolver is reliable with all ammunition I have tested. A good personal defense load is the Speer 135-grain Gold Dot. This load features a soft lead core surrounded by a thin copper jacket. The jacket eliminates leading the barrel. The bullet is designed for optimum expansion at .38 Special velocity. This is also a particularly accurate loading. I find it controllable in double-action pairs in the Charter Arms revolver. It strikes to the point of aim at seven yards.

This loading gives the .38 Special a measure of authority. I have fired several five-shot groups with the modern Charter Arms revolver at 15 yards. It isn’t difficult to exhibit a four-inch, five-shot group at this range, good enough for any reasonable chore the snub-nose Charter .38 will be called upon to answer.

Speer Gold Dot .38 Special Expansion
The Speer 135-grain Gold Dot perfectly expanded during the author’s testing.

A Good Holster Option

A good wheel gun needs a good holster. For concealed carry, Blackhawk! offers a leather inside-the-waistband holster that works well with the Charter .38 Undercover. Using a strong belt clip, this holster makes for excellent all-around concealed carry. The leather is properly tanned and stitched, altogether a class act.

Small-frame revolvers such as this also tuck away in a pocket nicely. Sticky Holsters makes a number of generic-size fit options that work well in the pocket. They’re made of a grippy material that snags the pocket for a clean draw.

Charter 38 In Holster
Blackhawk! offers first-class leather inside-the-waistband holsters.

Conclusion: Charter .38 Undercover

The Charter Arms revolver has good features at a fair price. It is not the finest handgun on the market, but then, it does not intend to be so. It is the everyman’s gun that is meant to be used and carried daily. That’s a real buy in today’s market.

Have you shot a Charter .38 Undercover? Tell us what you thought in the comments section. 

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in September of 2020. It has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and clarity.

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