Why the Charter Arms Pitbull is the ideal 9mm revolver for backup/off-duty

The Pitbull is a whole new breed of snub nose revolver as it chambers semi-automatic pistol cartridges


By Steve Tracy

A 9mm snub nose revolver for backup/off-duty carry. Yes, you read that right, not a .38 or .357, but a 9mm that takes the same ammo your department issues for practice, qualification and duty use.

Charter Arms’ unique revolver – the Pitbull – loads and ejects just like standard revolvers due to ingenious little spring-loaded clips inside each cylinder chamber. It is even offered in .40 S&W and .45 acp in case that’s your preference of caliber.

Snub nose revolvers are still an excellent choice for police backup/off-duty use and the Charter Arms Pitbull fires 9mm semi-automatic ammunition. (Photo/Steve Tracy)
Snub nose revolvers are still an excellent choice for police backup/off-duty use and the Charter Arms Pitbull fires 9mm semi-automatic ammunition. (Photo/Steve Tracy)

Why the snubby is still an option

Snub nose revolvers have long been the choice of gun-savvy police officers for on-duty backup and off-duty concealed carry. Although many of today’s younger police officers may have never even fired a revolver, the compact wheel guns are still a viable option.

Smaller versions of duty semi-automatic pistols may be preferred by today’s officers due to their similarity to the full size pistol on their duty belt, but PoliceOne Editorial Advisory Board member Mike Wood’s article “15 reasons to consider a snubby for your backup gun” explains in detail why a compact revolver still works well for today’s law enforcement officers. Reliability and the revolver’s resistance to neglect), plus the lack of a manual safety and its capability of making repeated contact shots work in its favor.

Charter Arms has been making firearms since 1964. The Shelton, Connecticut-based manufacturer is best known for its .44 Special Bulldog and .38 Special Undercover and cops have been carrying them for over 50 years. The Pitbull is a whole new breed of snub nose revolver, due to the fact that it chambers semi-automatic pistol cartridges. 

Semi-automatic cartridges in a revolver

Most snub nose revolvers are chambered for the .38 Special cartridge or .357 Magnum and the cartridge’s rim secures it inside each cylinder chamber and allows for extraction as well.

Revolvers made for semi-auto rounds date back more than 100 years to the S&W and Colt .45 ACP guns produced to use military cartridges intended for 1911 pistols. These revolvers provided more handguns that used the same military ammo as the issued Colt 1911. However, these revolvers require flat steel clips, often referred to as moon clips (third – 2 rounds, half – 3 rounds, or full - 5 or 6 rounds), to keep the cartridges from falling through the cylinder chambers and also providing extraction.

Revolver cartridges (like the .38 Special or .357 Magnum) use their rear cartridge rim to position each round in the cylinder’s chambers. Semi-automatic cartridges (such as 9mm, .40, .45) are rimless and therefore need the moon clips to extract from a revolver’s cylinder. Some other designs headspace a semi-auto cartridge on the mouth of the case inside a cylinder chamber, but a pencil-type object is required to punch each empty case out after firing.

Charter Arms has come up with a better idea for firing semi-auto ammo in a revolver, one that mimics the manner that revolvers normally load and unload.

Cylinder release latch pushes forward to open the cylinder. Grips are rubberized and cover the entire backstrap to reduce recoil. (Photo/Steve Tracy)
Cylinder release latch pushes forward to open the cylinder. Grips are rubberized and cover the entire backstrap to reduce recoil. (Photo/Steve Tracy)

The Pitbull 9mm revolver

The Pitbull is available in three semi-automatic cartridge choices: .45 ACP, .40 S&W, and 9mm. Some officers may ask, “Why chamber a revolver for semi-automatic pistol cartridges?” The answer (and first reason the Pitbull is a smart choice for law enforcement) is interchangeability and availability of ammo. Officers would come to qualification when I was working as a range officer and ask, “Do you have any .38 Special ammo?” I would tell them I was sorry, but we haven’t had .38 cartridges for many years. We stock 9mm, .40, and .45 for practice, qualification and duty issue, but not .38 anymore. They would frown and say, “It’s really expensive, too.” 

Charter Arms came up with a unique dual-coil spring assembly in the extractor star which retains semi-automatic, rimless cartridges and allows insertion and ejection in the same manner as rimmed revolver cartridges. No moon clips needed. A Charter Arms Pitbull in 9mm was obtained for evaluation.

The Blacknitride+ finish provides the Charter Arms Pitbull with corrosion resistance. (Photo/Steve Tracy)
The Blacknitride+ finish provides the Charter Arms Pitbull with corrosion resistance. (Photo/Steve Tracy)

The small 5-shot snub nose is relatively lightweight at just 22 ounces with its stainless steel frame and cylinder.  The shrouded barrel – which protects the ejection rod from being bent – is machined with an integral ramped and serrated front sight and measures 2.2-inches. Charter Arms uses an eight land and groove rifling twist instead of the usual six to provide greater velocity. The muzzle is nicely crowned with a recess.

The top of the frame is cut to provide a larger square notch rear sight that matches up well with the front. The Pitbull revolvers have standard exposed hammers that feature a transfer bar safety mechanism that means all five chambers can be safely loaded and carried. The firing pin does not rest on a round’s primer.  With the cylinder open, a close look at the firing pin shows that it is made of beryllium copper, and is practically indestructible. The guns are standard double action (measuring over 12 pounds because my Lyman digital trigger pull gauge only goes that high) or they can be thumb cocked to fire with a much lighter single action trigger pull (3 pounds, 12 ounces on the same Lyman gauge). The trigger is serrated but not overly sharp, so it does not abrade your trigger finger when firing a fifty round qualification.

The 2.2-inch barrel is shrouded to protect the ejector rod and its integral front sight is serrated. (Photo/Steve Tracy)
The 2.2-inch barrel is shrouded to protect the ejector rod and its integral front sight is serrated. (Photo/Steve Tracy)

The rubberized finger groove grip covers the entire front and back strap and fit several officers’ hands well. Opening the cylinder requires a forward push on the left-side-mounted cylinder release latch. It pressed right up against the rear cylinder shield, but does its job fine. The cylinder swings out to the left and the ejector rod has a wider flat end that your thumb appreciates. Empty 9mm cases eject easily just like .38 Special cases and the grips do not interfere at all.

Blacknitride+ Finish

Blacknitride+ finish is a heat treatment impregnated into the metal of mechanical parts that includes firearms. Charter Arms bead blasts its stainless steel revolvers and then H&M Metal Processing applies its proprietary process to the parts.

The matte dark graphite color is non-reflective and provides a Rockwell hardness between 60 and 70 that is quenched into the metal surface and will not chip or flake off. It also reduces friction to provide smoother operation and longer-lasting parts. Blacknitride+ application to firearms works for the same reason it is used in professional automobile racing for engine parts, oil drilling, and even NASA’s Mars Rover motion control parts.

The Charter Arms revolvers finished in Blacknitride+ have a pleasingly subtle black finish that will keep the firearm from corroding inside and out in any type of weather. Locations near salt water and areas where cold air combines with squad car heaters or hot air and air conditioning can wreak havoc on firearms. It’s good to know that constant maintenance is not necessary since the Pitbull’s internal and external parts (including the inside of the barrel and cylinder chambers) are protected by the Blacknitride+ finish.

The Pitbull’s finish is the second reason it’s a smart choice for police use, it requires little maintenance to maintain its reliability and finish.

Range time

How accurate do we need to be to shoot a snub nose revolver? Trick shooter Bob Munden could hit a steel target 200 yards away with a snubby, but in law enforcement we know that most shootings occur at 21 feet or less. The Charter Arms revolvers are most likely to be compared to the S&W J-frame or the new Colt Cobra revolvers with similar length barrels. Both of those revolvers are priced higher than the Charter Arms guns and the Blacknitride+ Pitbull’s suggested retail price of $522.

The transfer bar provides a safety measure so the gun can only fire when its trigger is fully pulled all the way to the rear. (Photo/Steve Tracy)
The transfer bar provides a safety measure so the gun can only fire when its trigger is fully pulled all the way to the rear. (Photo/Steve Tracy)

The double-action trigger pull on this Pitbull started out with a gritty feeling as the trigger traveled from cocking the hammer, through rotating the cylinder, and then finally dropping the hammer. I made double sure the chambers were empty and then I pulled the trigger 300 times while keeping my offhand thumb on the hammer, preventing it from smacking the firing pin hard each time. This is the old “poor man’s trigger job,” which simply causes the internal parts to contact each other and rub out any tiny burrs or microscopic edges.   

I wanted to see how the Pitbull would shoot double action at 21 feet for its first 10 shots. After the poor man’s trigger job, I cleaned the bore and cylinder and then oiled the cylinder crane and ejector rod. Then I ran a standard silhouette target out to 21 feet and loaded the Pitbull with Blazer Brass 115 grain 9mm rounds. After firing the first five shots, I reloaded and fired five more. All but one round were in the ten-ring. I pulled my shots slightly high and left (I tend to do that when firing double action revolvers) and one shot was in the nine-ring. But for its intended use as a backup gun, this Pitbull performed just as needed.

Another 150 rounds were fired through the gun, including 115-, 124- and 147-grain 9mm ammunition. There were no incidents of cylinder lock up or hammer freeze (instances where the trigger is pulled but the revolver fails to function). It should be noted that Charter Arms does not recommend +P ammunition in the Pitbull. The reason given is that +P ammo is designed for longer barreled firearms and firing it in the Pitbull will give excessive muzzle flash and recoil. +P loads cannot burn all their powder in a shorter barrel, so the bullet’s energy on target is reduced as well.

The first ten shots grouped well at 21 feet. The Pitbull fired all kinds of ammunition accurately without fail. (Photo/Steve Tracy)
The first ten shots grouped well at 21 feet. The Pitbull fired all kinds of ammunition accurately without fail. (Photo/Steve Tracy)

The Hornady Critical Defense 9mm cartridge is made with a fast burning powder to provide velocity in short barrel firearms and its Flex Tip 115-grain bullet has been shown to reliably expand in all types of media. This round fired with excellent accuracy through the Pitbull.

Some officers may view the 9mm round as subpar compared to the .40 S&W and .45 acp cartridges. This view may cause some to think that the recoil of the 9mm round in the Pitbull would be much less than another comparable round. Remember that the 9mm cartridge was intended for semi-automatic pistols and needed to have enough power to cycle a steel slide and overcome recoil springs in pistols. There is nowhere for that recoil to go in a revolver except straight back into your palm. The Pitbull kicks. It’s not a range toy for extensive plinking for fun. It’s a good thing the wraparound grips are rubberized as a fifty round qualification course is about all the shooting you will want to do with this little 22-ounce revolver.

Loading the Pitbull is simple as long as you remember that pushing each cartridge into each chamber requires just a little bit of pressure to overcome the spring-loaded clips that retain each round. There are no speedloaders made for the Pitbull, however Tuff Products does make its QuickStrips to hold 9mm rounds. These polymer strips hold six to eight rounds in a flat, concealable format for easy and fumble-free reloading.

Unloading the Pitbull is just as simple as any other revolver. A proper ejection drill holding the gun with its muzzle up and pressing the ejection rod downward with your thumb expelled all five empty cases every time and they cleared the rubber grip as well. Several shooters tried the Pitbull and they all loaded and ejected the fired cases without a problem after being instructed to just give each round that extra little push into the chambers.

Range time proved the third reason why the Pitbull is the best 9mm revolver. It was easy and intuitive to load, fire accurately, eject empty cases and then reload. It was fast and did not require moon clips and it functioned flawlessly.

Final thoughts

If you already understand the advantages of revolvers – reliability, lack of manual safety and ability to fire repeated contact shots – you may find the Pitbull to be the gun for you. No matter if you carry a 9mm, .40, or .45 on duty, you can match a Pitbull’s semi-automatic ammo with your duty pistol.

Police departments should issue ammunition for on-duty backup firearms and most do. But it is understandable that departments cannot stock every caliber available on the firearms market. If your department stocks 9mm ammunition for practice and qualification, the Charter Arms Pitbull in 9mm is an option that holds great appeal. 9mm ammo is less expensive than .38 Special ammo, so it’s a better deal if you are paying for your own ammo.

The Charter Arms Pitbull is available in stainless steel and the Blacknitride+ finish. It is a well-made, reliable revolver unlike others due to its unique ability to load and fire semi-automatic cartridges without any special adaptors.


About the Author
Steve Tracy recently retired from the Park Ridge Police Department (which borders the northwest side of Chicago) after 30 years of service, 28 as a firearms instructor.

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