Charter Arms, Undercover .38 Spl, by Pat Cascio

Sometimes, the nostalgia bug bites me, big time, and I can’t resist a gun at my local gun shop. Under review in this article is the Charter Arms Undercover .38 Spl revolver, the older model.

An “Old Time” Revolver

They guys at my local gun shop are all quite a bit younger than me. So, whenever they get in an “old time” revolver they are sure to draw it to my attention and put it in my hands. I’ve been a habitual gun trader all my life, for the simple fact that I can’t afford all the firearms I want. When I was much younger, I was always after the newest and coolest handguns I could find. I’ve had more than a few of those moments, when I regretted doing a trade right after I did it, too.

Undercover, I Carried Charter Arms Snubby Revolver

One of the first undercover ops I ever did, as a private investigator, was in a steel plant. An employee had been killed by a load of steel beams being “accidentally” released from an overhead crane right on top of him. So, I was hired to go in and check things out. The insurance company couldn’t duplicate the “accident” nor could the local police gather enough evidence against anyone in the plant to prove this was done on purpose.

Long story short, all the employees, to a man, on the swing shift were always high on drugs, always. I was constantly keeping a watchful eye on the overhead crane in the plant, for fear of a load of steel beams falling on me. It turned out that this one employee wanted nothing to do with drugs, and the others feared he would turn on them, so he was murdered. I turned my report over to my employer, and several employees were arrested. One was charged with murder with the others charged as accessories to murder.

During my month long stint working undercover in this plant, I carried a Charter Arms .38 Spl 2-in barrel snubby revolver, called the Undercover. It had a highly polished nickel finish on it. I also carried this same gun while doing other open-case investigations. It was comforting carrying that little revolver, too.

No Longer in Production

This particular Undercover model is no longer in production. Instead, it has been upgraded in several areas. But what Charter sells is still basically the same gun, except a nickel finish is no longer offered. You can have it in blue or stainless steel. My choice would be stainless steel.

Overview of Charter Arms Undercover Revolver

Depending on what you believe, the Charter Arms Undercover weighs in at 20-23 oz. I no longer have a postal scale, so I couldn’t weigh my sample. When the boys at my local gun shop pointed out this older model Undercover, they knew I couldn’t resist it. It came home with me that very day. This model had the thicker full-grips on it, not the skimpy and ultra-small grips that came on the original version, like I had back in the early 1970s. I could live with that. However a speed loader wouldn’t work with this grips, so I purchased a pair of rubber combat grips from Charter, and they worked great. But not so much so with an ankle holster, as they made the gun too bulky.

The Undercover is a pretty Plain Jane revolver. It has a fixed front sight, and the rear sight is milled into the top of the receiver. It was difficult for me to pick up the front sight in the rear dovetail sight, so I painted the front sight orange. This made a big difference. The lock-up on this “old” gun was tight, and the cylinder to barrel gap was extra tight. The double-cation worked great, with no hang-ups at all. Its single-action trigger pull was a bit heavy, coming in around 7-lbs, while the double-action pull was about 12-lbs. Then again, this wasn’t designed as a target revolver. It was designed as an up-close and personal self-defense 5-shot, .38 Spl revolver.

Snubby Revolvers Best Used Up Close and Personal

I know many cops back in Chicago, who worked plain clothes during that time period and carried nothing more than a five or six shot snubby revolver. No thanks. I wanted something that would be used offensively as well as defensively. I learned this lesson early one evening while clearing a trucking dock warehouse from a break-in and armed with a little .38 snubby. The next day I bought a Colt Trooper MKIII 4” Bbl .357 Mag revolver. I think these little snubby revolvers are best used for up close and personal self-defensive purposes, period!

Well Made

One thing I’ve always liked about Charter Arms revolvers is that they are well-made. Maybe they’re not with the best finish or all areas of the gun not as nicely finished as more expensive guns, but they are functional, to say the least. And, if you look at them, they do not have a side plate that you remove to service the inside of the gun. Instead, they are contained inside the gun by several pins, making the guns much stronger than those that have a removable side plate. I also jumped on the Charter Arms .44 Spl revolver when it first came out. The only bad thing back then was that the only ammo available was 240-gr round nose lead loads. it was not the best man-stopper load. Today, there are all kinds of .44 Spl loads designed for defensive purposes.

Accuracy Testing With Ammo

Little 2-inch Bbl revolvers, like this Charter Arms Undercover, are best suited for accuracy testing at 15 yards.I used a rolled up sleeping bag over the hood of my Dodge Ram 1500 Sport pickup. From Black Hills Ammunition, I had their 125-gr JHP +P load and their fairly new 100-gr HoneyBadger load, which is not a hollow point. It is solid copper, with flutes milled into the nose of it. From Buffalo Bore Ammunition, I had their 158-gr soft lead SWC standard pressure short barrel load, which is also low flash, the 110-gr Barnes TAC-XP all-copper hollow point +P short barrel load, again low flash, and their 158-gr Outdoorsman Hard Cast +P load.

Needless to say, those +P loads let me know I had some extra power in my hands. The non-+P loads were a real pussycats to shoot in the little Undercover. All accuracy testing was done using the single-action mode of fire. The hands down winner was the HonnyBadger load from Black Hills. If I did my part, I was getting 3-inch groups, again at 15-yard. Hot on the heels on this load was the Buffalo Bore 158-gr Soft SWC load with just a fraction of an inch bigger groups. All other ammo gave decent combat accuracy, and you’d sure be able to get a head shot at 15-yards if you do your part.

Blackhawk Holster

Blackhawk Productsjust got in some of their new leather holsters, made in Italy, and they are a huge improvement over their older leather holsters. Their PR firm just happened to have two inside the waist holsters that would fit the Charter Arms Undercover, and in a couple of days I had one of the samples in hand. I’m not a huge fan of IWB holsters. I never have been. However, this one fit inside my cargo pants waist band nicely, and I could wear the Undercover all day long.

A Good “Old” Revolver Will Serve Your Self-Defense Needs Nicely

I don’t care what some gun experts claim, particularly that the day of the revolver is dead. I don’t think so. With the right ammo and a speed loader or two on hand for faster reloads, a good “old” revolver will serve your self-defense needs nicely these days, just as they did for the past 150 years. So, take a close look at the Charter Arms line-up. I betcha you’ll find something that catches your attention and at great prices, too.


  1. YEA! Another steel gun review! I’m a revolver guy. I’ve been tempted by Charter Arms products but have gotten stuck on old S&W and Colt revolvers. The old ones are much better made than anything new and they hold their value.
    .44 Special has to be a painful handful in a little snubie with 240gr bullets. I have several old S&W hand ejectors from the teens and 20’s in .44 Special and they can be uncomfortable with that bullet.

  2. I too recently purchased a .38 snub, one of S&W’s no-lock 442s. After shooting a number of different ammo types, I settled on the 130gr Federal HST Micro, the recessed “flying trashcan” style.

    While the mid-sized revolver market is pretty dead (for new guns, at least), the snubs and the big guys are moving pretty well.

  3. I bought a S&W 686-4 [more than 20 years ago]. I compared it to the current run of S&W 686’s and there is NO comparison. Mine is better made, and has a much simpler construction with a firing pin ON the hammer (no transfer bar BS). The action is smoother (but then I have shoot 10,000 rounds through it) and the single action trigger is crisper. And as a bonus, I only paid $179.00.

  4. I have always believed a gun should last at least a 100 years, some of the revolvers I shoot already have. I can’t make myself believe that a new plastic gun will function that long. Also, revolvers dump the fired brass into your hand rather than flinging it over your shoulder and into the weeds so reloading is a realistic and economic option. That might not be so important now but in difficult times when ammo is not easy to get – it could help a lot;. Of course revolvers rarely fail and are easier to repair at home if they do. Speed loaders are cheap. So for a survival gun, what’s not to like ?

  5. I was recently bitten by the nostalgia bug too. Years ago I had one if the original Charter stainless steel bulldog pugs in 44 special with the bobbed hammer. I traded it away after shooting a box or two and deciding it recoiled too much. Saw one on gunbroker a couple of months ago and bought it. Honestly it doesn’t recoil as badly as my memory says it did, either that or years of shooting .44mag, .50 desert eagle and 500 S&W have made me used to recoil.

  6. I recently bought a charter arms u c 38 stainless ‘feather weight” which is very easy to carry all the time without even knowing you have it on and of course with the right type of shirt.
    The accuracy is good and using + p’s.
    Very easy on recoil to say the least.

  7. Thanks for your review of this basic defensive revolver, and recalling some of your days on the job in Chicago. I’m glad you lived to tell us about them. About 15 years ago, I met a man while at church that had recently retired after a career as a Special Agent for the FBI. Our friendship grew, and we started talking about firearms. He suggested that we should go ” plinking” sometime. Holy Cow !! I was hooked. Everything I know about handling and shooting a firearm today, I owe to him and his knowledge of handguns and skill as a teacher. He became the older brother I never had.

    When he found out that he had a terminal disease, he started selling his firearm collection to his friends and former colleagues. He honored me and our friendship by selling me a weapon that he carried on the job for many years. It is a S & W Model 66 .357 Magnum with a 2.5″ barrel. Your review of the Charter Arms revolver today reminded me of my Model 66 and memories of my dear friend that has gone on to be with our Lord. The 66 has a worn handle and marks from use with the holster, but still shoots straight. My friend would say, “Don’t worry about how it looks. How does it shoot?” Thanks for bringing these cherished memories back. Keep up the good work.

    1. Ken, I read years ago that with the model 66, you should practise only with 38 specials. You can carry with .357’s. It said that the forcing cones are not supported enough and too much use of full power .357 loads will make them crack. I was disappointed to read that. The only flaw in an otherwise great gun.

  8. Love Charter Arms snubbies, have one in .22 long rifle the Pathfinder, one in .38 Special the Undercover, one in .357 Magnum the Mag Pug, one in .44 Special Bulldog, all newer models and stainless steel, all good shooting guns,carry the Undercovers my ccw everyday ,this one has a lot of sentimental value as my wife gave it to me for Christmas years ago,great woman I married because she is great about buying me guns,or gun accessories.

  9. Great review,only charter i got over 30yrs is the 22cal break down survival that stores in stock.Much fun to shoot,neat thing to shoot without stock attached.Ever run out of ammo without stock made a good mace.

  10. To answer Grigory: The base of the Hornady 38 Special round is thinner than most other 38 Special rounds. The primer at the base of the round does not extend as far into the hammer resulting in a slightly dented primer but no fire. Put two different brand 38 special rounds side by side and you can see the difference in thicknesses of the base of the two.

  11. Love my 1911. But I reload everything and don’t love chasing brass (although I do chase it all down). It is nice to shoot my .38/.357 and dump the brass in my hand. And if I am more than six shots into a fire fight I am not too confident I will be alive at the end of it. Maybe. Maybe not. And do I want to leave brass behind in a fire fight? Maybe not depending.

    On that note I like my AR but sometimes I wonder if my Model 100 (Sears resale of a Model 94) would not be better realistically even with only seven shots. Little more punch with my reloads and it points so we’ll. And the lever is fast enough but slows you down just enough to get a better sight picture.

    But realistically if I had to walk up to my safe and pick one hand gun and one long gun and go, it would probably be the AR and 1911. Probably…

  12. I have one of the old charter arms undercover in blue and it came with really small wooden grips which was my only complaint. then I went to a NRA convention a number of years ago in St Louis and Charter had a booth and had one of there newer undercover which had the larger rubber grips and I managed to get a pair of them and it improved my old undercover 100%. It is a really handy little gun to carry. Thanks for the article. Trekker Out

  13. I have carried and shot( including competition) a first gen Glock 17 for the last 25 years. It has north of 100,000 rds. down the pipe at this point. To those saying plastic won’t last a century, be careful. This plastic gun is none the worse for wear after a quarter century of daily carry and heavy use. I replace the 3.5 lb. connector every 10,000 rds, and the night sights every 12 years. It’s on its third set. Nothing else ever needed. Ate everything I ever fed it without a hitch.

    That said, I am going to rectify the complete lack of revolvers in my arsenal. Been looking at small guns to back up the G17 or carry in summer when I wish to let the occasion, rather than my weapon, choose my wardrobe. Also for winter, a coat pocket gun. Hammerless Smiths seem made for that role. Nobody gets too frisky over a man putting his hand in his coat pocket when its cold( as opposed to you sweeping that coat back and reaching behind your hip), and those little hammerless guns can be emptied without ever leaving the pocket. Handy, at times.

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