Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, which thunderous snub-nose revolver is the smallest of them all? The answer to that question depends on which parameters you use to measure size. I've worked with various big-bore revolvers with short barrels that were among the most compact in their class, including the Thunder Snub BFR .45-70 Gov't, the Smith & Wesson 460XVR, and the Smith & Wesson Model 69. But these big bores are still fairly large with only the Model 69 coming close to being a concealed-carry option.
If we really want to go for pint-size-to-power ratio in a daily concealed-carry revolver, I think most of us would agree that the 5-shot .357 Mag. wheel guns like the Smith & Wesson 640 Pro Series (23-oz.) and Ruger SP101 (26-oz.) would be among the most compact hot-potato revolvers available. And if the all-steel .357 snubbies are too heavy for your liking, reduced weight options like the Ruger LCR (17.1-oz.) and Smith & Wesson 340 PD (11.8-oz.) are also available for your wrist-bending consideration.
But a couple of years ago, Charter Arms took its famous 5-shot .44 Special Bulldog and enlarged the frame and cylinder just enough to accommodate the increased pressure levels produced by .41 Rem. Mag. revolver cartridges. Stuffing this potent round into a snub gun isn't a wholly original idea. Taurus USA briefly offered the Model 415, a 2.5" barrel 5-shot available in steel and titanium frames. That model has been out of production for several year so, as far as I know, the Charter Arms offering is the only .41-cal. concealed-carry revolver currently in production.
Dubbed the .41 Mag Pug, this stainless-steel revolver sports a 2.5" barrel and a 1.60" diameter cylinder. That makes the Mag Pug 1.05" longer and 0.25" wider than the .357 Mag. version of the SP101. However, the Mag Pug weighs 3-oz. less while launching larger bullets at similar magnum-level velocities.
This information alone made it clear that this particular Charter Arms wheel gun was going to be a real handful. Probably more so than the Smith & Wesson Model 69, which is a real humdinger in the felt recoil department. Nevertheless, in my restless pursuit to test drive big-bore snub guns of all shapes and sizes, I requested one for evaluation.
Other than the mentioned changes in cylinder and frame dimensions, the .41 Mag Pug lifts its design cues straight from the Charter Arms Bulldog playbook. The barrel has a full underlug which shrouds the ejector rod. The fixed, serrated front sight blade is paired with a milled-in square notch rear sight. The 5-shot fluted cylinder rotates clockwise and swings out to left side of the frame when the cylinder release is pressed forward towards the muzzle.
The exposed hammer is serrated for improved purchase when cocking it for single-action fire. A transfer-bar safety prevents the revolver from firing if dropped. The grooved, curved trigger is housed in a traditional rounded trigger guard. Although Charter Arms revolvers cost less than the competition, the company produces guns with smooth, light trigger pulls.
The double action trigger pull of a snub gun can be 12-lbs. or heavier, but the .41 Mag Pug weighed in at 10-lbs. 9-oz. Manually cocking the hammer for single-action fire dropped the trigger pull to 3-lbs. 5-oz. This model ships with a hand-filling, full-size black rubber grip with molded-in checkering and finger grooves for improved purchase. The grip frame is compatible with other grips Charter Arms offers including hardwood and compact rubber options.
Cartridge history buffs will remember that the .41 Rem. Mag. was designed to fit right in between two of the most popular calibers in use by law enforcement during the 1960s. It was a more potent alternative to .357 Mag. that didn't require the added bulk of the larger revolver frames used for .44 Mag.
But despite being a terrific cartridge, it flopped, because those who were used to .357 Mag. said the recoil was too intense. If there had been a .41 Special option, or a reduced power .41 Mag. load available, it might have caught on. Instead, it was relegated to handgun hunting applications in long barrel revolvers.
Loading and managing the .41 Rem. Mag. ammunition was made easier with a set of 5 Star Firearms anodized aluminum speed loaders. I keep coming back to this company for its top-quality twist-knob loaders because they’re well-made, reliable and durable. And in addition to loading options for popular revolvers, the 5 Star catalog includes models for less common and hard to find revolver configurations like this one.
This gun proved to be utterly reliable with all of the loads fired with no mechanical issues of any kind. But as anticipated, touching off fully charged .41 Rem. Mag. cartridges in a .38-cal. size, 23 oz. revolver was, well, adventurous. Considering the chutzpah of this gun and ammunition combination, I'm a bit surprised that Charter Arms didn't port the barrel like they did with The Boomer .44 Special model. Then again, ports in such a short barrel would make the gun quite loud and possibly reduce bullet velocities.
The burning question of such an unusual revolver review is how did the .41 Mag Pug perform? Since .41-cal. snub guns are wholly uncommon these days, there are only two ways to size it up. One is to compare it to .41 Rem. Mag. revolvers with longer barrels.
Double Tap Ammunition makes this first measurement fairly easy since the company uses actual handguns to test its ammunition, not laboratory-type bench mounted test barrels which are usually longer than typical commercial handguns. The company provides three loads topped with bullets in light, middle and heavy weights for the caliber. I've included the listed factory data for these loads which was generated using 6.5" or 7.5" revolver barrels. But as you can see in the following table, all of them are full-power options.
As is commonly the case, firing these handgun hunting loads intended for long barrel revolvers from a snub gun resulted in a significant reduction in bullet velocity along with energy levels measured at the muzzle. In this case, the use of a 2.5" barrel resulted in velocity drops between 310-fps. to 401-fps. for a muzzle energy loss of 381-ftlbs. to 452-ftlbs.
But how does this power reduction measure up to other big-bore snubby revolvers? That, I think, is the more useful piece of information. Remember that the .41 Rem. Mag. was designed to operate at power levels in between the .357 Mag. and .44 Mag., and that’s definitely the case with full-size revolvers. But does it maintain the middle ground when fired from snub guns? To find out, I was able to chronograph a 3" barrel .357 Mag.
Charter Arms Professional 6-shot revolver, which uses the same frame and cylinder as the .41 Mag Pug. It was the closest I could get to testing the same gun in two different calibers. Charter Arms doesn’t currently offer a short barrel .44 Mag., so I went ahead and borrowed my results from the 2.75" barrel S&W M69 to cover the .44 Mag. angle. The barrel lengths are all a bit different, so this is not an exact performance match up but it does have the benefit of comparing three real-world guns fired under similar outdoor testing conditions.
As the tables show, when fired from shorter barrels, the .41 Rem. Mag. still maintains its middle-weight performance levels. It generates between 125- to 150-ftlbs. more muzzle energy than the .357 Mag. while fitting into a similar size frame. It doesn't quite reach .44 Mag. power levels with some loads, but this little 5-shot revolver is definitely punching above its weight.
The Charter Arms .41 Mag Pug has earned the title for being the most compact and light weight big-bore revolver I've worked with so far. However, it generated some of the most intense handgun recoil I've experienced as well. Shooting a snubby .357 Mag. packed with power house loads was relaxing by comparison. If you are looking for maximum power in an easy to carry package, then this slick stainless steel revolver fits the bill. Just be prepared for a bit more excitement than you might be used to when you pull the trigger.