What I love & Hate About the Charter Arms Off Duty .38

Snub-nosed revolvers are, in one sense, the original concealed carry handgun. Their design has been around for a very long time. The modern Charter Arms Off Duty .38 retails for $419, meaning you can probably find it for less than that price if you do your homework. The Off Duty is a classic snub-nosed revolver. It does very well as a primary concealed carry gun for anyone wishing to carry something small, lightweight, reliable and effective. As with most handguns, there are some features I enjoy, some I that don’t and some with which I could go either way. I give the Off Duty high marks for its weight and the ability to holster it in a pocket. I do not like the fact that it carries only five rounds, and I am on the fence about how well it shoots.

Love: Lightweight

The Off Duty weighs 12 ounces. That puts it in the category of “very lightweight guns,” which puts it in the other category of guns I love to carry because they are no burden. Sure, a lightweight gun has its drawbacks, but for a self-defense tool that will be carried a lot and shot very little, lightweight is more of an asset. I am more likely to carry a lightweight gun all day regardless of how I carry it. I can carry the Off Duty IWB, OWB, on my ankle and in my pocket. With the right IWB holster, I can carry the Off Duty in many locations on my person from 1 to 10 o’clock.

Love: Pocket Carry

Despite all the options available to me for concealed carry, the one I choose the most is pocket carry. That is not only because of the gun’s weight but also because of the gun’s small and easily concealed dimensions. Most of the time, I put the Off Duty into an Uncle Mike’s pocket holster. This soft-sided holster drops into a pocket and stays there thanks to a band of rubbery material around the middle which creates friction between the pocket and the holster. When in the pocket, the Off Duty’s cylinder prints the most, but in the Uncle Mike’s, it just looks like you have a large wallet in your pocket. The stocks sit plenty low and remain out of sight. Moreover, you can put this gun and holster combo in your pants pocket, jacket pocket, or in the larger pockets of cargo pants. Depending on a few factors, most of the time I can put my hand in my pocket, get a grip on the gun and still draw it out quickly.

Hate: Only Five Rounds

I can talk myself into “five to stay alive” better than anybody. It will be enough to get me out of trouble, to get me to cover or to get to another gun. Still, I simply wish it could hold more rounds. Some revolvers are six-shooters while some have seven or eight rounds, but few of those are the size and weight of the Off Duty. This is a compromise that I am willing to make (albeit reluctantly). Moreover, I really do not want to have to reload the Off Duty in the heat of the moment. It just takes longer and requires more dexterity to activate a cylinder release, push out the cylinder, depress the rod that ejects the spent brass, turn the gun over, insert the new rounds from the speedloader, close the cylinder and be ready to resume firing. I do not know if I will have that kind of time and ability in a self-defense situation. It would be so much easier to just squeeze the trigger again and again if need be.

Ambivalent: Ease of Shooting

I don’t love shooting the Off Duty, but I don’t hate it either. The .38s fly reliably from the barrel and strike the intended targets with few surprises, but the web of my hand takes a beating. At the range, I put about 20 to 30 rounds through it before tiring of the feel and noticing some of the gun’s mechanisms starting to slow as smoke and residue start to have their effect. It is nowhere near my “favorite guns to shoot” list, but it is near the top of my “favorite guns to carry” list. I shoot it because I carry it and because I will have it on me most of the time. The sights on this gun include a trench rear and blade front; they are difficult to see and use. Then again, I am not sure that I will be sighting this gun down in a self-defense situation. The rubber stocks are good for hanging onto, but I would not call them comfortable. I am willing to excuse all of this including the five-round capacity because the gun is so lightweight and easy to carry in the pocket.

For more information on the Off Duty visit CharterFirarms.com.

Do you carry a snubby like the Charter Arms Off Duty? What do you love and hate about it? 

Discover how you can join more than 200,000 responsibly armed Americans who already rely on the USCCA to protect their families, futures and freedoms: USCCA.com/gunsamerica.

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About the author: Mark Kakkuri is a nationally published freelance writer who covers guns and gear, 2nd Amendment issues and the outdoors. His writing and photography have appeared in many firearms-related publications, including the USCCA’s Concealed Carry Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @markkakkuri.

{ 26 comments… add one }
  • Burt Ortiz July 25, 2020, 11:09 am

    On the Charter Arms revolver Off Duty .38 Special; I notice the cylinder latch button/lever has washers exposed. My main question is has anyone ever experienced on a Charter Arms, one of those washers falling off? I’m not sure if they are U-shaped thus able to pop out, or if they are circular, thus screwed in more securely. Secondly, my cylinder latch is very stiff and hard to open the cylinder, but it does work, just stiff. My question is over time, does it loosen up to a more normal and easier or smoother action? Thanks.

    • Lj Oneill November 19, 2020, 6:24 pm

      Awesome review.
      You brought out the pluses and the negatives extremely well.

  • Justin V July 22, 2020, 10:01 pm

    In my opinion, this is an excellent revolver. It is reliable, convenient, and have owned for a decade. A keeper.

  • carlton daughty May 19, 2020, 6:50 pm

    send me more info

  • Birdo May 10, 2020, 4:46 pm

    I found it one the lightest revolvers within the .38 caliber. I have a separate brand revolver, black in color, but I wanted to try out having a silver colored one instead as a CCW, so I chose this one. I really like this one and am satisfied, for the price. The advertisement read 12 oz, the booklet it came with from Charter Arms read 14 oz, but when I weighed it on my scale it was 13.37 oz, still a very light weight. Speed-loaders fit. The cylinder has a tight and clean fit onto the gun/frame, with very little gap space, and very little toggle or wiggle.

    Grip – Feels very good, secure, comfortable, grippy. However, as the handle/grip is short, I purchased a replacement grip, wooden, longer – which now allows for the pinky to grip, whole. The wood grip I bought is very smooth and would not snag, adding to good utilization for personal carry.

    Not a range gun per se, but for personal protection and concealment, it met my needs.

    Trigger – I like it, strong, sturdy, consistent via snap caps. Not as smooth as some higher priced of same caliber, but it does the job and feels reliable. I dubbed it a “Jeep like” trigger.

    Ammunition – Among six different brands of .38 Special bullets. All of them fit this model, except for Hornady FTX, hallow point, Critical Defense, because the rim/back of the base casing is thicker, it will not allow the cylinder to close, and I fear could damage the gun if I were to try to force it shut. I have to be extra careful not to carry or load this Hornady when using this Charter Arms model. Some advertising and a vague note which came in the box case, refer to being able to use + P bullets, but I need to look that up to confirm, and I am not convinced yet that it can accept, so I will hold off, to reduce chance of damaging the gun, I can do without +P and it is not worth the risk.

    Trigger Guard – It feels like a strong metal, but there is a light grey rubber coating all around it. At first it looked cheap, but it is of good strong quality, and feels good to the touch. I’m new to arms, and am trying to figure out why the builder placed the rubber coating on the guard. On the down side, rubber can snag onto clothing or reduce drawing from holster speed. On the plus side, when drawing bare-handed and preparing to hold and shoot, there is distinct difference between the texture of the guard vs. the actual metal trigger, so the shooter can feel and sense where their finger is, when holding the gun with the finger off the trigger, vs finger on the trigger, which to me seemed like an interesting feature, and I wonder if that was what the maker had in mind, for safety’s sake.

    The Cylinder Latch – was the most concern for me; Mine was stiff, and I am not sure how to fix it myself. It is not stuck, it works, but requires a lot of force by one’s thumb. Compared to other manufacturers, this latch is very rough on one’s thumb skin.

    The sales worker thought it would loosen over time, I sure hope so. I oiled it. Awaiting if it improves. With emergencies being rare, and having to reload after five shots in an emergency even more rare; If it persists I might ask my local gun store to try to repair it or send it back to Charter Arms for improvement on it. To open the latch, one pushes it forward, and because mine was on the tight side, I never have to worry about accidentally opening the cylinder/pending.

    Overall, as I was searching for “lightweight” in this cal., I’m still very satisfied with this one. Range testing to follow/pending.

  • Steve April 25, 2020, 10:05 pm

    I bought an Off-Duty way back in …. early 80’s? A few years later I went to work for Charter Arms when they were in Stratford, I was a midnight security guard there. My Off-Duty had a slight issue with the cylinder stop stud, the cartridge bases would rub slightly on the stud. I was on day shift for two weeks and mentioned it to one of the guys in the assembly department, he had me bring it in so he could look at it. When I got it back it was pretty dang smooth. He said that the wrong stud had been used and they replaced it, problem gone. They also changed the grip frame and cylinder guard, the guy said that the metal used in the Off-duty was some kind of cheaper, weaker metal and they replaced it with the part used in the Undercover model. They also polished the hell out of the entire gun, which I would have preferred they left in the original brush finish. I don’t know what they did to the rest of the internals but the double-action pull was smooth as silk and lighter than before they got ahold of it. I also got a book safe and a pair of jade grips they had made up as part of one of the company’s anniversary editions. I always preferred the rubber grips.
    I carried that gun in a Roy’s Custom Leather Goods (Bald Knob, Arkansas) shoulder rig, and that was a SWEET setup.
    Time went by and the gun was stolen in a burglary. It was recovered by the police about a year later, the serial number was scratched up by the mope who had it, but unfortunately for him it was still readable. And that’s how I got the gun back. I was concerned about the serial number being “altered” or otherwise screwed up, so I took it to a gunsmith to have it re-stamped. I carried the police report with me to the ‘smith so he’d know I was on the up-and-up. I left it with the gunsmith, and when I finally got it back he had used a damn electric etching pencil to scratch the serial number below the original one. A second-grader could have done a better job, and I cursed and threw a fit.
    Later on I let my brother borrow the gun long-term, along with the police paperwork, a Charter Arms holster, and an assortment of grips (not the jade ones!). I’m in the process of getting the gun back from him because I want to use it as a snake charmer when I go arrowhead hunting in the boonies. It’s light, stainless, easy to shoot, and as far as I can tell it’s the only Off-Duty in the world with a factory-installed Undercover grip frame/trigger guard.
    I have S&W 686’s, several 1911 variants, lots of autos from FN, S&W, Glock, Springfield Armory and others, and I used to carry a Ruger Bearcat Shopkeeper .22LR in a really nice little cross-draw leather holster. But some of the Cottonmouths and Timber Rattlers around here get pretty big, and it takes more than one shot with .22LR shots shells. With .38 spcl shells it only takes one shot. So I’m going back to the CA.

  • Glen Mones June 26, 2019, 4:33 am

    I own a charter arms “off Duty ” .38 spec stainless .. manufactured 1980s ..when off dutys had exposed hammer spur ..LOVE it ! One of my favorite GUNS! Bought it used .mint condition 160 clams ..in 1993 …I recently bought a CA mag pug .357 .. Factory ported Barrel .fantastic gun …18 oz unloaded..snappy with .357 mag 158 grain ..but controllable ..at end of shooting session 2-3 in groups 25-30 ft….but what I carry the most is Smith 642 centennial airweight snub .38 hammerless…16oz …painted front sight orange…& Put on Hogue monogrips..covers backstrap.. cushons hand & gets All fingers on the gun for great control .. STILL fits in front jeans pocket ( Pocket holster) ..with monogrips installed …very confident I can take on any situation ..with 5 rounds of federal HST +p 130 grains !!!

  • LouisianaMan September 8, 2018, 2:14 am

    5-shot .38 caliber snub-nosed revolvers have a long history precisely because they’re practical and quite sufficient for all but the worst case scenarios. For a CCP holder to practice “rescue” head shots at 25 yards is a challenging pastime, but not serious training for actual SD. Nor is shooting carefully-sighted, two-handed groups at 5 or 7 yards. At point blank ranges of 3-10 feet, there’s likely no time for that. Shoot fast, first, in 2- or 3-round bursts, get good body hits before the BG does, using one-handed point shooting and body position techniques.

    Obtain, read, heed “Shooting to Live with the One-Hand Gun” by MAJs Eric Sykes and William Fairbairn, written in 1940 as they transitioned from policing the incredibly violent back alleys and opium dens of colonial Shanghai, to Great Britain, where they trained Commandos and Rangers, among many others. It’s available free online as a Fleet Marine Force training publication from the 1980’s. Also see LTC Rex Applegate, formerly US Army Military Intelligence School, who trained OSS agents who parachuted into Nazi-occupied Europe. Applegate was tasked to learn, then train US forces in point-shooting and unarmed “gutter fighting” as taught by Fairbairn and Sykes in Britain. His most helpful book was “Bullseyes Don’t Shoot Back,” which explains out the eye-level point shooting he favored.

    Not sure about Applegate, but Fairbairn and Sykes each participated in more than 100 “shooting affrays” and survived. I profess no experience or insight, but put more stock in theirs than in those offered by IPSC and other competitive shooters. I am NOT denigrating them or anyone else, as their skills are impressive. But the combat techniques taught by F/S/A (see above) were based on the instinctive reactions and experiences of men in violent close combat, to be learned quickly and applied simply, with maximum aggressiveness, when confronted by a life or death situation.

    I typically CC a snub revolver or a slim, old-school automatic, all with low profile fixed sights. I value their reliability, ease of concealment and carry, and their point-shooting characteristics. Any gun-ammo combination that is reliable and safe to fire is easily capable of hitting a 3″x 5″ index card out to 12-15 yards, so to me, tighter shot groups aren’t relevant to CCP/SD shooting. More important is ensuring your bullets aren’t keyholing, and that they balance penetration with a controllable recoil impulse in one-handed fire. Bullet expansion is highly desirable, too, but ranks far behind stability, penetration, and controllability. I carry a reload not for the unlikely event of a prolonged firefight with the BG, but for the very real possibility that his violent friends, relatives, or racially loyal supporters may arrive at the scene before the police. I do **not** want to face that situation with an empty gun in my hand.

    In close range combat, as opposed to marksmanship, I don’t expect to have the time and space to snipe at the BG’s central nervous system to achieve an instant “physical stop.” ***Anything*** less than that will allow him the options of surrender, retreat, or continued attack, at the very least for some seconds. Thus: fast, first, bursts, reliable, stable, penetrative, naturally pointed and controllable with one hand.

    A “psychological stop” caused by fear is the only way I can keep him off me, if he is hell-bent on closing in. Bright flash and loud report are thus my friends in CC. (NOT in HD, where I may have shots at ranges up to 50 feet in my darkened home, and my gun is likely to be at eye level when I fire.) Such “psychological stops” are believed to vastly outnumber “physical stops,” as common sense would indicate. Bright flash and loud report might make the BG aware that he’s under fire from a powerful and dangerous weapon, and such a realization would likely work in my favor. I suppose, but of course cannot prove, that the “atomic bomb” flash and blast of the .357 Magnum 125g JHP have contributed significantly to its enviable record. If the BG’s brain is processing much of anything, it’ll process a .357 as a heckuva lot scarier and more dangerous than a .25 ACP.

  • glennsixtyone September 7, 2018, 7:29 pm

    I have a Charter Arms off duty 38, pair $180 for it back in the 80s,,, it saved my as from getting robbed and beat down from a couple of ghetto monkies once.

  • Leonard September 7, 2018, 2:44 pm

    You would have to be stupid to get into a gunfight with a belly gun. You don’t need much in the way of accuracy at this close range. Each shot has to count.
    Some people like their large capacity 9mm handguns, but the truth is, they are going to spray bullets and people will use them in ways a belly gun won’t.
    And, I prefer the Ruger LCR.

  • Paul O. September 7, 2018, 1:38 pm

    I’ve got a Ruger LCR in .357 magnum. It weighs in @ 17 oz. and is pleasant to shoot with 38s. Magnums are miserable. With 38s you can shoot 100 rounds comfortably in a range session. Trigger’s a lot better than Charter Arms IMHO.

  • Herbert Jacobi September 7, 2018, 1:35 pm

    Well…Actually an auto is just as good for left\right as long as the safety is ambidextrous and the spent case ejects far enough to the right before it goes back. Most usually do that out of the box but some might need a good gunsmith to port and throat them.

    It’s the cylinder release and the fact that that crane and cylinder swing out to the left.

    The original single action revolvers seems to work better for a left hander then a righty. You can easily flip open the loading gate, spin cylinder and eject the spent shells with your right hand. The best, of course is a break-top with an ambidextrous release lever. Some manufactures in Europe were looking at making a modern version but, alas, nothing has come of it.

    With a standard right handed revolver you have to change hands or hold the revolver is a strange position to easily eject the shells and reload. You have to pass the gun to your right hand to operate the cylinder release. (Though a Dan Wesson can be opened with the right hand wile the left holds the revolver.

    A modern break-top holding 8 rounds would be a great gun. I’d buy one!

  • Willie-O September 7, 2018, 1:14 pm

    I have the CA “Pitbull” – same gun as described in the article, but .45acp. Love it. Period. My primary is a Glock 21, also .45acp. I like carrying a back-up that fires the same ammo as my primary. I have numerous carry-guns, some of which are NAA .22mag in “grip-holster”, Beretta .25acp “tilt-up” (barrel), Sig 320 sub-compact, Glock 27, Bond Arms .410/.45LC and all (4) of the Star Arms Firestar line. The Firestars are actually some of the best guns made that many (most) have never heard of and my personal favorites. If you ever get the chance, try one out – most compact made at the time (mid-90’s), but as heavy as an anvil. I personally like a heavy gun – just something about the way chunk of steel feels in your hand.

  • MagicDave September 7, 2018, 12:52 pm

    I prefer the Charter Arms Bulldog 44 Spl. with a bobbed hammer spur. It hits with much more authority than 38 Spl. 5 rounds not enough? Seriously? If you need more capacity than 5 rounds then you need more practice.

  • Gary Burns September 7, 2018, 12:40 pm

    I do have three Charter Arms Pitbulls in 9, 40, and 45 ACP. They shoot well enough, but the auto rim holding features prevent fast loading, emptying, or reloading. They have bigger frames and are not ‘pocket’ guns. They are good for testing ammunition, or home defense roles. They need some sort of belt carry.
    If I were selecting a Charter Arms for a duty gun it would be a 38 or 44
    Pitbulls are more novelty.

  • Joel IV September 7, 2018, 12:38 pm

    I love revolvers too, but recently have been tempted to switch to the miniscule Sig 365 I shot and tested. It absolutely disappears in my front pocket. However, I am not an early adopter of any new firearm. I am going to wait a generation or two.

  • Gary Burns September 7, 2018, 12:28 pm

    I carry a Ruger LCR in 327 Federal Magnum, a six shooter. If you use American Eagle 100 grain it will get violent with your hand. I replaced the pocket carry friendly, Hogue Tamer boot grip, with the longer Hogue Tamer, to have more length of grip in my hand to distribute and absorb recoil better. My 44 Magnum seems less violent.
    Anyway moving to the longer grip made pocket carry worse, so I went with a Crossbreed OWB hybrid , slide style holster. I wear a larger untucked Tee Shirt and it is completely concealed in my sedentary lifestyle. I also bought a IWB (Single Clip) holster form Crossbreed for the gun and using it appendix style it keep the grip in close contact with my body, zero printing.
    Crossbreed was or is one of the few to make holsters for the longer cylinder of a 327 Federal. It is a longer cylinder than a 357’s.
    I like the six shots and carry a couple of speed loaders and speed strips as well, I am equally incompetent with both.
    I do have a molded leather pocket holster for my J frames, that works well. I have the choice of a excellent five shot 38 or my favored 351PD, a seven shot 22 Magnum. That is lightweight and accurate.
    I rarely carry either J-Frame, more often the 327 LCR, with the OWB holster.

  • mesaman September 7, 2018, 12:25 pm

    I’ve carried a CA snubby for over 5 years now and love it. Shoot it semi-annually (usually 15 rounds each) using standard .38 special rounds I reload. Recoil not a problem, reliability a plus. Concealment, a plus. No hate on my part.

  • cfish September 7, 2018, 9:11 am

    I like my CA 44 bulldog, SW 38 spl airweight

  • Michael Lussem September 7, 2018, 8:36 am

    I carry a CA snubbie and I’m a huge fan. At real self defense distances it’s awesomely accurate.

  • Robert Smith September 5, 2018, 11:40 pm

    I had a Charter Undercover that was made in the mid 70’s. I used in on-and-off as a plinker gun. Probably had around 2K rounds through it by the time I sold it. The hammer pin was a threaded screw and tended to back out under recoil. I finally had to lock-tight it. The cylinder latch broke and had to be replaced. The SA trigger was OK, the DA was stiff and stagey. The Ruger LCR is even lighter, and much better for CC in my opinion.

    • BR549 September 7, 2018, 10:44 am

      Sounds like you got a Gen 1 CA. I still have a Gen 2 (from the early-mid ’80s), which had all the reliability and fit and finish issues corrected before the company slid backward on their Gen 3.

      A Pachmeyer grip turns that CA into a whole different animal.

  • Andrew B September 4, 2018, 4:01 pm

    I carry a Charter Arms Southpaw almost exclusively. As the author says, it is lightweight and carries easily. Most important, however, is that, as a left-hander, no other revolver manufacturer wants my business. I would love a S&W with 7 rounds. If they ever make one for us portsiders, I will be first in line.

    • Alex J September 7, 2018, 8:30 am

      I’ll likely be showing my stupidity by saying this, but what exactly needs to be different in a LH revolver? I can easily understand with an automatic, but a wheel gun too? Is it just the cylinder release?

      • Thomas Bloesch January 1, 2019, 7:18 am

        I just did a search for Charter Arms Southpaw, it’s a revolver with the cylinder opening to the right side. I never knew this one existed.

    • Don D April 22, 2020, 8:39 pm

      I also have the Southpaw. I have tried a few generic holsters but would like a good IWB, any recommendations. Thank you.

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