Charter Arms Earthborn (Undercover) .38 Special Lightweight Revolver

Charter Arms introduced its “Undercover” revolver to the shooting world in 1964. Designed to compete directly with the Smith & Wesson .38-caliber “Chiefs Special,” the Undercover featured a solid frame (like the later Ruger double-action revolvers) designed to allow the use of heavier (later known as +P) loads that certain revolvers that had sideplates (Smith & Wesson and Colt) couldn’t handle. The design could — and still can ­— be field-stripped (like the Rugers) to its basic component parts, making for easy cleaning.

Undercover Revolver Specs

Holding five rounds of .38 Special ammo, the all-steel Undercover, which was originally available in blue or nickel, weighed in at 16 ounces — very light for a snub-nosed revolver of the day. The original version also boasted an “unbreakable” Beryllium Copper frame-mounted firing pin (Smith & Wesson and Colt mounted their steel firing pins in the hammer nose) and a cylinder-latch system that unlocked the cylinder either by pushing the standard frame-mounted latch or pulling the free-standing ejector rod. Overall, it was a nicely designed revolver that cost less than its competitors.

Charter Arms went through some troubled times starting in the 1990s, changing hands several times through 2010. Today, they are back on solid ground with a more extensive lineup than ever before.

The .38 Special Undercover Revolver

One of their newest revolvers is an updated version of the original .38 Special Undercover revolver, designed to meet the needs and desires of the 21st Century consumer looking for a concealed carry handgun in a crowded market. As a variation of the Undercover Lite series, the Charter Arms Earthborn is one of the newest choices in the Charter Arms lineup.

Charter Arms has been a favorite brand of mine, as I’ve owned and carried both the .38 Special Undercover and the .44 Special Bulldog as off-duty guns at various times in the past. Both were very reliable handguns, although past trigger pulls have been somewhat less than desirable. Still, in all, they were solid defensive guns. What they lacked in refinement and fine finish, they made up for in price and innovation.

History of the Undercover Revolver

For most of its history, the Undercover was deemed “carryable” enough due to its 16-ounce weight. But in an age of ultralight titanium/scandium and polymer handguns, Charter realized that they could be more competitive with an aluminum-framed version of the Undercover. Thus, the 12-ounce Undercover Lite series was born.

The Earthborn, which does not yet appear on the Charter Arms website, is a current-production Undercover Lite with a flat-dark-earth-type anodized finish applied to the aircraft aluminum frame. The desert-type coloration is still all the rage these days, even though few of us live near a desert. The steel parts — barrel, cylinder, trigger, trigger guard and hammer — all have a rust-resistant matte black finish.

The Earthborn has an exposed hammer, so it can be fired in either the double-action or single-action mode. The double-action trigger has been much improved over the older Charter Arms triggers. The trigger face is grooved in the style often applied to “old school” combat revolvers for better contact with the trigger during firing. While no lightweight, the trigger is easily controlled, and feels to be breaking at 11-12 pounds. The single-action pull feels to be in the 6-pound range. The cylinder locks up as all Charter revolvers have in the past — bank vault tight — which is something that can’t always be said of many modern revolvers. Tight lockup ensures less chance of a revolver going “out of time” after shooting large numbers of heavy loads.

One change that I don’t like on Charter revolvers is the move to a shrouded ejector rod. While this seems to be standard for all modern double-action revolvers, the Charter ejector rod was stout enough to resist being bent when unprotected by shroud. By shrouding the ejector rod, the ability to also use it to unlatch the cylinder using it is lost. I always felt that this feature helped give some additional leverage to unlatch a stuck cylinder in case of a high primer on a cartridge case. I’m sure it doesn’t bother shooters new to the Charter lineup. At the very least, I also thought that the pre-shroud look gave a trimmer and more distinctive appearance to the Charter guns.

Shooting at the Gun Range

I tested the Earthborn at our outdoor range at the Baltimore Police Department using Double Tap’s hot 110-grain DT Tactical .38 Special +P load with the Barnes Tac-X bullet, as well as SIG Sauer’s Elite V-Crown 125-grain .38 Special +P load. The Double Tap load is listed as having a velocity of 1125 feet per second from a 2-inch-barreled revolver, which yields 305 FPE at the muzzle, while the SIG Sauer Elite is rated at 900 feet per second and 258 FPE at the muzzle. The Double Tap was noticeably hotter that the SIG load when fired from the Earthborn revolver. If you are recoil-sensitive, the SIG load is probably the load that you’ll want to use. If you can handle the recoil, then the Double Tap load may be your round of choice. The oversize rubber grips help absorb recoil from either load, while not being so large as to hinder concealment.

Testing was done on a standard silhouette target at a range of 20 feet. The plain black front sight stood out against the tan groove in the top strap of the frame. Firing single action using the Double Tap load allowed me to fire a five-shot group that measured 1.5 inches. Firing the SIG Sauer loads double action from the Earthborn gave me a five-shot group that measured 2.5 inches. That is darn good performance from both loads; both are more than accurate enough defensive loadings. There were no misfires or failures to extract with either round. Note that any speedloading device designed to fit a five-shot J-frame Smith & Wesson .38 Special revolver will work with any Charter Arms Undercover or Undercover Lite revolver — and the same situation is true for most holsters.

I found the Undercover Earthborn for sale on the Guns International (www.gunsinternational.com) website for $389.99 plus $30 shipping. I think it represents a pretty good buy!

More info at:
www.charterfirearms.com
www.doubletapammo.net
www.sigsauer.com

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