The market forces that, at a given time, make one type of handgun more popular than another are interesting. Today, in 2018, slim nines seem to be all the rage — and for good reason. The guns are thin, lightweight, reliable, easy to shoot and accurate. The ammo is terrific. Accessories abound. Of course, there are many who still prefer double-stack .40s or 1911s in .45. And then there are those people who still like revolvers, too — no matter the caliber. I’m not here to validate or denigrate your choice in style of handgun or caliber of ammo. But I do want to point out a gun/caliber I consider as viable a carry gun as anything out there: a smallish revolver chambered in .44 Special. Both the gun and the ammo are at the same time obscure and excellent.
The gun you see here is a Charter Arms Backpacker. While this particular model is no longer available from Charter Arms — in fact, only 50 were ever made available via Lew Horton Distributing — the company still produces several similar models. It’s not a full-sized revolver but it’s not a snubbie, either. The barrel measures 2.5 inches, and rounded, walnut stocks offer full-hand purchase. As the name implies, the gun was meant to be a companion in the backcountry or on the trail, where the simplicity of a revolver and the effectiveness of a big-bore caliber could be used to dissuade any four-legged creatures from causing harm. Presumably, two-legged creatures are put on notice too.
The caliber is .44 Special, the younger, less-powerful brother of the .44 Magnum. But that’s not to say .44 Special is any kind of slouch. Fired from a gun such as the Backpacker, .44 Special rounds travel at 755 feet per second with 310 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. Loaded with cartridges such as the Remington Express rounds you see here, each lead round-nose bullet weighs 246 grains. So we’re talking slow and heavy rounds. The Backpacker carries five of these in its cylinder.
Shooting .44 Specials from the Backpacker is full of excitement and drama. For comparison, if you’ve ever fired .357 Magnum rounds from a snub-nosed revolver, that’s worse in terms of actual pain and fireworks. The .44 Special is powerful, make no mistake, but the recoil feels more like a monstrous push back into your hand as opposed to a snap. The Backpacker’s ported barrel sends some of the hot gases up and out, taming recoil a lot and helping you get back on target quickly. But if you shoot this gun in low-light conditions, the flash of light coming with each shot can be disorienting.
Carrying the Backpacker concealed is just like carrying a small revolver. Plenty of holsters and accessories exist and whether inside or outside the waistband, it’s comfortable and simple.
Since the Backpacker is no longer in production, if you want one you’ll have to find one and buy it used. Otherwise, Charter Arms’ most comparable .44 Special revolver (14420 Bulldog) retails for $409. That’s a deal. However, .44 Special ammo is more expensive than other ammo. But then again, you won’t shoot as many rounds as you would with other calibers. So the costs may balance out. Either way, this gun/caliber combo, while obscure, offers an excellent concealed carry solution.