Charter Arms of Shelton, Connecticut, announced four new Undercover Lite .38 Special revolvers at the 2017 NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits in Atlanta, Georgia. These new revolvers follow an increasingly popular trend for handguns with color schemes suited to the tastes of their owners. The new guns include the matte black/earth tone Earthborn, the rose gold/stainless Rosebud, the blue/stainless Blue Diamond and the gold/stainless Chic Lady. Because I spend considerable time outdoors, I decided to put the matte-finished Undercover Lite Earthborn through its paces.

Undercover Lite

Undercover Lite Earthborn revolver barrel
The Earthborn’s 2-inch barrel features eight-groove rifling for consistently higher velocities, and the ejector rod is fully protected.

The Undercover Lite is the aluminum-framed version of Charter Arms’ Undercover .38 snub-nose. The Undercover Lite is a 12-ounce, five-shot revolver with a 2-inch barrel chambered in .38 Special. Charter Arms recommends standard-pressure ammunition rather than +P rounds in this gun. Like most small-framed .38s, it has fixed sights. The front sight is ramped and serrated to reduce glare, and the rear sight is a notch in the top of the frame, which leaves about 0.13 inches of light on either side of the front sight. Like many other snub-nose .38s, the Undercover Lite has a swing-out cylinder, a double-action/single-action (DA/SA) trigger and a transfer-bar ignition system—something that Charter Arms invented.

Undercover Lite revolvers also have some features not found on many other wheelguns. The first is a one-piece frame. There is no side plate that must be removed to clean, lubricate or repair the lockwork. Not having a side plate adds strength to the frame. Another unique feature is the eight-groove rifling, which Charter Arms says gives the bullet a higher velocity and a flatter trajectory. In addition, the cylinder locks in three places instead of the usual two, which, through time, helps prevent wear and excessive cylinder endshake between the cylinder and frame. This can degrade accuracy. This feature is usually found on more expensive revolvers, as is the Undercover’s fully shrouded ejector rod.

Finally, Charter Arms states that it’s the only firearms manufacturer that polishes its products using DAN robotic work cells. The advantage of the DAN system is that it’s possible to achieve a high level of quality control when it comes to the finish no matter how small or large the part is.

Back To Earth

Undercover Lite Earthborn revolver trigger
The barrel, trigger and cylinder contrast nicely with the earth tone frame for a stylish yet functional look.

The Undercover Lite Earthborn has one of the most subdued finishes of any of the Undercover Lite revolvers. The matte black finish on the barrel, hammer, cylinder, triggerguard, trigger and hammer is dark and one of the least reflective finishes I’ve seen on a handgun. Overall, the finish on my test sample was well applied, and there were no scratches or places on the gun where the finish was uneven or misapplied. Some areas, such as the interior surfaces of the crane, were not polished, although they were properly conformed and sufficient for their intended task.

The color of the soft rubber grips is a good match to the color of the matte black stainless steel. The large finger grooves on the grips provide a good purchase for the strong hand and help cushion recoil.

At the workbench, I closely examined the revolver for fit and function. The fitting of the various parts to the frame and each other was generally good overall with a few exceptions. For example, there was a small amount of back-and-forth play in the cylinder when the hammer was cocked and at rest. In addition, the cylinder was a bit hard to open and close, as the rear of the ejector rod showed some evidence of dragging on the recoil shield. On the other hand, the timing was perfect, and the cylinder star was well formed with cleanly cut facets.

The SA trigger pull was about 4 pounds with some creep but a clean break. The DA pull weighed approximately 11 pounds, and it tended to stack until the transfer bar was raised to its uppermost position and the cylinder bolt locked in place, at which point a slight additional rearward movement of the trigger tripped the sear, which again broke cleanly.

Live-Fire Testing

Undercover Lite Earthborn revolver gun test
Whether shooting groups slowly off-hand to measure its accuracy or running rapid-fire drills, the Undercover Lite Earthborn proved that it was quite effective out to about 10 yards.

I put the Undercover Lite Earthborn through a series of tests for accuracy, velocity and close-quarters shootability at the Flagler Gun & Archery Club and Volusia County Gun & Hunt Club. I used three standard-pressure commercial loads in the tests: Black Hills’ 148-grain hollow-base wadcutters (HBWCs), CorBon’s 147-grain Performance Match FMJs and Hornady’s 90-grain Critical Defense Lite FTX rounds. I also used 148-grain CCI Blazer HBWCs for the drills but did not chronograph it or use it for the accuracy testing.

Because the Earthborn is a handgun designed for deep concealment and close-quarters self-defense, I conducted the accuracy tests at 7 yards. I fired three 3-shot groups with each load in SA mode with an isosceles stance, and the best group with each load is recorded in the accompanying chart.

All of the best five-shot groups were smaller than 2.5 inches, and they only varied by 0.54 inches among loads. The CorBon ammo produced the smallest group of 1.82 inches. It’s clear that the Earthborn is sufficiently accurate for close-range personal defense.

Using a Competition Electronics chronograph set 10 feet from the muzzle to record five shots of each load, the Black Hills wadcutters were the slowest at an average of 634 fps, and the Hornady load was the fastest, posting an average of 874 fps. The Hornady load also produced 152 foot-pounds of energy (fpe), making it roughly equal to a .38 S&W load fired from a 4-inch barrel. Complete results are in the accompanying table.

Undercover Lite Earthborn revolver bad guy

I ran tactical drills at the Volusia County Gun & Hunt Club’s action shooting bays. I used a Competition Electronics timer to run the Undercover Lite Earthborn through two drills from a Rusty Sherrick high-ride holster. The first drill was conducted at 5 yards. I had to draw on the beep, take one step to the right and fire three shots to the body and two to the head. All of the shots were fired in DA mode, and I had eight seconds to complete the drill. I repeated the drill four times, and the average time was computed for all four runs. All shots were scored as misses, hits or incapacitating hits. Incapacitating hits had to be within 2.5 inches of the base of the bridge of the target’s nose (mid-brain shot) or within 3 inches of the juncture of the thumb and first finger of the target’s left hand (heart shot). This type of shot placement usually leads to incapacitation within a short period. Shots after the end beep were counted as misses.

My average time for this drill was 7.33 seconds, and my total score included 15 incapacitating hits, five non-incapacitating hits and no misses. Shots that hit steel parts of the “gun” on the target were counted as non-incapacitating hits. They would have taken the gun out of the equation, but the target could still probably have drawn a backup gun or knife.

I conducted the second live-fire drill at 10 yards, which is just about as far as most people can shoot a snub-nose revolver accurately. At that distance, I drew the gun, took one step to the right and fired five shots at the high center chest. I allowed 16 seconds for each of the four repetitions of the drill. The same system of scoring was used in both drills. My average time for this drill was 10.4 seconds, and my total points were nine incapacitating hits, 11 hits and no misses. Shots that hit steel parts of the gun held by the assailant depicted on the target were again considered to be non-incapacitating, and there were quite a few of those. Interestingly, I finished all of the runs at least 4.8 seconds before the stop buzzer, indicating that the little Charter Arms snubbie was more than adequate for personal defense out to 10 yards.

Deep Cover

Undercover Lite Earthborn revolver right profile

The Charter Arms Undercover Lite Earthborn revolver proved to be a good performer. The recoil was quite controllable, and the gun never failed to fire or function. Its accuracy was fully acceptable at the distances most frequently used for self-defense with snub-nose revolvers. Overall, it delivered what it was designed to do and fulfilled its purpose of being a reasonable choice for personal defense during outdoor activities or as a backup gun.

Caliber: .38 Special

Barrel: 2 inches

OA Length: 6.75 inches

Weight: 12 ounces (empty)

Grips: Rubber

Sights: Ramp front, notch rear

Action: DA/SA

Finish: Matte black, earth tone

Capacity: 5

MSRP: $422

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