U.S.A. –-(Ammoland.com)- Today when we think of a 22 Magnum handgun, we are probably going to conjure up an image of a compact double-action revolver like the Smith & Wesson 351 or the Ruger LCR. Going further down the rabbit hole of defensive handguns in 22 Mag is the plethora of North American Arms mini-revolvers that live in many-a-pocket, including mine. But there is an often overlooked contender that might be worth the look–the Charter Arms Pathfinder.
Charter Arms has been in the business of making efficient, economical revolvers since 1964. Founded by firearm designer guru, Doug McClanahan, Charter Arms pioneered a few simplistic innovations like the one-piece frame and a conventional transfer bar safety. Though the company has been through a few different incarnations over the years, they have created quite the catalog in recent years. The Pathfinder series of 22 caliber revolvers was part of the initial line-up and I was rather surprised to find how little info was out there. So I decided to search the web and track one down.
The Pathfinder is available with different barrel lengths, finishing schemes, and the choice of 22 LR or 22 Magnum. The basic Pathfinder is an all-stainless steel six-shot revolver, but at 20 ounces it is fairly heavy compared to the competition. Classic Firearms had the lighter, 16-ounce aluminum-framed version, the Pathfinder Lite, available, so I stacked just over three Benjamins and had the pistol in inventory in a few days.
Solid… On The Surface
The Pathfinder Lite comes in a few different barrel configurations and frame colors. Mine came with a two-inch barrel and a black-anodized aluminum frame. The barrel, cylinder, cylinder release, and hammer spur are left in a matte stainless finish.
Operationally, the Pathfinder Lite is a conventional double-action revolver. The revolver may be fired in double-action by simply pressing the trigger. The gun comes with an exposed hammer that may be cocked for a lighter, shorter trigger pull for target work. The cylinder release on the left side is thumbed forward and the cylinder swings to the side for loading and unloading with an ejector rod to knock out your empty shells all at once. The cylinder holds six rounds of 22 Magnum ammo and the sights consist of an unmoving front blade and a groove in the top strap of the receiver. There are no manual safeties to think about, but Charter revolvers–like Rugers–use a transfer bar safety that prevents the gun from firing unless the trigger is depressed. To finish out the presentation, the Pathfinder comes with the same bulbous, yet hand-filling rubber grips that Charter Arms puts on most of their guns.
Though the grips are ill-fit, hugging over the trigger-guard and the backstrap of the grip frame, the rest of the gun appeared to be solid. The finish on all the parts was excellent and I dug the black/matte stainless contrast despite the fact that I prefer matching clothes. As for fit, the machine work was well-done with no burs or machine marks anywhere. The checkering on the hammer and trigger were nice additions that was probably unnecessary on a budget-oriented revolver. The gun locked up like a drum and I was a happy camper. But those grips bothered me enough to want to change them out. Altamont makes some beautiful wood grips for Charter revolvers and I decided to take off the existing grips to check the profile. As I did, I noticed something that I missed from my initial inspection.
The grip frame was made from cheap gray plastic, injection mold voids still imprinted. The grip frame houses the mainspring that makes the gun go bang. The grip frame is subject to some continuous pressure as the spring compresses and decompresses. This plastic was on the thin side, injection mold holes still visible. Have you ever broken a plastic toy and seen what the insides look like? And then I noticed the grip frame actually extended to the trigger-guard. How did I not notice this?
I tried not to feel too bad about it, since this little detail is not listed by Charter Arms or any of the retailers that stock their guns. As my friend, Jason from Buffalo Outdoors would say, “There is a flaw in the slaw.”
Does It Even Shoot?
I like to put my own spin on gun reviews, showing the good and the bad. It would have been easy to send the thing back, but more people needed to know about this. If I am going to be stuck with it, I might as well shoot it. I took the Pathfinder Lite out on a few range trips and burned through three hundred rounds. I fired an equal mix of CCI Maxi Mag 40 grain FMJs and 30 grain HP+V rounds, as well as Speer Gold Dot 45 grain and Federal Hydrashock 50 grain hollow-point loads.
The heavier loads, which seem to fly true out of my other 22 Magnum handguns, did not do so with the Pathfinder Lite. Even as close as five yards, my paper targets were peppered with elongated holes. The bullets were tumbling into the target–keyholing. My gun liked the hotter 30 grain HP loads best. They made neat little holes, holes that I could coax into a two-inch group firing off-hand in double-action from a distance of seven yards. Speaking of firing, I shot most of my ammunition in double-action. Firing this way, the trigger pull is heavy and a little on the rough side. But it got easier as time went on. In terms of weight, it maxes out my Lyman trigger scale and I would guess it at about fourteen pounds. The single-action trigger pull, with the hammer thumbed back, is very crisp, setting off at 2 lbs. 2 ounces.
In terms of function, the sights were on right out of the box with no filing needed, though I only shot the gun out to about ten yards. I did find that the black/stainless contrast did help me pick up the sights. This isn't the case in a lot of little revolvers, where you have black on black or gray on gray. The few complaints I could actively find on these guns is difficulty when it comes to extracting empty cases. I had no issues in that regard.
The only real objection in terms of shooting the gun were consistent misfires of the ammunition. About once every twenty-five rounds, I would get a click and no bang. The firing pin would hit the rim of the case, but not set the round off. Misfires are more likely with rimfire ammo, where the priming compound that sets the round off aren't always evenly applied. In my experience, 22 Magnum ammunition tends to be better made and more reliable than comparable 22 LR loads, but even then I still experience misfires occasionally. Once out of every twenty-five rounds isn't occasional.
One theory of unreliability revolves around spring tension. Generally, rimfire guns are equipped with a heavier mainspring. This would allow the hammer to smack the rounds harder, increasing reliability. Unfortunately, this added spring weight also increases the weight of the trigger pull in double-action. I got to wondering if the springs were kept somewhat light to avoid stressing that plastic grip frame?
The Bottom Line
When all is said and done, I likened the Charter Arms Pathfinder Lite to a modern American car. American car makers once made solid cars that people wanted to buy. But as time went on, short-term thinking got into their heads and they started making their cars cheaper and more plasticky than ever. The result is a product that breaks down before its time, chasing away dedicated brand followers for good. Worse, they were downright dishonest about design flaws that got people killed. Charter Arms seems to be going that route with at least some of their guns.
About Terril Hebert
Terril Hebert is a firearm writer native to south Louisiana. Under his motto-Guns, Never Politics-he tackles firearm and reloading topics both in print and on his Mark3smle YouTube channel, where he got his start. Terril has a soft spot for ballistics testing, pocket pistols, and French rifles. When he is not burning ammo, he is indulging his unhealthy wildlife photography obsession or working on his latest novel. Scourge of God, published in 2017. See more from Terril on youtube under Mark3smle