Hello and welcome back to another Edition of The Rimfire Report! This ongoing series is all about the rimfire firearm world and its many guns, ammunition choices, and shooting sports. Last week we took a look at some Obscure .22 Rimfire Tear Gas Cartridge Guns. This week I am at the helm and filling in for your usual host Luke C. When Luke asked me to fill in for today, the first thing that came to mind is that I have never actually “reviewed” my Charter Arms Explorer II. I have written a ton about it as far as its history goes and how to maintain it but never actually sat down and did a full-on review. If you are curious about its broader history please check out the Curious Relics articles over on our sister site AllOutdoor.com and as far as maintenance goes, I recently covered that on Armorer’s Bench. Let’s dive right into my review on the Charter Arms Explorer II pistol!
AR7 articles on TFB & AllOutdoor:
- The Rimfire Report: A Henry AR-7 Cautionary Review
- The Rimfire Report: The Best DIY Upgrade For Your Henry AR-7
- Curious Relics #003: ArmaLite AR7; From Pilots to Cowboys!
- Curious Relics #004: ArmaLite AR7 Part II The Design Survives!
- Curious Relics #005: Charter Arms Explorer II: The AR7 Pistol!
- Curious Relics #045: Surprise! – Charter Arms Explorer II Part 2!
- TFB Armorer’s Bench: Disassembly and Maintenance – Explorer II/AR7
Brief History Recap: Charter Arms Explorer II
As I mentioned, the history portion of this pistol under a much finer microscope can be found in the articles here and here. But the cliff notes are that the Charter Arms Explorer II is a late iteration of the AR7 survival rifle. With the successful adoption of the AR5 survival rifle chambered in 22 Hornet, ArmaLite decided a commercial survival rifle could be potentially more successful. That is when the AR7 came onto the scene in 1959.
It was intended to duplicate the core fundamentals of the AR5 in that it was to be chambered in a small caliber, be light enough to tote around, float if dropped in water, and collapse/be disassembled into the stock. Despite the common misconception that the AR7 was adopted or used by the military, it was fairly popular in the world at large. It saw usage by distant militaries in small numbers and civilian sales were fair. ArmaLite would produce the AR7 (marketed as the AR7 Explorer) from 1959 to 1973 but the design would be licensed and reproduced all the way up till now where Henry Repeating Arms currently makes one.
Shortly after ArmaLite ceased production of the AR7, Charter Arms picked up the slack and would produce the handy survival rifle from 1973 until 1990. During the late 1970s, the AR7 saw dips in sales and Charter Arms sought to quickly reinvigorate the Explorer design. Their results? The Charter Arms Explorer II pistol came out in 1980.
The Charter Arms Explorer II uses an AR7 receiver with a fixed pistol grip more or less. The grip is literally a part of the receiver so it cannot have a stock attached. It uses the exact same internal parts and magazines. The elevation-adjustable rear peep sight was swapped with a windage and elevation-adjustable square notched iron sight since the front post was non-adjustable. Just off of appearances given the AR7 receiver size, it makes sense that they went with a look analogous to a Mauser C96. It came stock with an 8-inch removable barrel (later on a 6” and 10” barrel were available), one 8-round magazine, had a “Shur-Hold simulated walnut” plastic grip, and later on, it came in various enameled finishes beside the standard black. The top of the receiver has space for 3/8 rings for a scope but later on, a mount was produced as well. Production of the Charter Arms Explorer II ceased in 1986.
Important Note: Charter Arms Explorer II
“One of the most notable and considerate engineering decisions in regards to our pistol today is that the barrels of its rifle counterpart and visa versa are not interchangeable. This intelligent choice on Charter Arms part was due to NFA regulations regarding barrel length on rifles. Charter Arms had enough foresight to make it so the pistol barrels could not be put on the rifle without illegal outright modification. Each firearm has a notch in the receiver threads and a corresponding pin on the barrel. The notches and pins on the pistols were not just larger than the rifle version but they also were indexed on the bottom rather than the top. – Curious Relics #005: Charter Arms Explorer II: The AR7 Pistol!”
Specifications: Charter Arms Explorer II
The Charter Arms Explorer II is in every way (except for the frame itself) an AR7. It functions the exact same way and has many of the same parts. The magazines are interchangeable, even with the modern Henry AR7 rifles. It is a straight blowback 22 from the 1980s and it just screams nostalgia. Some of you who may have owned them may be also screaming “they don’t work”! I will not argue with anyone that they are good or bad guns. The literature on maintenance from back then was lacking and I will touch more on that later. For now, let us see the Charter Arms Explorer II on paper with some specifications.
- Years Produced: From 1980 to 1986
- MSRP In 1980: Roughly $90 ( $323.49 in 2022)
- Chambering: 22 Long Rifle
- Barrel Length: 6 Inches, 8 Inches(standard), 10 Inches
- Assembled Length: Roughly 16 Inches (with 8 Inch Barrel)
- Weight: 1lbs 12.5oz
- Trigger Pull: Just Under 5.5 lbs
- Operating System: Straight Blowback
- Safety: Manual Selector
- Rear Sight: Windage and Elevation Adjustable Square Notch
- Front Sight: Fixed Front Post
- Magazine Capacity: 8-Round Magazine (later higher capacity magazines did make an appearance)
Note on Maintenance: Charter Arms Explorer II
As I mentioned above, these do not have a well-regarded history. They are known to be unreliable jam-o-matics. Despite what I have to say next, they are not great guns when speaking in the standards and competition we have with today’s rimfire handguns. Rimfire stuff is dirty and finicky as is; it is just the nature of the beast.
When these guns hit the streets in the 1980s and the rifles even farther back before that they did not have a good breakdown of how to keep them running. Not only were the user manuals for these types of guns extremely vague but who actually reads the manual anyway? The action isn’t perfect and the bolt and springs quickly foul up and get slowed down which causes problems. The lack of any sort of feed ramp or couture to the chamber area causes jams as well. The important thing is that the feeding mechanism is built into the magazines and keeping those in good shape is imperative at the very least.
In my humble experience keeping my personal Charter Arms Explorer II running without problems is as follows. Keep the magazines in tip-top clean shape. Keep the bolt springs LIGHTLY greased and only put dry lube on the bolt if necessary. These guns run best as dry as they can comfortably be. Adding oil when having malfunctions will only aggravate the issues. Internal trigger mechanism springs and pinpoints only need a drop of oil around every six months to a year depending on usage. That is my average usage range anyway. You don’t need expensive super cool hypervelocity rounds but it definitely does not hurt. Copper-plated average joe high-velocity rounds should work fine in a well-maintained gun. I run lead bullets through mine from time to time and notice an increased potential for feeding issues (the tips getting caught on the barrel etc).
For more on disassembly and maintenance, I encourage you to check out the recent Armorer’s Bench article featuring the Charter Arms Explorer II!
Range Time: Charter Arms Explorer II
I am pretty spoiled with my Charter Arms Explorer II because I went through extreme headaches and financial heartache to get all the accessory goodies that would have been available back in the day. It always shoots well and reliably (if I keep it running with the above-mentioned precautions). I do not have a favorite barrel size by any means but the 10-inch one makes it look even goofier which I am all about. I would wager the 8-inch sees the most use. Despite the pictures, I should say that this gun is ginormous. It really is very big. The Mauser C96-inspired grip is large and bulbous. It is pretty awkward to hold.
There is a wide range of magazines for the AR7 stuff from small 8-round magazines to 25-round Ram-Line magazines that do not work at all. I had purchased one because I wanted “all the things” as I mentioned and was genuinely curious if they were as bad as people say. Yeah, they are really comically bad. The most consecutive rounds I ever had out of that magazine were 11 rounds in a row. They are plastic so perhaps the “feed lips” are worn out. I would lean more towards they do not work as is and never really have. Waste the money if you want the odd look but do not think you will have a reliable “stendo” magazine.
With the scope mount and period correct pistol scope, I can get great groups. Same with the adjustable iron sight (specific to the Charter Arms Explorer II). One thing to note on the rear sight is when I purchased mine one of the windage screws was missing along with the sight blade. I ordered a Charter Arms revolver sight blade from Numrich and eventually figured out what the windage screw was and ordered a batch of similar ones to use. The link for those screws is right here just in case anyone out there ends up in my predicament.
Conclusion: Charter Arms Explorer II
To reiterate, I do not think this is a great rimfire handgun. It is picky after a low round count and is pretty obviously cheaply made but I love it. When it works, it is fun because it is strikingly different from all other 22 handguns on the market. l have good luck as far as accuracy goes and all the accessories make it a fun gun to change around and configure differently. If you run across one of these, I do not recommend paying too much money for them. I would say the average street price for a used one is around $300. The accessory barrels, mounts, and parts are scarce and pricey. All in all, I recommend trying one out if you have a buddy who has one or meet a new friend at the range. They are neat and nostalgic and I am all about that.
I am always curious to hear people’s thoughts on the old Explorer II and its rifle counterpart. What do you guys and gals think? Is this something that should be reintroduced with some improvements by a manufacturer that already makes the rifles? *Cough Cough Henry*. Thanks as always for stopping by to check out The Rimfire Report and we’ll see you again next week. Hope you folks enjoyed and thank you very much for having me!