Despite an almost universal changeover to semi-auto pistols in police duty holsters, one category of revolvers still remains a top seller. The five-shot .38 Special caliber revolver simply refuses to die. Several manufacturers are filling the demand for these handy pocket and ankle guns, but the LCR (Lightweight Compact Revolver) from Sturm, Ruger & Co. has broken new ground.
At first glance, the styling of the LCR is something out of Buck Rogers, and when you read the list of ingredients, the LCR seems even more space age. I’ve seen photos of a Russian-built polymer framed prototype revolver, so the LCR is not the first “plastic” framed revolver, but it is the first I know of in general production. Side note: At SHOT Show last month, Smith & Wesson announced a two inch .38 Special caliber revolver called the Bodyguard 38 that also sports a polymer lower frame and an integrated laser. I guess that makes partially plastic revolvers a trend!
Back to the LCR. After a polymer frame (with an integral trigger guard) that holds the fire-control components, an aluminum mainframe adds strength while keeping the weight minimal. Built into the aluminum frame are the stainless steel cylinder and rifled barrel liner needed to contain the firing pressure of .38 Special +P rated cartridges. Some small parts are made from titanium and the cylinder is very deeply fluted, to decrease weight and minimize the tendency to “print,” or show through a pocket. But, beauty is in the eye of the ... shooter, and the LCR shoots up a storm.
I have owned and carried several .38 snubbies over the years, and they were trusty companions. So, I compared Ruger’s new LCR to a very similar lightweight 5-shot revolver from a competitor. The LCR weighed about 1 ounce less than brand “S” when both were fitted with soft rubber boot grips. I was able to shoot tighter groups at the seven yard line with Brand “S”, probably because I was more familiar with its trigger (both revolvers were “double-action only” models with shrouded internal hammers). But, both revolvers easily held tennis ball sized groups with all types of .38 Special ammunition. I’m not suggesting the LCR has a lousy trigger pull — in fact it has a lighter pull than the other brand the Ruger’s trigger just feels different.
The Ruger designers used an eccentric cam system in the fire control mechanism to lighten the overall feel. Like all double-action revolvers, the LCR requires a full trigger reset motion to fully engage all the mechanisms that rotate the cylinder and bring the hammer to full cock.
The feature noticed readily by all who shot the LCR test revolver is the surprisingly light recoil. Firing five rounds of 158 grain +P in a brand “S” aluminum framed revolver will make your hand sting, even with the best rubber grips. The slightly lighter Ruger LCR is conspicuously softer in recoil. The soft, Hogue boot grips help dramatically in the recoil reduction equation, especially with an even softer-than normal cushion where the grips hit the web of your firing hand, between the thumb and first finger. The Hogue grips also have a blue-colored inner layer of a different density material where the polymer peg of the LCR’s “frame” pushes rearward into the one-piece grip. Ruger and Hogue teamed up to tame the traditionally sharp recoil of a lightweight .38, and they did their job well. The only fly in the heavy-load ointment is a rather sharp inner edge on the trigger guard which can abrade the outside of your trigger finger when the revolver torques around to the right in recoil. The Brand “S” snubbie chews my trigger the same way with heavy loads, but the sharp edge on Ruger’s polymer trigger guard can be smoothed out with a little fine grit sandpaper — not pretty, but practical.
My universal complaint with small revolvers is their somewhat difficult-to-see sights, and the LCR is no better. All-blue sights are tough to find under dim lighting conditions or against dark targets and all-stainless sights are difficult to see in bright conditions or against a light target. A coat of contrasting paint has helped the front sight of many small revolver s, but the paint wears off pretty fast, depending on your choice of holster (or pocket). A gunsmith can mill a dovetail cut in the front sight and install a bright plastic insert for a few bucks. The best sight fix for the LCR is to replace the pinned-on front sight with one from XS Sight Systems, which features a highly visible white dot with a glowing tritium night sight insert in the center of the dot. The LCR can also be ordered with Crimson Trace Laser Grips. A laser allows great visibility under dim lighting conditions, though I have trouble picking up the red dot in daylight conditions. Since I haven’t handled an LCR with the Laser Grips, I can’t forecast whether the degree of recoil reduction will match the excellent Hogue grips.
A two-inch barreled .38 Special revolver carrying only five rounds has never been my idea of a primary duty sidearm, though some Detectives carry nothing else. The ammunition choices for short revolvers have improved in the last few years with the development of dedicated “short barrel” loads. It is probably not a good idea to carry a lead-bullet +P load in any lightweight revolver. The heavy recoil of these revolvers can (at least in theory) pull the soft lead bullets from the casing, allowing them to project from the front of the cylinder and create a stoppage. I’ve never seen such a bullet-pull stoppage occur, despite having fired a fair amount of such ammunition through lightweight snubbies, but some manufacturers warn against the use of +P loads with non-jacketed bullets.
Most of us will be shooting light-loaded wadcutter ammunition in these guns for training and practice and, surprisingly, a factory-loaded wadcutter load makes a decent duty load for short to medium range. The blunt bullet cuts a full-diameter wound channel and gives decent penetration, except when your target is behind some sort of intervening cover.
Ruger says they have a LCR at the factory that has fired several thousand rounds with no significant wear or malfunction, so we can expect a more-than-adequate life span for even the most ardent shooters. In summary, despite its somewhat radical appearance, I really like the Ruger LCR — so much so that I bought one. That’s the highest form of praise I can give.