Ruger LCR – Die-Hard Smith Fan Takes it for a “Spin”

The Ruger LCR has proven to be a favorite of many professionals, to include Ed Lovette, author of The Snubby Revolver.

Those who have followed my writing over the years will, no doubt, remember that I am a self-avowed Smith J-frame addict. For the majority of my law enforcement career, and now in retirement, I am seldom without a J-frame. Since 2003, my daily companion has been the ubiquitous Model 642 that is equipped with the excellent Crimson Trace Model 405 Lasergrips. That being said, more than one friend has encouraged me to take a serious look at Ruger’s little LCR. This assignment was just the nudge I needed.

The LCR in .38 Special is shown with the author’s S&W 442. Note the similar dimensions of the two pistols.

Background

The LCR, which stands for Lightweight Compact Revolver, was first introduced in 2009. Ruger departed from a traditionally designed frame. Instead, the LCR consists of an upper frame, that houses the barrel and cylinder, and a lower polymer housing that contains the fire control components. The design allows the LCR to weigh in at 13.2 ounces. This is with the palm-filling Hogue Tamer stocks that come standard. The 1.87” barrel is sleeved inside the alloy upper and the muzzle is nicely crowned.

The unique design of the LCR features an alloy upper receiver with a polymer lower. This reduces weight while still offering the strength that Ruger is known for.
Our test model was chambered in .38 Special and rated for +P. Ruger also offers the LCR in a number of other calibers to include .357 Magnum.

The five-shot cylinder is made of steel and features uniquely shaped flutes that are attractive and help further reduce the LCR’s weight. The cylinder release, while small, is easily manipulated. Ruger’s patented friction-reducing cam system gives the LCR an exceptionally nice trigger that is, arguably, better than my beloved J-frames. This is enhanced by a large, radiused and polished, trigger that is housed in an oversized oval trigger guard. Those with large hands, or wearing gloves, will have no problem shooting the LCR. The LCR is also void of any sharp edges.

The cylinder release, while small, is designed to be easily manipulated.
The large trigger guard and polished trigger enhance the ergonomics of the little LCR.
The cylinder, on the LCR, features uniquely designed flutes or scallops that serve to reduce weight while not compromising strength.

Ruger’s website is very complete and they offer a full line of accessories for the LCR. These include speed loaders, replacement front sight blades, seven different options for stocks, and a wide variety of holsters. It is great when you can one-stop-shop for your LCR.

First Impressions

Unboxing our test LCR, I found the normal promotional material and a comprehensive, 40-page, instructional manual. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the manual covered a variety of subjects to include disassembly/reassembly, “state-by-state” warnings, and detailed operating instructions. It also contained exploded diagrams of LCR models, parts lists, and instructions on ordering parts and returning the LCR for repair.

Ruger’s instruction manual is very comprehensive and offers information not found in other user manuals.
Hogue Tamer stocks are standard on the LCR. They fit the hand well and the cushioned back strap helps reduce felt recoil.

I found the Hogue Tamer stocks fit my hand well and completely filled the space behind the trigger guard. The double-action trigger pull was smooth, consistent, and free from any grit. However, the combination of polymer and steel made for some strange sound effects. The internal components rattled when the LCR was handled! It is my guess that the rattle comes from the free-floating firing pin. This is not a slam on the design or the quality of the LCR. It is simply an observation! 

The trigger on our test sample was exceptionally good! The rounded edges and polished surface speaks to Ruger’s attention to detail.

I really like that Ruger has designed the LCR with a pinned front sight that is easy for the user to replace. This is not an option with most of my J-frames. My preference for a front sight blade on little wheelguns is a XS standard size dot. XS offers four different options for the .38 LCR, an orange or yellow, or a white or green ring with a Tritium. I have a green Tritium on my Smith Model 649 and find it highly effective.

The front sight on the LCR is pinned and features a white ramp. It is easily replaced with an XS Dot sight.
For those who don’t care for the factory sight, XS offers several replacement front sight blades for the LCR (Photo credit XS Sights)

Shots Fired

My range time, with the LCR, was limited by both time and ammo availability. I tested the LCR with two popular personal defense loads and one practice load. Speer’s 135-grain +P Gold Dot is the standard by which all snub ammo is judged. Out of the LCR, the Gold Dot averaged 873 fps with an extreme spread of 22 fps. I also tested Federal’s newer 129-grain +P Hydra Shok. The Federal load averaged 858 fps with an extreme spread of 13 fps. When firing from a bench rest, over a chronograph, recoil from both loads was rather stout. The Lawman 125 grain TMJ load is designed as a training load and is not loaded to +P velocities. The Lawman chronographed at 772 fps and was very pleasant.

Speer’s Gold Dot Short Barrel load is the standard by which other loads are judged. The 135 grain +P load averaged 873 fps out of the LCR.
The author’s target from his 5x5x5x2 drill reflects a score of 94. While not up to his standards, only the first run counts for score!

After chronograph testing, I shot my modified “Test” drill. This consists of five shots, fired from five yards, in five seconds, repeated twice. The drill is fired on a B8 bullseye and scoring is done based on the scoring rings. For score, I fire the drill cold and I only count my first run. With the LCR .38, I managed to fire a 94 out of a possible 100. I found that I pulled most of the shots left with two rounds in the 9-ring and two rounds in the 8-ring. I determined that these were my last four shots where I lost the front sight blade and my grip shifted. I was pleased that my time was 3.75 seconds.

Additional practice saw my groups close up significantly and I shot several 2” groups from 10 yards or so. I did find that the white insert in the front sight was a distraction. It is not a bad design but I was simply not accustomed to it. I really like the Hogue Tamer stocks and the cushioned backstrap aided in reducing felt recoil. During shooting, the design of the front strap of the stocks prevented any impact on my knuckle.

Final Thoughts

After a couple of range outings, I can understand why the little LCR is so popular. As its name implies, it is both lightweight and compact. It does represent a modern design, in both design and materials. Ruger is known for building solid, strong, revolvers and the LCR is no exception. The LCR would carry well in a larger pocket, on an ankle, or on the waist.

I included the specifications of both the LCR and my 442 so the reader could see a direct comparison. The LCR is slightly larger than the 442 but appears even more so due to the size and shape of the trigger guard. The trigger on the LCR is as good as any little gun that I have shot. While MSRP on the LCR is about $80.00 more than the Smith, this is a small price to pay for a good trigger, excellent stocks, and a user-replaceable front sight.

The LCR is also available in .22 LR, .22 WMR., .357 Magnum, .327 Federal Magnum, and 9mm. For those who prefer the option of an exposed hammer, the LCRx is available with a 1.87” or a 3” barrel and in the same calibers. I will be reviewing the .22 LR version in a future article.

In the end, the LCR really impressed me and  I can see why it is a favorite of former CIA officer Ed Lovette. Ed’s book, The Snubby Revolver, was first published in 2002. It proved to be the seminal work on the subject. Recently, a revised 3rd Edition was published by Michael de Bethencourt and the folks at Snub Noir. The new edition has been updated with new content, improved photos, and information on current products that Ed prefers. For additional information, go to Snub Noir The Snubby Revolver.

 Ruger LCR 38 Model 5401S&W 442 SKU 162810
Caliber.38 Special +P.38 Special +P
Capacity55
Barrel Length1.87”1.875”
Weight13.2 oz.14.7 oz.
ActionDA OnlyDA Only
Frame7000 Series Aluminum/Polymer UpperAluminum Alloy
Rear SightFixed NotchFixed Notch
Front sightPinned Ramp (Replaceable)Integral Ramp
StocksHogue Tamer MonogripsCrimson Trace 405 Lasergrips
Overall Length6.50”6.3”
Height4 3/8”4”
MSRP$579$497

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{ 18 comments… add one }
  • Grumpy 49 July 2, 2021, 10:49 am

    A small .38 revolver, under ~20 oz., with no Single Action capacity, is an expert’s weapon. A 20+ oz. small frame .38, with both SA/DA action, and a 3″ barrel, is much better suited for the casual/older shooter. Shooting a S&W model 36 versus the model 638, found that even swapping the too small grips for HOGUE grips, the lighter 638 was much harder to shoot. SO – For a “back-up”, not the primary CCW, the lightweight small frame revolver works well, It is not a “woman’s or first time shooter best choice. My father and several other relatives all carries S&W model 36 revolvers as their “duty gun”. My father also used his model 36 in shooting matches, But, he shot many many rounds to get that level of accuracy.

  • Jasper Riley June 29, 2021, 2:37 pm

    Gunsamerica needs to hire some of these gun experts. They are a hoot. You can start a comedy site.

  • Nokes June 28, 2021, 6:17 pm

    If this same weapon with these component parts had been manufactured by S&W would it have sweetened the rhetoric used in this article. I hold several snubbies; S&W # 12, Charter Arms, Taurus, and my old service hidegun, S&W # 10. The most credible difference is the price. Notice there are no Colts in the budget department.

  • Jay Smith June 28, 2021, 2:56 pm

    I like Ruger & S&W equally . The main reason i don’t care for the LCR , is the rattle when you shake it. Which i believe is actually the transfer bar . Mind you , I LOVE my (2) Vaqueros ( Cfda , Ss, Short spur hammers , .45 lc ). Those do NOT rattle, & i took care of the transfer bar pinch myself ( as well as a trigger spring and hammer spring lightening , plus chamfering all screw holes ). As Ruger da revolvers go , i prefer the olde Speed & Security Sixes . NOT compact , or light , i know . But they sure are nice. ( Stainless )

  • Danny Koch June 28, 2021, 11:39 am

    I am also a s&W fan ,but also a ruger guy .I have purchased two lcr’s. one in 22 lr as a practice gun , then a 22 magnum as I am a 22 magnum fan for packing for walks in our woods. The 22 lr was great and then I found the 22 magnum on sale at a local dealer. The 22 magnum turned out to be a problem as it had one chamber that appeared to be out of size or out of round as it would split the cases s in this one chamber on each firing. Needless to say that gun was my plan was to return it to ruger. When a guy came along who just had to have it even when I told him of the problem. I saw his ad in the local paper about a month later and he had it for sale.Don’t know what he told the next guy. Sorry I just did not return it to ruger.

  • kb31416 June 28, 2021, 10:08 am

    The Ruger LCR was the first gun that I purchased when I got my CCW license in IL, about 6 years ago. I like the no snag feature of the enclosed hammer (which is ugly as original sin, but functional). The LCR now resides in my car’s glove box as it’s permanent home, and my daily CCW pistol is the Ruger LCP in .380.

  • glock19fan June 28, 2021, 9:15 am

    Looks like a nice piece! However, I prefer the exposed hammer for an interesting reason. There are persons – who are not cops ( I have some friends who are cops) – but who know how to grasp a revolver in a way that the cylinder can be kept from turning and the gun can’t be fired. An external hammer can be manually cocked before the gun is grabbed and then pulling the trigger will result in a one-handed attacker in considerable pain. At my age and reflexes, I am more comfortable with the exposed hammer.

    Nice piece though!

  • watercam June 28, 2021, 9:15 am

    I have had a .38cal. LCR since it’s inception and LOVE it! Best double action trigger I have ever shot in a revolver in 40 yrs. of pulling them. Ruger recommends only using rounds 135gr. or heavier so I carry it with the +P 158gr. LSWCHP load at 1000 fps (measured velocity – no lie, with a 1.8″ barrel). It is controllable and accurate and I can make 25yd. paper head shots with some concentration. I only wished that I had picked up the .357 version as well.

  • doug June 28, 2021, 8:19 am

    For $82.00 less, why not buy the S&W, they are pretty much identical ???

  • Ed June 28, 2021, 7:38 am

    You could not give me one. I will never be a Ruger fan.

    • Bob June 28, 2021, 8:35 am

      Well, no one cares Ed

      • Grumpy Old Biker June 28, 2021, 9:52 am

        HAHAHAHAHA! With the exception of the Vaquero and, I guess, the Super Redhawk is pretty cool, I’m not a big River guy either but why go out of your way to sponge that for everybody to see? Truthfully, nobody does care.

  • Grumpy Old Biker June 28, 2021, 6:39 am

    It’s interesting (and quite puzzling) to read something written by a guy I should have a lot in common with but who thinks so differently than I. As a law enforcement officer for thirty years who is now retired, I have always despised little revolvers, particularly the 5-shot Smith & Wesson J-frame and its many copycats. At least Colt’s snubby Detective Special carried six rounds, otherwise it is equally as ineffective. To be sure, it’s not the barrel length I hate, because I really like a good blue or nickle S&W Model 19 or stainless Model 66 with 2-1/2” barrels and large enough grips. And my daily carry is a modified Model 25-2 with a K-frame roundbutt and a 2-7/8” barrel in .45ACP. It’s easily concealable and, as I said, it’s a .45!

    A tiny gun should never be more than what it is: a BACKUP gun, because it is better than nothing. Not only is a J-frame more difficult to shoot accurately, with its awful double-action trigger pull and light weight, they are also not easy to manipulate and reload by individuals with large hands — especially under duress. Yes, I know of several incidents wherein a 5-shot was used to great effect during an emergency situation but those are truly exceptions.

    I used to notice that the kind of cops who carried a J-frame as their primary firearm tended to be the ones who were less serious about the dangerous aspects of the job — not the type I wanted with me in a tight spot. And people who carry tiny guns as their concealed carry are basically saying they are not planning to ever have to use it, so they want to be as comfortable and as little inconvenienced as possible. They want to be able to shove it in their pocket or a purse, or strap it to their ankle and try to forget about it as much as possible.

    Sure, any concealed carry firearm is going to be a compromise between effectiveness, comfort and concealability. But a little bitty gun, with its difficulty to shoot accurately (sure, you can shoot the testes off a gnat with yours) and its very limited capacity, is at the far end of that compromise. Like a derringer, it’s little better than carrying nothing at all.

    • Ken June 28, 2021, 1:20 pm

      I have several carry weapons. Where I find I love the 5 shot snub airweight or the LCR (I’ve had both). Is running or even cycling. Moments where you have almost nowhere to hide a weapon.

      My first weapon was a revolver. So the double action doesn’t bother me. People have complained about DA/SA saying the first DA round is a flier.

      Master the double action and you can fire any gun.

  • CHARLES M GOODWIN June 28, 2021, 6:38 am

    where can i get one

  • David Tibbs June 28, 2021, 3:48 am

    I’ve got one, but no ammo.I need some can y’all help.

  • OldProf49 June 28, 2021, 3:45 am

    I have both the LCR 38 and the 642 and cannot decide which I prefer. The LCR definitely has a better trigger, though I am so accustomed to the j-frame trigger that I find the difference to be immaterial. I think I prefer the Smith for front pocket carry. It seems a bit more concealable, especially when fitted with a set of classic, skinny grips and a Tyler grip adapter. I like both revolvers and will keep and carry both.

    • Kenny June 28, 2021, 1:22 pm

      I traded my airweight for a LCR. But I may trade the LCR for a 442 pro. I like the speed reload ability of the Pro series J frame with moon clips.

      I’ve tried speed loading with stripper clips but it is awkward and slow. I’m sure you can become proficient with it with enough practice, but it seems like a lot of work.

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