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Ruger's Polymer Snub Nose Revolver

Sturm, Ruger and Company is on a roll. The Newport, N.H.-based gun maker is well known in the shooting community for its hunting rifles, cowboy-style single action revolvers, and target .22 caliber rifles and pistols. However, new firearms targeting the law enforcement community are attracting the attention of today’s police officers as well.

In 2007, the high capacity Ruger SR9 duty pistol was introduced as an excellent choice for holstered patrol use. In 2008, the (Lightweight Compact Pistol) .380 ACP semi-automatic stormed the off-duty/backup police market (12 percent of the officers in my department already carry the LCP). For the trifecta, in 2009 Ruger brought forth an offduty/ backup revolver that charts new territory in wheel guns by utilizing polymer for its grip frame/trigger guard construction. These three new law enforcement firearms have been keeping Ruger’s second manufacturing plant in Prescott, Ariz., very busy.

Steel, Aluminum and Polymer 

The Lightweight Compact Revolver (LCR) is a small frame, snub nose, five-shot, doubleaction only (DAO) revolver chambered for the .38 Special +P cartridge. The 1.875-inch barrel and cylinder are both made from aerospace grade stainless steel. The cylinder is severely fluted to trim away excess weight and has a slippery finish which Ruger calls “advanced target gray.” The frame surrounding the cylinder and covering the barrel is forged of solid aluminum. It sports a durable finish that Ruger terms “matte black, synergistic hard coat.”

The “fire control unit” is Ruger’s nomenclature for what used to be called a grip frame on 1870s cowboy-style revolvers. The one-piece trigger guard, rear cylinder frame support, and grip peg are made of long strand, glass-fiber-filled polymer. It’s a lot stronger than just mere plastic.

Polymer-framed semi-automatics have flourished since both Heckler & Koch and Glock introduced handguns made with the material in the 1980s. The failed and little known Russian “Rex” .357 six shooter may hold the claim for being the first true polymer revolver, but Ruger’s LCR will most likely become the first commercially successful polymer wheel gun.

Still a Niche for the Snubby

Ruger is well aware that the concealed carry civilian market exploded in huge numbers throughout the U.S. Many first-time gun buyers desire simplicity of operation in a handgun. New shooters don’t have the experience or training that law enforcement officers possess. Hammerless (or concealed hammer) revolvers offer a consistent doubleaction only trigger pull. DAO eliminates the transition that some semi-autos have from double to single action. A revolver’s lack of a decocking lever or thumb safety also means the snubby is virtually foolproof. It can be drawn and fired and then returned to its holster without a fuss.

Revolvers further eliminate the semi-auto’s possibility of leaving a loaded cartridge in the barrel’s chamber after removing the magazine. The revolver’s swing out cylinder is easy to visually inspect and readily loaded or unloaded.

Some police officers view the revolver as being more reliable than a semi-automatic pistol, especially when compared with smaller caliber semi-autos. Various pistols of the past, chambered in .25 ACP, .32 ACP and .380 ACP calibers, have not always had the greatest track record for 100 percent reliability. The classic five-shot snubby is often viewed as more apt to fire despite massive infestations of pocket lint or failure to maintain a regular cleaning regimen.

While a five-shot revolver is not the best choice for taking on an active shooter while off duty, it’s better than empty hands when confronted by a street or convenience store robber. Limitations in firepower are counterbalanced by the little Ruger’s hammerless pocket carry that won’t snag during a draw. The gun’s super light weight (13.5 ounces unloaded) is also a powerful factor contributing to its ability to be easily carried and concealed.

Well-Designed Features

The Ruger LCR looks better in person than it does in a photograph. The non-reflective, matte black finish is purposeful and tough. The cylinder’s shape is unique, and the hard gray finish resists scratches from contact with the bolt stop. After hundreds of rounds and plenty of dry firing, there was no “turn ring” etched around the cylinder’s circumference. The gray finish is slippery, and spent cases ejected without becoming stuck in the chambers. The cylinder was also very easy to clean. Powder and lead residue came right off with a nylon brush and solvent.

The fixed rear sight is wide, deep and easy to line up with the serrated front sight. The front sight is pinned on instead of being a permanent part of the barrel. Hopefully tritium night sights, a gold bead or a colored stripe front sight will soon be available from Ruger or the aftermarket.

I’ve always liked the push button cylinder release on Ruger double action revolvers. Smith & Wesson’s forward push latch works fine, but Colt’s reward pull release has always been awkward in my hands. Ruger’s button release is very natural and similar to a semi-automatic pistol’s button magazine release.

The rubber Hogue Tamer grips are standard issue on the LCR, and they’re exceptionally functional. They are perfectly ergonomic in my big hands, and they fit officers with small and medium-sized hands as well. The grips fill your hand without being too bulky. They’re short for concealable hip carry, and the combination of molded finger grooves and pebbled rubber provides a firm hold. Optional Crimson Trace laser grips are offered and actually reduce the overall weight of the revolver by half an ounce. The laser is an excellent choice, but it does add considerably to the gun’s price (suggested retail is $525 with the Hogue Tamer and $792 with the Crimson Trace).

The LCR possesses a purposeful appearance. To my eye, the all-business look is enhanced by the use of Torx screws and the gun’s two-tone matte black and gray finish. The lack of fluff connotes that this revolver is a serious tool. The lettering on the barrel stating the make, model and caliber is raked forward to match the angled ejector shroud. This gives the LCR a sleek look that complements its serious nature.

Offsetting the Laws of Physics

To simplify Newton’s Law of Motion and basic physics, I will just say that the LCR is a light gun, and the .38 Special +P is a powerful cartridge. This combination is guaranteed to produce a loud report, a globe of flame at the muzzle and stout recoil. You can’t just break the laws of physics, so, like Clubber Lang in “Rocky III,” my prediction was pain. But when I fired the LCR, I didn’t feel pain in the palm of my hand. The Hogue Tamer grips performed their job exceedingly well. They significantly helped to offset the recoil generated from this short and light revolver.

Even after 50 consecutive rounds, my hands didn’t hurt at all. The grip peg design, first used by Ruger in 1985 on its GP100 revolver, allows for more recoil-reducing rubber between the firearm and the shooting hand. Firing a qualification course with the LCR would not be as pleasant if it had wood grip panels and an exposed back strap.

A small screwdriver/key is included with each gun to remove the grip via a single screw at the bottom of the polymer grip peg. It’s similar to a handcuff key (but not the same) and turns a lock that prevents the hammer from cocking, thereby securing the weapon for storage. A Ruger-branded padlock with keys is also included, as is a zippered soft case emblazoned with the red Ruger logo.

Fire Control Housing

Ruger’s new friction-reducing cam and spring system provided a double action pull that measured 9 pounds, 4 ounces on my Lyman digital trigger scale. It’s light pull with no stacking from start to finish. My S&W Model 40’s trigger pull could not be measured because my digital scale only reads as high as 12 pounds.

Ruger did its homework and engineered this trigger right. Its smooth face and contoured edges are perfect for fast, controlled shot placement. In his 1938 book “Fast and Fancy Revolver Shooting,” expert trick shot and world record holder Ed McGivern stated that the S&W double action revolver was superior to the Colt revolver because the cylinder locked up early enough to allow a two-stage trigger function.

Ruger didn’t exist back in the 1930s, but the LCR’s bolt locks up the cylinder before the hammer is released, just the way McGivern said it should. This design allows an experienced shooter the ability to stage the trigger for more precise shot placement.

The Hogue grip is shaped to make sure the fired cases don’t get stuck when pressing the cylinder’s ejector rod. Standard HKS #36 speedloaders work fine for rapid reloads, and the LCR fits most holsters already available for the S&W J-frame or Colt Detective Special, as long as the holster is not overly molded to those guns’ exact contours. Ruger’s Web site lists numerous holsters of various styles that fit the new LCR.

The LCR shot a bit low at 7 yards, which is not unusual for a short-barreled revolver. However, at 15 yards, both standard and +P .38 Special loads struck the center of the target. The gun was dead on for both windage and elevation. Malfunctions were nonexistent, and primer strikes were hard. Standard velocity rounds and hot +P cartridges all hit center mass if I did my part. Several officers tried the fiveshot snub nose, and all had positive remarks concerning the sights, the trigger pull and their ability to hit the target.

A Modern Interpretation of a Classic Police Firearm

There is a long history of police use of the classic 2-inch revolver. There are still police officers today who prefer a revolver for offduty or backup use. Their choice may be objective (trusting the revolver’s inherent reliability), or it may be subjective (maybe a relative of a previous generation carried a revolver).

Either way, Ruger has forged the snub nose design into a new technological forefront with the use of polymer. The LCR offers light weight, accuracy, .38 Special +P hollowpoint power, a smooth trigger pull and excellent recoil management, all at a price point at or below its competition. Ruger may have a hard time keeping up with demand.

Steve Tracy is a 22-year police veteran with 20 years of experience as a firearms instructor. He is also an instructor for tactical rifles, use of force, less-than-lethal force and scenario-based training. He can be reached at

Published in Tactical Response, Sep/Oct 2010

Rating : 9.8

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.22 Update

Posted on : Oct 11 at 6:16 PM By Steve Tracy

Ruger now has a .22 long rifle version of the LCR. I bet it's lots of fun to shoot and a great practice gun. I wouldn't carry it as a law enforcement backup or off-duty revolver, but it sure would make for cheap ammo practice if you already have an LCR in .38 or .357!

Colt and double action revolvers

Posted on : Feb 15 at 4:36 PM By Steve Tracy

The problem is that Colt is not in the double action revolver business. I agree that the 6 shot Detective Special was a fine snubnosed revolver. But they dont make them anymore and most probably never will. There are however, plenty of used ones out there. But for those that want a new snubby with a great factory warranty, the LCR from Ruger is a terrific little gun!

please make the colt detective that works

Posted on : Jun 15 at 10:08 AM By otto

all these copy subnose guns/ nothing looks like feels like the collt 38. detective special. - sandw modle 60 - looks good - needs more rounds- ruger 101 - ok - but looks cheap......rossi- guns - cheap make the 2-3 collt special please in steel , heav- for men and women-best buot subnose in the world- work on it


Posted on : Oct 21 at 9:49 AM By Steve Tracy

Ruger has released a version of the LCR with an X/S tritium front night sight, a boot grip from Hogue that makes the LCR more of a true pocket gun, and a .357 Magnum caliber version.

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