Ruger LCRx .38 Special +P Revolver with 3" barrel
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
Having previously reviewed and liked the original double action only (DAO) Ruger LCR (Lightweight Compact Revolver) and subsequent true double action (DA) LCRx .38 +P snub-nose revolvers, we were compelled to request a sample of the latest variation, an LCRx with a longer, three inch, fully shrouded barrel and adjustable sights. Within a week the brand new, three inch, LCRx arrived at our doorstep, which is probably a record for promptness from a gun manufacturer. (We waited about four years to get a Ruger Gold Label shotgun for review!)
The internal mechanics of the three inch LCRx are identical to the previously reviewed two inch barrel model, but the LCR design is different from other DA revolvers. At risk of boring those who have read our previous reviews, we will repeat ourselves in order to bring those who have not read those reviews up to speed. (See Ruger LCRx .38 Spec. +P Revolver to read our review of the two inch barrel LCRx). If you have read it all before, feel free to skip down to "Features."
The LCRx is a true double action revolver, with two ways to fire the gun. It can be thumb cocked and fired by a short, lighter pull of the trigger (SA), or fired without first cocking the hammer by a long, much heavier, pull of the trigger (DA). This maximizes the revolver's versatility, as it can be fired precisely at longer ranges in single action mode or very quickly at near contact distances in double action mode.
Unlike most DA revolvers, the LCRx does not have a side plate to allow access to its internal parts. Instead, there are three modular sub-assemblies. These are the Frame sub-assembly, Fire Control Housing sub-assembly and Cylinder sub-assembly.
The polymer fire control housing, which includes the grip frame and trigger guard, contains all of the lock work, including the hammer. The mechanism is accessed by removing the fire control housing from the frame sub-assembly.
The LCRx's lock work is loosely based on previous Ruger DA revolver designs, but incorporates several innovative features, including e-nickel Teflon on critical engagement surfaces and a small concave camming surface on the trigger where it interfaces with the hammer sub assembly. The latter is primarily responsible for the revolvers relatively good DA trigger pull. The barrel, cylinder, crane, front sight blade and most of the internal mechanism are blackened or tumbled stainless steel; the hammer and trigger have been coated to increase their corrosion resistance and improve operating smoothness.
The LCRx features a transfer bar ignition system. This allows the revolver to be safely carried with all chambers loaded. At rest (hammer down), the hammer rests against the frame with the transfer bar lowered well below the firing pin. You could drop the LCRx, hit it with a hammer or throw it from the top of a skyscraper without any danger of accidental discharge. There is no external safety, or any need for one, because DA revolvers are inherently safe.
The LCRx has a wide, comfortable trigger with a smooth surface that minimizes the subjective force required to fire the gun. We measured the single action trigger pull at a clean six pounds, which is exactly the same as the LCRx snubby previously reviewed. Both the SA and DA trigger pulls felt identical to the LCRx snubby we reviewed. However, there is simply no excuse for the SA trigger pull of any revolver to exceed three pounds.
The double action trigger pull is probably in the 11 to 12 pound region. We could not measure it, because our RCBS pull gauge only reads up to eight pounds. Like the previous LCR revolvers we have reviewed, the DA trigger pull is heavy, but unusually smooth.
The hammer spur is smallish in size, but adequate for thumb cocking. It is checkered for a secure grip. Like all Ruger revolvers, the hammer requires more force than it should to thumb cock, because of an overly heavy hammer (main) spring. Why Ruger insists on installing such heavy springs in their handguns is a mystery. They are not needed for reliable function. The hammer draw, DA trigger pull and SA trigger pull all require substantially more effort than they should. Simply changing to lighter spring rates would notably improve the action.
The LCR's monolithic aluminum frame sub-assembly supports the barrel and cylinder. The stainless steel barrel is threaded into the frame, which surrounds the barrel. The frame itself is treated with a two element, synergistic hard-coat finish. This involves a hard-anodized bottom layer and a baked-on surface polymer. The result is an extremely hard surface finish (reportedly Rockwell C60) that is impervious to just about everything, including saltwater. According to the Instruction Manual, this revolutionary new coating gives a hard, slick and abrasion-resistant surface to the aluminum.
The swing-out cylinder is attached to the frame by a crane that pivots around the front torx screw. The cylinder sub-assembly includes the cylinder, crane, cylinder lock pin, star ejector, ejector rod and associated parts. The cylinder is machined from stainless steel. The crane is a stainless steel investment casting. The center lock pin is made from titanium to reduce mass and inertia.
Ruger LCR series revolvers have the most heavily fluted cylinders we have ever seen. Only the back portion of the cylinder, where the locking bolt cuts are, is actually full diameter; it measures 1.283 inches. The entire forward half of the cylinder has been fluted and has a maximum diameter of about 1.230 inches; between chambers, the cylinder is much smaller. This radically fluted cylinder gives the LCR a distinctive look.
The cylinder is held closed at the rear by the cylinder lock pin and at the front of the ejector rod by a titanium spring-loaded latch imbedded in the frame's under lug. To swing out the cylinder for loading or unloading, press the cylinder release button, which is located directly behind the cylinder on the left side of the frame (the usual place on a DA revolver), inward. The cylinder gap of our test gun is tight and uniform. The cylinder revolves counter-clockwise, or out of the frame, which explains the need for the double cylinder latches.
The standard, ambidextrous, Hogue rubber grip is sufficiently long to accommodate all the fingers of our medium size hands. There is a gel insert at the web of the hand to help tame the effect of recoil.
The trigger guard is very large, suitable for use when wearing gloves, and the trigger reach is intentionally short enough to be comfortable for those with smaller hands. The grip and trigger relationship worked for our testers.
Ruger claims that the polymer grip frame and Tamer grip combine to deliver about 50% less felt recoil than other .38 Special revolvers of similar size and weight. That may be true, but any lightweight .38 Special revolver, including the LCRx, kicks pretty hard, primarily due to the very high recoil velocity inherent in lightweight guns firing powerful cartridges.
It is because of the LCR's high recoil velocity that titanium, instead of steel, is used for the LCR's cylinder lock pin and front latch. Titanium reduces the mass and inertia of these parts and helps prevent the cylinder from unlocking at the moment of firing, which is testament to the excessive recoil velocity of very lightweight guns.
The stainless steel barrel insert, hammer and trigger are finished in a natural (dull silvery) color. The other external metal surfaces of the LCRx have a low-reflective black finish. Only the front surface (muzzle) of the barrel insert is polished.
The LCRx features an external hammer that allows it to be fired in single-action mode.
A polymer Fire Control Housing holds all the fire control components in their proper dimensional relationships, reduces weight significantly and helps reduce recoil.
A patented Friction Reducing Cam, the next generation design in fire control systems, has an optimized cam that results in a smooth, non-stacking, DA trigger pull.
The Monolithic Frame supports cylinder and barrel and is made from 7000 series aluminum in the .38 Special LCRx.
The High-Strength Stainless Steel Cylinder is extensively fluted (reducing weight) and features an Ionbond Diamondblack finish for excellent durability.
The Grip Peg allows a variety of grip styles to be installed, leaving ample room for recoil cushioning. The Hogue Tamer grip is highly effective at reducing felt recoil.
A fully adjustable rear sight and ramp front sight with white accent line for improved low light visibility.
A soft carrying case is included with the LCRx.
In size and shape, the three inch barrel version of the LCRx differs substantially from the original snubby version. It is much larger. There is a full length, solid rib on top of the barrel and a full length under-lug beneath the barrel. The front sight is a tall ramp type and the rear sight is the fully adjustable type found on other Ruger revolvers. The grip is long and hand filling. Incidentally, for those desiring a short grip, we swapped the full size grip for the short grip from a two inch LCRx snubby and it fit perfectly.
We compared the new LCRx to a classic Colt Diamondback .38 and found that the silhouette of the two revolvers is almost identical in size and shape. Of course, the Colt's six shot cylinder is larger in diameter than the five shot LCRx cylinder. The Ruger is much lighter than the all steel Diamondback, but any pouch holster designed for the Diamondback should also fit the three inch LCRx.
For carrying concealed, the three inch LCRx requires the same (large) size fanny pack or holster a Diamondback or K-frame S&W needs. It will not fit in the small fanny packs or holsters adequate for an LCRx snubby, S&W Chief's Special or Colt Cobra.
Although very light for its size and commendably thin, the three inch LCRx is a medium frame (except for the cylinder window), service size revolver and therefore probably not suitable for most civilian concealed carry purposes. That being the case, we wonder why Ruger did not provide a full four inch barrel for the new LCRx, instead of the in-between length three inch tube.
Because it is so light, corrosion resistant and comes with fully adjustable sights, we think the three inch LCRx would make an excellent kit gun for the camper, hiker or fisherman. It will not unduly weigh down a creel or day pack and these should provide plenty of carrying space. For a city dwelling office worker, so would a briefcase.
The three inch LCRx would also make a good home defense revolver for someone who favors a lightweight gun. The three inch barrel gives substantially improved ballistics, compared to a two inch barrel, and is still short enough to be difficult for an antagonist to grab in order to disarm the home owner.
Ruger offers fiber optic and tritium front sight options for the snubby LCR models, but these are not interchangeable with the ramp front sight on this latest LCRx. Nor will the Crimson Trace LaserGrip for the DAO LCR fit the LCRx. Of course, the three inch comes with a fully adjustable rear sight that is easier to see and far superior to the fixed frame notch that passes for a rear sight on the snubby models.
The front sight is unusually tall to compensate for the lightweight gun's substantial muzzle jump when firing full power .38 Special ammunition. This makes indoor dry firing practice with laser simulated cartridges rather strange, as the bore line is way below the line of sight without the upward jump from recoil. The bottom line is that, without shooting live ammunition, the gun points very low.
As usual, we did our test shooting at the Izaak Walton outdoor gun range south of Eugene, Oregon, which offers covered bench rests and 25, 50, 100 and 200 yard target stands. We did our accuracy testing at our usual handgun distance of 25 yards using a Pistol Perch rest on the bench. We fired single action, five shot groups at Hoppe's slow fire pistol targets. The winter weather was cloudy with showers and a high afternoon air temperature of 56-degrees. Wind was not a factor. Guns and Shooting Online staff members Chuck Hawks, Rocky Hays and Jim Fleck handled the shooting chores.
Our friends at Remington and Winchester Ammunition supplied four .38 Special factory loads for this review. These included the standard pressure Remington/UMC 130 grain Metal Case (MC) and Winchester/USA 130 grain Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) loads, which are very popular for practice. Serious .38 Special +P self defense loads included Remington/UMC 125 grain Semi-Jacketed Hollow Point (SJHP) and Winchester/USA Personal Protection 125 grain Jacketed Hollow Point (JHP) ammo.
Shooting Results and Shooter Comments
AVERAGE 25 YARD GROUP SIZE FOR ALL LOADS = 3.18 in.
This time out Jim shot the smallest group (two inches). In fact, it was a bad day for Chuck and Rocky, as Jim shot the smallest group with each type of ammo. We don't remember one person managing this before in one of our reviews. Hats off to our Chief Executive Technical Advisor.
As you would expect from a Ruger product, and in particular a revolver, during our testing there were no malfunctions of any kind. Six for Sure becomes Five for Sure with the LCRx, but its reliability cannot be faulted.
Not surprisingly, we found the three inch LCRx easier and more accurate to shoot at 25 yards from a bench rest than the original LCRx snubby. The superior sights and longer sight radius definitely help. The Patridge type sights allow accurate aiming in good light and the hammer is low enough that it doesn't interfere with aiming when shooting double action.
The gun shot to essentially the same point of impact with all loads, which is convenient. The screw adjustable rear sight makes precise sighting-in easy.
The six pound SA trigger pull is commendably smooth and clean, but much too heavy. Everyone could have shot tighter groups more easily with a three pound trigger pull.
The LCRx's ejector rod is too short to completely remove fired cases from the cylinder. However, if you elevate the muzzle as you give the ejector rod a brisk push, most of the fired cases usually drop free, leaving one or two that must be removed individually. This short ejector rod is taken directly from the snubby version of the LCRx, presumably to save money and simplify parts inventory. However, since the new model's longer barrel would allow for a full length ejector rod, we think Ruger should have provided one.
Naturally, the lighter a handgun is, the harder it kicks with any given load. The three inch, 15.7 ounce LCRx is somewhat more comfortable to shoot than the even lighter (13.5 ounce) snubby version, due to the former's hand filling grip and heavier weight. (Recoil energy is directly proportional to gun weight.) However, its snappy recoil remains unpleasant, especially with +P ammo.
We compared the felt recoil of the LCRx to an all steel Colt Diamondback that is the same basic size, but much heavier at 28.5 ounces, and it was no contest. The DB is pleasant to shoot with all loads and our Colt was wearing its original, two-piece walnut grips, not a Hogue Tamer Monogrip.
We recommend using standard velocity loads for most LCRx practice sessions to (somewhat) moderate the recoil, reserving +P loads for duty use. Our shooters agreed that the lightweight gun's recoil velocity is subjectively worse than its recoil energy. This problem is endemic to ultra-lightweight handguns chambered for powerful cartridges. A heavier all steel revolver, such as the excellent Ruger GP100, is much more comfortable for extended practice sessions or for use with high power ammunition. The lightweight LCRx is much easier to carry, but equally more unpleasant to shoot.
Since this latest LCRx has a frame size directly comparable to a Colt Diamondback, we wonder why Ruger went with a solid top rib. If they were going to copy the size and shape, why not go all the way and incorporate a more aesthetically pleasing ventilated rib? It should have been easy to do without incurring additional production cost, given the gun's aluminum frame/barrel shroud. It would lighten the gun a bit, look sexy and possibly help break-up heat waves from the barrel during extended shooting sessions.
Aside from the heavy hammer and trigger springs, which should be replaced with lighter weight springs, none of our shooters found serious fault with the three-inch LCRx. We agreed that it would well serve anyone who didn't mind the sharp recoil. It does not, after all, kick as hard as a magnum revolver and we all shoot those.
The adjustable sight, three inch barrel Ruger LCRx should find favor as a kit gun or for home defense. It handles well and is sufficiently accurate. The good sights and a hand filling grip are big plusses.
Its lightweight construction and three inch barrel should give it mass appeal for concealed carry, but its overall size limits potential concealed carry options. We think of the adjustable sight LCRx as a compact, lightweight service revolver, rather than a .38 snubby. Carried in a belt holster, shoulder holster, purse or pack, it will certainly not be a burden.
Note: This review is mirrored on the Product Reviews index page, where a review of the LCRx with 2" barrel can also be found.
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