Ruger LCRx .38 Special +P Revolver

By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff

Ruger LCRx .38 Special +P Revolver
Illustration courtesy of Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc.

When we reviewed the original Ruger LCR (Lightweight Compact Revolver) in 2009 we were very impressed. Our only lament was that the LCR was a double-action-only (DAO) revolver. DAO means that the gun can only be trigger cocked; there is no exposed hammer to allow thumb cocking for a lighter trigger pull and increased accuracy at longer ranges.

Ruger has now rectified that complaint with the introduction of the LCRx, a new version of the LCR concept with a conventional exposed hammer. This makes the LCRx 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 more precisely at longer ranges in single action mode or very quickly at near contact distances in double action mode. The best of both worlds.

Even better, the LCRx has been introduced in our favorite self-defense caliber for snub-nose revolvers, .38 Special. The .38 Special cartridge is effective, widely available in a huge selection of loads and reasonably controllable in a lightweight revolver. The LCRx is designed to handle standard pressure and +P .38 Special ammunition. More powerful cartridges, such as the .357 Magnum, put an unreasonable strain on both the gun and the shooter in small frame revolvers and cannot be controlled for fast repeat shots, even by the vast majority of experienced shooters. Actually, typical civilian shooters who purchase a handgun for personal protection, but are not already experienced recreational handgun shooters, cannot even deliver the first shot from a .357 snubby accurately, as they are thoroughly intimidated by the recoil and muzzle blast.

Having previously reviewed the original DAO version of the Ruger LCR, which uses the same construction and basic internal mechanism (except for the hammer) as the LCRx, we will try to be briefer here, hitting only the high points. 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 LCRx's excellent 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.

Like other Ruger DA revolvers, 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. Straight out of the box, we measured the single action trigger pull at a clean six pounds. After a couple days of dry firing practice, the SA trigger pull had reduced to 5-3/4 pounds. This is a lot better than the estimated (our RCBS pull scale only goes to eight pounds) 11 or so pounds of pressure required to fire the LCRx by trigger cocking (DA), but not acceptable. There is no excuse for the SA trigger pull of any revolver to exceed three pounds.

The hammer spur is adequate in size and 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 spring. Why Ruger insists on installing such heavy trigger and hammer springs in their handguns is a mystery. They are not needed for reliable function.

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 very hard, very 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.

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.

The standard, ambidextrous, Hogue Tamer rubber grip was jointly designed by Ruger and Hogue and is advertised to fit a broad range of hand sizes. The trigger reach is intentionally short enough to be comfortable for those with smaller hands, particularly women. Certainly, it seemed to fit everyone on the Guns and Shooting Online staff. There are pronounced grooves for the middle and ring fingers of the shooting hand; the little finger will normally curl beneath the grip, which is slightly concave to make this more comfortable. Even though most of us do not normally prefer grips with finger grooves, we felt that this is an excellent grip for a snubby revolver.

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 super 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, presumably to better let anyone at whom the revolver is aimed see (and be intimidated by) that big .38 caliber hole.

LCRx Advertised Features

  • 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.
  • Patented Friction Reducing Cam, the next generation design in fire control systems with an optimized cam that results in a smooth, non-stacking trigger pull.
  • Monolithic Frame supports cylinder and barrel, is made from aerospace grade, 7000 series aluminum in the .38 Special LCRx.
  • High-Strength Stainless Steel Cylinder is extensively fluted (reducing weight) and features an Ionbond Diamondblack™ finish for excellent durability.
  • Grip Peg allows a variety of grip styles to be installed, leaving ample room for recoil cushioning. The standard model has a Hogue® Tamer™ grip, which is highly effective at reducing felt recoil.
  • Crimson Trace LaserGrip models allow for fast and positive target acquisition and offer the advantage of a laser sighting system in a compact grip. (Note: Some speed loaders may not be compatible with Crimson Trace models.)
  • A soft carrying case is included with the LCRx.

LCRx Specifications

  • Model #: 5430
  • Caliber: .38 Special +P
  • Cylinder capacity: 5 cartridges
  • Length: 6.5"
  • Height: 4.5"
  • Weight: 13.5 ounces (empty)
  • Barrel length: 1.875" (1-7/8")
  • Barrel insert: Stainless steel
  • Fire control Housing: Black polymer
  • Frame: Series 7000 aluminum
  • Frame finish: Black
  • Cylinder: Stainless steel, deeply fluted
  • Cylinder finish: Ionbond Diamondblack
  • Grip: Hogue Tamer Monogrip
  • Front sight: Black, replaceable, pinned blade
  • Rear sight: Fixed; shallow square notch in frame
  • Country of origin: USA
  • 2014 MSRP: $529

Naturally, the standard all black sights are nearly impossible to see in dim light or at night. However, Ruger offers sighting options for dim light shooting. The first is the Ruger LCR Standard Dot Tritium front sight (#12902; $59.95). This front sight blade is made by XS Sight Systems and has a rounded contour (like a front bead when viewed through the rear sight notch). An option is the Novak LCR Tritium Front Night Sight (#12963; $54.95), which had a squared (Patridge) shape. Tritium sights glow in the dark, making the front sight visible even in total darkness. They do not require a battery and have a typical half-life of eight to ten years.

In addition to tritium front sights, there are a couple of laser sight options that project a bright red laser dot on the target in dim light or complete darkness. First is an LCR Crimson Trace LaserGrip ($309). Second is a Ruger LCR LaserMax laser (#12979; $129.95) that secures to the front of the trigger guard and fits snugly against the underside of the barrel. However, unlike the LaserGrip, the bulk of the LaserMax may preclude the use of many LCR holsters. Although laser sights require a battery, battery life is more than ample and we have found a projected laser dot to be, by far, the fastest way to get on target indoors or at night. These night sighting options greatly increase the LCRx's overall usefulness.

Ruger also offers two green and one red fiber optic front sights ($34.95 to $43.95) for LCR revolvers. However, while highly visible in bright light, these are not night sights and they do not glow in the dark.

There are holsters of various types on the market designed specifically for LCR series revolvers from several well known holster makers. In addition, most generic pouch holsters for snubby revolvers will work fine with the LCRx. For example, we carried the LCRx in a fanny pack with an internal pouch holster that we also use for the Ruger SP101, Colt D frame snubbies and S&W J frame snubbies.

While we are on the subject of carry, the lightweight and compact LCRx is an ideal choice for daily concealed carry. It is even less burdensome than an alloy framed Colt Cobra or S&W Airweight Chief's Special .38 revolver. It weighs less than most sub-compact .380 ACP autoloading pistols and hits harder. In addition, we found the LCRx more accurate than most .380 pistols beyond about 15 yards.

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 25 yards using a Pistol Perch rest on the bench. We fired five shot groups at Hoppe's slow fire pistol targets. The weather was partly cloudy with a high afternoon air temperature of 68-degrees and a variable 5-10 MPH breeze that we judged to have no great effect on our .38 Special bullets at only 25 yards. Guns and Shooting Online staff members Chuck Hawks, Rocky Hays and Jim Fleck handled the shooting chores and Dave Cole spotted our shots for us.

Our friends at Federal and Winchester supplied three potent .38 Special self defense loads for this review. These included the standard pressure Federal Premium with a 125 grain Nyclad HP bullet, Federal Premium +P with a 129 grain Hydra-Shok bullet and Winchester Personal Protection with a 125 grain JHP bullet. Here are the shooting results.

  • Federal 125 gr. Nyclad: smallest group 3"; largest group 5"; mean average group = 3.88"
  • Federal +P 129 gr. H-S: smallest group 2-1/2"; largest group 5-3/4"; mean average group = 4.0"
  • Win. +P 125 gr. JPH: smallest group 5-3/8"; largest group 6"; mean average group = 5.63"


This time out, Chuck shot the smallest single group. We all found the LCRx easier and more accurate to shoot at 25 yards from a bench rest than the original (DA only) Ruger LCR. Cocking the hammer for a single action trigger pull is a big advantage in terms of practical accuracy.

The LCRx's Patridge type fixed sights allow accurate aiming in good light and the hammer is low enough that it doesn't interfere with aiming when shooting double action. However, we found the rear notch too shallow for comfortable sighting. A deeper rear notch would make aiming easier.

Because the sights are fixed (not adjustable), no correction could be made for the load or individual shooter. The most accurate load was the Federal 125 grain Nyclad and if combined the shots from our three shooters struck all around the black bull's eye, from the 7-ring to the 10-ring. We'd say that with this load the LCRx, on average, shot approximately to point of aim. The +P loads were less consistent, hitting low for some shooters and high for others.

Like most snubby revolvers, 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, the fired cases should drop free.

Naturally, the lighter a handgun is, the harder it kicks with any given load. There is no cheating the laws of physics. However, subjectively, the LCRx felt more comfortable to shoot than a 15 ounce Smith & Wesson Model 637 (Chief's Special Airweight). Nevertheless, we would not choose to blast through a 50 round box of cartridges, especially +P cartridges, for fun. We prefer to do the majority of our handgun practice with all steel, medium frame revolvers.

Small, aluminum framed .38 Special revolvers are unpleasant to shoot, especially with +P ammo, so we prefer to use standard velocity loads in snubby revolvers to (somewhat) moderate the kick. Our long time favorite personal defense ammo for such use is the Federal Premium 125 grain Nyclad HP load, which was developed specifically for rapid expansion when fired from 2" barrels. We have tested this load and found its terminal performance impressive.

In conclusion, we think the Ruger LCRx is the first choice in ultra lightweight, concealed carry revolvers chambered for the powerful .38 Special +P cartridge. It has all the advantages of the previously reviewed Ruger LCR with the addition of an optional, lighter, single action trigger pull.

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