Ruger LCP 380 Auto, $330
The LCP is a locked breech semi-automatic pistol that holds 6+1 rounds and shares almost identical dimensions with the Kel-Tec P-3AT.
Its three main components are the "through hardened" steel slide, aluminum sub-frame, and grip frame. However, we can point out several differences between the Ruger and Kel-Tec products.
The Kel-Tec grip frame is listed as being Dupont ST-8018 polymer. Rugers grip was listed as being constructed from glass-filled nylon. The Ruger LCP relied on the magazine to complete a greater area of the front strap. Checkering along the sides of the Ruger was more handsome than the Kel-Tec but less effective, in our view. There was an indentation for the thumb and/or index finger that gave it a look comparable to grips found on the Browning Hi Power. Graphics molded into the grip frame made for coordinated overall look. The magazine release was larger and slightly easier to operate than the Kel-Tec design. Operationally the LCP can be locked back thanks to the addition of a slide release. This lever was set into the frame to avoid adding a snag point but was lined for grip and easy to operate. Chamber-loaded indication was provided by a cutaway of the barrel at the point of ejection. The extractor was also contoured downward to add to this window. When the chamber was loaded, we could see the case rim and a portion of the case.
Before removing the slide, the owners manual instructs the operator to inspect the chamber with the slide locked back. Then, return the slide to its forward rest position. Next, shift the slide to the rear about 1/16 inch or more and pry the takedown pin from the left side of the frame using a screwdriver. Underneath the slide we found a steel guide rod surrounded by two coil springs one underneath the other. The spring closest to the guide rod was constructed of finer wire than the spring that surrounded it. The only trick to reassembling the LCP was to insert the takedown pin at an upward angle then press down to bypass the retention spring.
At the range we were reminded that the LCP, which at one time might have been called a vest pocket gun, was not going to adapt readily to benchrest fire. The lack of available grip made it all too easy for the support hand to interfere with the trigger finger. Whereas we often rest a portion of the gun directly on a sandbag or solid rest, we did our best to envelop the pistol in both hands and rest them directly upon support. As we learned to maximize the accuracy of our shots from this position, we found that we had to control more recoil than the 32 ACP powered semi-automatics. To begin with we saw two separate groups forming on the target. Without a steady grip a loose hold printed our hits high on the target and a controlled grip printed them lower. Ultimately, we found that we could regularly achieve five-shot groups that averaged about 3.0 inches to 3.5 inches across with each variety of ammunition we tried.
It took a lot of work to shoot the Ruger LCP as if it were a target gun. Thats why we looked forward to our action test to provide more pertinent information. Fired from a distance of 3 yards we pushed the gun towards the target aggressively and tried to keep the outline of the rear face of the gun on target as we returned from recoil.
Certainly we were faced with greater recoil than was produced by the 32s, but it was neither sharp nor difficult to control. The key to accuracy and a quick time was to move the trigger finger forward the same distance every time to make sure the gun reset consistently and fired in time. The results of our three strings of fire produced a group that was remarkable not so much for its tight one-holed appearance but rather its even circular shape. In our first string of fire we dipped the muzzle and landed two shots low and to the right. But the remaining sixteen shots defined the circle by producing about an 8-inch group. Checking our Oehler chronograph and our Competition Electronics shot-activated timer, the MagTech ammunition used for this test was delivering about 137 ft.-lbs. of muzzle energy at a rate of about one hit every .21 to .25 seconds.
Throughout our tests we suffered no malfunctions. The Ruger LCP may not be alone in offering a lightweight vest pocket 380 Auto, but its performance certainly makes it a contender.