Ruger LCR: No. 5401, 38 Special

This Ruger LCR is little lighter, with recoil that goes with that. One of the best factory triggers we have seen in a standard production revolver.


Once widely maligned as “Tupperware,” the polymer pistol now rules the shooting world to the point where the writer of this article, who is also a very active trainer and LTC instructor, has many students say they’ve never shot an all-metal handgun. And some are also not personally familiar with the revolver, regardless of composition. So, our Houston testers wondered if the 38 Special wheelgun is practically dead, or can it still serve a useful purpose as a viable every-day carry handgun when so many good semi-automatic 9mm pistols exist.

Here’s our range set up at American Shooting Centers in west Houston, with a LabRadar chronograph

To find out, we chose the SIG Sauer P365, perhaps the hottest-selling handgun in this country, as a benchmark against which to compare some new and not-so-new revolvers. The baseline we tested against was a SIG P365 365-9-BXR3 9mm Luger, $599. As a value proposition, we started off the revolver part of the tests with an older S&W Model 60 38 Special, $459. The closest modern equivalent of the 1978-version Model 60 is a blued Model 36 150184 38 Special, $809. Next, we included a Ruger LCR 5401 38 Special +P, $699. Last was a Ruger SP101 5737 38 Special, $859. Someday, the ammo drought will end, but because we’re not there yet we once again used properly assembled reloads for the revolvers. We tried to get a little extra speed with those short barrels, so we used 125-grain bullets. The first we tried was Hunter’s Supply hard-cast lead flat point from (418579, $15/100). We also shot Hornady’s 125-grain XTP (490514, $24/100). For the SIG P365 9mm, we used SIG Sauer’s 115-grain V-Crown ( 966280, $22.50/20) and 9mm Remington Range ammo (542116, $30/50).

Keeping in the mind the assumed use of these handguns was for self defense, accuracy testing was done at 7 yards. Even though two of the three revolvers allowed single-action shooting, all testing for accuracy and speed was performed double action only. Group shooting consisted of multiple five-shot strings fired from a well-weighted Caldwell Pistolero shooting rest ( 562771, $30). Muzzle velocities were obtained via a LabRadar chronograph. All shooting was done at American Shooting Centers in west Houston. Here’s how the handguns performed.

Gun Tests Grade: B-


The Ruger LCR hit the market around 2010, and we were some of the early adopters. In the LCR, Ruger introduced a number of innovations we’d never seen on a wheelgun. For example, the S&W Model 60 is an old-style design, with a stainless-steel frame and a side plate that can be removed to access parts. The Ruger LCR has a monolithic frame made from aerospace-grade 7000-series aluminum. When you open the side plate on the S&W, lots of little pieces can be removed and sometimes even require specific tools to put them back in. The Ruger has a polymer fire-control unit that holds all of those small parts in the proper relationship to each other and reduces weight. Like the S&W Model 60, the cylinder is stainless steel, though the Ruger is PVD coated. It is also radically fluted to reduce more weight.

Action TypeDouble action only
Overall Length6.5 in.
Overall Height4.5 in.
Maximum Width1.28 in.
Weight Unloaded0.82 lbs.
Weight Loaded0.96 lbs.
CylinderStainless steel, PVD finish
Receiver MaterialPolymer
Front Strap Height1.3 in.
Back Strap Height3.0 in.
Barrel Length1.875 in.
Grip Thickness (Maximum)1.13 in.
Grip Circumference4.5 in.
Cylinder Capacity5 rounds
Front SightXS large dot with tritium insert
Rear SightGroove in top strap
Sight Radius3.1 in.
Trigger Pull Weight (Double Action)9.5 lbs.
Trigger Span3.0 in.
SafetyRebounding hammer
Telephone(336) 949-5200
Made InUSA, NH
The XS sight on the LCR provides a great flash sight picture.

Ruger engineered a patented friction-reducing cam that produces a very smooth non-stacking trigger, so the effort required to move the trigger further to the rear doesn’t noticeably increase as trigger compression continues. It beats the unmodified trigger of the Model 60 hands down.

Also, our particular model of the LCR has an upgrade to the front sight and the grip. The standard front sight has been changed to an XS large dot. This has a larger-than-standard white circle surrounding a tritium insert, making it easy to see in normal or low-light conditions. The rear sight is the expected groove in the top strap of the receiver. The grips have a padded gel piece in the backstrap, thus cushioning the shooting hand just a bit more.

The grip on the LCR provides a gel insert over the backstrap. That is a great add for this snappy little revolver.

The LCR is not a hammerless revolver, though it looks like it. The hammer is actually contained within the shroud. The shooter does not see or manipulate it, making this a true Double-Action-Only (DAO) revolver. That also means there isn’t any hammer spur to foul in the pocket with the draw. The cylinder release, as is normal for Ruger, is a button on the left side of the frame that pushes inward, allowing the cylinder to rotate out to the left. The extractor rod isn’t any longer than on the S&W (there just isn’t more room on the design), and the same care must be exercised when extracting empties.

Accuracy was fair, averaging 2.36-inch groups, which was a good bit larger than the S&W or the SP101. Reliability was perfect. The sights are better than we frequently see on a small revolver, though they shot slightly high and left. The trigger is a real improvement over the S&W.

Our Team Said: The Ruger LCR is lighter than we prefer. If all you are going to do is carry it — no big deal. But this little gun requires practice to shoot well, and the recoil goes with that. Ruger designed a new cam system for the trigger on the LCR, producing one of the best factory triggers we have seen in a standard-production revolver.

Bottom Line

In our tests, the SIG Sauer P365 shot more quickly, was a bit easier to shoot accurately, recoiled a bit less, concealed more easily, and carried a higher round count of somewhat more powerful ammunition. It would appear that we have destroyed our own argument about the viability of the snub-nosed revolver in the modern shooting world, except in the areas of dependability and simplicity of deployment. We believe those are important considerations. To wit:

All three revolvers preferred the Hornady 125-grain XTP to the lead bullets. This is a typical group for the Ruger LCR, which was the least-accurate revolver in this test.

Semi-automatic pistols are more likely to malfunction than revolvers. Making sure your Pocket 9 is well-maintained will mitigate a large percentage of potential problems. If it does jam, a little bit of training and a solid “Slap, Rack, Bang” will fix most of the things that can go wrong. With the revolver, however, simply pull the trigger again.

Semi-autos can be more sensitive to ammunition selection and fundamentals of grip and stance. Don’t lock the arms out, and the auto can malfunction. Feed it the wrong ammo, and it can malfunction. The revolver doesn’t care if you put five different kinds of old ammo in there. If it doesn’t work, press the trigger again. We have done many demos where we held the revolver upside down and activated the trigger with our little finger. We are less likely to be accurate, of course, but the revolver didn’t care.

The hammer on the LCR is shrouded, allowing for a snag-free draw, but requiring double-action-only trigger work.

Many law-enforcement officers carry a small revolver in an ankle holster. Yeah, ankle holsters are itchy and uncomfortable when you first wear them, but so are inside-the-waistband holsters. That ankle holster leaves the backup gun down close to the dirt. Do an informal survey sometime and ask police officers whether they are willing to trust their lives to a semi-auto or a revolver that is likely to get dirty. A quick note on the ankle holster for the average citizen — they work very well for someone who drives a lot. Puts that handgun in an accessible location.

Those with less-than-optimal hand strength may find the semi-auto slide hard to rack and the manual of arms more difficult to perform. The operating procedures on the revolver are simple and few — open the cylinder, load the cylinder, close the cylinder, press trigger. We readily acknowledge that those with diminished hand strength might also find issue with the longer, and frequently heavier, trigger pull required from the revolver.

Caldwell Pistol Rest, and a mini-DRC Fortune Cookie bag.

What if you have the semi-auto in a purse or coat pocket with an absolute need to shoot and no time to draw? Press the trigger. In all likelihood, you will get one shot off before the slide fouls in the pocket and the gun malfunctions. The revolver doesn’t care. Press the trigger again as necessary.

If, heaven forbid, a good guy or gal has to defend themselves at contact distance, pushing the muzzle of a semi-auto into the attacker will force the slide to the rear, rendering the pistol inoperable until that condition is remedied. The revolver doesn’t care. Press the trigger again as necessary.

Is the small revolver the perfect everyday carry gun? No. The snubnosed 38 Special is a tool, a specialized tool, that does some jobs better than just about any other choice. Several of our test group carry Pocket Nines on a daily basis, especially during the summer in Houston. We have no intention of giving them up. But when it gets cold, we carry a 38 Special in a coat pocket because we don’t have time to dig through the other layers to get to the pistol on our belt.

When we carry a second handgun, we carry a 38 Special. When we drive a lot, we carry a 38 Special. We know tons of ladies who carry them in their purses and quite a few other folks that carry a 38 Special off body in a briefcase. We have no intention of trading in our snubbies, but we do realize their increasingly specialized role in concealed carry.

Drill Data (5x9x7)

PistolTime to First Shot (seconds)Split Average (seconds)Total Time (seconds)
SIG Sauer P365 9mm Luger0.830.211.68
S&W Model 60 38 Special0.90.282.03
Ruger LCR 38 Special0.870.271.94
Ruger SP101 38 Special0.870.281.98
Process: Fire five shots from low ready at a 9-inch plate placed at 7 yards. Numbers are averages for three repetitions.

38 Special Range Data

Hunter’s Supply 125-grain LeadS&W Model 60Ruger LCRRuger SP101
Average Velocity792 fps790 fps820 fps
Muzzle Energy174 ft.-lbs.173 ft.-lbs.187 ft.-lbs.
Best Group1.32 in.1.79 in.1.38 in.
Average Group1.62 in.2.39 in.1.69 in.
Hornady 125-grain XTPS&W Model 60Ruger LCRRuger SP101
Average Velocity827 fps842 fps863 fps
Muzzle Energy190 ft.-lbs.197 ft.-lbs.207 ft.-lbs.
Best Group1.23 in.1.98 in.0.61 in.
Average Group1.34 in.2.33 in.1.16 in.

Testing was done at American Shooting Centers in west Houston. Muzzle velocities were determined via a LabRadar chronograph ($559). All shots for group were fired double action from a well-sandbagged Caldwell Pistol Rest from MidwayUSA and aided by a mini-DRC Fortune Cookie bag from


  1. I just could not bring myself to buy a revolver without a hammer. “Ouuu. the hammer will snag on my cashmere sweater!!” Buy yourself a shoulder holster, bunky. Stop listening to sales ads and magazine articles. Buy what you think you want or need. You know you can feel what’s right in your guts. And who is the genius who has switch from ounces to . pounds? Neither indicates progress my friend.

  2. Since 1981, I have periodically carried and fired a ‘K’ frame 2″ S&W Model 64-2 DAO .38 Special. Yes, I also carry a Para – Ordnance P13.45 double-stack 1911. However, over the years, this six shot snubby has been carried in every style of holster imaginable. (And, I’ve got the bin full of holsters to prove it!) Early on, I test fired this DAO revolver from inside the right side pocket of a medium weight three-season coat that was being retired. Firing two quick shots, at a silhouette target three feet away, I scored two lower abdomen hits before drawing from the pocket and placing two more shots mid-sternum. While the bad guy was having a bad day, so was I. It only took a moment to notice the right pocket area of my old fleece lined nylon shell jacket was on fire, But, the handgun fired, and the hammer didn’t get hung up on the fleece pocket lining during firing or draw stroke. As 2″ barreled revolvers were not intended for long range, well aimed shots (except by Broderick Crawford in Highway Patrol), I never missed the hammer spur.


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