Ankle-Holster Carry Choices: We Think Ruger’s LCR is A-OK
Ruger’s “modular” LCR enhances rapid fire. The Smith & Wesson 442 was slick, but it had a flaw we didn’t like. Charter’s On Duty needs to be updated, so we’d pass on it.
If you’ve never carried a handgun in an ankle holster, consider this. If such carry is rare or unpopular, then it will likely prove unexpected as well, increasing the element of surprise— which is always a good thing when it comes to self defense. In this test we will look at three small revolvers that are suitable for ankle carry as well as other methods of deeper concealment. The revolver is a time-proven device, but making them small and light can present new challenges.
The three revolvers are Smith & Wesson’s $600 Model 442 No. 162810, the $430 Charter Arms On Duty No 53810, and Ruger’s new $525 LCR, No. 5401. Each gun was chambered for 38 Special only, and thanks to the use of lightweight materials offered an unloaded weight of less than 1 pound. Maximum capacity was 5 rounds.
To test our revolvers we fired from support at the nominal distance of 10 yards. One of the challenges of firing a short-barreled revolver from a rest is that once you’ve wrapped the snub-nosed revolver in your hands, there is not much gun left exposed for support. In addition, you have to be careful not to block off the cylinder gap. This is the area between the forward edge of the chamber and the entrance to the barrel, referred to as the forcing cone. As the bullet "crosses the break," gases are emitted that often carry unburned powder. In addition, if cylinder to bore alignment is not correct, debris can be sheared from the bullet as it enters the forcing cone. To prevent being splashed by debris we chose to use a flat, pillow-style bag, (sold as the Elbow Bag) from battenfeldtechnologies.com. These bags were tightly filled but lightweight, so shipping on top of the $20 price was nominal. Best of all, they were covered with an abrasion-resistant material.
Our tests were performed outdoors at American Shooting Centers (amshootcenters.com) where the benches offered a vertical stop against which we could brace our support. Once seated, we rested our hands plus a radius of the trigger guard atop the bags. The Charter revolver was the only gun that could also be fired single action, so we tried that too. But the accuracy chart reflects the measurement of five-shot groups fired double-action only.
Although ammunition was scarce, we were able to find what we needed at ASC’s Pro Shop, (281-556-8086). For test ammunition we fired inexpensive 158-grain lead roundnosed ammunition from MagTech, remanufactured 125-grain jacketed hollowpoints from Black Hills Ammunition, and the latest high-velocity law-enforcement rounds from Speer. They were the +P 125-grain Gold Dot LE hollowpoints sold in 50-round boxes. Let’s find out how they performed.
Smith & Wesson 442 No. 162810
38 Special, $600
Smith & Wesson describes the 442 as a small frame/Centennial-style revolver. Smith devotees will recognize the 442 as a J-frame revolver with an enclosed hammer. The 442 was among the first of the modern Centennials that, since their reintroduction, has included chambering for 357 Magnum and the arrival of scandium frames. The 442 can be considered the base model among Centennials, with options such as porting and laser grips also available. Centennial-style revolvers are often favored for deep concealment. Not only is the outer profile a snag-proof design, but when placed in a purse or pants pocket, its sealed mechanism offers little chance of debris getting in the way of smooth operation.
Our 442 had an aluminum frame with a steel cylinder and barrel. Its flat blue/black color resembled a Parkerized finish. It had a notched top strap for a rear sight, and the front sight was a ramp-style blade crosscut to reduce glare. A dish-like channel was machined into the length of the top strap to further manage light. The sight radius was necessarily short, but the sights actually worked quite well. The ejector rod was also very short but proved efficient. The cylinder release was checkered for grip and was contoured for better access to the cylinder face. The lower section of the release was abbreviated to clear the way for the ejection of spent shells and to offer better access for a speed-loading device.
The supplied grip is often referred to as a boot grip, which suggests that the profile is compact enough to be carried inside of a boot. This grip consisted of two side panels, leaving the backstrap exposed through the bottom-most edge of the frame. The front strap was covered, offering two finger grooves, and it also filled the space between the frame and the rear of the trigger guard. The grip was secured by an Allen screw with only the head exposed, but countersunk on the left-side panel. Viewed from the rear, the grips displayed a teardrop shape. In the hand they filled the hollow of the palm. We noticed that many of our shots were above our point of aim, and we think this grip style made it easier for the gun to rotate in our hands during recoil. There are a lot of replacement grips available for this model, and in our experience a longer grip or one that promotes a higher hold on the backstrap would provide more control.
Regarding point of impact, we found that firing lighter-weight bullets put our hits closer to our point of aim. We think frangible ammunition as light as 50 to 70 grains would prove ideal.
The trigger was long and smooth, but at 14 pounds, we found the double-action trigger-pull weight to be heavier than we would have liked. Yet there were two ways of handling this. The trigger could be pulled straight through, or if one was careful, managed in two stages. Borrowing from an old PPC (Police Pistol Combat competition) technique, we could press the trigger rearward until the tip of the index finger contacted the frame. At this point the cylinder was rotated and locked into position. The remainder of the press broke the shot.
For our bench session we utilized a controlled press as described above. Our 442 delivered groups measuring about 2.4 inches across firing both the 158-grain lead MagTech rounds and the Black Hills 125-grain hollowpoints. This being from support at a distance of 10 yards, we were not impressed. But we should note that in the case of firing all three test rounds, we saw one flyer that spoiled a much tighter group. Four-shot groups for the above two rounds averaged about 1.5 inches across. However, our Speer LE Gold Dot rounds performed much better. Five-shot groups averaged about 1.75 inches across and four-shot groups averaged about 1.3 inches across. The Gold Dots were also the hottest, (moving at an average velocity of about 860 fps from all three guns).
Looking for a reason why we experienced flyers, we checked to see if one cylinder was producing noticeably more or substantially less pressure than the other four. Using an Oehler Chronograph, we didn’t see an extreme variation in velocity. But other aspects that can effect accuracy in a revolver are cylinder-to-bore alignment and in the case of double-action fire, the quality of the rotation. First, we checked cylinder-to-bore alignment with a match-grade range rod, (No. 080-617-138AA, $35 from Brownells, 800-741-0015). This is a good tool to take with you when shopping for a revolver because it tracks the bore of the barrel into the chamber. Inserting the range rod into each chamber as it locked up behind the barrel, we found no sign of interference as the rod passed from the forcing cone into the chamber.
Although accuracy ultimately relies upon the shooter’s ability to have the sights in alignment at the moment of ignition, the responsibility of the gun is to make that task as easy as possible. Of our three guns, the 442’s sights were the most clearly visible, we felt.
The next aspect specific to shooting a revolver accurately was quality of rotation. Quality of rotation means that the interaction of the hand that pushes the ratchet for each chamber is smooth, lending itself to continuous motion. Dry-firing our 442, we found we could easily control our final press on four of the five shots. When one particular chamber was cycled, the action seemed to stutter and delay ignition. This caused us to deliver a shot before we were ready, throwing off our aim.
We called Smith & Wesson, and the representative told us that regarding the performance of our 442, any group less than 3 inches across at 10 yards from a 1.9-inch barrel, was within factory specification. What needed to be considered was could the components be polished (removing material) or would material need to be added. In that case parts such as the ratchet or the hand would have to be replaced and the process of timing the revolver would start from scratch.
Our Team Said: We think anyone who feels that a small revolver is for contact distance only would be completely satisfied with our 442. But a true revolver aficionado might choose to have it worked on. When it comes to looks or the ability to hide in plain sight, the 442 might be our top choice. The long-pull trigger may turn off the beginner, but we found it simple to master. Our 442 was slightly out of time, thus a downgrade, but we think it could be improved by an experienced revolver smith. We would encourage buyers to choose among the many aftermarket grips to suit their needs. Much better with lighter bullets, together we think these considerations would bring the 442 closer to meeting our expectations.
Ruger LCR No. 5401 38 Special, $525
The Centennial-style enclosed hammer of the 442 is not a new design but was perhaps so ahead of its time initially that it continues to feel modern. The Ruger LCR also conceals the hammer, but this revolver is in fact a new design. To begin with, the gun can essentially be broken down into two parts, an upper and a lower. The fire-control system and the grip were housed in a glass-fiber-filled polymer lower. The new Hogue grip was attached via a peg at the bottom of the frame. The upper half of the gun was made from a 7000 series forging of aluminum. This area framed the steel cylinder, firing pin, cylinder release system and yoke, and shrouded the ejector rod plus the stainless steel barrel. The trigger worked via a patent-pending cam designed to overcome the sensation of stacking. Our impression was that the further we pressed the trigger, the more pressure was released, the opposite of stacking.
The cylinder was radically fluted to reduce weight. This not only made the gun lighter but reduced the amount of effort it took to start and stop the rotation of the cylinder. The cylinder release was Ruger’s proprietary push-button design. Whereas the release found on other revolvers needs to be slid forward, this was a hinged button. The LCR’s cylinder release button was necessarily smaller than the ones found on the larger Ruger revolvers. Since it required pressing only the rearward edge to release the cylinder, its smaller size made operation slightly less sure. If your thumb covered more than the very rearward edge, you might not get a clean release.
Altogether, the Ruger Lightweight Compact Revolver had a provocative appearance, our testers said. What we thought was the highlight of the LCR was the relationship between the shooter’s hand and the trigger. If you have followed the teachings of the great exhibition revolver shooters such as Ed McGivern and Jerry Miculek, you will find that each of them would trade a light trigger for one that keeps the trigger in contact with the index finger during the release. This is because no matter how fast you press the trigger, another shot cannot be taken until the trigger returns to its forward position. If have to wait for the trigger to move forward after the shot breaks, it is likely you will lose contact with the face of the trigger. Reconnecting with the trigger can produce a slap that will rattle the gun and cost additional time in sight alignment. Combined with the aspect of the Hogue grip, we found our trigger finger remained in an ideal position shot after shot.
We also checked the LCR with our range rod. We found the barrel to be a little tighter upon entry than the Smith & Wesson 442. Two of the five chambers were found slightly out of alignment as the rod nicked against the edge of the chambers upon entry. But from the bench we were able to deliver consistent performance with each brand of ammunition. This time it was the Black Hills 125-grain remanufactured hollowpoints that led the way. Our smallest group measured 1.2 inches across.
Had we paid more attention during a couple of shots, we think our average of 1.5 inches across might have been smaller. This was the best performance by any of the guns in the test. Combined with the double-action ergonomics described above, the LCR in combination with the Black Hills ammunition was our top performer.
Our Team Said: The LCR represents the first steps forward in revolver construction since the introduction of the modern eight-round revolvers. Few small revolvers, or pistols for that matter, provide the hand with the proper index for rapid repeat fire. That the LCR achieves this among other timely innovations is perhaps the biggest gain. The LCR in combination with the Black Hills 125-grain JHP rounds produced the only pleasing accuracy throughout our tests.
Charter Arms On Duty No. 53810 SAO-DAO
38 Special, $430
The Charter Arms story goes back to 1964, but the guns still reflect their original design principles. Key features continue to be a smaller number of critical moving parts, an eight-groove barrel, a hammer-block system of Charter’s own design, and a one-piece frame without the need for a sideplate. The most famous Charter model was the Bulldog 44 Special, but today’s Charter Arms offers as many as 44 different revolvers chambered for six different calibers, including 327 Magnum.
Our On Duty was one of the newer models. The hammer was shrouded, exposing only a brief tang for setting up a single-action shot. The stainless matte finish was slightly two-tone, with the cylinder and the barrel shroud, both of which were steel, being slightly darker than the heat-treated aluminum frame. This finish showed dirt quickly but was not difficult to clean. The rubber grip offered a narrow, flat profile with three finger grooves. The ejector rod was completely shrouded by the barrel underlug, and the front sight was machined as one piece with the barrel. The cylinder release operated with a forward push. Its surface was lined for grip, but we noticed that the release had to be moved with exactly the correct motion or it would not open. This is not what we’d want in an emergency.
The double-action trigger presented about 11.5 pounds of resistance, and the single-action trigger weighed in at about 4.5 pounds. Direction of rotation was, unlike our other revolvers, counter clockwise. After firing the enclosed-hammer models, we found the movement of the tang to be distracting, but we think it was just a matter of getting used to it. The front sight, however, should have been either grooved to reduce glare or blackened. Not only did the width of the front sight leave little room for definition inside the rear notch, but both the front and rear sights were almost the same color. In some light, the sights were nearly useless.
But we thought the trigger action was above average, and like the LCR, the Charter On Duty had a big-gun feel. However, the face of the trigger was squared off, and it didn’t take long for the edges to dig into our trigger finger, making shooting the On Duty uncomfortable. It didn’t seem obvious when we first handled the Charter, but once the gun began to recoil during live fire, recovery and reset made the problem more apparent. Inserting the range rod resulted in the tip of the rod bouncing off the edge of the chamber five out of five times.
At the range both of our hollowpoint rounds produced five-shot groups that measured about 2.5 inches across on average. The MagTech 158-grain roundnosed lead bullets shot better, with one group measuring out slightly less than 2.0 inches across. The Charter was the only revolver that preferred the heavier bullets so we think improved accuracy could simply be a matter of choosing more appropriate ammunition.
Our Team Said: If we are to expect less from inexpensive guns, then we think Charter could hit a three-bagger if not a homerun with just a few improvements, such as making the front sight more visible and redefining the rear notch as well. Also, round off the trigger. This gun may never be a tackdriver, but we think these key points should greatly improve its role as a close-quarters weapon.