Category Archives: pocket pistols

Ruger’s New Light, Compact Revolver

Magazine CoverPublished in “Shooting Illustrated” September 2009

Ruger Revolver

Photos by Lloyd Hill

When polymer was introduced in guns, it was a revolutionary change.  Now Ruger’s found it a home on wheelguns — in the all new LCR.

In this fast paced age of self-loading pistols and high capacity magazines, it seems I’m not the only one who believes there is a place for the compact, light-weight revolver. Rather than reviewing all the rationale for this deep-seated opinion that I have presented over the years, I’ll simply state one overwhelmingly simple argument: Ruger just went into production on exactly this type of handgun.

The company calls it the LCR, and the small revolver is an interesting blend of features and materials from the world of handguns that I don’t recall seeing on a snub-nosed “pocket pistol” before. First, the grip frame, which Ruger literature refers to as the fire control system housing, is made of a modern polymer. More accurately it’s a long-fiber, glass-filled polymer that the press release says helps reduce recoil. I suspect the slightly oversized rubber Hogue grips contribute equally to the reduction in felt recoil, but the end result that all of the +P ammo tested was quite comfortable to shoot over the course of several cylinders. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The frame is made of 7000 series aluminum forging, as are parts of aircraft, and has a black, hard coating developed by Ruger. The aluminum provides rigid support for the barrel and cylinder and lighter overall weight for comfort in concealed carry, while the special coating contributes protection from the elements and handling abuse. The cylinder is made of 400 series stainless steel to contain the pressures of 38 Special +P loads, features a target grey finish, and has an unusual configuration. The rear third of the cylinder that houses the locking latch cuts is full diameter while the front two thirds has long, sweeping flutes like the Colt Model 1862 Police black powder pistol. Despite being separated by a century and a half in time, both guns are 5 shot revolvers. Perhaps irrelevant, but really cool!

The trigger

The author found the trigger pull extremely smooth, thanks to Ruger's "friction-reducing cam fire control system."

Want some more high tech, super modern material in your snubbie? The LCR has some titanium components in the cylinder’s front latching system and what Ruger refers to as an “optimized spring tension” design and an “enhanced lockup geometry.” All three of these should contribute to an extended life digesting +P ammo with minimal wear of gun parts. The trigger pull on the little revolver is as smooth and consistent as I’ve seen on an unmodified factory snub nose. Ruger credits this to a “friction-reducing cam fire control system that results in a non-sticking, smooth trigger pull” on the DAO trigger. I would simply say the trigger is superb!

I mentioned the Hogue rubber grips that seemed larger than on other short barrel revolvers I’ve tried. Although only long enough to allow gripping by the two middle fingers on the shooting hand, they seem slightly wider and softer than normal thus helping reduce felt recoil generated in the 13.5 ounce revolver. In fact, the grips may be a bit too large for someone with very small hands. No problem. The grip frame of the new Ruger is a narrow “stump” that allows grips of any shape since there is no fixed front or back strap. The rubber (or other material) grips may be any shape you prefer because they are attached to the frame by one screw located in the bottom of the frame’s stump. Another clever design feature, particularly in a small gun like the LCR.

The Ruger’s sights are almost typical for a snub nose revolver in that they consist of a fixed front ramp and square notch rear. The “almost” is because the ramp front

Front Site

The front sight is serrated at its back to reduce glare and can be replaced with aftermarket versions. The U-notch rear sight is cut into the aluminum frame, but to minimize the chances of deformation it's pro­tected by a polymer shell.

 sight is replaceable held in place by a pin. Want to try something else, go for it. There’s no need to try welding something on the aluminum frame surrounding the steel barrel. Also, the rear notch width is cut into the aluminum frame, not the polymer grip frame. The aluminum edges of the rear notch are protected by the polymer frame, so they won’t be subject to deformation by any bumps or drops. Both front and rear blade and notch are wide giving ample visibility and a good sight picture in bright light. In daylight, against a lightly colored target, sight picture was easily acquired and crystal clear. Under dwindling light, or against a dark target, you might consider other options. The large X-S dot sight system is highly visible and quite popular on guns meant for self-defense. Additionally, I believe Ruger is offering guns with the Crimson Trace laser grips, or you can simply contact Laser Grips to order a set of these grips after acquiring your LCR. Suggested retail for standard LCR is $525, whereas the laser grips take the gun’s price to $792.

I made two trips to Gunsite while working with the new Ruger. The LCR I used was the standard model with factory sights. I actually ran the little gun through part of the Close Quarters Pistol class, a new event that deals with the real world possibilities of people who want to do you harm and are willing to do anything to insure you’re unable to shoot them. (More on this class in a later issue.) Besides me, a number of shooters had a chance to try the little revolver using various loads from Hornady’s new 110 grain FTX Critical Defense 38 Special +P ammo up through 158 grain lead bullet handloads. Absolutely no one had the slightest problem with felt recoil. Everyone who had fired revolvers before were impressed with the trigger pull. A couple of shooters who had never fired anything except semi-autos were surprised at the length (but not particularly the weight) of the double action trigger pull. My impromptu test group included one senior Gunsite Range Master who is a retired police officer and has carried a two-inch revolver most of his adult life. Shooting outdoors on the square ranges in daylight, all shooters felt the sights were fine. Head shots at typical self defense ranges out to 10 yards were easily made. Beyond 10 yards, individual shooting skills became a major factor. I followed friend and fellow scribe Rich Grassi as he took the LCR through Gunsite’s Scrambler, a course where one engaged steel targets from Pepper popper size up through The Incredible Hulk, and fromRear Site ranges of 50 to 80 yards. Out of 8 targets engaged, only one escaped serious harm from a cylinder full of ammo, and most were hit on either the first or second shot. This is not something any shooter could do, but then it’s not something just any 2” revolver could do either. In the mano a mano drill which involves whacking two steel round plates, performing a reload, and then knocking down a split popper, Rich did not win based on the clock, but neither did he leave any targets standing, and he had to go back for a second hit on one of the plates before it fell.

I didn’t have any belt holsters for a 2” revolver, but I did have 3 pocket holsters since that is my preferred CCW technique. The leather Mitch Rosen that is form fitted for my Model 442 would not accommodate the Ruger, but the rigid Safariland and collapsible Uncle Mikes both fit. I used the rigid Safariland because being able to re-holster smoothly and efficiently (meaning with one hand and without looking) is a part of the Gunsite methodology. Even starting with my shooting hand in the pocket, I wasn’t making desired times for putting rounds on target. But I did go through the drills a few times and my targets were pretty good even if my speed wasn’t. Finally the instructors allowed me to start the drills with gun in hand in the low guard position under the supposition that I had been alert enough to read the scenario and get prepared. I got a lot faster after that and, except for the reloads, I was no longer the “cog in the wheel” that held up the class.

Reloads are worth a comment since they are perhaps the biggest weakness in using a revolver for self defense. While it would be nice to drape a pair of Pancho Villa style cartridge bandoliers over your shoulders, consider that this might suggest to others that you are carrying a firearm, thus defeating the “concealed” portion of your CCW agreement. On the other hand, finding loose cartridges in your pockets and loading them one at a time makes for a long period of vulnerability in a gunfight. I tried two “speed” techniques at Gunsite both of which worked pretty well. The HKS speedloaders have been around for quite a while including models for 5-shot revolvers. These lock 5 rounds in a circle, and when all five rounds are partially inserted into the cylinder, a quick rotation on the knob allows all 5 to drop fully into their respective chambers. You’ll gain speed on the actual reload with a little practice, and finding the speedloader in your pocket is much faster and easier than finding 5 individual rounds. I also tried the Tuff QuickStrips, a rubber strip that holds 6 cartridges in line. When you’ve dumped the empties from your 38, insert 1 or 2 cartridges at a time partially into the cylinder and then peel the strip away from the rims allowing both rounds to drop into their respective chambers. Repeat until all chambers are loaded. This isn’t as fast a reload as the HKS, but the flat strips hold all the cartridges needed for a reload, carry flatter in your pockets than the round HKS, and can be found as fast as the HKS speedloader. The speed strips also allow you to “top off” the gun by reloading a single round or two as opposed to running the gun dry to replace all 5 rounds. Having an extra round in the strip could prove useful and takes up no real additional space in your pocket. Both QuickStrips and HKS speedloaders are good systems. Selection of one over the other may be based more upon how bulky your clothing is rather than a slight increase in reloading speed.

At first glance the LCR may appear a bit odd due to things like the joining line between the polymer grip housing and the aluminum frame, and the different cylinder shape and finish. Not to worry. I’m almost certain you’ll warm to the gun’s appearance over time. But to speed up the love process, take the LCR out for a shooting session. Once you’ve reacquainted yourself with the Ruger concept of rugged guns at good guy prices, I’m certain romance will blossom quickly.


Pocket Protectors


Published in “Shooting Illustrated” June 2007


Pocket handguns are not a new concept. Even in the cap-and-ball era there were small revolvers designated as pocket pistols. Looking at these guns, two things are immediately obvious: First, fast reloads were not an option, and second, pockets were apparently much larger in those days. Many of these pistols were simply single shots with no pretense of offering any follow-up capability for the user.

During the latter half of the 19th century, when self-contained cartridges were replacing caps and balls. Smith & Wesson and other manufacturers made some very small revolvers that were the forerunners of today”s snub-nose revolvers. As we rolled into the 20th century, several companies such as Colt, and I believe Savage, offered some compact semi­automatic pistols for those choosing not to announce they carried a handgun. But the epitome of old-time pocket pistols for most Americans was the two-shot derringer with over-and-under barrels. Hollywood made these hideout guns famous in numerous Westerns, and even today, cowboy action shoots frequently feature a special event for them. If you’re willing to settle for just two shots to resolve hostilities, the old-style derringer with its flat outline and compact size offers advantages unsurpassed by many of today’s concealed-carry handguns. However, besides being limited to two shots, these derringers are single-action pistols requiring the shooter to manually cock the hammer each time before firing. They not only lack firepower, they are much slower into action than double-action revolvers.
In the 1930s, many people utilized 2-inch-barreled revolvers. Colts and Smith & Wessons filled the hands of cops, bootleggers and private eyes on the movie screens. Initially, the short barrel was the only real attempt to downsize these revolvers for hideout duty, with nothing being done to reduce frame size and further facilitate pocket carry. Both companies had six-shot revolvers with external hammers, and while the cops were sometimes shown with holsters, I don’t ever recall seeing a bad guy draw a short revolver from leather. While longer barreled revolvers were occasionally carried tucked in the waistband, snubbies emerged from a pocket or were sometimes fired from within. At that time, the nylon pocket holster had not yet been invented, and while a few really clever guys might have utilized a couple pieces of leather inside the pocket to protect their clothes and facilitate getting the gun into action, I doubt this was the case since clothes then were made of heavier material like wool, and fashions seemed to dictate a more casual look.
J-Frame Revolver

Smith & Wesson reduced both capacity—five rounds instead of six—and frame size in its J-frame revolvers. Although more concealable, heavy loads are also more difficult to control.

Smith & Wesson’s J-frame revolver reduced both frame size and capacity, giving the savvy shooter a smaller pocket pistol that carried five rounds instead of six. The smaller grip frame further helped conceal the pistol but at the expense of making the gun more difficult to control when shooting the standard 158-grain .38 Special police loads of that era. Subsequent development of more sophisticated self-defense ammunition helped alleviate this problem, but at the time the downsized frame was a decision that proved to be brilliant over the next several decades. With a couple additional refinements, the five-shot J-frame-size revolver is the pocket pistol of choice for millions today, doing double-duty as the primary self-defense gun in many homes.

One of the other favorite handguns during the early 20th century was the Colt 1911. You couldn’t classify it as a pocket pistol, but its flat profile made it more comfortable to carry tucked into a waistband or belt than a revolver. Colt picked up on this market and began producing the Commander. With a slightly shorter barrel and an alloy frame, it was lighter in weight and less bulky than its all-steel big brother, and knowledgeable gunnies capitalized on its virtues. Some cursed the Commander, claiming its alloy frame wouldn’t take the abuse of continuous full-power loads. Perhaps someone destroyed a Commander in prolonged firing under a controlled and monitored test program, but I don’t remember reading about it. Several clever gunsmiths recognized the advantages of customized 1911s and began chopping them to make them more concealable. Ultimately, manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon, and the result is an array of incredibly compact and durable 1911s with 3-inch barrels and lightweight frames made of exotic metals.
Late in the 20th century, a couple of major developments occurred in the handgun world that would bring about a new class of pocket pistols. One was the semi-auto that accepted double-stack magazines, and the other was the use of lightweight polymer frames. Beretta‘s winning of the U.S. military handgun contract cemented the high-capacity pistol’s place in the market, while Glock revolutionized handgun design with high-tech materials. Other companies started manufacturing both wide-body and synthetic-frame pistols, and many produced downsized guns intended for the pocket. While some of these have been quite successful in terms of sales, none are as well suited for pocket carry as the compact revolver, at least in this old dog’s opinion. With that thought, let’s start by looking at the revolver pocket pistols available on today’s market.
Spinning Wheels
Smith & Wesson has long been the master of the small revolvers, and its current offerings have never been better. The top of the company’s line is superb. I’m talking about its scandium wheelguns that reduce weight to 12 ounces while still providing the power of .357 Magnum loads. In my mind. Smith & Wesson’s quintessential pocket pistol is the Model 340PD, a 12-ounce masterpiece with a 2-inch barrel and an internal hammer. With no hammer to cock, it can only be fired double-action, which is the proper technique with a close-quarters, self-defense revolver. It can be fired from within a jacket pocket with minimal chance of malfunctioning. This technique is not recommended, nor is it suitable for achieving pinpoint accuracy, but for hostile encounters occurring at touchy-feely distances, it’s something that could save your life. If you draw the revolver before firing—the recommended technique— the hammerless design minimizes the possibility of snagging the pistol on pocket edges or linings. A compromise between hammerless guns, or rather those with internal hammers, and guns with external hammers are Smith & Wesson’s Model 638 (an alloy-frame .38 Special +P) and Model 649 (a steel-frame .357 Magnum), both of which have a small, rounded portion of the hammer protruding through a slot in the top of the frame. The company calls this the “Bodyguard” frame, and it minimizes the possibility of snagging the hammer during the draw, but still allows the revolver to be cocked single-action to make a precise shot.
Example guns
The downside of scandium revolvers is their cost, which is nearly double that of a similar alloy-frame gun and saves only 3 ounces in weight (12 ounces versus 15 ounces). Stepping up to a comparable pistol in steel takes the weight from 15 ounces to 23 ounces but does reduce felt recoil. Smith & Wesson’s Model 60 has been around for decades and was. in fact, the company’s first stainless steel pistol. The version available today can handle full-power .357 Magnum loads, and housed in a pocket holster that masks telltale bulges, the 2-inch workhorse is still an outstanding pocket pistol. When shooting full-house .357 Magnums, none of these small revolvers offer a pleasant experience, but practice ammo can be tailored to your tolerance for any of these. In addition, some of the .38 Special self-defense loads on the market are designed for settling serious social disputes.
Taurus has stepped into the pocket pistol void created when Colt ceased production of its double-action revolvers. Like Smith & Wesson, Taurus offers a variety of pocket pistols in both steel and alloy so the weight of a gun with a 2-inch barrel ranges from just under 16 ounces to 25 ounces. While the majority of the company’s sales in this style of revolver are .38 Special and .357 Magnum, it also makes a pocket pistol in .32 H&R Magnum. The latter handgun with its 2-inch barrel weighs less than 20 ounces and holds six rounds. Although the .32 H&R Magnum is considered by many to be too small for self-defense, it is not to be trifled with and it offers a degree of parity to those with the kinds of injuries or infirmities that prevent them from mastering the .38 or .357. On the upper end of power. Taurus offers a 2’/2-inch-barreled Model 415 chambered for .41 Magnum in its Tracker series of revolvers. This big boy holds five shots and weighs 30 ounces. It tends to exceed available dimensions of the pockets on most street clothes, but if you have a bulky jacket and can carry the weight, go for it. Amongst learned pistoleros. a .41 Magnum round, even modestly loaded, provokes very little debate on stopping power. A couple of other interesting Taurus options include factory porting and some soft grip materials to tame recoil. Nowhere on my list of things to do is there an entry for tiring a ported revolver from inside my pocket, but porting is certainly an appreciated accessory during range sessions. For those who prefer to compromise with a shrouded hammer design. Taurus makes the Model 651 and Model 851.
Charter Arms, which has been in and out of the market, is back with a couple of unique ideas. It now makes a left-handed revolver—chambered in .38 Special +P—called the Undercover Southpaw. This mirror-image gun holds five rounds, has a 2-inch barrel and weighs 12 ounces. It has an all-aluminum, one-piece frame with a three-point cylinder lockup system. Righties need not panic. The revolver can be fired with either hand, but the cylinder-release latch is on the right side of the frame. The cylinder swings out on the right side so a left-handed shooter can hold onto the gun with his shooting hand while reloading with his support hand. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, unless you’re left-handed.
Example guns
Demonstrating a rather clever bit of marketing nomenclature. Charter Arms has named its snub-nose .32 H&R Magnum the Undercoverette. It has a regular hammer and 2-inch barrel, holds five shots and weighs 19 ounces. An Off Duty model, while competing in weight with the Smith & Wesson scandium revolvers at 12 ounces, will handle .38 Special +P but not .357 Magnum. And Charter Arms would not be Charter Arms without its trademark Bulldog revolver. This is a very serious self-defense handgun that holds five rounds of .44 Special, has a 2/.-inch barrel and weighs 22 ounces. There are a variety of excellent hollow-point loads for the .44 Special today, making the Bulldog rival the 1911 in everything except round capacity and reloading speed. Welcome back Charter Arms.
Secretive Semis
That brings us to the semi-automatic handguns. Over the last five years. Shooting Illustrated has done a number of articles on 1911s, including some on the ultra-compact .45 and 9 mm pistols. Considering the incredible popularity of the 1911, one would have to consider the small versions as pocket pistol candidates. But as much as I love these guns. I would not select one as my first choice for pocket carry. Having a cocked-and-locked 1911 with its short trigger pull loose in my pocket, particularly a trouser pocket, would make me very nervous. Even a pocket holster doesn’t seem to offer enough constraint given the typical body movements one generates in a normal day. In fact, the thought of any semi-auto with a short trigger pull in my pocket gives me chills. That said, there are some 1 would consider for pocket carry.
Last June. I  reviewed in my “Handguns” column a couple of polymer-frame pistols from Kahr and was particularly impressed with the CW9. I’ve always liked the steel-frame Kahr pistols, but they are rather heavy for the pocket. The polymer CW9. however, weighs less than 16 ounces, putting it in the class of alloy-frame revolvers. Even lighter and more suited for pocket carry is the company’s PM9 with a 3-inch barrel and an overall length of 5.3 inches. That’s more than an inch shorter than Smith & Wesson’s 340PD. The PM9’s standard magazine that sits flush with the bottom of the grip frame holds six rounds of 9 mm and keeps the height of the semi-auto to just 4 inches, but the gun also comes with a seven-round extended magazine for those having a little more room in their pockets and the need for someplace to rest their pinky during firing.
Width is an important factor to consider when you are looking for a pistol to carry in your pocket, and with a slide that is a slim .9 inch wide, the PM9 rides nicely in its hiding place without being bulky. The PM9’s steel slide has several near-vertical serrations that facilitate manual slide operation, but the edges are relatively smooth to minimize the possibility of snagging the gun while drawing it from the pocket. Like the rest of the pistols in the Kahr lineup, the PM9 is double action only and utilizes the locked-breech design with an internal striker and no external safety. It keeps the pistol streamlined and makes it fast to fire—just pull the trigger—but there is no second-strike capability. If your first round fails to fire, you’ll have to manually rack the slide to cock the action. Molded, rather aggressive checkering on the frontstrap and backstrap along with stippling on the grip sides help hold the pistol still in the pocket while offering good control during firing, but since these surfaces are covered by the shooting hand during the draw, there is little resistance when removing the gun. The PM9 is a potent little pistol that will fit comfortably in almost any pocket.
Kel-Tec P32

The Kel-Tec P-32's small size makes it an ideal candidate for pocket carry. Although some consider its .32 ACP chambering less than ideal for self defense, the little powerhouse holds seven rounds and weighs just 6.6 ounces.

Kel-Tec makes some interesting and very economical handguns that offer great potential as pocket pistols. Featuring a steel slide and barrel, an aluminum frame and polymer grips, the locked-breech. double-action-only PF-9 weighs slightly less than 13 ounces, is chambered for 9 mm and has a magazine capacity of seven rounds. Kel-Tec’s P-l 1 is made like the PF-9. but weighs 14 ounces and holds 10 rounds of 9 mm. Both have 3.1-inch barrels. The PF-9 is less than 1 ounce heavier than the scandium-frame Smith & Wesson and the P-l 1 weighs an ounce less than the alloy-frame Smiths. If you have tiny pockets. Kel-Tec makesan 8.3-ounce pistol that holds six rounds of .380 ACP and a 6.6-ounce pistol that holds seven rounds of .32 ACP. While neither of these calibers are near the top of the list of self-defense handgun cartridges, the P-3AT and P-32 housing them are certainly in the proper size range for a pocket pistol and may offer as much power as some shooters can handle. If concealment is one of your primary goals. Kel-Tec deserves a good look before making your decision.

Taurus has a line of semi-autos called the Millennium Pro that bears consideration. Available chamberings go from .32 ACP up to .45 ACP with all the in-between cartridges you would expect. Weight doesn’t vary much with the .380 ACP hitting the scales at less than 19 ounces, and the .45 ACP at 22 ounces. Capacity of all guns is high due to their double-stack magazines, but you pay for the firepower in increased size that may take the guns beyond pocket dimensions.
At least one candidate in the guns I have mentioned should fill your need for a pocket pistol. I apologize if I’ve missed any of your favorite handguns, and if you find your solution somewhere else, my feelings won’t be hurt. The important things are to stay safe and to take care of yourself and your loved ones, and the means to do it can fit right in your pocket.