Terril reviews the Ruger LCP Centerfire Pistol.
Louisiana – -(AmmoLand.com)- The saying goes that “carrying a handgun is not supposed to be comfortable but comforting.” But that isn’t the reality for most people.
If you feel the need to have a handgun, I say get the biggest gun you can shoot confidently with. But the truth is that many, if not a majority of gun owners–even amongst first-timers–are turning to pocket pistols for personal defense. Indeed this is a case of “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Think of those old TV Westerns. You see nothing but 45 caliber Colts and Smith & Wessons riding in plain view, but the truth is less straightforward. Tiny .22 caliber and .32 caliber pistols were frighteningly common.
People often don’t feel the need for a big gun or that a big gun would get in the way of their lifestyle, and many of us are unwilling to change our lifestyle or way of life to carry a gun. Something small and easy to have on you if you need it is the name of the game. It was so back then, and it is so today, except our stereotypical pocket pistols have changed looks. Today, pocket pistols are inevitably tiny auto pistols chambered in 380 ACP. Perhaps the one micro-380 to rule them all is the Ruger LCP.
Ruger LCP Centerfire Pistol
Ruger introduced the Lightweight Compact Pistol in 380 ACP back in 2008–ten years ago, and it has since experienced a series of upgrades including an “improved” LCP II model. Even with that, sales of the original LCP remain consistent, and it is a staple of any well-stocked gun shop. Given my questionable obsession with pocket pistols, it was only a matter of time before I bought one. The desire to test 380 ACP ammunition and the paltry $199 price tag finally made me bite, and I did choose the original LCP over the new LCP II (more on that later).
So, I have a Ruger LCP and lots of ammo. But the LCP has been around for over ten years, and it is still in production. What can I tell you that original reviewers of the gun could not? Maybe something, maybe nothing. After eight months of carrying and one thousand rounds sent down range, I have a few pointers. At the very least, you can call this a referendum on a good design and a wake-up call to the reality of pocket pistols in general.
The original Ruger LCP has remained mostly unchanged throughout its production run, but the more recent manufatured LCP will have somewhat taller sights and a less distinct magazine release. Overall, there is little to talk about when it comes to the LCP, and its features. Palm-sized and weighing in at only 10.2 ounces fully loaded, the LCP is one of the lightest and most compact handguns you can buy while still retaining the relatively stout punch of the 380 ACP cartridge. The pistol’s lightness can be attributed to its polymer frame, and the minimal carbon steel slide, barrel, and internals add very little to the presentation.
The gun frame itself is stippled on the front strap and backstrap as well as the side panels of the grip. On the right side of the grip next to the trigger guard is the magazine release and further north is a miniscule slide-stop and the takedown pin.
That is the features… Done. Well not quite. The gun wears very low profile rear notch and front blade sights milled into the slide. The barrel is short at 2.75 inches, and it interfaces with the slide to lock the gun shut. On firing the barrel cams down to unlock. I am referring to the Browning locked-breech design, and it is getting more common even on small 380s that ordinarily wouldn’t need a locked breech to work. The pistol is hammer fired and cycling the slide cocks the hammer partially. A long pull of the trigger finishes the cocking and drops the hammer.
The LCP ships with an inexpensive pocket holster and one six-shot magazine. Overall, a bare-bones gun with a bare-bones presentation.
Before shooting any auto pistol, it is a good idea to take the gun apart and clean the factory preservative grease out of it. This factory grease isn’t for lubrication but to keep the pistol in good shape for months on end in its cardboard coffin. You will need the end of a pen, a butter knife, or something along those lines to disassemble the LCP. With an unloaded pistol, pull the slide slightly to the rear, tuck the tool under the disassembly pin and pull it out. This action allows you to take off the slide, which disassembles in the usual fashion with the recoil spring, barrel, and slide coming apart in short order. A quick squirt with my favorite 3 in 1 machine oil and I was ready for the range.
On The Range
380 ammo is expensive, and it took me a while (time & money) to burn through one thousand rounds. This was done off and on in at least a dozen range trips over the last eight months. The LCP digested the following ammunition:
- PPU 94 grain FMJ
- Remington UMC 95 grain FMJ
- Tul-Ammo 94 grain steel cased FMJ
- Barnes 80 grain TAC-PD
- Sig Sauer V-Crown 90 grain HP
- Remington Golden Saber 102 grain HP
- Federal Hydrashock 90 grain HP
- Federal HST 99 grain HP
- Speer Gold Dot 90 grain HP
- Hornady Critical Defense 90 grain FTX
- Winchester Defender PDX 95 grain HP
- Hornady American Gunner 90 grain HP
The LCP is a basic point and shoot interface that is easy to understand, but perhaps not so easy to hold onto. The gun ships with one six-shot magazine and included is a pinky rest for comfortable shooting and a flat baseplate to attach to the magazine for ease of carry. Fresh out of the cardboard, I loaded up some of the various magazines I brought along, some with and without the pinky rest. The mags loaded well without much tightness, even when loading that sixth round but I can see how some people would want a dedicated magazine loader when dealing with small magazines and even smaller ammunition. Slap your loaded magazine into the well and briskly pull the slide back and let go to chamber your first round. The gun is ready to go as there is no manual safety to flick off and on.
The magazine pinky rests did give me a mostly full grip on the pistol as I fired my first shots on paper at ten yards using some Remington FMJs. On the first shot, the pistol jumped sharply. After tightening my grip, I was able to put my remaining five rounds on target without much effort. The sights moved only slightly with each shot and thanks to the top-heavy feel of the LCP’s slide the pistol’s sights lined up naturally without any thought. I fired my seven shots and squeezed the trigger again. Click. The LCP’s slide does not lock open on the last shot. I was pleasantly surprised that all rounds hit the 9-ring just south of the bulls-eye into a respectable two-inch group. For a gun that is not built for target shooting, that is excellent and far more so than other 380 pocket guns I have tried in the past.
Most of my shooting was done between 7-10 yards, but I did stretch the little pistol out to twenty-five. Here the small sights appear quite large covering up a fair bit of my Shoot-n-See silhouettes. Even so, my rounds reliably made it into the 8-ring. Soon enough I got bored of paper and started plinking at an eight-inch steel plate. I could hit it if I took my time at that distance but I could rapidly hit it as fast as I could squeeze that long trigger all the way back at ten yards.
After four hundred rounds, I gave the pistol a good cleaning and then again at the seven hundred mark. Regular maintenance will undoubtedly help any pistol through a grueling test, but it won’t stop everything, and indeed it did not stop the LCP from having issues.
The first issue was caused by me. On occasion when I first got the pistol, I would rack the slide and not let go of it but ride it back into battery with my hand. Inevitably there were a few occasions where a round would not go all the way into the chamber, preventing the gun from firing. This is an error that is frighteningly common in new shooters, and the LCP is not so forgiving. Racking the slide and letting it go gave no trouble.
In spite of this, the LCP fed both ball ammunition and hollowpoints reliably. That was until the very end when I decided to finally test the steel cased Tul-Ammo. This ammunition fired, but it often failed to cycle resulting in either double feeds of the ammunition or more commonly not going entirely into battery several times per magazine. And yes, this ammunition failed when using multiple magazines. In the end, I finally found something that would kill the LCP but boy was it a long run.
The Ruger LCP exceeded even my most optimistic expectations. Some 380 pistols are sensitive when it comes to feeding hollow point ammunition, but all defensive ammo tested fed like a champ. The pistol ran into bobbles only with the cheapest, roughest stuff you can buy. It powered past grit and plenty of pocket lint going from holster to target. Accuracy was far better than you would give the gun at first glance, but that leads me to my next point.
The LCP’s lack of features that make it easy to use also make it hard to shoot. This pistol was intended for close range self-defense, so little thought was put into sights. They are impossible to disturb and will not snag on the draw, but they are very low and may be hard to see or acquire. I think they are excellent for their intended purpose and I encourage you to use them whenever possible while practicing. You will shoot more accurately which is crucial because you will only have up to seven shots at your disposal. Reloading the gun can be awkward if you are changing magazines with a big hand on that little grip. For me, the small slide and its smart serrations allowed for an excellent grip to rack the slide and chamber a new round. Pressure from the gun’s recoil spring is quite light compared to other pocket pistols but I can see how a small slide paired with hands that may be injured or impaired can be an issue for some people–unfortunately some of the very people who choose the LCP as a first or perhaps only gun. Speaking of new shooters, we need to talk about trigger pull and recoil a little more.
The gun’s locked breech absorbs a surprising amount of recoil. Unlike some other guns it was never painful to shoot, but had some jump when lacking a full grip–as is the case when using the flat magazine baseplate instead of slipping on that pinky rest. While not an all-day shooter, I could go through one hundred rounds in a session without any soreness or fear of shooting the gun. That is something I can’t say for some small pistols.
What can certainly be a challenge is the gun’s trigger pull. Touching the trigger will not set the gun off. The trigger weight on my pistol breaks in at seven and a half pounds. This is not a light trigger, but it is not the heaviest. In fact, I am used to triggers nearly twice that heavy. It takes surprisingly little effort to draw that trigger all the way back until it breaks. This long travel and weight finishes cocking the hammer and fires the gun. The trigger cannot be pulled over and over again to strike a dud round a second time. The slide will have to be drawn back to reset the hammer. While certainly not a trigger to win matches, the weight and length of pull brings a degree of comfort despite a lack of a manual safety.
For months, the LCP has lived in my front pants pocket. The gun’s light weight, thin profile, and the inclusion of a decent pocket holster with the purchase allowed me to retire my Smith & Wesson 638 revolver. The pocket holster, by the way, is of decent quality. I won’t brag about it but it does its job by covering the trigger guard, breaking up the outline of the pistol, and keeping gunk out of the works. The hook at the end of the holster keeps it in the pocket when the gun is drawn. Even with this free option, there are tons of holster options for the LCP. The pistol would be natural in the waistband or on an ankle rig, but I saw no reason to change things up. This pistol is forgettable whether I am in khakis or jogging pants. There were early complaints about the magazine button being too exposed and easy to depress while in a pocket. Ruger minimized the button, but I recall two incidents where the button became depressed in my pocket. Both times were when I was breaking in new pairs of pants. So it looks my days of skinny jeans, and Starbucks lattes are over.
The emergence of the Ruger LCP II Pistol with its arguably better grip, sights, and lighter trigger, some have wondered why the original LCP is still in production. The answer is simple. The original works just fine and sometimes it is about saving a few dollars that keep many people from committing to buying a pistol. I actively chose the LCP because I felt I did not need a slide-lock, sandpaper grip, or taller sights. The LCP already hit the nail on the head, and the heavier longer trigger pull was an asset to me as assurance against accidental discharge while the pistol is in a pocket. I saved a few bucks, sure, but I felt I wasn’t losing anything in the process.
Coming in now at the sub $200 mark, the LCP is an attractive option to many, and I challenge anyone to find me a pistol at that price point that has the same build quality and track record. The LCP does filter out to the wrong crowd, first-time gun buyers especially. The LCP is not the easiest gun to shoot well and going for a larger gun before going smaller is a safe bet. At the very least you won’t have many problems with the LCP. Those who buy a gun to use as a magic charm will be equally disappointed. It takes some practice to shoot a small 380 well, and some care is needed to maintain the pistol. But as an everyday pistol, the LCP is the one I would go with. It is not the pistol that inspires during confidence building exercises on internet forums. Indeed, no one would brag about owning one. But it still the best pocket pistol on the market today and the ideal candidate for an “always” EDC gun. The gun you can have on you at all times even when you are unable to carry a larger, more capable gun. In every category, the LCP by Ruger delivers when others in its class will inevitably fall short.
About Terril Hebert:
Terril Hebert is a firearm writer native to south Louisiana. Under his motto-Guns, Never Politics-he tackles firearm and reloading topics both in print and on his Mark3smle YouTube channel, where he got his start. Terril has a soft spot for ballistics testing, pocket pistols, and French rifles. When he is not burning ammo, he is indulging his unhealthy wildlife photography obsession or working on his latest novel. Scourge of God, published in 2017. See more from Terril on youtube under Mark3smle