Shooting 9mm semi-auto ammo in a snubnosed revolver.
By Warren Wilson
Every defensive battery should have at least one five-shot, snubnose .38 Special revolver, in my opinion. The snubby is just too versatile not to have around. These small handguns serve well as backup guns, but that’s not the end of their usefulness. When off-duty, I carry a Commander size 1911 and a Ruger LCR (Light Compact Revolver) in my weak-side front pants pocket. I’m a big proponent of carrying the largest gun in the most effective caliber as possible for the given situation.
But sometimes the situation calls for a smaller pistol. For example, if one chooses to carry a firearm while running, mowing the yard, or even answering the door, a small and lightweight handgun that just drops into your pocket can be indispensable. I often go running with a 10-shot .40 caliber pistol, but that 22-ounce weapon becomes 30 ounces when loaded and starts feeling like a brick after a few miles. The 15-ounce (loaded) .38 LCR is much easier on the legs and back during longer runs. Many times, it’s easier to concede to the body’s demands than to fight them. Still, it would be nice to have a little more ‘oomph’ available as a primary firearm. For this and other reasons, I’ve longed for a 9mm snubby revolver from a trusted company, but never came across the right one until Ruger’s recent introduction of the LCR I already own, but chambered for the 9×19 cartridge.
The 9mm has all of the familiar LCR features. Snubbies are a little harder to shoot quickly and accurately, but the Hogue® Tamer™ Monogrip® helps by providing a solid purchase and excellent recoil control. It’s larger than many grips that come on pistols of this size, but still small enough to allow for pocket carry. The .38 Special and .22 caliber frames are made of 7000 series aluminum, while the .357 and 9mm are made of 400 series stainless steel for added strength and only a few ounces of added weight. All LCRs have polymer-fire control housings and Ruger’s Ionbond Diamondback ™ black finish. The 9mm versions come with three full-moon clips. It has a 1.875-inch barrel and a white insert in the front sight. The rear sight is integral to the frame.
One thing that stands out on these pistols is their smooth trigger pull. The combination of the Ruger’s exceptional grip and superior trigger pull makes this my new favorite pocket wheelgun. The LCR also comes in .22 long rifle, which would be great for a low-cost training gun (not to mention a fine trail and plinking gun). For additional cost, LCRs can be ordered with Crimson Trace Laser grips. The website doesn’t show that option for the LCR-9 yet, but I’m sure it will be forthcoming. It should be noted that Ruger specifically states that the LCR is not to be fired with any caliber other than the 9mm Luger, so please don’t try stuffing .380s in it.
Why a Nine?
With the options of .38 Special and .357 Magnum, why did Ruger feel it necessary to add a 9mm to the stable? Primarily, they were probably listening to the throngs of folks like myself who were clamoring for it. The 9mm offers a few advantages over the .38 special and .357 Magnum in a defensive snubby. The .357 Magnum in its common 17- to 19-ounce package can be downright painful to shoot and followup shots are a challenge for us mere mortals. I’ve only fired a .357 in this platform a few times and I’m pretty sure I loosened some fillings. Most pocket .38s only weigh about 13-15 ounces and are only a little more comfortable to shoot than their magnum big brothers.
Despite the tenacious myth to the contrary, there’s quite a bit of difference between the .38 Special and .357 Magnum in power out of short barrels. The 9mm bridges that gap nicely. As evidenced by the chronograph table, the middle sibling thrives in this platform. Ruger’s 9mm LCR weighs 17.2 ounces, which is about the same weight as the .357 version. That little bit of extra weight helps dampen the recoil while still allowing for a very manageable loaded weight of 19.2 ounces with Federal 124-grain HST +P rounds. In a fairytale world, the 9mm LCR would be the baby bear caliber for Goldilocks. It certainly doesn’t hurt that 9mm practice ammunition is about half the cost of .38s or .357s and quite a bit easier to find in bulk. And many departments stock 9mm practice and carry ammo.
Shoot The Moons
Moon clips are required to make rimless cartridges extract from revolvers by use of their ejector rod. Some folks don’t like them, but full-moon clips beat speedloaders any day in my book. I find them quicker for recharging and easier to carry. There’s no knob to mess with and a loaded 9mm full-moon clip is about half the size of a loaded .38 Special speedloader. Moon clips also have the benefit of consistent ejection of spent cartridges. If one comes out, they all come out. One complaint I’ve read about the 9mm revolvers, specifically, is the high-pressure little round can swell and stick in the chambers. I did not have that experience with the LCR. Those short little 9’s just popped right out. As always, you should test any defensive pistol/ammunition combination to ensure compatibility before using the rounds in the defensive rotation. This lightweight Ruger will be charged with HST.
A lot of people complain that administrative loading with a moon clip-dependent revolver is tedious and detracts from the range day. I haven’t found that to be the case. I just load up 30 or 40 of them the night before my range session and then pop the brass out directly into the tumbler after getting home. Of course, the gun can fire without clips, but each individual casing must then be plucked out of each chamber.
Possessing the same caliber handguns for duty, off duty and backup is a good thing and the 9mm is an excellent choice for any of these assignments. It’s an efficient caliber in short barrels (as evidenced by the chronograph table) as well as being an effective caliber in full-size guns. The recent resurgence of interest in the 9mm cartridge for defense and duty over the last few years is undeniable. More and more agencies and individual officers are switching back to the 9×19 as a duty cartridge. As of this writing, 9mm ammunition has once again become plentiful and is as reasonably priced as it will likely ever be again. The LCR 9mm allows the option of picking just one effective, reasonably priced, defense round for duty, off-duty and backup guns.
I couldn’t wait to get this thing to the range. I had only second-hand knowledge of 9mm revolver shooting and brought my .38 Special LCR for comparison. I’d read that the recoil of a 9mm is substantial compared to the .38 when both are fired out of snubby barrel lengths. Thirty-eights already make their presence known out of this platform, so I was a little concerned. After the first few cylinders, I was pleasantly surprised. I didn’t notice much difference in felt recoil. I started to notice a little more snap in the +P loadings, but it was most certainly worth the increase in performance. I brought a nearly identical .38 Special Golden Saber loading for comparison. The 9mm 124-grain +p Golden Saber chronographed over 200 feet per second faster than the .38 Special 125-grain +P. That’s a substantial increase in power. The HST loading averaged 1117 feet per second out of five rounds. That’s only about 100-150 fps less than one would expect to see out of a full-size duty pistol. The LCR fired about 200 rounds of Federal HST, Remington Golden Saber, and Winchester FMJ without issue.
I’ve always been interested in semi-auto pistol caliber revolvers. Even though several have been produced, successful pocket 9mm wheelguns from trusted manufacturers are few and far between. Sturm, Ruger and Co. certainly fits into the ‘trusted’ category. They have proven themselves once again with this offering. So, like I said earlier: Every defensive battery should have at least one five-shot, lightweight snubnose revolver and the Ruger LCR 9mm is a good place for your quest to both start and end. PM
Warren Wilson is a Lieutenant with the Enid Police Department in Oklahoma. He is a former SWAT team member/leader and has been in law enforcement for 19 years.
- One distinct advantage of the 9mm revolver is consistent extraction due to the use of moon clips.
- The 9mm cartridge is very efficient in shorter barrels, chronographing at excellent speeds out of the Ruger’s short barrel.
- 9mm cartridges in moon clips are about half the length of .38 Specials in an HKS speedloader.
- A 3-inch slow-fire group with the Ruger LCR 9mm standing, unsupported at 15 yards.
- A rapid-fire group at 7 yards on a standard B-27 target with the LCR 9mm.
- The LCR-9 worked well with the same ammunition the author uses in his semi-automatic 9mm pistols.
- The Ruger LCR 9mm is a great choice for backup carry due to its ease of carry and reliable power with 9mm ammo.