When we premiered Ruger’s polymer-framed LCR .38 snubbie back in March 2009, a lot of us figured a subsequent .357 version was pretty much a given. It was, and we recently got our hands on one. The only real visual cue that you’re dealing with the .357 version is, naturally, the longer five-shot cylinder—distinctively fluted, as is that of the standard version (plus a ramped front sight). The weight difference is a scant 3.6 ounces, 17.10 vs. 131/2, thanks to the steel “upper” on the magnum version. The .357 LCR features Hogue Tamer monogrips—they were a nice touch on the original .38, but they’re considerably more important here if you intend on using magnums. And the use of magnum ammo is a real consideration. A lot of fans of two-inch (OK, 1.8-inch) revolvers don’t have any intention of going beyond Plus-P .38s (or standard-pressure loads, for that matter).
I’ve run .357s through a lot of snubbies, and although I wouldn’t want to make a career out of it, I can see the appeal, an appeal that, to be honest, does not extend to the full-power 125-grain screamers (they don’t scream all that much from a snubbie, and to say the muzzle flash and blast are disorienting would be an understatement).
The sensible option for most folks is to shoot just enough magnums in the gun to figure out where they’re going, then practice with .38 Special. That’s actually a good policy for any .357, but even more so with “shoot a little, carry a lot” small- or medium-frame revolvers. Magnums can be hard on smaller guns and harder on casual shooters.
The two magnum loads I elected to use were Hornady’s 140-grain JHP/XTP and Winchester/USA’s 110-grain JHPs. The 140 is an excellent compromise weight, and the 110s don’t kick all that much, although the noise level is…impressive. I rounded out things with some representative .38 Special offerings—Winchester Super X Plus-P 158-grain Lead Semi-Wadcutter HPs, Winchester Super-X Standard Pressure 158-grain Lead SWCs and Winchester Supreme SXT 130-grain Plus-P’s.
Naturally, the velocity loss with the two magnum loadings was significant. The 140-grain Hornady stuff clocked 1,086 fps, which indicates a dropoff of 264 fps from the company’s ballistics claims from an eight-inch test barrel. Still, that’s a pretty good number for a snubbie dealing with a 140-grain throw weight. The 110-grain Winchester/USA ammo was less affected by the abbreviated barrel; the loss was 185 fps (1,110 vs. the advertised 1,295 fps).
The range situation for accuracy testing forced me to shoot groups at 25 meters, which is admittedly a stretch for a snubbie. It wasn’t quite as onerous as it sounds. The LCR has a very good, smooth DA trigger that broke at a hair over 10 pounds but actually felt lighter, so much so that I didn’t worry about trying to stage it, which is a bit tougher for me with a coil-spring mechanism anyway. Recoil was surprisingly tolerable, even with magnums. When Dick Metcalf shot the original .38 version a couple of years back, he felt that the polymer lower frame seemed to diffuse the recoil impulse in a kinder, gentler fashion. That certainly makes sense to me.
The two loads the LCR liked best were the 140-grain Hornady magnums and the .38 Winchester Supreme SXTs. Both shot the tightest groups, averaging around four inches with four of the five shots coming in at 2½ (Winchester) and three inches (Hornady). There were no functioning problems, although case extraction with the longer magnum empties occasionally required some rod slamming and cylinder shaking (to be honest, that’s a common problem with most snubbies due to the truncated ejection rod).
Although I’m personally biased toward a .38 when it comes to snubbies, the magnum version does offer a power upgrade along with one undeniable advantage: If .357 ammo is all you’ve got—or all you can get—you’re still good to go.