A recent assignment by one of my editors at Concealed Carry Magazine, USCCA’s print publication, gave me the opportunity to work with a variant of Ruger’s fine concealed carry revolver — the LCR (Lightweight Compact Revolver) — in a caliber I hadn’t worked with before: 9mm Luger, a rimless semi-automatic pistol cartridge.
DA revolvers were originally designed to work with rimmed cartridge cases, like the .38 Special. The rim of the cartridge case is what engages the cylinder extractor star, which allows live or fired cartridges to be removed smoothly and simultaneously from the cylinder. Rimless cartridge cases, like the 9mm and .45 ACP, are designed to function reliably when stacked flat upon each other in a pistol magazine. While there are certain semi-automatic pistols (like the fine Coonan .357 Magnum) that have been engineered to work reliably with the .357 Magnum rimmed revolver cartridge, they are few and far between. Revolvers that work with semi-automatic pistol cartridges are more common and have been around a longer time.
There are three types of systems used to accomplish the task of making semi-automatic pistol cartridges function in revolvers. The best and most technologically advanced system was used by Smith & Wesson in their Model 547 9mm six-shot K-frame revolver.
Reportedly produced from 1980 to 1985, the 547 was produced with the intention of supplying the Israeli Military/Police with revolvers that would chamber, extract and fire rimless 9mm military cartridges in the exact same manner that revolvers chambered in .38 Special would. The 547 used a very difficult-to-manufacture extractor rod and assembly that worked great — exactly as advertised. However, it made the 547 much more expensive than a standard .38 Special revolver, and there was little demand for the 547 as a commercial stateside handgun. One of my best friends has had a 547 for many years. It was originally a blued 4-inch version that he modified by swapping out the 4-inch barrel with a 3-inch replacement barrel. He filed the square butt down to round-butt configuration to complete the carry package. His 547 has always functioned flawlessly and is a marvel of engineering, but it’s sadly no longer produced.
The second system is a dual coil spring extractor assembly used by Charter Arms in its Pitbull line of revolvers, which I tested a couple of years ago. I had hoped that it worked in a fashion similar to the older 547 Smith & Wesson, but found it did not. It offered no advantage over their other revolvers chambered for standard rimmed cartridge cases.
The third system is the most commonly encountered, as well as the oldest and simplest. The moon clip system — or, actually, the “half-moon” clip system — dates back to before World War I. The U.S. military was short of the new 1911 Colt .45 ACP semi-automatic service pistols when the war began. In order to have enough 1911s to go into front-line service, the 1917 .45 ACP revolver (as produced separately by both Colt and Smith & Wesson) was produced for secondary troops, although a few certainly saw front-line use. In order to allow the rimless .45 ACP to function in the new revolvers, half-moon steel clips held three rounds each and engaged an especially relieved cylinder that allowed the extractor star to engage the clips and eject them as a unit. In an emergency, loose rounds could be loaded and fired in the M1917s but, once fired, empty cases had to be poked out with a stick. Not only did the half-moon clips allow rapid unloading of the rimless cartridge cases from the revolver cylinder, they also were the first “speedloaders.” It was much faster to drop two clips holding three rounds each into a revolver cylinder than to single load them.
Many years later, it was realized that “full-moon” clips holding six rounds would work as well and be even faster for reloading that half-moon clips. Revolver great Jerry Miculek has made a career of lightning fast revolver reloads using .45 ACP revolvers and moon clips in both competition and demonstration arenas. But moon-clip-converted revolvers for auto-pistol calibers aren’t just for competitive use; they make a great defensive revolver option as I realized during my testing of the Ruger LCR 9mm.
The LCR 9 is a lightweight, five-shot, snub-nosed revolver with a stainless-steel reinforced polymer frame. Weighing in at 17.2 ounces, the LCR features an excellent double-action trigger pull and a totally concealed hammer. The concealed hammer means that the LCR is about as snag-free in the pocket as any weapon can be. In fact, concealed-hammer revolvers like the LCR are the only type of handgun that can be reliably fired repeatedly from within a winter coat or jacket pocket, as there is no exposed operating mechanism to get easily tangled up with pocket cloth.
The LCR 9 comes with three five-shot moon clips. You will want to buy more, as they are, well, easily misplaced (I already managed to lose one during my range test). You also want to keep a goodly amount loaded up for range or defense. Loading and unloading a moon clip is slower than loading and unloading a standard speedloader. A number of companies even make “de-mooning” tools to assist with popping live rounds or empty cartridge cases from a loaded moon clip.
However, once loaded, the use of a moon clip eliminates one step in the revolver loading: that of discarding an empty speedloader once the rounds are inserted into the cylinder. The moon clip and cartridges remain a single unit throughout the loading, firing and unloading process. Moon clips make recovering “empties” much easier.
I used the 124-grain SIG Sauer V-Crown 9mm defensive JHP load as my primary test round in the LCR 9. This V-Crown load is rated at 1165 feet per second and 374 FPE at the muzzle, according to SIG. Even with the 1.87-inch barrel, the average velocity reading I obtained when fired over my chronograph was 1102 feet per second with 334 FPE at the muzzle. That is a remarkably small velocity loss.
I believe the velocity loss was so small because the shorter 9mm cartridge is being fired from a longer .38-Special-length cylinder. The 9mm bullet only occupies roughly half the cylinder length, which in effect adds ¾ of an inch of additional confined powder burning space ahead of the bullet. This means that the actual barrel length (for the purpose of powder burn time) of the LCR 9 is not 1.87 inches, but 2.625 inches, which explains the excellent velocity retention.
The LCR 9 with the 124-grain SIG V-Crown loading is quite controllable, despite the power delivered downrange. This is due to its 17-ounce weight and its grip/frame design. I may have been a bit slow in realizing that the 9mm LCR is a great purchase for those who want the reliability of a revolver combined with the power, cheap price and availability of the 9mm cartridge (as well as the rapid reloading that the moon clip affords). But I’m up to speed now.
MSRP of the LCR 9 is $669. They are currently on sale at Vance Outdoors here in Columbus, Ohio, for $459.99, which is $110 more than the sale price of the .38 Special version. This is due to the extra engineering involved. I am sure you can find them for similar prices in your area.
More info at: www.ruger.com
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