Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Guns: Ruger LC380 review - The Big Baby


Firearms manufacturers are generally obsessed with pushing the envelope, either by ramping up cartridge power to ever-higher levels, or by stuffing the same round into ever-smaller guns. The Ruger LC380 is a break from that trend, however. Like other largish .380s (SIG's P250 or the Browning 1911-380), the LC380 mates the relatively docile .380 ACP with a 9mm-sized frame that you can get a full grip on. But is there any point to owning a pistol that is purposely underpowered?


In essence, the LC380 is the same as Ruger's LC9 single-stack 9mm handgun, except chambered in .380. Aside from the caliber switch, the guns are identical, to the point where they share the same instruction manual (note that Ruger doesn't even offer the regular LC9 any more, and has been replacing all those old models with the superior striker-fired LC9s):

The LC380 reminds us that timing is everything. If the gun had been released 15 years ago, it would've been one of the smallest and lightest .380 pistols in the world. Sizewise, the LC380 is comparable to a Walther PPK, but much lighter, and it fits almost anywhere except for a pocket.

Of course, nowadays the LC380 has to contend with stiff competition from much smaller polymer pocket .380s, including the mack daddy of the market segment, Ruger's own LCP:

Still, the LC380 is much more comfortable in hand than the little pocket guns, since the grip and magazines are all 9mm-sized. In order to accommodate the shorter overall length of the .380 cartridge, the LC380's magazines have a steel insert that prevents rounds from seating too far back:

Unfortunately, the LC380 is also saddled with the unnecessary "features" that come on the standard LC9, like an internal key lock, a magazine disconnect, and Ruger's comical "ski jump" loaded chamber indicator:


Like the LC9/LC9s, the LC380 wears a set of decent three-dot sights, with the front being fixed and the rear being drift adjustable. They're a bit small in absolute terms, but they're fine for this size of pistol, and quite precise.

The LC380 trigger is a heavy double-action affair that instantly reminds you why the company switched to a superlight GLOCK-style trigger in its newer LC9s series. The LC380's trigger is smooth enough, I guess, and good next to other small .380 pistols, but it's terrible compared to other single-stack nines like the Walther PPS.


It's really only at the firing line where the LC380's compromises start to make sense. The gun was very pleasant to shoot, with felt recoil more in line with a .22 than a 9mm. There's a hefty ballistic penalty, of course, but having an extra 150 foot pounds of energy is meaningless if you can't control it.

I found the LC380 to be more accurate, practically speaking, than all the pocket .380s. Here are some sixteen shot groups at ten yards, shot standing and offhand, with garden-variety FMJs:

The gun was also completely reliable over several hundred rounds. Again, this is an improvement over many tiny .380s.


Shootability is something that doesn't show up on a gunmaker's specifications page, but in a lot of ways, it's more important than having the most muzzle energy or the lightest gun. The LC380, for all of its flaws, is an inexpensive shootable piece that would make a great beginner's gun.


At 2:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder why Ruger didn't perfect the lc380 by giving it the same trigger it gave to the lc9s, a striker fired trigger.

At 9:47 AM, Blogger Mulliga said...

I am not sure Anon, but I feel like Ruger is putting all its efforts into the golden, LCP-shaped goose. The LCP II is essentially what you're proposing, except in a size that a lot of buyers prefer (with some justification).

For my part, I want either a) the smallest possible .380 or b) a nice shootable Grandma Gun (as Tam puts it). The LCP II feels like a compromise between those two poles.


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