Ruger's Light Carry (LC) series of semi-auto pistols has been quite successful over the last few years. In 2008, the company released the eminently pocketable polymer-framed LCP, chambered in .380 ACP. The popularity of this pistol likely played a role in the rapid resuscitation of the .380 pocket pistol market and several new flavors of .380 ammunition. In 2010, Ruger released the LC9, a slightly larger pistol chambered in the more potent 9 mm cartridge. For 2013, Ruger has released the model LC380, which offers a best-of-both-worlds self-defense solution.
The personal-defense market is currently enjoying a small-but-powerful concealed-carry pistol trend that is determining how much weight can be shaved off of a semi-auto in 9 mm, .40 S&W or .45 ACP and while remaining shootable? These popular defensive calibers have been successfully chambered in pistols with similar size and weight factors as those of the LC380. So why not choose more power? Launching big bullets from little guns comes with the price of increased felt recoil. And that recoil can become downright painful at times, especially with extended practice sessions.
Reducing the punishment of practicing with a pocket pistol is why Ruger built the LC380. Both the tiny LCP and the larger LC9 can be quite snappy. By combining the heavier slide and larger grip of the LC9 pistol with the reduced cartridge pressures of .380 ACP ammunition, the LC380 proved to be an exceptionally comfortable handgun to work with on the practice range for a pocket pistol.
The LC380 is a hammer-fired, locked-breech semi-auto pistol with a polymer frame and a double-action-only trigger. The blue-steel alloy slide is topped with a set of useful low-profile, three-dot sights that would be perfectly at home on a medium or full-size defensive pistol. The rear sight is drift adjustable for windage. The barrel is 3.12-inches long with traditional six-groove rifling. The recoil assembly consists of a polymer guide rod with two recoil springs. The receiver is milled from aircraft grade aluminum and pinned into the polymer grip frame. The controls, including the trigger, slide catch, thumb safety and magazine release, are all constructed from blued steel. The LC380 arrives with a single, seven-round steel magazine with two base plates, one flat and one finger-extension version.
This pistol is loaded with a variety of safety features. The pop-up loaded chamber indicator on the top of the slide provides both visual and tactile indicators when a round is in the chamber. A firing pin safety, similar to those found in popular striker-fired pistols, prevents the pistol from firing unless the trigger is pulled. A key-operated action lock can be accessed on the right side of the frame with the provided key. A magazine disconnect prevents the LC380 from firing if the magazine is removed from the grip frame.
The frame-mounted thumb safety freezes the trigger and prevents the slide from cycling when it's engaged. The safety is easily disengaged by right-handed shooters, but it’s a little difficult to reengage. This was probably done to prevent shooters from accidentally bumping the safety into the on position while shooting. Because the outer dimensions of the LC380 and its magazines are identical to the popular LC9, several holster manufacturers already have a variety of carry options in stock. For those who would like to add a laser sight to this pistol, Crimson Trace, LaserLyte, LaserMax and Viridian offer suitable sighting options.
The LC380's double-action trigger tipped the digital gauge at 6 pounds, 10 ounces, and was smooth to operate. The trigger guard was generous for a pistol this size, providing enough room for larger trigger fingers. A diamond pattern checkering molded into all four sides of the grip frame provide a reliable level of purchase for the shooting hand without being abrasive. Having smaller hands, I didn't mind using the flat magazine base plate. However, the extended base plate is textured to match the front strap and provides a solid resting place for the little finger. Despite the dual-spring configuration of the recoil assembly, the slide was light and easy to manually cycle for reloading. The textured surface and placement of the magazine release button made it quick to find and activate. The seven-round magazine popped vigorously from the grip frame, which should aid in faster reloading.
The LC380 reliably digested a variety of self-defense and ball ammunition, with no malfunctions in the course of testing. This included some less expensive practice-grade loads as well as a particularly hot imported round. At 7 yards, shooting from a bench rest, the best five-shot group of the test was 1.25 inches, with most groups hovering around the 1.5- to 1.75-inch mark. But what stood out in the formal and informal testing was the mild level of felt recoil this pistol generates. The unusual tameness, combined with the good sights and a smooth trigger, made forming tight groups during self-defense drills and rapid fire not only possible, but enjoyable as well.
It's been said that classical literature is a set of books that everyone wants to have read, but that no one really wants to spend time reading. Pocket pistols fall into the same category when it comes to defensive shooting. Folks want to carry them, but nobody really likes to shoot them. As a group, the trimmed down pocketable semi-autos share the advantage of having easy-to-carry designs, but at the expense of being more challenging to shoot well. Their small grips, vestigial sights and snappy recoil levels require real dedication to master.
The Ruger LC380, on the other hand, is a comfortable exception to the pocket-rocket rule. The easy-to-rack slide, visible three-dot sights and mild felt recoil of this pistol make it an ideal option for quick, accurate follow-up shots and regular practice on the range. Although most pocket pistols should be reserved for more advanced shooters, I would feel confident placing the LC380 in the hands of just about any responsible shooting enthusiast, regardless of experience level. Although it's not the smallest, nor the most powerful pistol in its class, the LC380 is one of the more manageable members of the next generation of pocket pistols.