Snubbie Showdown: Comparing Polymer Revolvers
December 17, 2012
Like many of my contemporaries, when polymer frame pistols first hit the market, I looked upon them with a healthy dose of skepticism. But despite my initial hesitancy I eventually bought one. And liked it—to the point I found myself wishing someone would make a polymer-frame revolver.
I got my wish in 2009 when Ruger came out with the LCR (Lightweight Compact Revolver). Not to be outdone, the following year Smith & Wesson introduced its Bodyguard 38, and not too long after that the Taurus Protector made its debut. These three polymer-frame revolvers obviously share similarities, but each has its own unique features.
The Ruger LCR consists of three modular subcomponents: an upper frame assembly; a glass-filled nylon lower frame fire-control housing assembly; and a cylinder/crane assembly. The upper frame assembly is an aluminum forging that serves as a housing for the stainless steel barrel, cylinder/crane assembly and cylinder release catch.
The cylinder and crane assembly are also constructed of stainless steel, and the former features deep fluting to reduce weight further. It is locked in place by means of a titanium cylinder center pin latching into a hardened steel bushing in the recoil shield and a spring-loaded latch on the front of the ejector rod housing that mates with a cutout in the crane assembly. There is also a steel bushing for the firing pin.
The fire-control housing is constructed from glass-filled nylon, and it provides resistance to wear, abrasion, oils, solvents, salts, perspiration and environmental extremes. It contains the lockwork and all other moving parts, other than the cylinder release catch.
For the LCR's double-action-only trigger, Ruger engineers utilized a patented interface between the trigger and hammer which has a small friction-reducing cam on the toe of the trigger that positions the two parts so they operate in tandem when the trigger is pulled—rather than resisting each other on earlier double-action revolver trigger systems.
The S&W Bodyguard's alloy upper frame contains a stainless steel barrel inside a shroud that also protects the ejector rod. The lower frame is constructed of steel-reinforced polymer and contains the main spring, internal hammer and cylinder release. The lower frame flexes under recoil, which helps soften the recoil pulse.
S&W's Bodyguard 38 features a completely new double-action-only trigger mechanism, and unlike the vast majority of S&W revolvers, the cylinder rotates in a clockwise rather than counterclockwise direction.
A star-shaped stainless steel "ratchet drive hub" with a depression in its center and five star-shaped ridges located on the face of the recoil shield engage the cylinder pin and corresponding grooves on the star extractor. When the trigger is pulled, the ratchet drive hub rotates the cylinder, aligning it with the barrel and then assisting the cylinder stop to lock it in place. This innovative system also eliminates the cylinder rotating hand and its debris-admitting slot in the recoil shield.
The Bodyguard has a cylinder release located on top of frame, where it can be manipulated by either hand. I think this unique release is an eminently practical feature. Pushing the cylinder release forward retracts the ratchet drive hub, disengaging it from the cylinder, allowing the cylinder to be swung open for loading or unloading.
The construction of the Taurus Protector is similar to that of the Smith and Ruger. The alloy upper frame houses a stainless steel barrel liner, cylinder and crane unit. The polymer lower grip frame contains the lockwork, trigger, exposed hammer and cylinder release. The latter differs from the other two in that it is pushed forward to open the cylinder.
The trigger mechanism—which unlike the other two is a single-action/double-action design—is based upon that of the popular Taurus Model 85 series of small-frame revolvers. In addition, the trigger is grooved while the other two feature smooth triggers. The Protector features a transfer bar ignition system that prevents the hammer from striking the frame-mounted firing pin without a complete stroke of trigger.
As these revolvers are designed to be used at close range, all three guns employed blade front and notch rear sights, but there are differences in sighting systems. The LCR we received came with an optional Trijicon front night sight that has a tritium insert surrounded by a white ring, making it equally visible in low and bright light conditions.
The Bodyguard comes standard with an Insight Technologies laser sight on right side of the frame. It is operated by means of a button on its upper edge that can be manipulated with the thumb of either the right or left hand allowing selection of either of three modes: off, steady beam or pulsating.
The Protector features a red fiber-optic insert in the front sight that attracts the shooter's eye immediately, speeding up sight alignment and target acquisition. This setup is my favorite for iron sights, and I have it on almost all of my handguns.
Both the Protector and LCR feature key-operated internal safeties that immobilize their hammers and triggers to prevent unauthorized firing. The Taurus is located on the rear of the hammer while the Ruger requires that you remove grips to access it. S&W obviously felt that the traditional safety inherent with a DAO trigger was sufficient, so the Bodyguard has no additional safety.
All three feature recoil-absorbing synthetic grips with tacky-feeling surfaces that provide a firm purchase, although those on the Taurus and Ruger are considerably larger than the S&W's. This proved, as will be discussed later, both beneficial and a problem. Considering the revolvers' light weight, shooters will find these grips most welcome when firing .38 +P ammunition.
My good friends—fellow CCW license holders and competitive shooters Dick Cole, Butch Simpson and Dick Jones—agreed to help me run this trio of snubbies through their paces with some drills at Piedmont Handgunners Association range.
Top to bottom: Smith & Wesson Bodyguard 38, Ruger LCR and Taurus 85PFS Polymer Protector.
The LCR's Hogue Tamer grips got high scores, and the revolver's overall design, such as its deeply fluted cylinder, made it the lightest of the trio.
The Smith was easiest to unload because of the small grips. Some testers liked the ambi cylinder release, some didn't.