Small. Thin. Light. Reliable. Cheap. What’s not to like?
I’m talking about the Ruger LC9S, a single-stack, striker-fired pocketable 9mm that has sold like hotcakes. Why is this such a popular gun? We’ll examine it in some detail to see if we can determine the answer to that question.
Variations On A Theme
Before we get started, let me say that the LC9S is one of a few different (but very similar) models of 9mm pistols that Ruger makes. Introduced at the 2011 SHOT Show, the first model, the LC9, was hammer-fired and not too well liked because of its difficult trigger pull. But, that didn’t stop it from being named the Shooting Industry Academy of Excellence’s Handgun of the Year in 2011. So, Ruger (as is its habit) listened to shooters and went back to the drawing board. They then came up with a lightweight carry pistol in 9mm that is striker-fired. That’s where the LC9S comes from – it’s the striker-fired replacement that was introduced in July of 2014. Here are three variants:
- LC9S – Manual safety; magazine disconnect; drift-adjustable sights
- LC9S Pro – no manual safety or magazine; drift-adjustable sights.
- EC9S – (“E” stands for Essential). Manual safety; magazine disconnect; integral sights; fewer and wider cocking serrations; black oxide finish that can be applied on the production line
Speaking of specifications, let’s look at some more detailed numbers from Ruger’s website:
|Barrel||3.12 inches, blued|
|Capacity||1 7-round magazine included; 9-round magazines available with finger extension|
|Slide||Through-hardened alloy steel|
|Controls||Thumb safety (not on Pro model); slide release; bladed-safety trigger; magazine release|
|MSRP||$449.00 (real-world is between $250-$275)|
What’s The Practical Difference Between The Regular And Pro Models?
Really, the only differences are that the Pro model does away with the thumb and magazine disconnect safeties. That’s all that I can see. I own the regular model, because my gun guy Duane didn’t have a Pro model in stock at the time. He told me that he sells the regular model with the extra safeties almost 10 to 1 over the Pro model. I am not a fan of thumb safeties on a carry gun (the 1911 being one of few exceptions). I especially am not a fan of those safeties on a gun that is striker-fired but I wanted the gun that day, of course, so I took the safety-equipped model. I’m left-handed and I just don’t use the thumb safety. It’s never been a problem. All models feature a chamber inspection port on the right side of the barrel hood to see if there is a round in the chamber. (This port plus the magazine disconnect safety allows the gun to be sold in Massachusetts). I prefer a tactile loaded chamber indicator that I can run my finger over in the dark to see if the gun is in Condition One.
When we discuss the LC9S and its variants, we need to look at how the gun handles in terms of ergonomics, pointability, shooting, etc. The first thing you’ll notice when you pick one of these guns up is just how small it is. It literally fits in a jeans pocket, in a pocket holster. It is really not a whole lot larger than many .380s on the market. Aside from how long it is (or isn’t), you’ll be struck by how thin it is. The width specification above says it’s less than an inch wide – they’re not kidding. For some hands, it’s too thin. Lack of width helps when you carry it, but shooting it is a different story, especially if you’re shooting +P ammo. (It’s rated for +P, but I’d probably limit the amount of the higher-pressure stuff you put through it. This is a small, lightweight gun). There are things you can do in order to make it easier to hang on to. I went the cheap route with mine and bought some stair tread tape. I cut pieces to fit the different grip areas and the extremely rough texture of the tape helps the gun to stay planted in my hand. The advantage of using something non-permanent to aid in the process of adding grip traction is that it can be removed if you ever sell the gun. I also stipple grips, which provides similar texturing to the tape but I didn’t want to stipple the very nice-looking molded grip that the LC9S comes with.
Perhaps one of the best solutions to the too-thin-grip situation is the Hogue HandAll Beavertail grip cover.
This slip-on rubber grip performs a few functions. First, it increases the tackiness of the surface your hand is engaging, thereby causing the gun to not move as much in recoil which allows faster follow-up shots. Secondly, it has a small beavertail. Why is this important, especially considering that you are not going to get “bitten” by this higher-riding slide? Because it gives the web of your shooting hand a nice, soft surface to rest against, up high on the frame. This again aids in faster follow-up shots and overall comfort. Lastly, there is a finger “separator” which in essence provides finger grooves. “Finger grooves? – NO!” I hear some of you saying. (We won’t get into the Glock Gen-whatever versus the Gen 5-with-no-grooves debate). On a tiny gun like this, anything extra that you have to hang on to really helps, believe me. What this means is that (if you install the included extended finger grip magazine base plate), you will be able to comfortably get three fingers on the grip. This does assume your hand is slightly smaller than one of King Kong’s of course…I don’t have that issue, so you might need to experiment if you have large hands. I will be getting one of these for my LC9S as soon as I see one locally, then comes the fun of getting it onto the grip frame. It IS a great thing to have, but it’s not the easiest accessory to install. And, no, auto grease won’t help… Anyway, for about $10 you can improve the handling of your Ruger LC9S/EC9S.
Shooting The Little Guy
So…how does it shoot? Is it accurate? Is the trigger nice? How about recoil? Let’s take a look at some of the experiences I’ve had while shooting this gun.
The LC9S’s trigger is, to put it bluntly, the best trigger I’ve ever encountered on any striker-fired gun I owned or have owned. There is very little take-up and NO creep. I’ve had to be careful when I’d switch to shooting this gun after I’d shot some others because a couple times, the gun fired just as it was coming down on the target. I’m not talking about an accidental discharge – I was aiming at a target with the intent to fire – it’s just that the trigger is lighter compared to other guns I own that I have to re-adjust my technique when shooting it. Have any of you had a similar experience with it? I’m curious about that. Now…I hear some of you saying that a trigger that light has no place on a carry gun. I would agree, but the trigger isn’t dangerously light. It’s me more than anything…I would guess the trigger is around 5 pounds, but it is incredibly smooth which makes it feel lighter, at least to me. No creep – just a little take-up than ‘bang.’ Reset is short and positive. To sum it up, this little gun has a great trigger. The controls are all on the left side and are easy to reach.
This gun will digest whatever I put through it. I’ve never had a bobble with any ammo I’ve fed it, including my reloads. Actually, they feed very well and are really accurate (see below). I attribute the great functioning of the gun at least partially to its polished feed ramp. This allows whatever I put in the magazine to make its way into the chamber with boring regularity. The only ammo I haven’t tried in it yet are steel-cased rounds., but I don’t buy those as my reloads are cheaper and reliable.
OK…now’s when you may officially wonder if I have taken leave of my senses for what I’m going to say here. My LC9S is the most accurate gun of its type that I have ever shot-it’s even more accurate than some duty-sized 9mms I’ve owned. A 17-ounce, 3.1-inch-barreled gun being that accurate? Yep. As my informal targets show, it will shoot when I do my part. It particularly likes my reloads. They consist of a 126-grain cast round-nose bullet atop 4.0 or 4.8 grains of Long Shot powder. These are technically below minimum for this powder but they works well in all my 9mm guns and don’t beat the gun up. The 4.0-grain load clocks right at 905 f.p.s, which is not bad for a three-inch barrel, with the 4.8-grain load faster (see below). When I use my powder-coated bullets, I get zero leading. All this adds up to an accurate shooting experience. I have taken advantage of the rear sight’s being drift-adjustable for windage, but I have not had to adjust elevation…the loads were right on.
Here’s a target I shot a while back with my 4.0-grain reload. You non-reloaders out their will take comfort from the fact that the factory 115 grain FMJ practice rounds that I’ve shot through this gun (WWB, Tula Brass, Remington, others I can’t remember) shot just about the same group-wise and to a similar point of impact although my load was a little bit tighter. This goes for self-defense loads, as well. The point is that this gun will be at least passably accurate with just about anything put through it, so I won’t bore you with stats and ballistic information easily obtained elsewhere. For my practical (including carry) purposes, this gun is plenty accurate enough.
Here are four quick velocity stats from my chronograph for those of you who care about such things…
- 126-grain cast RN handload (4.0 grains of Long Shot) 905 f.p.s.
- 126-grain cast RN handload (4.8 grains of Long Shot) 992 f.p.s
- 115-grain Winchester White Box 1050 f.p.s.
- 115-grain Remington Golden Saber 1035 f.p.s.
Why show only one type of powder in my handloads? Because this article is not a handloading article but is about the gun. This just happens to be my favorite of many 9mm handloads and the extra .8-grain of powder makes a difference. It brings it closer to the speed of 115-grain factory practice loads, only with a slightly heavier bullet. That works for me. The main point I’d like to make is that this gun works very well with whatever ammo I shoot through it, whether I buy pre-assembled factory stuff or shoot a do-it-yourself load with bullets made from wheel weights. These are respectable number for a 3.1-inch barreled gun. And, in case you’re thinking the targets above don’t show Olympic-level accuracy, you’re right. I was standing on my hind legs holding the gun in both hands, trying not to wobble too much when I shot them. I’m not quite as accurate as I used to be, but any of the loads listed are accurate enough for their intended purposes. The gun and loads are more accurate than I am.
The Racoon Situation
This gun is so accurate that I wished that I had not put it back in the gun safe so soon a couple of evenings ago. We have a marauding racoon that makes his appearance during daylight hours (first giveaway that something’s not right with him) to get at the cat food I put out for our felines. I will catch him when he is in a safe position to be dispatched with the LC9S one of these days. I’ve not owned too many 3-inch-barreled carry guns with that degree of accuracy…this one is special. It will hold minute-of-racoon all day if I do my part.
My handload and other factory loads print to point of aim so I haven’t had to resort to “Kentucky windage” or a file on the front sight. I attribute this not so much to the loads but to the fact that the gun came out of the factory with its sights pretty well adjusted.
I really wasn’t expecting the great trigger nor the dead-on accuracy that this carry gun exhibits, but I am exceedingly glad for those benefits.
How Does It Carry?
Let’s look now at what I call “carry-ability” of the LC9S. As I said above, the gun fits in a pocket holster very well (Read: Best Concealed Carry Holsters), especially with the flush-fit 7-round magazine in place. When I use the 9-rounder with the longer finger extension that I bought, it is better if I carry it IWB. I use a DeSantis Inside Heat holster that was originally designed for a S&W Shield 9mm. I guess the single-stack characteristics of the two guns are similar enough that the Ruger fits snugly, as if it was made for it. The holster was a Christmas present, so I use it. Being what a lot of people consider wrong-handed, I have a hard time finding holsters. I’m glad the Ruger fits the S&W holster. It disappears inside my belt with just enough sticking out that I can get a proper grip on the gun. When carried with the 9-round magazine in place and one in the chamber, I have ten rounds of Hornady Critical Defense or Remington Golden Saber ammo at the ready (Read: Best 9mm Ammo), all in a package that weighs just over a pound and is practically unnoticeable in its hidden holster. That can give one a sense of peace.
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OK…So What Don’t I Like About It?
Let’s look at a thing or two that I’m not overly fond of concerning the LC9S. I’ve already discussed how thin the gun is which may be an issue for those with big hands. This is more of a preference thing, though, and not what I’d call a real issue. There is, however, one area that I believe Ruger could improve greatly concerning the LC9S – takedown. Any time you have a part that is removed completely, out of the gun, there’s a chance it could be lost. This is not a good situation.
The Takedown Process
The takedown process for the LC9S is similar to that of the LCP and the Security 9 pistols. Without going into minute detail (there are plenty of Youtube videos that cover the process), here are the basics. After removing the magazine, make sure the chamber is empty. (Safety note: please double-check your chamber…I once sent a 230-grain .45 bullet into my reloading bench while taking down another brand’s model of a pull-the-trigger-to-remove-slide striker-fired pistol, from an ostensibly empty gun…I was sure it was empty…)
Once clear, slide the takedown pin keeper down – it will click into place, exposing the round takedown pin. Take pressure off the slide by moving it slightly to the rear (similar to taking down a Glock, at least to this point). You then will look at the left side of the pistol, at the point where the slide’s relief cut for the takedown pin is. Pull the trigger (LC9s Pro) or insert the plastic orange “magazine” that comes with the regular magazine-safety-equipped LC9S and pull the trigger to release the sear. Line up the slide cutout with the pin, and with your third hand, use a small pointy tool to push, from the right side, the pin out. Once it starts out, it should then come all the way out by pulling it with your fingers, or even fall out with gravity’s help. Put it someplace special so you don’t lose it.
OK…I joked about having three hands but you will need to practice holding the slide back just so in order to get the slot lined up for the pin to come out with your left hand while your starboard hand is using a tiny punch, screwdriver, nail etc. to start pushing the pin out from the right side.
This is the same basic takedown for the three models of pistols listed above. At least the Security 9 has a pin with a lip on it that allows you to use a case rim or something similar to pull it out once it’s been freed from the right side. It really isn’t that bad, taking the LC9S down – it just takes practice. After the slide’s off, proceed as you normally would with any striker-fired pistol’s cleaning process. Remove the recoil spring and barrel, and go to town getting the grunge out. To put it back together, get the spring and barrel in the slide, replace it on the frame and line up the little cutout on the slide with the hole in the frame. Stick the takedown pin in, left to right, and once it’s flush, slide the pin keeper lever up until it clicks into place. Cycle the slide and make sure the gun functions, and you’re done.
If Black Isn’t Your Thing…
The LC9S, through its many distributors, is available in several colors/finishes. At last look, the Ruger website showed 14 variations with the LC9S. Here are a few of the more…interesting…ones:
Anyway, you get the point. I’ve held the yellow one…it sure is bright! Not sure why anyone would need a lemon-colored handgun, but to each his (or her) own…
The point is that you can buy a new LC9S in a whole lot of different finishes and colors, something for everybody. The plain black works for me.
To Sum It All Up…
I believe that there may be better carry guns out there. I believe that there are more expensive carry guns out there. I also believe that the LC9S is one of the best carry guns around, regardless of price or quality.
To carry it, stick it in a pocket holster and go. Rest well in the knowledge that the gun will fire every time you pull the trigger and will hit what you aim at if you do your part. There are several 17-ounce pocket pistols out there, but not a whole lot of them will shoot the 9mm. Most small pistols are .380s. If you want to have a lot of firepower in a pocketable package, take a look at the LC9S or EC9S – you won’t be sorry you did. As always, I’d appreciate hearing your experiences with this gun below-leave a comment. Happy shooting, and be safe!
(Disclaimer: According to the information I received, the LC9S and the LC9S Pro are being discontinued in favor of the EC9S, but the guns are still widely available and (with the exception of the differences noted above), everything I’ll say about the LC9S will apply to the EC9S).
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Mike has been a shooter, bullet caster and reloader for over 40 years. Never one to be satisfied with the status quo, he is often found at his reloading bench concocting yet another load. With a target range in his backyard and after 40 years of shooting, his knowledge of firearms and reloading is fairly extensive. He is married, with four sons and daughters-law and 8-and-counting grandkids.