I am outspoken in my love for small-frame revolvers, even though I am not necessarily a revolver “enthusiast.” What I mean is, I would never carry a revolver over a double-stack auto loader if not restricted due to dress or circumstance. Since I live according to reality, I occasionally need deep concealment, and I have found that only the small-frame revolver can provide decent power, yet disappear in almost any dress. The two small revolvers that I have put to use for this is the versatile LCR and the venerable SP101. Both guns are quite small, the SP101 being slightly larger than the LCR or the well-known Smith and Wesson J Frame. The SP101 handles and shoots significantly better than either for most people, no doubt due to the increased size and weight. However, it is still very small and concealable.
The most obvious different between these two Rugers is that the SP101 is all stainless steel in construction, and it is a beast for its size. Weighing in at 26 ounces, it is literally twice the weight of my 38+P LCR. The weight makes a huge difference in terms of shooting: the LCR is a chore to shoot, even with regular pressure 38 specials. The SP101, I can shoot all day long. Obviously, the LCR carries much more conveniently since it is so scanty in weight. Therefore, do you want to shoot it a lot, or do you want the easiest carrying revolver? That would be the first big decision between these two snubs.
Out of the box, the LCR has what might be the best factory trigger of any small revolver. I find that it is very good for a double-action only revolver, and it tends not to stack as they usually do. I think that the LCR proves to have a great revolver trigger for someone like myself, who is predominantly a pistol shooter. Though longer and heavier than a striker-fired trigger, the LCR is a smooth press all the way through, and it lends itself well to decent accuracy.
Out of the box, the SP101 trigger is total shit. It weights about 15 pounds and is stiff. However, and this a big however, with a simple replacement main spring and trigger return spring it can be improved to excellence. After 20 minutes of work to replace these two springs with lighter powered after-market Wolff springs my SP101 trigger weighs less than the LCR. Therefore, I can’t really discount either gun; they are both excellent, or capable of excellence, with the trigger. From the factory, however, the LCR kills the competition.
The standard Houge grip on the LCR is, in my opinion, excellent, but a lot of guys don’t like it. It leaves the pinky dangling under the grip, but I find that necessary for the concealment. The grip is fat, but I find that this thick grip provides excellent control of this fly-weight gun. I find that the factory SP101 grips are a bit thin for my liking and the gun tends to fish around in my hands. I have not replaced them, however, since they conceal great and the after-market options for the Sp101 tend to be full-size grips, thus hindering concealment.
The factory sights on the LCR are typical trench and post revolver sights, so they generally suck. Same with this model of SP101, though some SP101 models come with superior sights. In terms of changing the front post, the LCR makes it easy. There are a number of aftermarket sights for it that you can simply install by removing the drift-pin. The SP101 is more limited. The only night sight option that I can find for it actually requires you to drill the tap-hole into the sight before you can install it. I have only the factory post still on the SP101, but I put an XS Big Dot night sight on the LCR which, for myself, completely changed the revolver for the better. The Big Dot sight made the LCR far more accurate and shoot-able for me. However, even with the stock factory sight, I can shoot the SP101 even more accurately, which may be a result of the heavier weight and superior shooting characteristics. With the addition of the Big Dot on the LCR, however, the gap closed significantly.
If you are going to carry the gun every day I will tell you, even though the SP101 is stainless steal, it will rust. I found when I used to carry it for deep concealment in a belly band that I had to clean it every few days or it would form rust under the grips. The LCR, on the other hand, is impervious to rust. The aluminum and polymer construction make it resilient against corrosion and the cylinder coating is indestructible.
In terms of overall build quality, the SP101 is a tank that will probably go tens of thousands of rounds of even high-pressure ammo without issue. The LCR probably won’t hold up to that, but I don’t see many people putting that kind of round count through the LCR. Again, if you want to do a lot of shooting with your revolver, the SP101 is the clear champion.
Well, I think the conclusion as to “which is best” is actually quite simple: if you are a revolver enthusiast that wants a small-frame gun to carry on the belt where the weight does not matter so much, and you plan to train with the gun and shoot it a lot, the SP101 is the clear choice. It is a real shooter, more akin to a mid-size revolver than a small frame. It is a better gun for someone who is recoil sensitive as well, since the weight makes it soft shooting for the size. If, however, you are interested in a small revolver only for limited deep concealment use, that you may need to carry it in a pocket or on the ankle, and you don’t plan on doing that much shooting with it, then the LCR is the way to go.
Even though I love the SP101 and carried it for a while some time ago, I am primarily an auto shooter and I use the small revolver for deep concealment only. Thus, the LCR is my go-to revolver. I do shoot it periodically but I don’t put a large round count through it. The light weight is important as it lends itself well to versatile carry modes.
Either way, you can’t go wrong, these are both great revolvers, but choose accordingly.