I have a soft spot in my heart for revolvers. From bright to blued finishes, rubber to wood grips, long to short barrels, there just seems to more beauty and design inspiration in wheel guns versus semi-auto pistols. Thankfully my wife feels the same way.
About nine months ago, when it came time to buy my wife her first handgun, she was leaning toward a revolver. She wanted something simple, robust and failsafe. In the interest of thoroughness, however, we looked at several options, both revolver and semi-auto, including M&Ps, PX4s, Glocks, GP100s and the SP101. Although all of them were great choices, in the end she chose a revolver and went with the SP101 over the Smith & Wesson Model 36, Taurus Model 65 and the Charter Arms Bulldog.
Ruger introduced the SP101 line of revolvers back in 1989, and they’re smaller and slimmer than Ruger’s other topnotch wheel gun, the GP100. It’s a single-action/double-action, with current chamberings of .38 Special +P, .357 Magnum, and .22 LR. Capacities are five-shot for .38 Special and .357, and eight-shot for .22 LR. And, of course, .357 versions have the ability to shoot .38 Special as well. At one time Ruger offered chamberings in 9mm and, for what seemed like a very short time, .327 Federal Magnum, but they have both since been discontinued. Barrel sizes include 2.25-, 3.06- and 4.2-inches.
The reason we gravitated toward the SP101 was the size. With a slimmer profile, 4.2-inch barrel, and a weight of 29.50 ounces, it fit her hand like a glove — not too big, not too small, but just right. The gun is heavy enough to tame the recoil, yet light enough for her to carry without feeling like it’s a brick in her handbag. Although I usually like bigger frame revolvers, it fits my hand pretty damn good as well. The rubberized grip, although a bit cheap-looking (more on that later), fit perfectly in my hand, felt comfortable shot after shot, and does a nice job soaking up the recoil of the .357 cartridge.
People with larger hands, though, may want to try it out before buying. The grip is on the small side, and it could get swallowed up by someone with big meat hooks.
Overall the SP101 is a very nice looking piece. With a bright stainless steel finish, it’s definitely eye-catching and attractive, and looks to stand the test of time. The only place where it falls short is the grip. It’s a combination of black rubber with engraved wood on the side, and although it’s grippy and feels comfortable in the hand, the engraved wood looks like a cheap, tacked-on afterthought. I’d much rather have an all-rubber Hogue or a classy walnut-type grip.
This particular model also came with a fantastic fiber-optic front site, which adds a bit of “modern age” to a classic design, along with an adjustable rear sight.
With the current run on all things ammo, I was limited to what I had on hand. Thankfully I have a decent variety stashed away, and it performed decently with the following:
- Hornady .357 Magnum, 158 Grain, XTP
- Hornady Critical Defense .357 Magnum, 125 Grain, XTP
- Remington UMC .38 Special, 158 Grain, Round Nose
- Remington UMC .357 Magnum, 125 Grain, JSP
- Fiocchi .38 Special, 110 Grain, FMJ
Most “accuracy” test involving handguns utilizes a bag or rest at approximately 10 to 20 yards. However, the goal is this test was “real world” accuracy, meaning 10 yards with an off-handed two-hand grip and five-shot groupings, excluding a one-round flyer.
Although accuracy was very good with all five loads (see the accompanying chart), hands-down the best results came from the Hornady Critical Defense rounds, with an average of 1.25-inch group. Fan-freaking-tastic. The other groupings were no larger than 2 inches with two loads, Remington UMC .357 and Fiocchi .38, both coming in at 1.5-inch group. In a typical home self-defense situation, you’ll definitely hit what you’re aiming for, especially when you consider the outstanding front fiber optic sight. It’s extremely easy to pick up in low-light situations.
We went with the SP101 because it offers an outstanding value. I’m a big “price/performance” guy, and this thing has it in spades. It also, quite honestly, looked the nicest, too. The bright stainless steel finish really stood out amongst a sea of black plastic — err, excuse me, “polymer.” In addition, when we both picked it up and held it in the store, it just felt right.
All in all, I think the Ruger SP101 is an outstanding piece and is still available with an MSRP of $699 (street price of about $510 to $540). Although an older gun at almost 25 years old, it still looks fresh and new and will hold its own against today’s revolvers. And, let’s face it, the revolver design hasn’t changed that much in the last 25 years, so why spend more? It’s as solid as granite, nice to look at, and feels extremely well built when holding it in your hands. The balance of the just-right weight, 4.2-inch barrel and smaller grip makes it a perfect firearm for a person with small hands. Could it be the perfect wheel gun? With a higher quality grip, it might be just the ticket.