On this edition of TFB’s Wheelgun Wednesday, we’ll take a look at my former everyday carry piece, the Ruger SP101. The .357 Magnum SP101 was introduced a few years after the release of its big brother, the Ruger GP100 in the later half of the 1980s, and has since been chambered for .22LR, .327 Federal Magnum, .38 Special, and 9mm. The Ruger SP101 revolver’s prefix “SP” is generally referred to as “Special Purpose,” compared to the GP100’s “General Purpose,” but doesn’t appear in any current literature on Ruger’s website or advertisements. The Ruger SP101 revolver also saw service with the French police. Let’s take a look at this controversial concealed carry weapon, the Ruger SP101.
Wheelgun Wednesday’s @ TFB:
- Ruger GP100 Review
- 6 Revolver Cleaning Tips
- TFB Review: Bianchi Universal Revolver Holster – UM84R
- An American Automatic Revolver
Wheelgun Wednesday: Ruger SP101 Review
The Ruger SP101 is a wheelgun that seems to have a polarized following, primarily due to its weighty construction for just a five-shot capacity (in .357, .38, and 9mm). When I bought my SP101 around 2003 or 2004, it was more affordable than any Smith & Wesson that I would’ve been interested in, and that was a big factor for me on my small budget, and I was willing to heft that 27 ounces to launch 125 grain .357 Magnum missiles at any bogies that threatened me and mine. That was already my favorite cartridge and grain weight, which was nice since early adverts from Ruger stated that the SP101 was “designed exclusively” for it.
At that time, the Ruger SP101 was offered in 2.25 and 3-inch barrel lengths but has since been offered in 4.2-inch configurations as well. While the 2.25” barrel caught my eye more, I opted for the 3” version to get more velocity out of the .357 Magnum.
CURRENT SPECS FOR MY CONFIGURATION
- Grips Black Rubber, Black Synthetic
- Front Sight Black Ramp
- Barrel Length 3″
- Material Stainless Steel
- Capacity 5
- Rear Sight Integral
- Twist 1:16″ RH
- Finish Satin Stainless
- Overall Length 8″
- Weight 27 oz.
- Grooves 5
- Available in CA Yes
- Available in MA Yes
- Catalog KSP-331X
- UPC 7-36676-05719-1
CUSTOMIZING & CARRYING THE RUGER SP101
I found that when paired with the Active Pro Gear Tuckable IWB holster, my Ruger SP101 concealed quite nicely at my 4 o’clock position. Admittedly, I didn’t spend enough time and money figuring out how to effectively carry and conceal my Glock 26 that I replaced with the SP101, but I found what worked for the SP, and I carried that way for the next 11 years. At some point during that 11 years, my Active Pro Gear holster’s clip broke when I was adjusting it with a bit too much pressure, so I made my own Kydex holster in the same image as the previous holster. A few years later, I sustained an injury to my right wrist, so I easily modified the holster to carry on my left side until I healed.
The Ruger SP101 can be customized in several different ways, one of which is the front sight can be swapped out by removing the roll pin. I ordered a night sight to replace the black factory ramp sight, and it’s still glowing brightly and is simple to pick up through the milled rear gutter sight.
Another way to customize the Ruger SP101 is with the grips. I’ve always loved the square rubber grips on the GP100 and SP101, but the SP comes standard with plastic grip inserts which didn’t look good compared to the GP’s wood inserts. One negative of the SP101 is that the rubber grip can catch on shirts when concealing it, and I often had to give a tug on that side of my shirt after bending over.
After years of shooting, carrying and field stripping my SP101, one of the grip ferules failed, and I replaced the plastic inserts with a set of unfinished wooden inserts I found on eBay. I just had to put a couple layers of stain on them. VZ Grips, Hogue, and Pachmayr all make aftermarket grips for the Ruger SP101, while all sorts of smaller vendors and hobbyists make a myriad of grip inserts with all types of materials and flair.
Both my Ruger GP100 and SP101 surprised me right off the bat with very smooth triggers. At the time I bought them, and even today, internet forums are rife with information about how Ruger’s triggers don’t compare to those of S&W, and while they are different, the triggers on my Rugers are buttery smooth and clean. However, the addition of my night sight added some height compared to the factory front sight ramp, so my shots tend to be on the low side.
Generally, the weight of the Ruger SP101 is great for soaking up some recoil, while the superb over-molded rubber grip does the rest. However, if you’re going to put hot and heavy loads in it like 158-grain bullets, make sure you have a good grip on it. When I carried my SP101, I usually qualified with it at our department’s range day, and one year used some pretty spicy 158-grain loads. I’m still not sure what I did, but I managed to cut my trigger finger on the trigger itself, or a sharper surface on the frame above. I managed to pass the qual, but developed a flinch that I spent time and money on ammo to overcome it. Although, while everyone else was shooting their off-duty pistols in .380 and 9mm, I always enjoyed the surrounding gasps when I touched off the first .357 Magnum of the day.
It had been a while since I pulled out the old Ruger SP101 for the range, so it was a blast to blow off the cobwebs. The black factory front sight was a bit harder to pick up, but the front night sight with its white outline was fast to acquire. Some of my ammo was a hodgepodge of loads, including some old Remington 125 grain JSPs, and I was quite astounded at the oomph they had. Again, the grip took up most of the energy, but it had been a while since I shot anything that hot. Since the gradual decline of .357 Magnum ammo in my area, I’ve mostly switched over to Hornady’s Critical Duty with 135-grain projectiles, which is very controllable through the Ruger SP101.
One note on current production SP101s is that the MSRP has climbed substantially since I purchased mine almost 20 years ago, which is now $889 for the standard models, and $949 for the 4 inch models. While I can’t comment on out-the-door prices compared to Ruger’s MSRP, it may be one more factor to consider, along with the five-shot capacity for those that are interested in picking up their own. I’ve really enjoyed mine and don’t regret carrying it over a semi-auto all those years, and although I have switched to a pistol, I still keep my SP101 around as a backup CCW. I’ve always loved that the Ruger design is extremely simple to field strip and maintain.
If you already own a Ruger SP101, how has your experience been and which model did you choose? If you’ve been eyeing one, which one is calling your name?
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