Ruger SP101: The Perfect Wheel Gun?

Beginning

I have a soft spot in my heart for revolvers. From bright finishes to blued, rubber grips to wood, 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. In the interest of thoroughness, however, we looked at several options, both revolver and semi-auto, including M&P’s, PX4’s, Glocks, GP100’s and the SP101. Although all of them were great choices, in the end she chose the SP101.

Ruger SP101

What is it?

Ruger introduced the SP101 line of revolvers back in 1989, and they’re smaller and slimmer than the GP100 wheel guns. It’s a single-action/double-action, with current chamberings of .38 Special +P, .357 Magnum, and .22LR. Capacities are 5-shot for .38 Special and .357, and 8-shot for .22LR. And, of course, .357 versions have the ability to shoot .38 Special as well. At one time Ruger offered chamberings in 9MM and .327 Federal Magnum, but those have since been discontinued. Barrel sizes include 2.25”, 3.06”, and 4.2”.

Engraving

The reason we gravitated toward the SP101 was the size. With a slimmer profile, 4.2” barrel, and a weight of 29.50 oz., it fit her hand like a glove. And although I usually like bigger frame revolvers, it fit my hand pretty damn good as well.

The Look

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 my 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.

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.

Specifications

  • Finish – Satin Stainless
  • Barrel – 4.2”
  • Weight – 29.50 oz.
  • Capacity – 5
  • Overall Length – 9.12”
  • MSRP – $699

Performance

Revolvers need to perform as well, though, and not just look pretty. Let me tell you, this thing performed flawlessly. With the current run on all things having to do with ammunition, I was limited to what I had on hand. Thankfully I have a decent variety stashed away, including Hornady, Fiocchi, and Remington. The following loads were used for this test:

  • 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

DSCF2392

Most “accuracy” test involving handguns utilizes a bag or rest at approximately 10-20 yards. However, the goal is this test was “real world” accuracy, meaning 10 yards with an off-handed two-hand grip and 5-shot groupings, excluding a 1-round flyer.

Results

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”. Fan-freaking-tastic. The other groupings were no larger than 2”, with two loads (Remington UMC .357 and Fiocchi .38) both coming in at 1.5”. 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.

Hornady Critical Defense .357

Conclusion

All in all, I think the Ruger SP101 is an outstanding piece, especially with an MSRP of $699. It’s as solid as granite, nice to look at, and feels extremely well built when holding it in your hands. The combination of the just-right weight, 4.2” 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.

Manufacturer Caliber Weight Type Grouping
Fiocchi .38 Special 110 Grain FMJ 1.5”
Remington UMC .38 Special 158 Grain Round Nose 2”
Remington UMC .357 Magnum 125 Grain JSP 1.5”
Hornady .357 Magnum 158 Grain XTP 2”
Hornady .357 Magnum 125 Grain FTX Critical Defense 1.25”
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