Gun Review: Ruger SP101 .22LR Revolver

 

The Ruger Mark III and Browning Buckmark target pistols have launched a million new shooters. As well they might; they’re .22s. Putting anything more than a .22 caliber firearm in a newbie’s hands is like putting a learner driver behind the wheel of a Ferrari F40. At a race track. In the rain. But I reckon the steadfast semis are too damn complicated for newbies. Load the what how? Put the what in where? Pull the what back? I release the what how? Hand a new shooter a Ruger SP101 .22LR revolver, show them how to access the cylinder, tell them the bullets face forward, instruct them to close the cylinder, point, aim and shoot. Fffffft times eight. What could be easier? Well . . .

The SP101 .22LR. It could be easier. To assure ammo ignition, Ruger ships their .22 cal wheel gun with a trigger pull that’s heavier than a Liebherr T 282B. More scientifically, the SP101 .22LR’s trigger pull is literally off the scale. Thirteen pounds? Fifteen? A billion? If the trigger was any heavier—no, I don’t think it’s possible. Not even Chiappa could make this gun any harder to operate. In fact . . .

The first newbie who ponied-up to the firing line with the SP101 .22LR couldn’t pull the trigger (the range master thought she had the DTs). A beginning shooter who wants to hit a target with a bullet fired from a box-fresh SP101 .22LR has only one recourse: single action. Provided they can cock the hammer—which is a bit like saying “provided they can run an eight-minute mile”—the SP101 .22 LR’s five-pound trigger pull will see them right.

Arthritic shooters need not apply. If you have the grip strength of ten Texas politicians, sure, double action is doable. As you might expect, accuracy suffers. As in doesn’t exist. Well d’uh. How can you hope to shoot a small group with a gun that’s fighting you like a five hundred pound marlin? Did I mention that the SP101 .22LR has a heavy trigger pull?

There is but one solution: a trigger job. At his first attempt, ace gunsmith Dave Santurri lowered the trigger pull to the point where six out of eight shots went click (shooting American Eagle). Second time ’round, he found a balance between reliable ignition and operational accuracy. Which means that SP101 .22LR buyers face a stark choice: shell-out another $50 or so for a modded go-pedal or use the $689 gun as a 30-ounce paperweight.

But oh what a paperweight! I don’t know of a single semi that looks better than a revolver and I don’t know of many wheel guns that are as drop-dead gorgeous as the SP101 .22LR’s just-right blend of frame size and barrel length (4.2″) in stainless steel. The SP101 isn’t as oxymoronic as the stupendous K-framed Smith & Wesson 617 (that big for a .22?) nor as “toy like” (if exponentially more useful) as Smith & Wesson’s flyweight J-framed Model 317 Kit Gun.

Like the Smiths, the SP101 .22LR is built like a brick shit house. You know the old joke about unreliable handguns, “you can always throw it at them”? Like that. Yes, well— If you have access to a blunt object or a firearm that doesn’t require two hands to pull the trigger who needs a handgun that’s built like a brick shit house? OK, assume the trigger job. That still leaves . . .

A grip that’s as ergonomic as a two-liter bottle of Diet Coke. Made of wood. Like its higher caliber cousins, the SP101 .22LR’s square-shaped peg fits your round hand like something distinctly non-glove-like (if it doesn’t fit you must not quit). Traditionalists may scoff, but the two-fingered SP101 .22LR’s grip reminds us of an important truth: there’s a reason the Three Stooges made fun of people who drink tea with a raised pinkie.

Luckily, the SP101 .22LR’s blockystuntedgripitis can be cured immediately and completely with a simple swap to a Hogue Monogrip (as above). That small but vital contribution to the cause raises our SP101 .22LR’s total retail price by fifteen clams, to $754. If you’re still reading, remember there’s a big the difference in price between .22LR and, say, 9mm ammo (.05 vs .24 per round). Ruger’s revolver pays for itself after only 3,968 rounds!

Also on the positive side, the SP101 .22LR has brilliant sights. The fiber optic front is a big bounteous beacon between the gun’s drift adjustable rears; it looks like a green version of one of those “follow-the-bouncing-ball” orbs resting between two fence posts. Ruger offers the same set-up on the .38/.357 SP101, so you can use the smaller caliber wheelgun as a cheap-firing trainer for your other $754 Ruger revolver.

Once you’ve sorted the Ruger’s ununoctium-infused trigger pull and Dr. Smith grip (i.e. Lost in Space) the SP101 .22LR is a big ‘ole pussycat. But not too big. Unlike the aforementioned 44.2-ounce Model 617 the eight-shot SP101 doesn’t make the fairer sex wish they had Linda Hamilton’s arms.

The modified SP101′s accuracy is everything it should be—and I’m not. As a self-defense shooter (i.e. a marksman with eyes so bad they make Texas salamanders seem like hawks) I’m not the guy to attest to the SP101 .22LR’s ability to thread a needle. Suffice it to say, until you get that trigger job, the odds of creating ballistic needlepoint is lottery ticket tiny. Afterwards, you can stack rounds on top of each other like a pile of dimes.

[HTML1]

And then, by God, you will have an expensive gun that’s cheap to fire that hits what it’s aimed at at silly distances. How great is that? Wikkid pissa (as we Rhode Islanders are wont to say). I’ve added the SP101 .22LR to my regular range sessions and noticed a marked improvement in my trigger control and a significant reduction in out-of-pocket ammo outlay.

The modified SP101 .22LR also makes an excellent bedside gun for recoil sensitive souls. Say what you will about the .22 caliber round’s effectiveness against two-legged targets, but it’s a lot better than a baseball bat (or cowering in fear). Eight shots of well-placed ant-fart recoil .22 full metal jacket lead has sufficient penetration—and a likable tendency to tumble—to make any bad guy think twice about his lack of career choices.

All of which makes a modified SP101 .22LR a gregarious gateway to the gun world and a “use the gun you have” self-defense firearm. Is it worth the hassle of trigger tweakage and the steep price of entry? You tell me. I prefer Smith’s Model 317. It costs $5 more than a modded Ruger SP101 .22LR (less than what I spent on gas gunsmithing around) and works right out of the box. What you lose in potential accuracy (i.e. the shorter barrel) you gain in concealability.

It’s a shame really. The SP101 .22LR is an heirloom quality piece with the ideal caliber, barrel length and size for a lifetime of target practice—ruined by a lousy trigger and an ergonomically challenged grip. To paraphrase Obi, this is not the gun newbies are looking for.

SPECIFICATIONS:

Material: Stainless Steel
Finish: Satin Stainless
Front Sight: Fiber Optic
Rear Sight: Adjustable
Barrel Length:4.20″
Overall Length:9.12″
Weight: 30 oz.
Grips: Black Rubber, Engraved Wood
Twist: 1:16″RH Grooves: 6
Capacity: 8
Suggested Retail: $689.00

RATINGS (out of five stars):

Style  * * * *
A “just right” sized wheelgun with perfect proportions and superb attention to detail (they even put the safety warning under the barrel). The walnut grips are my only gripe.

Ergonomics  * *
Lovely balance and user-friendly weight. But what’s with that square-butt two-finger fandango they call a grip?

Reliability  * * * * *
Given the SP101 .22LR’s one billion pound trigger pull, it better be reliable.

Customizable  * * * * *
And customize it you must. Lighter trigger pull and Hogue grip essential for utility, accuracy and justification for its existence.

Carry  *
You could but a Smith & Wesson Model 17 is the correct answer to a question best asked by recoil-averse gun owners.

Overall Rating * *
If you leave the Ruger SP101 .22LR as is, leave it. Mod the go-pedal and Hogue the grip and you can transform the revolver into an excellent cheap-to-fire trigger trainer. There are, however, better choices.

avatar

About Robert Farago

Robert Farago is the Publisher of The Truth About Guns (TTAG). He started the site to explore the ethics, morality, business, politics, culture, technology, practice, strategy, dangers and fun of guns.

33 Responses to Gun Review: Ruger SP101 .22LR Revolver

  1. avatarbrigo50 says:

    Good review but am saddened I cant find a good .22 revolver by Ruger :(

    • avatarI_Like_Pie says:

      Ruger makes a wider variety of .22 revolvers than any other manufacturer. 4 different frame sizes.

      SP 101, LCR, Single Six, Bearcat. Endless variations over the years on the Single Six, and at least 3 variations of the SP 101.

      If you can’t find a good one then you really aren’t trying :-)

  2. avatarjwm says:

    you can find a good and versatile 22 revolver from ruger. the single six. s,l,lr and magnum rounds from the same package. i don’t recommend a single action revolver for beginners though.

    • avatarbrigo50 says:

      and thats my problem, had a new shooter on a beretta m9 doing 2 and 3 rounds in a magazine at a time, warmed up with a .22 rifle, but rifle to pistol is a tough exchange.

    • avatarMark says:

      The LCR comes in .22 and the trigger is actually good but the short sight radius does present a challenge with accuracy.

  3. avatarJeff says:

    “Open the gate?” What gate?

  4. avatarLance says:

    $689? We didn’t even pay that for my granddad’s SP101 .357 with the fiber-optic front and adjustable rear sights. $529 was the going price around here back in March. I agree the grip is way to small though, especially for a .357′s. Easy enough to handle with .38′s though.

  5. avatartdiinva says:

    At $760, after you fix the trigger and grip, the ruger is about the same price as my Springfield MILSPEC. 22lr chambered guns are supposed to be inexpensive. My SiG/GSG 1911-22, which has 80% compatibility with a real 1911 was less than $400. I don’t care how good it looks, feels or shoots. It it is way too expensive for the caliber.

  6. avatarAharon says:

    The SP101 .22 heavy trigger pull is unacceptable and needs replacement by oneself or a gunsmith. Woopie a whole @$50 or much less. How much do you spend on ammo shooting your other guns?

    Under ‘ergonomics’ you gave it a 2-star rating while describing the SP101 as “Lovely balance and user-friendly weight”. The factory grips, as you earlier stated, can be replaced with Hogue for $15. That’s an unfair 2-star rating just because of the grips.

    ‘Carry’: this is not about your S&W. This is about the SP101 4″ barrel in .22 caliber. You gave it 1-star rating for carry? That seems too low evaluating the gun by itself. The Ruger might be difficult or uncomfortable for a small man to carry yet many men with larger frames would not have an issue with it. Sure, there are smaller .22s out there and even smaller easier carry ones than your S&W.

    MSRP. You wail on about that number when you should know by now that the street price is far less. My guess is that the street price is in the lower $500 range, maybe a bit more.

    Many people own the larger caliber SP101s in 357 or 38. The SP101 in .22 is possibly a very good semi-matching gun for them.

  7. avatarbontai Joe says:

    Looks like maybe the Taurus model 992 is a better choice with a list price of $572, and a 9 shot capacity, although I have not shot either.

  8. avatarRalph says:

    I shot the selfsame Ruger before the gunsmith fix, and I could feel my tendons popping with every trigger press. The revolver didn’t recoil much, but my ligaments sure did. A .22 should be fun to shoot, but in DA mode this one was more like torture, and I’m talking the full Guantanamo Bay. It was a shame, since the build quality was absolutely first-rate.

    On a lighter note, who’s this Robert Farago guy? Is he a new reviewer? ‘Cause he’s pretty damn good.

  9. avatartdubb says:

    Like most Ruger revolvers, just replacing the hammer spring and trigger return spring can lighten the trigger but, you do have to find the balance between light and reliability. Spring kits are about $10.
    For beginner shooters I still think the Mark III is a better choice. Shooting double action without pulling the gun off target is not easy and can frustrate shooters.
    The benefit of the Mark III is you can throw a red dot on it and give a new shooter even more enjoyment.

  10. avatarKnow What I am Talking About says:

    The Smith & Wesson Model 617 is a much better choice. Ruger can go pound sand.

  11. avatarIdahoPete says:

    $700 with a trigger job? For that kind of money, haunt your local gun stores and gun shows until you find a nice-condition, 40-50 year old S&W Model 34 (aka the 22/32 Kit Gun), blued steel, 4″ barrel, no trigger job needed. Don’t like the grips? There are only about 50,000 different replacement grips for S&W revolvers out there. Go ahead – spend the money on a classic, pass it on to your ungrateful grandkids.

  12. avatarAge Quod Agis says:

    I can’t see spending that much for a .22 revolver. I’d take the same money, go to Bud’s and find a nice used S & W Model 64, and have plenty left over for ammo, grips, sights or any other mods/accessories.

  13. avatarInternational Jeff says:

    H&R 929 revolvers are a better bet for newbies. $75 at a gun store, hard trigger pull (but not as bad as this).

  14. avatarDarth Mikey says:

    Great review as always. So sad about the trigger pull. Rugers are usually pretty darn good.

    But, I have found a few problems starting a newbie on a revolver vs. a semi:

    Bigger ones are nose-heavy, which can be harder on beginner’s unconditioned muscles. Also, revolvers aren’t terribly natural for a good solid two-handed grip (and they get afraid of drifting a finger into cylinder-gap-blast). And there’s a certain sharpness to the kick (assuming .38 and above) that can be a turn-off, like getting your hand slapped.

    Mechanics are not necessarily better: I’ve seen struggles opening cylinders and trying to eject stubborn cases that lead to lasering the neighbors. And those double-action trigger pulls can be discouraging. So, defaulting to SA, I’ve seen newbies rush to cock as soon as they pick the thing up, and either forget they did or have a mishap while adjusting their grip. Hopefully they only blow an embarrassing hole in the range ceiling and not something living or expensive.

    Most newbies I’ve initiated actually seem more at home with a semi-auto in safe-action DAO or an SA with a good manual safety. Not perfect by any means: I’ve seen lots turn the gun sideways trying to reach the mag-release, disturb their grip kicking off the safety and get surprised settling back in, or fire prematurely while the gun is still settling from recoil. (Anyone have stats on accidents by gun types? I do expect I’m wrong here, that my sample isn’t representative. I’m also confident the semi is by far the most likely to AD because some fool’s playing with it off-range, so what about mishaps during trigger-time?) And then, of course, there’s limp-wristing, the bane of the poly-gun. So a revolver should be a better choice. But: Most newbies I’ve shot with like the semi’s feel better (though a few prefer revolvers naturally). The trick seems to be finding the gun the newbie feels most comfortable and confident with, and do a LOT of practice with snap-caps. (For my daughter it was a Beretta 92; my son prefers a SIG or my Ruger 22/45. Both hate revolvers–minor parental fail on my part. )

    • avatarjwm says:

      very valid points, darth mikey. when i show a newbie how to shoot i include cleaning and light maintanence on the weapon. i want them to get the fever and buy their own. especially with newbies some 22 autos can be a handfull to strip and clean. ruger and walther p22 comes to mind. generally speaking the newbies i have taught seem to master the overall functions of a revolver over auto. for some odd reason,ymmv, this holds true for all my handguns except the makarov, then everybody falls in love with it and wants it. even a girl from germany,an exchange student, who had never touched a gun before, wanted that mak after her first trip to the range with us. go figure.

  15. avatarDon says:

    I am in the marke for a da 22. You mentioned there are better choices in your overall rating, could you list these? Model 617, 317, etc?

  16. avatarKnow What I am Talking About says:

    The S&W Model 617 in .22LR is reviewed on this site. Check the gun reviews section for more information.

  17. avatarShiner says:

    I have this gun and concur with RF’s review. It’s a great gun but out of the box, the trigger sucks and the grip is too small.

    I knew about these issues from various gun forums before I purchased it. So I also bought a set of Wolff springs and Hogue wood grips right after I purchased the gun. Changing the springs yourself is not difficult and makes it a cheap (but necessary) upgrade vs taking it to a gunsmith. I didn’t polish up my internals but found the spring change alone to be satisfactory. The wood grips were pricier but a Hogue rubber monogrip is fairly cheap.

    The gun isn’t cheap but it’s built like a tank. It’s too bad that Ruger’s lawyers have so much say in the product design. You shouldn’t have to mod something out of the box to get it to an acceptable level, but I willingly did so with this gun and I have no buyer’s remorse. It might be a different story if I didn’t go into this purchase with my eyes open.

  18. avatarvinny says:

    I was looking for a nice d/a wheel gun in .22lr and picked up my sp101 for $525. I love this gun and I’m planning on polishing the internal parts. I want the wolf springs too but wolf website says not for newer sp101′s made after 2011…can anyone give any advice on this? I’m also looking into adding trigger and hammer shims for a smoother feel. Any feedback is appreciated. Thanks.

  19. avatarRich says:

    Did the cylinder lock up tight? I shot one at a local range and the cylinder was very loose on the rental gun. The new SP101 in the shop also had a loose cylinder. I passed on this model due to this point.

  20. avatartim says:

    does ruger plan to make a 22mag double action 2 inch pocket revolver

  21. avatarmike k. says:

    Author, you worked way too hard to fill your review with simile, imagery and general snark. Students of literature describe this as “flowery language.” In the future, you would do better to avoid it. If you know your topic, your review should speak for itself.

  22. avatarsam shoots says:

    i just purchased the .22lr sp101 double action 6 shot revolver and i was wondering if i could fire.22lr magnum rounds through it if someone could answer that i would appreciate it

  23. avatarCharles Abbott says:

    Hi,

    What did you find out about Wolff springs in a new SP101 .22LR?

  24. avatarChris Woodson says:

    I recently purchased one of these, for about $575. I’ve been shooting it several times a week for a month or so, and really enjoying it so far. As others have said, it’s built like a tank, accurate and I like the weight and feel of it. I did switch out the grips for Hogues. I’m not crazy about the look of the stock Ruger grips, and the Hogues have a better feel (IMO). As far as the trigger pull is concerned, this may be one of those “your mileage may vary” situations. Maybe the grip switch helps…I dunno. It’s a pretty stout pull, for sure, but manageable. My other revolvers are a S&W model 19, and an LCR (.38). I honestly can’t tell a lot of difference in the DA pull between the model 19 and SP101. Anyway, as far as I’m concerned it’s great little gun…my first .22 handgun…no regrets.

  25. avatarJ.S.Elkin says:

    I have owned both DAO and DA/SA SP101s in .357 and liked them both. I still own the DA/SA. I changed the grips to Hogues, polished the internals, and put in Wolff springs, making certain that the pistols could reliably ignite hard primers. I have owned and worked on Tuarus revolvers, including a .22 model. My .22 Taurus had problems right out of the box, which Taurus never really addressed properly. I managed to get the thing working reasonably well, but eventually traded it off. I have found that compared to Ruger and S&W Taurus revolvers are internally of poor design and quality. My current .22 revolver is a vintage S&W J-frame of excellent quality and still in very good condition. Note that the .22 rim fire cartridge requires a hard strike to reliably fire and .22 revolvers consequently all have rather hard double action trigger pulls if reliability is desired. On the Ruger SP101s, simply polish the internals and change out the trigger return spring, for sure, and the hammer spring to no lighter than will ensure reliable strikes. If like me, you don’t like the Ruger grips, put on Hogues or whatever you like. The basic platform is well designed and made.

  26. avataradam says:

    I bought an LCR22 for a new shooter for all the same reasons listed above. The trigger was so stiff that I could barely control the gun and I do have a grip like a Texas politician. I complained to Ruger, always a class act, and they offered me another model in exchange. I ended up with a BlackHawk convertible .357/9mm for my collection and got her an SR22 which she loved. I feel the same way about autos being too complicated for a newbie who is not going to become a serious shooter and only wants a SD weapon, but having her like and enjoy the gun counts for a lot.

Leave a Reply

Please use your real name instead of you company name or keyword spam.