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.

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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.