(This is a reader gun review contest entry, click here for more details.)
By Paul K
Ruger is renowned for their extremely robust revolvers. By robust, I mean nearly indestructible. They make the kind of sidearm you would want to take on your next hunting trip…even if it happened to be to the Underworld to put one round in each of Cerberus’s heads. The arch nemesis to Ruger is without question Smith & Wesson. What the Ruger offers in indestructibility and price, Smith and Wesson make up for in trigger refinement, weight reduction, and overall finish. But enough about those higher priced safety queens (see: trigger lock key). We’re here to talk about a real American battle axe of a revolver, the Ruger SP101 . . .
The SP101 is a very good pistol for any new shooter or gun owner who doesn’t get caught up in the details of a pistol’s fit and finish. If you’re looking for a gun to introduce a girlfriend, wife, or all-around novice into the world of firearms, the SP101 is a perfect choice (or any other double action revolver for that matter).
If you’re someone who wants their gun to work after having drug it behind a truck down a gravel road, then you shouldn’t be allowed to own nice things, but the SP101 will still suit your needs. If you’re the type of pistol owner who is looking for a little more refinement and finesse, then the SP101 can be a bit of a diamond in the rough. All gun owners have room in their safe for a Ruger revolver.
From the factory, the SP101 has some areas that require attention to really make it shine. The first stop is the grip. While the short grip is nice for concealment, it’s not so nice when it comes to firing off .357 magnum rounds. I will give Ruger a plus for putting rubber grips on with plastic side panels. This makes the pistol stick in your hand without sticking to your shirt. Unfortunately, two fingers is not enough of a hold to control these man-stopper rounds, so I recommend a decent Hogue mono grip. You can get them in rubber or wood. The rubber costs about $20, while the wood runs closer to $80.
The next stop is the trigger. From the factory, the trigger has a 14 lb. trigger spring and is pretty gritty for a double action only gun. To fix this, you just need a Wolf 10 lb. hammer spring, and a new trigger return spring to lighten that pull up a bit. You can find several tutorials online that show how to disassemble the SP101 to replace the springs. While you’re there, you can also find walk-throughs on how to buff up the various internal parts to eliminate all of that trigger grit. Once that’s done, the gun has been completely transformed from a baseball bat with nails in it to a 6′ Claymore.
Do note, however, that by installing a 10 lb. hammer spring, you run the risk of having a light primer strike on ammo with hard primers. From what the internet has told me, this is seldom an issue. And it has to be true if it’s on the internet, right? This modification is to be done so at your own risk.
When comparing the Ruger SP101 to a Smith & Wesson, it seems the engineers at S&W tried to shave off as much weight as possible to make it easier to carry. Meanwhile, the folks at Ruger said, “Wait a second, this only holds five rounds. What happens when you run out of ammo? You can use the pistol as a club!”. They consequently added as much weight to the design as possible. The result is an extremely solid pistol that seems to use some ancient magic (discovered in Tutankhamen’s tomb, placed there by aliens) to harness the recoil energy of the .357 Magnum round and put it back into the propelled projectile. Or maybe it’s just so heavy it absorbs the recoil well. Either way, it’s very easy to shoot the SP101. Much easier than a light weight .357 caliber revolver.
Installing the Hogue Monogrip completely changes the way this gun fires for the better. The Hogue grip seems to somehow create a covalent bond between your hand and the rubber. With the deep finger grooves, it feels like the gun is now an extension of your arm, almost akin to Mega Man. This makes controlling magnum rounds extremely easy. It’s unfortunate that smaller caliber pistols are the go-to purchases for first-time female pistol buyers because it is assumed they cannot control faster and more potent rounds. The SP101 turns this preconceived notion into a myth, busted by making it easy for a person of any size to fire full-power .357 through such a small revolver.
Sights on the SP101 are pretty minimal. They do work, but they aren’t as quick as a 3-dot. You can get a fiber optic, or tritium front site for the SP101 if you please. Keep in mind, short barreled revolvers are really for typical defensive gun uses where the contact distance is seven yards or closer. At that distance, sight accuracy becomes a moot point because point shooting is more than likely what will be happening in such a high stress scenario. It’s not recommended you try to take a 50 yard head shot with this pistol, though the .357 round is more than capable. Besides, if you’re carrying a five-shot revolver, odds are pretty good that you’re not Jack Bauer.
Since this is a women’s gun, (literally my wife’s gun), I will discuss what I feel is the best female CCW option. Considering my rank of Special Internet Commando Operations Armchair General, I would say the best way I would recommend to carry this gun would be in a small pocket book, with an extremely long and strong strap. Preferably one with studded spikes on the outside. I think you know where this is going. There are times when women need to defend themselves from terrible people who want to do terrible things to them.
Those times require five rounds of hell’s fury and fireballs directly injected into the offender’s groin at 1500 FPS. There are other times when sloppy drunks playing grabass need to be put back in check. It’s the latter times that would result in a brandishing charge if the SP101 made an appearance. This is where the studded pocket book really comes into play. Just helicopter that make shift mace around your head a few times and you can land a real eye opener onto the noggin of any would-be sexual offender. Just remember, rapists get blasted, grabassers get maced, and I don’t mean the spray kind.
If you’re a dude carrying this revolver, then you’ve got to stay true to the heritage and go with a leather OWB holster. If you’re going to try to stuff a round cylinder in your pants, it might as well be to impress the ladies. Otherwise, just carry a double stack pistol in .357 SIG for the same power and a lot more capacity in the same size package.
You can change the grips out for rubber, wood, Crimson Trace, whatever you might fancy. You can change the front sight, and you can smooth the trigger if you feel confident enough. These are pretty typical changes that can be made to just about any pistol. The real gem hidden within the SP101 lies in the solid stainless steel construction. Its advantage is the ability to change the surface appearance fairly easily. All you need is about five gallons of elbow grease to turn this Amish mule into a Budweiser Clydesdale.
The lines and curves of the SP101 just beg to be smoothed out like Charlie Sheen’s career after a year’s supply of coke. The full under lug and bobbed hammer are an excellent start, just some finishing touches really make this a smooth operator. While brushed stainless steel is good for everyday abuse because it hides scratches, we’re not talking about a Viking’s battle axe anymore. We’re talking about making this into an Hattori Hanzo sword.
To achieve the status of work of art, here’s what you’ll need:
– Small flat bastard file
– Small round bastard file
– 120 grit foam sanding block
– 400, 800, 1000, 1500 and 2000 grit sand paper
– Mother’s Mag metal polish
Start by knocking off all of the square corners with the round and flat files. Easy does it, though. You will be surprised how much will come off if you really get too crazy with the file. Next, hit the edges you filed with the sanding block. The areas to really pay attention to are the front of the barrel lug, under the muzzle, and the trigger guard. Ruger put very little effort into smoothing out the trigger guard, so you are going to want to give that a lot of attention. After you’ve got it to the desired shape, now is the time to put on the Lord of the Rings Trilogy directors cut, because you’re going to be there a while with all of the polishing. It will take a couple hours to work your way from 400 grit to the Mother’ Mag compound, and that’s if you half-ass it like I did. If you really want a mirror like finish, it will take even longer.
Now that you’ve effectively calloused all areas of your fingers, you will be amazed at the metamorphosis that has taken place with this little caterpillar. You will not want to put this pistol down now that it is completely free of any sharp edges or rough textures. The final result is entirely worth the time and effort. Although you cannot tell from the photos, the SP101 is significantly smoother on all the corners of the gun than it was from the factory. Photographing stainless steel has always been a challenge for me.
I would recommend the SP101 for any shooter. If you are new to shooting it’s easy to learn with and easy to shoot both .38 and .357. If you are an experienced shooter and are not afraid to get your hands dirty, then there is a lot that can be done with this revolver. Gemini Customs offers other ways to pimp out this pistol.
If you want to own only one revolver and you don’t want to invest any extra time, money, or effort into it, then I suggest you go with a Smith & Wesson. The Smiths come with a little more refinement and typically a better trigger from the factory. I’m not talking about the polymer Ruger LCR when I say this. In the end, it would be a sound decision to invest in a pistol that will last several lifetimes and has such a unique, sexy look. Not all durable and reliable firearms need to be coated in Melonite or Cerakote. Sometimes it’s nice to carry a little class with some flash.
Ratings (out of five stars):
Style * * * * *
Sleek, smooth, curvy, strong – everything you want in a woma…I mean pistol.
Ergonomics Carry * * * *
Put it in a purse and swing that around your head for an excellent improvised mace. It might be a little on the heavy side, but sometimes a little extra weight can be a good thing.
Ergonomics Firing * * * * *
You will not find a softer shooting 2.25″ barreled .357 magnum pistol on the market.
Reliability * * * * *
It’s a revolver.
Customize This * * * *
Grips available, sights available, holsters available, purses available, and several ways to add a custom finishing touch.
Overall * * * * 1/2
For its class, it is an excellent pistol. There might be more refinement in a Smith & Wesson, but there are none easier to shoot, and none that look quite as sexy.