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I’m scripting a ’50’s style instructional video for shooters who’ve never fired/owned a gun. Think Handguns for Dummies without the copyright infringement. I’m trying to choose one gun to unite them all. While there’s a Smith & Wesson waiting in the wings for its shot at TTAG immortality, I’m currently evaluating the Ruger SP101 3″ Is it the perfect first gun for brand new shooters? Not quite. On the way to revealing the SP101’s drawbacks, here’s my selection criteria . . .

1. It has to be a revolver

Semi-automatic handguns are far easier to shoot accurately than double action revolvers. But they are not for newbies. There’s too much that can go wrong: loading the magazine, loading the magazine into the gun, racking the slide, remembering to rack the slide, remembering if you’ve racked the slide, remembering to deactivate a safety (where applicable), knowing when the gun is empty and knowing how to release the magazine.

Not to mention knowing how to clear the chamber if you remove the magazine before the gun’s empty, remembering to clear the chamber, keeping track of the muzzle while you reload a new magazine, remembering to reactivate the safety when you’re done (where applicable), gripping the gun tightly enough to avoid limp wristing and knowing how to clear the chamber if you do.

A revolver is WYSIWYG. Once a new shooter understands the safety rules, all they need is someone to show them how to open the revolver’s cylinder, how to check that it’s closed properly and how to hold the gun with an effective grip and stance. They already know which end of the gun to point at the target and what to do with the trigger (generally speaking) when they want the bullet to come out.

A new shooter with a new revolver can be up and running—well, standing still and shooting at paper—-in less than a minute. Sure, they won’t hit much, but voila! They can shoot a gun.

The semi’s steep learning curve requires patience and perseverance—two qualities that the average person doesn’t have in spades. The revolver’s idiot-friendly mechanical operation builds quick confidence. It allows the new shooter to concentrate on, and take pleasure in, acquiring the skill of marksmanship.

2. It has to be a heavy revolver

A large part of the newbie’s ability to hit what they’re aiming at depends on the revolver’s weight. Unfortunately, new shooters take to small, lightweight handguns like size queens take to porn stars (in reverse). Small handguns aren’t as psychologically intimidating as larger guns. A newbie can easily imagine themselves doing the stow and go; they know the gun won’t mandate a change in wardrobe or lifestyle. In fact, owning a small gun’s almost like not owning a gun at all! Which is more true than the small gun buying newbie will ever know . . .

Because there’s a good chance they’ll fire their awww isn’t it cute little lightweight handgun once and . . . never again. Small guns are painful to shoot. Unless they’ve got a kink, most humans have a tendency to avoid pain. A snubbie may be the ideal back-up gun (I’m still wondering about why you’d want a smaller second gun after the first one failed to git ‘er done), but it’s for sure not a good weapon with which to introduce newbies to the fun of guns.

The $629 Ruger SP101 is the poster child for The Joy of Shooting. The revolver encourages practice by not punishing the person practicing. The more the newbie shoots, the better they’ll be at shooting. The better they are at shooting, the more they’ll want to shoot. A virtuous circle. Only more so. The better they are and the more they shoot, the more self-defense capability they’ll achieve.

So we need a weapon with minimal recoil. Sure, a newbie could buy a small gun in a small caliber. But I’m assuming that the average new shooter is buying a handgun for self-defense. I reckon a .38 is the most effective easiest caliber for a newbie to handle. A revolver that shoots .38s with the possibility of upgrading to the Mother of All Manstoppers (.357) is an ideal solution. Again, as long as the gun has enough heft to tame the recoil.

The Ruger SP101 tips the scales at 27 ounces. New Hampshire’s finest stainless steel revolver is sufficiently heavy to make shooting .38s a breeze. Getting the gun back on target is quick and easy. Low-recoil .357s are a tad more challenging, but not as punishing as a increasingly experienced new shooter might imagine.

Full-on self-defense .357s are for sure a handful, but why wouldn’t they be? Newbies can gradually graduate to the most potent of popular handgun rounds, feeling safe and secure with their favorite (only?) handgun as they go.

Granted, the SP101’s a pretty portly pistol to pack. But it is pretty; the stainless Ruger revolver is a handsome beast with perfect proportions. Anyway, there’s no getting around the trade-off between future firearms facility and current concealed carryability. If a new shooter wants to be able to hit their target, and increase that ability over time, they need every one of those ounces.

3. It has to have a long(ish) barrel

The only thing harder to shoot than a lightweight revolver is a lightweight revolver with a short barrel. There’s a reason why snubbies are also called belly guns; it’s not because they’re easy to shoot accurately at targets beyond bad breath distance. The old saw that “most gunfights happen at 10 yards” is entirely misleading; the stat is heavily skewed by police gunfights.

Anecdotally, a woman who’s alone and sees a gun or knife-wielding rapist heading her way would be well-advised to shoot earlier rather than later. Which means further rather than closer. Which is a good rule of thumb generally. Assuming you can hit your target.

Which is damn difficult with a snubbie. The 3″ Ruger has enough barrel length to give a bullet a proper send-off. Longer would be better, but I’m trying to keep concealed carry within the realm of possibility. Which brings us straight to one of the Ruger SP101’s main deficiencies for the role of beginner’s first gun . . .

4. It has to work as a concealed carry gun

While the Ruger SP101 3″‘s size and weight make it a bit of a PITA to carry, the fact that the revolver has an exposed hammer is a definite disqualifier. It’s possible to extract the SP101 from your pants pocket without the hammer catching on the material, but it’s more likely that this unfortunate event will occur. Unfortunate as in deadly. For the owner.

Ruger offers the shorter-barreled SP101s with a shrouded hammer. But not the 3″. Bummer.

5. It has to have great sights

Mastering a revolver’s trigger pull, even one as crisp and clean as the Ruger SP101’s, ain’t no walk in the park. But that skill’s for nought if you can’t aim the gun properly. Not to put too fine a point on it, the Ruger SP101’s sights suck.

The rear sight channel works OK when the gun’s aimed at a light-colored target. It pretty much disappears when the target’s dark or wandering around in low light.

The Ruger’s front sight is a black ramped blade. There’s nowhere near enough color contrast with the rear sight. The front sight also disappears against a dark target. You could coat the blade in neon nail polish, but the gap on either side of the sight (between the rear channel) is still too small.

Some might assert that the SP101 is a point-and-shoot piece. And they’d be right—in a self-defense situation. To achieve the skill-set needed to be a good point shooter, you need to practice with proper sights. These are not the proper sights you’re looking for.

While we’re here, why not an SP101 with Crimson Trace laser sights? Because beginning shooters get the idea that if the laser’s on the target, that’s where the bullet will go—failing to realize that it will only go there if you hold the gun steady and pull the trigger smoothly. Laser sights also lead newbies to think they don’t need to practice. Which they do.

So, other than points four and five, the Ruger SP101 3″ is the ideal gun for beginning shooters.

I’ve contacted Ruger about the possibility of fixing this and other drawbacks. I’d like them to offer a TTAG Beginner’s Gun. But then I’d like to have five million dollars in the bank, too. I’ll report back ASAP. Meanwhile, I’m contacting Smith about checking out the Model 60. (A head-to-head comparo is in the works.)

Do I have the right recipe? Any other candidates?


Model: Ruger SP101
Action: Revolver
Capacity: 5 rounds
Caliber: .38/.357
Material: Stainless Steel
Barrel Length: 3.06″
Overall Length: 8″
Weight Unloaded: 27 ounces
Price: $629 msrp, $608 via Brownells

RATINGS (out of five):

Style * * * * *
It’s the revolver a revolver would carry.

Ergonomics * * * *
The SP101 feels wonderfully balanced and accommodates all four non-shooting fingers (a big plus with a smaller revolver). The thumb indentation in the rubber grip panel should extend all the way to the rear of the grip.

Ergonomics Firing * * * * *
Shooting .38s are a joy. Full-strength .357s not so much. Practice with the first a lot, practice with the second a little, carry the big ass man stoppers and you’re good to stow.

Reliability * * * * *
Built like a brick shithouse. No problems.

Customize this * * *
Grip options are legion and sight replacement is highly recommended.

Overall Rating * * * * 1/2
At this price, it should be perfect. And it almost is.

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  1. Having just picked up an SP101 (3″ 357Mag) I’d have to agree with your points, both high and low. Being a newbie shooter, though, I can’t give comments about other revolvers, unfortunately–the only other pistols I have is the 357LCR and a MkII Gov Target. Only change I’ve made thus far to the gun is to take a bit of sandpaper around the trigger guard, up top, to take off a sharp edge. I did buy a set of Hogue monogrips–and found that while they fit my left hand they don’t in my right. Weird.

    One detail I’d like to point out is noise. I’ve noticed that the extra 1+” of the SP101 makes for a fair amount of noise reduction, over the same ammo in the 357LCR. It’s not whisper quiet of course, but enough to notice. A few rounds of that and then it’s nice to shoot the 22 again. Not everyone is going to do well with a loud bark, if they are newbies.

    [Actually, I’m starting to wonder if regular practice with something that has more recoil is wise: work with flinch control on something with recoil, and then when you go back to more tame guns suddenly it’s far less work to shoot those. Food for thought (for advanced shooters, no doubt).]

    Otherwise, yeah, SP101 in 3″ isn’t a pocket gun, needs to be on the hip; then you wonder about only 5 shots. The 327Mag, though, I thought was a low recoiling gun. But the SP101 in 327Mag has that adjustable rear site, which is even more of a snag issue. In some ways I think I’d rather have that round, to have the classic 6 rounds *and* less recoil (which I’m not a fan of).

    But the SP101 is too pretty of a gun to not have one of.

    [On edit]Forgot to add, the SP101 has a near-full grip. That helps too–getting that pinky on does help with control.

  2. Oh, and as a side note, I recently traded my LCR (in 38spl) for the 357LCR, as I found the 38spl version to simply have too much recoil. Darn thing flips up in my hand, and bruises the top part of my thumb base. The heavier 357 version of course does this much less, with the same 38spl in non +P. But inspite of the extra weight I still think it works as a pocket gun, with a pretty decent trigger and sights. [But HKS speedloaders really don’t work with it.]

    Not that the LCR’s are really good for beginners at all–but let’s face it, snubbies are what many beginners gravitate towards (if they didn’t go 380 or Glock in the first place).

    • I did the same thing…. on the LCR…. GOOD MOVE!! Easy to carry in a pocket Sticky Holster. Shoot .38s out of the .357 all day long… sort of… lol.

  3. The SP-101’s front sight is a snap to replace, but the rear sight notch has no mounting holes or dovetail, and that kind gunsmithing work gets expensive fast.

    • I painted the “notch” white…. it works great! And put a “Big Dot” sight on the front.

      Sure love shooting this thing!!!

  4. Smith & Wesson 686+. Really good sights, seven rounds instead of five or six. The same things that make it a good shooter make it less than ideal for concealed carry. Great sights have a high profile and can snag. The hammer is exposed, but its low position protects it during a draw. It won’t hang up. It fires .38SPL without undue recoil. It looks good and handles well. Loaded with .357 Mags, it will stop anything. Available in 2.5, 3, 4 and 6 inch barrel lengths. What more do you want?

      • It’s heavy all right, but not too heavy. It needs a good holster and belt, but forget IWB unless you buy your pants from MC Hammer.

      • Do some pushups sally. The sp101 is one of the easiest weapons out there to carry concealed. I, like many other grown ass men, carry an N frame concealed. Sack up.

        • almost all triggers suck on new guns. That why you get trigger jobs. A longer firing pin and weaker hammer spring helps most of them. IMHO the short firing pin it to help pass the California drop tests. The heavy hammer spring is to make the short firing pin pop the primers. The last S&W I bought went click on the first round of ammo I tried to run thought it.
          Potentially, a government is the most dangerous threat to man’s rights: it holds a legal monopoly on the use of physical force against legally disarmed victims. -Ayn Rand

    • Unless Smith drops the internal lock they won’t see a dime of my money. It’s a shame too cause I am a revolver fan.

  5. Suggested book titles (to avoid copyright infringement), from the home office in Fargo, North Dakota:

    10. K.I.S.S.: Keep It Simple(er), Shooter!
    9. The Redneck’s Guide to Revolvers
    8. The Dummy’s Guide to Personal Defense
    7. The Moron’s Handbook for Modern-Day Muskets
    6. Firearms for Fatheads
    5. The Fool’s Guide to Firearms
    4. Boomsticks for Boneheads
    3. Wheelguns for Wussies
    2. The Stupid Git’s Guide to Guns (U.K. edition)

    And the number one suggested title to avoid copyright infringement:

    1. Pistols for Pinheads

    Thank you. I’ll be here through Thursday. Try the veal.

  6. American Kenpo Karate Association Grand Master John McSweeny (now deceased) was a great proponent of point shooting. He taught many civilian and law enforcement individuals over decades. While he carried a 1911 .45 for security work, he always taught with a steel S&W Bodyguard five shot .38. He felt that the revolver was easiest to learn, that the Bodyguard’s shrouded hammer was easiest to carry and a steel gun easiest to control recoil for new shooters.

  7. I am just not the revolver expert, but I wonder if anything in oft-forgotten Taurus catalog would fit the bill. There have been so many iterations through the years, and I think the Hecho en Brasil (I am also not a Portuguese expert) guys would love to something with you. As would Charter who loves them a special edition anything…

  8. A note on the ergonomics comments. That is not a thumb indentation, it is to allow use of speed loaders. And yes, it usually is inadequate, but can be fixed with a little sanding.

  9. Since it’s new and imported, availability may be an issue. But I think a Chaippa Rhino would be a perfect beginner’s gun. I heard that the production models have a much better trigger.

    • Rhino revolver is a good weapon for anyone. I have 2″ version. Very easy trigger pull in single action, once you pull cocking lever back for single action it stays in single action where trigger pull is much lighter. Double action is a heavier pull. Actually, initially had to do a “double finger” pull but as hand strength developed. back to using one finger. Same way I started with my Ruger LCR. Just a matter of using something to strengthen trigger finger. Design directs recoil into wrist instead of palm. Even with 357 ammo little felt recoil, little muzzle flip. Shooting 38 + p. rounds, no felt recoil, imperceivable muzzle flip. Supply much more available now on-line and even saw same model 2″ Rhino at Cabelas the other day.

      Bottom barrel design is brilliant. Wish other gun manufactures would adopt a similar design. Barrel: 2 inches,
      Overall Length: 6 inches
      Weight (unloaded): 25 ounces
      Grips: Rubberized black synthetic
      Capacity: 6

      • Yes, I considered one but do not trust the integrity of the trigger apparatus. It seems many have been returned for repair.

  10. I’ve been thinking about getting one of these lately to complement my LCR.
    I just wish there was a 6-shot .38 version of the SP101, my Detective Special fits in a SP101 holster, so it seems like there should be enough space in the cylinder!

  11. I have a Ruger SP101 in .357. I forgot it in east Texas. I am going to work in Amarillo for a while and am picking up a 6 shot .38 snubby (Taurus). Not my ideal choice buy will fit the bill.

  12. I bought a pair of Ruger SP 101s when I was training a lot of beginners to shoot handguns. One is a 3″ .357 like the one in the article. The other is a 4″ .22. The grips are identical. I start beginners on the .22 and when they get comfortable with that we move up to the .357 with commercial FMJ .38 special ammo.

    One more reason why the SP 101 is a great gun for training new shooters.

  13. I think the S&W Model 64 might be a good candidate with a 4 inch barrel. It’s really not too hard to conceal with a proper holster, and the fact that it’s in a holster should alleviate concerns about the hammer snagging on the draw (though for pocket carry, get a gun with a shrouded hammer). Inexpensive, police trade-ins readily available on the used market, good trigger, low recoil, and plenty durable.

  14. I’ve owned a 3″ SP101 for about 15 years. It’s everything you say and “more”. And, by that, I mean it’s capable of excellent accuracy….if you could only use the sights.

    Any double action revolver requires practice to master and retain proficiency with. The lousy SP101 sights not only make hitting the target difficult, they make practice a chore. But on days when everything’s working in its favor and the lighting is perfect, the SP101 will amaze you with its accuracy. I don’t know whether anyone offers a custom sight package for this revolver, but someone should. With good sights, it would be one fun puppy at the range.

  15. Thinking much as you do, 10 years (?) ago I chose for my daughter a Ruger SP101, but in four-inch barrel with windage-adjustable sights, and since the 32 H&R Magnum was then available, I also selected that load. Sadly, it’s not a tack-driver for accuracy, but it certainly fulfills its role for self-defense. I did not believe she would use it in the concealed role, so the exposed hammer (and four-inch barrel) were not an issue. It’s one great advantage – in a 30-ounce package, this revolver is one you (or she) can shoot all day.

    I put significant money into gunsmithing – re-profiling the trigger for small hands, smoothing the action, and having a custom-made front sight fabricated, none being available for purchase at the time. Its bullet-proof, or even bomb-proof, nature was a part of the purchase decision; I know if it ever requires factory service, Ruger techs will “improve” it back to factory spec.

    Still, for concealed carry the stats on revolvers are pretty poor – 25% hit rates, IIRC, and that includes trained police. They are belly guns, indeed, even with longer barrels.

    • Any pistol is only as accurate as it’s shooter. Bernard Goetz was carrying a Smith and Wesson, and he hit his four targets five times with five shots.

  16. You are a man after my own heart. I have transitioned a lot of my previously gun-novice acquaintances into gun ownership using the same criteria for a first gun.

    When I go through safety with them, I start however with a single action revolver (ruger single six) because all I want to focus on is basic trigger discipline, aiming, and getting them used to the noise. I find single action to be a more controllable gun (for ME) to be in the hands of a first time shooter. There are more opportunities for me to intervene if something unsafe is happening. Also, the single action revolver instills a mechanical intuition regarding the parts and function of the gun. There is something to be said for seeing and manipulating all the relevant parts yourself.

    After an hour or so instilling trigger discipline and basic safety, aiming, shooting, I move to a double action revolver with .38 special target loads. Similar platform to what you describe in this article except a 4 inch barrel.

    For recommending a first gun, I usually recommend something like what you describe. 3″-4″ barrel, and FIXED sights. Fixed sights are really all most people need. I have NEVER had a revolver with fixed sights which I couldn’t shoot on point with commercial ammo with more than adequate defensive accuracy. My goal in recommending a gun for a first time shooter is keeping it as SIMPLE as possible. What people don’t seem to understand is that 99.9% of the time THEY are the variable when it comes to shooting. I’ve noticed if there is a screw or adjustment around to be screwed or adjusted, people tend to screw and adjust rather than practice.

  17. Suggested book main title:
    Your First Self-Defense Gun
    Protect yourself from being victimized
    How to safely and effectively use your new gun
    Don’t be a helpless victim of criminal violence

    The SP101 with its 3″-barrel comes as close as I can imagine. However, based on your stated requirements and criticisms of the SP101 I suspect that there is not one gun to unite them all. Perhaps the brand new version of the SP101 in 22LR with 8-rounds can be an ideal introduction training gun, and a SP101 .357 3-barrel a new gun owners first serious SD gun. If Ruger ever releases a .22 Mag version SP101 with a 4.5″ or 5″+ barrel with sights such as the new SP101 22LR has that would be interesting to consider (ok, no more dreaming for now).

    Many interesting comments here. I did not know that revolvers have such a lower hit rate than pistols. While I suspect the shooting case specifics do not exist in compiled detail, I would be curious to learn about the details such as calibers, number of bullets fired, how much training or practice time the shooter had, etc.

    This summer I bought the SP101 .357 in a 3″-barrel though I have not yet fired it. After shooting it for about a year, I will probably pay for SP101 custom work to release its full potential.

  18. I’m getting one, though with the 2.25″ barrel, going to get the Hogue combat gribss for it and a XS Big Dot for the front, should make a perfect first gun, home defense and carry weapon. Thoughts?

  19. Good choice Robert.
    I own this weapon and have bought one for my daughter. We both shoot tight groups into silouette targets from suggested combat distances. The only things I might change on this piece would be to bob the hammer spur and lighten the trigger pull. As far as sights go, I prefer to “point” the weapon at center mass rather than aim it along its fixed sight. Fancy glow-in-the-dark sights would not be of much use in a rapid response situation. If I were to need something more to stop an assailant, I would opt for an 8 inch Python with tritium sights and a lazer hanging on for extra measure. But then, there goes concealablity!

  20. I also like the 3″ 101, but not the sights. I put a J frame Smith rear sight on mine. Much better. Ruger also looks like they have heard our pleas. On their website I just saw a 4″ version of the 101 with the same frame as the new .22 with adjustable sights. Terrific!

  21. I just bought one of these guns last night but mine has Crimson Tide Laser Grips on it which appear to be factory installed as they have the ruger crest on them. I have found one post about the one with the 2.25″ barrel one having factory installed Crimson Tide laser grips, but can’t seem to find anything else. Just trying to get some more info…’s this years model, it came with the first shell with a fired date of 03/11. Anyone with any more info would be great. Thanks

  22. I own the Ruger SP101, two and a half inch barrel hammerless in .357 magnum, it is a real solid and well built weapon, I do not care too much for the sights, the other day took the weapon out to do some target practice at relatively close range 10 yards with some .38 special rounds, every shot hit very low, had to raise the front sight over the level of the rear sight to hit the target ! I have to admit I like shooting the Taurus model 85 much better than the SP101, much easier to hit the target at shorter self-defence ranges , atleast it is for me !

    • I just bought the sp101 in 4.2 inch barrel with green fiber optics front sight it shoots very well in the 38sp very small group at 25 yards I am in no way a new shooter but have never shot the revolvers very much ,even tho I own 5 pistols in 22 to 9mm I feel at this time this ruger might be best handgun I have ever owned I would have nothing changed on this gun PS I like this gun and sure most people out there will also it is so easy to keep on target and fiber optics make it a plus

  23. I like the look of the adjustable sights now on the new 4” .22 and .357. It would be nice to think that they might use that frame/sights combination with 3” as well. It is probably too much to hope for the 2”.

  24. I owned a Ruger SP101 years ago when they were still relatively new. I found the rear sight channel was too narrow and the gun consistently shot to the left. With a small jeweler’s file I widened that channel and moved the POI right. I also painted the front sight with glow-in-the-dark paint from Cabelas. I smoothed out some of the sharp edges including the sides of the hammer. The gun became one of my favorite carry guns and I could hit with it quite well. As a demonstration to student shooters at the range I once banged up a cantaloupe sized rock at 100 yards. I got all hot for a Browning Hi-Power in .40 S&W and used the SP101 for trading material. The Browning was the best “duty gun” I used but I still miss that SP101. I believe I will get another in 3 inch. The reason for carrying two of such guns is the reload. If for some reason the first five shots don’t get the job done-instead of wasting time with a reload you simply pull another gun! I have been packing heat since around 1967 and I have shot all manner of semi-autos but I still prefer the revolvers for simplicity, accuracy, and reliability. I still pack a S&W 642 but the SP101 has to be one of the best for either new or experienced shooters. They all require a lot of shooting!! Cheap .38’s or handloads for practice are great and the guns will shoot ’em all. Then you can always put the high octane loads in for serious work. The guns will shoot them too. Practice, practice, practice.

  25. My wife bought the SP101 because it meets all the qualifications stated in your blog. It’s the perfect beginners weapon with little that can wrong. However like you mentioned the front sight is not great espeically when shooting at black targets or in low light. What I haven’t seen in any of the responses except one, was a suggested replacement sight. The one of painting glow in the dark is not what she wants. She just wants something white. Any thoughts?

  26. Yes, it’s a bit big for concealed carry, but that’s just an excuse to go shopping for a bigger purse 🙂

    I, too, was shooting a bit to the left with mine at the range, but after a slight adjustment in stance it was better.

    Practice practice practice!

  27. I think the SP101 is a great revolver, but leaving aside the credibility of the claim of any .357 Mag round as “Mother of All Manstoppers” (yeah, I’m well aware of the “research” Marshall and Sanow have propagated on the subject and their questionable cause-and-effect conclusions), a .357 Mag round does not achieve especially impressive muzzle energy coming out of a 3″ barrel. Clock a few out of the barrel and compare with +P .38s and see how they stack up. I think you will find that the gain in energy is not as impressive as the increase in muzzle flash (detrimental in low-light conditions), blast, and recoil.

    If Magnum rounds are to be carried, the shooter should be practicing with the same rounds — not lower power rounds — so that in the event of a firefight, the more severe recoil is not a dangerously distracting surprise.

    • I believe you are referring to the 2 1/4″ and under barrels. It aint as good as 4″ on up, but the 3″ gets ALOT more than the snubbies (which I agree with you) truly rob the 357 of what it means to be a 357. They make some 357 short barrel loads the 3″ really excells at.

  28. I just bought the sp101 .327 and was surprised how easy the .32 shot through it and how easy the recoil was. I just recently got some .327 ammo and shot them today. Holy crap the recoil was really punishing on my hand. I have a .357 cowboy pistol and the difference between the .357 and the .38 ammo was not really big difference like the difference between the .32 and .327 with the sp101 3″.
    The sp101 with .327 kicks heck of a lot more than the .357 cowboy 4.75 barrel.
    I found I really have to hold the sp101 really secure or my hand really says… hell no! I know the longer barrel I should expect less recoil but sheesh what a difference. I sure was not expecting this mule kick. I defintely will only use the .327 ammo sparingly and mostly use the .32 ammo for practice.

  29. I’ve had a 15 year love/hate relationship with a spurless 2-1/4″ barrel.

    It is a rugged and well built weapon as are all Rugers. The accuracy of something with a short barrel is amazing. The only drawbacks to me are 1. the stock grip is too small for large hands. If you have a pinky hanging off then accuracy will suffer. A Hogue grip solves that problem. For medium and small hands the stock rubber grip should be fine. Drawback #2 is a problem with every factory Ruger I’ve ever fired. The trigger pull is heavy and gritty. Dropping the hammer spring down to a 8# and polishing the trigger group contact point makes it the sweetest gun on the planet. Grips can run from $20 up to hundreds if you want to get really fancy. I spent (remember this was 15 years ago) $2 for a spring set and $10 for a nylon grip and was happy ever since. The only thing I really dislike about this gun is the noise and muzzle flash. But that’s what you have to live with if you want a short barrel.

  30. I agree with gman.
    You can get the SP101 in .327 federal magnum. With that you get one more round in the cylinder, adjustable rear sights, the ability to practice with .32 long ammo, and if you feel the need, you can get Hogue rubber grips for less than $20.
    I’m actually considering getting the SP101 in this configuration to compliment my GP100.

    • The problem that I had with the .327 Mag was one of “personal confidence”! My mind kept reminding me that it “may be a 32 mag”, but that’s still only .32 Caliber! I went back to the SP 101 in .357 Mag!

      • Kind of like getting over the fact that it may be a .300 Winchester Magnum, but it’s still just a .30 caliber.

  31. I recently got the 4″ barrel version. Sights: adjustable and great! Grips: get the Hogue nylon or rubber one instead; much better. Concealable: Not in a pocket, but maybe in a holster.
    Bottom line: what was great got better!

  32. This may well be the best gun for a one gun person (why someone would have only one gone is beyond me because there are so many different roles). This would be the person who has been around guns alot but still only has a passing interest and knows they will only have a gun for the chance that something goes bump in the night and they can grab it from the sock drawer. This revolver needs little maintenance, less training for basic function as a point blank, pull the trigger gun than semi platforms and that 3″ barrel gives way better ballistics and sight radious than the snubbies and can still be stuck in a front pocket (with an uncle mikes holster for around $10) for that night walk to the gas station. Its a near perfect camping/trail gun that you can load near anything in: Snakeshot, 38’s, +P’s, low recoil 357’s, 357’s, hard cast 180-200grainers for black bear, 125grain screamers for two legged creeps. A truck gun is cool but if you were to CC the thing then you should really practice with it and not just stick it in a holster and go.
    In short, at 27oz this J frame can shoot all 357 ammo without hurting you or the gun (unlike the 12-15oz alloy guns that literaly go off in your hand like a grenade and you dont even get the beneifit of decent ballistics because of the snubby barrels which neuter the 357) and can be stuffed in your front pocket for a period of time.

  33. I own the short bbl version of the SP101 .357. Hogue grips are required accessory. Ruger has stopped putting that nubby rubber blob of a grip on their GP100’s now and have gone to a Hogue. Not sure about the current SP101’s. Great gun as are all Ruger stainless steel revolvers. You could not give me one of those polymer revolvers they make now. Every time I have let someone shoot my SP101, they tell me they own and or carry a S&W revolver and that they are going to sell it and get a Ruger. Nuff said.

  34. I have both the Ruger SP101 and the GP100. Am I the only one here who thinks the SP101’s trigger sucks? The pull is WAY too heavy; a lot of buyers get Wolf Springs to lessen the pull (and in my case I had a gun smith do a spring/trigger job because my wife could only pull the trigger with 2 fingers…one from each hand). BTW she loves the GP100’s trigger. How could Ruger get the trigger so right on the GP100 and so wrong on the SP101? It’s as though Ruger quasi-markets the SP101 to women and others with smaller hands (ala the small grips) and then makes a trigger that is hard for most women to pull…

  35. I recently bought a SP 101 6 inch 6 shooter. I’ve put a few hundred rounds through it both 38 and 357 hollow point. I never miss even at 25 yards. This revolver is solid.
    The 357 is very loud with a big flash. almost the loudest on the range,but the kick is moderate. I’ve put 200 rounds through it in a half hour with no problem. The cylinder gets hot but who wouldn’t. This is my first revolver. I bought it for home defense after a home invasion that I was able to fend off with my loud voice. I would have preferred to have my new Ruger, but then there would have been some messy consequences. Hopefully, it won’t happen again,but I feel much safer with this baby !

  36. Replace the springs, do a trigger job and replace the front sight. I used XS Standard Dot. For my wife’s 2.25 barrel we got Hogue grips. My 3″ has some nice aftermarket inserts from Chig’s. These are solid pistols that shoot will and hold up. Work the action and go through some ammo at the range.

  37. I have a relatively “rare” Ruger SP101 in .38 Special ONLY. It’s the 3 inch with Hogue grips. As all have agreed, it’s a beautiful tank of a gun built for ease and dependability. My wife and kids have had great success in shooting this with no issues. I’ve entertained the thought of selling or trading it for a small semi-auto (like a Sig 238), but haven’t pulled the trigger on that decision yet. Love this gun!

  38. Great review!

    The only part is disagree with is the author’s exception to using an exposed hammer on the SP-101 model with a three inch barrel. Even a complete neophyte gunman would have to be remarkably uncoordinated in order to snag or inadvertently cock the hammer on the draw.

    NOT that an SP-101 would fire, anyway! Remember, Ruger’s revolver design employs a TRANSFER BAR. A Ruger revolver WILL NOT FIRE unless the shooter’s finger is, also, on the trigger.

    Furthermore, when you stop to think about it, that exposed hammer AND three inch barrel ARE NECESSARY for those, ‘longer shots’ the author CORRECTLY RECOMMENDS women to make when confronted by an equally well-armed (and closing) dangerous attacker.

    I own an SP-101 in 357 magnum; it has a three inch barrel, an exposed hammer, and a large Hogue Monogrip on it. It’s one of those guns that you buy once, and keep for life! Frankly – if, ‘push ever comes to shove’, and I really had to – I would not have the slightest qualm about having to fight for my life with this superlative, ‘little’ revolver.

    It’s a rock-solid winner that most people are actually going to be able to hit the target with! (As the article points out: NOT an easy thing for many lightly experienced handgun shooters to do with any small revolver; AND the SP-101 is an easy gun to practice – a lot – with.)

    • Pistolero
      Your comments have me nearly convinced to buy the 3″ exposed hammer SP101 Ruger, but could you expound on your comment about these characteristics being NECESSARY for self-defense “longer shots”? Also,do you have an opinion about laser sights for this model?

      • Tom, the 3″ barrel is about the shortest you can have on a handgun and still be able to shoot accurately at any distance, with iron sights. With a laser, provided you practice pulling straight back on the trigger with the pad of your finger, you can come to shoot a snubnose accurately with appropriate ammunition…meaning I wouldn’t use full power .357 Magnum rounds. The hammer that you can pull back lets you fire single action, and if you’re trying to shoot accurately at longer ranges, shooting single action is much more precise. Hope this helps!

    • Thank you for your review. The other comments almost had me talked out of buying the SP101 3″ . I am a woman and a new shooter. Your comments made me more comfortable with my decision to mover forward purchasing it as my first gun.

  39. I agree with most of this review however, let me say that I have carried this revolver for three years and I am a very small framed man I stand at 5′ 6″ and weigh 170 lbs. The 2″ barreled model is not a pocket gun per se as it is a tad larger than a j frame but if you choose your clothing carefully and dress around your weapon there is no problem with concealment. This is a hefty revolver but I should point out that many people who complain about the weight of this revolver are many times carrying heavier pistols or revolvers on a daily basis. I am going to have the hammer bobbed on my 2″ to take care f the hammer snagging and then have an XS 24/7 big dot night sight installed to make it suitable for low light. With the concealability, durability, accuracy and the dependability of the SP 101 the added weight is well worth it.

  40. Check out Trijicon’s tritium replacement front sight for the SP101. Tritium is mildly radioactive, and the little dot inset in the sight lights up at night. When you practice at a range, try using the front sight only. Brownells carries this sight: #892-000-009WB…Mfr Part” RR14F. Crimson Trace grips are a good choice, too. If you equip a SP101 with both, you’re good to go with the front sight only when the batteries fail in the CT grips (as mine have).

  41. For those of us that are old school and don’t speak modern day Swahili.
    why not just say what this is WYSIWYG. instead of abbreviating it?
    You wrote the rest of the article out why not this/

  42. Im a skinny guy at 135lbs & the Simply Rugged Silver Dollar holster with IWB bolt on accessory conceals the SP101 .357/3″well.

  43. Great review. After firing a friends 101, I purchased one and after 3 rounds the cylinder locked up. It’s on its way to Ruger. Hopefully their reputation for good CS is true.

  44. Own a SP101 38 cal. with 3″ barrel. Great gun have shot several thousand rounds through it and without any problems. Have recently purchased a SP101 357 cal. with 4″ barrel, really love. I have a half dozen Ruger pistols and all of them are excellent. I would suggest a Ruger to anyone who wants a quality gun, revolver or semi-auto.

  45. I don’t really get the part about a newbie needing to start with a revolver. I started with a fully automatic M16 and a Beretta semi in the army. They didn’t find a need to start us on revolvers and most of us were newbies. There is some flawed logic there but the rest of the article was interesting.

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  47. I purchased a 3″ SP101 about two years ago, and it always had a problem with both POA/POI and group size. For the POA issue, I stoned 0.025″ off the left side of a replacement XS Big Dot front sight and after coating everything in carnuba wax (to make it non-permanent), I used epoxy to build up the missing material on the right side of the channel in the frame. This corrected the “always shoots to the left,” leaving the group size to drive me mad (4″ at 10 yards; forget about 25 yards). And before everyone chimes in on it being the shooter, I’m scientific about my range time, considering such issues as muscle tension, breathing, stance, rigidity, trigger finger position, wrist tension, etc. Anyway, over a period of 1-2 years, I tested over 20 brands and types of ammunition, all without any consistent performance. And I checked out the revolver function such as cylinder gap, end shake, etc. Nothing seemed to work, yet nothing appeared to be out of spec.

    Finally, I bought a brass crown polishing tool from Brownells and some 600-grit silicon carbide paste from Midway. After 30 seconds of low-speed swivel polishing with a Black and Decker, I went back to the range and posted less than 1″ groups at 10 yards (slow speed, single action, standing) using 125 and 158 grain 38 special and 357 Magnum rounds. Instead of checking in to the looney bin, I just needed to finish a job that was never completed properly at the factory.

  48. Best snub nose of planet earth. No debate in my mind. Hefty and solid to make 357 loads very easy to shoot. Most snubbies in 357 are too light. THis one isnt. Have a model 60 also. Thing sucks shooting 357. Beautiful gun, just hammers your thumb in 357. I stick to 38’s with Model 60.

  49. Revolvers are nice.But….in today’s world too much has changed.More and more robberies are two or more assailants with the latest hardware. I like semi automatic with my Glock 27.I carry in my car 3 31 round mags.

    When I am out of my car my light but not too light G 27 is on my hip with 9+1 and two 15 round mags on me.

    More than enough if the situation arises.
    I’ve had multiple dogs attack me.A five round revolver is useless .It is too easy to go through five rounds in a situation like that.I shot one dog twice in the face with my G 27 then 4 more times before it dropped.

    And it took all those shoots to stop it in its tracks.After five shots it was still coming at me.

    If I had to reload a revolver I’d been dead.
    What do you do when you go to a convenience store with a five shot revolver and two or more assailants come in and you run out of ammo while one or more assailants charges you while your trying to reload???

    Their shooting at you while coming at you while your hiding trying to reload.
    Quality control isn’t any better for revolvers than it is for semi autos.

    So you stand to get a lemon in either platform.

    I’d like to see a revolver go through 500 rounds before being cleaned as see if it continues to function.

    Too heavy,not enough rounds,too hard to reload under pressure,and can’t rapid fire as fast as an auto.

    Police departments switched over not because the revolver was inefficient, but because of the above issues.38 is a respectable caliber.Cops are out gunned in shoot outs with just 5,6 and even 7 rounds.

    Revolvers are outdated.

    I’ll stick with my 31 round mags and all sizes in between. The above are facts.Flame away.

    • From The Modern Technique of the Pistol: “The potential advantage of a high-capacity pistol magazine seems questionable since most confrontations occur at close range, with good-sized targets, and are short in duration. If one makes proper hits, the situation will more than likely be handled with the cartridges in a single magazine.”

      Admittedly, the little 5-shot Ruger may have too few rounds for some applications but if this worries you, carry a second gun or practice speed reloads.

      My personal concern is that the heavy trigger pull and sketchy sights make practical accuracy beyond 15 yards somewhat problematic. Fortunately for SP101 owners like me, remedies are readily available.


    • Ummm if you need 133 rounds counting your full load, car mags and 15 cap-mags to use in a self defense scenario, can i ask where you live? that to me seems “mucho exsessivio.” i know this is an old post, yes you did say it was more than enough and likely no one will read this but holy hell thats a lot of bullets. most self defense shootings are over within seconds. unless you plan to 20-tap all of you attackers in the head after you drop them with the first 10 rounds, which would eventually land you in jail, cuz it would be well beyond self defense at that point. and to quote boris the bullet dodger “heavy is good, heavy is reliable, if the gun does not work you can always hit him with it.” also .40 rounds IMO suck not surprised they had trouble bringing down those dogs

    • Octavia wrote “Revolvers are outdated.”
      While pistol capacity is an obvious advantage, the revolver still has its place.

      First, simplicity. Many people need a gun for self defense who are not regular shooters. This includes young people who are not mechanically adept and older people who may be slower mentally (not dementia, just slowing down after age 60.) Unless you have spent your life shooting semi-auto pistols, they can be confusing for such people to operate. They may confuse the slide release with the magazine release, they don’t remember to clear the round in the chamber for cleaning (a potentially fatal mistake), they grip the gun too high and get injured with a slide bite, etc. For these people the revolver is the way to go. I have seen young people in basic handgun classes who are a little confused by mechanical devices (mostly women, sorry but true), so the simpler for them the better. That’s why Ruger and S&W continue to make revolvers and they still sell. For many women, a lightweight 2″ revolver with regular 38 Special rounds in a purse works fine (e.g S&W Lady Smith) or the steel frame/poly 357 Ruger LCR loaded with 38s.

      A few other advantages. In a close struggle, the revolver can’t go out of battery like a pistol pressed against a body. It can be shot through a coat pocket. In the case of a bad primer, you just pull the trigger again with no need to clear the round. Also revolvers are much more tolerant for reloaders, with the case fully supported, and variation allowed in overall length without worries of a jam.

      As far as reloads, if you practice a lot with speedloaders and A-Zoom snap caps, you can be fairly quick. Granted, not multiple dog attack quick. But see Massad Ayoob’s online videos on this. I carry two speedloaders (one on top of the other) in a small leather cell phone belt case along with the 2-1/4″ SP101.

  50. Just passed my two 3″ SP101’s along to the kids, and am browsing around for a replacement. As a woodsman, I like this firearm a LOT. With Hogue monogrips, it is comfortable with light loads. Heavy loads are controllable enough, but lose 120-150 fps. My woods loads are a 180 gr. cast bullet at 1030 fps and a 160 gr. cast bullet at 1130 fps. With practice at a suitable range, you can at least scare the grease out of a coyote at 200 yds. and beyond.

    Grouse heads take much lighter loads — and there lies the problem! Careful tests produce very tight groups with nearly all loads, including the heaviest. BUT, at 20 feet, my first SP groups about 0.4″ right and the second SP groups about 1.25″ left. The first is marginally acceptable, and stays on our 50 yd. steel pretty reliably. We hate to miss, and loath the second one.

    What are the chances that the barrel can be screwed in a bit farther? I’m reluctant to have a dovetail carved into an almost new Ruger, but that may be in the cards. Does Ruger ever provide such a service?

  51. Since this video was made Ruger did come out with the perfect beginners gun, the SP101 4″ with adjustable sights. I think it is perfect trail/ccw/home gun around, grips for any size hands are available. Using 38spl ammo it is gentle on the shooter allowing them to concentrate on proper gun control. If only Ruger would bring back the Security Six then every thing would be right in the world. But until then the 4″ SP101 357 will have to do. It is also now available in .327 mag but that’s not allowed here yet in CA.

    • Lake County Examiner, Lakeview, Oregon: Wednesday, March 24th, 2021

      Letter to the editor:

      Best general-purpose handgun

      For a general-purpose handgun consider Ruger’s SP-101 .357 Magnum revolver: “stainless steel”, 5 shot swing out cylinder (double-action), with 4.2” barrel and target sights for the citizen owning only one handgun. Versatile for “self-defense/house protection/concealed carry”, as a kit and trail gun for the outdoorsman/ sportsman, and for urban metro vs. wilderness rural use. At 30 oz. unloaded lightweight (for the hiker, backpacker, trapper), yet heavy enough to handle the .357 Magnum. Loaded with .38 Special 148 grain lead target wad-cutter ammo (next to a .22 or .32) practical for hunting small game: rabbit, squirrel, and grouse (for the campfire skillet), for dispatching vermin such as raccoon, skunk, possum, etc. Even for butchering livestock such as cattle with a head shot.

      Loaded with CCI’s classic .38 Special shot or snake load of No. 9 shot highly effective in killing rattlesnakes. Readily and instantly accessible in reach via a nightstand, dresser or bureau drawer, or next to a sleeping bag inside a tent is very comforting armed security to have, especially at night! This handgun would also be great for a long-haul trucker, or hay hauler, to carry. Even for the motorist traveling on a road trip. Yes, bear in mind being broken down, stranded, and having to spend the night alone in your vehicle. This .38/.357 revolver combination along with an Atomic Beam Flashlight, survival knife, fresh drinking water, food, toilet paper, shovel, matches, wool blanket, etc. could certainly take back the night.

      Even for a woman it’s smaller frame and size would still fit her smaller hands. And firing.38 Special ammo in this .357 Magnum could still be handled by a female. Double action revolvers can be improved with aftermarket combat rubber grips.

      I recommend reading, “Meet Ruger’s SP-101 Revolver: The Ideal Gun For Self Defense”, by Kyle Mizokan via the April 2019 issue of The National Interest.

      James A. Farmer, Merrill, Oregon (Klamath County). Long Live the State of Jefferson! My cell phone no. 541-851-1168/E-Mail address: [email protected]

      Note: An interesting read is, “SP-101 Like Physics, Only Practical”: January 3, 2009 by Law Officer. Contact Ruger Firearms at Also….I endorse the 1999 book authored by Richard W. Stevens: “Dial 911 and Die: The Shocking Truth About The Police Protection Myth.” Available from JPFO, Inc. at JPFO, Inc. is “America’s Aggressive Civil Rights Organization” and is non-NRA affiliated. Dial 911 and Die exposes and explodes the myths, fallacies, and failures of not only police response and protection, but likewise restraining orders. The latter remains of vital mortal issue to many women who are stalked, abused, threatened, accosted, and followed by lowlife male scum! Dial 911 and Die rightly teaches that “local law enforcement has no moral or legal duty to provide armed security and police protection to individuals, but only to attempt to do the same for the public at large.” This has been ruled on consistently by the judiciary and the courts, including state and federal appellate courts, and likewise the U.S. Supreme Court. The context of this book has court cases in all 50 states alluding to this “no duty” for law enforcement to respond to a 911 call. This isn’t to say police or sheriff’s departments won’t respond. However, the bottom
      line historically is the citizen is on his/her own and remains their first line of defense. A caption in the introduction of Dial 911 and Die states: “Even the most advanced cellular phone is no substitute for a good .38 Special!” Often the personal handgun, or even a shotgun for that matter, is the ultimate law, security, and protection for the armed private citizen. This was true on the 19th century Western Frontier Era (1850-1890), including during the Civil War (1861-1865), into the 20th century, and remains so today in the 21st century. Finally….The John Birch Society in Appleton, Wisconsin at and, respectively. Like JPFO, Inc. The John Birch Society is also non NRA affiliated.

      Sentiments expressed are those of of James A. “Jim” Farmer of Merrill, Oregon (Klamath County)

  52. Simple mods make any SP101 a much nicer gun. I installed Wolff springs in my .357 2.25 inch SP. The factory hammer spring is 14 pounds, and the trigger return spring is 10. Using a Wolff 10 pound on the hammer, with a Wolff 8 pound on the trigger, makes a huge difference reducing both trigger pull and cocking effort.

    Add a Hogue grip, either the overmold or the solid nylon, to finish the job. Follow the directions carefully, and you’re done in under an hour for under $40.

    I myself like the factory grip, works better for me than the Hogues, though I only run .38s in this gun. I also have a 4 inch .22LR SP101, and love both.

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