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Ruger SP101 Review

The Ruger SP101 is Ruger’s smallest steel frame revolver offering. Our Ruger SP101 review will cover everything that makes this gun very unique on the market today. 

With a slightly heavier weight and small size, the Ruger SP101 has a lot to offer. 

Ruger SP101 Review compliance speedloader sheath

That said, this gun is far from perfect. However, this is probably one of the few guns that can work just as well for bear defense as it can for concealed carry.

That’s a rare combination in a revolver.

Size/Purpose

The Ruger SP101 is a very heavy revolver for its size. My three-inch variant weights right in at 27 ounces with a three-inch barrel. 

You’re going to lose an ounce or two when you go down to the 2.25-inch barrel.

It’s a heavy revolver for its size.

If you compare it to the 15 ounces Ruger LCR or the Smith & Wesson 340 J-Frame at 13 ounces, it’s twice the weight.

The Ruger SP101 holds five rounds of .357 Magnum or .38 Special. This five-round capacity makes the gun much slimmer in profile than most other guns. 

I recently gifted one of these to a buddy who was having a baby boy. 

Ruger SP101

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Ruger SP101

When he received the firearm, he goes, “Man, this gun is the perfect size revolver.”

It’s a gun that just feels capable. It’s small enough that you can throw it inside the waistband and conceal it nicely while still being large enough to shoot well. 

It’s that Goldilocks-sized revolver.

Many people find Glock 19-sized guns to be the perfect compromise between a duty and a carry gun. This rule also holds for the Ruger SP101 when it comes to revolvers. 

The heavyweight allows you to load this gun up with some stout hard cast .357 Magnum rounds, while at the same time, you can load it with .38 Special +P and carry it for self-defense in town.

Or you could carry this on a long hike in bear country. 

It’s just a very versatile gun. Is it the best at any one task? No. But does it do a lot of tasks well? Yes.

Weight

We already mentioned the weight on this variant is 27 ounces earlier in this Ruger SP101 review. The reason weight is so essential is weight helps when reducing recoil on a revolver. 

A revolver does not have a recoil spring or a tilting block action to help reduce the recoil. What you’re feeling is the full power of the round when you fire it.

There’s no mechanical leverage to lessen the recoil.

Ruger SP101 Review left down

The three-inch barrel on the Ruger SP101 and the extra weight over other lightweight models make a huge difference when firing this gun. 

It’s tolerable to fire heavy .357 Magnum rounds through the Ruger SP101. 

Would I want to fire hefty rounds through this gun all day long?

No.

But you can put a cylinder through it, and it’s comfortable to fire a box of regular pressure .357 through this round. 

Heck, it’s fun to shoot the Ruger SP101 with .38 Specials all day long. But, unfortunately, I can’t say the same when it comes to guns like the Smith & Wesson 642, even though it’s only firing .38 Special, that .38 Special kicks worse than regular .357 pressure rounds in the Ruger SP101.

Frame 

The frame on the Ruger SP101 is a cast frame. Ruger is known for its highly durable cast frames. 

These frames are cast in Connecticut, and Ruger is famous for its castings. 

While cast frames may be considered inferior by many people, they are not when speaking about Ruger revolvers.

But, again, it comes down to who is doing the casting and if they know what they’re doing. 

Ruger SP101

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Ruger SP101

A cast Ruger revolver frame will have a much greater life span than a forged Smith & Wesson revolver frame.

While many consider the Smith & Wesson revolver to be more elegant, there is no doubt that the Ruger steel frame revolvers are much more durable.

The frame itself is very well-rounded and avoids any sharp edges. It’s just a good-looking gun. The structure, while being heavy, is durable. And when you look at the barrel design, you’ll see the fully-protected ejector rod and heavy lug at the bottom of the barrel.

Again, this makes for a durable, heavy gun. 

That lug also adds weight to the front of the firearm, which will help a little bit with recoil control.

Caliber & Barrel Length

The Ruger SP101 is offered in a couple of calibers and barrel lengths. You can get the gun in either a 2.25-inch barrel or a three-inch variant. 

There are also 4.25-inch variants available as well. However, the most popular variant is probably the 2.25-inch variant. 

I find the three-inch to be the Goldilocks spot on the Ruger SP101.

The four-inch barrel just makes the gun seem a little bit too long. The three-inch barrel has the most proportional look.

It just really fits the overall size of the gun. The 2.25-inch barrel is just a little too short. 

It gives you a weapon with a lot more recoil, and you’re not going to save any substantial weight.

You can get these guns either in a .357 Magnum or .327 Magnum. I like the idea of the .327 Magnum offering because you get a sixth-round in the weapon. 

If I were going to carry this gun exclusively for self-defense against humans, I would consider the .327 Magnum because of that sixth round.

Another nice thing about the .327 Magnum is it accepts multiple ammunition types. 

You can shoot .32 Smith & Wesson, .32 short, and .32 long through the .327 Magnum.

These rounds have a lot less recoil and are great for newer shooters.

The .38 is comfortable for most people to shoot. 

But if you had a recoil-sensitive shooter that wanted to shoot something in centerfire and not a rimfire gun, then getting the .327 Magnum variant and shooting one of these lower pressure rounds is the way to go.

Versions of Gun

As we stated earlier, you get this gun either in a three-inch, 2.25, or four-inch variant. The only real aesthetic option available on these guns is the grip. 

Ruger SP101

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Ruger SP101

All the Ruger SP101s currently in production come with a stainless steel finish or black, but Ruger does offer a variety of factory grips on the firearm.

Capacity

As we stated earlier, the standard capacity with a .38 in a .357 chambering is five rounds. You can get an extra round if you move to the .327 Magnum. 

Ruger SP101 Review cylinder out

There aren’t any other ammo offerings in the Ruger SP101, so those are the only two capacities this firearm will have.

Cylinder Latch

One thing unique about Ruger revolvers is their cylinder latch. In comparison, most cylinder latches require you to push the cylinder latch forward. 

The Ruger requires you to push their cylinder latch into the frame.

I like the design on this and find it extremely easy to use and operate. 

Ruger SP101 Review cylinder latch

It’s easy to reach with my thumb, and it’s quick to use.

In addition, the cylinder latch itself is well-rounded, and you don’t have to worry about cutting or poking yourself on sharp edges.

Sights

As with most revolvers, this is where my biggest gripe comes in with the Ruger SP101. 

While they do have different sight options available, the Ruger SP101 has a very lackluster sighting system. The rear notch is machined into the firearm’s frame, and it’s not that easy to pick out. 

Ruger SP101 Review sights

For one, the stainless steel finish makes it harder to see the rear sight.

So instead, they have machined a tiny notch and groove that creates a natural shadow that does help you pick up the trough of the sigh. But, unfortunately, it doesn’t work great.

The front sight itself is pinned to the gun, so that means you do have the option to replace it quickly.

However, it is nice to see Ruger offer this pin sight instead of milling a front sight into the firearm.

Ruger SP101 Review front sight

Ruger offers different sights on different firearm variants, and they offer their four-inch variant with a fixed front and a rear sight that slide into dovetails.

The rear dovetail sight is also available on the 2.25-inch variant.

Unfortunately, I haven’t seen this available on the three-inch variant, which leaves me somewhat disappointed.

Trigger

The trigger on the Ruger SP101 leaves a lot to be desired. This is my biggest complaint with Ruger’s steel frame revolvers. 

All their motivations are somewhat lackluster. 

Ruger SP101

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Ruger SP101

The trigger themselves feel very mechanical.

When you go to pull the double-action trigger, it’s very stagy. It feels like you can feel all the gears and mechanisms as they lock into place when pulling the trigger. 

It’s a spongy, mechanical feeling trigger. It’s just not great. 

There also aren’t a lot of good gunsmiths out there that can do good work on this. It’s much easier to find a gunsmith for a Smith & Wesson revolver than for a Ruger.

And the Smith & Wesson triggers tend to be a lot better out of the box.

I don’t like that the guns seem very stagy when we get to the rear of the double-action trigger. A lot of that’s easy to pull through, and you get used to.

But, it’s still just not the best trigger in the world. This could be a deal-breaker for some in this Ruger SP101 Review.

Ruger SP101 Review trigger

When it comes to the single-action trigger of the Ruger, it’s going to be a pretty standard single-action trigger.

It’s is a clean trigger.

So I can’t complain about it from that aspect. 

When you pull the hammer back, the trigger goes almost to the rear, and then you have a concise light press to get the hammer to drop. So it is a pretty decent trigger from a single-action perspective.

Hammer

The hammer on the Ruger SP101 has texturing on the top of the hammer itself, but the texturing is inset into the hammer, and it’s not relatively as easy as I would like it to be to pull the hammer back. 

Ruger SP101 Review hammer top

The reason is that texturing is somewhat slick.

Depending on the technique you use, you can get fast at pulling the hammer back, but it’s only reasonable to pull back with your support hand thumb. 

If you try to pull it back using your firing hand thumb, the ergonomics just aren’t that great. It’s a reasonably heavy hammer to pull back.

The hammer feels like it’s almost starting to slip when pulling it back.

That’s my biggest complaint about the hammer.

Grip

The grip on the Ruger SP101 is decent when it comes to the factory grip.

That said, it’s still not great. As a result, you’ll likely prefer to replace most of my revolver grips with Hogue grips.

They do an excellent job taming the gun’s recoil.

Ruger SP101 Review grip

Aftermarket

As stated before, the aftermarket options for the trigger are not that good. It’s hard to find a gunsmith who can do good work for these guns.

There aren’t many suitable spring kits and whatnot. There are a couple of aftermarket front sight options, but still not a ton.

What there are a ton of are grip options. Almost all revolvers have a lot of good grip options.

An upside in our Ruger SP101 Review.

Ruger SP101

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Ruger SP101

The Luger SP101 is no exception. As a result, you’ll likely be able to find a set of grips that work with the Ruger SP101 quite well.

Aesthetics

Aesthetically, I like the look of the Ruger SP101. 

This is not a classic-looking revolver but a modern-looking revolver. The three-inch barrel just really balances it out nicely.

In addition, the Hogue grip I have installed is a perfectly proportional firearm. 

Ruger SP101 Review right stand

When you look at the width of the Ruger SP101, it just matches.

The three-inch barrel, the size of the grips, everything just seems proportional. So if you’re looking for a modern-style revolver, it’s going to be hard to find a better-looking revolver than the Ruger SP101.

For me this is a highlight in our Ruger SP101 Review.

Finish

The finish on the Ruger SP101 is nothing to brag about.

Unfortunately, if you’ve seen many Ruger factory guns, their finish usually is not that good, and the Ruger SP101 is no exception. 

However, my gunsmith did tell me that if I was willing to spend the time, I could polish this gun into a very excellent finish.

That said, I don’t see myself spending the time to do that, and this gun will probably be relegated to better use. 

Ruger SP101

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Ruger SP101

The Ruger factory finishes just aren’t great, and that’s something I’ve learned to live with.

However, the revolvers offer a lot that I like. It makes it worth putting up with the mediocre finishes.

If you’re looking for a safe queen then this might be the deal-breaker of the Ruger SP101 Review.

Shooting

Shooting the Ruger SP101 is an absolute joy and the highlight of the Ruger SP101 Review.

This gun is fun to shoot all day long with .38 Special rounds. 

Shooting this gun in .38, it shoots like a .22.

This gun is just very controllable and a blast to shoot. It’s tolerable when hitting it with .357 Magnums. Would I want to shoot more than a box worth?

No, but it can be done. 

This gun also handles hefty rounds quite well. If I were going to load these with some hard cast bear rounds, I’d feel comfortable shooting a cylinder through this Ruger SP101.

That said, this is not a gun I will want to shoot all day long with those rounds. 

I don’t even think I’d like to shoot a box of 20. But, on the other hand, the weight does help recoil with .357.

It’s one of the few small revolvers that I feel you can shoot enough .357 to feel proficient while still having a small enough grip to conceal the firearm reasonably well.

Price

MSRP on the Ruger SP101 varies from $719 up to almost $1,000.

It depends on the exact variant you get as well as the level of fit and finish.

You can typically find the baseline Ruger SP101s for around $600 on the street. 

Ruger SP101

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Ruger SP101

Used, they often go for about $100 less.

That price, in my opinion, is a pretty good value. However, the finish is somewhat lacking, and if it weren’t for that, I would say it was an excellent value.

Concluding Thoughts

If you’re looking for a revolver that can handle heavy .357 Magnum loads, then this is probably the best option out there if you want that gun to be lightweight and small enough to carry concealed.

If you’re backpacking on the East Coast and concerned about black bears and want a shootable gun that doesn’t add a ton of weight to your loadout when hiking, then the Ruger SP101 is likely your best option. 

This is one of those standout guns, and it’s a gun I love entirely.

As I stated earlier, this is a gun I bought as a gift for a friend, and this is a gun that he will pass down to his son. So this is an actual user heirloom piece. 

It’s a gun that isn’t so nice you’ll feel bad about taking out of the safe and shooting it or using it, but it’s still a gun that you’ll want to pass down to your kids and grandkids.

I can’t think of a better endorsement to end this Ruger SP101 Review.

Pros

  • Size
  • Weight
  • Grip Options
  • Single Action Trigger

Cons

  • Capacity
  • Sights
  • Double Action Trigger

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