RUGER DOUBLES DOWN
REVOLVER OR AUTO? THESE ‘CARRY-FRIENDLY’ WINNERS COVER ALL BETS
Two on two: OK. Here’s the deal: We turned two of our sneakiest shootists — Mike Humphries and Roy Huntington — loose on two new Ruger handguns. These were the SP101 5-shot .357 and the .380 “Anniversary” LCP. Whether you’re a wheelgun guy or an “auto addict,” both of them proved to be impressive CCW options.
Retro SP101: Bad, Blued and Built to Last
By Micheal O. Humphries
In today’s world of ultra-compact, powerful “pocket” guns, it’s easy for something to get lost in the mix. From tiny .380s to ultra-powerful yet lightweight magnum wheelguns, there’s something for just about everyone out there. In short, there’s a flavor for just about every taste — but how about an icon? One that helped establish today’s market for CCW-ready handguns? A beefy — but still compact — .357 Magnum 5-shot revolver with an impressive pedigree and reputation? That would, of course, be the inimitable Ruger SP101.
Let’s be honest. Revolvers are generally viewed as reactionary rather than revolutionary, but the SP101 was truly revolutionary at the time of its introduction in the late 1980s. Sure, there were several excellent 5-shot snubbies in .38 Special available but one handling the powerful .357 Mag? This is what made the 5-shot SP101 so noteworthy. Admittedly, it was a little chunky through the middle and no lightweight by any stretch of the imagination but this gun could still spit out magnum firepower yet fit inside a roomy pocket. With stainless steel construction and synthetic grips to ensure it could resist pocket detritus and palm sweat with aplomb, it was truly revolutionary.
A blued take on snubbie tradition, the SP101 delivers the full range of .38/.357 power levels.
Why are we talking about the SP101 now, you may ask? While the design is a classic, it doesn’t mean Ruger can’t refresh it from time to time and offer fans something a little different. So what’s on order with this new release? Modified grips? “Combat” sights? Some other relatively easy — and modern — upgrade for the classic design? No. Ruger took a different tack this time around and I’m glad they did.
While the SP101 blazed a new trail at its introduction, it was still at its heart a traditionalist’s gun — revolvers almost always are. And what do traditionalists usually love? Wood and blued steel. Have you figured out where we’re heading here? That’s right, this new SP101 takes the pocket revolver back in time to the days of blued steel and wood grips — while still offering all the charms of the original stainless steel SP101.
In all fairness, the SP101 (M15702) still does have some stainless steel parts such as the trigger and hammer and extractor star, and the wood in the grips is surrounded by cushioned rubber — but you get the point. This new variant takes a revolutionary step back to the wheelgun’s traditionalist roots. And — while it’s no cheapie at an MSRP of $719 — it won’t break the bank either.
Five not six! That’s how you engineer a relatively small frame snubbie to stand up to .357 pressures. And it’ll handle the hottest Plus-P .38 loads without breaking a sweat!
It’s unlikely you’ll ever have to strip down your SP101 to this level, but it can be done by a “non-smith” with relative ease.
As soon as I received the press release for the gun, I knew I had to have one and immediately put in an order. I was immediately taken with the SP101 when I opened the box. Look, I get stainless steel. It has tons of benefits — and I am no dyed-in-the-wool traditionalist! I have “plastic” 9mm pistols in my safe right next to my blued steel 1911s. But I do appreciate leather holsters and traditional blued steel. So, this SP101 really appeals to me. It’s evenly polished for a uniform luster and the engraved wood insets in the rubber grips are attractive and distinctive.
If you know the SP101, you’ll be right at home with this new one. A triple-locking cylinder holding five rounds of .38 or .357, it has a stubby 2-1/2" barrel, notch rear and ramped and serrated front sights, DA/SA operation with the exposed hammer, etc. — it’s all there. The familiar weight is also still there as well. It’s a hefty 26 oz. so wear a strong belt if you drop it in a pocket holster. But hey, the heft is reassuring, particularly when you’re touching off .357s, right?
Speaking of recoil, I took the SP101 out to the range with some .38 and .357 ammo from Black Hills and Inceptor. Specifically, I had 158-gr. JHP .357 from Black Hills, while I got a “Sport and Carry” pack of frangible .38 Special 84-gr. RNP training ammo and 77-gr. ARX defensive ammo from Inceptor.
Let’s be honest, even at 26 oz. I expected the .357 to be a handful and wasn’t disappointed. On the other hand, shooting the Inceptor’s .38 Special lightweight frangible bullets was pleasant. All loads shot well, with nice tight DA groups clustered in the center chest at 7 yards and easy “head shots” on the silhouette target at 15 yards in single-action mode. Is it a competition handgun? Nope. Is it a compact snubby that’ll do the job at self-defense distances when you need it? You bet.
Mike tried the Ruger out with a variety of .38 and .357 loads from Black Hills and Inceptor Ammo. With its stubby 2-1/2" barrel, the SP101 can slip easily into a deep concealment holster — but be ready to cope with its 26-oz. weight when you’re feeling “magnumized!” Photo: Mike Humphries.
If you like revolvers, love Rugers and lament the loss of the days when all guns were made from walnut and blued steel, this new SP101 is definitely right for you. I for one am very happy with it and am glad I added it to my battery. Now I just have to remember to keep a light coat of oil on that pretty blued steel!