Range Report: Ruger SP101, a Thousand Rounds Later
Four years ago, I purchased a NIB Ruger SP101 w/3 1/16” barrel. Primarily an S&W revolver shooter, I have to admit being very pleasantly surprised at the little Ruger’s performance as I mentioned in my first range report on this petite shooter, which was also used in a report on then-new Corbon 125-gr. DPX ammunition.
Prior to these reports I had not really put more than a few hundred rounds through the SP101. Some were .38 Specials but most were .357’s. Though while a police officer I fired thousands of 38’s through revolvers chambered for the magnum, it is a practice I’ve just never really liked. For the first report, I did include some .38 Special loads because they are frequently chosen and used in SP101’s chambered for the magnum; I believed some would be interested in that aspect of this revolver’s performance.
Since that time, I have not really shot this little thing all that much; just a box-or-two-here and a few rounds there sort of thing over the years. Checking over my ammo supplies and rather skimpy notes on this revolver, I’ve fired at least a thousand .357 Magnum loads since the last report. These would include factory as well as handloaded ammunition. Most were full-power but some were at midrange power levels.
By the time I did the original SP101 report, I’d pretty much decided to keep it. My SP101 remained stock as the proverbial stove, but recently it was lightly-personalized. I won’t use the term, “customized”, because alterations are quite minor.
On the left is my SP101 before and on the right is how it appears now. The only visible change is that the hammer spur has been removed to prevent possible snagging when being drawn from under clothing.
The gunsmith opted not to be quite as aggressive in the amount of steel he removed, citing that he wanted to remove as little mass as possible to keep ignition reliable. I am a big believer in “reliability first” but have never seen either a Ruger spurless hammer or one done by other ‘smiths in which more steel was removed from the hammer for a more streamlined appearance cause a single ignition problem. Having said this, all of the SP101’s I fired had 14-lb. factory standard mainsprings; none were reduced power. (FWIW, I’ve done this with S&W revolvers and so long as the mainspring remained factory standard, no reliability problems ever surfaced; not one.)
Revolver shooters are mixed in whether or not to remove hammer spurs. In my opinion, valid arguments can be made for either side, but since this SP101 only has to please me, I opted for the bobbed hammer.
With this barrel length, the SP101 is just too long (and heavy, in my opinion) for pocket carry. When I carry it concealed, it is almost always in an IWB holster. I have never seen a revolver hang up by the hammer spur when being drawn from a covered IWB holster. Still, such a possibility was just not that difficult to see it in my mind’s eye and since I shoot revolvers, especially defense-oriented ones, double-action, the choice was easy. (I have seen hammer spurs hang on smaller snubs drawn from pockets, however. While this can certainly be prevented by placing the thumb at the rear of the hammer spur, I pocket carry only snubs having shrouded, internal or bobbed hammers. I am pretty much wed to that concept but understand that my opinion is not universal and other shooters may very well disagree.
The only other alteration made was to stake what Ruger calls the “crane latch pivot” to the frame. The “crane latch” is what S&W calls the “thumbpiece”. Most of us recognize it as the release we push to allow the cylinder to swing out of the frame. The crane latch pivot is simply a small screw inserted vertically beneath this latch and screwed into the frame. If you have an SP101 or GP100 at hand look upward at the frame beneath the latch and you’ll see it.
On several occasions, particularly after firing full-power magnums, I’d find that the pivot was loose. Being staked, it can no longer be vibrated loose to cause a possible malfunction.
I also decided to shoot the SP101 since I’d had it altered. I retest for reliability after almost any change I make to any of my firearms.
The .357 Magnum ammunition used varied from a very light, commercially-reloaded “Cowboy” load using a 158-gr. LRN @ 800 ft/sec, to a handloaded 158-gr. SWC at about 1180 ft/sec. Mid-power loads from Corbon (125-gr. DPX) and Speer (135-gr. Gold Dot Short Barrel) were also fired. Commercial full-power 158-gr. JFP’s from Sellier & Bellot along with Winchester’s 145-gr. Silvertip Hollow Points were also shot.
Most shots were fired in slow-fire for group. This was done from a seated position with my wrists braced on sandbags. Distance was 15-yards and all firing was double-action.
Here are the two cast bullet loads fired through the SP101. POA is the center of the bullseye. Ten shots of each load were fired. Though still a little low (at least today), the full-power SWC’s POI was barely below POA. The very light Georgia Arms .357 “Cowboy” load is advertised at but 800 ft/sec. Essentially, it lets one fired .38 Special-level loads in magnum cases to avoid possible sticking cases if the charge holes are not cleaned quite enough. This can happen when firing .38 Specials in cylinders chambered for .357 due to the .38 cartridge’s shorter overall length.
Groups from the full-power 145-gr. STHP (left) and the Sellier & Bellot also struck just slightly below POA at 15yards.
These results are quite similar to the ones obtained for past articles and I believe that the slight differences are due to different lighting, hold on the revolver, ammo production lots or a combination of these factors.
Speer’s 135-gr. Gold Dot Short Barrel .357 Magnum mid-power load’s POI more closely matched POA in today’s shooting session though the others were quite close. I have not chronographed this ammunition from my SP101, but I expect to see its velocity at between 1000 and 1100 ft/sec from this length barrel.
In my opinion, all of these loads grouped satisfactorily and I cannot say which is inherently most accurate in my SP101; there’s just too much human error present…despite my shooting better than I expected today. Now and again, we just get a nice surprise. (Too often I seem to get the other kind!)
Corbon’s 125-gr. DPX is a mid-power .357 load and one that has proven itself capable of both accurate grouping and reliable expansion and adequate penetration. It does strike below POA at 15 yards in my hands and from this revolver. The shot outside the group is my fault. I saw the 4 preceding ones and was so confident of a “one-holer” group that I just didn’t concentrate and blew the shot.
The final exercise of the day was law enforcement instructor, Jim Higginbotham’s “Standard Handgun Controllability Test”. It is a simple drill done at 5 yards and starting with a two-hand hold in a low-ready position. Normally, the target is a folded sheet of typing paper so that dimensions are 5 ½ x 8 ½”, with the latter being the vertical dimension. On command or at the buzzer’s signal, you simply fire 5 shots at the target. All hits must be somewhere on the paper and in no more than two seconds. It is a pass/fail drill. Two-seconds or less passes. Any time over two-seconds fails as does firing any misses.
Using Sellier & Bellot .357 Magnum 158-gr. JFP’s, I fired the Higginbotham Standard Handgun Controllability Drill” four times. Average time was just barely under 2 seconds. One run was over at 2.07 seconds. Even though this all stainless-steel revolver is heavier than some made of new alloys, it can be a “handful” when trying to accurately crank off full-power magnums accurately. The target in this non-standard version of Mr. Higginbotham’s drill is an 8-inch diameter circle having no distinct aiming point.
The little Ruger proved itself reliable. There were no light primer-strikes and all cases extracted smoothly. It handled as it did before the hammer spur was removed.
Here are four expanding factory loads intended to be fired for this report. From left to right: Corbon 125-gr. DPX, Remington 125-gr. Golden Saber, Speer 135-gr. Gold Dot and Winchester 145-gr. Silvertip. (The Golden Saber was not fired due to “technical difficulties”; I forgot to put it in my range box! In the past, they have grouped nicely but also strike just a little low at 15 yards and out.)
For folks preferring to carry a backup, I find that the SP101 carried at waist-level via an quality holster and gun belt can be nicely supplemented with an S&W Airweight .38 Special carried in a pocket holster. Both use the same HKS speedloader. Whether using speed strips or speedloader, I opt to use .38 Special ammo only since it will work in either revolver.
I am not surprised at the results of this session. Nothing was done that should have affected reliability and the sights had not been touched. No action-smoothing (other than shooting and dry-firing) had been performed and the gun’s DA was still a smooth but heavy 13.5-lbs. Since I was able to get both tight groups and managed enough speed and accuracy to past the Higginbotham controllability drill, I’ll just leave the action as it is. Using an electronic timer, I found that my splits were not any larger with the heavier trigger-pull than lighter IF mid to full-power rounds were being fired. It seems that for me at least, there is just too much recoil to overcome. With light loads, a lighter pull does seem to speed things up nicely. Since this SP101 is doing what I am asking of it with neither pain nor white-knuckle effort, it is satisfactory as is…at least for me.
I expect this SP101 to remain as shown from here on out. It is doing what I ask with 100% reliability. As long as I do my part, the SP101 does the same. I don’t know what else to ask of it or any firearm.
This .357 SP101 has proven itself both a capable and reliable revolver…again!