Ruger’s new double-action revolver, the latest iteration of the SP101, offers worthwhile improvements over earlier versions of the .357 Mag handgun. It also offers advantages over Ruger’s larger GP100.
Introduced in 1985, the GP100 was an all-new design destined to replace the Security Six—Ruger’s first entry into the double-action revolver market. I had mixed feelings about this introduction. I’d owned a Security Six for several years and really liked the gun. For me, the GP100 held less aesthetic appeal. Also, the medium-frame revolver didn’t feel as good in my hand as the Security Six. While the innovative GP100 was a success, its bulk and 40-ounce heft was more than some shooters wanted to deal with. But it remains a popular revolver among many shooters.
Only three years after the GP100 first appeared, Ruger unveiled yet another .357 Mag revolver. The SP101 sported a smaller frame, and was 9.5 to 13 ounces lighter than its predecessor, depending on barrel length. Like the Smith & Wesson Model 60 and similarly compact revolvers, the SP101 .357 Mag wore a five-shot cylinder. Speedloaders designed for S&W’s J-frame revolvers work nicely with the SP101.
“The SP101 has been an extremely popular small frame revolver since its inception in 1988, but it has always featured a short barrel and minimal sights,” said Chris Killoy, Ruger’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing. “This new version is a quality .357 Mag small-frame revolver with a longer, full-shroud barrel and improved sights. It offers shooters a better sight picture, longer sight radius, and additional weight to better control recoil. This 4.2-inch-barreled .357 Mag is a great all-around centerfire revolver that retains true classic SP101 styling.”
The latest Ruger SP101 is made of weather-resistant stainless steel with a satin finish. In place of the relatively hard rubber grip found on earlier SP101s, the new version sports a cushioned, one-piece rubber grip with checkered hardwood inserts. I compared the feel of the new grip to that of the 6-shot .22 rimfire SP101 I’ve owned for several years. The new grip is broader and fills the hand. The rubber is softer and more resilient, which goes a long way toward minimizing felt recoil.
Lockup is very solid. The cylinder locks into the front, rear and bottom of the frame. When the gun is cocked, there’s very little rotational play in the cylinder.
Unlike many revolvers, the SP101 has no sideplates. Disassembly is accomplished by removing the grip panels, then pulling the grip downward and off the frame. Follow the instructions to remove the hammer, then drop the trigger and triggerguard assembly from the frame. The swing-out cylinder assembly can then be pushed forward and off the frame. A separate set of instructions guide you through the reassembly process. The only tool you’ll need is a properly sized screwdriver.
I’m old enough to remember when stainless steel handguns were first introduced. While stainless steel is far more corrosion resistant than blued carbon steel, it’s not 100-percent proof against rusting. To see how long stainless steel would keep corrosion at bay, I removed the grip panels from a stainless Ruger Blackhawk and left it on my back lawn, where it would be subject both to the elements and to regular drenching from my sprinkler system.
I checked the gun regularly for signs of corrosion. By the fifth day, telltale patches of discoloration appeared on the barrel. Gun cleaning solvents wouldn’t touch it, but buffing with crocus cloth quickly removed the stain. Then I rubbed in some good gun oil.
I compared this simple (and effective) solution with the several, time-consuming steps needed to remove rust and re-blue affected areas on a blued steel gun. I had no intention of further mistreating the stainless steel Ruger, but it was good to know how quickly and simply surface corrosion could be repaired. As a result of that experiment, the vast majority of the handguns I now own are made of stainless steel.