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Ruger's SP101 Series


I am continually frustrated with small frame revolvers.  I love their size and practicality but hate their trigger pulls and the way they beat up my hand.  After I was able to shoot Kate's Gemini Customs Ruger SP101 I now knew what I needed and did not need in a small revolver.



What I Do Not Need

What I Need

1. Ultra Light Revolver

1. All Steel Revolver

2. Ultra Short Barrel

2. 3 Inch Barrel

3. Immeasurably Heavy Trigger Pull

3. 9.5 Pound Trigger Pull

4. Tiny Ill-Fitting Grips (including Hogue, Desantis, etc)

4. Hand-filling Grips

5. Small, Plain Sights

5. Adequately Sized Front Night Sight


Let's start with what I don't need:


1. An ultra light revolver.  The tradeoff between weight and shoot-ability is too high.  Ultra light equals painful practice.  The backstrap rockets into the web of my hand and becomes painful after only a few cylinders of ammunition have been fired.  The trigger guard bangs against the knuckle of my middle finger adding more pain.  I know that the old adage is that the small .38 special revolvers are to be carried a lot and shot a little but in today's litigious society any handgun I carry  needs to be backed up with a lot of practice.
An ultra short barrel.  The barrel on the S&W J frames isn't even 2 inches long.  Practical sight radius is not there.  They are nothing more than a 5 round derringer.

2. An immeasurably heavy trigger pull.  S&W J frame revolvers have terrible trigger pulls, well north of 13 pounds.

3. Small grips.  For some reason the grips on S&W's J frames never fit my hand be it their stock wooden grip, their stock rubber grip, a Hogue Monogrip, or their new ones by DeSantis.
Small plain sights that disappear in sunlight and dusk.

All of these attributes make for one little revolver that is painful to shoot and difficult with which to find accuracy.

So what I do need is pretty much the opposite.  I need an all steel revolver with a 3 inch barrel, a front night sight, a trigger pull of about 9 to 10 pounds and hand filling grips.

The answer to my needs comes in the Ruger SP101.  But did I need so send it to Gemini Customs for their $459.00 treatment?  Read on!  But first, here's a quick comparison of the S&W 637 and the 2.25 inch and 3 inch barreled Rugers:



637 Wyatt Deep Cover

Ruger SP101

Ruger SP101


.38 Special +P

.38 Spec./.357 Magnum

.38 Spec./.357 Magnum





Barrel Length

1.87 inches

2.25 inches

3.06 inches



Fixed (Night Sight Added)

Fixed (Night Sight Added)

Overall Length

6.31 inches

7.2 inches

8.0 inches


Double Action Only

Double Action Only



14 ounces

25 ounces

27.2 ounces


Polymer Clip Grip

Polymer Grip

Polymer Grip


Aluminum Alloy

Stainless Steel

Stainless Steel


Stainless Steel

Stainless Steel

Stainless Steel

Trigger Pull


9.8 pounds

9.5 pounds DA/2.1 pounds SA






Let's start with the grips.  Grips that fill and fit my hand are crucial.  What I have found is that if the hand isn't making full contact with the grip it is bad for accuracy, recoil control and pain management.  If the hand is not making full contact if means there will be gaps between the hand and grip at various points.  Those gaps are areas where you have no grip control and they provide room for the grip to slam into your hand.  Also, I am partial for a grip that gives me room for my pinky finger.  That is another grip control point and accuracy enhancer.  With properly sized and fitting grips you will still experience muzzle flip and a push into your hand but proper fit eliminates the slap-shot recoil pounding your middle finger and the web of your hand.  

Grant Cunningham recommended Pachmayr grips for the SP101 and since he is "The Revolver Specialist" I knew he would not steer me wrong.  The SP101 is pretty well set up right out of the box but it can be made a little better.  The $34.00 for the Pachmayr grip was money well spent.  The grip is slightly longer than the stock Ruger grip so it gives my pinky finger some room.  Additionally they fit my hand very well with no gaps between hand and grip and the textured synthetic grips have a better "feel" to them than the standard Ruger grips.


Obviously I went for a 3 inch barrel as I find they offer better balance and provide more sight radius and more velocity.  For sights I chose a Meprolight front night sight.

It provides a better sight picture in all lighting environments and, from a cosmetic standpoint it is very "sleek".  The Gemini Customs SP101 sported an XS Big Dot night sight which looked a little odd and contributed to the revolver shooting a bit low.

The three-inch barrel and all stainless steel construction provide more weight which also helps dampen recoil.  At 27.2 ounces the 3 inch SP101 is almost twice as heavy as the Smith & Wesson 637 and believe me, this is a good thing.  I do not find the extra weight to be a hinderance in concealed carry, all day long carry.  If you have a proper belt and holster, including pocket holster, the weight is no problem.

This leaves us with the trigger pull.  The trigger pull as it came out of the box was better than any S&W "J" frame pull I have ever experienced.  But I knew it could be made even better.   The SP101 was turned over to a competent gunsmith with specific instructions to lighten the pull a little but not too much that I would run the risk of light primer strikes that could hamper reliability.  When this revolver was returned to me it had a buttery smooth 9.5 pound double action trigger pull and a 2.1 pound single action pull.  This trigger pull is awesome!

Time for the Targets:


The above target shows 10 rounds of Magtech 158 grain FMJ ammo fired at 21 yards.


Same ammo with 25 rounds fired at 30 feet.


Same ammo, 20 rounds fired at 50 feet.


Defensive Loads


5 rounds of Hornady Critical Defense 110 Grain +P FTX bullet at 21 feet.


The above target shows 5 rounds of Federal Hydra Shok +P 129 grain Hollow Point ammo fired at 21 feet.


The above target shows 5 rounds of Winchester PDX 1 Defender +P 130 Bonded Jacketed Hollow Point ammo fired at 21 feet.


10 rounds of Remington High Terminal Performance 158 grain +P Lead Hollow Point at 21 feet.


So, was the extra work I had done on the SP101 worth it and how much did it cost?  In my opinion, yes it was.  The cost of the grips, night sight, springs, installation and trigger job was $144.00.  That's $315 less than had I sent it to Gemini Customs and I had to wait about a week instead of five months to get it back.


Ruger SP101 DAO 2.25 Inch Barrel

I liked the 3 inch barreled model so much that my curiosity lead me to ask if the 2.25 barreled model could perform as well.  I wondered how much would be traded off between a shorter length and the performance of the longer barrel.


Ruger manufacturers a Double Action Only version with a bobbed hammer in a 2.25 inch barrel so that is what I procured.  I had all the same work done to it as I did with with the 3 inch model.  After being worked over the double action trigger pull on this SP101 came in at 9.8 pounds.


And here's how she shot (all targets were placed at 21 feet):


Here's five rounds of the Hornady Critical Defense ammo.


Federal Hydra Shok +P



Remington High Terminal Performance 158 grain +P


Speer 135 grain +P Short Barrel Gold Dot Hollow Point


Winchester PDX 1 Defender 130 grain +P


In short, the 2.25 inch barreled model gives up very little to the 3 inch model especially when using the Speer or Winchester ammo.


And this is how they ride in the DeSantis Super Fly pocket holster and a Bianchi outside the waistband belt holster.  These revolvers are value priced and built to last.

A final and wonderful observation about these revolvers is, that instead of being painful, they are really fun to shoot and exceeded my expectation for accuracy!