By Bob Campbell,
The revolver remains a good choice for personal defense despite the widespread popularity of light self-loading pistols. The revolver will survive without maintenance much longer than the self-loader. While neglecting a firearm isn’t ideal it is a reality of a busy life. The revolver isn’t difficult to learn to shoot well and with practice and proper training it becomes a formidable defense tool.
The revolver has many advantages in personal defense including the ability to be thrust into the opponent’s body and fired repeatedly while a self-loader would malfunction if used in the same
When you have made your mind up concerning the revolver you may find that most seem too small or too large for personal defense. The aluminum frame .38 five-shot revolver is certainly small enough for constant carry but is difficult to use well and even uncomfortable to fire with personal defense loadings. Six-shot revolvers are more comfortable to fire due to heavier weight, but also more difficult to conceal.
The compromise evident in the Ruger SP101 is a good one. This five-shot revolver is relatively compact but features a very strong steel frame and hand-filling grips. I feel that it is among the best choices for personal defense of any modern revolver.
While the revolver has been offered in .22 rimfire, .32 Magnum and .38 Special, by far the best choice for both field use and home defense is the .357 Magnum revolver. The .357 Magnum SP101 may be used with .38 Special ammunition. The .38 Special is the parent cartridge of the .357 Magnum. The Magnum is simply 1/10 inch longer in the cartridge case and will not chamber in .38 Special revolvers. The .38 Special will chamber and fire in all .357 Magnum revolvers. Many shooters will use the .38 Special cartridge exclusively in their .357 Magnum Ruger and regard the revolver as a nice heavy duty .38 Special revolver. Nothing wrong with that at all―this is a potent combination with +P ammunition.
The SP101 is available with a 2.25-inch or 3-inch barrel and fixed sights. The four-inch barrel version is supplied with a fiber optic front sight and fully adjustable rear sight. The 2.25-inch barrel is the best overall combination for concealed carry. The three-inch version balanced well and provides greater recoil dampening. The four-inch barrel is really a field gun or a dedicated home defense gun. The four-inch barrel revolver is a great overall choice for home defense. For hiking and defense against animals, the four-inch barrel revolver is a good choice and you should invest the time and effort in mastering the .357 Magnum cartridge in this handgun.
Whichever model of the SP101 is chosen this is a useful and versatile revolver. For concealed carry the 2.25-inch barrel remains the most viable
choice. The Ruger is a double-action swing out cylinder revolver. The revolver is fired by a long press of the trigger. The action is smooth and controllable. There is a single-action option in which the revolver’s hammer may be cocked for a deliberate long range shot. While this option is good to have, the revolver should always be fired double-action when used for personal defense.
The Ruger SP101 is of stainless steel construction. The factory grips are rubber with plastic inserts. These are among the most well-designed grips ever supplied with a revolver.
The SP101 is light at about 25 ounces with the 2.25-inch barrel. It is 4.5 inches tall and at the widest point of the cylinder 1.35 inches. The revolver features an internal transfer bar ignition action. The SP101 is safe to be carried fully loaded. Compared to the Smith & Wesson J frame .38 Special, the cylinder of the Ruger is .09 wider―a small price to pay for such a robust revolver.
The Ruger’s frame is designed to withstand firing of the powerful .357 Magnum cartridge. While some Magnum loadings are designed for personal defense and are not as hot as others, the 35,000 pounds per square inch pressure generated by some loads is nothing to take lightly. The Ruger SP101 is easily the strongest revolver in the lightweight Magnum class.
The action of the Ruger gives a feeling of tightness. There simply isn’t any slop on the double action trigger. Firing the revolver requires the proper technique for accuracy. Press the trigger smoothly through the double action arc, keeping the sights lined up. In recoil control, allowing the trigger to reset as the revolver is recovered from recoil. The sights are fixed sights. The rear sight is broad and easily picked up. The front post may be acquired quickly during a defense situation.
For this evaluation I used a number of modern loads to properly evaluate the performance of the revolver. I began with a mix of Winchester ammunition in .38 Special. The 158-grain RNL loading is a classic for practice and informal target shooting. I found the sights well-regulated for this loading and the six o clock hold (holding under the bullseye, six o’clock) at 10 yards. Firing the revolver as quickly as I could recover the sights from recoil I fired at man sized targets at 5, 7 and 10 yards. The SP101 is fast on target and controllable.
I switched to the Winchester Silvertip 125-grain +P loading. While recoil is greater with this loading it is comfortable and controllable. Control was good
with groups as tight as the light .38 Special loads. With the 125-grain load the sights are well regulated for the dead center of the target hold. The .38 Special cartridge is shorter than the .357 Magnum and allows fast loading with the HKS speed loader. The Ruger SP101 must be tilted muzzle up like all revolvers and the ejector smartly rapped to ensure the spent cartridge cases fall free in a speed load drill. By carefully controlling the speedloader by extending the fingertips to the end of the cartridge case and slipping the cartridges into the revolver cylinder then releasing the cartridge by turning the knob of the speed loader, fast loads may be accomplished.
The Ruger SP101 offers excellent control. Even with +P .357 Magnum loads the revolver is controllable. The next step up is the .357 Magnum. This bears some study. The 9mm Luger and .38 Special are considered the baseline for defensive calibers. They are reasonable choices for personal defense. Persons of normal hand strength may control these firearms and do good work at this recoil level. Calibers below this level are problematical. Larger calibers are more effective with superior wound ballistics; this is simply physics in action. The .357 Magnum was developed as a hunting cartridge and for use against mechanized crooks in heavy vehicles or behind cover. It works well in this application. The .38 Special cartridge case was lengthened to prevent the new loadings from being chambered in the .38 caliber revolver. When looking over claims of 1400 to 1450 fps velocity for Magnum loadings keep in mind this isn’t realistic for a short barrel revolver. The powder cannot burn completely in such a short barrel. Only a complete powder burn results in such high velocity.
There are loads designed specifically for defense use which are not full power loads but plenty powerful. These are the best choices for personal defense in the .357 Magnum revolver. As an example I recently test fired several .357 Magnum loads in my personal Ruger SP101. The Winchester 125-grain JHP will generate 1400 fps in a four-inch barrel revolver. From the Ruger SP101 with its 2.25-inch barrel the load breaks 1235 fps. Wound potential remains high. Recoil is stout from the SP101. Winchester’s 125-grain PDX load breaks 1100 fps from the Ruger, over 120 fps more than the 125-grain .38 Special. This is a significant improvement. Penetration in water is in the ideal zone for personal defense. The PDX bullet expands to .78 inch. This load isn’t a great deal more difficult to master than the .38 Special but offers considerably improved wound potential.
Some feel that five shots isn’t sufficient for personal defense. When the advantages of the revolver and its improved wound ballistics are added up I feel the .357 Magnum SP101 is a good choice. I am not involved in tracking down dangerous felons and serving felony warrants so the SP101 will serve. If take over robbers are a real concern perhaps something else may be chosen. The SP101 isn’t a pocket gun, but it is light enough for constant carry with proper leather holsters. Also it isn’t limited to just personal defense. The Ruger SP101 is a fine survival gun in trained hands and would be capable of defense against large animals, given the proper loading. The Ruger SP101 is above all durable and trustworthy. There are few revolvers equally viable for camping and hiking use as a defensive/survival gun but also suited for urban defense.
Load bearing gear is an essential addition to the revolver. The Ruger SP101 offers a high level of protection. It is important that a proper holster be chosen. These holsters are among the very best available- I included the strong side belt holster, inside the waistband and a tuckable design.
Galco’s Carry Lite is found on the shelves at the larger stores. There is a positive thumb snap for retention that works out well in this example. The belt clip is properly positioned for concealed carry, holding the revolver at the proper angle. The revolver cylinder rides high on the belt. This is a good buy and a good concealed carry choice.
Barber Leather Works Pancake holster is worn on the belt under a covering garment. The Barber Leather Works holster is tightly molded to the individual firearm. The belt loops are properly spaced for a rear rake (the muzzle faces to the rear) and forward tilt (the handle is tilted forward) for a rapid draw. The holster body is defined apart from the pancake holster by double stitching. This double stitching keeps the handgun secure and tight against the holster body itself. There is a holstering welt that keeps tension on the cylinder and also prevents the holster from collapsing. Fit is tight, very tight and this holster demands a break in period. When done the combination of fit and design makes for a very fast holster that retains excellent retention. The IWB holster is great for concealed carry but gives up something in speed and simplicity to the pancake.
Lobo Gunleather’s Deep Cover holster is worn by placing it inside the pants and wearing the shirt over the holster. The belt clip goes over the top of the belt. If you are legally armed and using a tuckable holster the belt clip remains visible, while it doesn’t with an IWB and the shirt tail worn out. However some do not like the shirt worn outside or their job prevents them from wearing such an outfit. As an example a good friend works in the media and wears a covering garment at all times. When the garment comes off in the office the gun is still under the shirt. Speed is compromised but concealment is optimized. Much practice must go into this type of draw. Just the same it is a viable option for many and the only option for some. Fit and finish are excellent.