[Review] Ruger SP101: The Tank-Like Snubby

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In a world swollen with every shape, style, length, and caliber of semi-auto, it’s sometimes nice to take a look back and see how far we’ve come.  

Even though revolvers have largely been replaced by their higher capacity brethren, we don’t have to look back too far to remember wheel guns were an upgrade in their day.

A tiny package that delivers a titanic hit!
A tiny package that delivers a titanic hit!

Cased cartridges were a huge advancement when compared to cap and ball and an even greater evolution was the swing out cylinder for faster reloads.  

Though the revolver seems relegated to antiquity for some, it is not without some tactical wherewithal, and I’m going to tell you why.

With this perspective in mind, I set out to review the Ruger SP101 Talo Distributor Exclusive.  

Table of Contents

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Brief Ruger History

William B. Ruger was born in 1916 when the Old West was still recent history.  He went on to create an American empire with a man named Alexander Sturm, creating a litany of firearms classics.  The name Sturm, Ruger & Company is largely known worldwide today simply as “Ruger”.

The brand is known for its over-engineered approaches to applications as well as their incredible durability.  This is true among all of their guns but it perhaps peaks in their revolvers.

Some reloaders I know who tend to “overpressure” their rounds can attest to the fortitude of Ruger revolvers that left other brands peeled like a banana.

You might be tempted to think I’d head straight to the Ruger Redhawk, a famous .44 caliber beast—but no.  I picked out something smaller, beautiful, still useful, and capable of great feats in spite of its size.

The Ruger SP101

The SP101 is a small frame revolver but it doesn’t feel like you’re missing anything when you pick it up.  It’s solid, a handful, but not too heavy, weighing in at 1 pound, 9.1 ounces on my scale. For the size it is hefty but this comes in handy later.

The wheel gun I tested is the SP101 with a 2.25-inch barrel, chambered in .357.  This is the Talo Distributor Exclusive model which means it comes with some gorgeous aesthetic upgrades.  Imagine a flame paint job on a tank and you start to get the idea.

The engraving work on this pistol is beautiful, also, note the shrouded ejection rod
The engraving work on this pistol is beautiful, also, note the shrouded ejection rod

To start, the all steel frame and cylinder sport traditional engraving.  For my tastes, this classic touch is beautiful. Add to that a cushioned rubber grip with hardwood inserts and you have a handle that is as attractive as it is functional.  The wood of the grip also features the omnipresent Ruger eagle.

Show vs Go

I went out to the range on a rainy day and rest assured, I was the only one there with a revolver.

Now because of the small size of this shooter, you might think it is limited.  Don’t get me wrong, it is in a way, but it surprised me. Just sighting down the barrel made me think about the sight radius I typically enjoy.  

My duty weapon has about a 6.5-inch sight radius and this greatly helps with accuracy. The 2.25-inch barrel SP101 has a total of a 4-inch sight radius.  This means micro-movements when firing translate to big movements downrange.

That being said, my duty weapon most certainly will not fit in my pocket—the SP101 does.  Front or rear, even with a pocket holster to keep it grip up, I enjoy carrying this pistol.  

I started out shooting some .38 special rounds to see how the gun would handle.  At a distance of 25 yards, I started firing all five shots for groups at a target.  

Most of my groups averaged around 3.5 inches though I made an observation: firing single action (cocking the hammer back first) I was able to rest my support hand thumb along the cylinder and really stabilize the gun.  

Eventually, I shrunk my groups, my best being just over 1 inch, with two rounds finding the same hole.

With focus I was able to pull this group off at 10 yards
With focus I was able to pull this group off at 10 yards

The trigger, although smooth when firing from double action, is loooong.  All the while you’re squeezing that bang switch the muzzle is wiggling around a little.  Total weight on the trigger, double action, measured in at 10 pounds 12.4 ounces using a Lyman Digital Trigger Gauge provided by Brownells.  

Now, cocking back the hammer and squeezing off shots single-action came in at an average of 3 pounds, 11.4 ounces on the same gauge.

This is the way to go and it gets easier with practice.  Compared to the marathon pull of double-action, the single can be surprisingly swift so you need to be on target when using this method.

Using .357 ammo netted roughly the same accuracy results with a bit more muzzle flip and bang for the buck.  The .38 special felt pretty tame, largely eaten up by the weight of this small revolver. And even though the .357 were much stronger, nothing I fired came close to testing the durability of this little revolver.

Actual wood on a gun!
Actual wood on a gun!

By the Numbers

Ergonomics 3/5

This gun is small but it is designed that way for portability and concealability.  Sacrifices were made in ergonomics, but not to the extent where accuracy is affected.

Accuracy 3/5

This is tough to rate.  Up close this gun is as deadly as a blind berserker, slaying anything with ease though distance takes a lot more effort on the part of the shooter.

Reliability 5/5

I never had any failures to fire while shooting a lot of rounds through this gun.  There were some issues ejecting shell casings that had warped, but that was the ammo, the gun had done its job.  

Customization 4/5

About the only thing I would consider upgrading on this gun is the sights.  Intimate engagements, you don’t really need them, but for greater distances, it would be nice to have a fiber-optic front sight and these are available.  

Looks 5/5

This potent little gun is as cool as Steve McQueen in the Magnificent Seven.  The engraving and wood grips harken back to a day when five rounds were enough to solve your issues.  You’d roll a cigarette and smoke it when you needed to reload.

Price 2/5

The Talo came out in limited supply so there aren’t a lot of these floating around.  That makes them more valuable. I paid around $550 for mine a few years ago. Now, the only one I could find for sale online was $759.99.  I gave the low score because I believe the price is only going to go up. However, non-Talo versions are much less expensive coming in at $400 to $500.

Overall Rating 4/5

This revolver is stunning and will deliver years of uninterrupted service to shooters whether plinking with .38 special or banging out .357 rounds.  It seems rare in our disposable society that something so elegant can still be built to last. Whether you carry it, shoot it, or collect it, the SP101 Talo is a great investment.

These sights work but fiber-optic would be better in my opinion
These sights work but fiber-optic would be better in my opinion

Tactical Applications

What are the revolver’s advantages compared to modern defense pistols?  Well, they are limited and even negligible in my mind. However, reliability is one.  Although revolvers almost never “jam”, you can have other issues, like ammo.

I shot some crappy, leftover .38 ammo at one point and although they always fired, I had a hard time ejecting some of the remaining casings as they had warped a bit.  This is an ammo issue and no fault of the gun. Using the ejection rod, I had to bang it a few times to convince the wedged shells to leave.

Ejection rod doing work when gravity does not prevail
Ejection rod doing work when gravity does not prevail

Revolvers are limited in the number of shots they hold and reloads (for this cowboy certainly) are much slower than semi-autos.  Additionally, I feel like the march of time is causing ammunition manufacturers to focus more efforts on upgrading the 9mm as opposed to older calibers.  

I have seen evidence that led me to believe 9mm is on par or surpasses .357 in ballistic gelatin tests. I know, that’s hard to believe.

But, and this is a great big “but”, this pistol is dependable and pretty easy to conceal.  Think about where you might need five shots in your life.  For some people, it’s simply a fight stopper type gun, carried in their front pocket.

Then check out our best defensive picks in Best .38 and .357 Ammo.

For others, it is a backup, worn in the same spot or even on an ankle holster in case things go sideways.  For others still, it might just be a transitional gun, allowing someone to put rounds downrange while they move to cover, escape, or get to a better weapon.  

The size of this SP101 lends itself to close engagement. Up cozy, you’re not going to miss, but with practice, you can still hit targets from afar.

Need something with more punch? Maybe you want to go on an elk hunt with it? We reviewed the Ruger Super Redhawk for just that goal!

Have a Ruger revolver? Tell us about it or your other favorite revolvers in the comments!  Or check out our 9 Best .357 Magnum Revolvers roundup.

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MPGunther
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MPGunther

Enjoyed the article and my SP-101,GP 100 and LCR in 357.

John
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John

Glad to hear it!

AP9960
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AP9960

Have a big 7.5″ super redhawk in .44 and love that gun. It is amazingly accurate and 100% reliable. A friend of mine wanted a simple comfortable gun for personal defense and the SP 101 was my recommendation. She absolutely loves the gun and keeps it for home defense loaded with .38 special but can comfortably handle the 357. I am not a fan of the Ruger auto’s, but would place their revolvers up against any other offerings. Colt Python #1 Ruger #2.

John
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John

Right on! Glad to hear from some folks that love them as much as we do!

Big black Glock
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Big black Glock

You should be careful when you start a comment with “Have a big 7.5in”…

Brad
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Brad

Got a 1969 SuperBlack in 44 magnum. 3 screw and all original. Only shot it a handful of times, 20 rounds maybe. My dad got it when he graduated high school. Reading this article makes me wanna take it to the range next time I ago. Always been a fan of Ruger products, blue-collar all the way.

John
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John

Our vote? Do it!

Sam Burkes
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Sam Burkes

I would love to purchase an SP-101, just cant afford it right now. Am a buge wheelgun fan, have been fir over 40 years. Own a Ruger Blackhawk, 4.75″bbl in 45 Colt…can take almost any load I put thru it, but relegate it to standard pressure reloads, like 250gr cast lead over about 8he Unique…shoots wonderfully!! Accurate to boot! Had a 4″” Security Six in .357. Fired hundreds of loads through it, gave it to my brother to take to Calif. I own otgervColt/S&E. revolvers. Rugers cannot be beat. Thank you for this wonderful article.

John
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John

No worries at all, Sam! We’re glad you enjoyed it.

JCNorfolk
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JCNorfolk

I bought an SP101 with the 2.25 barrel new a number of years ago from a local gun and pawn shop for under 300.
I like my wheelguns and I like my Rugers. The Rugers pair up well with my handgun caliber leverguns running anything I want to load.
I agree that the front sight, grips and heavy double action are key things to improve the little gun.
I find it heavy on the ankle but compact on the hip.