[Review] Ruger SP101: The Tank-Like Snubby

It’s nice to 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Even though revolvers have largely been replaced by their higher capacity brethren, we don’t have to look back too far to remember wheel guns were an upgrade in their day.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 if you were to ask around…the SP101 is always sure to come up.  First…a full video review from our YouTube channel:

With this perspective in mind, I set out to review the Ruger SP101 Talo Distributor Exclusive…with pretty engravings!

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.

Best Carry Revolver
540
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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.

Best Carry Revolver
540
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Conclusion

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.

One more time…our full video review!

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.

38 Leave a Reply

  • Dee Dee

    I cannot agree more about the SP101. Mine is 2.25” .357 Mag with external hammer. Coincidentally, my SP101 is named Pew Pew. (Christened long before I discovered this website.) I am a 5’1” small-framed > 60 years woman., fairly new to shooting. One thing I love about my SP101 is the grip fits my small hands perfectly. (My first gun was a Ruger LCRx 3” 38+p. It was very accurate but the 3” barrel made conceal ability difficult. The reason I traded it in was because the grip on the LCRx 3” was simply too big for my hand. My SP101 is perfect and is my choice carry gun. Favorite carry position: just below my knee in an ankle-biter sticky holster under a long skirt.

    2 weeks ago
  • William W.

    You mentioned the difference in a smaller revolver ( I carry a SP-101, 2.25in , hidden hammer, 357mag ) loaded with GD 357mag 135gr SB and a 9mm+P round have about the same ballistics and power, and commented that it’s hard to believe. It is for me too, and Mr. Paul Harrell especially. Mr. Harrell’s video comparing the velocity and power of 9mm+P, 38spl+P, and a 357mag rounds totally dispels that thought. Give it a watch, it’s on YouTube, and it might change your mind about the 357mag and 9mm+P and their “power”. Thanks for your article.

    2 weeks ago
  • Bull o' the Woods

    I've read somewhere that Chic Gaylord preferred a 3" barrel for both concealment and accuracy. I would be tempted to buy the 3" Model #5719 rather than one of the 2.25" models, although it does not come with the fancy engraving of the Talo model. A fine revolver is just a Good Thing to Have.

    2 weeks ago
  • Dan S

    Just bought the Ruger SP101 last week, 4 in. Took it to the range,out of a box of fifty. 38s the cylinder froze up numerous times. I took it home,cussing all the way. Cleaned it and lubricated it thoroughly. Went back to the range and with .357 rounds it functioned perfectly. Accurate as hell. Just for fun I went to trade it and without them knowing the previous issue, they would only give me half of what I paid for it. Guess I will keep it, besides I really love this gun now that it likes me

    2 weeks ago
  • jp64

    I've owned one and also carry a revolver once in a while. With a snub nose like this I practice with 38sp that I load myself. In my Blackhawks or SW 19 maybe 50/50 with 357. I carry 357 148gr WC I cast myself. Am I ok with carrying a revolver? You bet I am and do.

    2 weeks ago
  • William L Ramhold

    hey johnny, what do you think of the Taurus 856?

    3 weeks ago
  • Steve

    It would be interesting if you compared it with a 3” GP100 in 10mm. It has a slightly bigger grip, fiber optic front sight and a rear sight and 6 shots.

    3 weeks ago
  • willyd

    I have two SP101's both are 2 1/4 inch, I purchased a non-exposed hammer which I carry often, then I did like most, traded it for something else, only to find that I missed it, I was at a show and found an exposed hammer one, did the fiber optic front sight on it, but found a slight problem with pulling from a holster, the hammer would hang up. This all came to be in about 2 1/2 months after trading my original one. I stopped at the shop where I traded it, then I looked in the display and yes I saw my original SP101 still there, not to hesitate, I bought it back, for less money than I got for the trade in, all problems cured, and still prefer my wheel guns!!!!

    3 weeks ago
  • Robert Smith

    there is nothing wrong with a small revolver..in fact thats what I carry daily during the summer..mine happens to be a S/W 642 but it's the same..5 shot short barrel..now in winter time I generally carry a 4" 1911..Dan Wesson CBOB...but in a shoulder rig or when I am off the beaten path I go with my old tried and true S/W 66..3" round grip...and yes..except for outdoors.. I carry my revolver with Hornady critical defense...38 ca...

    3 weeks ago
  • Mike Brucia

    Many guns have come into my collection and then out again because I wanted something else. There are only 3 that I regret parting with. My 3 inch SP101 is on that short list.

    3 weeks ago
    • Scott L

      Curious what the other two regrets were...? :)

      2 weeks ago
  • James Justice

    I bought the sp101 in stainless with 4 inch barrel 357 mag for my wife. It has the fiber optic front sight and adjustable rear. I got it used at my local gun shop and it already had a trigger job, double action is just over 7 lbs as smooth as silk. the accuracy is astounding. She loves this gun and shoots it quite well even with magnum loads.

    3 weeks ago
  • LazrBeam

    I’ve got the SP 101 with 2 1/2” barrel in .357 Mag and I changed the wood grips to Hogue grips. I usually shoot .38 Spl +P out of it when at the range coupled with a cylinder of .357. But, what I REALLY like is my SS SP 101 with 3” barrel in .327 Federal Magnum that holds SIX rounds in the cylinder. That .327 is one hot round yet very manageable. And the author is correct, both revolvers are tanks.

    3 weeks ago
    • JohnnyVegas

      I have to laugh to myself when I see all the people who buy the 2 1/2" barrel but maybe they're all at the range practicing every week at 10 yards...or more likely 10 feet. How accurate are you all with such a short barrel? I just bought this with the 4" barrel and love it. My Dad's a retired PO and said not to go shorter than 4" to ensure accuracy. I'd really like to hear how it shoots lesser than that. Thanks! JV

      2 weeks ago
  • Brian

    It is true that some 357 loads are downloaded so much that some 9mm loads have the same ballistics (Speer Gold dot Short Barrel 135g - 990 ft/sec, 294 ft lb energy or Remington Golden Saber 125g - 1220 ft/sec, 413 ft lb) but do not kid yourself, full power 357 loads are much more powerful (Hornady Critical defense 125g - 1500'/sec, 624 ft lbs or Underwood Extreme Penetrator 140g - 1550'/sec, 747 ft lbs or Buffalo Bore 19C/20 which is a 158g - 1475'/sec, 763 ft lb energy) than anything you can get in a 9mm +P or even a 9mm +P+

    3 weeks ago
  • Jeremiah

    "I have seen evidence that led me to believe 9mm is on par or surpasses .357 in ballistic gelatin tests." Credibility=0. Accuracy 3 of 5? Just cause you can't shoot it doesn't mean it isn't a tack driver.

    1 month ago
  • Tommy C.

    I have had Ruger pistols for years and cannot say that I have had many problems with them. Only did I have problems with was my SR1911 9mm where the bolt and bushing was a little loose. I sent it back to Ruger and they resolved the problem and had my pistol back within a week. I have 4 SR1911's, 1 GP100 4.2" barrel and 1 GP100 with a 3" barrel. Although a little heavy for EDC it will still get the job done if needed. The only objection I have with the Rugers are the sights they use. I ended up putting fingernail polish on the front sights and have to re-do them periodically due to holster wear. Product wise? It's tough to beat a Ruger

    5 months ago
  • Eric Garlington

    The sight picture you included had the top of the front sight 'way above the top of the rear channel sight. Is this the proper picture for SP101's? Could explain a lot of negative comments I've seen about the 101 sights, ie "shoots 9" low at 10 yards". Thank you.

    6 months ago
  • Hammer

    Most people want to imagine they are John Wick, when in reality, a good revolver is likely all they will never need. It's time to inject a little practicality back into self-defense.

    6 months ago
  • John Weber

    I just purchased a new 2.25 inch 38 spcl. +P SP101. I have 3 other Ruger revolvers: 5.5 inch new vaquero 45 colt, 4.62 inch single six 1953-2003 commemorative and a 4.62 inch single seven in 327 Federal. My 45 vaquero is my favorite. My sp101 is my edc gun, I opted for the 38 spcl. because u will carry only +p ammo and I won't lose about 50 fps firing through the longer cylinder.

    8 months ago
  • MPGunther

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

    11 months ago
    • Sean Curtis

      Thank you!

      11 months ago
    • John

      Glad to hear it!

      11 months ago
  • 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.

    11 months ago
    • Big black Glock

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

      11 months ago
    • John

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

      11 months ago
  • 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.

    11 months ago
    • Sean Curtis

      Brad, thanks for the great response. I hope you get out and shoot that smoke wagon! What a cool gun.

      11 months ago
    • John

      Our vote? Do it!

      11 months ago
  • 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.

    11 months ago
    • John

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

      11 months ago
  • 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.

    11 months ago
  • Al levey

    You never soprano of the price on the sp101 talo or the laser you can attach to the frame? Thx Al from G

    11 months ago
    • Sean Curtis

      Al, under the rated section check "Price". It's around $749.

      11 months ago
  • Jeff

    I really like my "Wiley Clapp" 2.25" stainless .357 revolver. I reload 158 gr. semi-wadcutters to 85-90% capacity to make them a little more manageable. I swapped out the OEM grip with a Hogue grip to absorb a little more of the recoil. Makes for a nice CC revolver. I replaced the OEM trigger spring with a Wolff 9lb. spring making the double action trigger much easier.

    11 months ago
    • Jeff

      I forgot to mention it is a Ruger SP-101 revolver. I haven't seen a Wiley Clapp version since I bought mine back in 2017 thru Brownell's. Cost me around $600 at the time.

      11 months ago
  • Ted

    I have a stainless steel Security 6 .357 magnum with a 6 inch barrel. It has been a workhorse for me for almost 40 years. Not really very concealable but a fine weapon, nevertheless.

    11 months ago
    • GaShooter

      I’ve got the same gun in 4”. Someone did a slick trigger job in the past as it is smoother than hot butter - despite what I usually hear about “out of the box” Rutgers online. Like the wise old owl who found it “only” took 3 licks to get to the center of a tootsie pop, anyone know how long a Ruger will last? If they had been used in the civil war we would, no doubt, be digging up complete revolvers rather than just skeletal remains of revolvers.

      9 months ago
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