Ruger SP 101 revolver right side stainless

Ruger’s Kit Gun with a Wallop

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BY R K Campbell

Over the years, among the most useful handguns I have used have been five-shot revolvers. Light, handy and powerful enough for most chores, these are excellent defensive revolvers. Another idiom I have used has been the 4-inch barrel kit gun—usually in .22 caliber. A favorite recreational shooter has been the Smith and Wesson Regulation Police, a five-shot .38 with 4-inch barrel.

Ruger SP 101 revolver right side stainless
The SP 101 is one rugged and reliable revolver.

A few weeks ago, I had my first experience with a revolver that combines the best attributes of the Kit Gun and the light carrying five-shot revolver. The Ruger SP 101 with 4-inch barrel is chambered in .357 Magnum. This 30-ounce revolver packs a lot of punch—up to 560 foot-pounds. The SP 101 is easily among the most versatile handguns in my gun safe. My first concern is the worst case scenario. For use in personal defense against two- or four-legged threats, the SP 101 is a great choice for the trail. For recreational shooting, small game hunting and informal target shooting, the SP 101 is also a great handgun.

The Ruger features all stainless construction, an underlugged 4-inch barrel and fully adjustable rear sights. The front sight is a fiber optic type that aids in visibility and rapid sight acquisition. While many small frame handguns are not well suited to the .357 Magnum cartridge, this handgun is an exception. The combination of heavy 4-inch barrel and recoil dampening grips make for good control. Is the Ruger SP 101 the handgun to test maximum effort handloads? Of course not, but for the occasional saving shot, the ratio of weight and power is unbeatable.

Revolvers such as the SP 101 are at their best when regarded as nice .38 Special revolvers. With target grade loads such as the Winchester 158-grain SWC at about 800 fps the revolver is docile to use and fire. Accuracy is more than adequate for taking rabbit, squirrel, and other small game. A treed possum or raccoon might be better taken with a good quality hollow point such as the Winchester .38 Special 125-grain JHP offered in the white box USA line.

Ruger SP 101 and paper target
Accuracy with the Ruger was excellent with every load tested.

Target loads are mild and pleasant. Move to a .38 Special +P such as the 125-grain Silvertip and you have a reasonably powerful home defense loading. The .38 Special is widely regarded as the most powerful cartridge the occasional shooter may handle well, and I agree. With the Ruger’s hand-filling grips and well-distributed weight, you have an excellent all-around handgun.

A Superior Design

A few years ago, Ruger introduced the SP 101 revolver with a heavy-duty frame and a cylinder strong enough to remove any doubt as to the strength of the revolver. The SP 101 is regarded as the strongest five-shot .357 Magnum revolver ever made. Ruger currently offers the revolver with fixed sights and a 3-inch barrel for use in concealed carry. This is an excellent concealed carry revolver.

The 4-inch barrel version with adjustable sights, however, is a personal favorite. This revolver is among a very few in the size and weight class with sufficient accuracy and power to make the addition of adjustable sights worthwhile. While intended as a field gun, it is clearly a good choice for home defense and by no means too large for concealed carry in a proper holster. The double-action trigger is smooth and controllable making good defense shooting possible. The single action press is crisp, which allows for good long-range results.

The revolver handles the .38 Special cartridge with excellent accuracy. The .357 Magnum cartridge is 1/10th-inch longer and will not chamber in a .38 Special revolver, while the .38 will chamber and fire normally in a Magnum cylinder. This makes for great versatility. Powder-puff loads and snake shot may be used. The revolver doesn’t rely upon recoil energy for operation and a wide range of power levels are available.

Sight picture of Ruger Sp 101
The green fiber optic front sight is a great aid in rapidly finding the target and keeping the front sight on target.

While the SP 101 has many good features, the ball indent that aids in locking the chamber is a good addition to the revolver. A custom grade feature of this additional lockup is part of the reason for the Ruger’s accuracy potential. The grips are another outstanding feature. Likewise, the fiber optic front sight is especially attractive.

When firing the Ruger, I tested quite a few .38 Special cartridges. A ratio of 20 .38s for every .357 Magnum is a good practice regiment. However, I also fired several Magnum loads. I will carry these loads when hiking, taking long walks and for personal defense. The first was a very interesting load from Liberty Ammunition. Using a frangible 50-grain bullet this load demonstrated a startling 2,050 fps. Works for me! This is an ideal low penetration load for home defense.

Next was Cor Bon’s 110-grain JHP. This is going to be the carry load. This load exhibited 1,410 fps from the Ruger’s 4-inch barrel. Ruger has a reputation for demonstrating greater velocity than other handguns of a similar barrel length, and this revolver is no exception. A 15-yard five-shot group with the Cor Bon 110-grain JHP went into 1.25 inches.

Ruger SP 101 in Don Hume Holster
The Don Hume 715 inside the waistband holster is a good match for the Ruger.

As a heavier load for use in personal defense, the Winchester 158-grain JHP was loaded. Average velocity was 1250 fps. This is a load with deep penetration that also shows good expansion. I also used a number of my own handloads using the Matt’s Bullets (mattsbullets.com) 178-grain Keith-style bullet at 1,020 fps with a heavy load in the .38 Special case—not for .38 revolvers. This is my big dog and small bear load. At a long 100 yards, this load gives the trainer shooter excellent accuracy.

Packing the Ruger

I was surprised to find the Ruger fit my Don Hume 721 holster (molded for the K frame Smith and Wesson) perfectly. The Don Hume is famously tight, and a slight break in is needed, so the Ruger worked fine. The strong belt clip allows good concealed carry. For carrying in the field, the thumb break H 721 Don Hume is a great holster. The Ruger packs light and offers plenty of power. As a go-anywhere do-anything revolver, the Ruger is hard to beat.

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17 thoughts on “Ruger’s Kit Gun with a Wallop”

  1. I got my sp101 last month and love it. I started a few loads for the range and found the Rainier 125gr HP with 4.3grs of Win 231 in a .38 SPECIAL brass a Very good shoot in load. It produced about 900 f/s and accuracy was acceptable. The 101 was the best purchase to date. It’s not for sale.

    1. My son loads these.
      Uses Uniue, 231.
      Not compressed badly at all.
      Find data at Loadata.com and reduce by at least ten per cent.
      Crimped in crimping groove.
      Best,

      Bob

  2. My SP101 is the early edition in .327 Fed and one of my favorite revolvers. This entire line is fantastic!

  3. I have one in 327 Federal Magnum and just love it, smooth action, fits my hand like a glove, packs a wallop and has an extra round. You just can’t go wrong with this handgun …………

  4. Quote from the article:
    “The SP 101 is regarded as the strongest five-shot .357 Magnum revolver ever made.”

    I admire the engineering in the SP101 and would like to have one, but the author contends it’s the strongest 5-shot .357.
    My .357 Freedom Arms 5-shot Model 83 is not stressed at all by handgun metallic silhouette (IHMSA) loads that would blow SP101 cylinders into the next county. Yes, I would like to have a SP101, but I understand its limitations.

    1. Sir,
      You are right, I stand corrected! I also mentioned this isnt the handgun to stroke with experimental heavy loads. Thanks for reading and keeping me on my toes!

      Bob Campbell

  5. Ruger chambers them in 327 magnum too. Those are 6 shot as opposed to 5 and 32 longs are just the ticket for small game and plinking. Full house 327 mags are shootable in this small revolver. I shimmed the trigger and smoothed the action parts in mine.

  6. What is meant by “KIT” gun ? Is it like a model airplane “KIT”? Does it come with glue ?

    1. Sir,
      When Smith and Wesson first offered the .22 Kit Gun it was intended for carry in a camping kit or fishing kit. A kit gun is generally regarded as a light but accurate revolver well suited to outdoors use.

      Bob

  7. Your comments on the excellent SP101 are spot on. I had a short barreled SP101 and it seemed tough enough to pound nails. The 38sp were fun to shoot bu the 125gr 357Mag self defense loads were punishing to say the least and I shoot much heavy stuff in a handgun.
    It’s been a number of years since I’ve owned on but when a new shooter asks me about a self defense gun for carry or home my first answer is always SP101. If your planning on a constant diet of 357Mag this pistol will handle it but you won’t. Step up to the heavier GP series.
    Caution: The pistol comes in 38SP, 22lr, 327 Federal and 357Mag. Make sure you spend a little extra for the 357Mag for the extra versatility if your thinking of self defense.

  8. A S&W 3″ model 60 (.357) with a set of Crimson Trace grips is my preferred “KIT” or SHTF gun. The ~24 ounces also makes it easier to carry. Agree that only .38 loads should be the “normal” carry load. Nice that .357 loads could be used when necessary, the few times that a good .38 load isn’t enough.

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