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Ruger's SP101 327 Federal Magnum Part I
A gun for self defense, gentleman gamblers and, maybe, the Maltese Falcon
By Joe D'Alessandro Editor | RealGuns.Com

Now that the warm glow of press releases has worn off the Ruger SP101 .327 Federal Magnum, and message board participants have wrapped up their dueling spec sheet speculative critique of both the firearm and cartridge, I thought it would be a good time to take a look at the combination. Considering that most of the popular combinations we shoot are well over a hundred years old, a few months of dwell time should be OK. Be advised, I am writing this article on a new subcompact netbook. Therefore, any problems with style, punctuation, or oddly spelled words caused by the close proximity of adjacent keys should be directed to the netbook's manufacturer.

The Ruger SP101 in context...

Interesting firearms project strong personalities and I believe the compact SP101 falls into this category. Placing it to be photographed, the Ruger reminded me of a short barrel birdshead single action revolver, a gun that might be carried concealed by a high roller gambler who didn't want to break the lines of an expensive suit. Or maybe the look of a gun carried by a popular movie detective of the 1930's, only in a role revived in 2009. Made with all modern materials and manufacturing processes, it isn't that the Ruger looks old, it's more that is looks timeless and purposeful.

In comparison to some of my in-process project guns, the Ruger's small frame makes for a very compact six shot revolver. It is much smaller than a Government 1911 45 ACP or a K Frame size .38 Special. In fact, it is not a whole lot larger then a compact .32 auto. The widest section of the SP101 is the cylinder where it measures 1.360". By comparison, K Frame size .38 Specials have a 1.420" cylinder cross section. From a weight standpoint, the SP101 is a well distributed 1 lb 11 oz. with a 3 1/16" heavy barrel, a thick top strap and beefy overall frame. The gun is all stainless steel and built for strength and durability. The cylinder is triple locked; front, rear and bottom, and the frame has no removable side plates to diminish its strength. The SP101 in .327 Federal Magnum chamber is actually 3 oz heavier than the same model in .357 Magnum - bigger holes in the .357. If I seem to have an enthusiasm for the Ruger SP101, I am as surprised as you. I am generally not a revolver guy, but there is just something about this gun I really enjoy.

The first two shots explained the use of the "Magnum" label...

At 1,500 fps, the Federal's 100 grain load has a 380 fps velocity edge over even an 85 grain .32 H&R Magnum performance load. The .327 Federal Magnum's 85 grain Hydra-Shok Personal Defense ammo is reduce loaded to 1,400 fps and labeled "Low Recoil". Obviously, in either case, this is not an anemic cartridge suited only for a gun of last resort.

With nineteen grains of case capacity, and an operating pressure in the 33,000+ PSI range, the .327 Federal Magnum operates at nearly the same pressure level as the 9mm Luger, and has 46% greater case capacity. (Pictured L-R for form comparison - .327 Federal, 9mm Luger, .38 Special, .357 SIG).

The .327 Federal is unique as a .32 caliber cartridge, so no performance expectations for the .327 Federal can be inferred by that of the .32 ACP or even the .32 H&R Magnum. Performance wise, the Federal round can keep company with some pretty high performance handgun rounds.

 

Cartridge

Bullet
Weight
Muzzle
Velocity
Muzzle
Energy
.327 Federal Magnum 100 1500 500
.32 H&R Magnum 85 1120 237
.32 ACP 65 925 123
.38 Special +P 129 950 258
.357 Magnum 125 1440 575
.357 SIG 125 1350 506
9mm Luger 124 1120 345
 

And after the smoke cleared...

I always liked the idea of a .38 Special or .357 Magnum snub nose revolver, but never actually enjoyed shooting these guns. With lots of concentration and focus, I have been able to throw them and hit very large structures, but I never have been able to shoot them effectively. In a defensive situation, for me, they are as much of a threat to an intruder as yelling "Bang. Bang"...really loud. The SP101 and .327 Federal Magnum cartridge combination delivers the compact revolver concept and the element missing from a traditional snub nose - high velocity and controllability. I believe "controllability" is a word? But, you  know, it is my keyboard so I'll  just declare it a word.

The SP101 is an interesting gun to shoot. I ran through a couple of boxes of 85 grain Hydra Shok loads. Rated at 1,400 fps, they tightly averaged 1,463 fps over the chronograph. The recoil is a moderate slap that appears not to feel worse over time; no sore hands or wrists, and the gun's report is relatively mild...but you might want to keep in mind I handload for the .500 Jeffery. The Ruger even fit well into my very special two handed modified Dennis Weaver, MMA Kung Fu grip. That surprised me as I have no idea how so many medium/large size fingers fit around that small grip without the strong hand pinky dangling in the breeze.

Single action trigger pull measured a crisp 5 lbs 14 oz, double action was an aerobic workout at 10 lbs 11 oz. The pull felt lighter than it scaled and even the long double action pull was smooth. Heavy trigger pull didn't hurt accuracy and may have, in fact, served to steady the gun and encourage a solid grip. Shooting this gun double action is actually kind of enjoyable. After several rounds, you know where you can relax and you know where you need to hold pressure and you can feel the slick surface contact of moving parts through your finger tip. Very Zen like.

Sightseeing...

The SP101 is an excellent concealed carry and easy to shoot home defense gun. Nothing complicated, more than enough power and pleasant enough to shoot to invite practice. The .327 Federal is much easier to shoot than a short barrel .357 Magnum with full up loads and pretty close to the .357 Magnum in power. This SP101 would also make a great intermediate gun for a younger shooter, something to help them make the transition from .22 autoloader to 44 Magnum.

Ruger distinguishes the .327 Federal SP101 from the 357 Magnum version with a set of windage adjustable rear sights. This is clearly more than a poke and shoot gun. The rear sight is adjustable for windage, but not elevation, which is unfortunate as elevation adjustment wouldn't go to waste on this gun. Zeroed at 25 yards, the 100 grain load drops only 4˝" at 100 yards where it is still traveling faster than a +P .38 Special's muzzle velocity.

The sights are plain black ramp front and white outline notched rear, which makes for an excellent daylight sight picture. Considering the gun's applications, I wish Ruger would offer fully adjustable Tritium night sights for the .327 Federal Model, just as they do on many of their excellent center fire autoloaders. When reaching for a gun in low light, those little green dots make a lot of sense. For the life of me, I can't figure out why an autoloader and not a revolver would routinely get them.

I apologize for some of the photography. This is like photographing and polar bear in a snow storm. The discoloration on the barrel top isn't permanent. t is the accumulation of gunpowder residue and spray off gun cleaner. A quick wipe down after a session yielded a pristine firearm under the grime.

Accuracy...

Two handed hold, shooting at seven yards, yielded these three groups. For me, a revolver and 10°F weather, this is very good. The top right and bottom center groups are 5/8" the top center is 3/4" and was shot slowly and deliberately in double action. The SP101 is not fatiguing to shoot. I stopped when I ran out of ammo, not when it became unpleasant.

The SP101 does not handle or balance like a gun with a 3" barrel, it feels like a 4" GP100, steady. If I got tired of the soft grips, I might be tempted to install a set of exotic wood compact grips from Hogue. I don't think they would do much functionally, but they would certainly look nice.

What I was thinking when I got this far...

The .327 Federal SP101 began and ended this project with 0.002" cylinder gap and no extraneous cylinder play. It's latch work...worked, the cylinder turned freely even after carbon build up on its face, the sights stayed in place and, of course, there are no exposed frame screws to shoot loose. The gun will also shoot .32 H&R, .32 S&W and .32 S&W Long cartridges. .327 Federal Magnum ammunition manufactured by Federal and Speer are priced at $25/50 for American Eagle soft point ammo and $20/20 for Speer personal defense loads. .32 H&R Magnum ammunition is more expensive. 32 S&W Long ammo is slightly less than the .327 Federal, with .32 S&W about the same. What is that all mean? If you have some of this other ammo on hand you can use it up. If not, your can shoot .327 Federal Magnum ammo without a cost penalty.

For the handloaders amongst us, and we know who you are so please sit down and stop waving your hands, .32 H&R Magnum reloading dies work fine. In fact, you won't find dedicated .327 Federal dies listed. Redding catalogued them initially, but dropped them as redundant to existing .32 H&R dies. The Federal case (there is a joke in there somewhere) is 1.200" long, the .32 H&R is 1.075" and they share a common case diameter of 0.337". All that is needed is a backing out the sizer die 0.125" for the Federal round. Bullet diameter is 0.312". Discarding bullets intended for the .32 ACP, there are probably a couple dozen types available.

I won't jump on the single action revolver and lever action rifles in .327 Federal Magnum suggestion bandwagon. Yes, I think it would be nifty to have a single action Ruger in this chamber. I do think, with so much more power, it would have much greater appeal than the .32 H&R Magnum version that was discontinued. Yes, I do think a lever gun would be nifty. Both would fit in well for small game hunting as well as for CAS applications. However, I also know there are lots of other cartridges that become reasonable for the same purpose as barrel length and gun weight are increased. I think I will stick with Federal and Ruger's well thought out ideal defensive handgun accomplishment and hope for some gunsmith and accessory tweaks to become available in the near future, just to keep it interesting.

I would be remiss in not saying that if you have an interest in this firearm, or any others, you might contact Cindy 207) 655-2183 at the RealGuns gun shop. I'm sure she'd be glad to give you a good price and inexpensive quick delivery on your next firearm. Nice lady.

Ruger's SP101 327 Federal Magnum Part I
Ruger's SP101 327 Federal Magnum Part II
 

 

 

 

 
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