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I like to read… old stuff, mostly. Anything and everything that piques the imagination, including Mickey Spillane. It’s interesting how a good writer can construct an entire universe in a reader’s mind by drawing upon, and arranging for effect, things that are universally familiar. If the author sets a date in the 1940s and uses terms like “Down and out gumshoe” and “Working out of a seedy office”, you’ve probably already jumped ahead to his quick quipping and underpaid secretary and the mysterious, distressed and leggy blonde client in search of her missing, presumed dead, husband.

The Ruger SP 101 is in that office, in a shoulder holster, or maybe in the jacket pocket of a threadbare suit. Not one of today’s Hollywood caricatures or exaggerations of a gun, but rather the kind of gun that would appear in movies when directors knew an audience would be too gun savvy to buy into anything other than the RIGHT gun. The Ruger SP101 357 Magnum is an easily concealable, small frame, big cartridge revolver that Sam Spade, Mike Hammer or any non-fictional person in need of serious self-defense would do well to consider.

The case for the 357 Magnum

There was a time, not too long ago, when it seemed eminent that the revolver was headed toward extinction. High capacity 9mm autoloaders were everywhere, pushing revolvers and standard capacity 1911 types off of dealers shelves and out of the minds of firearm enthusiasts. Then came the waves of 10mm, 357 SIG and 40 S&W guns and, just when it looked as though the end was near, the autoloader tides of change began to ebb. I think the Righteous Brothers said that better.

Federal Personal Defense 38 Special 357 Magnum 9mm Luger 357 SIG 40 S&W 10 MM 45 ACP
Bullet Weight Grains 110 125 125 158 115 124 124* 147* 155 180 180 200* 185 230
Muzzle Velocity FPS 980 830 1440 1240 1180 1120 1350 1225 1140 1000 1030 1050 950 850
Muzzle Energy Ft/Lbs 235 191 575 539 356 345 502 490 447 400 424 490 371 369

*Federal Personal Defense with noted exceptions, which are Hornady Custom. Nominal Barrel Length 4″

The reality is that, we are a horsepower driven society… except for those electric car guys with a “Euro first” bent. We know that a handgun’s lethality is not determined by the kinetic energy of one round, multiplied by the number of rounds the gun holds, unless we are shooting an old simultaneous discharge pepper box. The indisputable fact that revolvers are more powerful than autoloaders began to once again get our attention. Other elements contributing to the revolver’s resurgence – the 357 Magnum revolver’s 125 grain JHP loads hold the documented lead for one shot stops at 96%1. A high performance, high capacity autoloader is a lump and one half and takes up more space than a high performance revolver. A Glock placed next to an SP101 does a great job of illustrating how “ugly” has infiltrated our gun loving psyche and how far removed many modern autoloaders have become from a revolver’s good looks and precise assembly. OK, maybe not ALL autoloaders.

More compact than the GP100

Every autoloader I’ve owned has eventually burped and sputtered and parked a stove pipe in the slide, or needed to be racked to clear a misfire or failed to strip a round from its magazine and left me listening to the sound of a hammer falling on an empty chamber. No, none of the aforementioned happened often, particularly when the gun was slicked up a bit and ammunition was held consistent. However, zero tolerance for failure is probably a good place to begin, and end, when it comes to life or death applications. I also began to think about how many times I had to familiarize myself with the actuation of a newly purchased autoloader’s safety, its loaded chamber indicator, its decocking routine, and its single and double action operation. I don’t want to think about that stuff while trying to analyze a threatening situation. All double action revolvers, regardless the model gun or manufacturer, work the same; find the target, pull the trigger.

Far left, the SP101 Model 5771. Ruger’s double action, small frame, all steel revolver. The other, a GP100 Model 1705 medium frame. GP100s serve as our house and shop guns. The GP100 was selected for home and shop because concealed and open carry convenience were not factors. Subsequently, a bit of heft and bulk were a fair tradeoff for soft grips and a sixth round. For concealment and open carry, the more compact and lighter SP101 357 Magnum has been the choice. Since the barrel length for both guns is the same, ballistic performance remains the same. For applications where an even smaller envelope is required, the SP101 357 Magnum is also available with 2.25″ and 3.06″ barrel lengths with fixed sights.


SP101 357 Magnum GP100 357 Magnum
Model# 5771 1705
Introduced 2011 1987
Caliber 357 Magnum
Action Double/Single
Hardware Satin Stainless
Grips Rubber/Wood Insert Hogue Monogrip
Capacity 5 6
Barrel Length 4.20″
Twist 1:18.75
Sights – Rear Adjustable
Sights – Front Fiber Optic Ramp
Sight Radius 5.00″ 5.25″
Overall Length 9.12″ 9.50″
Overall Height 5.00″ 6.25″
Weight 29.50 oz 40.00 oz
Trigger Pull Double Action 12 lbs 2 oz 10 lbs
Trigger Pull Single Action 6 lbs 9 oz 4 lbs 9 oz
MSRP $689 $759

Actual weights and measures

A little bit less compact than the SP101 327 Federal Magnum

SP101 327 Federal Magnum top, SP101 357 Magnum bottom. The SP101 357 Magnum differs from the SP101 327 Federal Magnum in numerous areas. The 357 Magnum version’s barrel is 4.20″, the 327 Federal Magnum barrel is 3.06″. The 357 Magnum gets a micro adjustable rear sight, windage and elevation, the 327 Magnum adjusts for windage only. The 327 Federal Magnum is a pretty stiff round for self defense, but the 357 Magnum offers more.

Shooting impressions

I would rate the SP101 327 Federal Magnum’s recoil as… brisk and the SP101 357 Magnum, a substantial step up in power, brisk+, but certainly not 44 Magnum “Good Grief” or 454 Casull “Holy Smokes!!.” The SP101 is easy to hold on target and to bring back on target after a shot. There is actually very little muzzle rise with most of the transfer of energy coming straight back. Choking up on the grip seemed to produce the most comfortable shooting arrangement.

Great sights. I really like the combination of adjustable black rear and the high contrast, small diameter fiber optic front sight. The front sight is small enough for any reasonable shooting distances and they stand out against virtually any background. The ribbed and beaded barrel ramp kills any glare that might result from reflected light.

As a result of snow storms, snow drifts, a lack of snow shoes, and my general lack of willingness to give up the comforts of a heated indoors, I didn’t have a great deal of range time. However, I did set up some seven yard targets and shot from an anti-shiver rest, while my wife hosed me down with antifreeze and dried me off with a flare tipped propane torch. She seemed a little too eager to help.


5 Shot
Federal Personal Defense 125 1363 2.1
Hornady Critical Defense 125 1382 2.3
Winchester Super-X 145 1292 1.9
PMC Bronze 158 1237 2.5
Remington Express 158 1170 2.2

Velocity was very good, all equating to impact velocity that would reliably expand bullets. There are lots of types of factory ammo that would yield higher velocity, but I don’t think that is necessary for a small frame gun with a 4″ barrel. Accuracy I could comfortably produce with the gun was very good.

Bottom line…

I’ve covered this generation of this design type of Ruger many times, so I left out some of the detail in descriptions. So I’ll note that the design is very modular which means the gun disassembles for cleaning and maintenance easily. Anyone who has ever disassembled a S&W J Frame would appreciate this simplification and absence of piles of springs, pins and tiny parts. The Ruger is a coil spring type mainspring gun for longevity and reliable ignition. The SP101 has a triple lock system that really anchors the cylinder in the frame and can hold up to a lot of use. The SP101 has a peg frame which allows easy fit of custom grips. In fact, the Ruger store offers a $28 soft, finger grooved Monogrip for this gun that I’d like to try.

The SP101 357 Magnum is as billed; a compact, powerful revolver that could easily serve as a primary carry gun. It does a great job of tying firearm tradition to the most modern design touches, materials and manufacturing processes. The yield is high performance, excellent aesthetics and lots of long term reliability. Nice gun.

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