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Revolvers with truncated barrels, like this Ruger SP101 with 2.25″ barrel, combined with and modern compact handgun specific ammunition make excellent defensive weapons. Gone are the days of flame thrower emulation, sharply diminished muzzle velocity and bullets that do not penetrate or expand. As the compact firearm has not changed much in form, the dramatic  improvement in performance has come from bullet design and the chemistry of smokeless powder, specifically that which is designed for short barrel firearms. Durability and reliability come from quality manufacture, good designs and material and process technology innovation.

Pictured above, a 124 grain 9mm Remington Ultimate Defense – Compact Handgun round, a 124 grain bullet that looks curiously a lot like a 124 grain Golden Saber, and one of the same recovered from ballistic gel. Muzzle velocity from the 2.25″ barrel clocked 1073 fps and penetration measured 14″. The expanded diameter of the 0.355″ bullet is a tad over 0.600″ and weight retention was 100%… at least to the 0.1 grain. This particular ammo is rated at 1020, test fired from a 2.7″ barrel. The full size handgun version of the same, 4″ test barrel, is rated at 1180 fps. Don’t like these results? Need something that will blow through 32″ of ballistic gel? A combined thirty five manufacturers produce one hundred eighty three different 9mm loads.

Of course they are unmanageable and recoil like crazy because of their small size and light weight. Yeah, not really. Velocity and bullet weight are at the foundation of Newton’s Third Law and compact revolvers like the SP101 generate lower velocity than a longer barrel revolver, but lower compact handgun weight makes them about the same. In any event, it isn’t the bullet and its velocity that produces most recoil, it is the mechanical force is generated through the reaction of accelerating a gas mass… thrust, a combination of Newton’s Second and Third law.  Short barrel revolvers have less and more slowly accelerating bore gas volume exiting the muzzle, which reduces secondary recoil… not unlike the influence of a muzzle brake. Instead of hand smacking recoil we get that nifty powder bloom for added effect.

 SP101 – 9mm Luger
Manufacturer Ruger – Newport, NH
Model Number 5783
Type SA/DA
Caliber 9mm Luger
Capacity 5
Barrel Length 2.25″
Rifling 1:16″
Weight 25 Oz
Overall Length 7.20″
Grip Rubber & Black Synthetic
Frame & Cylinder
Stainless Steel
Sights Ramp Blade & U-Notch
Trigger Pull DA/SA
11 Lbs 7 Oz / 4 Lbs 3 Oz
MA – CA Certified
No – No
MSRP $719

Often heard, “No one can hit with a short sight radius and without adjustable sight”. Sure they can. This type of firearm is primarily made for inside ten yards, so if this is kept in mind and there is no attempt to take it on an antelope hunt, there should be no disappointment. Can someone hit at one hundred yards? Sure, there are people who can hit at three hundred yards with a revolver, but they aren’t living at my house. Might have to do with eating grits at 10:56 PM while working.

The issue isn’t the revolver’s mechanical accuracy, as can be demonstrated with a ransom rest and a box of ammo, but rather with the skill of the shooter as a snub nose revolver for shots beyond ten yards take more and more skill development as distanced are extended. For my purposes, it was easy to predominately point shoot five shots into a fist size group in the middle of a silhouette target at ten yards.

An appealing feature of the Ruger SP101 9mm Luger is its heft. It looks, and feel and substantial and it takes little practice get it to hit where the shooter is pointing. Its double action function requires no more attention that verifying a target and squeezing the trigger. No slides to slide, no safeties to undo and no hammer cocking is not necessary. As a concealed carry weapon, a decent holster can handle the heft and the widest part of the revolver is the cylinder, at 1.36″

When the SP101’s hammer drops, the cylinder is held firmly at three locations, including the crane latch, cylinder latch and front latch that locks the front of the cylinder to the frame in a more than spring loaded detent ball fashion.

The grip mounts to a peg frame rather than to a round butt or square butt frame configuration, which allows grip design to be flexible. I will not attempt to convince anyone that a five shot cylinder is sufficient, particularly those who fear being overrun by zombies as they sleep, but five rounds is more than sufficient for people who maintain proficiency. For others, the Ruger SP101 9mm come with three moon clips that can be preloaded. The 9mm taper crimped case headspaces at the front of the chamber and stays put when the firing pin strikes. The moon clips provide a surface for extraction of the rimless cartridge.

Shooting the Ruger SP101 is a pleasant experience. In a high grip, both recoil and muzzle jump are minimal. The soft rubber grips dampen shock to the wrist and hand. The sights are visible, for those who choose them and shift in point of impact with changes in bullet weight and velocity are minimal.

Ruger cautions use of 9mm Luger only; no attempts to use 9mm Short or 9mm Bergmann should be made. Ruger also stipulates jacketed bullets only and not cast lead, as lead can build up on the front edge of the chamber and prevent proper chambering. I use lead cast with some frequency for deep penetrating handloads, but I don’t allow chamber shaved lead to build up. Finally, Ruger cautions that shooter should be on the lookout for bullets pulling under recoil that may move forward enough to prevent cylinder rotation. I’ve heard of this condition, but have never experienced the same and I do not leave a cartridge in a chamber and frequently reload the chambers around it. In check out with a hundred round fired with one cartridge remaining in place, I have no been able to measure a 0.001″ pull with virtually any factory ammo.

The Ruger SP101 9mm is a nice piece of American firearm artistry and well worth the going price.