I have owned a number of Ruger SP101s over the years. In fact, I took my first serious shooting class with an SP101. I was the only revolver shooter, but I managed to keep up with the class. The Ruger performed beautifully during three days of intense shooting.
Ruger hasn’t made a lot of changes to the SP101 line over the years. When I heard about a new barrel length, I was definitely interested. Ruger is now offering, for the first time, a 4-inch-barrelled SP101 in .357 Magnum. I decided that I needed to test one to see. When it comes to a compact revolver, can bigger really be better?
Ruger SP101 .357 Specs
Capacity: 5 rounds
Trigger pull: 10 pounds
Weight (empty): 29 ounces
Barrel length: 4.25 inches
Length: 9 inches
Height: 5 inches
Sight radius: 5 inches
Big Changes to the SP101
The SP101 was first introduced in 1989 as the small frame counterpart to the full-sized GP100 revolver. The SP is a compact revolver with a five-shot capacity in most calibers (.38 Special/9mm/.357 Magnum). While similar in size to the Smith & Wesson J-frame revolver, the SP is slightly larger and heavier. All SP revolvers are made entirely of stainless steel, with no use of aluminum alloys or titanium. The result is a very strong and sturdy revolver that feels like it will last forever. And it probably will.
Traditionally, the .357 Magnum version of the Ruger SP101 has only been available with a 2 1/4-inch or a 3 1/16-inch barrel. The 3-inch barrels are very popular. I have always heard Ruger aficionados speculate about the benefits of a 4-inch barrel in the magnum revolver. Well, it took about 22, but we no longer need to speculate!
The new model, which is designated as KSP-341X, features a 4 1/5-inch barrel with a full underlug. Currently, the only sight configuration is an adjustable rear target sight with a green fiber-optic front sight. This model is a traditional double-action and features the standard rubber grips with wood grain insets.
Big Gun Performance
The SP101 has always been a stellar performer with .357 Magnum loads. The increased weight and size simply make the Ruger easier to shoot than comparable snubby revolvers from other manufacturers. A compact revolver crafted from a full 26 to 30 ounces of stainless steel with well-designed rubber grips makes .357 Magnum loads much more tolerable.
Of course, adding another inch (1.14 inches, to be exact) to the barrel of this new model also helps reduce the perceived recoil. The extra barrel adds about 2 ounces and puts the weight out in front to help manage the intense muzzle flip of magnum loads. Shooting the heavier barrel makes the revolver somewhat more manageable and easier to control.
Shooting .357 Magnums in the SP101, however, is still an intense experience. But if you are determined to carry magnum loads in a compact revolver, this SP may be the best platform. I still believe this is a combination best reserved for experienced shooters who are willing to commit to the necessary practice.
Shooting a box of 50 hot magnum loads would probably be enough for most people … and too much for some. I did the shooting for this review over the course of two range sessions. I could certainly feel some tenderness in my wrist after each day.
The longer barrel also helps with increased accuracy, mostly as a result of the longer sight radius. However, Ruger’s excellent new sight configuration also helps with accuracy. This new model pairs an adjustable target rear sight with a high-visibility fiber optic front sight for the first time. The fiber optic front sight blade provides high visibility that aids in quick target acquisition, while the square top edge of the front sight can still be used for long-distance precision shots.
Carrying the Ruger SP101
I know it sounds odd to talk about long-distance shooting with a compact revolver, but long-distance accuracy is definitely possible with this new model. The combination of excellent sights and a good single-action trigger allows for very good accuracy even at 25 yards and beyond.
Of course, the longer barrel also increases bullet velocity. I did not have a 3-inch SP available to compare chronograph numbers, but there is no question that the .357 Magnum cartridge should perform better from a 4-inch barrel. The velocity difference may not be all that consequential in the real world, but it’s another point that weighs in favor of the longer tube.
This SP is certainly not a pocket gun. I see this model serving as a step up in size and utility for someone who is ready to carry a revolver on the belt, or perhaps an easy-to-justify downsize for someone already carrying a larger frame revolver.
For those who already carry a 3-inch barrel revolver, the additional inch is not all that significant. But it is noticeable. Depending on your body build, you may be able to carry a 4-inch revolver inside the waistband without too much trouble. I spend a lot of time sitting in the course of a day and find belt carry outside the waistband to be more comfortable. Of course, this limits what you can wear because you need a cover garment of some kind.
While production deadlines kept me from obtaining a holster custom fit for the 4-inch SP101, my Smith & Wesson J-frame and K-frame holsters worked acceptably well. The Galco holster I used for this review was for a 3-inch gun, so I had to make do with some extra barrel length extending from the holster.
Big Self-Defense Benefits
Adding an inch of barrel to the Ruger SP101 effects a bigger change than you might expect. The gun shoots more accurately and with somewhat less recoil and muzzle rise. There is no doubt that overall performance is noticeably increased.
However, the longer barrel SP101 trades some degree of concealability for some degree of shootability. Only you can decide where the tipping point is for your needs. If you can carry a 4-inch revolver as easily as a 3-inch, the performance benefits would be worthwhile. For exactly this reason, I predict that this SP will become a very popular “kit gun” for general outdoor use when concealment is not the highest priority.
This model retails for $689, but street prices will be considerably lower — probably around $550. For legal reasons, Ruger does not offer a written warranty with their guns. However, Ruger stands behind their firearms with a strong customer service policy.
So, in the case of the 4-inch SP101, bigger is better, but it may not be better for you. If concealment is your primary concern, stick with a snubby SP101 or maybe even a lightweight snubby from another manufacturer. However, if you want the best shooting compact .357 Magnum you can find, the new Ruger SP101 would be my choice.
Related: Learn what to look for when choosing your best gun…
About Duane A. Daiker
Duane A. Daiker is a contributing author for Concealed Carry Magazine, but is otherwise a regular guy — not much different from you. Duane has been a lifelong shooter and goes about his life as an armed, responsible and somewhat opinionated citizen.
*Prices as of Feb, 2012
*The Ruger SP101 was provided as a sample by Ruger, with an option to purchase at a reduced price. The holster shown was from the author’s collection. The factory ammunition was provided by the respective manufacturers at no cost.