Ruger SP101 8-shot, .22 LR Revolver
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
Ruger's eight-shot, double-action .22 revolver, introduced in the autumn of 2011, is based on their stainless steel SP101 action/frame, but with significant functional and aesthetic improvements. This is not your father's SP 101 .22 revolver.
Functional improvements over earlier SP101 .22's include a grooved rib atop the barrel, fully adjustable rear sight, ramp front sight with a green fiber optic (Hi-Viz) insert and, oh yes, an eight-shot cylinder. The barrel length is four inches.
Aesthetic improvements include wood--rather than plastic--inserts in the black rubber grips, round barrel (instead of the earlier blob shaped barrel), short ejector rod housing (rather than a full length barrel under lug), crisper and better defined top rib. The walnut grip inserts are decorated with checkered panels and a laser cut Ruger eagle logo. Very nice!
Deleting Ruger's melted-looking version of a full length under barrel lug is an especially good idea, as the Ruger under lug was ugly. Colt introduced a full length under lug on their famous Python revolver and the concept was subsequently copied by Ruger, Smith & Wesson, Taurus and others. Colt got the shape and proportion of their under lug exactly right, with the result that the Python and Diamondback revolvers are the best looking DA revolvers ever produced. Everyone else tried to copy the idea without making a totally obvious copy of the Colt under lug and produced ugly revolvers. With this new .22 SP101, Ruger has wisely returned to the tidy look of a round barrel with a short, integral ejector rod housing. The result, along with the other improvements mentioned above, is the best looking and most functional SP101 ever.
Like previous SP101's, the new .22 incorporates a stub grip frame, transfer bar ignition, front and rear cylinder locks and rubber cushioned grips. The grip is rather square in cross-section. The muzzle is not crowned, but the rifling is slightly countersunk. Depressing the release button on the left side of the frame allows the cylinder to swing out for loading/unloading. A single press of the hollow ejector rod ejects all eight empty cases. The ejector rod does not turn with the cylinder.
The cylinder crane to frame fit is about average. Cylinder to barrel gap is tight and consistent. The cylinder star is symmetrical and uniformly machined. Cylinder locking is tight with little movement. The cylinder rotates counter-clockwise (out of the frame). Ruger's satin stainless external polish is among the best, attractive without being highly reflective. It is a definite step-up from S&W and Taurus stainless polishes.
Our test gun was shipped to us in a Ruger gray plastic case. Inside, in addition to the revolver, was a massive gun lock, SP101 Instruction Manual, Instruction Manual Insert for the 8-shot .22 and miscellaneous paperwork.
Ruger's "Read Instruction Manual" warning is stamped in small letters on the underside of the barrel, where it is minimally intrusive. (This warning should be discontinued. Anyone too stupid to read the owner's manual is not going to pay attention to a warning stamped into the barrel, either.) Aside from the instruction manual warning, all other markings are on the right side of the revolver. The barrel is marked "Ruger SP101" and ".22 LR Cal" is stamped on the ejector shroud. The frame is marked with a Ruger eagle etched beneath the front of the cylinder window and the serial number is stamped above the trigger guard.
Here are the specifications of the 8-shot SP101 .22
Like most modern handguns, the trigger pull of our test gun is too heavy. The single action pull averaged five pounds. The DA pull could not be measured, as it greatly exceeded the maximum eight pound range of our RCBS trigger pull scale. In its favor, the SA pull was clean and crisp. The SP101 frame has solid steel sidewalls. Access to the lockwork is from the bottom of the frame, after removing the grip and trigger guard. We mention this, as installing a set of Wolff replacement springs is absolutely necessary to reduce the trigger pull and the effort required to cock the hammer.
While you have the SP101 apart, bevel the sharp edges of the checkered hammer spur. The hammer spur is essentially square with 90-degree edges that make it uncomfortable to cock. This is the sort of thing that should be done at the factory, but isn't.
We had an older model .22 SP101 with these simple modifications, plus a light action polish, at the range along with our test gun. The difference in ease of operation and practical accuracy was dramatic. The older gun's 25 yard bench rest groups averaged about 1/2 the size of the test gun's groups.
We did our test shooting at the Izaak Walton range south of Eugene, Oregon. The weather was cool and overcast, but not raining, and the wind was negligible. Five-shot groups for record were fired at 25 yards from a shooting bench using a Caldwell Matrix rest. We had two types of .22 LR ammo on hand, Winchester Super-X 37 grain copper-plated hollow point hunting loads and Remington Thunderbolt 40 grain LRN practice/plinking loads. Guns and Shooting Online staff members Chuck Hawks, Gordon Landers and Rocky Hays did the test shooting.
We expect better accuracy from a .22 revolver and we got it from our discontinued, six-shot, fixed sight SP101. The difference is attributable to the superior action and trigger pull of the Wolff spring equipped and internally polished older gun. That revolver has a 3-pound trigger pull. The importance of light, smooth action to accurate shooting cannot be over emphasized. Nevertheless, all three of our testers agreed that if they were in the market for a new DA .22 revolver, the eight-shot SP101 is the gun they would buy.
Ruger's new, 8-shot, .22 LR SP101 is fundamentally a nice DA revolver. It would make a good kit gun and an excellent companion in the field. We intend to buy our test gun and modify it to the same operational standard as our old SP101. We will then have the best new .22 DA revolver on the market!
Note: A full review of the improved, 2015 version of the Ruger .22 SP101 revolver can be found on the Product Reviews page.
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