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Revolvers Rim Fire

Review: Ruger SP101 22

by Greg Rodriguez   |  July 13th, 2012 24
Ruger SP101 revolver

The Ruger SP101 might be on the heavy side for a rimfire, but it’s a great plinking and small game gun.

Ruger’s latest introduction is not the first rimfire version of the small-framed SP101. But the first version, which was discontinued in the early part of this century, was doomed from the start. Though it was the right size, the original SP101 was way too heavy for a small-framed .22, and it had a tiny blade rear sight that was adjustable for windage only—not traits consumers seek in a revolver intended as a trail gun or plinker. Fortunately, those faults have been addressed in the latest version.

 

The SP101 22 is a small-frame revolver. It’s not quite as tiny as Smith & Wesson’s J frame, but it’s a nice size for a trail gun. Like all Ruger’s revolvers, its frame is made from an investment casting, which results in a frame that is a wee bit on the beefy size, but it’s hell-for-stout.

 

The latest version of the stainless steel revolver got a three-ounce weight reduction and a 33 percent firepower increase courtesy of its new eight-shot cylinder. Empty weight is now 30 ounces, and it has a 4.2-inch barrel that is just about perfect for all-around use.

 

Ruger SP101 22 cylinder

The SP101’s eight-shot cylinder shaves a few ounces off its weight and significantly increases the revolver’s fun factor.

The Ruger’s eight-shot cylinder locks up front and rear. The cylinder is 1.585 inches long, which is long enough to accept .22 Magnum cartridges should Ruger decide to make that an option down the road. A convertible revolver sounds like a great idea, but it would require Ruger to use the .22 WMR’s .224 bore diameter as opposed to the .22 LR’s bore diameter of .218 (.22 LR groove and bullet diameter are .222). Because of that difference in bore diameter, accuracy is hit or miss with convertibles. I would prefer to see this one offered in separate .22 LR and .22 WMR versions with the appropriate bore diameters.

 

Excellent adjustable sights are another of the redesigned revolver’s significant improvements. The interchangeable front sight is a black, ramped post with a green fiber-optic insert. The rear sight is a simple black blade that is fully adjustable for windage and elevation.

 

The rear notch on my original test gun is V-shaped. That was an obvious mismatch for the gun’s square post front sight and its round fiber optic bead. Fortunately, Ruger rectified that on the final production gun with a square rear sight notch. It’s a combination that works well for target shooting and small game hunting, from first light to last.

 

The SP101 operates like any other Ruger. It can be fired double- or single-action, and a quick push of the button on the left side of the frame releases the cylinder. The trigger on my test gun is fairly smooth, though the double-action pull is a bit on the heavy side, breaking at a hair over eleven pounds. The single-action pull is a crisp two pounds, one ounce.

 

Ruger SP101 22 sights

The author’s prototypes had a V-notch rear sight, but current production guns have a square notch—a much better match for the front sight’s fiber-optic bead.

When I first unboxed the test pistol, I was impressed with its fit and finish as well as its sights and eight-round cylinder. I also liked the feel of the grips, which are made of comfortable black rubber that surrounds the entire grip frame. The grips’ checkered, wood inserts feel good and look great against the black rubber.

 

I tested the revolver with five popular .22 LR loads from CCI, Federal and Winchester, and I stuck with the same type of rounds I normally use on the ranch: high-velocity hollowpoints. I shoot a lot of animals with my .22s, so I like the extra lethality those speedy hollowpoints provide.

 

I performed my 25-yard accuracy testing over a sandbag rest. I would normally start with some close-range work to get used to the trigger, but rimfires get dirty quick and I didn’t want to skew my results. Besides, the single-action trigger was light and crisp enough that there wasn’t much to get used to, so I got right down to business once I verified that the sights were zeroed.

 

In my experience, accuracy testing rimfire revolvers is more of a crap shoot than with any centerfire handguns because of inconsistent rimfire ammo quality and variances in those five, six, seven or, in this case, eight chambers. When you combine all those chambers with mass-produced, bulk pack ammo, it’s hard to get the kind of consistency you need to shoot tiny groups. Fortunately, I chose quality ammunition and the test gun is well-made because it shot so well I didn’t feel the need to use the same five chambers for my accuracy testing.

 

Their sub-two-inch accuracy put Federal’s 40-grain copper-plated solid and Winchester’s 40-grain Dynapoint at the top of the accuracy chart. CCI’s Velocitor, which is one of my favorite rimfire hunting loads, and Federal’s 38-grain hollow-point load also shot fairly well.

 

However, CCI’s 36-grain Mini Mag hollowpoint averaged a disappointing 3.1 inches from the sandbag rest. I also experienced the odd flyer with this load that opened up a couple of really good groups. That same Mini Mag load shoots under two inches in my old S&W Kit Gun, which once again proves the point that rimfires are fickle.

 

After I tested the SP101 on the range, I spent the better part of four months packing it around the ranch as I checked my traps, guided hunts and did my chores. In that time, I used it to dispatch countless raccoons and hogs that were caught in my traps and I shot hundreds of rounds through it on my steel target range. Between clients, I also used it on jackrabbit and squirrel safaris.

 

All told, I fired almost 500 of Federal’s 38-grain hollowpoint load through that little Ruger without a hiccup. It fired every time I pulled the trigger, and I didn’t have a single extraction issue, though I would like to see it get a slightly longer ejector rod. The rimfire’s trigger pull also improved a bit over time. It didn’t get much lighter, but it was noticeably smoother by the time I completed my evaluation.

 

I also became very fond if the SP101’s adjustable sights. They were fine enough that I could hit steel plates with them consistently out to 50 yards, and they allowed me to make consistent head shots on squirrels when I snuck into reasonable range, yet the fiber-optic front sight was big and bright enough that it worked really well on speed drills, too. I’d like to see Ruger offer the same sight combination on more models.

 

If I had to find anything to criticize, it would have to be the .22’s weight. Because it is made from a casting, the SP101 line is heavier than competing, forged designs. Its extra weight gives the SP101 the strength to handle the .357 Magnum cartridge, and it helps tame that magnum recoil. That’s great if you’re SP101 is chambered for .357 Magnum. But rimfires don’t recoil, and the extra weight makes the rimfire Ruger a bit heavy, in my opinion, for a backcountry companion. It’s a great shooter, but I would love to see Ruger slim it down a bit.

 

If you’re in the market for a great plinking or small game piece and you’re willing to overlook a few extra ounces, you would be wise to consider the rimfire version of Ruger’s SP101. It’s a rock-solid revolver that shoots great, and it’s priced right. What’s not to like about that?

Fast Specs: Ruger SP101

  • Type: DA/SA rimfire revolver
  • Caliber: .22 LR
  • Capacity: 8
  • Barrel: 4.2 in.
  • Overall length: 9.12 in.
  • Height: 4.78 in.
  • Weight: 30 oz.
  • Finish: Satin stainless steel
  • Grips: black rubber with checkered wood inserts
  • Sights: adjustable rear; square-post front with green fiber optic bead
  • Trigger: 11 lb., 3 oz. DA pull; 2 lb. 1 oz. SA pull
  • Price: $675
  • Manufacturer: Ruger

Accuracy Results

  • Smallest avg. group: Federal 40 gr. copper-plated—1.7 in.
  • Largest avg. group: 36 gr. CCI Mini Mag—3.1 in.
  • Avg. of all ammo tested (5 types)—2.4 in.
  • Notes: Accuracy results are averages of five five-shot groups fired over a sandbag rest from 25 yards.

 

  • Buck

    How about a Ruger SP101 in titanium? Excellent for .22 versions as well as some of the more potent calibers. I think that a lighter weight titanium option would be a big hit.

  • Shooter

    Recently bought a new Ruger SP101 .22 and took it to the range. The cylinder heats up easily and creates drag. Also harder to eject fired cases after the cylinder heats up. Gun was cleaned prior to firing and was only shot slowly at paper targets, no rapid firing. I happen to have my 101 .357 with me. Fired it in the same manner and it worked great as always.
    Any suggestions??

    • Jim Macklin

      The 8 shot cylindewr has less metal to heat up than a 5 or 6 shot gun But my guess is that it isn't the heat that is causing your problem. Rather it is a single or all chambers that are rough combined with ammunition with a soft case. On firing the case expands into the chamber walls, when pressure drops the case should spring back to close to the original size.. The case is also force back against the breech-face..

      Contact Ruger and ask whether they want to install a cylinder that is properly polished, without any grooves that are causing the problem? It is possible that a gunsmith could polish your cylinder, but the factory should do it because polishing your cylinder chambers could make them over-size which would cause cases to split.
      Try some high quality ammo with a harder brass alloy to see it that helps.
      So, gun fired, case pusses back against the recoil shield, case expands and locks into a rough spot. Case stays against the breech, cylinder won't freely rotate.
      Proper polishing is an expensive hand operation, often not done unless the buyer complains.

      • Shooter

        Thanks for the advice. That is a good explaination of what is happening.

    • Jeepers Creepers

      You might be shooting one of the other case material types and not brass. I have had that problem with steel or some other casings. Never Brass. Need to look at what brand your using. That sounds like one good wheel gun. Over the years the manufatures went to cheaper material and made in cheaper countries.

      • Shooter

        The ammo used was Winchester 555's and Federal 550 packs both having 36 grain hollow point bullets. I will also try others on a future visit. Thanks for your help.

        • Wolvie

          Shooter,

          Don't thank the Creep.

          In just one post:

          He gave bad information
          (He referenced steel cased .22 LR ammo…which is of no help to you because like his skills, social importance, knowledge and gun collection…that too is imaginary)

          He made a sarcastic comment about your gun
          (Said it "sounds like one good wheel gun" when referencing the problems you were having with it)

          He made another broad, negative statement about firearms
          ("Cheaper material and made in cheaper countries" Of course, what that has to do with this specific revolver is anyone's guess. Since when are Ruger revolvers made overseas?)

          Anytime you see this puke open his mouth, he will be spewing something negative, untrue and never helpful.

          Jim really hit the nail on the head here in giving you some really good advice.

          • Alan_T

            Wish I'd said that Wolvie ……… but I got here too late !

        • Alan_T

          Shooter , listen to Wolvie he's absolutely right .
          Creepy Jon D . must get something out of coming here and spouting his drivel …….. but I still can't figure out what . Creepy is the biggest waste of carbon on this planet !

      • Griff

        Steel cased .22LR lol . Creep, next time somebody tells ya your an idiot ya should listen to them coz ya are!

        • Wolvie

          That's hysterical, Griff!!

          "Steel cased .22 LR ammo" indeed!

          Nice catch in calling BS on our resident mental patient.

        • Alan_T

          Wish I'd said that Griff ……… but I got here too late !
          Steel cased . 22 LR ! ! !
          HAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHA ( gasp ) HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

  • SamF1911

    I like the SP101 in .22 LR but what would really be nice to see is Ruger make a LCR .22 LR with a 3" or 4" barrel.

  • Jim Macklin

    I'd like to see a Bearcat with adjustable sights. The new SP101-22 is about the same as a K-22 or the Combat Masterpiece in .22.
    If Ruger could spend about 10 minutes on their factory floor and polish even slightly, the essential places, the bolt camming surfaces on the Gunsite Scout, the chambers of revolvers and the recoil shield, they'd be a better product.

    • Tom

      I put a J frame rear sight on my stainless Bearcat. It helps a lot.

      I see the Ruger 101 in .22 as a closeer relative to the S&W Model 63 rather than the Model 17. I have several 63 and a 17. I am waiting for availability of the 101 in .22 in my state (MD).

      When I get a new gun, either Ruger or S&W, I clean it and take it apart and polish things as necessary. The stuff the factories no longer do. I also mess around with springs. The triggers are usually not to hot when it get them. They are pretty nice when I get done.

  • Jeepers Creepers

    Trigger pull is slightly on the heavy side. Could use a trigger job to lighten the double action.

    • Griff

      ya think so Creep? DUH!!!

    • Alan_T

      THAT is just SO insightful Creepy Jon ! Thanks for pointing out the obvious !
      Do you do weather reports too ?

  • Gary Lee

    I agree with Greg I also would like to see one for .22L.R. an another for .22 mag. Question: What's the difference between this new Sp101 and the new 10/22 revolver? From what I understand the only difference is two extra rounds.

    • BJC

      Gary what is a 10/22 revolver. I've never heard of it, it's not on Ruger's web site. Are you sure that's correct I can't see them using the model number for their auto loading rifle for a revolver.

    • BJC

      Did you mean the Single 10? If so the difference is one is single action only and the other is single and double action.

  • cylinder & barrel

    There is a bad mistake with this article: The bullet & groove diameter of a .22LR is .223 not .218 as stated and the bullet & groove diameter of a .22WMR is .224 therefore a convertible revolver with a .223 GROOVE diameter and different cylinders both with .224 throat diameter would work perfectly as does the single six.

  • Rose

    I am reviewing guns for my son and am interested in the SP101 for myself. This site is helpful but there are a lot of childish bashing going on in these reply's. It scares me to think that these people have guns!!!!! Also, I hope the people who shoot little critters eat them, otherwise it is a wasted life.

  • Rogervzv

    Good review. Personally I don’t agree about the weight. I think that the heft and weight of my SP101 .22LR is just right. Just my opinion, of course.

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