The Ruger SP101 made its debut in 1988. It was a small-frame revolver intended to be the stablemate for the GP100 that had supplanted the firm's small Security-Six wheelgun. The SP101 was originally designed as a .38 Special, but according to the book Ruger & His Guns, defense expert Massad Ayoob convinced Bill Ruger it should be a .357 Magnum- albeit one that handled only the 125-grain .357 load.
In fact, 3,000 guns marked "357 Magnum, 125-grain ammo only" were produced. But obviously there are problems with such a critter, so Ruger designers lengthened the SP101's frame and cylinder to create a true .357. Over time the SP101 has been chambered to .22 Long Rifle, .327 Federal Magnum, 9mm Luger and .32 H&R Magnum- the latter two chamberings discontinued. Guns with that kind of history always interest me, so when Ruger came out with a Match Champion version- one obviously aimed at the competitive shooter- I had to check it out.
I like bright, flashy guns, and this one is stunning. The gun's stainless steel has been buffed and polished to a chrome-like finish. I have been around guns long enough to know this kind of work is exacting, something left to experienced help. There is a slight difference in appearance between barrel and frame due to their configurations. Barrels are easy to polish, but the frame takes longer to touch up after the majority of work is done due to cylinder latches, sights and cylinder cranes. I rate the overall job as top notch.
Topside, the gun features the traditional Ruger adjustable rear sight, sans a white outline. Elevation or windage screws move bullet impact 0.75 inch at 25 yards for each "click" or notch. The rear sight is set within the frame for protection and is pinned in place. The notch is clean and crisp, with just enough space around the front sight to aid in a quick acquisition of the target- even on the run.
Up front is a fiber-optic sight with a luminescent green insert on top of the SP101's 4.2-inch barrel. The top rib is serrated, which is key to fighting glare- certainly a factor with a highly polished gun like this one. At the muzzle is an 11-degree target crown, and underneath there's a heavy underlug for balance.
Beefy in design, the Ruger SP101 Match Champion cylinder measures 1.35 inches in diameter and 1.58 inches in length. The cylinder holds only five rounds. For those competing against six-shot revolvers this is going to mean extra reloads, and Ruger at least helps with this by chamfering the charge holes- making it faster and easier to drop in a speedloader. The front of the cylinder is sloped at the start of the flutes for easier holstering.
The SP101 features Ruger's triple cylinder locking system, and the bolt is off-center within the frame, thus moving the locking notches on the cylinder away from the center of the charge holes- a plus for strength when using magnum loads. One last note on the cylinder. Its length leaves only a scant .075 inch between the cylinder face and the tip of a 158-grain bullet in a .357 Magnum case. Handloaders need to make sure to check the overall length of the cartridge with the bullet seated before embarking on a long run of reloads.
The trigger is smooth and adequate for deliberate double-action shooting, with an 11-pound pull. Single action rates four pounds with a minimum amount of creep before the hammer fell. The hammer is serrated, and underneath you'll find Ruger's transfer bar system to prevent the gun from going off unless the trigger is pulled. The hammer strut is polished and other internal parts optimized for performance.
One of the features that set the gun apart are the well-made Altamont grip panels. They're rosewood-colored laminate, checkered and stippled, and they feature finger grooves. I think they're handsome and well fitted, but if I was going to fire a steady diet of .357 Magnum loads, I would opt for a larger, custom set. Don't get me wrong: For the .38 Special crowd, they are great, but when firing magnums, the web between my thumb and forefinger started to get a little sore after a box of .357s.
I was more than pleased with firing .38 Specials in the gun, even with Remington's 110-grain hollowpoints. In fact, that load netted me the best groups of the morning at 25 yards. SIG's Elite +P load shot well, too. The Winchester .357 shot fine, although in terms of group size the recoil of the magnum loads coupled with the grips was starting to tell.
Ruger has done it again- a crowd-pleasing revolver made for a select group of shooters that shoots well and is available at a decent price.