As I noted previously when reviewing Grant Cunningham’s excellent Book of the Revolver (BotR), I have never so much as fired a revolver before, but I really enjoyed the book and it helped me make some decisions and clarify what I was looking for and why. The proceeding result (likely not the end result because I’m only 34 and in reasonable health) is that I went out and spent a sizable chunk of my leftover per diem from the Hawaii trip on a Ruger SP101 and the accoutrements.
Shopping on the economy (kind of a digression)
I have not been terribly impressed with most of the local firepower shops, either due to price, selection, general attitude and vibe, or a combination of the three. I’ve never felt comfortable browsing at Boerner Firearms, and while the PX at Fort Lewis has started carrying guns (and is apparently doing quite well), their prices are not that competitive (even accounting for lack of sales tax) and they are generally too busy to help you. I didn’t want to drive all the way to Silverdale for Wholesale Sports (where I picked up my Sig Sauer P229R; also not the absolute greatest prices, but big selection), so I went to Lakewood based on the recommendation of a coworker and found Surplus Ammo and Arms, hidden behind world famous Tactical Tailor. They had what I wanted in an environment that I liked, and while it was busy, they took time to talk with me (and try to upsell me a Springfield Armory M1A).
Deciding what to get
So to back up, what was it that I wanted, and how did I arrive at that conclusion? First, I was leaning strongly toward Ruger. This was largely unashamed gun lust wrought by the excellent pictures from BotR, but also a reputation for being built extraordinarily solid and being a good quality weapon without the Smith & Wesson price premium. Keeping in mind my desire to carry (both concealed and occasionally open), there were several other desirable qualities:
- 3- or 4-inch barrel. I don’t think 2 1/4 is big enough for me to get a good sight picture.
- Stainless steel for ease of maintenance and because it’s pretty. Mostly maintenance, though. After only about a year of carrying my Sig, the bluing has worn off on a number of corners and edges.
- Double action or (preferably) double action only
- .357 Magnum (able to fire .38 Special)
- A mediumish frame to compromise between concealability (and so my wife can shoot it) and being big enough for my hands (on the GotR-derived theory that it’s easier to shoot a revolver well which is slightly too small than one slightly too big)
- Lighter and more concealable than my P229, which I love dearly but is aptly described by some as a boat anchor
I was initially inclined toward the GP100, which is featured most prominently in GotR. However, when we stopped by Cabella’s in Olympia, I was stunned by the sheer mass of the thing. Possibly less concealable than my P229, weighing more, but oh so pretty. For the record, I still want one, but it wasn’t what I was after this go-round.
Without even holding the GP100 (I really don’t care for the atmosphere at Cabella’s), its little brother started to look like a better option. The SP101 comes in several calibers and barrel lengths. Unfortunately, the combo of 3″ and DAO (no exposed hammer) is not offered, so I chose the preferred 3″ barrel; if it really bothers me, I can get the hammer bobbed later. It weighs in at 27 oz., a few shy of my P229’s claimed 32 oz. and is actually almost a full inch longer (8 vs. 7.1). [Minor digression: I find that within certain broad outlines, it’s not the length that causes problems concealing (since I usually go IWB), but the height of the weapon, i.e. how much grip is sticking out. An extra .9″ in length bothers me not at all.]
So I read reviews. I watched reviews on YouTube. I read comment threads on reviews. I read forum threads on Rugers, concealed carry of revolvers, open carry, and probably some other things that I’ve forgotten. Based on those, the criteria addressed in BotR, and Ruger’s fine web page, I decided that the KSP-331X was probably what I wanted.
So I went to Surplus Ammo & Arms on Saturday morning. Wonder of wonders, they had a handful of DA revolvers, almost all of which were Smith & Wesson. And a single KSP-331X. After I asked to see it, I examined it for general build, opened and closed the cylinder, and concluded that I didn’t know enough to even pretend to examine it intelligently and was probably making the guy behind the counter think I was an idiot. Rather than prove it by asking some inane question, I just told him that I wished to purchase it. Half an hour later (“instant” check, you know; I was lucky, actually) I walked out with a new Ruger.
An aside to the reader: don’t do this
This is twice now I’ve bought a weapon without even firing one. You shouldn’t do that. I have no good excuse except impatience; there’s a good chance that some model of SP101 was available for rental upstairs at Bullseye in Tacoma (where I went seeking holsters and speedloaders, after purchasing the Ruger). At the least, I could have at least gone shooting with someone who owned a similar model.
It went well with my Sig Sauer, though I still wonder whether I might not have been just as happy with the much cheaper Springfield XD… Anyway. Time will tell whether this was one of the smarter decisions that I just happened to make dumbly.
Finish and Fit
Hefty, stainless steel. I like. There are a few places inside the frame (after I’ve swung out the cylinder) where it looks a little rough, but it feels just fine. There’s a very solid feel to it, and I have little doubt that should five rounds of .357 Magnum be inadequate, I can certainly bludgeon someone into submission with it.
After a fair bit of dry fire and reloading drills, I can safely say that the factory grip is a bit on the smallish side for my hands–not uncomfortable, but a little smallish, and my trigger finger occasionally touched my gripping thumb until I modified my grip slightly. For sheer comfort while shooting, I will probably try some of the many available aftermarket grips. (Mine is the model with a rubber grip and black plastic grip panels.) This is by far the lamest feature of the weapon in terms of style and finish, especially when several other SP101s variants have much nicer-looking grips. However, they’re easy to replace and there’s a substantial secondary market for new side panels. I could also fabricate some of my own, and this appeals to me.
Clearly, you can’t just buy a new gun. I picked up another Blade-Tech IWB holster for concealed carry and ordered a few Tuff Quickstrips to try them out. Also some .38 snap caps to practice loading, unloading, dropping my ammo under heavy objects in my garage, etc. [Ruger revolvers (and my P229, for that matter) can safely be fired empty, but I like using snap caps.] When I stopped to buy still more ammo today, they actually had the HKS Quickloader for my model, so I picked one of those up, too. [Note, unlike a new magazine for my P229, which is FIFTY DOLLARS, you can get either a pair of Quickstrips or a Quickloader for at or under $10. So I got both.]
Playing with my gun
A significant chunk of change later, I have lots of new toys to play with in the safety and comfort of my garage with no small children about (and also no live ammo which will actually fit in the revolver–safety first). One thing I quickly learned is that I didn’t understand the BotR reloading method nearly so well as I thought I did; in fact, I’m still not certain that I do. (I’m thinking a companion-to-the-book YouTube video series would be отлично.) I am somewhat reluctant to practice “wrong” too much, but what I am doing seems to work pretty well, and now that I have the quickloader and the quickstrips, I have integrated those as well.
I practiced loading, unloading, trigger cycling, sight picture acquisition, and holstering/drawing. [I do not like the Blade-Tech holster for this weapon nearly so well as for my P229, although it’s likely that as it wears in it will be smoother.]
Erm. Isn’t something missing?
Yes. I still haven’t fired the damned thing. Hopefully tomorrow morning, when I have a small window of time where the stars align–I’m not babysitting, the range is open, and I don’t have a lot of other pressing tasks that are more important.
Ergo, there will be a Part the Second.
- Ruger.com SP101 page
SP101 Grips and Grip Panels
- Tim’s Workshop (grip panels)
- Badger Custom Grips
- Altamont Company (grips and panels)
- Seriously, go search eBay for “sp101 grip panels” and be amazed
- Actually, I kinda want to make some myself.
- Blade-Tech IWB holsters
- HKS Revolver Speedloader at Amazon
- Tuff Quickstrips at Amazon
- A-Zoom Precision Snap Caps at Amazon
- TheTruthAboutGuns.com Review
- TheMakarov9 video review on YouTube
- Nutnfancy long video review on YouTube