Ruger's Perfect
Packin' Pocket Pistols


The Ruger 9mm SP101 uses 5-shot full moon clips; leather is by Galco.

The Ruger adjustable sighted 3" LCRx .22 Magnum is an excellent choice for use as a trail gun.

Both Ruger and rugged begin with the same three letters, which I think really says something. And when it comes to little Ruger revolvers, one of my well-known gunsmith friends says the SP101 is one of the best small revolvers offered. I’m certainly not going to argue. The stainless steel SP101 has been offered in 5-shot .357 Mag., .38 Spl. and 9 mms; 6-shot versions in .32 Mag. and .327 Mag.; while 8-shot cylinders are found in the .22 versions. Barrel lengths of 2¼” to 6″ have been offered.

When Ruger first offered the SP101 with a 2¼” barrel, I immediately purchased one chambered in .32 Mag. as a combination pocket gun/kit gun/plinking pistol. The .32 Mag. first came forth in the now long-gone Harrington and Richardson revolvers, and was soon chambered by Ruger in their Single-Six and later in the SP101. However, our latest Magnum sixgun cartridge, the .327 Federal Magnum, was introduced in the pocket-sized Ruger SP101 and promoted as a self-defense combination.

A press release quote from Federal’s lead design engineer is right on the money, “The .327 Federal Magnum is ideal for personal defense and has the potential for future application in field use. Using a slightly longer .32 H&R Magnum case and our advanced powder and bullet technology, we’re able to offer more performance out of a smaller platform. And its recoil is milder than the .357 Mag.”

It’s been nearly 20 years since Ruger offered the SP101 in 9mm, but now it’s back. Why would anyone want a 9mm pocket revolver? There are several reasons. One is ammunition availability and economics. There’s a long list of excellent self-defense loads offered in 9mm, plus practice ammunition can usually be picked up for $10 per box of 50. At this price I can’t afford the time and money required to load them myself. Also, the 9mm SP101 uses 5-shot full moon clips, making it easy to carry a couple clips in a pocket ready for a quick reload.

The SP101 is easily one of the best pocket wheelguns around and
chambering it in 9mm makes great logistical sense. Photo: Ruger

Ruger’s LCR series combines modern manufacturing and materials
to make a cutting-edge revolver ready for CCW. Photo: Ruger

The LCR’s concealed hammer ensures the snubbie can be fired
easily without getting caught on clothing. Photo: Ruger

Eye Of The Beholder

Ruger’s latest iteration of the pocket revolver is quite different from their all-steel SP101. I consider the Colt Detective Special, S&W Chiefs Special and the Ruger SP101 to be iconic pocket revolvers. The first two were later offered in lightweight versions, but Ruger took a different path. Instead of coming up with an aluminum/alloy-framed SP101, they started with a blank sheet of paper and came up with the LCR. If beauty is only in the eye of the beholder, I can’t imagine anyone finding any pleasing lines in the design of the LCR. But I’m an old-fashioned guy. It may be an ugly duckling, but actual use proves it to be a graceful swan.

When it comes to full-sized revolvers, the two most important things are good sights followed by a good trigger. When it comes to pocket pistols/revolvers, which will mostly be used close-up and very quickly, a great trigger is paramount. And the LCR has a great trigger. Ruger describes it thusly, “The patented friction reducing cam is a next-generation design in fire control systems that results in a smooth, non-stacking trigger pull.”

Ruger uses a monolithic frame made from aerospace-grade 7000 aluminum in all of its LCRs chambered in .22 LR, .22 WMR and .38 Spl.; however they move up to 400 stainless steel for the frames in the higher pressure .357 Mag., 9mm Luger and .327 Mag. Cylinders are made of stainless steel with weight-reducing flutes, and all of the operating parts are housed in a patented polymer fire control unit. This helps keep these pistols exceptionally lightweight. The original LCR features a concealed hammer for easier pocket carry, and double-action-only operation. However, to accommodate those of us who like the option of being able to manually cock the gun for deliberate fire, the LCR was joined by the LCRx models, featuring an exposed hammer. The next natural step was models offered with adjustable sights, which are certainly handy to have on any revolver used for field carry. All LCRs have cushioned wraparound rubber grips for maximum shooting comfort.

Ruger offers both the SP101 and the LCR chambered in .327 Federal Magnum. The .327’s felt recoil may be less than that with the .357, but it’s still a handful and especially so in the 16-oz. LCR .327. However, there is good news and more good news when it comes to both of these pocket guns. The first good news is we don’t always have to shoot full-house .327 loads, while the second bit of good news is these revolvers also work exceptionally well with .32 Mag., .32 S&W Long and even the diminutive .32 S&W. I have been pleasantly surprised how well the shorter cartridges perform.

The Ruger 9mm SP101 (left) and LCRx both come with three
5-round moonclips, which makes them very easy to reload.

CCI offers .22 Magnum loads designed especially for self-defense.

The versatile .327 Mag. (from left to right) can also
handle .32 Mag., .32 Long and even .32 S&W loads.

Take A Spin

Shooting American Eagle .327 Mag. 100-gr. soft points in the SP101 and LCRx yielded muzzle velocities of 1,459 fps and 1,239 fps, respectively. Groups at a self-defense distance of 7 yards results in 5 shots in less than 1″. The real surprise was the Buffalo Bore 115-gr. hardcast .32 Long, which grouped in 1″ with muzzle velocities of 745 fps and 664 fps. The real sleeper is the Buffalo Bore .32 Long 100-gr. wadcutter at 836 fps and a ¾” group. For those who are exceptionally recoil sensitive, these loads give a viable alternative. I didn’t expect loads in the .32 S&W to perform very well as they had to make such a long jump in the cylinder, but in the 3″ SP101 .327 a 90-gr. hardcast bullet over 1.3 grains of Trail Boss gave a very easy shooting 486 fps while grouping in an amazing 5/8″.

The SP101 9mm uses 5-shot full moon clips, improved by Ruger by placing a strategic split in the arms of their clips resulting in enough give to reduce resistance when loading cartridges by hand. The fully loaded moon clip also drops into the cylinder smoothly and easily. Both Black Hills 124-gr. JHPs at 1,061 fps and their 125-gr. HoneyBadger at 956 fps group just over 1″. While the SP101 9mm is relatively easy shooting, felt recoil, as expected, is a bit more in the LCR version. I would not hesitate carrying either the .327 Mag. or 9mm SP101 or LCR for self-defense use, especially when carried in quality leather such as supplied by Galco or Simply Rugged. My first choice would be the 9mm as it can be reloaded so quickly using the moon clips.

My favorite LCRx is the 3″ version chambered in .22 WMR. I have a 2″ for pocket carry, however the longer-barreled, adjustable-sighted .22 WMR could very well be one of the best choices as a Trail Gun when one doesn’t have to worry about large, mean and nasty critters. I especially prefer the 3″ loaded with CCI Maxi-Mag +Vs, which clocks out at 1,522 fps and groups all the shots in well under 1″ at 7 yards. This little pistol weighs just a hair over 1 lb. and can be carried in comfort, especially in a Simply Rugged pancake holster all day on the trail, and the 2″ slips easily into a pocket for everyday carry. Chief Inspector Bill Jordan of the Border Patrol campaigned for .22 Mag. pocket pistols more than 50 years ago. He understood early the value of the .22 Mag. hollowpoint for self-defense use.

Ruger has been offering the handguns American shooters have desired since I was still in grade school. Original offerings were for target shooting and general outdoor use, including hunting. With the rise of interest in easy-carry pocket pistols for self-defense, Ruger is right there to supply our needs. 

The Rimfire SP101 in a handy little trail companion.

Ruger’s SP101 Trail Gun

A trail gun is a small pistol, small enough to fit in a kit, or knapsack or backpack and hardly known to be there. The concept goes all the way back to the WWI-era, and Ruger has carried it out to perfection with their SP101 in .22 LR.

Ruger’s SP101 fits nicely into the trail gun category; it’s a double-action, all-stainless steel .22 revolver with a 4″ heavy barrel and shrouded ejector rod. It weighs in at 29 oz. This version of the Ruger SP101 comes complete with an 8-shot cylinder. Grips are excellent, consisting of wraparound rubber fitting over the frame stud and have very attractive checkered wooden panels inlet into the rubber.

Sights consist of a fully adjustable black rear sight matched up with a green fiber-optic front sight set in a dovetail. I like this setup much better than three dots and I really like the way the front sight matches the rear sight notch. Even if the fiber-optic should get broken, there is still enough of a frame on the front sight to make it usable.

If I’ve any notoriety, it’s mostly attached to big-bore sixguns. However, I will freely admit I cannot even imagine being without one, or several, or even many more .22 sixguns. When I get tired of being beaten up I pull out the .22s and relax. Family fun often revolves around shooting .22s, and Ruger makes sure we always have many excellent models to
choose from.  

For more info:

Ph: (336) 949-5200.

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