Ruger's "Detective" Gun


Colt’s Detective Special and Ruger’s SP-101 share many traits.

The Colt Detective Special was introduced in 1927 (some sources say 1928) at the suggestion of the legendary “Fitz” (J.H. Fitzgerald). It remained in production for some 60 years, serving generations of peace officers and private citizens.

The DS was made in several versions and caliber options. I’ve never seen one that was not a high quality revolver. My personal favorites are a pair from the early 1970s, one with blue finish, the other nickel.

For pocket carry I prefer the Airweight S&W J-frames, notably the 442/642 Centennials. The Colt DS revolvers are a bit heavy for pocket carry, and even my light alloy-framed Colt Cobra with hammer shroud is a bit bulky.

In size and handling the DS falls between the S&W J- and K-frame snubbies. Its compact size helps it conceal well and the weight (24-25 oz. loaded, depending on bullet weight) is comfortable to carry, yet heavy enough that recoil is easily manageable. And it’s big enough I can get a solid grip on it.

An interesting phenomenon I’ve noted is that many women, if they want a handgun at all, like the feel of the DS. It’s my wife’s favorite handgun. Apparently to her it has that “just right” feel, much like an S&W Combat Magnum or 1911 to me. Faults of the DS? The double action pull “stacks” and is noticeably heavier near the end of the pull. A good Colt revolver expert can give it a straight-through pull, or tune the action if needed, but such are not common. The cylinder locks at the rear only (which in my experience is quite adequate), and the DS has been out of production a long time now. Although there are lots of them around, collectors have pushed prices up dramatically.

Rascally Ruger

The Ruger SP-101 was introduced in 1990. It took me a while to figure it out, but the little Ruger is the heir apparent. If you like the handling features of the Detective Special but don’t want to pay collector price, the SP- 101 is your gun. Matter of fact, and it’s a Colt fan saying it, there are several ways in which the Ruger is superior and only one in which it’s inferior.

We’ll get the “inferior” out of the way first. The DS in .38 Special holds six cartridges. The SP-101 in .38 Special or .357 Magnum holds five. Only you can decide how critical a factor that is for you. Six-shot versions are made in .32 H&R Magnum and the new .327 Magnum. The SP-101 is also around three ounces heavier, depending on models being compared, which may or may not be an advantage.

The test SP-101’s DA pull is smooth and consistent at a bit over ten pounds. Single-action pull is a little over four pounds, clean and without creep. The little Ruger is bullstrong, and that five-shot cylinder puts lots of steel around each cartridge, not to mention it locks up at both ends. The frame is very strong and rigid, so there’s no “carry a lot, shoot a little” for this revolver. Shoot it all you want. Anyone who fires enough rounds to wear out this gun is mighty lucky.

The test gun is a .357 Magnum and of course accepts .38 Special as well. I did most of my shooting with 125- grain JHP .357 Magnum loads from Black Hills Ammunition. The revolver’s weight and comfortable grips handled recoil very well, though recoil and muzzle blast are not to be taken lightly.

Short barrels take away a lot of the .357’s fire. The Black Hills loads are rated at 1,400 fps. They came close (1,380) in a S&W L-frame with 6″ barrel, around 1,250 in the 4″ barrel of my model 19, and around 1,100 fps in the Ruger’s 21⁄4″ barrel. This is still decent performance but you do pay a price in recoil and an ear-splitting muzzle blast. I think most shooters will shoot more accurately with .38 Special standard or +P ammunition.

At about three ounces heavier than the Colt, the Ruger is beefier, which is mostly good.

Shoots Too

Groups at 25 yards averaged 21⁄2″ with Magnum ammunition. I think I could do better with .38 wadcutters but didn’t try any, as I don’t see much use for them in this gun.

The test gun came with Crimson Trace grips with integral laser. The switch is activated by the middle finger in a normal firing grip. If you want to turn it off, just relax the finger.

I’ve progressed from being a “laser skeptic”, to keeping an open mind, to being a fan. In dim light (as is common in defensive situations, especially home defense) I find indexing the gun noticeably faster than with iron sights.

Crimson Trace is a highly reputable company making quality products. I found the laser beam adjustments to be reliable and durable. Point of impact remained unchanged even after the significant recoil of a couple of hundred .357 rounds.

Personally when I carry a holstered handgun it is most often an autopistol. Many people are attracted to the simplicity, dependability and ease of handling of revolvers. For those, the “just right” size of the Ruger SP-101, its great strength,
durability and versatility make it a fine choice.

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