Bill Ruger began his remarkable career as a firearms designer with a .22 handgun. The sleek autoloader, with its tubular receiver and inexpensive but functional components, was a hit in 1949. Single-action rimfires came next. The Bearcat and Single Six seduced shooters with their Old West profiles. They were reasonably priced and felt gunny. Like Ruger centerfires, they functioned as promised. A second cylinder gave the Single Six a magnum personality.
Rugerâ€™s double-action .22, the SP101, came on the heels of exciting centerfire developments in both handguns and rifles. Perhaps thatâ€™s why the market didnâ€™t support it. After only a decade or so in production, the SP101 rimfire was dropped.
â€śOddly enough, this revolver has since been our most requested firearm,â€ť says Ruger engineer Mark Gurney. He is showing me a new DA .22, an improved SP101. â€śWe listened.â€ť
The stainless revolver has the small SP101 frame and cylinder. Eight chambers cluster neatly around a spindle that swings out to the left with a press of the thumb latch. The cylinder on this gun spins silkily. Indexing is smooth and positive in both SA and DA mode. Ditto for hammer stops.
Neither Mark nor I have a trigger pull gauge on the range, but he points out that one of Rugerâ€™s goals was to get a â€ścenterfire pull.â€ť He explains that trigger resistance on rimfire DA revolvers is commonly heavier, â€śto ensure reliable ignition given acceptable tolerances in headspace and firing-pin protrusion. We know the importance of a clean, consistent trigger pull and how a lighter pull can enhance accuracy.â€ť
Dry firing, I find the trigger quite manageable. But the proof will show up on the target.
I snag a box of Federal high-speed Long Rifle solids and settle the revolverâ€™s four-inch barrel over sandbags. â€śActually, itâ€™s 4.3 inches,â€ť says Mark. â€śCanadian law mandates a 105mm minimumâ€”4.133 inches. We value our customers north of the border.â€ť As I prefer revolver barrels in the four- to 51/2-inch range, Iâ€™m not surprised that this 30-ounce SP101 feels good to me. Excellent balance. A shame to use sandbags.
The sights certainly werenâ€™t designed for the bench. A big colored bead and a V-notch rear sight put quick target acquisition over precision. Mark assures me that Ruger will soon offer target sights as well. â€śYouâ€™ll notice,â€ť he adds, â€śthat even this rear sight is truly adjustableâ€”not just equipped with a windage screw as on old SPs.â€ť
The sturdy, half-length ejector housing steadies the .22 on the bags as I squeeze off a couple of rounds at 25 yards. They donâ€™t print. On a hunch, I take a deep six oâ€™clock hold with the big bead. The next shots strike near center. Three five-shot groups average just a little over two inches. The best, a 1Â˝-inch cluster, is better than I can expect with iron sights.
I ask about bore diameter. Itâ€™s no secret that barrels bored and rifled to accept jacketed .22 WMR bullets must be more generous than those for the .22 Long Rifle. Convertible rimfire revolvers with interchangeable cylinders often deliver mediocre accuracy with Long Rifle ammo. â€śOur SP101 specs call for a bore of .2160 to .2180, with a groove diameter of .2210 to .2225,â€ť replies Mark. Those are smaller dimensions than youâ€™ll find in barrels for the .22 WMR. The tolerances are also very tight. Snug-fitting bullets in uniform bores mean better accuracy.
I like the grips on this SP101. Unlike those currently fitted to centerfires in the line, these have walnut inserts. In contour, the grips differ little from those on SPs in .327, .38 and .357. Curves, length, thickness and trigger distance all seem well matched to the mechanism. Were they big enough to give my big hands bullseye control, theyâ€™d add too much bulk and weight to the rear.
Fit and finish certainly rates passing marks. Still, this is an affordable sidearm, designed to be shot. The new SP101 rimfire begs you to pick it up. Perhaps other shooters will also see it as a welcome break from the grim tactical hardware that has come to define the market of late. Hereâ€™s a .22 that feels real, shoots accurately and looks positively fetching in Galco leather.