The Ruger SP101 has long been a staple for revolver fans. Its combination of a small frame with a full-power chambering in .357 Magnum makes for a compact and potent package. However, in the past it has been limited to five rounds. The addition of the .327 Federal Magnum chambering bumps that up to six.
As a known quantity, the SP101 is a great little revolver. Having been offered in several configurations over the years, the SP101 is currently available in .22 LR, .357 Mag, .327 Fed Mag and 38+P, with 2.25-, 3- and 4.2-inch barrels being offered. It’s also available in double-action/single–action (SA/DA) and double-action-only (DAO). The .327 Fed Mag is only available with the 4.2-inch barrel in DA/SA.
The .327 Fed Mag SP101 is an enjoyable gun to shoot. And despite its weight, it feels light on the hip. Drawing and acquiring a flash sight picture is easy with the fiber optic front sight unit. The smooth trigger helps keep your sights on target and recoil is minimal. In fact, it’s much better than the .357 Mag, which seems sharp to me. Shot placement is important to stopping a threat as quickly as possible and the low recoil with this revolver definitely helps.
- CARTRIDGE: .327 Federal Magnum
- BARREL: 4.20 inches
- OA LENGTH: 9.12 inches
- WEIGHT: 29.5 ounces
- GRIPS: Rubber with wood inserts
- SIGHTS: Fiber optic front, adjustable rear
- ACTION: Double-action/single-action
- FINISH: Stainless steel
- CAPACITY: 6
- MSRP: $769
Magnum Faceoff: .327 Versus .357
But this review is as much about the .327 Fed Mag round as it is about the SP101. Many will ask why we need yet another caliber when we already have the .357 Mag. It’s a reasonable question.
When you grow up with a round like the .357 Mag, which has a proven record as a man stopper, the .327 Fed Mag might just seem like the ammo manufacturers are out to make a buck. While there’s always a profit motive in business (that’s what makes all the product choices we enjoy possible) the round actually came from what was seen as a need to increase the capacity of the popular small revolvers. Okay, it’s only one more round, but it’s a 20% increase in firepower over a standard five-round revolver! This is a good example of where more is better, both in more rounds as well as in more choices for the gun owner.
The .327 Federal Magnum cartridge was the result of a collaboration between Ruger and Federal. The idea was to produce a round with similar performance to a .357 Mag but in a size that would allow another round to fit in the same size cylinder as the popular five shot guns. An added benefit was a significant reduction in recoil over the .357. You can also shoot .32 Long and .32 H&R Magnum in it, providing more versatility.
Although they hit the mark with the new round, it didn’t catch on like they thought it would. It was written off by some as a pipsqueak round who did not fully understand the ballistics. The .327 is .045-inch smaller (its diameter is .312) than a .357 bullet. That’s about the thickness of a matchbook cover. While the .327 does fire smaller bullets, they exit the gun at higher velocities (on average, roughly 100 to 200 feet per second faster, give or take). At higher speeds they also expand better than .357 Mag projectiles.
Comparable Stopping Power + Extra Round
So how does that play out in stopping power? The primary variables of course are velocity, bullet weight and frontal area. Simple enough. Of course there are other variables such as mushrooming, tumbling, etc, but let’s stay with this. It’ll give us a fair idea of how the two rounds compare.
Neil Smith developed a formula for predicting how a handgun round would perform against live targets and it has an enthusiastic following. He calls the effectiveness of a round “efficacy” and calculates it by multiplying the energy in foot pounds by the cross-sectional area in square inches. (Don’t worry. You won’t have to get out your calculator. Just wanted you to know where it came from.) Bill St. Clair provides a handy calculator function based on Neil’s formula on his site, here. It’s a good way to compare different cartridges.
I tried to use the most common and most comparable loads so the results are real world. As you can see, in the two lightest bullet weights performance is neck-and-neck. The higher muzzle velocity of the .327 (+176 & +93) compensates for the lighter bullet weights. It isn’t until you get to the 158-grain Federal load that the .357 Mag shows a discernable difference. And that’s comparing them both out of a 4-inch barrel.
Real World Cases Against Live Threats
Okay, that’s the numbers. How do they compare in the real world against human threats? The following is from An Alternative Look at Handgun Stopping Power by Greg Ellifritz. Greg is a 20-year veteran police officer in central Ohio. He’s the president of Active Response Training and an adjunct instructor for the Ohio Peace Officer’s Training Academy. In other words, he’s been around the block. He gathered information on as many shootings as he could to increase the accuracy of his conclusions (http://csi-forensicfollies.blogspot.com/2013/07/an-alternate-look-at-handgun-stopping.html).
Because the .327 Fed Mag is such a new round (2007), it’s not in his compilation of observed shootings. However, the .32 ACP/.32 Long is. Since the .327 is much more powerful, we can draw some conclusions based on the .32 ACP/Long performance. Greg wanted to know things like how many shots did it take to incapacitate an assailant? How many one-shot stops for each caliber? How many hits were fatal? These are documented results. Anything can happen in a small sample, but the larger the sample becomes, the more accurate the data. Here’s what he learned:
Surprised? Even the lowly .32 Long held its own. The .327 Fed Mag should do much better.
Again. Let me repeat that this study consisted of a limited number of recent shootings. Only 25 for the .32, while there were 106 for the .357. But it’s still enough to get an idea of relative performance.
We sometimes forget just how powerful modern guns are. Even the wimpy .22 LR performed well. Most would never consider that for a self-defense gun, but let’s put it in perspective.
A four-pound hammer swung overhead delivers a blow of about 202 ft. lbs. That’s enough to crush a skull. An Aguila Super Max 30-grain .22 LR delivers 204 ft. lbs. Yeah, one’s big and heavy and one’s small and light, but they’ll both put your lights out for good. I hope the above dispels any notion that the .327 Fed Mag is a wimpy cartridge.
The .327 Finds a Nice Home
Back to the Ruger SP101. It’s a rock solid gun in stainless steel with a fiber optic light tube in the front sight blade and an adjustable rear sight. With the 4.2-inch barrel, it’s well balanced and points naturally. The trigger (which broke at 10 pounds, 15 ounces DA and 5 pounds, 5 ounces SA on my test gun) is smooth right out of the box. There was some stacking DA with a noticeable wall just before the break, which made staging the trigger for slow fire a breeze. In SA, it’s crisp and light.
At the range I fired from a standing position offhand with both two-hand and one-hand grips. From seven yards it was easy to keep five rounds of .32 Long, .32 H&R Magnum and .327 Fed Mag in about a 1-inch circle. Of course, that 6th round took me to 2 inches. At ten yards that opened up to double the size. Firing quickly, DA, from seven yards resulted in a spread of 3 3/8 inches. A one-handed speed drill from seven yards resulted in 12 rounds in a 5½-inch group, my widest shot 2½ inches from the bull. This is supposed to be a trail/home defense gun, but I wouldn’t hesitate to carry it concealed. It isn’t any bigger than my 1911.
You Get What You Pay For
MSRP is $769 with a street price in the $650-700 range. The addition of the .327 Fed Mag to the SP101 line makes a great gun even better. It delivers six rounds in the cylinder with a hard-hitting cartridge. Ammo is a little hard to get, but is readily available online. It generally takes decades for a new cartridge to catch on, and I think the .327 Fed Mag will eventually be as popular as it deserves to be. Take advantage of the lower recoil in a very effective round today. I am. I just bought my own SP101 in 327 Fed Mag. It’s that good.
- Federal – https://federalpremium.com/products/handgun.aspx
- American Eagle – https://www.federalpremium.com/products/handgun.aspx
- Black Hills – http://www.black-hills.com/product-category/new-pistol-ammo/
To learn more, visit http://ruger.com/.
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