Bowen Classic Arms Perfects the Ruger SP101 .357 Magnum Revolver


by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn

November 6th, 2007




Hamilton Bowen of Bowen Classic Arms is a craftsman, machinist, lawyer (we all have our faults), and an artist. He has a stellar reputation as one of the world’s premier gunsmiths, specializing in the customization of revolvers. He has written the definitive textbook on The Custom Revolver, and has earned the respect of his peers, of which there are few. Many of his custom creations are working art in its purest form; elegantly crafted and engraved handguns that are a sight to behold. However, Hamilton Bowen also turns out very many practical revolvers that are carried by those who want the best.  Handsome guns, but working revolvers that see a lot of hours riding in a holster and shooting at the range. The subject of this review is in the latter category.  Hamilton Bowen has taken the tough, durable little Ruger SP101 .357 Magnum, and made it into a gun that is easier to shoot well, and more accurately.

Like most Ruger revolvers, the SP101 is overbuilt, compared to its competition. While there are a few other pocket-size .357 revolvers on the market, most are built for a lot of carrying and very little shooting. The Ruger is built like a tank. At around twenty-seven ounces, it is no lightweight, but it is as strong and durable as larger full-sized magnums. What Bowen does to this little Ruger is to make it more shootable.

One area in which the standard SP101 is lacking is in the sights. The standard sights are serviceable, and work just fine for social work at short distances, but they are not easily regulated to hit accurately with a given load, and are hard to see clearly for accurate work. Bowen installs a dandy little rear sight that is black in color, with a white outline notch. This rear sight is much easier to see clearly, and the pinned front sight is very easy to pick up.  The sight picture offered by this setup is precise, and the sights are as rugged and durable as any. Bowen regulates the sights in his shop to match the shooter’s chosen ammunition, but in recognition of the fact that guns can shoot to different points of aim for different shooters, both front and rear sights are interchangeable. Bowen offers five different rear sight offsets - one centered and two each left and right, allowing 1-2" windage corrections at 25 yards. What this means is that if the windage is incorrect for you, all you have to do is exchange sights instead of having to ship the gun back and forth. Front sight blades can be had in pretty much any height and configuration desired to tailor elevation to the desired load, and Bowen ships an extra uncut front sight blade for this purpose. All this may seem like overkill on a "snubby", but Bowen shares our belief that serious revolvers should be seriously accurate. Sometimes field or defensive situations require long-range accuracy, and this is where the "Perfected SP101" shines. As Hamilton says, "We mean for people to be able to hit what they're aiming at with these guns. Pocket revolvers have always had an undeserved reputation for poor accuracy and a general uselessness beyond six feet.  Just doesn't have to be that way."

For ease of reholstering, and just plain good looks, Bowen gives the front of the cylinder the "Black powder chamfer"; a nice beveling of the front of the cylinder that makes the gun slide into a holster without digging into the leather. Nice touch.

The final thing that Bowen does to make the SP101 much more shootable is a good action tuning/smoothing.  I was shocked when I measured the trigger pulls on this SP101. It is so smooth that it feels much lighter than it measures, with the double action pull measuring right at ten pounds, and the single action pull measuring about five. These pull weights are heavy enough to reliably set off any primer to assure perfect reliability, but being so smooth, the trigger pull is very easy to control for accurate trigger work, enhancing the practical accuracy of the weapon, while retaining one hundred percent reliability.

Shooting the Bowen SP101 was a pleasure, with all but the heaviest of ammunition. With Buffalo Bore 158, 170, and 180 grain ammo, it was apparent that the little gun kicks a bit, but was still easily controllable. Even the long 170 grain hollowpoint Buffalo Bore ammunition, which has an overall length longer than their 180 grain load,  was easily accommodated by the SP101’s cylinder. With all ammo tested, the little Ruger functioned perfectly. Accuracy over a hand-held improvised rest at twenty-five yards was very good, and the groups stayed in the two-inch range or slightly better, depending upon the ammo used and how steadily I could hold the little jewel.

With his "Perfected SP101" package, Hamilton Bowen takes a rugged, reliable little pocket magnum, and makes it much more user-friendly. It is easy to shoot, and easy to shoot well. Bowen’s improvements to the SP101 are practical, reliable, handsome, and affordable.

For more information on of the "Perfected SP101" package, click here

For more information on other fine revolver work from Bowen Classic Arms, go online to:  

Jeff Quinn

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Click pictures for a larger version.


Bowen Classic Arms' "Perfected" SP101.



Bowen's sights are a great improvement on the originals.





"Black powder" cylinder chamfer is an elegant and practical touch.



Bowen Classic Arms' "Perfected" SP101 (center) compared to Ruger's GP-100 (top) and Service-Six (bottom).



The SP101's five-shot cylinder is as strong as the GP-100's larger six-shot cylinder.



Bowen Classic Arms' "Perfected" SP101 (left) compared to S&W's J-frame 342PD (right).





The SP101's cylinder is also long enough to accommodate heavier bullets, such as Buffalo Bore's excellent 170-grain hollowpoint load.



Author highly recommends Hamilton Bowen's book "The Custom Revolver".