CCW shootout: Colt Detective Special vs. Ruger SP101


Marko Kloos
February 25, 2004, 09:07 PM
One's a six-shot .38 that's only fractionally larger than a S&W J-frame and can digest +P loads just fine.

The other is a five-shot .357 that is built like a baby tank.

Which one would you consider the better CCW choice, and why?

I realize that "better" is subjective, but I am interested in exactly those subjective opinions.

(It's a given that the SP101 will hold up better/longer to heavy use, but that does not necessarily make it the better choice for CCW by default, as most people carry their guns far more than they shoot them.)

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Baba Louie
February 25, 2004, 09:19 PM
SP-101: stainless (I sweat in summer) a tad bit thinner, can be had in 3" (if you're lucky enough to find one), choice of .38 or the magnum round, service by factory w/ current parts availability
I wouldn't turn my nose down to a Detective Special by any means, nor would I feel undergunned.

February 25, 2004, 10:48 PM
I have a Detective Special, two Cobra's, and a SP101 (as well as a couple of S&W Centennials), so I think I can make an educated comparison.

First of all, I'd strongly suggest the Cobra (or Agent) rather than the Detective Special, if you can find one. The much lighter weight makes it significantly easier for pocket carry, as it virtually eliminates "sag" in one's clothing. Of course, the DS is still great: it's just that the weight is rather more. That said, I'll compare Colt to Ruger.


- 20% greater ammo capacity than the Ruger;
- +P rated (in later production models with fully-shrouded ejector rod);
- Very smooth action, which can be tuned to perfection;
- Compact size, making it easier to conceal;
- Light weight compared to the Ruger.


- .38 Special +P only - can't handle +P+ loads or .357 Magnum, and has a limited lifetime with +P loads. This means that practice will have to be with standard .38 Special, rather than with carry loads;
- No longer in production, so that some spare parts are very hard to find;
- In the lightweight Cobra and Agent models, recoil with +P's can be sharp;
- Not available in stainless steel (although the Cobra is nickel-plated) - thus, less resistance to corrosion.


- Strongest snubby of them all;
- .357 Magnum and/or any pressure .38 Special can be used;
- Available with 3" barrel to enhance bullet velocity/performance - not so useful for pocket carry, but great if a holster is used;
- Interchangeable front sights (I have a Trijicon tritium sight on mine);
- Available in stainless steel, hence more corrosion resistance;
- Can obtain Crimson Trace laser grips for it (not so for the Colt).


- Heavy and bulky for a small snubby (even more so than the Colt, which is in turn slightly larger than the S&W J-frames) - probably too heavy for easy pocket carry;
- 1 round less ammo capacity than the Colt;
- Trigger is not as good as the Colt, although a trigger job can improve it somewhat;
- With full-house .357 loads, controllability is less (at least for me) than a Colt Cobra with .38 Special +P loads.

I have switched to carrying the Colt snubbies almost exclusively (except for times when deep, deep concealment is REALLY important, when I'll use a S&W Centennial, which is even smaller). I still have a SP101 2", and like it very much: but it doesn't get carried often these days.

4v50 Gary
February 25, 2004, 10:57 PM
For durability, ruggedness & dependability, nothing beats Ruger. The old Dectective Special has a better trigger though and the advantage of one more shot.

February 25, 2004, 11:33 PM
Spend a little more time looking, get a Magnum Carry. Someplace here I posted a comparison photo of a 3 inch .357 SP101 vs a .357 Magnum Carry.

Size wise, they are really about the same. The Colt is a little taller (though that can be changed w/different grips) the cylinder is about the same size, though the Colt carries 6, and both are stainless.

Here it is:

All DS holsters fit the Mag Carry.. and before I bought my Galco Speed Scabbard I was using a Bianchi made for the SP101.

I'd still pick a DS over a SP101, but I'm a Colt snob. Both will do the job.

Jim March
February 25, 2004, 11:59 PM
The interchangable front sights on the SP101 matter a LOT, in the real world. And since a steel version of either gun is realistically going to weigh too much to do pocket carry, the 3" variants of the SP are well worth considering since you have to go to a holster anyways.

The stainless steel is also a nice benny.

Another point: if this is going to be your "always gun" and some 48-state or similar woods carry is in the cards, the full-house magnum ammo available in the SP completely stomps the 38+P. It is the smallest gun ever made that at least has a chance against a black bear. It's WAY marginal for this role :eek: but if you're dealing with "mandatory disarmament in the woods" sort of madness, it may be what you're left with. For that role, there is NO comparison whatsoever.

February 26, 2004, 02:02 AM
If you are going to consider the .357mag chambering and weight of the SP then skip over the Dick Special and go with the Magnum Carry. Same size as the DS, heavier weight, and chambered in .357mag.
Now you have revolvers with almost equal size, weight, and chambering. The Colt wins with a higher capacity.

February 26, 2004, 09:37 AM
I voted Detective Special because I carry in front pants pocket and DS is lighter and smaller I've owned 2 Detective Specials. For me, they're still too heavy for my mode of carry. I prefer something that weighs 15-16 ounces. If weight/size isn't important to you then by all means get the Ruger. .357 magnum, even in a snubby, is a better manstopper than any .38 special round.

February 26, 2004, 09:58 AM
If I had to buy a Brand X revolver, I'd prefer a Colt over a Ruger. ;)

Better trigger, balances better for me, one more shot, and I find .357 in a small-frame revolver to be about as useful as a kickstand on a tank.

cleve land
February 26, 2004, 10:59 AM
I don't think it can be set forth much better than it was by Preacherman

ruger fan 101
February 26, 2004, 06:41 PM
Need I say more???

February 26, 2004, 11:21 PM
Had similar questions. Went with the DS. Never looked back.

February 27, 2004, 01:05 AM
I didn't see the revolver but at a shop in Littleton today I saw a box for a Colt cobra that looked NEW. Gunshop owner was silent on the whereabouts of the Colt.

February 27, 2004, 01:56 AM
<insert bolt of lightning and thunder clap>

It is no secret I grew up with "Colts for semi's and Smith's for revo's". It is no secret I'm a fan of the Smith J frame model 36 and 37. K frame model 10 and 64 ( yeah a stainless steel gun, believe it or not).

I like a dedicated .38 spl gun.

I have a Colt DS coming my way . ( there is that flash of light again).

I have used and could not warm up to the Sp101 in a dedicated .38 spl model .

I wanted the classic , proven DS, 6 six shot . For the role this gun will serve, a totally proven classic design , totally "politically correct " blue and wood , with a better trigger. I prefer older guns anyway, the craftsmanship of an era gone by. There is no internal trigger lock on the older ones either. (granted that does not apply here...just wanted to insert my displeasure on those that do)

Okay so the cyl and latch goes the wrong way...I will have fun learning. :D

I'm looking forward to learning more of the history of this gun as well.

Blue and wood, leather for holster...RIG has never let me down, don't figure it will with this one. a line on some "special made grips" for the old Knuckle-Buster I'm told the gun was referred to.:) These grips alleviate this...just need the gun so I can use them.

Makes perfect sense to me. ;)

February 27, 2004, 02:36 AM a line on some "special made grips" for the old Knuckle-Buster I'm told the gun was referred to.
I've shot Colts for many years, but that's the first I've heard of a DS being a "knuckle-buster". :confused: I think they are right nice shooting little revolvers.

February 27, 2004, 02:42 AM
I just learned of this myself, I'd never heard it before either. Gentleman said it was a nickname given by old Detectives. So naturally something is designed to fit a niche. Much like the Tyler T , or the various other grips that have been designed.
I thought the "tidbit of history" was interesting.
Never had a problem shooting Colt's either. ( other than being backwards from what learned on *grin* J/K)

Hey it is an excuse to buy a with me here. :D

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