Story and Photos by Tim Stetzer
Welcome to Gun & Gear Society! Wait, no, that’s not right, you’re still here at Knife & Gear Society. With that said, a lot of us do carry a firearm as part of our EDC gear—or when we hit the woods—so we thought we’d try something a little different and look at some gun gear today.
If you have even a casual interest in firearms, you’ve probably heard of VZ Grips. They do a whole series of custom grips for pistols, revolvers and AR-15s. They also do a really neat series of knives and daggers, made from G-10.
However, revolvers are the focus today, with the new grips for the Ruger SP-101 being of particular interest.
When I heard that VZ Grips was looking at the Ruger SP101 earlier this year, I was intrigued. I haven’t been using my 101 that much anymore, but it was always a favorite of mine and I was interested in dusting it off and giving it a facelift. I kept an eye on VZ’s progress and when the grips became available, I managed to get my hands on a set to try.
VZ makes three patterns of grips for the 101, the VZ 320, VZ Hydra and VZ Twister. The grips are two-piece style that clamshell around the grip post and screw into place. They’re made from G-10 laminate and come in Black, Black Cherry, Black Gray and Hyena Brown colors, all available with black or stainless hardware.
All three grips share the same basic, compact, round butt outline, with a slight pinky cut at the base of the grip. The 320 has a smooth but lightly textured finish; the Hydra has a golf ball divot style texture; and the Twister has a series of grooves that wrap around the back strap. MSRP for any of the grips is $79.00, regardless of texture, color, or hardware options.
My test set of grips were the VZ Twister style, in Black Cherry with stainless hardware. The color is a black and red laminate and is more of a dull brick red—rather than a bright red—so it’s subtle and subdued. They looked good in the package, but the real test was to see how they were on my gun.
The first step in installing your new grips is removing the old ones. To do that simply remove the single screw holding the grips in place, pop the grip inserts free, then pull the rubber grip straight down, off of the frame. Mine needed a little tugging, as it’s been on the gun for around 30 years and was kind of stuck in place.
VZ gives you a set of installation instructions with their grips, which is a good thing, because they go on slightly different than most grips. Essentially the grip comes with left and right halves, that clamshell around the grip tang and screw into place. Simple enough. Where the process gets a little unique, is the pin arrangement that VZ uses to ensure the grips fit snugly, without play.
In a gun that’s been in production for over three decades there’s bound to be some variation in frames, and that was one issue that VZ ran into when developing their grips. VZ uses a clever spacer pin system, to ensure the grip fits snugly, and to accommodate minor differences in frame size.
They give you the recommended starting hole but if your grip still has play, you can shift the pin to one of the other holes, until everything snugs up properly. Once you have that lined up, simply screw in the grip screw, with the provided Torx wrench, and you’re in business.
Once I had the grips installed, I spent a couple minutes just admiring my newly refurbed 101, and I have to say that I like the lines of the VZ grips a lot.
While the factory rubber grip worked, I always thought they looked a little blocky. The VZ grips seem to continue the flow of the frame and give the SP101 more traditional lines, like what you see with a Colt or Smith revolver. They’re more hand filling too and I felt like I had more to hold on to—which isn’t a bad thing in a compact .357 Magnum.
The grips had a nice light texture to the G-10, coupled with the grooves of the Twister pattern, so they felt secure in the hand, yet were devoid of sharp corners or edges to cause discomfort. The grip filled the gap behind the trigger guard as well, and extended a little lower than the factory grip—allowing me to curl my pinky around the divot at the base of the grip, which is there for that purpose.
The top of the left grip panel is relieved to allow clearance for a speedloader, and is a natural place to rest your thumb, if you’re a right hander.
I did a couple of range sessions with the SP101 to see how the grips worked under recoil. I had a good stash of .38 Special, in standard and +P loads, but realized my .357 Magnum stash was a little light. With the current ammo shortages, I wasn’t able to shake down any of the ammo companies for T&E ammo, so I went with what I had—which was full power Winchester white box, 125gr Jacketed Soft Points.
The grips felt good in the hand, and the gun came up perfectly and felt good in dry fire practice. But I still wanted to see how it did under recoil. Honestly, although I never loved the look of the factory grips, they work well with magnum loads. So, that was the standard that VZ had to at least meet.
With .38 loads, whether basic 158 grain Lead Round Nose or 125 grain +P Jacketed Hollow Points, the SP101 was very pleasant to shoot. It’s a heavy gun, so that’s always tamed recoil—compared to some other 5 shot snubs—but the hand filling Twister grip helped as well.
The different grip shape, as compared to the factory grip, brought me on target faster too. It was a more natural angle for me, and I’d find that when I brought the gun up to my sight line, I was right on target and didn’t need to adjust my grip at all.
Switching to .357 Magnum loads was eye opening. Even though I carry .357’s in the 101, while in the woods, I honestly hadn’t done a good practice session with them in years. The 125 grain loads were like shoving a howitzer out of that 3-inch barrel. Muzzle blast was considerable, and the flame was obvious, even in bright sunlight.
With that said, the gun was still very controllable. I definitely didn’t get back on target as fast as with the .38’s but I was readily able to control the gun, and it was still pleasant to shoot.
The blast and flame were somewhat amusing, but I was still hitting quite well with the 101. Since this wasn’t an accuracy test, my buddy Ian and I were shooting at milk jugs and clay birds, out at 25 yards. I was bouncing jugs around with boring regularity and even the clay birds fell beneath the little 101—and then we proceeded to shoot up the pieces.
Honestly, I forgot how well the SP101 shoots until I got back out to the range with the new grips. The rubber factory grip may have been a little softer under recoil than the VZ’s G-10, but I think the more hand filling size of the VZ, along with its excellent ergonomics, more than made up the difference.
If you’re one of the many SP101 owners out there, and are thinking about an upgrade to your gun, then I’d absolutely recommend VZ’s SP101 series of grips. They provide a nice visual refresh to your gun and give you a good set of options on colors and textures to choose from. They also offer a set of superior ergonomics, as compared to the factory grip.
Even if you weren’t thinking about upgrading your 101, I’d take a hard look at these grips. You may not have realized you needed them, until now, but you probably do! K&G
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Ruger SP101 GripsModels: VZ 320, VZ Hydra, VZ TwisterMaterial: G-10Colors: Black, Black Cherry, Black Gray, Hyena BrownHardware: Stainless of BlackMade in: USAMSRP: $79.00
VZ Grips(850) 422-1911www.VZGrips.com
The Ruger SP101 has been around since 1988 and I picked up my 3-inch example in the early 1990’s.
My dad had gotten it off of a guy at work and, during a visit home from college, I took it into the woods behind the house and ran a box of full power .357 Magnum through it. I came back up to the house, gave my dad my stainless Walther PPK, kept the 101 and never looked back.
It was my primary carry gun until 2003, when I became a cop and had restrictions on what I could carry off duty. Even then it would still get pulled out of the safe, as a woods companion, now and again.
The SP101 is a compact 5 shot revolver, similar in size to a S&W J frame revolver but built much beefier, in the Ruger way. My example is chambered in .357 Magnum, although Ruger has also made them in .38 Special, .32 H&R Magnum, .327 Federal Magnum, .22 LR and even 9x19mm.
They aren’t lightweight revolvers, with the weights running between 25 and 32 ounces—depending on model—but that extra heft helps make them controllable, especially for their size. The other thing that helps with controllability, is the grip. Ruger uses a one-piece rubber grip sleeve, that slides over a post style frame. A set of plastic or wood grip inserts adds some character to the otherwise simple grip.
While the grip works well, and is compact for concealed carry, it isn’t perfect and is not for everyone.
One of the nice things about the wheelgun days, was that on Colt and Smith revolvers you had a myriad of grip styles, shapes and materials to choose from—and you could find something that really suited you. Aftermarket grips, and grip inserts, have been available for the Ruger SP101 but never in the same variety as the other brands.
My original factory wood insert cracked at some point and I replaced them with some sort of exotic wood ones I found on Ebay. It gave my gun a slightly better look, in my opinion, but still didn’t perform like the basic rubber grip.
I occasionally looked at other options, including custom wood versions, but nothing ever grabbed my eye—until the VZ Grips.
Tim Stetzer lives in Western Pennsylvania with his wife, 2 kids, and too many cats. He has over two decades of law enforcement and criminal justice experience, and is a police academy instructor. He is also a veteran of both the Army and Air Force Reserves and has been an avid outdoorsman since his youth in Boy Scouts where he first became interested in knives. Tim has written for various gun, knife and outdoors publications since 2006 and has designed or helped design a number of custom and production knives during that time.
Good article, Tim. You’re right, my SP101 (2 1/4″) can use a little refresh. You may have sold me on the VZ Grips. Have to decide on color.
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