February 29, 2020
Ruger GP100

Ruger GP100: Modern Classic

The Ruger GP100 revolver was born in the 80’s so does that make it a Millennial or a GenX? With handgun models changing every year in some lines, the sheer longevity and continuity of the Ruger GP100 tells you something about the genius and staying power of its design. Released to the public back in 1985, the muscular looking medium/large frame 6 shot revolver became an instant classic and continues to sell solidly despite an ever increasing number of handgun choices. There is something about the weight and balance of the all steel GP100 that when picking it evokes a visceral reaction of “now that’s a gun!” This 4″ barrel, .357 Magnum model weighs in at a hefty 2 1/2 pounds (40 oz.), is 9 1/2 inches in length and holds six rounds.

The Ruger GP100 was designed to be a replacement for, and improvement over, Ruger’s Security/Speed/Service Six lines of revolvers that had been produced for over a decade. Ruger’s engineers and designers came up with a vision of a massively built revolver that was capable of feeding on a steady diet of full power .357 Magnum loads without being stressed. Over time the model line expanded to a number of other calibers like .327 Federal, .44 Special, .22LR and 10mm Auto but the .357/.38 Special models remain the bread and butter of the model line. In our review we are featuring the iconic .357 Magnum.

From the outside, one of the most striking features of the Ruger GP100 is the full lug barrel profile. Although there are specific models that feature a half-lug design, the beefy barrel full lug protecting the ejector rod is a signature feature and moves the balance point of the gun slightly forward. On the inside, Ruger updated the internals from the earlier *Six Models with a new grip frame and new locking mechanism on the crane securing the cylinder.

Ruger GP100
Image Copyright Sturm, Ruger &Co. Inc.

.357 Magnum vs. .38 Special

As our test gun is the .357 variant, we have the luxury of using either the potent .357 Magnum cartridge or its slightly shorter cousin the .38 special. The .38 special has been around for well over 100 years, the .357 Magnum round came along nearly 40 years later. Although exactly the same diameter and less then 4mm longer, the .357 Magnum is rated to a pressure twice that of the .38 Special.  It packs a punch to say the least. If you’re new to these calibers you should know that revolvers chambered for .357 Magnum may use the shorter .38 Special without issue but the reverse is definitely not true. The .357 is too long for a firearm chambered in .38 Special and even if it did fit in a particular weapon (and some have made it fit) the .357 produces a pressure that is dangerously higher than a .38 is rated for. This could cause a catastrophic failure!

Ruger GP100

On to the test.

This Ruger GP100 arrived in a plastic clamshell box with the usual factory instruction pamphlet, lock and a fired test cartridge. Clean as whistle, we nonetheless give it a once over cleaning and run a swab through the bore with some CLP just to insure there’s nothing in there that shouldn’t be. Perfect.

As long as we’re giving it the once over we need to get a feel for the trigger pull on this so a little dry firing is in order. A quick safety double check that we’re unloaded, snap the cylinder into place and a quick squeeze on the trigger… I say a squeeze… on.. the… trigger…

OK, despite the hefty all metal goodness of this gun, you will never mistake the trigger pull for that of a 1911.  Now I will tell you I have owned a GP100 and over time the trigger does break in and get better. Also, a relatively simple tweaking by a competent gunsmith can make the average trigger into a very good one. However, right out of the box it’s a little stiff. The double action trigger pull is north of 12 pounds.  Easy.  If you cock the hammer and fire single action you’re going to be in the neighborhood of ~5 pounds.  If you are not used to double action trigger pulls like this your targets are going to look a little sparse until you do. But look at the bright side – that’s just another reason to go to the range more!

And so I headed down the road to my range.  Unfortunately, it was raining cats and dogs so I had to shoot inside but it’s always nice to have the indoors option. I set up my silhouette targets at 10 yards and worked through a progression of double action .38 Special then single action .38 Special.  I then pulled out a box of .357 Magnum cartridges for comparison. Finding my stance, I lined up the nice fiber optic front sight on the target and commenced slow firing.

Ready, aim…

My first impression shooting the .38 Special’s had nothing to do with the trigger, it was how soft a shoot this was. In the beefy 40 ounce steel frame almost all of the 130 Grain cartridge’s recoil was absorbed leaving just a mild push. I would have no problem introducing a novice shooter or a recoil sensitive shooter to this gun using the .38 loads. It’s downright pleasant to shoot.

Now, as I ran through my first dozen shots double action I did walk around the target a bit as you can see. Yeah, not great. Maybe we’ll just throw that one away. But I did start to improve as I got a feel for the length of the trigger pull – it’s really not bad once you get going.

In the second target below I shot single action, in other words cocking the hammer manually with my thumb and releasing the cocked hammer with the trigger “cowboy style”. With the lighter pull and shorter release my group tightened up nicely. It almost seemed like I knew what I was doing. That’s the one I’ll show my friends.

GP100 Double Action
GP100 Single Action

After that I let loose with the Magnum loads. I will say the difference in recoil was immediately noticeable but again, it was not unpleasant. Aside from a more robust “push” the major difference was an increase in barrel rise so it took a little more time to settle back on the target for the next shot. The substantial weight of the revolver combined with the rubber grip took all the sting out of the 110 Grain .357 loads.  Your average shooter would have no problem making a steady diet out of the .357’s if they wanted to go for the bigger (and more expensive) bang.

Conclusion

There’s something magical about a well-crafted, all steel revolver. It’s not something that just popped out of an injection mold and changes every year for the next marketing campaign. It just has an old school feel about it that I find very appealing. There are tons of reliable and accurate polymer wonder guns, but not many will be handed down and treated like heirlooms. That’s how I look at guns like the GP100. It not only shoots well but it has that timeless look and feel that makes it a keeper. It’s a classic.