Range Report: Ruger GP100

By Bob Campbell published on in Firearms, Range Reports

The buying public is voting for revolvers and buying them in great numbers. Fueling the new trend, Ruger offers a seven-shot version of its popular GP100. Ruger offers longer barrel versions, but the 2.5-inch version is, in the author’s opinion, among the finest combat revolvers ever manufactured. There are many who appreciate tradition, and others, who simply trust revolvers. There are many good points considering revolvers.

Ruger GP100 revolver right profile wood grips

The author found the 2.5-inch barrel version of the GP100 a great shooter.

While modern self-loading handguns are as reliable as a machine can be, the revolver is more likely to fire after long-term storage while loaded. You may leave the revolver at home, ready, and it will come up shooting. The revolver may also be placed against an adversary’s body and fired. On the other hand, a self-loader may jam after the first shot in this scenario.

This type of shooting has saved many lives, including those confronted by animal attack. The revolver is accurate and powerful in its best versions making it well suited to outdoors use. Ruger’s latest revolver is a seven-shot version of the GP100 in .357 Magnum caliber. This is an exciting handgun. It is accurate, well-balanced, and fast handling.

Ruger’s GP100 was introduced in 1986. Police service handguns in .357 Magnum had not always held up well to constant firing and frequent qualifications with the magnum cartridge. The larger, and more robust, GP100 solved a lot of problems. For many years, the majority of qualifications were done with the .38 Special 148-grain target wadcutter. Problems with this oversight led to court decisions forcing agencies to qualify with the issue load. A hot 125-grain JHP was hard on small parts and sometimes the shooter as well. The 125-grain .357 Magnum hollow point at 1,380 to 1,480 fps was the most powerful cartridge fielded by police agencies—and the most effective. However, it was also difficult to master.

Hornady Critical Defense ammunition box with upset bullet

Hornady’s Critical Defense 125-grain load offers good performance.

Today, the police carry self-loaders. However, the .357 Magnum cartridge remains unequaled for wound potential. Those who train hard and master the cartridge have a powerful loading that is effective against both two- and four-legged threats, and against light cover.

The GP100 is capable of absorbing the pounding of a steady diet of .357 Magnum ammunition, without going out of time. The shooter will be tired long before the revolver shows any signs of trouble. The GP100 is not only among the most rugged revolvers ever designed, it is among the most accurate as well.

The GP100 will accept heavy handloads that will literally lock up other handguns. As an example, I have worked up a heavy load using H110 powder and Hornady’s 125-grain XTP that develops 1,628 fps from my four-inch barrel GP100. This load never sticks in the cylinder or exhibits excess pressure signs. When the .357 Magnum was first developed an adventurer wrote, after killing an attacking Jaguar—the .357 Magnum was like ‘having a rifle on your hip.’ I agree.

The GP100 has been manufactured in four- and six-inch barrel versions, three-inch barrel fixed-sight revolvers, and a .44 Special version. The new seven-shot revolver is certain to be popular. My example sports a 2.5-inch barrel. It is surprisingly compact and well balanced. The sights are the Ruger fully adjustable rear, and a green, fiber-insert front sight. The sights offered a good sight picture. The fiber optic draws light to make for easier front sight acquisition.

Ruger GP100 revolver and chronograph

Despite a short barrel the GP100 posted excellent results in velocity testing.

The compact, concealed carry grips are an aid in concealment, and they offer good control when firing Magnum loads. When working the action, the seven-shot action feels different from the five- and six-shot revolvers’ trigger press. Some of the cocking force is used to move the hand and cylinder while the rest cocks and drops the hammer.

The GP100 action has always been smooth, but the action feels a bit shorter than the six-shot version. This results in faster shooting. The heft is excellent—neither handle heavy nor barrel heavy. I fired full power .357 Magnum loads in comfort.

The muzzle blast of unburnt powder is sometimes startling, but with most loads, the GP100 isn’t difficult to control. The balance is similar to the Smith and Wesson Model 27 with a 3.5-inch barrel, but the GP100 is lighter. There have been other short-barrel revolvers that are difficult to use well. They twist in the hand, and muzzle flip is uncomfortable. The GP100 is the fastest handling, and most controllable, short-barrel Magnum I have fired.

Bob Campbell shooting the Ruger GP100 revolver

The GP100 cycles very quickly and offers real power.

I began my test program with .38 Special ammunition. I suspect many shooters will engage most of their practice targets with .38 Special loads. That is the proven path to proficiency and marksmanship. Twenty .38s for every Magnum is a good standard.

I used three choices from Double Tap ammunition in the first evaluation. These included the 850 fps 148-grain wadcutter, a 110-grain JHP at over 1,000 fps and the 125-grain JHP at 959 fps. The revolver was actually docile. Speed from leather was fast as I drew from a Wright Leatherworks belt scabbard. Likewise, speed was not an issue to an accurate first shot. Recovery was rapid.

It wasn’t difficult to make fast hits using double-action pairs. Moving to .357 Magnum loads, I fired a representative number of self-defense loads. First came the Hornady 125-grain Critical Defense. At 1,215 fps, this load hits hard and expands well. Velocity fell from the 1,383 fps exhibited in the four-inch revolver—par for the course with short barrel Magnums.

The Federal 125-grain JHP broke at 1,221 fps. I also fired a handload I consider my favorite in .357 Magnum. At 1,250 fps from the four-inch barrel, this load—using Titegroup powder—retained 1,180 fps in the Ruger. A handloader may tailor his loads to the handgun and using faster burning powder clearly paid off in this application.

Slow Fire, Solid Benchrest, 15 Yards, 5-Shot Group

.38 Special
Federal 129-grain Hydra Shok +P 1.25 inches
Double Tap 110-grain JHP 1.5 inches
Buffalo Bore 158-grain Outdoorsman 1.4 inches
.357 Magnum
Buffalo Bore 158-grain Low Flash Low Recoil 1.2 inches
Hornady 125-grain Critical Defense 1.5 inches
Hornady 125-grain XTP 1.0 inches

This load isn’t difficult to control and makes a good all around choice. The balance of expansion and penetration is on the long side. All threats are not two legged, so penetration is desirable.

I continue to be impressed as I master the GP100, firing double taps at close range, and concentrating on making hits at small targets at long range. With a smooth double-action trigger press and good sights, the revolver is well suited to use by a trained shooter. With proper load selection, the GP100 makes an excellent all around defense revolver.

For protection against the big cats and feral dogs, I cannot imagine a better choice. Against bears, I would load the Buffalo Bore 180-grain loading, or one of my own handloads using a hard cast 175-grain SWC. Ounce for ounce, the GP100 offers plenty of power for the street or trail.

Do you rely on a revolver for self-defense? Do you prefer the .357 Magnum or another caliber? Share your answers in the comment section.

SLRule

Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.

View all articles by Bob Campbell

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Comments (19)

  • Norm Schwarz

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    The GP100, & SP101 are fine revolvers. How soon we forget the Security Six, (adjustable sight), and the Speed six, (fixed sight) upon which these other revolvers evolved. A seven shot(?) really revolvers have been six rounds for centuries, seven shot is like 5 blades for your razor, unnecessary.

    Reply

  • illanoyed

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    Original owner of a late model Stainless Steel Security Six in .357 w/ 4″ barrel. Had the action smoothed when it was new and added sight insert for visibility. It still runs great. If Ruger still “makes ’em like they used to”, The GP100 and it’s progeny certainly must be worthwhile.

    Reply

  • Blue Bunny

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    I’ve owned my 5” GP100 for about 15 years. Even as I’ve added more to my collection, the GP100 is my comfort gun. I’m comfortable hitting at 30 to 50 yards single action, where my little autos and snubbies are good to maybe 12 yds in a stretch. Even double action, the GP100 outperforms my others by a wide margin. With winter clothing (a cardigan sweater), I can carry the beast concealed comfortably IWB more comfortably for me than any Glock. It’s like having a rifle on my belt!

    Reply

  • Louis

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    Thanks Bob! So now, I’ll take my 2 1/2″ out.

    Reply

  • Jim Johnson

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    Long time owner of a 4″ 6-shot GP-100, it is the best revolver I own. It is THE go go for field carry because it always works no matter what. A little trigger work (in less than an hour; springs and polish), and you can nearly half the group sizes reported in this article – which are impressive for any out-of-the-box hand gun.

    Reply

  • Bruce Carpenter

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    I won’t sit here and compare revolvers to autos. I do love my FNH-40 but when in the house the chamber is clear. Never liked leaving it chambered even though I know the springs will be ok etc… but that’s another topic. That being said if I’m awakened by an intruder they’ll first be met by my S&W 19-4 .357 or my better halfs Ruger GP-100 .357. Smile and wait for flash.

    Reply

  • GEORGE WAKULIK, JR.

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    Nice to see so many accolades on the GP-100. In my mind, it’s the most under rated revolver out there. My first Ruger was a Single Six for ‘field & stream’ use. I was so impressed with it’s performance and durability, that when my wife & I wanted a handgun for the bedroom nightstand, I automatically looked to the GP-100 in .357. My wife shot better groups with it than her s&w dao .380.
    When I started pistol silhouette shooting, I used the GP-100 with an Ultra Dot in the Unlimited Standing Category, once a month for almost ten years. Clang, clang, clang. That feat led me to the Super Redhawk in .44mag but, the GP-100 still shoots great and still remains in the nightstand.

    Reply

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