Range Report: Ruger’s Rugged GP100 Goes Big Bore

By Wilburn Roberts published on in Firearms, Range Reports

When it comes to firearms development, the history of a company is as important as what it does. After all, one cannot survive without the other. Ruger has earned a reputation for innovation and groundbreaking technology. While Ruger owns many laurels, perhaps the one I appreciate the most is a well-deserved reputation for rugged reliability.

Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan revolver .480 Ruger caliber

Ruger offers interesting revolvers including this Ruger Alaskan.

By rugged we have a dual meaning. The Ruger handgun is durable and seldom seen in the shop, so reliability is proven. The strength of the Ruger is such that Ruger revolvers will take high-pressure loads that would literally lock up lesser firearms—I have seen this happen. The success of these handguns lies—in part in my opinion—in the fresh design of Ruger revolvers.

Ruger did not use old machinery and designs. Instead, it went to the drawing board—or computer screen—and invented a new offering. While others may rely upon designs that left the drafting table over 100 years ago, Ruger has designed modern revolvers that are both accurate and strong.

State of the art is a good description. Among the most successful designs from Ruger is the Ruger GP100 revolver. The GP100 relies on a transfer bar ignition for safety rather than the hammer-mounted firing pin once standard in revolvers. The floating firing pin handles Magnum loads better than the older designs.

The GP100 is chambered in .357 Magnum. Special versions are available in other calibers including .22 LR and .327 Magnum. The GP100 features first class adjustable sights, although there have been special fixed-sight versions. Some of these have been used by European police.

Ruger GP100 bottom and Ruger SP101 .357 Magnum top

The GP100 compared in size to the Ruger SP101 .357 Magnum.

The Ruger GP100 .357 Magnum is easily the most accurate revolver I have fired recently. The only revolver that may exhibit superior accuracy is the Colt Python. The Colt, sadly, is no longer in production and terribly expensive. It takes a very good marksman to qualify the accuracy of the Python, and that shooter is as rare as an honest politician.

Even then, the differences between the GP100 and Python, in absolute accuracy, may be a ¼-inch smaller group at 25 yards. The Colt Python is more expensive and more likely to go out of time. The GP100 is a versatile revolver suitable for personal defense, hunting, and competition.

Recently, Ruger introduced a new version of the Ruger GP100, and frankly, I was surprised and very pleased. The newest GP100 is a 3-inch barrel five shooter in .44 Special. This handgun balances well and rides on the hip well—with proper gunleather. The balance and heft are ideal for a heavy-caliber carry revolver, yet it is much lighter than short barrel .44 Magnum revolvers. This is a revolver intended for defense use rather than hunting, and I like this a lot. The Ruger GP100 .44 Special will appeal to those who favor a single, hard hit over a flurry of lighter bullets.

Green paper shooting target

Performance with the Buffalo Bore load could not have been better.

The revolver features an unfluted cylinder that is bored for five .44 Special cartridges. The barrel is three inches long and topped with a green, fiber optic front sight. The rear sights are standard Ruger fully adjustable sights. The grips are Hogue pebble grain grips, ideal for this application.

The GP100 features a lockup point on the cylinder crane for added rigidity. The GP100 .44 Special has a distinct appearance to set it apart. Arguably, this is the strongest .44 Special revolver available. The next question is, “Why the .44 Special?” The .44 Special was introduced as a light kicking, accurate, big bore to carry on the tradition of the .44 Smith and Wesson American. The .44-40 was the outdoorsman cartridge, and the .45 Colt was the anti-personnel cartridge. The .44 Special was hot rodded by many experimenters—including the legendary Elmer Keith. He wrecked a number of revolvers and blew others up during his many experiments.

These experiments led to the .44 Magnum cartridge. Let’s let the .44 Magnum do the heavy lifting in the revolver world. Keith designed the heavy 240- and 250-grain semi-wadcutter revolver bullet. This bullet keeps much of the weight in the nose with a shorter shank but plenty of bearing surface for accuracy. The result was more powder space and greater velocity for less pressure. Handloaders may safely load this bullet to well over 1,000 fps in a strong .44 Special. This is a powerful loading well suited to field work.

Ruger GP100 .44 Special revolver right side

The GP100 .44 Special is a robust and reliable revolver.

Modern loads are available for defense use in the .44 Special. Most are designed for use in the Charter Arms Bulldog revolver—a very light .44 Special that should not be fired with heavy loads. As an example, the very accurate and clean burning SIG Sauer Elite .44 Special load expands well and is controllable at 755 fps. Heavy loads would wear the small parts out quickly in this revolver and turn it into a rattling wreck.

However, this is a cartridge that provides adequate penetration and some expansion even with pedestrian loads. There are heavier loads available. Buffalo Bore, as an example, marks their ammunition NOT FOR CHARTER BULLDOG when appropriate. I have fired its 190-grain SWC HP, and this number breaks a solid 1033 fps from the Ruger GP100, yet recoil isn’t objectionable. This is a strong load using a lead hollow point that expands well.

Load Velocity 5-shot group in inches
Fiocchi 200-grain JHP 801 fps 2.9
Buffalo Bore 190-grain SWCHP 1033 fps 3.25
DoubleTap 240-grain SWC 840 fps 3.5
Double TAP 180-grain JHP 980 fps 2.25
Double TAP 200-grain TAC 866 fps 2.75
Double TAP 200-grain JHP 857 fps 3.0
Cor Bon 225-grain DPX 860 fps 3.3
Hornady 165-grain FTX 870 fps 2.95
Hornady 180-grain XTP 830 fps 2.5
SIG Sauer 200-grain JHP 756 fps 2.75
Winchester 240-grain FP 790 fps 3.0

I began firing the GP100 with the Winchester 240-grain lead loading. At just under 800 fps, this is a controllable loading. I fired 50 cartridges at man-sized targets at 7, 10, and 12 yards. Accuracy was excellent. The Ruger features a smooth trigger action. The fiber optic front sight makes for excellent hit probability. Place the front sight on the X-ring, and you have a hit—and you are delivering a .429-inch bullet that doesn’t have to expand to cut a large hole.

Ruger GP100 revolver with box of Buffalo Bore ammuniton

Buffalo Bore ammunition is powerful accurate and versatile.

Moving to the heavier loads, I fired the Hornady Critical Defense—a 165-grain loading at 870 fps, and the Hornady 180-grain XTP at 830 fps. Neither offered objectionable recoil. The Buffalo Bore loading was not a bear with double-action pairs carried out in good order. Speed from leather was good with the well-shaped grip of the GP100 offering good gripping surface. The revolver comes on target quickly and offers excellent balance. As for absolute accuracy, I fired the revolver at a long 25 yards. I am always interested in accuracy and the GP100 did not disappoint.

Ruger’s GP100 .44 Special brings a lot of power in a compact package. Do you carry a revolver as a primary or backup? Would model and caliber do you carry or would you carry? Share your answers in the comment section.

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Comments (20)

  • Vincent LaVallee

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    Mr. Charles, Thanks for your nice response, and great info on your experiences with your handgun. It must be a blast to shoot! As for ammo, my ballistics file is updated monthly and I keep all entries up-to-date within 3-4 months max. In other words, you may find it useful in getting the best ammo for your dollar. I have over 800 handgun entries, which includes 11 just for the 45-70 ammo, and 27 other handgun calibers listed. I get about a 20-30 emails a month from many online ammo retailers, to make it fairly easy to find the best deal for the type of ammo you want. I have over a dozen Shooter’s Log members that receive this file each month.

    Vincent (03-28-2017)

    Reply

  • Robert W. Lindley

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    I purchased the Ruger GP100 .357. Best revolver I have owned. Very smooth. Accuracy is amazing even right out of box, factory sighting excellent. I personally choose the .357 over the .44 due to the ability for the .357 to use .38 Special ammo as well. Always been. Ruger owner and will continue with this type of quality

    Reply

    • Vincent LaVallee

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      Robert, I am an avid Ruger fan also! I have two Ruger revolvers, but both are single action western style, heavy duty handguns. I have owned a Ruger .357 Blackhawk for over 50 years. It was so old that it had the firing problem when dropped and the hammer was hit. So, I sent it into Ruger a few years ago, and they upgraded it for free, and returned it upgraded with all the old internal parts as well. I tried to get them to make me a 9mm cylinder, but they told me that they did not do that any longer, so I missed out on that. But I can shoot both .357 Mag (including the most powerful ammo made in the .357 Mag), and .38 Spec.

      I liked this gun so much, I bought another Blackhawk, but this time a .45LC/ACP revolver, again in the Western single action style. This gun is even more powerful than the .357 Mag, and with a cylinder swap, I can also shoot .45 ACP ammo. So, for plinking I shoot .38 Spec or .45 ACP. But it is always more fun to shoot the high powered ammo from both guns.

      One thing that is real nice about revolvers that you rarely hear is that they are a lot safer than semi-autos. For instance, you can tell at a moment’s glace if it is loaded or not. Also, for safe storing with single action handguns, you can simply remove the cylinder and store it elsewhere, pretty much independent of any ammo concerns.

      One thing about both of these calibers is that there is a huge range of power you can shoot. The .356 Mag loads vary in power almost 4:1 from the weakest to the most powerful. And when you add in the .38 Spec, this ratio goes up to about 5:1. The .45 LC is very similar, with the most powerful loads (1,344 ft. lbs.) down to the weakest Cowboy loads (292 ft. lbs.), resulting I a 4.6:1 ratio in power.

      If you want to learn more about ballistics (speed & power), email me. I have given my info elsewhere in this Shooter’s Log posting. This is a free file, and not only gives ballistics, but also where to buy online and for how much!

      Vincent (03-27-2017)

      Reply

  • CapChaos

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    have owned a 6 inch .357 since they came out, took down a nice 5×5 at 25 yards once, good enough for me! also own the .22 cal version, just to keep my trigger practice up. great guns and like my smith “j” will always go bang, and rugers customer service is hard to beat… if they do a 6 inch might be game for one of those too! :) I now carry a ruger SR9C but my old trusty “j” is still in my ankle holster and my GP100 is the go to in the house because of the reliability of a revolver

    Reply

  • Mike

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    The Ruger GP100-.357 is the most accurate and trouble free revolver I have ever owned. It is so balanced and low recoil that my first grade daughter and I are able to shoot off a few rounds together on a Sunday afternoon.

    Reply

  • Louis

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    Cool, but like a .357, isn’t the barrel to short for all the powder to burn and not get over penetration. Also, the bullet won’t fully expand. As will in a say a 4″ or 5″ barrel??

    Reply

    • WER

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      Actually .44 Sp. doesn’t rely on velocity as the .357 Magnum does, but rather on bullet mass and width. The .44 special clocks pretty decent velocity. Lets face it not much difference between a 255 grain SWC at 1000 fps and 1100 fps. Most defense loads were originally designed for the Charter Arms Bulldog with 3 inch barrel, so they work well in short barrels.

      Reply

    • Vincent LaVallee

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      WER, the .44 Spec is actually a fairly weak caliber, compared to the .357 Mag and almost any other .4x caliber. It was designed in 1907, based on the black powder Russian .44 and S&W increased the cartridge case by 0.190-inch (4.8 mm) and increasing the powder capacity by 6 grains (0.39 g). (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/.44_Special). I have researched the .44 Special ammo (along with 27 other handgun calibers) and almost none of them have a MV over 1,000 fps and all but one has less power than the standard .45 ACP. That one is from Buffalo Bore with a MV of 1150 fps. and an ME of 543 (.45 ACP in the 45 Super ammo can go up to 700 ft. lbs. of ME).

      So, while the .44 Spec has lower velocities than the .357 Mag, you would think that perhaps the mass of the bullet difference (typically 158 gr for the .357 Mag vs. 180-240 gr for the .44 Spec) would equalize their power ratings. But it does not because power is mainly derived from speed (the speed is squared in calculating power). The typical ME of the .357 Mag I have listed in my ballistics file is 649 ft. lbs. of ME, whereas the typical .44 Spec is below 400. I have 120 .357 Mag entries listed, and 15 .44 spec ammo entries.

      So, my over all point is that a .44 Spec load out of a 3″ barrel should not cause much kick, and not be harmful to the gun, nor to the hand. The high powered Buffalo Bore ammo might be different, so anyone with a small .44 Spec handgun should check before shooting this much higher power .44 Spec ammo. If you want to see all the real ballistics info, along with online availability and pricing, email me. I have posted this info in another post in this very forum already.

      Vincent (03-27-2017)

      Reply

  • dave

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    if the new GP 100-44 special is anything like the GP100-357, it will be sweet to shoot. I will always keep my GP 100-357. absolutely the best gun i have ever owned.

    Reply

    • Richard

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      Vince you said that the 44 special is weaker than the 357 Magnum… And I say you’ve done much much study about the muzzle energies of both calibers…why don’t you stand about 15 yards in front of both calibers with the same Barrel lengths, and let someone drill a hole center mass thru each of your lungs and come back and post which calibers had the best muzzle energy…

      Reply

  • Deplorable Robert

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    Would be up to try out the 44 Special. Never shot a 44Magnum, but I like the odd ( non popular ) calibers. Another caliber I would like to try out is the 454 Casull. The energy is better than a .357 mag or 44 mag hands down. Even would like to try the 327 loads if they are potent enough.
    Ruger is a fine firearm. Would have no problem owning one.

    Reply

    • MR. CHARLES

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      DEPLORABLE ROBERT, I had a similar situation when I wanted a big .44 or .45 cal revolver. After looking at all the data on factory loads for the .44 mag and the .454 Casull, I got a Super Red Hawk Ruger in .454 Casull. That gives me the ability to shoot .45 Long Colt Cowboy loads all the way up to .454 Magnums at 2,000+ foot lbs of energy. There is even a .44 Mag level load at 1100 FPS and 900 foot lbs of energy in .454 Casull. If you wanted a shorter barrel then 7.5 inches get the Ruger Alaskian maybe.

      Reply

    • Vincent LaVallee

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      Mr. Charles, It is great to hear that you ended up buying a Ruger double action 454 Casull. I am an owner of 2 Ruger single action Blackhawks, and my relatively recent purchase was a .45 LC convertible – it shoots .45ACp with a cylinder swap. Ruger makes super fine handguns! I did not know at that time of my latest purchase that the .454 Casull could shoot .45LC ammo as well! But I may have stuck to this hand gun anyway since .454 Casull ammo is quite a bit more expensive than the .45LC, and definitely way more than the .45ACP.

      But I think it would grand to shoot the high power .454 Casull ammo! In my .45LC Ruger I can shoot up to only about 1,250 Ft. lbs. of ME, so shooting 2,000 ft. lbs. ammo must be amazing. My Ruger is only 5.5″, so the 7.5″ might kick just a little more with the .454 Casull high power ammo.

      I have a ballistics file that I have created over the years that includes most handgun ammo, and many file ones too. This file not only gives the ballistics for all the manufactured ammo for the calibers I cover, which includes the .454 Casull, but also where to buy online (hotlinks) and price per round, so you can get the best deal available. If you are interested in getting this free file, email me at vlavalle @ix.netcom .com. I send this out monthly to over a dozen Shooter’s Log members. I shoot .38 Spec, .357 Mag, .45 ACP, and .45 LC.

      Vincent (03-25-2017)

      Reply

    • MR. CHARLES

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      Vincent, Thank you for the REPLY to my post. When I’m shooting the .454 Casull full load ammo in my Ruger Red Hawk at full power I need all the weight of almost a 4 lb. revolver to tame recoil, thank goodness the grip lets the big Red Hawk rock up instead of just right back into my hands. There have been reports of persons having a broken wrist from shooting the .454 full load ammo with one hand. The .454 Casull is not a mild cartridge at max loads as it will take down any animal in the lower 48 states and is a minimum for back-up in Alaska except for the largest Bears. As far as ballistic tables are concerned, I just get mine from the ammo manufactures or other sites that offer ballistic information. I wish that I had been better informed when I was younger so I could have done somethings differently and gotten a better selections of firearms for hunting and done more hunting when I still could easily, oh well that’s what happens in life I guess. I would not want a .500 S&W or even the .460 S&W just not comfortable to shoot unless a person has to. Thanks again Vincent.

      Reply

  • ERonc

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    Must not ” have fired recently” A S&W.

    Reply

    • Caliber50

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      ERon, worked and sold firearms for more than I care to mention. When S&W came out with the 500, it was nothing more than “HA-HA,WE BEAT YOU.WE’RE ON TOP AGAIN!”
      9 out of 10-500’s, “less on 460 as you can shoot 454 or hot 45Colt out of it”, have been traded in from original buyer or sold for several reasons: ‘NOT Even REMOTELY PRACTICAL, NO WAY TO CARRY THEM COMFORTABLY,” slinging a 30-30 over your shoulder is very comfortable and better game setup for the masses”, I’ve personally seen 500’s “double shoot”, from lack of experience. I can go on. The 500S&W is nice in a carbine style rifle though.

      Reply

    • ERonc

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      Wasn’t necessarily speaking of those. You are correct I think S&W wanted to be back on top with the biggest hence the 500. Now with the introduction of the 500spl round it brings it down to approximately the equivalent of the Ruger 480. I know they are a pain to carry but if you avoid the longer barrels they really are not that much worse than a Ruger of comparable length.

      The 460 make the cartridge case well being able to shoot .45 Colt, .454 Casull, and.460 S&W Magnum. That goes from light cowboy rounds to lets try and break your wrist.

      I’m a large man and don’t even like shooting 44mag. My friends Model 29 with 44spl is a different story. Think Ruger missed out not making this a 44mag. Would of been better to be able to have the option to shoot either, especially if rounds are hard to find and would give the reloader an option to make lighter loads for 44mag cases.

      Not exactly sure what your “double shoot” is but your reason from lack of experience says much about the problem.

      All that said and done you can bury me with my 586 and throw a couple speed loaders in each pocket. Don’t want to meet the Devil empty handed.

      Reply

  • Lou Newton

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    The Ruger is a very nice revolver, I used to have one. But the Dan Wesson is more accurate in my experience and the experience of the many that used them in competition.
    Also I have a Taurus Tracker 357 revolver that is more accurate than my Ruger was. It will shoot under 1″ groups at 40 yards.

    Reply

    • Gary

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      Great to see the new .44 in the Ruger! I’ve had a 3 inch Rossi as well as a 3 inch Taurus, both in .44 Special, for many years. Both are a blast to shoot. Guess I’ll be looking for another fine Ruger product to add to my collection.

      Reply

    • Caliber50

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      Agree with your comment on Dan Wesson. I loved to adjust the cylinder gap to get fantastic accuracy! Only thing was the double action triggers. Not all that great from the factory, but EASILY fixable. Single Action is next to perfect!

      Reply

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