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 (24)

  • Elton P Green

    |

    I am currently carrying the Taurus Tracker in .44 magnum. I have put about 350 or 400 rounds through it since I acquired it in April of this year. My example has adjustable sights and a 3″ barrel with a one inch expansion chamber. This tames the heavier loads. I am shooting .44 Specials in in, mostly, with 200 grain lead bullets to 265 grain cast lead bullets. It will put all 5 rounds into about 2 1/2 inches or tighter at 25 yards. I try to load most of my loads for around 950 fps for this revolver, but haven’t chronographed them yet to see just what they are doing. I think they’re pretty close to this though. I’ll know in a couple of weeks, when I break out the chronograph and check.

    Reply

  • Christian D. Orr

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    The 6″ Ruger GP-100 .357 is easily my favourite wheelgun.

    Reply

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