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20,000 Round Review: The Ruger GP-100 .357 Magnum Is a Top Revolver

Bottom line, the Ruger GP-100 is my favorite revolver, bar none, and I wholeheartedly recommend it for self-defense, handgun hunting (I myself have never hunted, but the .357 Magnum can indeed be used to take deer and wild boar), competition, and just plain range fun alike.

Ruger GP-100
Ruger GP-100. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

For years now, I’ve been telling my fellow shooting enthusiast buddies that “The Ruger GP-100 is the Timex of double-action revolvers; you know, ‘Takes A Licking And Keeps On Ticking.” I likewise consider the Glock 17 to be the Timex of semiautomatic pistols. With all due respect and love for competing brands, the .357 Magnum double-action (DA) wheelguns such as the Smith & Wesson Model 19, S&W M586, Colt King Cobra, and Colt Python — all of them very fine firearms in their own right — as well as their legions of fans out there, the GP-100 will keep on perking right along after being subjected to loads that will literally blow up a Smith or Colt. When you see reloading manuals with sections that state “For Ruger Guns Only,” that oughta tell you something.

GP-100: The Rugged Ruger

The Ruger GP-100 was first produced in 1985 by Sturm, Ruger & Co, which is headquartered in Southport, Connecticut, and was founded in 1949 by William Batterman “Bill” Ruger Sr. (1916 – 2002) and Alexander McCormick “Alex” Sturm (1923 – 1951). Incidentally, for the benefit of those readers who are new to firearms, Ruger is not to be confused with Luger; the former is an all-American company — its founders’ Germanic games notwithstanding — whilst the latter is a German WWI-era firearm. Though Ruger, Colt, and Smith & Wesson alike produced semiautomatic firearms in addition to revolvers, it would be no exaggeration to say they constitute the “Big Three” of American wheelgun makers.

The GP-100 was the successor to the company’s popular Security-Six DA revolver, and while the older product line was certainly no slouch in the durability department, the then-new kid on the block was beefed up to the handgun equivalent of a steroid freak. A big reason for this extra strength is the investment casting construction. Moreover, as noted by the official company website, “Triple-locking cylinder is locked into the frame at the front, rear and bottom for more positive alignment and dependable operation shot after shot, and “Transfer bar mechanism provides an unparalleled measure of security against accidental discharge.”

Heavy steel construction, along with the factory rubber grips, go a long way in tamping down recoil, even with the full-house Magnum loads. Of course, as with any .357 Mag revolver, the gun will also safely chamber and fire .38 Special, the kinder and gentler ancestor of the .357. Although initially released only in the .357 Magnum caliber, Ruger now makes the gun available in .22 Long Rifle, .327 Federal Magnum, .38 Special-only (i.e. won’t accommodate the longer cases of the Magnum rounds), 10mm Auto, and .44 Special. Barrel length options range from 3″ to 4.2″ to 5″ to 6″. Cylinder capacity is the standard 6 rounds for most calibers, though the .44 Special is a five-shooter, the .22LR version holds 10, and 7-shot cylinders are optional for the .357 and .327 chamberings.

Personal Shooting Impressions

I first fired a Ruger GP-100 back in May 1990, three months shy of my 15th birthday. I was a short ‘n’ scrawny 5’2″ and 100 pounds soaking wet, yet I found the gun to be delightfully pleasant to shoot with full-house Magnum loads. The company ain’t lying when they proclaim on their website in big bold red all-caps that “RUGER GP100 DOUBLE-ACTION REVOLVERS ARE AMONG THE MOST COMFORTABLE SHOOTING REVOLVERS.”

Fast-forward to 2003, and I finally bought one of my own, in a stainless steel finish (which I prefer to blued finish both aesthetically and for superior rust resistance) and with a 6-inch barrel (which I prefer to 4-inch for both recoil control and sight radius). Since then, I’ve probably shot out somewhere in the neighborhood of 20,000 rounds (roughly a 70/30 mix of Magnums and Specials) through the goshdarn thing, and I have nothing but good things it say about it.

Twenty-five-yard head shots and 50-yard torso shots are a breeze, in DA and single-action (SA) trigger mode alike. Besides serving as a casual paper puncher on a static range environment, the gun enabled me to win multiple gold and silver medals during the Revolver Events at the Nevada Police & Fire Games (NPAF) from 2007 to 2010 (back when I was a CBP Officer and ICE Special Agent). 

Mind you, I was the only schmoe there competing with a Ruger wheelie — and totally factory stock to boot — whilst everybody else was using fancy tricked-out Smiths.

Pros 

As already indicated, the GP-100’s durability is the stuff of legend. To give you a better idea of just how tough the damn things are, they’ve been run over by pickup trucks and beaten against brick walls … and the guns just keeps right on functioning like Superman after having just bounced bullets off of his chest.

Accuracy, as I’ve already indicated, is superb, not in just my firsthand experience, but in every printed and online gun review I’ve ever read.

Another advantage of Ruger DA revolvers is that the cylinder release is a push-button style, as opposed to the push-forward latch on the Smiths and the pull-back latch on the Colts. In my professional opinion, this is the most ergonomic way to go about it.

While disassembly of a revolver is normally not recommended for anybody other than a trained and competent gunsmith, from what I’ve read the Ruger revolvers are, comparatively speaking, easier to take apart and put back together than their Colt and Smith competitors.

Cons

The disadvantages of the Ruger GP-100 are pretty few and far between, but for the sake of objectivity, I gotta come up with something. After all, anything manmade is inherently less than perfect, right? The most obvious thing I can think of is that while the GP-100’s factory stock trigger is more than sufficiently smooth in DA mode and crisp in SA mode, it’s simply not as pleasing straight out-of-the-box in those regards as the wheelguns from the other two members of the “Big Three” (especially the Colt Python). As noted by Geordie Pickard in the Canadian online firearms magazine Calibre, there is a “sense of ‘stacking’ which occasionally manifests in the coil spring of the Ruger.”

In addition, many old-school traditionalists and purists don’t like the look or feel of rubber grips on revolvers, being partial to wood grips, even though rubber does a far better job of absorbing felt recoil, as previously noted. As a compromise, Ruger does put those wood inserts on the sides of the GP-100’s rubber stocks, but that still might not be good enough for some Nicholas Nitpickers out there.

And, uh, that’s it for the cons, actually. Bottom line, the Ruger GP-100 is my favorite revolver, bar none, and I wholeheartedly recommend it for self-defense, handgun hunting (I myself have never hunted, but the .357 Magnum can indeed be used to take deer and wild boar), competition, and just plain range fun alike.

Christian D. Orr has 33 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011. 

Written By

Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).

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