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Ruger P85: Meet Ruger’s First “Wonder Nine” Gun (That Made History)

Ruger P85
Ruger P85

Out of the “Big Three” U.S. handgun manufacturers, Sturm, Ruger & Co. Inc. was the proverbial middle child when it came to cashing in on the “Wonder Nine” craze of the 1980s, doing so via the Ruger P85.

Smith & Wesson got there first with its first-generation S&W Model 59 in 1971 – therefore actually predating the Wonder Nine craze of the following decade but possibly paving the ground for the category – followed by its second-generation Models 459, 469, and 659 circa 1984; last and in this case definitely least was Colt’s abortive joke known as the All-American 2000.

In comparison, the P85 may not go down in history as one of the all-time great Wonder Nines, but she sure was no slouch either.

Ruger P85 History and Specifications

As the alphanumeric designator indicates, the P85 was indeed developed in 1985; however, it wasn’t actually made available to the general public until 1987.

Gun writer Paul Peterson – described in his bio page as “U.S. Marine Corps Veteran and an awarded combat journalist” – provides some additional historical insight and context on the pistol:

“Designed around the Browning action found inside the 1911 with some Sig 220 inspirations, the P85 offered a DA/SA, hammer-fired gun with some modern alloy-framed tech to go with its classic internal design…Ruger’s P-series handguns had some high expectations as a possible replacement for the military’s service M1911. It did offer 15 rounds of 9mm in a double-stack magazine, which brought it in line with the NATO 9mm trend. But it also eventually proved to be unable to unseat the Beretta M9. Tragic as that is, the gun has since become a well-liked and affordable handgun with a reputation for reliability.”

Besides the aforementioned 15-round standard magazine capacity, some other specifications for the P85 include a weight of 2 pounds with an empty magazine, a barrel length of 4.25 inches, an overall length of 7.75 inches, a single-action trigger pull of 6.22 pounds, and a double-action trigger pull of 9.9 pounds. 

Massad F. Ayoob, founder of the Lethal Force Institute (LFI) and a former Captain for the Grantham (New Hampshire) Police Department was among the first respected firearms and self-defense authorities to praise the P85 in his 1987 book The Semi-Automatic Pistol in Police Service and Self Defense, noting that the gun was reliable, reasonably accurate, and offered excellent value in relation to price. The gun’s reputation gained an extra boost of credibility after being adopted as the standard-issue sidearm of the San Diego (Calif.) Police Department and the Wisconsin State Patrol

Some early editions of the pistol had safety incidents with the firing pin, so Ruger recalled the guns and made some improvements to both the internal firing pin safety and the external safety-decocking lever, redesignating the gun as the Ruger P85 MK II in 1989. In 1990, Ruger released the stainless steel version of the P85, which managed to grace the cover of the inaugural issue of Shooting Times Handgun Quarterly that summer. The P85 was discontinued in favor of the P89 in 1992, which remained in production until 2009.

Personal Shooting Impressions

I tried out a rental stainless version of the P85 in September 1990 at Paul Cole’s Gun World & Target Range – nowadays simply known as The Target Range – in Van Nuys, California. At that point in my life, I had 11 months of shooting experience under my belt, and that P85 turned out to be the tool of my first time ever teaching a novice friend how to shoot, so I guess you could say there’s a wee bit of sentimental value and nostalgia associated with the piece. 

We burned through 100 rounds of the range’s full metal jacket (FMJ) reloads, mostly at 21 feet, with a few pops at the range’s maximum distance of 50 feet for good measure. Reliability was flawless. As for the ergonomics, sights, trigger pull, and practical accuracy, I rated them as “not great, but okay;” reasonably fun to shoot, but not the “Yeah, buddy!” feeling that I got (and still get) from, say, the Beretta 92F/M9.

Ruger P97. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

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).