When I was a kid, I used to read of Skeeter Skelton’s exploits in rechambering and rebarreling .357 S&W Highway Patrolman and Ruger Blackhawk revolvers to .44 Special. By the mid-1970s, the .44 Magnum had already been around for almost two decades, but it had too much blast and recoil for law enforcement work, and Skelton saw no reason to carry the extra bulk of a gun designed to withstand the pressures of this round. So converting .357 revolvers, though expensive and labor-intensive, provided Skelton with what he thought was the ideal law enforcement sidearm.
In December of 2016, Ruger introduced a GP100 chambered for the .44 Special. Built from stainless steel and possessing a five-round capacity, this Ruger makes an attractive choice for those who prefer to carry a big-bore revolver chambered for an old favorite.
The GP100 was originally introduced in 1986 and chambered in .357 Magnum with a six-round capacity. In the years since, the revolver has garnered a reputation for being a tough workhorse. It features all-stainless-steel construction with through-hardened components like the cylinder, frame, barrel and cylinder frame. Built bank-vault tough, the GP100’s cylinder is locked into the frame at its front, rear and bottom, making the revolver a true triple-lock design. The revolver has a decidedly robust appearance with its fully shrouded, 3-inch barrel, unfluted cylinder and 36-ounce heft.
Ruger’s lockwork is anything but fragile. Thumbing the hammer back to the fully cocked position, I can easily feel the cylinder latch lock into the cylinder cut for full lockup well before the hammer reaches full cock. Even running the gun in double action (DA), you can feel the cylinder lock up well before the hammer falls.
The DA trigger pull on my .44 Special test gun runs about 12 pounds, and it breaks at just under 3 pounds in single action (SA). The smooth-faced trigger is rounded and fits nicely into the crease of the trigger finger’s distal joint, which makes rapid-fire DA shooting much easier.
Ruger outfits the .44 Special with the perfect grip for all-around use. Hogue rubber grips have just the right amount of give or sponginess to them, with textured sides that are slightly tacky. The frontstrap is left smooth and positions the third finger so that it can never take a pounding from the triggerguard. The grip is also thin with a slight palm swell, and the backstrap has a slight arch but otherwise gives the grip a decidedly semi-auto feel.
The rubber grip makes the GP100 very comfortable and controllable to shoot, even when using hot loads. During my range session, I was sweating gallons and frequently had to take my shooting glasses off as they were covered with sweat. I even had to take my ear muffs off and let the sweat drain out. But the Ruger’s grip was tacky and allowed me to continue without the need to take a towel and dry off it off. The grip frame also allows for a quick change to other custom grip configurations, of which are available from Ruger.
The GP100’s balance is fantastic. It’s not muzzle or grip heavy, with the weight of the gun centered just above and forward of the trigger finger. This gives the gun very natural pointing characteristics. I also like that the trigger is narrow, beveled on its sides and without serrations. Its face is well polished. This positions the trigger finger at the crease of the first joint, which, as mentioned, gives the shooter tremendous mechanical advantage for the double action trigger.
At the range, I measured the gun’s accuracy by firing five-shot groups with a variety of loads at 15 yards from a seated benchrest utilizing a Millett BenchMaster for support. I shot in SA mode here. With a 75-grain difference between the lightest and heaviest bullets, it was a great benefit to have an adjustable rear sight. The click-adjustable sight required adjustment between every load—not just for elevation but also for windage. The windage screw is very small and required serious focus and the smallest blade in my screwdriver set to make an adjustment. Fortunately, the elevation screw is larger.
I did all of my test groups on June 22, 2017, and the temperature here in Tucson was about 115 degrees. The Ruger GP100 was the last gun I tested on my range outing, and I was a sweaty mess by the time I got to it. But the conditions bring me to the green fiber-optic front sight on the GP100, which I absolutely love. It is housed in a squared black housing that gives the sight picture the sharp shoulders needed for precise alignment. Even on a bright sunny desert afternoon, the insert glowed a brilliant green to attract my eye and aid in lining up the sights. This worked with the SA trigger pull for consistent and predictable hits downrange.
Black Hills’ 210-grain flat-point lead (FPL) ammo is a very mild load, generating just 770 fps and only 276 foot-pounds of energy (fpe). To me, this felt just as comfortable as firing .38 Special wadcutter ammunition, and I was able to group five shots into a group that measured just 0.7 inches. But the best group of the day was fired with DoubleTap’s 240-grain JHP load. Five shots produced a group that measured just 0.56 inches, and the load generates over 400 fpe. Hornady’s 165-grain Critical Defense FTX is another light-recoiling load that would be a good choice for defense work. Even my largest group was still under 1.25 inches at 15 yards. I find this amazing for a gun with just a 3-inch barrel. The accuracy produced by the .44 Special GP100 far exceeds that necessary for a defensive handgun.
Galco Gunleather sent me one of its Silhouette High Ride holsters for the GP100. It has an open-muzzle design to accommodate different barrel lengths and is contoured to fit the natural curve of the hip. The Silhouette rides high on the belt. This makes it easily concealable under a short jacket. Its placement doesn’t make you feel like you have a weight hanging from your belt. The holster fits belts up to 1.75 inches wide and has a reinforced thumb break for security. It positions the gun in a butt-forward cant and holds it close against your body for maximum concealability. You also don’t have to worry about the muzzle hitting your seat when you sit down. Constructed from premium saddle leather and double-stitched, the Silhouette holster is as handsome as it is functional.
You’ve probably gathered by now that I am a big fan of the Ruger GP100, and you’re right. But that doesn’t mean I couldn’t find a couple things to criticize. I’ve already mentioned the small windage screw, which is only a factor if you don’t have the right screwdriver. Maybe a factory-supplied, double-ended screwdriver for both windage and elevation blades would make sense.
Another thing I would prefer would be a wider hammer for thumb-cocking the gun for SA shooting. While this is a presumably a self-defense, gun the addition of a couple hundredths of an inch of material to each side of the hammer would make a big difference for the times you need to deliberately thumb-cock the gun for extra precision.
While the mating of metal parts to each other was excellent, the external polish of the barrel and frame also left a little to be desired. My test sample could have used a little more time behind the buffing wheel. I know, this is purely cosmetic, but who doesn’t want a flawless finish on their carry gun?
However, all of that said, the Ruger GP100 in .44 Special is everything that a defensive handgun should be. It’s built on a .357 chassis and chambered for an old fight-stopping cartridge. It’s tough, reliable and possesses tremendous accuracy. Its robust and proven action is as dependable and trustworthy as there is. I can’t help but think that Skeeter would have approved of this gun.
Ruger GP100 Specs
|Caliber: .44 Special|
|Barrel: 3 inches|
|OA Length: 8.5 inches|
|Weight: 36 ounces (empty)|
|Grip: Hogue rubber|
|Sights: Fiber-optic front, adjustable rear|
|Finish: Satin stainless|
Ruger GP100 Performance
|Black Hills 210 FPL||770||0.70|
|DoubleTap 180 JHP||1,071||1.20|
|DoubleTap 200 JHP||936||0.87|
|DoubleTap 240 JHP||879||0.56|
|Hornady 165 Critical Defense FTX||1,003||0.88|
*Bullet weight measured in grains, velocity measured in fps by chronograph and accuracy measured in inches for best five-shot group from 15 yards.
For more information, visit Ruger.com.