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When we’re young, we always want to be older. Whether it’s to be able to drive, get respect from adults or even to party legally, each of us has our own reasons. Mine was to satisfy my enthusiasm for firearms. Having been an enthusiast from my junior high days on, I couldn’t wait for the day I could legally purchase a handgun. Finally, when the day came, I purchased two.

One of those purchases was a 4-inch Ruger GP100 in .357 Magnum. The primary driver to make the GP100 my first revolver was its reputation for being extremely accurate and built hell-for-stout.

Some things never change. I’ve bought a few more over the years, with my current favorite being a Wiley Clapp version with the matte stainless finish, a 3-inch barrel and a fiber-optic front sight. But it’s quite possible my favorite could change: I recently discovered that Ruger was bringing out a GP100 in .44 Special.

In fact, Ruger recently decided to introduce two new revolvers that were, in a way, a flip-flop of thinking in regard to frame size and capacity. This included the new GP100 in .44 Special with a capacity of five rounds and the introduction of its latest Redhawk (large frame) in .357 Magnum, bearing eight rounds of the potent, man-stopping load.

The decision to review the GP100 in .44 Special was fairly easy for me, because I’m more interested in concealed carry in most cases, and I already had a host of holsters available to work with it during the review. It wasn’t long before the new GP100 arrived at my local FFL, and once I was notified, I was out the door in a flash—and feeling like a kid all over again.

THE PARTICULARS

The new .44 Special revolver from Ruger is a good-looking specimen right out of the box. It is of stainless steel construction and has a satin finish. To add strength, the cylinder is unfluted and adds a clean aesthetic to the overall design. The front sight incorporates a fiber-optic insert, which I’ve grown to prefer because of my advancing years and the insert’s ability to draw the eye to the front sight immediately. The rear sight has a white outline and is adjustable for both elevation and windage.

While I loved that first GP100 I bought so many years ago, there have been some design changes since then that are definitely for the better.

The GP100 is rounded off with a cushioned Hogue rubber grip that feels distinctly intended for this particular revolver. Unlike Ruger’s rubber grips with wood inserts that feel a bit thicker and more squat, these new grips feel thinner and provide plenty of surface area to get a great purchase on the firearm to deal with recoil effectively.

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Of all the grips I’ve tried on various GP100s, this set definitely feels the most comfortable, especially during shooting. The big attraction, of course, is that large hole at the end of the barrel that separates it from other GP100 models.

One trade-off in having a .44 Special revolver based on a medium-sized platform is the reduction in capacity to five rounds—but they are five large rounds.

Because of the GP100’s size, the triple-locking cylinder does hold only five rounds instead of six, but the trade-off is the sweetness of those .430-caliber loads belching out of the barrel while firing.

The GP100 will never be confused with a polymer-framed handgun: It tips the scales at 36 ounces as a result of its robust, all-steel construction. But with the proper belt and holster selection, this model, with its 3-inch barrel, can be concealed and carried by most individuals. Until polymer and exotic metals came along, steel revolvers were de rigueur for daily carry and served their owners quite well.

A LITTLE HANDLING

In fact, the first thing I did when I received the new GP100 was break out a couple of holsters to get a feel for carrying a GP100 on a daily basis again. With the colder weather, it wasn’t necessary to do an IWB carry, because heavier clothing was worn while I had the revolver for review. I carried the GP100 in both a Wright Leather Works Predator and a Galco Miami Classic shoulder holster.

While the big-bore GP100 disappeared easily under winter clothing with both holsters, I leaned toward the Predator OWB holster for most activities. It snugs up to the body well and does a nice job distributing the weight, making for extremely comfortable carry all day long. And even though revolvers enjoy a smaller capacity of rounds than semiautomatic pistols, there is a certain comfort in knowing you have something absolutely reliable to defend yourself with, should the time come.

I haven’t heard much to-do about it, but Ruger has been working on the trigger groups in its revolvers. I previously read a little write-up about the changes in the Redhawk triggers, however. But it seems as if Ruger is improving on the GP100 triggers, as well.

The nice thing about a revolver in this size is that finding holsters for it, even old ones, is a simple affair. This Miami Classic was re-purposed from carrying an L-Frame revolver and fits the GP100 perfectly.

The double-action trigger pull of the .44 Special GP100 is very smooth and clean, coming in at an average of 10.25 pounds, while the single-action pull breaks at just 3.5 pounds. This is much improved—even over my most recently purchased GP100, which has a double-action pull of 11.75 pounds and a single-action pull of 4 pounds. Ruger is defi nitely moving in the right direction.

AT THE RANGE

Shooting the .44 Special rounds through the GP100 made for fun afternoons. Despite the GP100’s medium size, several of the rounds I tried were easily managed—feeling like just a bit more recoil than shooting a .38 Special out of the same frame. No doubt, this is due in large part to the excellent recoil absorption of the Hogue grips. Even with the hotter loads, the recoil was still very controllable, and the grips provided a pleasant shooting experience.

For accuracy testing, I fired shots from a standing rest at 15 yards. Considering that the .44 Special Ruger had a 3-inch barrel and is meant as a concealed-carry weapon, this distance seemed appropriate for testing.  Most lethal encounters for civilians occur within 7 yards, and testing at more than twice that distance easily replicates 99 percent of the defensive shooting most of us would find ourselves doing with a handgun.

I tried several different loads in the GP100, including Hornady’s 180-grain XTP and its 165-grain +P FTX; Speer’s 200-grain Gold Dot Hollowpoints; and Buffalo Bore’s 180-grain J.H.P. loads. Because .44 Specials were known to be inherently accurate, it came as no real surprise that all the loads performed very well with regard to accuracy. All groups came in at less than 2.5 inches, with the best average group size turned in by Hornady’s 165-grain +P FTX rounds. The best single group size was achieved with Speer’s Gold Dot load. But, for the most part, the difference between the loads was a scant few hundredths of an inch—not enough to really make a huge
difference in shot placement.

Where I did notice a substantial difference among the loads was with velocities. A couple of the rounds ran considerably slower than a typical .45 ACP load. To me, this isn’t ideal for defensive shooting, despite the larger bore size. Both Hornady and Buffalo Bore overcame that hurdle for me, with Hornady’s 165-grain Critical Defense round running at an average of 961 fps and the Buffalo Bore 180-grain J.H.P.’s blistering speed (relatively speaking) of 1,043 fps.

The .44 Special Ruger GP100 has a clean aesthetic with the non-fluted cylinder and has a no-nonsense look about it.

Despite the uptick in the velocities of these two loads, the GP100 was still easily managed with a slight increase in felt recoil … but nothing to wring your hands about. Because of the hefty weight of the GP100 and the excellent Hogue grips, I could still have shot the hotter loads all day long. Controllability and felt recoil just weren’t issues.

RUGER GP100 .44 SPECIAL

Specifications:

MODEL NUMBER: 1761
ACTION: Double-action revolver
CALIBER: .44 Special
FINISH: Satin stainless steel
GRIP: Hogue synthetic sonogrip, no finger grooves
FRONT SIGHT: Black metallic with green fiber-optic
REAR SIGHT: Fully adjustable white outline
BARREL LENGTH: 3.00 inches
OVERALL LENGTH: 8.50 inches
HEIGHT: 5.75 inches
WEIGHT: 36 ounces
CAPACITY: 5 rounds
TWIST: 1:20 inches; RH
MSRP: $829

Contact: STURM, RUGER & CO., INC.
(603) 865-2442

The .44 Special GP100 was right at home in the Predator holster from Wright Leather Works. The back side of the holster is contoured to wrap against the body, making concealed carry of even a gun this size a simple affair.

Even with the larger-caliber bullets, shot placement is still the key to success, especially when working with just five rounds in the cylinder. Practicing in the double-action mode is essential to simulating defensive shooting, but, as mentioned, the smooth trigger pull and the lighter break of the .44 Special GP100 certainly help in this regard. Quick and accurate double-action shots were the norm for the new Ruger revolver.

PERFORMANCE RESULTS

Ruger GP100 (.44 SPECIAL)

Velocity (fps)

Accuracy

Average

(inches)

Best

(inches)

Speer 200-grain Gold Dot

732

2.13

1.38

Buffalo Bore 180-grain J.H.P.

1,043

2.13

1.50

Hornady 180-grain XTP

824

2.38

1.75

Hornady 165-grain FTX Critical Defense

961

2.01

1.5

NOTE: Bullet weight was measured in grains; velocity was measured in feet per second (fps) 15 feet from the muzzle by a Competition Electronics ProChrono Digital Chronograph; and accuracy was measured in inches for three five-shot groups at 15 yards.

 

This 1.5-inch group was obtained with Buffalo Bore’s 180-grain J.H.P. load. Although this load came in second with regard to overall accuracy, the difference was fairly negligible. In many cases, the trade-off for this heavier load with such a high velocity would be worth making.

 

The Hornady 165-grain FTX load had the best accuracy results overall, with an average of 2.01 inches. The Critical Defense load from Hornady also delivered the second highest velocity of the test group and was still easily managed, even during one-handed shooting.

WHAT’S OLD IS NEW AGAIN

Despite the consistent popularity of the GP100 platform, it’s great to see Ruger still innovating and improving upon the design after all this time. While I loved that first GP100 I bought so many years ago, there have been some design changes since then that are definitely for the better: The fiber-optic front sight, improved double- and single-action trigger pulls, and even the modified Hogue grips all work together in synchronicity to aid the shooter in reaching the zenith of their revolver skills.

Throw in the new .44 Special caliber offering and the right loads to go with it, and a shooter has a weapon that is reliable, hard-hitting, controllable and very accurate. If you’ve got a hankering to go “old school” and step up to a larger-bore revolver still hosted on a medium frame for your daily carry, the new GP100 in .44 Special is an ideal choice. Ruger has done its part in providing a remarkable tool for just that very purpose.

Now, the rest is up to you.

From another angle, it’s obvious this isn’t your father’s GP100. The larger bore and cylinder holes reveal the new .44 Special caliber offering.

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the May 2017 print issue of Gun World Magazine.