(This is a reader gun review contest entry, click here for more details – enter by December 26th!)
Ruger’s SR series of striker-fired pistols was preceded by the P-series of double action/single action pistols. The last of the P-series pistols was the P95, which Ruger quietly retired in October of 2013. Few lamented the passing of this under appreciated pistol. This review is meant to serve as a belated eulogy for the P95, a durable, reliable, and affordable pistol that may not be state of the art in any way, but for most people — beginners especially — is a reasonable choice . . .
Earlier P-series pistols, which date back the mid-eighties, were steel- or aluminum-framed, DA/SA, and were offered in the usual range of calibers; 9mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP. The P95, which was introduced in 1996, lost about a half inch of barrel and was the first in the series to feature a polymer frame mated to a blued or stainless slide.
Most have a slide-mounted decocker/safety, though some were offered with a decocker only. It’s a double-stack 9mm and shipped with two 15 or 10 round magazines depending upon the year and the political geography of the market for which they were bound. The P95 has ambidextrous controls. The magazine releases are identical, but the right side decocker is only a sliver of sheet metal that looks like a bit of an afterthought.
Starting in 2005 the P95 got a rail. Personally I don’t have much use for rails on pistols. I prefer to hold flashlights away from my body and I like being able to buy off-the-rack holsters, so I can’t really think of anything to do with a rail. No matter how you feel about rails, though, on the P95 it serves an important function…it makes the gun less ugly.
Without the rail the P-series pistols have an odd tapered dustcover that gives them a B-movie ray gun look. With the rail, the front of the pistol is a bit more squared off and, if you squint your eyes just right, it might remind you fleetingly of a SIG. If the P-series never took off, it’s in no small part because of their looks. The poor P-series pistols just lacked style. The P345, a single stack .45, was reasonably good looking, but Ruger killed it when the SR-45 was launched, so its slightly more exciting appearance seems not to have lit up its sales numbers.
If the SIG analogy was working for you at the front of the gun, it ends when you cast your eyes on the other end of the slide. Where the classic SIGs carry a frame-mounted decocker, the P-95 has a Walther-style slide-mounted decocker. The decocker/safety is the P95’s Achilles’ heel. Unless you have giant hands, slide-mounted decockers are hard to reach. Decocking is a stretch, but doable and, fortunately, you never need to decock a pistol under stress. The safety is another matter.
With the Walther-style decocker, you push the lever down, which safely drops the hammer and lets you carry the gun with a round in the chamber, ready for that first double action shot. That is unless you forget to take the safety off, in which case you are left fanning empty space as the trigger moves with no resistance at all until it reaches the trigger guard, a feeling not unlike putting your foot on your car’s brake and having it go straight to the floor. Not good.
You see, depressing the decocker also puts the gun on safe. You can always flip the safety up and carry the gun decocked with the safety off. In this condition you are protected from an accidental discharge (and possible radical decocking if you are so equipped and favor appendix carry) by the long, roughly 8-10 pound double-action trigger. Unless of course something happens and the safety ends up engaged. So the smart money is on training yourself to use the safety every time, all the time.
The problem is that disengaging the safety is awkward. It requires that you sweep your thumb way up on the slide and push the decocker up. I have reasonably large hands, but doing this requires a slight shift of my grip. It’s not as natural a movement as pushing down on a 1911 safety. I can only imagine how hard it must be for left-handers using the diminutive docker on the right side of the slide.
Ruger did make some P95s with a decocker only and no safety. I have never had the chance to try one, but I am keeping my eyes open for one. On a more positive note, the P95 does not have the magazine disconnect safety or loaded chamber indicator that newer Rugers have, though it does have what appears to be an abridged owner’s manual roll marked onto the slide.
So it’s not going to win any beauty contests and most of the P95s you are likely to find on the used market have the slide-mounted decocker/safety. So what’s good about the P95? It’s cheap, it’s durable, it’s not picky about ammo, and the trigger’s not bad. I bought mine new for $340 and you can still pick them up for about $250.
There are still some new ones out there, but I would not hesitate to buy a used one. The things seem to be indestructible. Mine has thousands of rounds through it and runs without a hiccup. I had a few stoppages when it was brand new, but as long as I keep a little lube on the rails, it is boringly reliable. It eats whatever you feed it, from sooty Russian steel-case to +p defensive loads.
If you are the sort of person who cleans guns thoroughly, the P95 takes down easily and without tools. You just line up the marks on the slide and frame, pop out the slide release, and then pull the slide off. That said, I can’t remember the last time I did more than put a spritz of CLP in the chamber and run a grubby bore snake though it and I don’t do that very often either.
The trigger is a typical DA/SA affair. It has a long, reasonably smooth DA pull at about 8 to 10 pounds with a little stacking toward the end. The reset is about a ¼ inch out with a fair amount of take up. I would guess that in SA the trigger breaks at 5 pounds. You won’t be reminded of glass rods breaking or anything like that, but it works. Same for the sights: three white dots and not much else to report.
It’s not pretty, it’s cheap, it shoots every time you pull the trigger, it loves cheap steel-case ammo, you can clean it – or not – it has a safety that’s difficult to reach, and it’s reasonably, though not spectacularly, accurate. In other words, it’s an AK you can hold in one hand. It does not have an anchor on the slide or a history of being used by guys who jump out of planes. A few were ordered by the Army for tankers, but I have to think that they were all tossed behind the back seat (if tanks have back seats) with the idea that they’d be there in a pinch, sort of a military version of the truck gun.
I have a few nicer pistols, but if I were heading out the door and not sure I was coming back, I’d probably grab the P95. If you are looking for a first “real” pistol, you can get a P95 and almost 1200 rounds of ammo for the price of a Gen 4 GLOCK 19. That’s enough practice ammo to learn to manage the DA/SA trigger and that annoying safety. Unless you wear hoop skirts you are not likely to conceal a P95, but for a first gun, a truck gun, a range gun, or a nightstand gun, it’s a legitimate choice.
Model: Ruger P-95
Capacity: 15 rounds
Materials: Polymer frame, steel slide
Weight: 27 ounces
Barrel length: 3.9 inches
Sights: Three dot, some versions adjustable for windage
Ratings (out of five stars):
Style * *
Accuracy * * *
Not your first choice for target shooting, but more than adequate accuracy.
Ergonomics * * *
Some people find the grip to be a little too large, but anyone with medium to large hands will be fine. No one is going to love the safety.
Carry * *
You’d really have to be large and wear clothes that were very loose to get away with it. This gun was not meant to be concealed.
Reliability * * * * *
This is where the P95 really shines.
Do extra magazines count? You can order night sights for the P-95, but most people who (like me) are cheap and high drag enough to buy a P-95 are not going turn around and spend half of what they paid for the gun on Trijicons.
Overall * * * *
It’s cheap, it happily digests any ammo you can find, it’s effective, and no one will ever call you a mall ninja. What more could you want?