(This is a reader-submitted review as part of our gun review contest. See details here.)
By Ross Marshman
Revolvers can be big. Revolvers can be heavy. Revolvers can be hard to reload quickly. But revolvers can absolutely still be used to prevail in a gun fight. Even though its barrel reads “Read Instruction Manual,” Ruger’s Wiley Clapp GP100 .357 magnum revolver might just be the last best hope for a modern manufactured fighting man’s revolver.
This particular wheelgun is not a backup gun. The Wiley Clapp GP100 doesn’t belong on your ankle or inside your pocket. It belongs on your belt. Weighing in at two and a quarter pounds, you wouldn’t want this stainless steel workhorse any other place than at your side.
I’ve been carrying this revolver on a daily basis for the past several months in a superbly crafted Milt Sparks Summer Special holster and it has never felt as if I was carrying around any more weight than was necessary. After owning and regularly shooting this gun for the past three years, it was obvious that Ruger sought out good advice from someone who thought long and hard about what features an ideal production revolver should have.
While the argument could be made that print media is on its way out, the same can’t be said for decades of relevant experience. Wiley Clapp has been a prolific author in print media for a long time. His work has covered almost every aspect of the history, manufacture, and use of firearms. Before that, he fought in Vietnam and would later enter the world of law enforcement and even competitive shooting.
During his career in law enforcement, he was issued a revolver which he has referred to as a “professional tool.” Given this background, it’s no wonder, then, that companies such as Sturm Ruger and even the venerable Colt Manufacturing have tapped him as a resource for sensible design choices in the modern era.
Everything positive that could be said of any Ruger GP100 can be said of this particular model, too. Simply put, the Wiley Clapp GP100 is an overbuilt, everyman’s revolver. The GP100 line replaced Ruger’s Six Series of double action revolvers that had been in production since 1972.
Introduced in 1985, the GP100 was meant to shoot more .357 magnum loads for a longer period of time than any of Ruger’s other double action revolvers had ever been able to mechanically tolerate. To make that goal a reality, Ruger cast aside its more K-frame sized Six Series and embraced the larger L-frame for the GP100 series to better withstand the heavy toll an unending stream of magnum loads would exact on the gun.
The GP100’s cylinder is locked into the gun’s frame at the front, rear, and bottom. Frankly, the last “lock” is more of a countermeasure against cylinder rotation under recoil than it is anything else. Still, it’s a good design feature that should be included on a serious tool such as this. The same can be said of the GP100’s transfer bar system that allows the shooter to carry a round in every chamber without fearing a hammer strike causing an unintentional discharge.
Even though the GP100’s design is thirty years old, it continues to set itself apart from other manufacturers’ models. For instance, the cylinder latch only needs to be depressed down into the frame – not forward as with a Smith & Wesson, not backwards like Colt, just down.
More notably, the grip portion of the GP100’s frame allows a wider variety of grips to be used. The shooter isn’t shoehorned into having only a square butt grip or rounded butt grip. Accordingly, I was able to swap out the functional, albeit large, included Hogue Monogrip with its beautiful wooden Altamont inlays, for more compact rubber grips with modest rosewood inserts.
Unlike other revolvers, the takedown of the GP100 is relatively simple. Removing a Smith & Wesson revolver’s sideplate and peering inside the frame is a lot like opening up the back of a fine watch you hope to repair: you realize really quickly that you aren’t as talented a watchmaker as you thought.
Unlike the Smith & Wesson, the GP100 has a solid frame, meaning the internals can be easily separated from the frame without worrying about removing a side plate. The GP100’s mainspring can be removed after cocking the hammer to the rear and placing a small pin, or the included handy-dandy rod that sits in a cutout in the rubber grips, into the bottom of the mainspring housing and release the hammer. The mainspring can then be removed from the frame.
Afterwards, the hammer retention pin can be removed and then the hammer. Following that, the trigger guard assembly can be separated from the rest of the frame after the trigger assembly plunger is depressed. This is the hardest part. Over time, it’s gotten easier, but expect some dark thoughts to cloud your mind during your first couple of attempts. Finally, after depressing the cylinder latch, the cylinder can be removed from the frame by pulling forward on the cylinder frame assembly.
With the Wiley Clapp GP100, Ruger took its utilitarian revolver and spruced up the thirty year old design with some smart choices. Unlike other models, the Wiley Clapp model has a visually pleasing matte stainless steel finish which won’t blind you as much as a polished nickel finish would do in a bright sunny day. Over time, it’s held up well to daily carry.
More importantly, most of the revolver, including the cylinder, has been subtly contoured and beveled to allow for an easier time carrying the revolver against your flesh. Too, the front of the cylinder is more rounded than square allowing it to be holstered more smoothly. When I compared the Wiley Clapp GP100 to the GP100 Match Champion, another of the “premium” GP100s, I noted that only the Wiley Clapp’s frame and cylinder had been contoured and beveled. Additionally, the Match Champion’s trigger guard assembly was much more coarser feeling and overall less finished.
Casting aside the traditional combination of a plain, black front sight post with an adjustable rear sight here, Ruger opted for a bright green fiber optic front sight and a set of Novak Lo-Mount rear sights. While this sight arrangement doesn’t allow for infinite adjustment and fine tuning beyond windage, this revolver isn’t meant to be a bullseye gun.
That being said, I’ve never been disappointed in the mechanical accuracy of this revolver. It’s more than capable of two-inch groups at 21 feet with even the cheapest ammunition available at my local bulk retailer. The double action trigger is smooth and fast with a predictable reset and the single action trigger pull is short and clean. Over the years, the trigger parts have polished themselves to a degree that is completely acceptable. So, no complaints there.
As far as ammunition goes, since this revolver is chambered in .357 magnum, the shooter is able to blast a host of different rounds. From lightweight .38 special loads for routine practice, to heavy duty, 180 gr. hard cast .357 magnum loads for maximum earth-shaking effect. No matter what, shooting this revolver is a fun experience. Of course, you can obviously tell if you’re launching a target load in .38 special or a +P+ .357 magnum instead, but I’ve never found the difference to be any more jarring than the different between bulk 115 gr. 9mm and duty +P+ 147 gr. 9mm.
Frankly, launching any .357 magnum load from this gun is a hoot. The blast and recoil is absolutely manageable with proper grip and stance. Too, I’ve had a lot of fun experimenting with different loads across the two calibers, both for practice at the range and for carrying it with me throughout the day. As far as carry ammo goes, you still have a lot of options.
Many shooters seem to advocate carrying a .38 special +P 125 gr. jacketed hollow point to ensure less felt recoil and facilitate faster follow up shots. Others swear by the “stopping power” of a .357 magnum +P 158 gr. semi-jacketed hollow point bullet instead. Here is where this particular model’s barrel length really becomes important. If you carry this revolver, you aren’t carrying a snub-nosed 1.875” J-Frame. Neither are you carrying a scoped 8” barreled hunting revolver with a bipod.
With the Wiley Clapp GP100, you’re carrying a fast-handling, compromise barrel on a concealable wheelgun that stabilizes rounds better than the snub-nose but not as much as one meant for taking down game animals. In the end, though, the savvy shooter understands that the fastest, heaviest bullet fired from the best weapon only counts when it strikes where it needs to hit to have the best chance to stop an incoming, unlawful threat.
It goes without saying that before you carry any gun with you out the door, you probably need to know how to use it first. Over the past three years, I’ve grown more and more acquainted with the Wiley Clapp Ruger GP100. With its three-inch barrel and shortened grip, it’s a balanced, quick wheelgun that can be brought to bear in an instant.
But before I was comfortable carrying it, I had to put in a lot of work. A whole lot of work. Much more than I ever had to with a semi-automatic pistol. If you think being able to reload one large magazine into one large magazine-well is hard, try loading six small bullets into six different holes with speed. If you don’t practice reloading a revolver under stress, you’re deluding yourself. No one can pick up a revolver and transform into Jerry Miculek without practicing.
If you went back in time, you’d encounter people like Bill Jordan or Jim Cirillo. Men who were equally comfortable with violence as they were with carrying revolvers into gunfights. Both men were successful because they religiously trained with their pieces of fighting iron.
More recently, wheelguns have taken a backset to lighter weight, higher capacity, semi-automatic handguns. There’s no denying that a higher ammunition capacity gives the shooter more opportunities to incapacitate a threat. But that assumes the shooter is alive long enough to launch the rounds sitting at the bottom of the high capacity magazine. Violent encounters can be swift and deadly. To me, the first six rounds at the start of a gunfight are of paramount importance. Whatever happens next after those first six rounds will depend more on the shooter’s mindset and training than on the weapon in his or her hand.
While not exactly a negative, if this revolver had one aside from its intrinsically low capacity, it would be that the cylinder’s mouths are not chamfered and polished to better guide the six rounds into their six chambers. Other than that, the Wiley Clapp GP100 can fall prey to the same malfunctions and problems that could plague any revolver.
It’s folly to suggest that “revolvers don’t jam.” That’s not to say that all modern semi-automatic firearms have guaranteed, malfunction-free performance, but the argument that one type of weapon is somehow less prone to malfunctioning is belied by the inevitable truth that all things will eventually fail. Extractors can slip over the rim of a cartridge resulting in a stuck casing, an unfired bullet’s nose might be dislodged by recoil enough to stop a cylinder from rotating, likewise, a bullet’s primer might protrude just enough out of its pocket to completely lock the cylinder up – the list goes on. Beyond that, parts can break.
Even though I’ve run this gun hard for years, including some high round count training courses, I’ve yet to experience a catastrophic malfunction or breakage. In sum, before you can truly rely on this gun, the shooter has to be willing to accept the chance that a more serious malfunction may occur and train accordingly.
If you asked Wiley Clapp whether he carried a revolver like this one every day or not, he’d probably say no. But I’ll bet that if you asked him whether he carried a lighter weight, higher capacity semi-automatic handgun every day instead, he’d probably say no, too. The same could be said for most shooters, I think.
Variety is the spice of life. And shooting revolvers is cool. Feeling the cylinder rotate and watching the hammer start to drop is an experience to be cherished for generations to come. Revolvers aren’t perfect. But neither is anything else. Ultimately, it is the shooter’s responsibility to decide what the best tool is for them for the task at hand. And our experiences may vary. Ruger’s Wiley Clapp GP100 is a thoughtful tool that is designed to help you protect yourself or others from harm. I will continue to rely upon it for years to come.
Specifications: Ruger Wiley Clapp GP100 Revolver
Caliber: .357 magnum
Barrel: 3” barrel with 1:1875” RH twist
Weight: 2.25 lbs
Operation: Double action
Finish: Matte Stainless Steel
Capacity: 6 rounds
Price: Around $700
Ratings (out of five stars):
Accuracy * * * *
For a three-inch barreled, $700 dollar production revolver, it’s more than acceptable.
Ergonomics * * * * *
There’s a reason why so many revolvers are still being made. And part of that reason is the feel of a rounded grip in your hand. This gun draws smoothly and points naturally.
Reliability * * * * *
Over two thousand magnum loads have been digested by this beast. And countless more .38 specials. No problems.
Customize This * *
You can change the sights and the grips. That’s about it.
Overall * * * * ½
Nothing is perfect, least of all etching a barrel with an admonition to read the manual. That being said, while this resembles a fighting man’s tool from the past, this quick, accurate wheelgun can still be shot well and carried with great confidence today.