Those of you old enough to have read Skeeter Skelton‘s columns know the old lawman loved the old .44. He loaded the .44 Special pretty stout, too, pushing a 240-grain Lead Semi Wad Cutter bullet at 950 fps. Compare that to the “soul-stealing” .45 ACP and you’ll soon see the .44 Special’s superiority. But the cartridge doesn’t have to be juiced-up. Mild loads — which describes most commercial .44 ammo — provide plenty of stopping power for defensive uses.
More than that, the .44 Spl. bullet weight is cheap to reload, easy to shoot and plenty of bullet for the task. What I and other enthusiasts craved: a modern big-bore revolver dedicated to the cartridge and only that cartridge. A handgun without the extra frame size and barrel length required to shoot .44 Magnums. A smaller, more versatile gun. Ruger delivered.
The Ruger GP100 .44 Special is a sizable, powerful-looking gun. It’s well executed, with no rough edges or gross tool marks. Although the stainless-steel revolver features the Ruger family brushed satin finish, it’s a working gun look, without much fine polish. What certainly catches your eye: that big, unfluted cylinder.
It’s a surprising choice for what is essentially an L-frame sized revolver. But what really sets this new revolver apart from all of the other current GP100s is the fact that the smooth-sided cylinder only holds five rounds. The GP100 was originally introduced in 1986 and chambered in .357 Magnum with a six-round capacity. Going to six in this iteration wouldn’t have increased the size of the cylinder by much. But enough to require a larger frame or less metal in critical areas.
I’ve never heard anyone rave about the triggers on a Ruger GP100; there’s nothing to crow about here either. The double-action trigger pull measures 11.5 pounds. There’s a bit of grit, with a little stacking at the back of the pull. The single-action trigger breaks closer to 4 pounds, with the same grit preset.
The .44 Special GP100 is perfectly capable of fast, accurate shots. Standing from the draw. I scored five rounds inside an 8-inch circle at 15 yards in 3.19 seconds. (Bob Mundon I ain’t.)
There are a few things that make this double-action revolver a fairly quick, accurate revolver. Certainly a part of that is down to the gun’s handle.
I’m not a fan of revolvers with rubber grips, especially heavy magnums. I find wheelguns with G10 or checkered hardwood grips give me more control and less recoil than a rubber-handled equivalent. The GP100’s Hogue grip doesn’t make me a believer but it’s a great shape, quite wide, devoid of finger grooves. It affords easy purchase with either one hand or two. I could get a solid crossed thumbs grip on the gun, helping to manage the .44’s recoil.
The other big speed-assisting factor: the GP100’s sights.
This .44 Special revolver’s adjustable rear sight is notch style, with an added white outline along the inside edge. The fiber-optic front sight is a bright green rod that stands out prominently over the GP100’s flat, serrated top. It proved an excellent combination for both speed and precision shooting.
Not so great: the pin keeping the rear sight in place kept drifting out after 30 or 40 shots. I could always see it before it completely came out, so just a press with my finger put it back in. Still, it was annoying.
The GP100 in .44 Spl. has all of the reliability that Ruger revolver fans have come to expect. The gun loaded, fired and ejected everything I fed it. That included 200- and 240-grain LSWC, LSWCHP and jacketed hollowpoints from several manufacturers, as well as my own home-cast boolits. I put 500 rounds through the gun, shooting both steel and brass cases, without cleaning. Not only did the gun cycle and fire without a hitch, it popped out the empty cases without any sticking or hanging.
The GP100 .44 Spl.’s accuracy ranged from average to very good. Most of the rounds hovered around the 3-inch mark for a five-round group at 25 yards off a bag. A feat performed by inexpensive Blaser 200-grain HPs. The bell of the ball: Federal 200gr Semi Wadcutter Hollowpoints. The round delivered a consistent 2-inch grouping at the same distance. It was easy shooting to boot; an ideal loading for home defense use.
I didn’t develop a pet load for this gun. My standard .44 Spl. plinking round scored 3 inches, as did a slightly beyond maximum pressure loading of a 240-grain LSWC round on top of 7.6 grains of Unique. And with that loading, I started stepping beyond what I really wanted this revolver to do.
Like many Ruger revolvers, this GP100 in .44 Spl. is overbuilt. If you limited yourself to sub-900 fps 200-grain loads, this gun would likely shoot forever, with minimal recoil and very little, if any, maintenance needed. There’s a good reason why reloaders running Ruger revolvers and Thompson Center single-shot pistols are rewarded with a separate section in most reloading manuals. Increased pressure loads!
That 240-grain LSWC bullet I cast at home on top of 7.6 grains of Unique is pushing right at 1,000fps. I put 20 of those through the gun with no ill effects. I would’ve gone faster, but leading would have become an issue. Instead, I put in a cylinder of Hornady’s 240-grain HTP rounds pushed by 20.5 grains of H110. This was a stout, sharply recoiling load. Compared to the easy shooting 200-grain factory Federal Load, the Hornady round made the GP100 feel like a different beast entirely.
But man, what I could feel behind the revolver was nothing compared to what was going on in front of it. That round was going 1,100fps, generating 700 ft. lbs. of energy.
To be clear, to be super abundantly clear, just because some redneck loaded a gun well beyond the SAAMI safe specification, it doesn’t mean you should. You should not. The numbers in the reloading manual are there to keep you safe. Follow them. The reason that I just couldn’t help myself (other than a lack of respect for human physiology and simple Newtonian physics): a Smith & Wesson Model 29 chambered in .44 Magnum sat next to the GP100 on my bench.
Breaking out my old Brown and Sharpe calipers, I discovered that the S&W cylinder on the Magnum was 1.69 inches wide, while the Ruger GP100’s was 1.59. More importantly, the thinnest part of the cylinder on the interior walls was identical in width. The top strap of the Ruger in .44SPL was actually slightly thicker than the Model 29.
In short, there’ s a lot of steel on the Ruger GP100 for just the .44 Spl. cartridge, just about as much as there is on my Model 29. Of course, I really did this just as an experiment. Unless and until there is an approved loading beyond the current SAAMI specs for this revolver, there’s no need to push it. If you want a .44 Magnum, buy one.
Ruger put together a great gun. The GP100 is no exception. It’s built like a tank, and remains one of the easiest revolvers to disassemble and maintain (although most of users never need to). The five-shot GP100 in .44 Special would make a great all-around revolver for a whole lot of people. It’s comfortable to shoot, not too big and provides plenty of punch with a variety of loads. For those who love handloads it’s absolutely ideal.
Model Number: 1761 Caliber: 44 Special
Grips: Hogue Monogrip
Front Sight: Green Fiber Optic
Barrel Length: 3 inches (half lug)
Material: Stainless Steel
Rear Sight: Adjustable
Twist: 1:20″ RH
Finish: Satin Stainless
Overall Length: 8.5″
Weight: 36 oz.
MSRP: $829 (found online for $618)
RATINGS (out of five stars)
Appearance * * *
The grips are boring, but they work well. The finish is mediocre, and the pin coming out of the rear sight during firing was annoying. Props for the serrated top slide and unfluted cylinder.
Reliability * * * * *
It fired any and all rounds I put through it, including rounds that should have never been put through it.
Accuracy * * * *
The GP100 delivers OK accuracy with most rounds. Find the right load and you’ll be rewarded with better.
Overall * * * *
I’ve been a Ruger fan for a long time. The GP100 in .44 Special reminds me why.