Ruger GP-100 Revolver , Make Your .44 Ammo Special Again

By Mike Searson
I’ll be buying this Ruger test gun. I don’t do that often, but in the case of the Ruger GP-100 Revolver in.44 Special,,, I made an exception.

Ruger GP-100 Revolver in 44 Special
Ruger GP-100 Revolver in 44 Special
Mike Searson
Mike Searson

USA –  -( We were surprised late last year when Sturm, Ruger & Co. announced that they were offering the GP-100 as a 5-shot in .44 Special. The Ruger GP100 Revolver was perhaps their flagship double action 357 Magnum since the 1980s and the design from which the Super Redhawk guns emerged.

We are longtime fans of the bigger Redhawks and Super Redhawks and other revolvers in 357 Magnum held our interests more so than the Ruger offering.

Sometimes I'm the backwards guy when it comes to firearms.

I have a SIG P229 in 9mm and a SIG P226 in 357 SIG. Sometimes these things work and sometimes they do not, just ask the guy who has an AR in 7.62X39 and a Norinco AK in 5.56.

In the case of the Ruger GP100 Revolver in 44 Special, I would say that Ruger got this one right.

First, the thing about 44 Special.

44 Special Ammo Ammunition
44 Special Ammo Ammunition

Despite shooting 44 Magnums from the earliest days of our shooting career, we came to the 44 Special rather late in the game. We always passed it over, seeing Magnum ammunition for usually just a few dollars more as opposed to the more significant price difference between 357 Magnum and 38 Special.

We had purchased a revolver in 44 special 4 or 5 years ago and when forced to use the ammunition, we were pleasantly surprised with its low recoil and good accuracy.

The round was an outgrowth of the old 44 Russian round from circa 1870. In 1907 the case was lengthened and the 44 Special became one of the most popular big bore revolver rounds out there until 1956 when the 44 Magnum made its debut.

A few years later the 44 Special started its decline and revolver manufacturers for the most part ignored it to focus on the demand for the Magnums.

Some diehard old school shooters kept it alive as did the sport of Cowboy Action shooting. Recently the round is making somewhat of a comeback.

Ruger GP-100 Revolver The Good

Ruger GP-100 Revolver in 44 Special, note coloring after firing.
Ruger GP-100 Revolver in 44 Special, note coloring after firing.

We got our revolver in the Friday before SHOT Show 2017 and were lucky enough to test it before heading down to Vegas.
The balance on the Ruger GP100 with its 3″ barrel is superb. Some may clamor for a 4″ barrel, but for the weight of a piece like that you might be better off with a Redhawk in 44 Magnum.

The front sight is a green Tru-Glo Fiber Optic type with a white outline adjustable rear.

Ruger revolvers are often compared to tanks and the GP100 is no exception. All stainless steel solid frame construction with Ruger’s patented 3-point lockup on the un-fluted cylinder makes this a strong revolver that will outlast several generations.

In double action the trigger breaks at 10 pounds, single action ranged from 4.5 to 5 pounds with our RCBS Trigger scale.

Our first outing with the pistol to the range was about average with some Winchester Silvertip 44 Specials. The group size was bigger than we anticipated at over 4” at 50 feet. That changed when we switched out to some 200 Grain cowboy loads, which we suspect may have been sized a bit larger than the JHP stuff. It reduced our 5-shot strings to 3.25”.

Shooting the Ruger GP-100 Revolver in 44 Special
Shooting the Ruger GP-100 Revolver in 44 Special

Although it is a new caliber for this revolver, the GP100 model has been out for over 30 years and holsters are well represented in the aftermarket. Speed loaders and speed strips are available for quick reloads.

Ruger GP-100 Revolver The Bad

Ruger GP-100 Revolver Loaded in 44 Special Left Side
Ruger GP-100 Revolver Loaded in 44 Special Left Side

My sole complaint about the Ruger is the large Hogue rubber grip. I will more than likely replace it with an old school GP100 grip with a smaller rubber outside and wood panels or maybe call up Hogue and see about an all wood grip.

This has nothing to do with shooting, but these grips might make for a lower profile carry mode and will make the revolver look more aesthetically pleasing. Some have cautioned about “felt recoil” and that may be a concern for some, but we think 44 Special is closer recoil-wise to a 45 ACP. If this revolver were chambered in 44 Magnum it might be a different story.

Thankfully, Ruger’s GP100 makes for easy grip changes without concerns of Square vs Round butt on the frame.

The only real gripe we have heard from others is “Why didn’t Ruger go all the way and make it in 44 Magnum?”

To be fair, Smith & Wesson made a few 5-shot 44 and 41 Magnum offerings on the “L Frame” which is about the same size as the GP100 frame.

However the difference is Ruger’s mindset when it comes to offering a revolver than S&W does. Smith & Wesson sold the 586 and 686 L frames in 357 Magnum with the warning to shoot 357 Magnum occasionally, advising shooters to rely on 38 Special in +P loadings as a more mainstay round.

Ruger on the other hand builds a similar sized revolver and expects 60 to 90,000 rounds of Magnums as par for the course. I speculate that at this point in time they more than likely could not guarantee those numbers. We say give them time and you might see a 5 shot 44 Magnum before the Hearing Protection act comes to pass.

Ruger GP-100 Revolver The Reality

Ruger GP-100 Revolver Loaded in 44 Special Right Side
Ruger GP-100 Revolver Loaded in 44 Special Right Side

Concealing: the Ruger GP100 44 Special is not a pocket rocket. Its size limits its concealability. However, with a proper belt, holster and wardrobe adjustment it could work well in this regard.

As a backwoods carry gun in most of the United States it would do well in a self-defense role vs black bear, mountain lion, feral dogs, wolves and coyotes as well as any two legged predators. With a heavy hard cast bullet loaded to the threshold, it could work on brown bears. Personally, we think that is pushing it and would opt for something bigger.

If you are a fan of 44 Special, this revolver is a winner. If it is something you have not tried, this would make for a great revolver for an underappreciated round that has enormous potential for a hand loader. You can go from soft shooting target loads to hard hitting sub-Magnum level loads.

As for me, I’ll be buying this test gun. I don’t do that often, but in the case of the GP100 in 44 Special I made an exception.

Ruger GP-100 Revolver Specs:

  • Grips: Hogue® Monogrip®
  • Front Sight: Fiber Optic
  • Barrel Length: 3″
  • Capacity: 5
  • Rear Sight: Adjustable
  • Twist: 1 in 20″ RH
  • Finish: Satin Stainless
  • Overall Length: 8.50″
  • Weight: 36 oz.
  • Grooves: 6
  • CA Approved: No
  • MA Approved & Certified: No
  • Suggested Retail: $829.00

About Mike Searson

Mike Searson's career as a shooter began as a Marine Rifleman at age 17. He has worked in the firearms industry his entire adult life as a Gunsmith, Ballistician, Consultant, Salesman, Author and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1989.

Mike has written over 2000 articles for a number of magazines, websites and newsletters including Blade, RECOIL, OFF-GRID, Tactical Officer, SWAT, Tactical World, Gun Digest, and the US Concealed Carry Association as well as AmmoLand Shooting Sports News.

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  • 21 thoughts on “Ruger GP-100 Revolver , Make Your .44 Ammo Special Again

    1. Nice gun but since Starline came out with the 41 special case why not make some guns in that. I have a Charter Arms 44 special & it is a nifty carry gun but again I wish that they offered it in 41 special. That would be a winner especially for the 41 fans.

    2. So Mr Searson has written 2000 articles has he? If this one is representative of his work I didn’t miss much by not having read any of his other work. This quality of writing in the “gunrags” has been the norm for several decades. Oh well, it is what it is.

    3. I have S&W’s 5-shot, L-frame revolver with 4″barrel. Almost identical review could be written for it. Although it is a .44 Magnum, the .44 Special shoots much more accurately. Same problem with grips; too big and I too am hoping Hogue will have the answer.

    4. Wild Bill, you are correct on all counts. But the two guns are not designed for the same function. The GP100 series was never meant as a concealed handgun. When it was designed, it was meant for police and troopers as a primary weapon that could stand up to shooting high pressure 357 mag loads without falling apart (as was common in the S&W’s at the time).

      The Bulldog is a nice gun, but it does not have the ability to deal with high pressure 44 special loads from Buffalo Bore and Double Tap like the GP100 can. Plus the GP100 has a longer barrel, adjustable sights, hundreds of different grip options.

      1. EXCEPT……The S&W L frames (586/686) were NOT specified to shoot limited numbers of .357 Magnums. The S&W K frames were. In the 80’s when the more progressive Police Departments began requiring their officers qualify with +P .38 and .357 Magnum ammunition, the K frame Smiths, the Ruger (yes Ruger) Speed 6/Security 6 and the Colt Python began to take a beating. S&W developed the thicker heavier framed 586/686 to shoot full time full house magnum rounds. This took the Police market by storm, Remember, this was before the “Wonder 9” craze came on board. Ruger and Colt saw where the money was going and developed the GP100 series and King Cobra to compete with the sturdier Smith. I was a Police Officer who started my career with a Smith & Wesson Model 65 K frame and qualified with +P .38s and carried .357 Magnum ammunition on duty. I personally purchased a S&W 586 as soon as they hit the market.

        1. Dayum, you beat me to it!
          When the Secret Service carried Model 66s in the late 70s, early 80s, they discovered that a steady diet of their issue .357 ammo was beating the guns up: They went out of time, and occasionally they would heat up enough to expand parts and freeze the action. This led to two things: Smith & Wesson developed the L-frame (which could handle a steady diet of .357), and Olin-Winchester developed the .38 Special +P+ (aka the Treasury load or the Q-load), a 110-grain .38 Special that developed about 90% of the pressure of a .357. It was hotter than the +P, but enough less than the .357 that it wouldn’t hurt the K-frames.
          L-frames are in fact designed to shoot full-house .357s as a steady diet, all day, every day.

          1. I too purchased the L frame when they first came out, but in SS. The first time I shot .357 ‘magnum ammo, the cylinder seized up n wouldn’t turn until the gun cooled down. I sold it,

          2. That was the claim, but it was not correct. the Models 586/686 and 581/681 were subject to the first major recall in firearms history as a result of that claim in 1987. The “M” recall (1987) for the no-dash and -1 guns was to fit a new hammer nose and firing pin bushing to deal with certain brands of 357 Magnum ammo causing (potentially fatal) binding when fired. Smith basically advised customers to shoot 357 once in a while and steered them toward 38 Special +P loads instead. That’s why I bought a Model 28, I like to shoot what the gun was intended for and not a compromise.

      2. The “problem” with 357 Magnum ammo and the “K” frame Smith and Wesson revolvers was that when the hot 125gr loads came out they were splitting the forcing cones on the barrels. In fact I did that myself with a “K” frame Taurus 357. The “L” frame and GP100 have much thicker edges on their forcing cones and are much stronger.

          1. Except for the fact that the Taurus wasn’t mine but a friends that I was loading for. I do however own two Taurus revolvers, a 94 22LR and 94 22 Mag. And don’t get me started on Taurus Customer Service because it sucked with the 22 LR 94 and yet they replaced my friend’s BBL in short time with no fuss so maybe it is just hit and miss.

        1. The problem the writer is talking about arose when some of the guns were fired with Federal .357 ammo. The primers being softer than other brands, cratered more when struck by the hammer nose, and backed up into the hammer nose bushing, keeping the cylinder from turning when the gun was cocked either by double action or single action.

          The modification included a new slightly shorter & smaller in diameter hammer nose, and a new hammer nose bushing with a smaller diameter hole for the hammer nose to pass through. After the mod was done and the gun was test fired, an M was stamped on the frame where it could be seen when the cylinder/yoke assembly. was opened.

          You obviously know very little about this subject matter, Boy D.

    5. This Ruger GP 100 looks a lot bigger, less concealable, and heavier than my Charter Arms Bulldog .44 Special. I have had that Bulldog for forty years, and they just do not wear out.

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