Gun Tests: Ruger’s GP100 .44 Special, Redhawk 8-shot .357 Magnum
By Mark Hampton, American Handgunner
Like any self-respecting handgunner, I was excited when the news broke Ruger would be introducing two new revolvers. After finding one of these wheelguns would be a GP100 in .44 Special, and the other a Redhawk 8-shot .357 Magnum, I immediately ordered both. I felt like a kid at Christmas. I started assembling ammo and anxiously awaiting their arrival.
By the way, who said revolvers are dead?
The GP100 has enjoyed a strong following for 30 years. This well-built, DA revolver initially chambered in .357 Mag. has satisfied the needs of shooters and hunters alike. The GP’s strong, vault-like action has stood up to a steady pounding of .357 Mag. rounds from the LE side of things, to sport shooters the world over. It’s fully capable of digesting full-house magnum loads all day long without issues. The GP has also been chambered in .38 Special, .327 Federal and .22 Long Rifle.
Now, many handgunners will rejoice at the .44 Special offering. The big .44 Special has been around since 1908 and has withstood the test of time. When I first opened the box, the new GP screamed defensive pistol. The stainless steel revolver wore a fully shrouded 3″ barrel about ideal for packing. This gun tipped the scales at 36 ounces empty. The Hogue Monogrip with bubble-like texture was most comfortable, easily allowing for all three fingers to get planted. And, there’s plenty of aftermarket or custom grips available.
This newest addition to the GP line-up features a non-fluted cylinder, holding five rounds of .44 Special. The rear sight incorporates a black square notch with white outline and is fully adjustable. Dovetailed in the full-lug barrel is a black square post with green fiber-optic dot. These sights are easy and painless to align — great for aging eyes like mine. Lyman’s electronic digital trigger pull gauge showed a single-action pull just shy of five pounds. The trigger itself is smooth and rounded. The flat portion on top of the 3″ barrel has been grooved. The total result is this gun really points and balances well.
The GP100 frame is strong and will handle .44 Special ammunition with ease. This is another “lifetime” revolver you’ll never wear out. The cylinder wall shows plenty of thickness with enough length to make cast bullet aficionados smile. After handling this revolver the little hamster on the wheel was peddling away in my mind. While some might hope for a .44 Mag., it would be easy to add 10mm or .41 Mag. in this GP package. And longer barrels are more than likely in the works. A 5″ GP in .44 Special just might be the cat’s meow.
The new GP100 in .44 Special holds five rounds of any sort of .44 load you can imagine. In typical GP fashion, it’s pretty much indestructible. The Hogue grips were perfect for the package.
From mild cowboy loads to stout defensive stuff, the GP100 in .44 Special handled it all seamlessly. Revolvers rock when it comes to digesting just about anything properly chambered for them.
The 8-shot .357 Magnum will also be a hit with many handgunners too. If you’re familiar with the Talo exclusive Ruger Redhawk Kodiak Backpacker in .44 Mag., you’ll see the resemblance. The new Redhawk wears a satin stainless finish and the round butt hardwood grip panels contrast nicely. The grips on my test gun were finely checkered and feel very comfortable. This gun tips the scales at 44 ounces so is no lightweight. The unfluted cylinder is recessed for full moon clips and three are included with the gun. Additional moon clips and speed loaders can be purchased separately from ShopRuger.com along with other neat accessories including grips.
The 2.75″ barrel length will make for a handy packing pistol. The rear sight is fully adjustable with a white outline blade and square notch. It points quickly, thanks to the red ramp in the black front-sight blade. I was a little disappointed in the 8.1-pound single-action trigger pull, though. A trigger job will definitely be in the works. The Redhawk provides a very strong frame, and heavy loads will be no issue and, as a matter of fact, are great fun to shoot in this brawny gun.
The big Redhawk frame allows 8-shots in .357, held together neatly with a full moon clip. With the right load, you could accomplish any job you needed to get done.
In spite of the short barrel, Mark found the .44 Special to be a joy to shoot. With a bit more trigger time, Mark is confident groups would shrink.
I was eagerly awaiting a range trip where a wide variety of .38 Special and .357 Magnum rounds would be shot. The GP100 would also experience a variety of loads for the .44 Special. Both of these new revolvers offer a lot of flexibility regarding ammunition, another blessing about wheelguns.
I wanted to run a pile of loads through the Redhawk so a variety of .38 Special ammo was assembled. The 90-gr. FTX Critical Defense Lite from Hornady, 125-gr. TMJ HPR, 125-gr. V-Crown JHP from SIG SAUER and 158-gr. loads from CorBon, Winchester, American Eagle and Black Hills Ammunition were all on board. Throw in a few .357 Mag. rounds and we should have enough ammo for a long shooting session. The .44 Special ammo added up to SIG SAUER’s 200-gr. V-Crown JHP, Buffalo Bore’s 200-gr. cast wadcutter, Black Hills’ 210-gr. FPL and Hornady’s 180-gr. XTP.
At the range, John, my good shooting comrade, joined me. We shot the GP .44 Special from 15 to 25 yards. The Redhawk engaged targets from 15 to 20 yards. Starting with the GP100, this gun was just plain a lot of fun to shoot. The Black Hills 210-gr. FPL loads were very mild and a joy to shoot from the GP. Buffalo Bore’s anti-personnel 200-gr. full wadcutter would be a good choice for home defense, and it shot well. Not surprising was Hornady’s 180-gr. XTP, shooting good groups. SIG SAUER’s 200-gr. V-Crown really performed well from all ranges shot. John and I were pleasantly surprised how easily the gun handled all the ammo tested. The balance and overall feel were appreciated, but the smooth running really showcased this fine revolver.
We both had great fun shooting the 8-shot Redhawk. It digests .38 Special rounds with little notice of recoil, like plinking loads. Between the short sight radius, gusting winds and a heavy trigger though, our groups were not worth bragging about, but plenty good for defensive shooting. And that’s exactly what the Redhawk was designed to accommodate. Given eight rounds of .357 Mag. you have a reliable defensive revolver with plenty of stopping capability. Thanks to the weight of the Redhawk, shooting .357 Mag. ammo was manageable too. I think with some judicious action work and some time behind the sights, someone could easily turn this into a real laser-gun.
In this case, weight counts and helps to keep recoil very controllable regardless of load.
Mark wrestled with an 8-pound single-action pull, but still managed decent groups in spite of the wind. He’s going to get a good trigger job and try again later. He’s thinking things will tighten right up then since the gun is certainly capable of sterling accuracy. In this case, weather, old eyes and that pesky trigger played roles in keeping things a bit loose.
In The Field
Both of these fine wheelguns will find huge acceptance in the shooting community. For fishermen hiking in the back country, home defense, vehicle gun, or daily packing, these new Ruger revolvers will fill many needs. Load the .357 with heavy, deep penetrating Buffalo Bore loads and you’ll have an 8-shot bear defense gun if you shy from the big bores. “Some” gun is better than “none” gun.
If you’re wearing a jacket or vest, either gun can be worn as a concealed carry rig and there are several holsters available. If you can’t find anything you like, hide stretchers such as Barranti Leather or Simply Rugged can provide quality holsters on a custom basis.
Personally, I plan on adding the GP100 to my home defense battery as it has found a resting place on my bed stand. There’s just something about large caliber handguns in defensive situations. And when they come out with a 5″ model, I’ll need to add it to the family I’ll wager. Ruger continues to listen to the needs of shooters, delivering quality firearms for our needs, desires and just plain shooting enjoyment. I can’t wait to see what’s next.
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