Ruger is the proverbial “new kid on the block,” having been founded by William Batterman “Bill” Ruger Sr. (1916-2002) and Alexander McCormick Sturm (1923-1951) in 1949, a full 94 years behind Colt and 97 years behind S&W. But once Ruger kicked off, it didn’t take the upstart long to catch up with its two biggest competitors in terms of name recognition and reputation for quality.
With that in mind — and in honor of Mr. Sturm’s would-be 100th birth year — let’s take a look at what I consider to be Ruger’s 5 best handguns of all time.
Standard .22 LR Semiautomatic Pistol
Might as well start from the beginning, as gun writer Jerry Lee put it in the title of his April 2020 article for Gun Digest, “Ruger Standard: The Pistol That Built An Empire.” It’s the gold standard of .22 caliber autopistols. It was even employed by U.S. Army Special Forces – AKA the Green Berets – for stealthy kills against Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army personnel during the Vietnam War.
The current iteration is the Mk IV, and it is the best yet. In addition to keeping the accuracy, reliability, and ergonomics of its predecessors, it has the added bonus of being much easier to field-strip. Earlier versions of the Ruger .22 auto actually required a rubber mallet for disassembly. By contrast, with the Mk IV, as noted by the manufacturer’s official info page, features a “simple, one-button takedown for quick and easy field-stripping and proper chamber-to-muzzle cleaning. Pressing a button in the back of the frame allows the barrel-receiver assembly to tilt up and off the grip frame without the use of tools.”
The gun is also fairly unique among autopistols in employing a bolt rather than a slide.
GP-100 .357 Magnum Double-Action (DA) Revolver
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 1,000 times: the GP-100 is the Timex of revolvers, i.e. “Takes A Licking, Keeps On Ticking.” It is to DA revolvers what the Glock 17 is to semiauto pistols — unparalleled in durability, strength, and its ability to withstand brutal punishment. Reportedly this gun has kept on perking along after surviving torture tests such as being beaten against brick walls and run over by pickup trucks. A big reason for the GP-100’s incredible strength is the use of investment casting.
What’s more, the gun’s heavy steel construction and factory rubber grips go a long way in absorbing the recoil of.357 Magnum loads. I first fired one back in May 1990, when I was 14 years old, 5’2”, 100 pounds soaking wet, and with a corresponding hand size. I found the gun very pleasant to shoot with the “Maggie” loads. I’ve owned one since 2003, and it has served me faithfully through 20,000 rounds fired, with its superb accuracy helping win several medals at the Nevada Police & Fire Games.
Redhawk .44 Magnum DA Revolver
This gun is to .44 Magnum DA revolvers what the GP-100 is to .357s in terms of strength, durability, accuracy, and relative ease of handling. When you see reloading manuals that say “FOR RUGER GUNS ONLY,” that oughta tell you something. The Redhawk gave me my first experience with shooting full-house .44 Magnum loads, back in November 1990, and it was thoroughly enjoyable. I’ve been the proud owner of one since 2019.
Blackhawk Single-Action (SA) Revolver (Various Calibers)
This “hogleg” is right up there with the iconic Colt Single Action Army (SAA) “Peacemaker” as one of the most popular SA revolvers of all time, and with good reason. For one thing, the Blackhawk improved upon the SAA design by going with more durable wire coil springs instead of flat leaf springs. For another thing, its initial chambering of .357 Magnum when it debuted in 1955 finally provided SA aficionados an alternative to S&W’s DA Model 27.
Nowadays, the gun is available in .30 carbine, .32 H&R Magnum/.32-20 Winchester, .327 Federal Magnum, 9mm Parabellum, .41 Magnum, .44 Special, .44 Magnum, .44-40 Winchester, .45 ACP, .45 Colt (AKA .45 Long Colt), .454 Casull, and .480 Ruger.
I’ve fired the .357 version, and it gets my thumbs-up.
Ruger P97DC .45 ACP Traditional Double-Action (TDA) Semiautomatic Pistol
Though Ruger’s P85 9mm was the first of the company’s unfortunately discontinued P-series TDA pistols, with multiple other models and calibers following thereafter, I would consider this to the best of that bunch. Its predecessor, the P90DC, was an excellent gun in its own right, but the P97DC, which debuted in 1997 and was produced until 2004, was even better. I bought one last month as a birthday present to myself for a measly $400.98, and I was blown away by the incredible bang-for-the-buck the gun provided.
Don’t want to take my word for it? Okay, fine then. Ask self-defense guru and grizzled law enforcement veteran Massad F. Ayoob. In his 1987 book The Semiautomatic Pistol In Police Service and Self-Defense, Mas praised the P85’s reliability but was rather humdrum about the gun’s accuracy. By contrast, he’s downright effusive in his praise of the P97: “In accuracy, the P97 is a kissin’ cousin to the target-grade P90…it shares the earlier .45’s omnivorous ability to feed any factory ammo in the caliber. Yet it is lighter, fits almost every hand better, and has an even smoother action than its predecessor…In a recent test the P97DC put 58 rounds of WinClean .45 ACP through one ragged hole with the other two just barely out, a total group of well under 4’. Thousands of rounds later, the P97 is still considered to be the zenith of the Ruger P-series.”
Christian D. Orr is a Senior Defense Editor for 19FortyFive. He has 34 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011.
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