Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Ruger P-85/P-89. Tanks are built like this.

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Setting aside political questions, Bill Ruger of Sturm Ruger firearms was a pretty astute fellow. He came up with some designs that were considered revolutionary for their day, and since many of them are still in production today they seem to have been good ones.

The Ruger Mark 1 (and 2, and 3 etc) changed the market for .22 auto loaders. His ‘Single Six’ line of .22 single action revolvers are still made today, and set the tone for that market as well. The Blackhawk ushered in modern full size single actions chambered in rounds capable of taking big game, and his Service Six line of revolvers graced tens of thousands of police and military holsters world wide.

Come the mid eighties, and 9mm large capacity autoloaders are becoming the next great thing to own. Driven by a military contract seeking a supplier, gun makers cranked up the design teams and the ‘Wondernine’ genre was born. While the Browning High Power had been around for generations, the idea of a large capacity semi auto service pistol had never really caught on with the American public. Now, with the US military taking a hard look at them, the civilian and police market heated up. Bill Ruger saw it coming just as everyone else did.

Ruger set out to design a 9mm high capacity service pistol that was tough enough to be worthy of his product line, and cheap enough to make that he could sell it below the rest of the market. If it got picked up by the military too, that was gravy on the steak.

Starting with a very tough hard coated aluminum allow frame, the pistol got a steel slide assembly. It featured a barrel link that pivoted the barrel down to unlock, with a wide open ejection port reminiscent of the Beretta. Feeding is rock solid, and the P-85 is not in the least picky about bullet design.

The weapon is double action, and has a reasonable trigger pull both in DA and single action; A little scratchy at times, it smooths with use. The pistol is surprisingly accurate, and the trigger turns out to be the limiting factor in shooting it well. That said, this example easily turns out one inch five shot groups from the seven yard line, even with the first round being fired double action.

Few complicated mechanical beasts have been born without flaws, and this pistol is no exception. The first P-85 pistols had a decocker/safety that was as little too skimpy for people with small hands to use well. In addition, there were a few reports of broken firing pins causing unintentional discharges. The decocker and firing pin were redsigned, and in usual Ruger terms of excellent customer service, all the first pistols were upgraded for free with the MkIIr modification. Pistols modified as such will have the right side of the ambidextrous decocker marked so.

The pistol is not light. Never intended for concealed carry, it’s built to be at home in a duty holster. Hanging it off a belt all day might be tiring, but the reassuring heft and unfailing dependability made it loved by many of those who carried on duty. Lacking the power of a .45 acp, it did have the benefit of a fifteen round magazine. With two magazines in belt pouches, an officer was loaded out with 46 rounds ready to hand. This was twice that of the 1911, let alone the old six shot service revolver.

The P-85 was not actually released till 1987, and with the upgraded decocking lever and firing pin, it morphed into the P-89 model. Magazines, holsters, and spare parts are interchangeable between the two. Neither is in production any more, what with the predominance of lightweight polymer pistol frames. Injection molded plastic is lighter and cheaper than machined aircraft grade aluminum, and Glock sales of their model 17 in the US signaled the eventual end of the P-89.

Shooting this old beast of a Wondernine at the range, it proved easy to handle. Pointing naturally, it placed round after round on target almost without effort. The trigger needs time to smooth out, but the cure for that is nothing more complicated that regular use. Handed to someone with little pistol experience, he was soon picking off Daisy two inch clay disks like clockwork.


While heavy for a carry weapon by today’s standards, it still makes an exceptionally dependable home defense tool. In addition, after some practice, it will probably find range time shooting steel in competition.

Modern 9x19mm ammunition has changed the way the old 9mm Luger cartridge is viewed. Today’s Speer Gold Dot defensive ammunition is light years ahead of what was available in the 1980’s, and makes this pistol a comfortable choice in a defensive role. Lacking some of the bells and whistles of the latest laser guided whiz bang carry pistol, with its optional cup holder and apple peeler, the Ruger P-85 instead has something better; rock solid dependability. Even today, that is priceless.



13 comments:

TWhiddon said...

Bill Ruger was ahead of his time. I have read that at different times in his life he had the chance to buy Smith & Wesson and Colt, but he decided not to. I wonder where the firearms industry would be today if that had happened.

the pistolero said...

A P89 was my first centerfire pistol; I still have it, as well as its big brother the P90. I did not know the P89 was not in production anymore. Guess I was really lucky to get one when I did.

Duane said...

I picked mine up in '89 and it has functioned flawlessly. Of course the double action is extremely heavy and gritty and seems to pull around a foot before breaking. Even the single action is rather heavy but I find it helps to keep the barrel down on target in rapid fire.

Take down can be interesting, one of the steps is to push down the ejector and it is a rather sharp piece of metal that has opened up a few fingers if your are not careful. Other than that takedown and cleaning are a breeze.

Also it does not have a magazine disconnect safety which is a major plus.

Anonymous said...

Ruger's are tough tanks and my P85 MKII eats everything feed it just like the P95 and the magazines work in both along with my PC9 Carbine, a neat setup.

The cost for used Rugers can be real cheap and a very good deal for a firearm that will work everytime with little care.

I'll never pass up a good deal on a Ruger if I can.

davester said...

Picked up my P-85 with Hougue rubber grips for $290 a month or so ago, but it only came with one mag. I've put about 4 or 5 hundred rounds through it with no problems whatsoever....and it looks like it has been well-loved over it's lifetime. I get about a 1 or 2 inch group at 15 yards with it once I'm warmed up, and I am by no means an expert; in fact this is my first firearm. I'm going to call Ruger first thing tomorrow to see if it needs the recall on the decocker/safety...which btw is the ONLY thing I don't like about the pistol. It freakin' rocks.

Anonymous said...

davester,You said that you get 1 or 2 inch groups at 15yds. What kind of ammo were you using to get that kind of accuracy?

davester said...

Dude...this will tell you how new I was to shooting when I posted that. I thought that a 1'' group was a group where all the shots were about one inch from each other...not in a one inch-diameter spot. I don't get that accuracy. It's more like 2-3 inches at 15 yards, and that's on a good day. I shoot winchester white box, federals, and remmington shurshot. It all shoots about the same. BTW, up to 1200 rds now, and still 100% reliable.

Anonymous said...

I bought my Ruger P85 MkII in 1992. It was in pristine condition then and it still is. I have NEVER had a FTF or FTE w/ this weapon. I did replace the original grips w/ a Hogue grip,it just feels better in my hand. This pistol is truly built like a tank. It is a much more accurate shooter than I am! This weapon will be a family heirloom .

God, Gals, Guns, Grub said...

Ruger designed all his guns while considering their manufacturing processes. He was ahead of his time with investment and lost wax casting which kept the costs down and quality up.

I remember an reading about the P85 when it was released. They tapped and threaded a bolt into the barrel, then fired a proof load. It slightly bent the extractor, but that was it. Amazing!

Dann in Ohio

Anonymous said...

Uncle Mike's used to make a checkered rubber grip for the P85 that, at least to me, felt a whole lot better than the somewhat slick plastic factory grips.

A guy I knew in college had a P85 and we put I do not even know how many rounds of cheap reloads through it, at $6 for a box of 50 way back then. It had a trigger only a mother could love, but it never malfunctioned, not even once.

Even in the 21st Century you could do an awful lot worse.

Docwatmo said...

I was in the army during the transition phase from 1911 to M9. When I got out of the army, I purchased the P85 because I didn't care for the Beretta. Tell you it was one of the best decisions of my life. I've put countless rounds down range with that gun accurately. One of the best pistols I've ever shot. (and I love the 1911, I put nearly 20,000 rounds through 1911's over the years). The P85 will always have a place in my heart. And yes its big and heavy, but I have Concealed Carried it for 2 years before I bought the small XD9SC which is a great gun. But I still slap the ole Ruger on once in a while because it just feels damn good to have that great piece of iron on my hip.

RegT said...

I got mine back in 1990 as part of a group department buy when they first came out, for $200 (bought two, one for me and one for my wife). It was a P-85, so when the recall came out, I sent them back, so they now have the MK II R markings, as you indicated.

I didn't much care for 9mm, but we were required to carry in that caliber. After I showed our chief the results of test firing some of them into different media, I got permission to carry on duty with Winchester Black Talons (yes, this was before all of the hysteria and before Winchester discontinued the black jackets and changed the name to "Ranger").

So even though I preferred the G21 I carried off-duty with .45ACP Black Talons, I didn't feel too bad carrying the P-85. It's a good pistol.

MarkedMan said...

I absolutely love my P-85! Bought it in '89.I taught my wife and daughters to shoot with it. Took little else except basic safety and were hitting the 10 spot at 15 feet almost immediately. I added Pachmeyer grips to accomodate my big hands other than that, nothing modified although when Califruitia started passing more idiot laws about magazine capacity, I bought two 30 Rnd. Mags. They look a little silly but in a firefight, who gets the last laugh?