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
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
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.