Ruger’s Rugged Workhorse

The Ruger P 85 gets respect but no much love!

Some of the younger generation don’t know what this big pistol is on sight. Boat Anchor is among the most flattering terms used to describe the Ruger P85 9mm. Yet Ruger’s first centerfire 9mm has survived the test of time. This is a reliable workhorse you can bet the farm on. The pistol was introduced during the Wonder Nine era. It is a bulky high capacity 9mm with a fifteen round magazine double action first shot trigger and conventional decocker/safety lever. The pistol features a steel slide and aluminum frame. Ruger famously makes use of castings in the design. The pistol is among the last handguns designed to use a swinging link for lockup. The P85 features a captive slide lock. The Ruger locks up by butting the barrel hood into the slide in SIG P220 manner. A long pull of the trigger both cocks and drops the hammer. After the first shot the slide recoils and cocks the hammer for single action shots. The double action press is long and heavy at 14 pounds on the Lyman electronic trigger gauge. The single action trigger press isn’t light but consistent at 6.8 pounds.

Disassembly requires the pistol to be unloaded and the slide locked to the rear. Reach inside the slide and press the ejector downward. Tap the slide lock to the left and the slide may be removed. The recoil spring and guide are easily removed and the barrel then simply falls out. The pistol was introduced in 1985 and competed in military service trails. It was a difficult pistol to find for sale until 1987. Compared to some of the 9mm pistols available at the time the Ruger has proven at least as durable. No domestic self loader of the time is in the class with the Ruger’s reliability. Ergonomics are almost terrible. Since the pistol doesn’t kick much- it is a very light kicker- the grip shape may be worked with. The trigger action isn’t smooth at all. Both SIG and Beretta double action first shot pistols are much smoother in operation and even the fat Beretta grip is handier than the Ruger. The Ruger isn’t as accurate although it is accurate enough for most chores. What the P85 is is reliable and durable in the long term. It is also affordable. It isn’t unusual to find used examples for sale at less than three hundred dollars. This isn’t an out of print pistol particularly sought after but if you need a bag gun truck gun or bug out gun with no likely worries the P85 may fill that bill.

While the pistol is blocky the grip really isn’t that bad. That Rock of Gibraltar slide simply makes the beast top heavy. The sights are good combat sights for the day and offer a decent sight picture. The decocker is safe and handy. The barrel is 4.25 inches long and gets good velocity with most loads. At 32 ounces unloaded it is neither light nor heavy but well balanced. I have fired the pistol a bit over the years and find it accurate enough for most chores. Once the hammer is cocked in the single action mode and you are firing to drop the hammer not having to go through that horrendous double action trigger combat accuracy is good. There is considerable take up and reset isn’t rapid. The double action trigger isn’t impossible. I am able to run through the trigger and get center hits at seven yards. Past that you need to cock the hammer.

The Ruger P85 is a piece of history and long out of production. Just the same despite its ergonomic shortcomings the pistol is reliable and useful. As an example if you handload +P+ 9mm loads or like to load up the Buffalo Bore Outdoorsman for protection when hiking the Ruger will never stutter with such loads. Below are my firing results with a number of modern loads. The groups were fired form a solid bench rest using the MTM K Zone firing rest.

Load                                    Velocity                 5 shot group at 25 yards

  • Winchester 115 gr. Silvertip:         1155 fps                   3.25 inch
  • Winchester 124 grain Defender +P: 1199 fps                   1.9 inch
  • Hornady 124 grain XTP +P:            1166 fps                    2.7 inch
  • Federal 124 grain American Eagle:  1108 fps                    2.8 inch
  • Federal 124 grain Hydra Shock:        1110 fps                  2.6 inch
  • Buffalo Bore 147 gr. Outdoorsman:    987 fps                     2.9 inch