Friday, May 8, 2015

Ruger Match Champion GP100 Revolver Review

Ruger Match Champion GP100 Revolver Review

When I first heard the release of the Ruger Match Champion .357 magnum/.38 Special chambered GP100 and then handled it at SHOT, I was really excited because I am a huge GP100 fan. With the word "Match" in the name must be even more awesome... right? As I sprinted through the Ruger booth I remember being impressed with the trigger and the features during the few minutes I had to handle the new revolver.

That excitement waned a bit when I received my test revolver from Ruger. Perhaps my passion deceived my finger at SHOT or the show sample had been well worn in after thousands dry fired the pistol. For whatever reason, my Match Champion arrived with a trigger that was really quite good, but not the same velvety smooth tuned S&W custom shop feeling trigger I felt at Ruger's SHOT show booth. Indeed the Match Champion delivered a trigger feel leagues better than any factory GP100 I have shot, but the trigger fell short of what was probably an unrealistic expectation on my part for a gun only $200 higher than the base stainless model. The trigger feel was instead somewhere between stock and the trigger feel of my GP100s with reworked triggers. Keep reading though, because there is some great news on this trigger.

Part of the problem is that the lack of detail in Ruger's product information is deafening. They literally only provide two sentences that highlight a few of the upgrades and then leave out the rest. The result was an incorrect assumption going into this review. I had thought the Match Champion was Ruger attempt at a custom shot high-speed unlimited division pistol. After a discussion with Ruger and a little expectation reset, I went from a little disappointed to pretty impressed with the Match Champion in just a sentence or two. The Ruger Match Champion is not Ruger's highly modified competition shop revolver. Nor does it feature a compensated barrel, red-dot optic, or an eight-round cylinder ready for high speed reloading moon clips. Of note, I wish Ruger would make one that is so equipped. Ruger's newest GP100 model is instead focused squarely at the SSR (Stock Service Revolver) division of IDPA (International Defensive Pistol Association). More specifically, Ruger is going for the throat of S&W's domination of this division with the S&W 686 SSR. So in this situation, when Ruger uses the name "Match Champion", they mean eating S&W's lunch during a SSR division IDPA match. So let's see what you get on the Ruger Match Champion for a street price around $150 more than a standard 4" stainless Ruger GP100.

FIT, FINISH, FEEL, & FEATURES
Many will get all jazzed about the flat sided, half-lug barrel in hopes that the new Match Champion is exponentially lighter somehow, however it isn't. The reality of all the barrel reprofiling is only a 2 oz weight savings over a standard full lug 4" GP100. That 2 oz reduction does make the Ruger Match Champion feel just a bit faster handling than the full lug version.

Other tweaks are new cylinder flute contours which stylistically look great, but I cannot see add anything from a performance perspective. The sights on my model were of the adjustable variety, and looked identical to my other factory GP100 rear adjustable sights. The front sight of the Match Champion is a dovetail base green fiber optic sight which can be easily swapped should the mood strike you. The eye picks up the fiber optic front sight quick when transitioning from target to target, however I really like my adjustable Mepro Tru-Dot sights significantly more once the light dims.

Part of the love and popularity of the Ruger GP-100 is the big beefy bomb proof saddle and cylinder design that handloaders depend on to test high pressure rounds, delivers accuracy increasing stiffness, and it also looks bad ass. I was glad to see that Ruger Match Champion carried this beefy design forward on what could have been a lighter trimmed down design on a competition revolver.

The major "performance" treatments on the GP100 Match Champion are the target crown, cylinder chamfering, Hogue wood performance grip, the trigger rework, and just a little contouring in areas which would help reholstering.

Many... many competitive shooters feel the GP100 requires a precision recrown to realize its full accuracy potential and have custom shops perform a recrown. The GP100 is recognized as one of the most accurate production .357 Magnum revolvers on the market, however a precision re-crown takes the GP100 to the next level of accuracy. I was quite pleased to see that Ruger has delivered the Match Champion with a 11 degree recessed target crown. This feature upgrade does two things. It provides an arguably more "true" crown finish which appears to improve accuracy and also affords protection to that precision crown during the bumps, barricade slams, and drops which are sure to happen in a high pressure competitive shooting environment.

One of the first tweaks I have done on every Ruger GP100 after pulling it from the box is to pick up my Dremel and chamfer all the sharp edges off the cylinder chamber mouths. Ruger added this tweak on the Match Champion to improve reload reliability and speed. On the top end competition revolvers, custom shop wizards will use 45 degree reemers to more aggressively flute the chamber mouths, however Ruger has just touched them up to smooth and speed the reloading process. Its a little tweak that pays huge dividends during the reloading cycle.

Ruger "upgraded" to the Hogue fingerless wood grip. I know we are all in love with the Hogue fingered grip on for the GP100, however most competitive shooters prefer fingerless grips and note they are "faster". The Hogue wood grips are lightly stippled and provide a nice level of grip without being too aggressive.

Ruger has reworked the trigger to vastly improve the factory Ruger trigger. Though I love the Ruger GP100, the typical factory trigger leaves a lot to be desired. Every factory fresh GP100 I own has had the factory every trigger contact point polished to a mirror finish. This trigger tuning and polishing is in effect what Ruger has delivered with the Match Champion to make the trigger "feel" better.  Ruger did note to me that they take an extra step and shim and permanently align the trigger components after polishing and fitting. The result is a beautifully staging double action trigger.

The trigger pull is still around 12lbs so there is still room for improvement. Another cheap $10 GP100 upgrade is to swap out the 10lb stock trigger return spring with a 8lb Wolf and the 12lb hammer spring with a 10lb Wolb versions. Of note, I have found that a 9lb Wolf hammer spring can deliver light strikes. Although that spring swap does deliver an awesome trigger, that upgrade would surely disqualify you from the SSR IDPA division. I think Ruger kept the 12lb hammer spring, however my pull registered 11 lbs on my Timney Trigger Guage which left me with some unanswered factory tweaking questions.

I am sorry to report that you will no longer be able to read your Ruger to fight boredom. Ruger also dropped roll marking the rather tacky phone book length warning on the side of the GP100 in favor of a simple read the manual note on the underside of the barrel. I think this was a great decision since the revolver always has come with a manual... ya know that I it looked totally dorky on the side of a really nice firearm. Thank you Ruger for stop ruining the looks of a perfectly beautiful firearm with a stupid warning label.

About fifteen years ago, Ruger offered the GP100 in a mirror polish finish and as a result every single sharp edge was buffed off to a glorious shine. Since Ruger moved to a lower grade brushed stainless finish, the GP100s finish was littered with sharp edges. Almost every new GP100 owner resolves this annoyance with a little light sanding or filing. Ruger is now used a new MIM (Metal-Injection-Molding) process to form the trigger which I will note feels better to me and lacks the sharp edges. The top strap, front lower frame and top of barrel all received a little contouring to improve reholstering, so I was a little confused that they left the typical sharp edges on the trigger guard and hammer. I hold out hope that they might begin offering the mirror finished versions again to restore the GP100's finish to its former glory. In the case of my new Match Champion, it will certainly have a few key areas polished out.

FUNCTION & ACCURACY
Functionally, the Ruger Match Champion runs great; better than any Ruger GP100 out of the box I have owned. I have owned over six by the way. The 4" barrel is the perfect compromise of weight, speed and accuracy and even though the gun is just 2 oz lighter, it does feel faster side by side with the old version. Reloads are faster, less problematic, and smoother as well due to the cylinder chamfering and the trigger is excellent for an out of the box Ruger GP100. I have found that it does indeed get even better the more cycles it has through it. Perhaps the trigger I felt at the Ruger SHOT show booth, may be within reason after a few thousand more trigger pulls. Even reholstering is smoother and more positive from the lack of a few key edges.

And then there is the accuracy improvement over stock. The Ruger GP100 has proven itself a 25-yard 1.25" gun over and over when shot from a ransom rest. My test involved taking all my 4" GP100s to the range and testing them side by side. What I saw was a consistent 20-30% improvement in groups over the my full lug models with DIY trigger work. The trigger work certainly helps, however I am guessing that the precision target crown had the largest impact in accuracy since I saw around the same level of accuracy uplift even running the revolvers in single action.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Though I was less impressed with the Match Champion initially, buy the time I was on the range, this certified GP100 fan was quite impressed. It thought it was a bit funny that the Ruger Match Champion is roughly 25% more expensive than the base model and delivers accuracy gain around the same percentage. So is the Ruger Match Champion a S&W 686 killer? It could be. For Ruger or non-S&W fans it is an awesome option which could easily go head-to-head with S&W. Having owned the 686 I can say that the S&W does still have a better trigger and better all around surface finish, however durability and accuracy-wise, I think the scales lean toward Ruger. Looking at Match scores a year from now will tell the story, however I think the Match Champion may be the best performing out of the box Ruger GP100 yet.

SPECS
Model Options:
Mod. # 1707
Material Stainless Steel
Finish Satin
Front Sight Ramp
Rear Sight Adjustable
Barrel Length 6.00"
Overall Length 11.50"
Weight 45.00 oz.
MSRP $759.00

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