In our ongoing quest to test and review more “metal” semiauto handguns, as requested by many SurvivalBlog readers, I thought it important to review the Ruger P-89, in 9mm. The P-89 is an updated/upgraded version of Ruger’s first centerfire semiauto handgun. The original was the P-85, and Ruger was hoping to get it out in time for the U.S. military trials for a new handgun. Alas, the Beretta 92/M9 won out. There were some early teething problems with the first batch or two of P-85 handguns. There were a few reports of the firing pin slamming forward when the pistol was de-cocked and firing a round, which is not a good thing. Ruger, as is their wont, corrected this on P-89 pistols that had MKII on the slide by repairing and updating them. The P-89 is an improvement on the P85 MKII.
I was living in Colorado Springs, Colorado when the very first P-85 hit the town. Only one gun shop had it– a gun shop that specialized in dealing with law enforcement, as I recall. People literally stood in line, to see and handle the lone P-85 sample. I was one of them. I was struck two ways when I saw the pistol. My first impressions were “what an ugly gun” followed by “that is sure futuristic…”. To be sure, Ruger was selling every single P-85 they could make, and there was still a very long backlog. I want to say, the retail price was under $300 for the P-85 when it came out. I didn’t get my hands on my own P-85 until the summer of 1988, at which time I managed to get two of the guns.
All was not good with one P-85 sample. I wondered why the slide would lock-open during firing. It locked only halfway open, and it took some pounding to get the slide to close. After a few more shots, it did the same thing, over and over again. I ended up selling that gun in short order. However, the second P-85 sample just purred right along, never missing a beat.
A quick look at the P-89 is in order, and keep in mind that this is merely an updated/upgraded version of the original P-85. The 9mm version held 15 rounds of the hottest 9mm ammo you could stuff in the magazine.. The gun weighs 32 oz. The frame was anodized aluminum, and the slide was carbon steel, gray in color, as was the frame. The barrel was 4.5 inches long, and the gun came with 3-dot white sights– one dot on the front sight and two on the rear. It was a single-action/double-action. The first shot was a long but very smooth double action, and the following shots were single action. It was still a fairly long trigger pull. There is also a de-cocker on the slide, so you can de-cock it when you are done firing, before the magazine was empty. The de-cocker is ambidextrous, too.
The front sight is pinned into the slide, while the rear sight was adjustable for windage only, and it is a little bit different in looks and a bit too small, if you ask me. However, it gave a decent sight picture. Anyone who has handled a P-85/P-89 can attest that the gun is chunky, and that is putting it politely. It is not designed for concealed carry use, although with the right holster it is somewhat concealable. It was designed as a duty weapon for law enforcement and the military. The hammer is rounded type, easy to thumb cock if you want your first shot to fire from the single-action mode. The grips are black space age plastic and tough. The grips are actually fitted into the sides of the frame. They don’t stick up like most grip panels do. The trigger guard is plenty big enough so you can get a gloved finger in there. The magazine release is a bit different in that it pushes forward with your thumb instead of pushing inward on the frame. I personally like it but thought it could be a little bigger. The ejection port, wow, is one of the largest I’ve ever seen on any handgun! There are no worries about empty brass getting caught on the way of the gun after firing. The slide stop is more streamlined on the P89 compared to the P-85 version.
Ruger did some testing to show just how tough the P-85 was. They actually cut away a large section of the slide in front of the ejection port and fired the pistol, and it never missed a beat. They also plugged the barrel and fired the gun during testing. The only damage was to the extractor, which was blown out of the gun, but it was replaced with a new one, and the gun continued to run just fine. That is some serious testing.
When I was working as the chief of police, they actually called it a City Marshal position. (It was the only town in Oregon that could legally use the term City Marshal.) In the position, I carried a P-85 on duty quite a bit as did that county’s sheriff. Everyone else carried a GLOCK 17. I also took my P-85 to Executive Security International, for my Executive Protection course. Over a 5-day period of time, I fired an easy 1,500 rounds per day, and the Ruger never missed a beat, though many GLOCKs did!
The P-89 that I tested for this article was brand new. Yes, you read that right. It was brand new, in 2016, unfired in the original box P-89. Whoever owned it, never fired the gun. The packing grease was still inside the gun, dried on everything. It’s very tough to clean out of the gun. My purchase price was $300 out the door, which is a great deal if you ask me, and it came with two magazines. It had standard Hogue grips on it. It was a special run from Ruger.
I took my new Ruger P-89 home and cleaned it and then ran out to test-fire it. Don’t ya know it; the slide locked up many times. It would not lock open after the last round was fired but lock halfway open, just like my P-85 did in 1988. It took some serious detective work to figure it out, but figure it out I did. The slide was slightly rough on the inside top of it. A little extra material was there. Ruger was using the lost-wax casting method of making their slides, eliminating a lot of hand-fitting, and this one slipped through. A few minutes with a dremel tool removed the rough area inside the slide, and I polished and put some bluing over the area so it wouldn’t rust. The gun was good to go after that. It never missed a beat.
During my testing, I fired more than 500 rounds through the P-89 with no problems, once the rough spot inside the slide was polished down. I had an outstanding assortment of 9mm ammo. From Black Hills Ammunition, I had 115-gr JHP +P, 124-gr JHP +P, 115-gr FMJ, 115-gr EXP (Extra Power) hollow point, 124-gr JHP, and 115-gr Barnes TAC-XP +P all-copper hollow point. From the folks at Buffalo Bore Ammunition, I had 147-gr subsonic heavy JHP, 147-gr Hard Cast FN Outdoorsman, 115-gr Barnes TAC-XP +P all-copper hollow point,124-gr FMJ FN +P+, and their 147-gr JHP +P+! Whew, that was a great assortment of ammo to put through the P-89. Every gun maker will flat out tell you to never run any +P+ 9mm through their 9mm chambered guns. I don’t recommend it as a steady diet. However, I knew the Ruger P-89 could handle this hot load, and it did without hesitation.
At 25 yards, resting the gun over a sleeping bag and over the hood of my pickup, the best group I could get was 3½ inches. I was hoping for better. The worst group was 4½ inches. However, keep in mind that many firearms instructors will tell you that any handgun that can keep rounds inside of four inches is plenty accurate for combat/duty work, and I concur. Still, I was hoping for a little better in the accuracy department. The winner of the accuracy competition was the Buffalo Bore 147-gr Subsonic Heavy JHP load. All other loads were 4 ½ inches or under. Still, that’s nothing to complain about in the least.
The only change I made to the P-89 was to remove the Hogue rubber grips. I had an old pair of the black polymer Ruger grips in my grip box that I installed on the gun. The gun is chunky enough without the large rubber grips from Hogue, and it just felt better with the thinner factory polymer grips on it.
There are still a lot of the original P-85 and P-85 MkII as well as P-89 handguns floating around on the used gun market, and they are a bargain these days because everyone wants a polymer 9mm of some sort. However, if you long for an all-metal semiauto handgun, you could do a lot worse than the Ruger P-89, if you ask me. It makes a great truck gun. Just toss it in your truck, and don’t worry about it. It will go “bang” when you pull the trigger.
A note on the Buffalo Bore 147-gr Hard Cast FN Outdoorsman load. If you go to the Buffalo Bore website, you can read about the Alaska guide who stopped a charging brown bear with this load in, of all things, a subcompact 9mm pistol. He was guiding some anglers when the brown bear charged. He did manage to stop the bear. However, I wouldn’t feel all that comfortable armed only with a 9mm handgun in big bear country. I don’t know what this guide was thinking when all he had was a 9mm pistol. In discussing this incident with Tim Sundles, who owns Buffalo Bore, he is of the same mind I am on this. This wouldn’t be his first choice as a carry gun in big bear country. However, he did design this hard cast bullet for extreme penetration, and it delivered!
So, don’t pass on an older Ruger P-85 or P-89 if the price is right. The gun will serve your needs. I wish I could report an happy ending here, but in a moment of weakness I traded my pristine P-89 for a different gun. It was one of those “why did I do that?” moments that I still regret!
– Senior Product Review Editor, Pat Cascio