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Ruger P89 Review: Like a 9mm Mullet

It’s sometime in the late ’90s on an icy night at 1 a.m. and you just put that embarrassing secondhand Dodge Dynasty you got from your parents into a ditch. You call the one friend in college you know with a 4WD pickup who’ll come rescue your ride in the middle of the night and not tell anybody who’ll tell your parents. He shows up and rescues you. Pop quiz: What pistol was in an Uncle Mike’s nylon Sidekick holster and wedged between the driver seat and console of his truck? Yup. An alloy-framed Ruger P-series autoloader. Being a perpetually broke college student who depended on pulling friends out of ditches for beer in the winter months, it was probably a 9mm, because 9mm Wolf was cheaper than .45 Anything. And that means it was probably a Ruger P89.

Ruger’s P-series of double-action autos, of which the P89 is the third variant after the P85 and P85 Mk II, was originally intended to compete in the military’s handgun competition in the ’80s, but by the time it was ready, the Italians already won the contract.

It made a pretty big splash commercially, though, because it gave Ruger an entry into what was then the hottest category of handgun, what the gun magazines of the time dubbed “Wondernines.” (I’m not making that up. Sometimes they even printed it in the article blurbs on the cover.) These were double-action, double-stack 9mm Para pistols, and you weren’t an ’80s or ’90s action-movie hero without one.

Because its frame and slide are finish-machined from castings, the Ruger P89 enjoyed a big price advantage over its closest domestic competitor. You could just about buy two P89s for the cost of a Smith & Wesson 5906. MSRP for a stainless KP89 around the turn of the millennium was $525 and a blued Ruger P89 was $475, but street prices for the latter were often closer to three bills. Bruce Willis might not have used one in Nakatomi Tower, but it was the everyman handgun of its day.

Like many Ruger offerings, it gained a reputation for reliability such that any time the P-series guns get brought up in gun forums to this day, you’ll get people waxing nostalgic about them. “They may have been big and ugly, but they sure worked!”

ruger p89

Curious to see if they really were that reliable or if the rep was just hazy nostalgia from a misspent youth, we inquired around and wound up getting one, along with a few magazines, from a dealer in exchange for $200. (Actually, 11 ounces of silver, but that’s another story.)

About the Ruger P89

Is it reliable? Well, this example chugged through two cases of assorted ammunition with zero maintenance and zero malfunctions of any sort. It was even reasonably shootable once one got used to its eccentricities.

For instance, despite using tricks like inletting the grip panels into the frame, the cast construction makes for hand-filling dimensions … if you can palm a basketball. If you can’t palm a basketball, your hand will likely be over-filled. This is a large pistol. The reach to the trigger in double-action mode is a stretch for all but the largest paws.

When your finger finally does reach that DA trigger at the end of a long journey, it’s greeted by a trigger pull that, even on this well-worn sample, measures north of a dozen pounds. At least it’s smooth and doesn’t stack; revolver companies know how to make DA triggers. The best thing about the double-action pull is that you only have to do it once and then you can reach the trigger like normal for subsequent shots.

Normally, complaints about high-bore axis are overblown. For most shooters, the effect of the bore axis height on Pistol A versus Pistol B in split times is lost in the statistical noise. Not the Ruger, though. The slide is a massive casting, and the shape of the backstrap ensures that said massive casting is positioned well above your grip. As it slams back and forth under recoil, you notice it; it’s like shooting a Shake Weight.

The Awesome

  • It’s actually as reliable as the legends claim.
  • The Ruger P89 had ambidextrous controls before ambidextrous controls were cool.
  • Magazines are plentiful and still cataloged by Ruger.

The OK

  • It’s 2 pounds of steel and aluminum, even before you add the brass and lead.
  • You’re relegated to the bargain bin for holsters.
  • Aftermarket upgrades are negligible.

The Awful

Yes, it’s reliable. Yes, it’s capable of good accuracy with practice. But it’s going to be tough to CCW because it holds to the old Bill Ruger motto, “No honest man needs a handgun smaller than a canned ham.” Even the Ruger American feels like a hi-point got a facelift and a trigger job.

Like Ruger’s classic double-action revolvers, the P-series autos never use 1 ounce of metal where 2 ounces will do the job just as well. Still, if you can find a more reliable double-stack 9mm semi-auto pistol than the Ruger p89 for $200, buy it.

Ruger P89

  • Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • Purchased From: A reclusive Montana FFL who didn’t want to be named
  • Caliber: 9mm Luger
  • Weight (unloaded): 32.8 ounces
  • Capacity: 15+1 rounds
  • Length: 7.75 inches
  • Barrel Length: 4.75 inches
  • Price Paid: Six 1-oz. Austrian Philharmonics and five random 1-oz. silver bars (just under $200 at time of purchase)

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27 responses to “Ruger P89 Review: Like a 9mm Mullet”

  1. Uwe Golden says:

    That was a great article that brought back fond memories. Yes, back in oldentimes, when I was working security to get through the police academy, this was a plentiful pistol, and every word you said was dead-on.

  2. Matt says:

    I remember the mag release being very sharp. And, of course, the weight. With a full mag, it was enough to anchor a Lund 12 footer in place for a day of bobber fishing.

    Best have a stout belt.

  3. Dave says:

    I got the P-85 version when I bought my first gun back in ’87ish. Its a big piece of steel and fires anything you put through it and doubles as a hammer if needed.

  4. TrentO says:

    Awesome piece. Well written and funny as all get-out. Most of the other content here appears written by 10th graders who intend to become plumbers later in life… and I do mean the butt-crack sporting kind, not the Italian kind. I look forward to more articles like this from Recoil.

  5. Matt Lohr says:

    A P90 was my first handgun, and my Plymouth Turismo was often kaput on the side of icy roads.

    Bruce Willis may not have used a Ruger, but check what Ahnold is rocking in the True Lies posters and stills.

  6. Darkman says:

    Got my P89 in ’94. Best Damn handgun I’ve ever owned. Yes it’s built like and as heavy a Tank, but it still goes BANG every time. Eats any Ammo and I’ve lost track of the thousands put down range. Wouldn’t trade it for anything.

  7. Steve says:

    Made me laugh. I still own the P90 I bought in college and it still shoots reliably. Kicks like a mule, though, even though its pretty hefty. The shake weight comment is spot on.

  8. vern moen says:

    My original 1980’s gun was a VP-70Z, it was big but light. I could reach the horrible trigger on it. I was enamored of Ruger and tried the P-85, etc. They were way to fat and way to far of a reach to the trigger and much heavier than my H&K even with 18 rounds in its magazine.
    I wanted to like the Rugers but they just didn’t fit.

  9. JeffW says:

    SS P89 is still the go to all weather fighter.
    Added a slide on rubber band grip to give it a little better feel.
    Weight wise it’s like a 1911, It even fits my M12 holster which is a feature.

  10. Ken says:

    Used to have a P944 (.40SW) and liked it. It was big and heavy.

  11. DonMeaker says:

    “9mm Mullet” puts a stake in the timeline. Thanks Tam!

  12. Dave says:

    I see these come through classes once in a while, obviously pulled out of a closet or sock drawer after a decade of neglect. They serve brand-new shooters just fine, occasionally needing an indifferent wipedown and an uncaring squirt of any lubricant whatsoever. (a paper towel from the bathroom and that bottle of oil that lost the label a few years back, generally)

    Crude, but effective.

    Nicely written review, thanks Ms Keel!

  13. Chris says:

    amd love them both. My first semi’s I bought.
    Great article!

  14. Psychlone Ranger says:

    Yes, it’s a handful. It was built for military men with big arms and wrists the size of Tam’s biceps.
    (no offense, Tam is a great woman but she’s TINY)

    I actually own and shoot the P89’s big brother: the P91DC (actually, the KP91DC with the nickel slide!)
    It shoots great, reliable as all get out after 30 years!
    The only issue I’ve had with it was that the extractor wore out last year. Ruger had them in stock and sent me a new one. NP Runs like new again.
    That being said, the new Rugers are much better overall. Evolution is a wonderful thing. I have my eye on several of their new offerings.

  15. Psychlone Ranger says:

    Correction: I bought the P91 in ’98. 22 years.
    Mea culpa.

  16. Gregg says:

    had the slightly smaller KP 94. Took my first CCW with it and got a perfect score. Not bragging – it was the Ruger. Always shoots and hits, no matter what. Still have it – close to my bed

  17. Ghost Rider 6 says:

    Great article, as usual, Tam. I still have the (second-hand, but gently used) KP89 with rubber grips that I bought in 1999. The mag release is a bit problematic, but I like the, ah, substantial feel of the gun. Its weight is not an issue for me, as it’s currently assigned to duty as my truck gun.

  18. Paul says:

    When I taught CHL classes long time ago there were only two guns the students used that always worked. Glocks an P89s. Hundreds of students and these two weapons worked every time!

    Now while not a P89.. how reliable is the P94? I’ve seen them for $300. They look somewhat better than the P89 so… is the P94 reliable?

  19. Brad says:

    Ah, the KP89…First gun I bought after turning 21 in 1991. Picked it out of a gun catalog at the Walmart sporting goods counter, and when it arrived, I had to wait for the 10-day mandatory waiting period to pass before I could pick it up.

    The guns were clunky, the cars were crappy, and the laws were stupid…but those days were awesome fun. Great article, Tam. Really brought back the memories.

  20. JES says:

    Own both a P85 MK2 and a P90, the P90 is my daily carry go to pistol. Hogue makes replacement grips, Alien Gear makes some decent holsters for them still.
    Both guns are great fun at the range and yes, they eat everything you feed them and never fail to function.
    Sure, it’s like strapping a brick to your waist, but they are still below $300.00 if you can find folks willing to part with them. If I were to ever need to use one in self defense, I don’t feel so bad about a sub-$300.00 being tied up in the court system as I might about a $500.00-$750.00 gun.
    Great article, makes me want to schedule some range time… now if only someone had ammo in stock…

  21. DW says:

    My first semi-auto. Nickel slide version still going strong. Possibly the most accurate hand gun I own since all that heft makes for great follow-up shots (Beretta 92 comes second imo since it is SA only). Too bad it arrived too late to the “post 1911” party to be seriously considered by the military since favor had already been granted.

    • Juan Estaban says:

      late to the party but wanted to add my 2sense. its big and heavy but that doesnt bother me. what does bother me is one of the slide rails broke after roughly 100 rounds; couldnt get it apart. my gunsmith said it was common across brands as the metal is akin to “pot” metal (also looked that way at the break). he ordered a beat one with a good slide for 200. bought new for around 500, add 200. pricey for an “ok” gun. there, ive spoken my piece (pun intended).

  22. Richard Salazar says:

    Bought it in 1992 and still have it. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. I am 5’5 and you will never ever will notice I am concealing it in my person.

  23. Richard Salazar says:

    Bought it in 1992 and still have it. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and concealment is an art. I am 5’5 and you will never ever will notice I am concealing it in my person and I can present it like magic.

  24. Richard Salazar says:

    Bought it in 1992 four months ETS from the Army and becoming a Police Officer in Texas (still have it) Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and concealment is an art. I am 5’5 and you will never ever will notice I am concealing it in my person and I can present it like magic.

  25. guest says:

    I wouldn’t complain about the weight or the grip size. I never had any difficulty reaching the trigger for the DA first shot, and the weight wasn’t excessive in an era of all-metal handguns.

    No, the problem with the P-series was slippery textureless “GE Xenoy” plastic grip panels, horrid staple-gun triggers, tiny awkward safety levers mounted way up on the slide, tiny mag release button with an enormously strong spring behind it, and 1980s/90s Ruger QC–meaning that every edge on the gun where two plane surfaces meet is going to be sharp enough to shave with, and if you do malfunction clearance drills at speed, sooner or later the gun WILL bite you, and you WILL end up bleeding. The slide didn’t have grasping grooves–but given how Bill Ruger liked to do things back when Ronald Reagan was President, they’d have had razor sharp edges, so you’d have had to grab the slide by the safety levers anyway–which were, at least, nicely grooved on the top surface for a non-slip grip when pulling back the slide.

    When introduced, the P85 and P89 were a fairly good choices–worlds better built than the Taurus Beretta 92 clones you could have gotten for the same money, anyway–if you like DA/SA operation and tiny decocking safety levers that aren’t easy to manipulate in a hurry. Now, it’s strictly a nostalgia gun, strictly a range toy, like an SAA clone, or a S&W three or four digit all-metal service pistol, or a a metal framed full size SIG, or a 1911, or a full-size revolver in .357.

  26. Nev says:

    I got mine in 90 or 91 and once my uncle and I cut down a small tree with my P89, a giant bag of cheap reloads I got at at a gun show, two lawn chairs and cool of Busch between us. Besides letting it rest once in a while to let it cool off, zero issues.

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