Naming your latest handgun “The American Pistol” makes a pretty clear statement. Add to that the timing of the launch of this product line amidst the backdrop of a highly contentious Presidential campaign and a continuingly more divided American narrative, and it makes a loud and clear statement. Ruger is an American company that is dedicated to American values and to its American customers.
You think that might resonate with some folks? Bill Ruger was to the marketing side of firearms what Bill Gates was to the PC industry – and it seems the company that bears his name still bears his spirit and his acumen for knowing what people want.
The Name Ruger
In my circles, I know people that were interested in the gun simply because of its name, even guys that were not previously known to be Ruger fans. As for the Ruger fans, they are a brand loyal bunch on par with those that will only buy one brand of American car – ever.
And why not? Sturm, Ruger & Co. has produced some of the most popular firearms of the past century, and you can’t even claim to be a “gun guy” or “gun gal” if you don’t own at least one of them. I’m referring specifically to the 10/22 rifle and the Mark (insert favorite Roman numeral here) pistol. Both available in countless configurations and both as ubiquitous as the .22LR cartridge they fire. And the LCR and LCP products have also been hugely popular and considered by many to be ‘best in class’ for those categories. But it seemed that there was an absence from Prescott, AZ when it came to a legitimate contender for the double-stack compact carry market – which is huge. That ends with the Ruger American Compact.
The 9mm Demand
The saturation of the 9mm “compact” form factor is a result of consumer demand. For a time, nearly any gun brought to market was guaranteed enough sales to at least break even, but as the supply and demand curves once again come within view of each other, it becomes more a buyer’s market. This means that you need to pay attention to customers’ demands. First and foremost, customers demand a defensive handgun that is going to be reliable beyond question. Next, it has to have capacity – or be so small you can conceal it in a speedo. Big handguns with low capacity are like sub-compact cars that don’t get good mileage – they have no place on this Earth.
We also want good – no – make those great ergonomics. We’re tired of making our hand fit a gun. Sick to death of controls that are out of reach or having our grip feel awkward. Oh, and speaking of controls – they need to work easily. We don’t want to jump up and down on a magazine release button to get the magazine to drop. The slide stop needs to also be a slide release. And finally – it needs to be a shooter.
There is simply no excuse for a 9mm ‘compact’ size gun to have harsh recoil or a painful trigger or a lousy sight picture. Oh, and lastly, I know a number of lefties that are tired of being treated like second class second amendment enthusiasts. No reason a gun can’t have the necessary ambidextrous controls. That’s quite a list, isn’t it? I think it’s the reality of the gun buyer’s expectations. I drafted that list of demands before I tested the Ruger American Compact. Let’s see how it stacked up.
I’ll circle back on the reliability question in a bit, when talking about the shooting performance. But so far as the design and build aspects, Ruger has ticked all the boxes. The American Compact holds 12 rounds in its standard magazine (10 for those of you who are infringed upon), and with one chambered that’s a baker’s dozen. People in less restricted states also get a 17 round “full size” magazine along with a grip sleeve that slips easily over the full magazine and mates it nicely to the magazine well, creating a full sized grip. The 12 round mag comes with a pinkie-extension style baseplate but a flush-mount baseplate is in the box if you’d prefer to swap it. Ergonomics is always a subjective topic, but it is apparent that Ruger put in the effort here.
It starts with the shape of the polymer grip, which is aggressively arched and sits at an angle of 70 degrees to the slide (the same angle as the 1911). Ruger provides three sizes of the grip module, which is a U-shaped wrap around piece that includes the backstrap and both sides of the grip. The medium module is installed at the factory, and you can choose between that and small or large. Medium felt okay to me, so I left it. A small ‘Torx’ key must be turned ¼ turn (wrench is provided) to remove the module, then re-tightened when the desired size is installed. Arched back straps are tricky things. I generally like the feel of them, but if the arch is too severe it starts to pull the web of my hand away from the tang of the grip where I need the tightest fit. With the medium module installed, I could feel that happen ever so slightly as I tightened my grip.
So, I decided to install the small module and begin my testing with that. I like this new era of multiple configuration options so that shooters can better adjust the fit of the gun to their hand. The texture pattern of the grip is a series of small diamond shaped protrusions on the front and back straps that do a decent job providing a non-slip surface, particularly out front. The rear diamonds look interestingly to me as though they might also be tail feathers of the Phoenix bird that is the familiar Ruger logo. Aside from some decent texturing on the front strap and back strap there isn’t much texturing to the side panels. Once the question of size is settled, some aftermarket grip tape will improve that. The arched back and deep-set grip tang will also greatly help the shooter keep a firm grip.
The controls of the pistol are also well placed. The slide stop/release lever could be manipulated without adjusting my grip, once I installed the small module. The magazine release required just a smidge of grip twist, but someone with 1/16” more thumb won’t require it. Moreover, both of these controls are ambidextrous as standard, and both function very well, except for the right side slide release (the one lefties would use). This is a common issue on ambidextrous slide stop/release controls when the part is designed like a wishbone but only one side (left) is actually catching and holding the slide. When you push down on the right side lever, the metal linkage inside the pistol flexes and that energy is spent before it is able to move the contact point on the opposite side. This occurs on enough pistols that it is clearly not a design priority for many brands. The magazine release operates smoothly and very effectively from both sides and the magazines drop free perfectly.
SHOOTING THE AMERICAN COMPACT
The only Ruger American Pistol I had fired before taking the Compact 9mm to the range was the full-sized American in .45 ACP. This pistol is, of course smaller, but identical in design and controls. As with its larger stablemate, I found that the ergonomics of Ruger’s design are best appreciated with live fire. And even though I find the texture of the polymer grip somewhat lacking, it stays put in the hand well while emptying a magazine.
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The pinky extension on the standard magazine helps provide that full grip feeling and adds stability. The full-sized mag with grip sleeve also feels and functions great. Ruger gets an A-minus on the controls, all being very well placed and of course, fully ambidextrous. A minor gripe with the magazine release buttons is that they are on the small side. But I had no trouble finding or using them, so my bias is more imaginary than practical – especially considering that this is after all, a carry gun and we don’t want accidental magazine ejections. My legitimate complaint lies with the ambi slide stop control.
Ruger uses a “wishbone” style control, where the two external levers are both part of the same metal part (and kind of wishbone shaped). But, as many gun makers seem to do, Ruger proves the catch on the slide only on one side – the left side. The left side of the gun is where the control that right-handed people use and works flawlessly. The mate to it, on the right side, simply flexes when pressed and the motion does not transfer to the working side of the gun – and so it is essentially just a decoration. I’ll gladly sit at the bar with those of you that would debate me on whether the control should be used – but we won’t slip over that slope here.
The sights on the American Pistols are good quality Novak sights, in a 3-dot combat configuration. The rear sight is sloped back in a snag-free profile. The front is a low profile post, and both are steel. Because the grip has a 70-degree angle and a deep tang for the shooter’s hand, recoil management is aided by an aggressive wrist position. The American Compact shoots surprisingly flat, even when delivering full power defense loads.
The muzzle snaps back quickly and the front sight drops right back into place. Finally, the trigger of this Ruger handgun is improved over previous models, in my opinion. The initial take-up is every bit ¼” before you engage the resistance of the wall – which is itself a bit soft. The break is relatively crisp and no over-travel is noticed. My Lyman digital gauge reports the pull weight to be about 6 pounds. The reset is at about 2/3 of the full stroke of the trigger and the feedback is decent, providing a good audible and tactile response. Don’t try to ride the reset on this pistol, or you’ll miss shots. The gun feels good in the hand, shoots well, and was 100% reliable with every round it was fed during testing.
I tested the accuracy at 15 yards using a sandbag rest. Using a combination of good quality hardball and hollow-point ammo, the results were good. Most 5-shot groups stayed inside 3” and several of the best groups of three shots were under an inch. The front sight dot obscures more than 3” of target at this distance, so fine aiming is a challenge. The best performance overall was turned in by SIG Sauer’s Elite Performance V-Crown jacketed hollow point defensive load – specifically the 124 grain. Just another reason that it is my go-to carry ammo.
JUST MY OPINION
My prevailing opinion about the Ruger American Pistol is that it is one of quality. Perhaps the “heavy for its size” 30 ounces is more than necessary, but that heft feels to me like substance. Many subtle details such as the double-cut slide serrations and the heavy duty barrel with polished feed ramp, as well as the top quality magazines that drop effortlessly when ejected and are easy to fill to capacity, make this gun a good value at its price tag of $579.
You should expect to find it at or even below $500 at your local store. Fit and finish is as good as any I’ve seen on the posh European brands, but at a lower cost and made in America.
The 9mm concealed carry market is doubtless the largest in the firearms industry, and while the slim single-stacks may be getting the most attention, there are still a lot of people that place a high value on capacity. The more we learn about the emergency use of firearms and the statistics of gunfights, the more a lot of us are willing to buy the extra inch waist size in pants and carry something that would allow us a chance to finish a fight.
The Ruger American isn’t the smallest of the bunch, but it fits the general dimensions nicely, and the standard 12+1 round count is a huge plus. If you don’t have Ruger on your shopping list for a concealed carry pistol, you doing yourself a disservice.
For more information about Ruger pistols, click here.