I recall the onset of the trend of the incredible shrinking carry gun, which began by taking a hacksaw to the currently popular models of the day and making them shorter in length and height, but often still quite wide of girth. With that trend came a slight reduction in the available capacity of the handgun, because after all – you can’t fit as many clowns in a smaller car. But then the trend continued – as what sometimes felt like a shotput in the waistband became unacceptable and people wanted to stop dressing around their firearms. They got smaller. And still smaller. Of course, more sacrifice had to be made when it came to capacity because you know… clowns and smaller cars. Thus, for several years we have made our choice between smallish but fat with decent capacity or tiny, slim and comfortable – and about six rounds of ammo. “You can’t change the laws of physics”, was the mantra – and I know I said it more than once. But suddenly the law was repealed, and it was decreed that a micro 9mm pistol could be diminutive and still have more capacity than your grandfather’s 1911, or the sub-compact version of… well, anything. Ruger joins the very exclusive club of manufacturers that are offering what still seem to be miracle pistols – with their brand-new MAX-9. It’s tiny, and it holds 11 rounds of 9mm ammo with a flush-fit magazine, or 13 rounds with an extended feeder (with a round chambered, in both cases).
The new Ruger MAX-9 enters the fray in competition with but a few other pistols that can boast similar specifications. However, they are an elite few: the SIG P365 that started the craze, the Springfield Armory Hellcat, and the recent S&W Shield Plus. All of these have similar sizes and capacities, and I am well acquainted with them all. So, I approached this review not as an awestruck newbie to the high-cap micro-nine, but as one very interested to see what Ruger has brought to the table.
DESIGN AND BUILD
The first thing I noticed about the MAX-9 is that it is very small. It fits perfectly among the competitors previously mentioned. Of course, Ruger is no stranger to making a micro 9mm semi-auto pistol – the LC9 has helped define just how small one can get – but that was with several fewer rounds of capacity. On the other side of that curve is the Ruger Security 9 sub-compact which holds 10 or 12 rounds (depending on the magazine) in a much larger footprint. The MAX-9 falls almost perfectly in between.
Ruger also played its hand well by making the MAX-9 optic ready. Anyone who doesn’t acknowledge that the market is demanding this feature is simply not paying attention. Other manufacturers have chosen to offer two models of their handguns – with, and without slide cuts for red-dots. I don’t think the market is going to tolerate that nuance once the power swings back to the buyer. If your position is, “I want an optic cut and I don’t want to pay extra for it.” – Ruger has you covered.
Getting 10 rounds of 9mm ammo into a magazine as small as those that come with this tiny Ruger pistol is really a revolutionary achievement for everyone doing it. Ruger has made their magazine part double-stack and part single-stack, the latter being the portion occupied by the top two rounds. Avoiding the temptation to cram one additional round in by carrying that width higher – Ruger has taken steps to ensure that the feeding is reliable. With more than one round of ammunition riding single-file as they await their turn in line to be chambered, there is virtually no opportunity for binding, twisting, or presenting anything other than a perpendicular surface for stripping and feeding. The box magazines are of quality construction from E-Nickel material that is Teflon® coated for reduced friction and preservation.
To accommodate the wider magazine and keep the gun slim, Ruger has shaved the polymer grip frame to a very thin wall. Pressed hard, some flex is apparent – but thanks to the glass-filled nylon construction of the frame there is extremely little risk that it is weakened. Indeed, the thinness of that grip wall could very well translate to slightly less recoil energy transferred to the shooter’s hand. The difference between the 10-round and 12-round magazine appears to be only the +2 baseplate of the latter. The two baseplates have distinctly different geometry but are interchangeable. The flush-fitting baseplate that is installed at the factory on the ten rounder can be swapped out with the pinky extension option that is also in the box. It adds minimum printing difference but makes both magazines feel much the same. I made the swap before heading to the range.
SHOOTING THE RUGER MAX-9
‘Shootability’ of a handgun depends upon the convergence of many criteria – each of which is subjective to the user doing the shooting. The key elements I think about when it comes to a micro-sized 9mm are: grip comfort; sight picture; trigger; recoil management – not necessarily in any order. The smaller the handgun, the more these factors must mesh, or the ability to shoot the gun well diminishes.
The grip comfort itself is comprised of size, shape, texture, and sometimes the placement of controls. This is probably the key combination of elements of ergonomics for most shooters. Savvy designers and engineers know that a snip here and a tuck there is not all that is required to miniaturize a gun. A grip that might feel too small can be greatly improved by a subtle change of shape or grip angle. Texture plays an important role in not just the management of recoil, but also the overall comfort and feel of the pistol. I found the MAX-9 quite comfortable to grip and shoot with no feeling of tininess. Recoil is a matter of physics, but it was easy to manage well and follow-up shots were quick and on target. The texture of the MAX-9 follows the brand style of Ruger’s other modern handguns and is effective, covering the sides, back and front of the grip in a stippled texture that resists slipping nicely.
Because the MAX-9 is optic ready, everyone (this writer included) is testing it primarily with a compatible red-dot, but it needs to be stated that the stock sights on the gun are of very high quality and provide a superior sight picture. I love a black-out rear sight with a small notch just big enough for the front sight to fit into. That’s exactly what you get with the MAX-9, paired with a front sight that is a bright fiber-optic green tube surrounded by a ring of white that contains Tritium® for night use. I’d be quite satisfied to carry this pistol with those stock sights.
The trigger is light and crisp, without being too light (yes, there is such a thing). I measured it at a 5.5 lb. average after the range work and break-in. The stroke of the trigger is long, which is likely by design because this is a self-defense handgun. Take-up is almost 50% of the overall trigger stroke, but it is effortless and the integral trigger safety blade does not feel uncomfortable to the finger. Once at the wall, the break is crisp and clean with virtually no over-travel. The reset is smooth and clean with good tactile feedback and no additional take-up. I did notice a slight false-breakpoint while slowly shooting groups for accuracy. It was predictable and consistent – however, it was not at all noticeable during normal offhand shooting.
I did experience a single malfunction during the testing of the MAX-9, where the slide locked back prematurely with rounds still in the magazine. The list of reasons this could happen is long, and includes several user-error possibilities. I tested for limp-wristing problem potential with both strong and weak hands and could not replicate the error. One stoppage that is not repeatable is an anomaly and does not concern me. Aside from that, the MAX-9 performed flawlessly.
BUT IS IT ACCURATE?
Whether a modern handgun is accurate is possibly the silliest question to ask. Unless I have access to a machine that can fire the gun 100% consistently, such as a vise made for that purpose and the right kind of bench to mount it to – I can only tell you how well I am able to shoot the gun. But to me, that is what is important, since I rarely carry a Ransom rest or even a sandbag with me in my daily routine. However, to give myself the best opportunity to shoot well, I did rest the pistol with a sandbag to avoid fatigue and provide consistency and shot several groups from 15 yards. The results were very good, and the numbers verified my perception that this pistol helps bring out the best in my shooting.
What truly impressed me about the pistol was my ability to consistently hit 6-inch steel plates on a falling tree from the same distance of 15 yards, shooting off-hand. That’s the real test of a defensive handgun – and it performed extremely well.
JUST MY OPINION
If you’re not first with a new innovation, then you’d better bring something extra to the table. And that is exactly what Ruger has done with the MAX-9. Its form factor is directly comparable to the few other handguns in this high-capacity-micro-sized space, but the MAX-9 comes optic ready without having to choose the right SKU or pay extra. I mentioned earlier that Ruger joins an already elite club with the MAX-9, and because I am very familiar with all of them, Ruger wasn’t going to impress me just because it’s a small gun – or even because it’s a small gun that holds 11 rounds. As I write this, I have had two range sessions with this gun – with and without an installed optic – shooting everything from the best self-defense ammo made to the stuff you’re happy to find in stock someplace. I am duly impressed by it – the MAX-9 is a very legit contender.
For those not yet ready to go electronic, the onboard sights are top quality with night capability. The MAX-9 is very comfortable to carry and to shoot, manages recoil very well for its size and weight, and has excellent ergonomics. An external safety lever is an option (that does require a different SKU to be purchased) for those who desire it. This little Ruger MAX-9 appears to be the maturation of an evolution in Ruger design that takes cues from the Security 9 and the LC9 but is a copy of neither. My opinion – Ruger got it right. And with an MSRP of just $499, you can get it reasonably.
Watch the full video review here:
Learn more at: Ruger_MAX-9_Pistols