Tweak the product line here and tweak the line there and you have a firearm you can promote to the shooting public as “new.” That thought process happens in the firearms industry from time to time. But that’s not at all how the new Ruger American Pistol came to be. In fact, Ruger’s engineers looked to Uncle Sam’s requirements for the ’05 Joint Combat Pistol and current Modular Handgun System programs and set out to design a “better than frontlines ready” semi-auto.

When I opened the case for the 9mm Ruger American Pistol, a number of handguns I have tested over the past few years flashed through my mind—all of them exceptional, all of them European. The Ruger American embodies in one gun features that have become firmly established by makes such as Sig Sauer, Heckler & Koch, Walther, Steyr and FN, and combines them into a new striker-fired semi-auto pistol that meets all the current standards for a full-sized pistol, whether for military, law enforcement or civilian use.

That’s a tall order to fill, and the Ruger American Pistol does it in a style and at a price that belies its benchmark features. That is, however, part of what makes a Ruger a Ruger; you get your money’s worth from a proven American company that has repeatedly reset the standard in every caliber handgun—revolver or semi-auto—since 1949.

Patriotic Pistol

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Ruger really gave the American “subjects” the full 9 yards during environmental tests under controlled conditions. Of course, with your own pistol, follow the instructions in the manual and keep your pistol clean, properly lubricated and free of bore obstructions.

At first glance, the Ruger American Pistol looks like most modern polymer-framed semi-autos, as well it should because it was designed with the latest U.S. military standards in mind, and engineered inside and out to perform in the world’s harshest environments.

The one-piece, high-performance, glass-filled nylon frame surrounds a rigid, one-piece, precision-machined, black-nitrided, stainless steel chassis with integral frame rails and the pistol’s fire control housing. Yes, that sounds like several new semi-autos that utilize integrated fire control housings, but this one is unique to Ruger. The American Pistol has been tested to resist extreme temperatures, dust, high humidity, salt spray and more—the requirements for any military-level sidearm. Coincidentally, all of those various temperature and environmental conditions exist within the contiguous United States, making the Ruger American PIstol ideal for law enforcement and civilian use in any climate.

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As evidenced by continuing changes to existing Ruger models and the development of new pistols and rifles, Ruger listens to its customers and queries military and law enforcement personnel. The American Pistol was designed with input from police, military trainers and firearms experts, and thus one of the prominent features of the American is its fully ambidextrous controls, including the slide and magazine releases.

In order to build a new world-class handgun, Ruger had to offer features that make the American Pistol suitable for a vast number of end-users. The success of the design hinges on that aspect, and this becomes immediately apparent when you pick up the American for the first time and see how it rests in the hand, how easily accessed and responsive the magazine release buttons are to either the strong-hand thumb or trigger finger, how naturally the gun points, how quickly the white-dot Novak LoMount Carry sights align on target, and how precisely the trigger functions. We have seen all of these features before, but rarely in a single gun. This is, to quote Ruger, “a revolutionary platform.”

Hands On

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Note the relationship of the triggerguard, thumb rest and magazine release to the trapezoidal ridge below the strong-hand thumb.

The contours of the grip and frame relationship contribute to a lower bore axis. The subtle upward curve at the back of the frame also creates an elongated beavertail relief for the web of the hand, and provides a firmer grasp. The frontstrap has a distinctive rough (but not abrasive) checkered pattern for enhanced traction, while the backstrap has a broad, deeply relieved, molded-in diamond pattern that holds the palm of the hand securely.

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The most noteworthy detail, however, is the relationship of the grip to the triggerguard, magazine release and molded-in thumb rests. This is a juxtaposition of elements divided by what can best be described as a trapezoidal ridge that rises below the strong-hand thumb (left or right side) to direct it into the ambidextrous rests above, and into a slightly raised posture when the thumb touches the serrated, triangular, ambidextrous magazine release below. This makes the slight downward shift of the thumb to release an empty magazine or execute a tactical reload a more natural, supported movement. It is very subtle but effective in use.

The American Pistol’s three interchangeable grip panels—small, medium and large—are also unique as they not only increase the distance from the trigger by filling the palm swell of a larger hand, but they also add width to the grip commensurate with their sizes. The medium panel comes mounted on the gun. Each is secured to the grip frame through a positive lock at the back of the grip using a #10 Torx wrench to rotate a locking cam inside. Thus, the backstraps are securely fastened to the frame and require only a minute to unlock, slide down and remove from the frame. This is an effective combination of individual features that work in concert to allow a user to tailor the gun to his or her hands.

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Ruger’s new American lets you have it “your way” with its modular wrap-around grip system for adjusting palm swell, grip width and trigger reach.

The dust cover has a 2.25-inch Picatinny rail for accessories. This proved to be an ideal fit for several different light and laser accessories like the Crimson Trace Rail Master Pro. Inside the frame, the one-piece stainless steel chassis (containing the frame rails, ambidextrous slide stop and the fire control housing) is locked into the rear of the frame and secured at the front using the disassembly lever’s arbor. Although there are no interchangeable frames yet, the fire control insert assembly is removable (like the Sig Sauer P320 or Beretta Nano) and thus is the serialized portion of the Ruger American Pistol.

The stainless steel slide contains the pre-tensioned striker, a single recoil spring around the guide rod and a stainless steel, 4.2-inch barrel with a special cam profile lug to reduce recoil spring tension. The slide is remarkably easy to rack when chambering a round or clearing the gun. The slide has 14 unique serrations at the rear for a solid purchase and is beveled at the sides, muzzle and rear. This reduces mass and provides surface angles less likely to impede drawing and reholstering.

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Using a locked-breech, short-recoil action, the American Pistol has been designed for quick field-stripping, and, while similar to several other polymer-framed semi-autos for its speed of disassembly, Ruger has sidestepped the issue of having to pull the trigger before removing the slide from the frame. The procedure is to lock the slide back, clear the gun, remove the magazine, rotate the disassembly lever 90 degrees (which also moves the barrel locking surface out of the way of the barrel and decocks the striker), release the slide and continue to pull it forward off the frame. The recoil spring assembly and barrel can then be removed. The entire disassembly process takes less than 15 seconds. Reassembly is the reverse order.

As mentioned, the pistol uses Novak LoMount Carry three-dot front and rear sights. Dovetailed into the slide, the rear sight has mitered edges to prevent catching on holsters or clothing during the draw or reholstering, and both of the sights are adjustable for windage.


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While there are other polymer-framed, striker-fired pistols on the market with features similar to the Ruger American Pistol, its handling and accuracy set it apart from the pack.

Although not unique to the Ruger American Pistol, the striker is pre-loaded when the slide is cycled (chambering the first round or after being fired), resulting in a shorter and lighter trigger pull, which averaged 7.5 pounds on my Lyman trigger-pull gauge. The initial trigger take-up measured 0.25 inches, with total travel to discharge measuring 0.47 inches with no stacking, a crisp break, zero overtravel and a short 0.25-inch reset. Although there is no second-strike capability, you only need to draw the slide back a quarter of an inch to reset the trigger mechanism.

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The lockup is slightly longer (i.e., the slide and barrel travel back together for a slightly greater duration after firing before the barrel tilts down and the slide continues its rearward travel), thereby reducing felt recoil to some degree. The Ruger-built magazines are Teflon coated and operate smoothly both for loading and feeding. The American Pistol does not employ a magazine disconnect and will fire a chambered round with the magazine removed. This is even embossed on the right side of the slide as a safety warning.

I tested the American with Hornady and Federal ammo as well as Ruger’s own ARX ammo. The ARX bullet, developed by PolyCase, is an 80-grain, non-expanding round that uses a unique shape to transfer energy to the target. Injection molded from a specially blended polymer/copper matrix, it is designed to be tough enough to penetrate intermediate barriers and tissue but is designed to break apart against hard surfaces like concrete and steel to reduce the risk for collateral damage.

The Hornady 115-grain Critical Defense FTX, Federal 124-grain Hydra-Shok JHP and ARX ammo averaged 1,175, 1,100 and 1,470 fps, respectively. The ARX, regardless of velocity, feels like a .380 ACP in terms of recoil in this pistol, but the Hornady ammo was the most accurate, creating a five-shot group that measured 1.5 inches at 15 yards, firing off-hand from a Weaver stance. The Federal ammo came in a close second with a 1.75-inch group. The ARX ammunition, which leaves a large and distinctive hole in the target, produced a group measuring 2.2 inches.

Marching On

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In the end, the Ruger American Pistol offered light recoil regardless of ammunition type, a quick and predictable trigger, rapid target acquisitions with the Novak sights, efficient and seamless reloading, and superb balance in the hand. It is a well-suited addition to an international group of large-frame duty guns that have earned their place in the American law enforcement and civilian markets, guaranteeing the new Ruger a very promising future. And Ruger is also offering a .45 ACP version of the American Pistol with a 10+1 capacity.

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