Ruger American Pistol: Striker-Fired Polymer Semi-Automatic

By Todd Burgreen

Ruger has decided to enter the tactical market in force over the last few years. Ruger’s latest offerings in the form of the Precision Bolt Rifle, SR-556, SR-762, AR-556, SR1911, Gunsite Scout Rifle and now the Ruger American pistol leave little doubt of this. Ruger was already a well-established, successful firearms manufacturer before deciding to introduce its most recent tactical offerings. In fact, by many measures, Ruger is the largest U.S. firearm manufacturer. Ruger offers 400 model variations across 70 different products encapsulated within 25 distinct product lines. Ruger’s entrenched place in the American gun psyche lends added credence to their products compared to other manufacturers who may not be as well known within the general shooting public.

With the American pistol model, Ruger has embraced the obvious popularity of striker-fired, polymer framed, high-capacity semi-automatics while also taking advantage of Ruger’s staunch reputation for American-made quality and customer service within the U.S. gun culture. This is not the 1980s, when people doubted the staying power of the Glock offering that defined the polymer frame, striker-fired handgun. Saying this now seems absurd; especially considering how striker-fired handguns dominate the law enforcement and civilian personal defense market. It is not the intent of this article to rehash all the well-known design characteristics of striker-fired, polymer frame handguns, only to point out that Ruger has added its own design tweaks with the Ruger American pistol.

The Ruger American is currently offered in 9mm and .45ACP chamberings. The 9mm model features a 17-round magazine and the .45ACP variant has a 10-round magazine. Two magazines are shipped with the American. The Ruger American’s profile resembles what we have come to expect from a modern semi-automatic handgun, including integral MIL-STD-1913 Picatinny frame rails. The tale of the tape shows the American with a 4.2-inch barrel and overall length of 7.5 inches. Weight is 30 ounces. Slide width measures 1.05 inches, and the frame width is 1.19 inches. Three interchangeable wraparound grip modules allow the user to fit the American pistol to their hand size. Novak LoMount Carry 3 dot iron sights are standard. Ambidextrous slide stop and magazine release allow actuation with either hand. Safety features include an internal, automatic sear block system and integrated trigger safety. Along these same lines, pulling the trigger is not required to field-strip the Ruger American.

Ruger designed the American pistol with the latest U.S. military standards in mind. For example, the stainless steel slide is black nitride treated, offering great resistance to wear as specified by military specs. Internal parts are also stainless steel and either nitride or nickel-Teflon coated. The American’s magazines are examples of parts receiving the nickel-Teflon coating. Ruger’s goal with the American was to have a handgun with less felt recoil and muzzle flip. As such, the Ruger American has a recoil-reducing barrel cam that spreads recoil energy out as the slide unlocks and moves rearward, a low-mass slide minimizes muzzle flip/dip, and a low center of gravity and bore axis that allow the American to sit low in the user’s hand, offering a more in-line recoil impulse. All of this contributes to rugged reliability in an ergonomic handgun that enables manageable rapid shots on target—the raison d’être of any respectable tactical personal defense handgun.

The Ruger American functions via a short recoil locked breech design. John Browning pioneered this operational method for handguns. With Browning’s design, the barrel and slide move together rearward for a short distance before the barrel unlocks from the slide and stops. The slide continues rearward to eject the empty casing before loading a fresh cartridge on its way back forward. Ruger has slightly modified Browning’s design by moving the locking recess from the barrel, as Browning originally did it. Instead, Ruger has chosen to utilize a single locking lug milled above the barrel’s chamber, using the slide’s large overhead ejection port as its locking recess. The front contour of the barrel lug cam slot has been cut square to direct counter-recoiling forces up and forward into the barrel itself to reduce stress on the lug.

A weapon like the Ruger American should be fired as it is designed to be used—from the hand while moving or while only briefly pausing to engage targets. This is the true measure of accuracy: combining trigger pull, grip and sights. The Ruger American was tested at the range first by verifying sight zero and then firing several magazines rapidly at various steel man targets. This quickly shows if any reliability issues exist. Further testing consisted of strings of fire against steel plate racks and steel popper targets at 7, 15 and 25 yards. An informal accuracy test was conducted from a rudimentary bench position using a Champion pedestal rest. The Ruger American delivered by constantly keeping a full magazine worth of ammunition at 3.5 inches or better at 25 yards.

T&E was conducted at Echo Valley Training Center, a private range located near Winchester, VA, where many local and federal law enforcement tactical team members train. It was decided to dedicate some time evaluating the Ruger American during several drills experienced during training with Suarez International, Tactical Response, Graham Combat, Pat McNamara and other schools. Drills included working around breaching facades, door entries and other CQB activities typified by experiences encountered in shoot house environments. The natural point ability of the American comes into its own in this realm. A premium is placed on a quick-handling, accurate handgun such as the Ruger American, with multiple rounds fired in quick succession the norm to put a target down. The Ruger American delivers an industry-leading short take-up trigger that facilitates rapid shot placement. Reloading the American during high-volume drills exhibited no idiosyncrasies, with the magazine release button easily accessed. The Ruger American impressively handled all ammunition brands, bullet types and weights with equal aplomb.

The beavertail grip frame and overall balance of the American made felt recoil negligible. The American’s slide reciprocated smoothly, with the sights tracking well between shots fired. Initial reports made mention of the thickness/width of the American’s beavertail area negatively impacting on the shooter’s thumb area during recoil. Purposely, multiple fellow shooters were co-opted who had no knowledge of these reports to handle the Ruger American. Half of the shooters did indeed notice the American pressing into their hand’s thumb web area. Most of these categorized the American’s impact in the thumb area as feeling different rather than as uncomfortable. However, a few shooters did comment negatively on the American’s feel during firing. As with most things when it comes to firearms, personal preference seems to hold sway on what feels best.

Black Hills, Federal, Hornady and Winchester ammunition was used for range T&E. The loads fired spanned 115-grain to 147-grain, with hollow points and FMJ bullet types utilized along with steel-cased ammunition. A can full of assorted ammunition, including steel, aluminum and brass caseloads, was used while evaluating the Ruger American. Magazines were loaded with these random loads and used for the majority of the range time. No malfunctions were experienced while test-firing over 500 rounds. T&E consisted of monotonous hammering of steel plate racks and popper targets at 7, 15 and 25 yards. A 100% rating over a 60-round proficiency test used by law enforcement proved more than doable with the Ruger American. The test is timed fire at various ranges stretching from 5 yards back to 30 yards. One-handed firing of the Ruger American, including use of the non-dominant hand, was performed to verify that the American was not sensitive to grip in terms of reliability.

While a pistol’s reliability must be beyond reproach if to be considered as back-up to a long arm or primary means of defense, carry ability is just as important considering the hours spent with the weapon holstered. There are a surprising number of holster manufacturers making product for the Ruger American, such as Blade Tech, Crossbreed, DeSantis and Safariland, allowing for immediate carry options.

Many pundits point to certain fundamental “truths” when deciding on what type of handgun to consider for personal defense or duty use: 1) A handgun must be reasonably sized and weighted or it will not be diligently carried. 2) A lethal force encounter will be in low light and come as a surprise, with the ammunition in the handgun deciding the outcome. 3) Size matters, with 9mm representing the optimum in terms of effective fight-stopping ability and capacity. 4) There will be a need to fire multiple times when responding to an attack. The Ruger American satisfies these guidelines. The Ruger American represents portability, reliability, controllability and lethality. This is a perfect combination for a personal defense handgun.


Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc.

Black Hills Ammunition

Winchester Ammunition

Federal Cartridge Company

Echo Valley Training Center

Hornady Mfg. Co.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V21N6 (July 2017)
and was posted online on May 19, 2017


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