American Defender: Ruger American Pistol Review

American Defender: Ruger American Pistol Review

12-ShootingRuger’s new full-size, striker-fired, polymer frame pistol is a rugged gun ready to serve in all capacities.

If you are a gun enthusiast or if you simply want a gun for sport or self-protection, you are living in probably the best time in history because the selection of guns is greater now than ever. And Ruger has just added another choice with the introduction of the Ruger American Pistol.

If you are one who doesn't think another polymer handgun is necessary because there are enough to choose from already, consider that for every model on the market today, there are people who find it to be the best one for their needs. While the differences between brands and models are sometimes subtle, most people who grasp a particular handgun find that it either feels good in the hand, or that it doesn't. And while some people like a particular feature on a gun, others despise it. So having a large selection of guns to choose from makes it more likely that each shooter will find a gun he likes.

To assure that the Ruger American Pistol suits as many shooters as possible, the engineers and designers at Ruger spent a great deal of time studying the likes and needs of shooters and requested input from law enforcement and military trainers from around the country.

Although not obvious, it is not a typical polymer frame gun. Instead, the nylon-filled grip frame houses a modular chassis that contains the fire control group and has rails on which the slide reciprocates. The chassis is made of precision-machined steel with a black nitride finish that is extremely hard and corrosion resistant. And because it is the part that has the serial number on it, there is the potential to replace the grip frame and slide to modify the size and contours of the gun. Presumably, Ruger or another company will eventually offer such conversion kits, but that is speculation at this time.

The grip frame has different sized wrap around grips that are easily swapped out to fit many different hand sizes. The 9mm version has three sizes, and the .45 ACP version has two. These one-piece grips include not only backstraps, but also side panels so that with each one, trigger reach and size of the palm swell change. The front and back straps are heavily textured with diamond-shaped bumps, and the sides are stippled to help obtain a non-slip grip. Changing the grip requires only a quarter turn of a retention screw with the aid of a supplied wrench. And the gun is equipped with a lanyard attachment point at the heel, something that is seeing a comeback on pistols.


At the front of the grip frame where there is often nothing more than a dust cover to keep dirt out of the recoil spring assembly, Ruger put a Picatinny accessory rail for the attachment of a light or laser. For a gun that will be used for personal protection, those are good items to consider, since most deadly force confrontations occur in diminished light. And lasers are not gimmicks or toys—they serve a very useful purpose when employed properly after competent training.

Each American Pistol is supplied with two stainless steel nickel-Teflon plated magazines. The ones for the 9mm version hold 18 rounds, while the .45 ACP magazines hold 10. Diminished capacity 10-round 9mm magazines are available for those who live in jurisdictions where the right to use full capacity magazines has been restricted.

Controls are simple and will be familiar to anyone with experience shooting striker-fired, semi-automatic polymer frame pistols. However, Ruger has made an improvement not found on all other pistols in the class. The magazine release and slide stop are both ambidextrous so that both right- and left-handed shooters are on equal footing with the pistol's controls.


While prominent and easy to activate, the slide stop is not obtrusive and does not interfere when the shooter racks the slide. The magazine release is located at the junction of the front strap and the trigger guard, the preferred location by most. It is a triangular button that is prominent enough to easily activate, but not enough so that it is prone to accidental activation during carry or shooting. Just to its rear is an irregular quadrilateral shaped bump to partially protect it from being accidentally pressed.

Since the striker is partially cocked after the slide is racked, Ruger was able to develop a short take-up trigger. The one on the test gun did have a relatively short take-up and broke cleanly at just less than 7 pounds with almost no creep and no discernible overtravel. A right-angle ledge built into the rear of the trigger guard stops overtravel. For those readers interested, reset was distinct.

04-Sights-wbTop End
The slide is manufactured of stainless steel that has been finished in black Nitride because it creates a very hard surface and is extremely corrosion resistant. Instead of the square, blocky appearance of most semi-automatic pistol slides these days; this one has the square corners cut off so—while not rounded—it does have a more eye pleasing appearance. At the rear of the slide are serrations that do a good job of affording a solid purchase when racking the slide by hand. At the front of the slide is a slight bevel on each side near the muzzle that should help to guide the gun into the holster.

Atop the slide, Ruger installs Genuine Novak LoMount Carry sights with the familiar three-dot configuration. The sights are extremely rugged, used by many manufacturers as original equipment, installed by many as an aftermarket accessory, and because of their configuration, are less prone to snagging on clothing or slicing a finger when racking the slide under stress in an emergency.

10-DisassembledOn the Range
Because of the different sized interchangeable backstraps, most shooters will probably find the gun comfortable to grasp. That is one of the first criteria most people use in selecting a handgun. Reliability though is the most important feature in a gun used for self-protection, and the gun ran without any malfunctions during testing for this article.

Ruger says that it has designed a special barrel cam for the American Pistol that reduces felt recoil by spreading unlocking of the slide, barrel and frame over a longer period of time. Without the same pistol built with a standard cam system to compare against though, there is no way to positively prove that felt recoil is reduced. However, in testing the gun, recoil was quite manageable. In the end, how comfortable a gun is to shoot is a subjective observation and is unique to each shooter.

The Ruger American Pistol is another new product by Ruger that is redefining the company compared to what it was in its early years. The gun is fairly affordably priced, and if it turns out to be as robust as so many of the company's other guns, it will probably be well accepted. For more information call Ruger at 336-949-5200 or visit


Caliber:                           9mm (reviewed), .45ACP

Barrel length:                  4.20 inches, 1:10 RH twist

Overall length:                7.50 inches

Weight:                           30 ounces

Grips:                              Glass-filled nylon

Sights:                             Novak LoMount three-dot

Action:                             Semi-automatic, striker-fired

Finish:                             Black nitride

Capacity:                         17 + 1

Price:                               $579



Load: Black Hills 124-gr. JHP
Velocity: 1,136 fps
Average Group: 2.80 in.
Best Group: 2.15 in.

Load: Federal 147-gr. Hydra-Shok JHP
Velocity: 981 fps
Average Group: 3.25 in.
Best Group: 2.53

Load: Winchester 147-gr. PDX-1 JHP
Velocity: 993 fps
Average Group: 3.32 in.
Best Group: 3.03 in.

*Bullet weight measured in grains, velocity in feet per second 15’ from the muzzle by chronograph, and accuracy in inches for three five-shot groups at 25 yards.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


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